Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fearing Trump turn, big bank no longer willing to serve national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project

This new Washington Post article reports on a new reality in the banking space for the nation's leading marijuana reform advocacy group.  The article is headlined "‘It is too risky’: Marijuana group says PNC Bank to close its accounts amid fears of a DOJ crackdown," and it begins this way:

One of the nation’s leading marijuana legalization groups says PNC Bank has notified it that it will close the organization’s 22-year-old accounts, a sign of growing concerns in the financial industry that the Trump administration will crack down on the marijuana industry in states that have legalized it.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbies to eliminate punishments for marijuana use but is not involved in growing or distributing the drug — an important distinction for federally regulated banks and other institutions that do business with such advocacy groups.

Nick Field, MPP’s chief operating officer, said a PNC Bank representative told him in May that the organization’s bank accounts would be permanently closed July 7 because an audit of the organization’s accounts revealed it received funding from marijuana businesses that handle the plant directly. “They told me it is too risky. The bank can’t assume the risk,” Field said.

Although marijuana businesses are legal in some states, many banks will not provide services to sellers or growers of the drug because it is banned at the federal level. But policy and advocacy organizations such as MPP are spared. A bank’s severing ties with an organization that accepts donations from such businesses signals a new level of concern in the banking industry.

PNC bank declined to discuss its relationship with MPP, but a spokeswoman said that “as a federally regulated financial institution, PNC complies with all applicable federal laws and regulations.”

The bank has held MPP’s accounts since the organization was formed in 1995.

June 20, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Leading local prosecutor among those making the case for marijuana legalization in New Jersey

JH_Quote_Public_Safety_PageI highlighting in this post a few weeks ago that New Jersey may well be on a political path to become the first state to fully legalize marijuana via the traditional legislative process.   That political path may have been started in earnest this week with a state legislative hearing on the topic, and this local article report on a notable advocate at that hearing.  The article is headlined "Prosecutor says 'too many lives ruined' because marijuana is illegal in N.J.," and here are excerpts:

As a municipal prosecutor in Clark, Jon-Henry Barr said he must try a number of cases against people who get arrested for marijuana possession.  Barr also said he knows these cases can wreck good people's lives, and doesn't want to keep quiet about it anymore.  One case he won recently against a young black woman with no prior record "turned my stomach."

The former president of the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutors Association, Barr urged the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday to pass a law legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana because it is morally the right thing to do.  "Legalize and regulate it like we do with tobacco and alcohol," Barr said.  "I have seen too many lives ruined or damaged.  I'll continue to enforce the law -- that is my sworn duty. But I will not endorse the law."...

The supporters for Sen. Nicholas Scutari's bill (3195) far outweighed opponents.  The handful of detractors were called up to testify at the tail end of the five-hour Statehouse hearing.

Cathleen Lewis, the chairwoman for the coordinating council AAA Clubs in New Jersey, warned that legalizing marijuana will result in more people driving under the influence of the drug. A year after Washington legalized cannabis sales, the number of fatal crashes involving drivers who has used marijuana climbed from 8 percent to 17 percent, she said....

Philip Kirschner of Morristown, who described himself as a concerned parent pleaded with the committee to reconsider pursuing the bill at all.  "I know you want the tax money but let's be straight here: pass decriminalization first.  That is what most people came here and spoke about," Kirschner said.  "I plead with you, despite your rush for more taxes, to abandon this bill.  The cost in human lives and misery is simply not worth it."

Following the hearing, Scutari, the bill's sponsor and committee chairman, said the there were plenty of suggestions how lawmakers can shape the bill, including speeding-up the expungement process.  He said he didn't know whether he would call another hearing soon or wait for the new governor to take the place of Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch opponent.

June 20, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

After primary win by reform advocate, is New Jersey now on track to be the first state to fully legalize marijuana through regular legislation?

New-jersey-reform1Though eight states and Washington DC have all voted through ballot initiatives to fully legalize marijuana, no state has done this form of marijuana reform via the traditional legislative process.  Vermont got awfully close just last month before its Governor vetoed a legalization bill passed by the state's legislature (as noted here), and it seems possible some form of legalization could still happen there in 2018.  

But, as highlighted by this Leafy article, headlined "New Jersey’s Primary was a Huge Win for Legalization. Here’s Why," fellow who won the Democratic primary for Governor this week in New Jersey is very committed to making, and seems poised to be able to make, this form of marijuana reform a signature achievement of his time in office.  Here are excerpts:

[This week] we learned which candidates will vie to replace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in November’s gubernatorial election. Democrats selected former US ambassador and Goldman Sachs alum Phil Murphy, while Republicans tapped current Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, [Gov Chris] Christie’s second-in-command.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one, Murphy is the heavy favorite to win in November.

Gov. Christie is among the loudest anti-cannabis voices in the nation and in seven months he’ll be out of office. Which means prospects for major cannabis reforms can only get better. Right? “Oh definitely,” Murphy spokesman Derek Roseman told Leafly earlier today. “One major hurdle cleared in having a nominee [like Murphy] who recognizes that our current laws have not served us as a society.”

Murphy’s comments in victory underscored that sentiment. “The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” Murphy told a cheering crowd. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”...

Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union) chairs NJ’s Senate Judiciary Committee. He sponsored New Jersey’s medical marijuana law and led a delegation of state lawmakers on a fact-finding tour of Colorado last year. “There is widespread public support both in New Jersey and across the country for legalizing marijuana,” Scutari told Leafly.

“In New Jersey, we now have a Democratic nominee, who I believe will be our next governor, who supports legalization. That’s why it is so important that we begin shaping our recreational marijuana program now, so that we are prepared to move forward with a program that ends the prohibition on marijuana and that treats our residents fairly and humanely. We’ve already done extensive research on how legal cannabis programs are faring in other states and are continuing the process of working on legislation to create the best recreational marijuana program for New Jersey.”

