Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Effective review of "The Year in Pot" via NBC News

141117-marijuana-shift-infographic-jms-1829_bf6d06ce47365fd843dc76ae4dcb11f7.nbcnews-ux-720-900Anyone and everyone eager to get up to speed on marijuana law, policy and reform developments should be sure to read this lengthy new article via NBC News headlined "The Year in Pot: Legal Sales and Anti-Marijuana Voices Boomed." Here are snippets form a piece that merits a full read:

Marijuana has never had a year like 2014.

The first aboveboard just-for-fun cannabis markets rose in Colorado and Washington. Voters in Oregon and Alaska passed ballot initiatives to create the same. And a consistent majority of Americans said they support plans to legalize the drug nationwide, according to polls by NBC News and others.

Yet 2014 also brought the first formidable anti-marijuana message in ages. The men and women of Smart Approaches on Marijuana, or Project SAM, might be the most potent voice of prohibition since Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" tour three decades ago.

The result was a year of fierce cross currents.

The anti-drug crowd fought to protect people from marijuana, believing that sobriety is the ideal and indulgence dangerous. The reform side, meanwhile, fought to protect marijuana users from legal harm, believing that insobriety is normal and indulgence should not be a crime.

Here are five marijuana storylines that stood out amid all the smoke:

1. The First Legal Sales in Colorado and Washington...

2. The Savvy, Well-Funded Campaigns in Oregon, Alaska, and Nationwide...

3. The Rise of an Anti-Pot Establishment...

4. The Rise of Big Pot...

5. The More Things Changed, The More They Stayed the Same

In 2014, marijuana made some mainstream friends like never before.

First, in January, President Obama took a strikingly casual attitude toward a drug past presidents have tried to crush with billions of dollars in federal muscle. "I smoked pot as a kid," he said. "I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life." No, he added, "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

Next the New York Times editorial board came out in support of marijuana legalization, winking at Obama as it argued that 40 years of criminalization have come at the price of "inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol."

But with friends came enemies, notably casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands and America's 12th richest person, poured more than $6 million into Drug Free Florida, the organization that led a successful effort to block the legalization of medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

It was his first foray into pot politics, and, advocates worry, it won't be pot's last broadside from the right. In December, in fact, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing state-legalized marijuana from Colorado is improperly spilling across state lines.

"Yep," as Kevin Sabet put it earlier this year, spoiling for a broader fight over marijuana policy. "Game on."

December 21, 2014 in Current Affairs, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Highlighting that marijuana (law) is coming to more law school classrooms

Download (4)The National Law Journal has this lengthy new article headlined "Law Schools Firing Up Marijuana Law Classes."  I was pleased to have been interviewed by the author of the piece, and here are excerpts discussing some of the activity going on in this space:

Who has legal authority to establish marijuana law and regulations — the federal, state or local government? How should the law treat motorists who drive while high? Should employers test workers for marijuana use in jurisdictions where the drug is legal?

Those are a few of the questions Vanderbilt University Law School students will tackle in professor Robert Mikos' marijuana law and policy seminar next semester — one of a growing number of law school classes focused on marijuana. "For most students, this is an inherently interesting topic," Mikos said. "They read about it in the media all the time, and so many are curious about it. As more states confront this issue, the interest will only grow."...

Besides Vanderbilt's program, at least two additional marijuana-specific classes will debut next spring. At University of Denver Sturm College of Law, professor Sam Kamin will teach "Representing the Marijuana Client." David Ball, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, will preside over a "mini think tank" about the legal matters California will face if the state legalizes marijuana for recreational use. Students in Ball's class will research topics including whether and how the state might restrict marijuana advertising and how the drug could be taxed. They will share their research with an American Civil Liberties Union panel investigating the implications of marijuana legalization. Ball sits on the panel, which is led by California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. A ballot initiative to legalize could come as early as 2016, according to the ACLU.

"When I was appointed to the panel, I thought, 'This is a good opportunity for my students to write on something that will be of immediate interest to people in California,' " Ball said. His class will maintain a blog to publish students' research and marijuana law news. Ball hopes his course will help students adapt in an ever-changing legal landscape.

Kamin believes his course is the first designed specifically to prepare students to represent marijuana clients — whether growers and retailers or government regulators. "Almost every lawyer in the state needs to know something about this," Kamin said. "There are people in Denver and Colorado who practice marijuana law, but there are many others in real estate law, administrative law and other areas who deal with it as well. I've had people asking me to teach this class for a while. They're hungry for this knowledge."...

The subject is ideal because it touches so many different areas of law, said Franklin Snyder, a professor at Texas A&M University School of Law who in September founded the Cannabis Law Prof Blog. For example, he said, the large amount of energy required to produce marijuana raises environmental and agricultural law questions, and it remains unclear what kinds of corporate and bankruptcy protections marijuana businesses enjoy.