June 8, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Head of Veterans Affairs acknowledges marijuana may be "helpful" to veterans

This notable new article from The Hill reports on notable new comments by the head of the federal Veterans Affairs department.  The piece is headlined "VA chief: Medical marijuana could help vets," and here are excerpts:

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday he's open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to help service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but noted it’s strictly limited by federal law.  “There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that,” Shulkin told reporters, pointing to states where medical pot is legal.

The VA has come under pressure from some influential veterans groups, including the American Legion, to reclassify marijuana to allow federal research into its effect on troops with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries....

“Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans,” said Shulkin, who is a trained physician. “I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law."

Relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws, however, would conflict with several top administration officials who take a hard-line approach on drugs, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Shulkin, who spoke at the White House about President Trump’s proposed reforms at the scandal-plagued agency, is a holdover from the Obama administration. The Senate confirmed him unanimously in February to lead the VA.

Some prior related posts:

May 31, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

Images (3)As reported in this local article, "Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in Vermont."  Here is more:

At a highly anticipated press conference in his Montpelier office, the Republican governor said he could not sign S.22, which passed the Vermont House and Senate in the waning days of the recently concluded legislative session. But Scott said he was open to revisiting the debate with legislators — perhaps as soon as an expected veto session next month.

Vermont’s Democratic legislature is unlikely to override Scott’s veto, given that the bill squeaked through the House two weeks ago on a 79-66 vote.

The legislation would have allowed adults over age 21 to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow as many as two mature plants per household, starting in July 2018. Similar to Washington, D.C.’s marijuana law, it would not have allowed for sale or commercial growing of the drug. The bill would also have created a commission to study how Vermont could tax and regulate marijuana sales, as Colorado and several other states have done.

The governor has said he does not consider marijuana legalization a priority and has concerns about the lack a roadside test to detect driver impairment.

Had Scott signed the bill, Vermont would have been the first state to legalize marijuana through legislative action rather by public referendum.

Prior related post:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

UPDATE:   I have now had a chance to read Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's remarks explaining his veto, and they are available at this link.  Here are some of the interesting particulars:

I have been clear since the campaign and throughout the session: I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction. However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.

We must get this right. Let the science inform any policy we make around this issue, learn from the experience of other states, and take whatever time is required to do so. In my view, policymakers have an obligation to all Vermonters – and those who visit us – to address health, safety, prevention and education questions before committing the state to a specific timeline for moving forward.

More specifically – as I have said repeatedly throughout the campaign and this session – we should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our roadways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.

From my vantage point, S.22 does not yet adequately address these questions. Therefore, I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market.

I’ll be providing the Legislature with recommended changes. And to be clear, if they are willing to work with me to address my concerns in a new bill passed during the veto session this summer, there is a path forward on this issue.

Those recommendations include the following:

First, in its attempt to equate marijuana with alcohol. This bill appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors. Sections of this bill must be rewritten to make clear that existing penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors and on school grounds remain unchanged.

Weakening these protections and penalties should be totally unacceptable to even the most ardent legalization advocates.

Second, I am asking for changes to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors....

Third, the Marijuana Regulatory Commission section must be enhanced in order to be taken seriously. It must include a broader membership, including representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, and the substance abuse prevention and treatment community.  The Commission must be charged with determining outcomes, such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle; an impairment testing mechanism; an education and prevention strategy to address use by minors; and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health.

May 24, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Interesting look at how religion and religious groups might support or oppose marijuana reform

Genesis-129-Bible-Jesus-Religion-cannabis-17234763584

This lengthy new BuzzFeed News article, headlined ""Can Cannabis And Christ Coexist? These Devout Southern Christians Think So," provides am interesting and effectively review of some issues that arise at the intersection of marijuana reform and religion.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some extended excerpts:

Lydia Decker couldn’t miss the man in the motorized wheelchair as he whirred down the aisles of a West Texas grocery store. As someone with lung problems herself, she noticed his oxygen tank and wondered about his illness and his meds. They got talking, and Decker mentioned Genesis 1:29, the organization she heads that uses religion to preach the value of medical cannabis. This was one conversion that wasn't going to happen.

“Oh, that trash!” Decker remembered the man saying as she tried to reason with him in the pharmacy aisle. The nurse with the man “politely” asked Decker, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to leave. She did, but not before handing the nurse a Genesis 1:29 business card, which features a map of Texas covered with a large cannabis leaf and the words “One Mission End Prohibition!”...

Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she's endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”

Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.

Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May. “People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,'” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”

The South is the last frontier for cannabis law reform. And it is no coincidence that it is also the most religious region in the country, according to Pew Research. It’s a place where interpretations of God’s word can be as powerful as law, and where preachers have long proclaimed the evils of marijuana. So as pot takes hold for medical use in more than half the country, and for recreational use in eight states and Washington, DC, both are nonstarters in much of the South. Only Arkansas, Florida, and West Virginia have full medical marijuana programs, and recreational use is not even on the horizon.

The president of the organization that represents the largest evangelical group in the US won’t budge on calling marijuana a sin. “The scripture speaks against drunkenness, and marijuana is a mind-altering substance with the purpose of achieving, essentially, what the Bible would describe as drunkenness,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

To get the votes they need, pro-legalization groups can't just preach to nonbelievers; they also need to court people of faith, says Morgan Fox of Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying group that is behind most of the cannabis laws in the country. Support from religious groups has become as key as support from law enforcement groups, addiction specialists, and parent groups. “I know that most of the major policy reform organizations are working on that right now — trying to build coalitions with faith-based groups,” Fox said.

After all, marijuana has never been more popular with young people — recent polls show the 18–34 crowd overwhelmingly in support of legalization. At the same time, young people’s church attendance is dropping. As much as pro-pot groups need religious support, religious leaders need to hold onto their flocks, and sometimes that means loosening opinions on controversial issues.

In Utah last year, the Church of Latter-day Saints weighed in on competing medical cannabis bills and made the unprecedented move of expressing support for one, albeit by backing the stricter of two pieces of legislation. And a group of Muslim undergraduate students at the University of South Florida, where medical marijuana was on the state ballot, tackled the question of whether cannabis use is haram last year during an event called "Contemporary Issues in Islam: A Discussion on Medical Marijuana.” Some faiths have expressed varying degrees of support for medical marijuana, including the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Unitarian churches. In New York, one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries had the cannabis blessed by a rabbi. And globally, to respect the traditional use of cannabis by Rastafarians, Jamaica legalized cannabis for religious use in 2015.

But to bring cannabis to the region of the US where states are deeply red and religious and where pot is both a social taboo and a ticket to jail, Decker and others are harnessing their devotion to their faiths to evangelize for it....

Still, religious opposition continues to influence drug policy throughout the region. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke out against the nine legalization initiatives put before voters in November. “I think when it comes to marijuana I’m, of course, for criminal penalties for marijuana use and for continuing criminalization of marijuana,” Moore told BuzzFeed News, specifying, though, that he is not in favor of the “incoherent mass incarceration that we’ve had as a result of the drug war.”

The Catholic Church has also come out against legalization; in 2014, Pope Francis remarked that "drug addiction is an evil” and “attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called 'recreational drugs,' are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.” The Catholic diocese in Arizona and Massachusetts came out against legalization in fall 2016. While this “didn’t swing the pendulum in Massachusetts,” where legalization squeaked through in November, “it very well could have in Arizona,” where legalization failed, Fox said.

May 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion | Permalink | Comments (9)

"Risky Business? The Trump Administration and the State-Licensed Marijuana Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this short essay authored by Rob Mikos and available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that he opposes legalization of marijuana, a drug he considers “only slightly less awful” than heroin.  Such comments have fueled speculation that the Trump Administration might soon launch a new war on weed.  In this short essay, however, Professor Mikos suggests that the Trump Administration’s impact on state reforms and the state-licensed marijuana industry is likely to be tempered by three potent forces: (1) political support for state reforms; (2) practical limits on the DOJ’s enforcement capacity; and (3) legal doctrines that weaken the DOJ’s ability to turn back the clock on state reforms.  The essay discusses each of these constraints in turn and ultimately suggests that the Attorney General might pursue less draconian tactics, like anti-marijuana media campaigns, to curb the rise of the marijuana industry and the harms he attributes to it.

May 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

Vermont

The title of this post is the headline of this local article reporting on very big news out of the Green Mountain State. Here are the details:

Vermont’s Legislature has become the first in the nation to approve a recreational marijuana legalization bill.

Vermont's bill, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana possession in 2018 and anticipate the possibility of a taxed and regulated legal marijuana market, was approved by the Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 79-66.  The bill has already been passed by the Senate and will go directly to Gov. Phil Scott.

Other states have legalized marijuana following a voter referendum, but no state has yet legalized marijuana solely through the legislative process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures....

Wednesday's vote closed a divisive debate over legalization, particularly in the House, that once prompted Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe to predict that legalization would take a "miracle" to pass this year.  Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to support the limited bill, which was pitched as a compromise between the House and Senate approaches on marijuana.

The proposal incorporates H.170, the House-supported bill that would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants or four immature marijuana plants for adults over 21.  The effective date has been pushed back one year until July 1, 2018.  The bill also sets up a nine-member commission to study the best way to regulate marijuana in the future.

"There's no slam dunk of any kind," said Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, speaking about the prospect of a legal marijuana market.  "It just is doing work that could be used next year or in subsequent years."  The proposal would continue to prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana and the use of marijuana in public places.  Employers, landlords, schools and prisons could continue to restrict marijuana use.

May 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Prez Trump issues notable statement when signing spending bill with DOJ limit on going after medical marijuana states

170301105323-trump-marijuana-780x439As reported in this Bloomberg piece, headlined "Trump Spurns Congress as He Signals Medical Marijuana Fight," the President made a significant statement on a number of topics, including marijuana enforcement, while signing the latest spending bill. Here are the details:

President Donald Trump signaled he may ignore a congressional ban on interfering with state medical marijuana laws, arguing in a lengthy statement that he isn’t legally bound by a series of limits lawmakers imposed on him.

Trump issued the “signing statement” Friday after he signed a measure funding the government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, reprising a controversial tactic former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama used while in office.  Trump also suggested he may ignore gender and racial preferences in some government programs as well as congressional requirements for advance notice before taking a range of foreign policy and military actions....

In the signing statement, Trump singled out a provision in the spending bill that says funds cannot be used to block states from implementing medical marijuana laws.  “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he said.

Obama also occasionally released signing statements objecting to congressional restrictions on his authority.  The White House described Trump’s signing statement as routine, but did not indicate whether the president planned to take action to defy Congressional restrictions....

Tim Shaw, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that the president is bound by the language in the spending bill that now bears his signature.  “Part of the argument here in this signing statement is that he has the constitutional requirement to execute the law,” Shaw said in an interview.  “But this is one of those laws, and Congress has the ultimate authority over funds getting spent.”

Because the language used in this signing statement is somewhat boilerplate, I am disinclined to view this development as a direct announcement or even an indirect signal of any new firm policy of the Trump Administration in the arena of marijuana reform.  Still, given that the President has said almost nothing about marijuana reform since his election and given that some members of his Cabinet are clearly not fans of the marijuana reform movement, this statement provides more evidence that Prez Trump and others within the White House are not eager to be active cheerleaders for state marijuana reform efforts.

May 6, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Will Michigan become the ninth US state, and first in Midwest, to fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative in 2018?

ThThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article headlined "Pot petition drive officially begins for 2018 Michigan ballot."  Here are the basics:

Marijuana would be legalized for recreational uses and taxed at a rate of 16% under petition language that will be turned in to the Secretary of State today.

If the petition language is approved by the state Board of Canvassers, the group pushing the initiative — the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol — will have 180 days to collect 252,523 signatures from valid registered voters in Michigan. In order to get a cushion to account for signatures that might be thrown out, the group is setting a goal of gathering 350,000 signatures.

That’s a task that will take money, said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition.  The group hopes to raise between $8 million and $10 million to both pay people to gather the signatures needed to get on the ballot and to wage a campaign to get the measure passed in November 2018.

“Prohibition is a failed big government program,” said former state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who is the political director of the coalition.  “We have 20,000 people arrested every year in Michigan. And we’re now going to be in a position to give our citizens a choice to end that.”...

The coalition will have an advantage this year over previous efforts to get the issue on the ballot.  The national Marijuana Policy Project, which has gotten involved in several other states where marijuana legalization has succeeded, has jumped into Michigan’s ballot drive.  So far eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, while 29 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana use.

The last group to try and get the issue on the 2016 ballot – MiLegalize – gathered more than 350,000 signatures, but not within the 180-day time frame.  MiLegalize, as well as the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for Marijuana Legalization or Norml, have signed on to the latest effort and will bring its army of volunteers to the push to free the weed.

Marijuana Policy Project has an extraordinary recent track record of success with marijuana reform initiatives, and my sense is that MPP will not get involved in a state campaign unless it feels confident it has a good chance of winning. Michigan will be such an interesting state to watch in the run up to 2018 because of both politics and geography: the state has an (outgoing) Republic Gov and it supported Prez Trump in 2016, but it has two Democratic senators and is sometimes thought of as more of a "blue" state; the state borders Canada and a number of upper-Midwest states (Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin) that currently have fairly restrictive marijuana policies and politics.

May 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Might a crack down on state reforms by the feds actually increase the pace for national marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Washington Post piece by Paul Waldman headlined "Will Jeff Sessions launch a War on Weed? If so, it could accelerate marijuana legalization." Here are excerpts:

A CBS poll out today shows that 61 percent of Americans favor full legalization, the highest number the poll has recorded, while a Quinnipiac poll puts the number at 60 percent, with an incredible 94 percent saying people ought to be able to get it if their doctors prescribe it (CBS put that figure at 88 percent). Perhaps more important, 71 percent in the CBS poll and 73 percent in the Quinnipiac poll said that the federal government should leave states that have legalized it alone.

But there’s one person who doesn’t agree, and he happens to be the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government. In fact, if there’s a single thing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates more than undocumented immigrants it might just be marijuana, which is why he appears to be planning what amounts to a return to a 1980s-style War on Drugs. We don’t yet know what practical steps Sessions will take, because things are still in the planning stages. But allow me to suggest that in the end, Sessions might actually accelerate the country’s move toward the eventual goal of full legalization....

[T]he big unanswered question is how the attorney general will approach the states that have passed some form of legalization. He could follow the (mostly) hands-off approach that the Obama administration did. Or he could send out federal agents to start shutting down dispensaries across the country. Or he could do something in between. But given his strong views and the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law — which gives him substantial power to go after the burgeoning pot industry in states that have legalized it — it’s hard to believe there isn’t some kind of crackdown coming from the Justice Department.

Sessions may already be having a deterrent effect. The Colorado legislature was all set to pass a law regulating marijuana clubs but backed off after the governor warned that doing so could incur Sessions’s wrath. But in other places, the movement toward legalization continues. Just yesterday, West Virginia’s governor signed a law passed by the legislature to create a medical marijuana system in the state.

Which means that if and when he attacks legal marijuana, Sessions will be going after a movement with extraordinary momentum. And it’s not just the opinion polls; it’s also what’s happening at the ballot box. In 2016, marijuana initiatives were on the ballot in nine states and won in eight of them. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota passed medical marijuana initiatives. Only Arizona’s recreational measure was narrowly defeated....

So consider this scenario. Sessions initiates some kind of new War on Weed, one that results in lots of splashy headlines, dramatic video of state-licensed businesses being shut down and thoughtful debates about the proper balance between federal and state power. Then the backlash begins. Even many Republicans express their dismay at the Justice Department’s heavy-handed actions. Pressure builds on President Trump (whose comments on the topic have been mostly vague and noncommittal) to rein Sessions in. The controversy energizes cannabis advocates and the voters who agree with them. More and more candidates come out in favor of legalization, or at least a new federal law that would remove the drug from Schedule 1 (which puts it in the same category as heroin) and leave it up to states to decide how to handle it without any federal interference.

Then in 2020, we see the first major-party nominee who advocates full legalization of marijuana. That last part might not happen three years from now (though some past and future nominees have already sponsored bills to allow medical use). But it will eventually, because politicians inevitably follow where the public has moved.

Most of them do, anyway. But on this issue, Sessions is not such a politician — he’s going to pursue that demon weed no matter what the public thinks. We all know where America is heading on this issue, and Sessions may end up pushing us there just a little faster.

I have been saying throughout the semester in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar that a significant marijuana prohibition enforcement effort by the Justice Department might provide the spark in Congress to move forward more seriously and effectively with a variety of proposed federal legislative reforms in this space. For a bunch of reasons, I do not think federal reforms and national legalization are a certainty no matter what AG Sessions decides to do, but I do think there are a lot of interesting elements to what we will see in the marijuana reform space over the next decade and that what AG Sessions seeks to do in this space will be a very important part of the story with lots of unpredictable ripples.

April 21, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Latest polling shows new high for support of marijuana legalization

Support-mj-pollThis new CBS News item, headlined "Support for marijuana legalization at all-time high," reports on a notable new CBS News poll about marijuana policy and reform.  Here are some details:

Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll.  Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.

Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs.  And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.

More generally on the topic of drug abuse, 69 percent think that should be treated as an addiction and mental health problem rather than a criminal offense.

The belief that pot should be legal has reached a new high in CBS News polls. Sixty-one percent of Americans now say the it should be, a five-point increase from a year ago. This sentiment has increased each year we’ve measured it since 2013, with the turning point to majority support coming in 2014. Back in 1979, this poll found just 27 percent saying it should be legal.

Those over 65 are the most opposed to legalization, but most under age 65 support it. And women are now as much in favor of legal marijuana as men are; in previous years they were less so.

Many states have legalized pot in some form, and most Americans don’t think the federal government should try to stop its sale and use in those states. Even among those who think marijuana should be illegal, only half think the federal government should get involved with the states.  This sentiment cuts across party lines: Majorities of Republicans (63 percent), Democrats (76 percent), and independents (72 percent) oppose the federal government trying to stop marijuana use in these states.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asserted a connection between marijuana and violent crime, but few Americans see it that way: just 23 percent think legalizing pot increases violent crime, while nearly as many think legal marijuana decreases it.

Generally, most Americans think habitual drug use should be treated as an addiction problem rather than a criminal offense.  Even most Americans who oppose legalizing marijuana think so. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all agree. Most Americans view marijuana in particular as safer than alcohol....

Support for legalization has risen among all age groups – particularly those under 55.  Americans under 35 show the strongest support.  Three in four adults between 18 and 34 support legal marijuana use, as do six in 10 Americans between 35 and 64.  Seniors remain the one age group for whom a majority still think marijuana use should be against the law.

I think especially interesting and notable are the breakdown in these numbers by party affiliation detailed here. Specifically, I find it quite interesting that, according to this poll, Republicans disfavor marijuana legalization by a slight margin (49% to 46%), they still overwhelming support medical marijuana access (87% to 11%) and significantly oppose the federal government taking action to stop marijuana sales in legalization states (63% to 33%). These numbers suggest that any strong Trump Administration push against state legalization efforts will likely engender some backlash among supporters as well as opponents of the President.

April 20, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why it Matters"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new report issued by National Families in Action. The report can be downloaded at this link, and this press release about the report provides a summary of its themes and core contents:

A new report by National Families in Action (NFIA) uncovers and documents how three billionaires, who favor legal recreational marijuana, manipulated the ballot initiative process in 16 U.S. states for more than a decade, convincing voters to legalize medical marijuana.  NFIA is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1977, that has been helping parents prevent children from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.  NFIA researched and issued the paper to mark its 40th anniversary.

The NFIA study, Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters, exposes, for the first time, the money trail behind the marijuana legalization effort during a 13-year period.  The report lays bare the strategy to use medical marijuana as a runway to legalized recreational pot, describing how financier George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, and for-profit education baron John Sperling (and groups they and their families fund) systematically chipped away at resistance to marijuana while denying that full legalization was their goal.  The report documents state-by-state financial data, identifying the groups and the amount of money used either to fund or oppose ballot initiatives legalizing medical or recreational marijuana in 16 states.  The paper unearths how legalizers fleeced voters and outspent — sometimes by hundreds of times — the people who opposed marijuana.

Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters illustrates that legalizers lied about the health benefits of marijuana, preyed on the hopes of sick people, flouted scientific evidence and advice from the medical community and gutted consumer protections against unsafe, ineffective drugs.  And, it proves that once the billionaires achieved their goal of legalizing recreational marijuana (in Colorado and Washington in 2012), they virtually stopped financing medical pot ballot initiatives and switched to financing recreational pot.  In 2014 and 2016, they donated $44 million to legalize recreational pot in Alaska, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. Only Arizona defeated the onslaught (for recreational marijuana).

March 15, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eleven Senators write to AG Sessions to urge "that the Cole Memorandum remain in place"

As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:

The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.

But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."

In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...

In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.

The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:

We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.   It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum.  In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.  We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.

Some recent prior related posts:

March 2, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reviewing ups-and-downs and defeat in 2015 of Ohio effort to legalize recreational marijuana via Issue 3

UntitledI am excited to remind readers (and also my students) that it is that time of year again:  students in my Ohio State University Moritz College of Law marijuana reform seminar are gearing up to begin in-class presentations.   This means, inter alia, that this blog space will be filled in coming weeks with links and materials provided by my students as a background/preview for their coming presentation.

The first of the scheduled presentations involves a review of this history (and epic fail) of Issue 3, the 2015 campaign in Ohio seeking passage of a state constitutional amendment that would have fully legalized marijuana in the Buckeye State and put the rights to grow marijuana in the hands of a small group of financial backers of the initiative campaign.  The student making this presentations has suggested the following reading for classmates (and any others interested in recalling this tale):

"Is Responsible Ohio's mascot Buddie 'the Joe Camel of marijuana'?"(Oct 21, 2015 press article)

"On Ballot, Ohio Grapples With Specter of Marijuana Monopoly" (Nov 1, 2015 press article)

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 2: "Anti-monopoly amendment; protects the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit"

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 3: "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes"

"Ohioans reject legalizing marijuana" (Nov 4, 2015 press article)

UPDATE:  And here is one more: "Will Ohio's Marijuana Amendment Go up in Smoke" (Sept/Oct Ohio Lawyer article)

February 22, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Jeff Sessions confirmed as Attorney General ... now what for federal marijuana policy?

Jeff_Sessions_official_portraitAs Fox News reports here, "Sen. Jeff Sessions won confirmation Wednesday evening to become the next attorney general of the United States," and here's more of the basic backstory:

The Senate narrowly approved the Alabama Republican’s nomination on a 52-47 vote, the latest in a series of confirmation votes that have been dragged out amid Democratic protests. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Sessions. Sessions himself voted present.

In his farewell address Wednesday evening, Sessions urged his erstwhile colleagues to get along better following days of bruising debate. "We need latitude in our relationships," Sessions said. "Denigrating people who disagree with us is not a healthy trend for our body."...

Wednesday’s vote came after a rowdy overnight session during which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was formally chastised for allegedly impugning Sessions’ integrity on the floor. Warren had read a letter authored in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, who was against Sessions’ nomination at the time to the federal bench, arguing he used the power of his office to “chill” black voting rights. Warren also quoted the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who originally had entered King’s letter into the record, describing Sessions as “disgraceful.”

GOP Senate leaders said Warren had violated Senate rules and should lose her speaking privileges. In a remarkable scene, the Senate then voted 49-43 to suspend Warren’s speaking privileges for the rest of the nomination process – the first time the Senate has imposed such a punishment in decades.

Democrats had repeatedly contended that Sessions is too close to Trump, too harsh on immigrants, and weak on civil rights for minorities, immigrants, gay people and women. Sessions was a prominent early backer of Trump, a supporter of his hard line on illegal immigration and joined Trump's advocacy of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border....

Republicans argued Sessions has demonstrated over a long career in public service, including two decades in the Senate, that he possesses integrity, honesty, and is committed to justice and the rule of law.

Everyone in the marijuana reform community as well as all those working in the marijuana industry must now continue to wonder what an Attorney General Sessions will mean for the policy and practice of blanket federal marijuana prohibition.

In part because I think AG Sessions will have other top priorities and because a crackdown on state-legal marijuana businesses will likely be costly and unpopular, I am not expecting to see a radical shift in the short term.  But I could be wrong, and I am fairly sure that over time AG Sessions (and others in the Trump Administration) will still feel some significant obligation (and perhaps have some significant desire) to ramp up enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition to some extent unless and until Congress moves forward with some kind of statutory reforms.

Uncertain and interesting times ahead, for sure, in this space.

February 8, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Is the marijuana industry now "too big to jail"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Los Angeles Times article, which is headlined "Trump's Justice Department may crack down on thriving pot industry, but is it too big to jail?".  Here are excerpts:

The election of Trump has shocked the marijuana industry into a state of high alert at a time it had planned to be gliding into unbridled growth. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a longtime field lieutenant in the war on drugs with unabashed hostility toward pot. It was only 10 months ago that Sessions was scolding from the dais of a Senate hearing room that the drug is dangerous, not funny and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Now he is poised to set the direction on national drug enforcement policy at the same time that eight states, including California, have legalized recreational use of the drug. Some 60 million Americans are living in states where voters have opted to allow any adult to be able to purchase marijuana.

Business leaders ... are betting the rapid maturity of the cannabis industry has made it too big to jail. Even before new laws took effect permitting the recreational use of pot in the massive markets of California and Massachusetts, the legitimate pot business had dwarfed its 2011 size, when the Drug Enforcement Administration was still aggressively raiding medical marijuana vendors operating legally under state laws. Since then, President Obama’s Justice Department decreed that states should have freedom to pursue their own policies, and the legalization train seemed to have left the station.

But those who have been in the business since the early days of medical marijuana caution the legions of newcomers that federal busts and seizures could quickly make a comeback. Sessions very deliberately left that option open during his confirmation hearing. “There are people in this administration who will crush this industry if they see the opportunity,” said Steve DeAngelo, who is considered a guru among pot entrepreneurs. DeAngelo, owner of the bustling Harborside Health Center dispensary in Oakland, was among the first in the industry and he has experienced it all: surprise raids from armed federal agents, unending lawsuits, getting locked in a jail cell. “I don’t think people who don’t have firsthand experience with the irrationality of federal intervention understand what a threat we are facing.”

But it’s hard to see much anxiety watching the comings and goings inside DeAngelo’s dispensary, which these days looks more like a Whole Foods than the shady corner bodegas such operations long resembled. Well-mannered hipsters with encyclopedic knowledge of bud patiently serve customers as sommeliers might, explaining the intricacies of abundant varietals of reefer available to be consumed in ever-evolving ways. On one side of the room is an enticing display of pot-laced baked goods, opposite that is the kind of fancy kiosk where artisan granola bars or yogurt cups might be hawked in a high-end grocery; the millennials manning this one are pitching elegantly packaged microdoses of pot injected into dried blueberries and other goodies.

DeAngelo says Trump might just let it all be, pointing to mixed signals the president sent during the campaign. But DeAngelo sees an easy legal path for Sessions and other committed anti-drug warriors in the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, to immediately throw the industry into chaos, should they chose to do so. A survey by Marijuana Business Daily suggests many pot entrepreneurs share his concern, with 20% saying they would curb expansion plans. Many more are putting planning off until they see where the White House is going.

“Most of us are holding our breath right now,” said Emily Paxhia, co-owner of a hedge fund that invests exclusively in the cannabis industry. Lately she has been making sure that each firm in her portfolio has a Plan B in case a federal crackdown comes. Can pot growing operations, for example, shift to micro-salad greens if the feds come knocking? Can vaporizers be sold to yoga enthusiasts consuming lavender? “We’re also starting to look at how some of the new technologies we are investing in could address needs in other countries if the U.S. becomes difficult,” Paxhia said, pointing to Canada, where she said federal embrace of recreational marijuana could open up a $22-billion market. Paxhia shared her outlook at the industrial San Francisco office space of one company in her portfolio, Meadow, which has built a digital platform through which marijuana dispensary offerings can be browsed, and products can be ordered and delivered with the ease of a service like GrubHub....

Across the bay in Oakland, a sober-looking team at a company called CW Analytical has just spent big on sophisticated new testing equipment that allows dispensaries to quickly measure the active ingredients and purity in all the pot products they sell. The company embodies how renewed federal busts would affect not just pot growers, but an entire class of lab technicians, scientists, digital engineers, marketers and other skilled professionals. “I would be lying if I told you it was not in the back of our minds,” said Emily Richardson, head of business development at CW. “We have been through a lot.” She said the firm lost a third of its business amid the last big round of federal raids in 2011. Back then, Jeff Linden wasn’t even in the trade. He was running a high-end kitchen cabinet firm. Now Linden has opened a dispensary in San Francisco’s Mission District that could be mistaken for an art gallery.....“Trump’s agenda is this long,” Linden said, stretching out his arms to make the point the new administration has bigger issues on its plate than him. “I think this industry is too big to roll back. Some people agree with me. Some are very nervous.”

My answer to the basic post question is that there are a whole lot of players who could be in line for a whole lot of trouble in the Trump Administration decides to go hard after the industry, but that the entire industry has too many elements and extensions to be completely destroyed even if that was the express desire of the Trump team. And, for a host of reasons, I think the Trump team (including future AG Sessions) is going to be eager to focus their resources elsewhere.

February 4, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

"If President Trump wants to help American businesses, he should start by legalizing marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Los Angeles Times commentary authored by Mark Stefanos.  Here are excerpts:

Trump himself has been all over the board on pot, expressing support for medical marijuana but also concerns about Colorado, where it’s recreationally legal. He generally seems to favor leaving it up to the states to decide.

Sure, it’s hard to picture Trump as marijuana’s champion. Unlike the last three presidents, Trump claims he’s never toked. He doesn’t drink, he orders his steak well-done and it’s unlikely anyone will ever pass a blunt to the self-described germaphobe.

But if legalizing marijuana federally isn’t on Trump’s legislative agenda, it should be. And a conservative Congress should back him. It’s politically expedient, fits neatly into Trump’s game plan and there are principled conservative arguments to be made on legalization’s behalf.

Outside of his core issues, our new president is no ideologue, and instead seems to be fixated on — and can be swayed by — public opinion. If his inauguration speech was any indication, Trump is doubling down on populism — and legalizing pot is incredibly popular.

The latest Gallup poll shows 60% of Americans favoring legalization, including 77% of 18- to 34-year-olds. With some of the weakest approval ratings for an incoming president, he should be looking to capitalize on low-hanging-fruit policies like these. Trump shouldn’t worry too much Trump shouldn’t worry too much about legalization alienating his base. The same Gallup poll shows that 42% of Republicans support legalization, up from 20% in 2005. And if anyone needs convincing, Trump can make the case.

He can appeal to the right by reminding us that the government isn’t our mommy. We’ve already learned the lesson that prohibition doesn’t work from alcohol, a far more dangerous drug. Enforcement of prohibition is a pointless and wasteful priority. After all, why should the government work so hard to keep people from smoking weed when China is manipulating its currency and Islamic State is burning people alive in cages?

Perhaps most importantly, however, legalization makes sense fiscally. If there’s one issue Trump has been consistent on since he launched his presidential bid, it’s economic protectionism. Today, the American marijuana industry employs 100,000 to 150,000 people nationally. Marijuana spending is estimated at $30 billion annually, according to market-research firm the Cowen Group, but only a fifth of that is spent on legal products. If legalized, the market is expected to grow to $50 billion annually by 2026.

For the same reasons Trump believes we should be buying cars and air-conditioners manufactured domestically, it follows that he should be making every effort to ensure America dominates the global marijuana industry. Americans should be smoking American weed. This requires the government’s ban be lifted so the market can flourish.

Legalization should be particularly attractive to Trump and his base, considering the main competitors to America’s pot industry are the very criminals and gangs he likes to target in his speeches. In 2008, nearly two-thirds of the pot consumed in the United States came from Mexico, according to the Rand Corp. Since then, Mexican drug cartels have had to compete with American pot farms operating in an increasingly legal landscape that produces a higher quality product and drives profits down.

Today, consumption of Mexican weed in America has been decreased to less than a third, according to an estimate by Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City based security and drug analyst. Full American legalization may put the nail in the coffin on cartel profits from weed. Trump knew this in 1990 when he said, “We're losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars."

Finally, legalizing marijuana would allow Trump to make good on his campaign promise to help “inner-cities.” Instead of paying lip service to urban communities and insulting them with rhetoric describing them as crime-ridden, Trump could actually help those communities by legalizing pot, and making sure no one else has their life ruined because they got caught smoking a joint....

The policy benefits of legalization are many, and Trump shouldn’t wait to capitalize on the political opportunity. Legalization would be a deal that allows the government to save on the costs of enforcing prohibition and fighting a failing drug war. Pot would become safer as it becomes controlled and regulated, and the government could do a better job at youth drug prevention. Taxation from legal pot sales will provide state and local governments a healthy revenue stream, at the expense of our trade competitors. Most importantly, it would shore up support for his presidency from demographics he needs, while growing the economy and jobs.

That would be a lot of winning.

February 3, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Spotlighting the (inevitable?) mixture of marijuana, regulators, money and lobbying

The Hill has this notable lengthy article, headlined "Marijuana lobby goes mainstream," highlighting the . Here are excerpts:

In a sign that the budding marijuana industry is moving away from the fringes and into the political mainstream, into the political mainstream, a number of officials once tasked with managing the growing legal cannabis sector are leaving their government positions to take jobs in the sector.

Many are advising states and cities as voters loosen marijuana restrictions across the country. Others are becoming industry advocates, lobbying the former colleagues and coworkers they left behind to craft more favorable rules and regulations.

In Colorado, Andrew Freedman, once the state’s director of marijuana coordination, and Lewis Koski, who headed the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, teamed up to form a consulting firm that advises local and state governments on crafting new marijuana regulations. Laura Harris, Koski’s predecessor at the Marijuana Enforcement Division, took a post this month as director of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

Manny Munson-Regala, who oversaw Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, now runs a consulting firm of his own. John O’Brien resigned his post overseeing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to take a job as chief compliance officer of a New York cannabis company. And several former top officials at Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board have left in recent years to form their own firms.

“That’s how America works. You work for the government, then you become a lobbyist,” said Ian Eisenberg, a leader in the legal marijuana industry who runs Uncle Ike’s, a dispensary in Seattle, Wash. “I don’t think it’s any different than the defense industry.”

Those who have made the jump from the government sector to the private sector say they offer a valuable service, both to governments that need to establish new rules and to the businesses that need to navigate complex regulatory schemes that have never been implemented before. “We’re the only ones to have stood this up before,” said Freedman, who now consults with governments looking to set up their regulatory structures. “There’s a real opportunity to come in and show lessons learned quickly.”...

But opponents of legalized pot, and some government transparency groups, say the relationship between the marijuana industry and its regulators should be treated like any other. “The revolving door from government to private sector isn’t anything new, but it represents the worst of our politics. This isn’t the paper clip or oven mitt lobby, this is the drug lobby,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. And we know that the pot lobby wants to make money, just like big tobacco executives do.”

Aaron Scherb, legislative affairs director at the government transparency group Common Cause, said states should implement a cooling-off period between the time when a regulator leaves government service and when he or she begins working on behalf of the industry. “These individuals are the most familiar with the rules and regulations of a particular industry, and their experience means they’re able to exploit loopholes,” Scherb said. “At least some minimal amount of time is appropriate so we can avoid this revolving door problem.”

At least one state, Minnesota, required its regulators to take a year off before returning to work in the field they oversaw. Munson-Regala, the former head of the state’s medical marijuana program, said that reminded him of other industries he helped regulate, like the insurance business. “Embedded in that one-year cooling off period was an understanding that regulators are in a good position to help folks who are being regulated, in part because they understand what it takes to be compliant,” Munson-Regala said in an interview.

The revolving door is just one of the ways an industry that was once seen as the domain of hippies is trying to professionalize. Just a few years ago, proponents of legalizing marijuana brought 1970s-era stoner icon Tommy Chong to Capitol Hill to woo lawmakers. Today, Chong is gone, replaced by a booming industry of cultivators and retailers — and the trade shows, consultants and lobbyists who offer services to boost their business.

On Tuesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association kicked off a two-day Seed to Sale trade show in Denver, focusing on business practices for producers and retailers. The group’s first trade show several years ago attracted 800 participants; this year, they expect 2,000 vendors — and 4,000 to 5,000 at the annual Cannabis Business Summit and Expo, said Taylor West, the group’s deputy director. In November, 10,000 people showed up to another trade show in Las Vegas. “This industry is not slowing down,” West said.

Around the country, hundreds of lobbyists are already bending lawmakers’ ears on marijuana measures. In Colorado alone, 81 lobbyists reported advocating on marijuana proposals before the state legislature, according to data filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

February 2, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Trump’s marijuana options"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective Hill commentary authored by Beau Kilmer, who is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.  Here is the heart of the discussion:

The Obama administration has largely taken a hands-off approach, releasing a 2013 Department of Justice memo indicating that federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents should not use scarce resources to shut down state-legal operations in places that have “implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems.” To the Obama administration’s credit, the president did recently note marijuana legalization is “a debate that is now ripe” and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse called for more research to determine which “policy structures — beyond simply prohibition or free market — are most likely to keep harms to a minimum.”

No one knows what the Trump administration will do about marijuana, and Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general didn’t provide much insight. Will it follow Obama’s lead? Trudeau’s? Do something entirely different? The new administration will have at least six options.

Shut it down. The administration could crack down on marijuana businesses in states that have legalized for nonmedical purposes. It would be easy for DOJ to send out “cease and desist” letters to these companies and their landlords. However, there could be serious political costs with states arguing these federal actions would put people out of jobs, increase income for criminals and take tax dollars away from good causes.

Shape the markets. The DOJ could use its discretion to shape what the market looks like in the legalization states. Want to stop stores from selling and promoting high-potency products for nonmedical purposes? A letter could probably do the trick here, too. If not, seizing the products in a store or two could have a chilling effect.

Maintain the status quo. Doing nothing—and sticking with Obama’s approach—is always an option. This would likely lead more states to follow Colorado and Washington and grant licenses to marijuana companies incentivized to maximize profits instead of protecting public health.

Reclassify marijuana. The new administration could support rescheduling marijuana. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug—the most restrictive category—because the Food and Drug Administration remains unconvinced that the whole plant material has an accepted medical use. Rescheduling would make it easier to research the health consequences—benefits and harms—and could have implications for marijuana businesses.

Address federal-state conflicts. The new administration could maintain federal prohibition while supporting legislation or other solutions to address problems caused by the federal-state conflict. For example, banks that accept money from state-legal marijuana businesses are committing federal offenses. The inability to bank like other entities creates challenges for thousands of companies. The administration could also support the creation of a policy waiver system that would make it easier and less risky for states to legally experiment with alternatives to the profit-maximization model, such as the state monopoly approach. (That said, the risk of federal interference hasn’t stopped tiny North Bonneville in southern Washington state from creating a government-owned and -operated store).

Legalize it. The administration could support legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. This would address the federal-state conflicts and allow the feds to impose a national tax or minimum price. It would also be a blatant violation of the international drug conventions that the United States has signed along with almost every other nation on earth (including Canada).

These six options are not all mutually exclusive and each comes with tradeoffs. Importantly, they are all compatible with a federal approach that encourages and supports discussions about marijuana prohibition and its alternatives. But if the feds don’t act, it is possible the United States could end up with a much looser and more commercial marijuana model than if the federal government legalized or created a waiver system.

January 19, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)