"Too often in law school, we teach in silos — we teach contract law, tax law and corporations law," Snyder said. "In the real world, clients don't have 'tax problems.' They have problems that are all interconnected. Marijuana law allows you to bring it all together and demonstrate how every decision you make impacts all these other things."

Hilary Bricken, an attorney in the cannabis practice of Seattle boutique firm Harris Moure, expressed surprise that law schools are starting to discuss marijuana given that they typically don’t teach courses on alcohol law or the adult entertainment industry, for example. Still, she said, local and state marijuana regulations could make for an interesting law course. "I would love to see a clinic where students could interact with clients," Bricken said. "I think it would really send home the reality of the difficulty of practicing in this era of prohibition."...

Mikos is scheduled to publish a marijuana law textbook in 2016. "I think we're going to see more law schools offer these classes," he said. "There's a big focus right now on teaching students about the types of cases they might actually handle after graduation. This is very practical."

December 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Survey: Teen marijuana use declines even as states legalize"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new USA Today article reporting on new data that seems likely to be trumpted by those advocating for continued reform of marijuana laws.  Here are the basics:

Marijuana use among teens declined this year even as two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized the drug for recreational use, a national survey released Tuesday found. University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study, now in its 40th year, surveys 40,000 to 50,000 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade in schools nationwide about their use of alcohol, legal and illegal drugs and cigarettes.

"There is a lot of good news in this year's results, bu the problems of teen substance use and abuse are still far from going away," Lloyd Johnston, the study's principal investigator, said.

After five years of increases, marijuana use in the past year by students in all three grades declined slightly, from 26% in 2013 to 24% in 2014. Students in the two lower grades reported that marijuana is less available than it once was, the survey found. Among high school seniors, one in 17, or 5.8%, say they use marijuana almost daily this year, down from 6.5% in 2013.

Synthetic marijuana, chemical concoctions meant to simulate a marijuana high and sold at convenience stores and gas stations, have also fallen out of favor. In 2011, when the survey first asked about the drugs, known as K2 and Spice, 11% of 12th graders said they had used the drugs in the past year. In 2014, that number had dropped to 6%. "Efforts at the federal and state levels to close down the sale of these substances may be having an effect," Johnston said.

Abuse of all prescription drugs, including narcotic painkillers, sedatives and amphetamines, declined from 16% in 2013 to 14% in 2014 among 12th graders, the survey found. Narcotic painkiller use, in decline since 2009, dropped again from 7% in 2013 to 6% in 2014. Heroin use, which has grown among adult populations, remained stable for teens.

Teens considered narcotic pain relievers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, safer than illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine, because they are prescribed by doctors, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said. "There's a very strong and aggressive campaign about educating the public on the risk of opioid medications as it relates to overdoses and deaths," Volkow said. "That has made teenagers aware that they are not so safe as they thought they were."

Teen use of both alcohol and cigarettes dropped this year to their lowest points since the study began in 1975, the survey found. Teens may be trading conventional cigarettes for e-cigarettes. In 2014, more teens used e-cigarettes than traditional tobacco cigarettes or any other tobacco product, the study found. "E-cigarettes have made rapid inroads into the lives of American adolescents," Richard Miech, a senior investigator of the study, said....

Alcohol use and binge drinking peaked in 1997, when 61% of the students surveyed said they had drunk alcohol in the previous 12 months. In 2014, 41% reported alcohol use in the previous year, a drop from 43% in 2013, the survey found. Since the 1997 peak, "there has been a fairly steady downward march in alcohol use among adolescents," Johnston said....

"Even though the indicators are very good news, at the same time we cannot become complacent," Volkow said. "This is a stage where their brains are most vulnerable. We need to continue our prevention efforts."

December 16, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Weekend listening: new Marijuana Today podcast

Looking for something to listen to while taking care of your weekend chores around the house?  Episode 20 of the Marijuana Today podcast is up.  

On this epsidode, Dan Goldman, Andrew Livingston and Adam Smith join host Kris Lotlikar and producer Shea Gunther to discuss the "vaping" trend and regulating marijuana edibles, among other subjects.

You can find the episode on iTunes or ShoutEngine.

November 21, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kamala Harris coming around on marijuana legalization

Yesterday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said she was "not opposed to the legalization of marijuana."  

Recall that just a few months ago, Harris laughed off the issue when asked about it.  (Harris also refused to take a position on Prop. 47, a California ballot measure to recude a number of non-violent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors--including drug possession--that passed comfortably earlier this month.)  

Harris's tentative approach to marijuana legalization specifically (and criminal justice reform generally) stands in stark contrast to that of another rising-star politician in the state: Gavin Newsom. Newsom took a strong stance in favor of Prop. 47 and has emerged as a leader in the state on marijuana legalization.   

Many speculate that Newsom and Harris are "on a collision course for running for governor in 2018," so it would not surprise me if Harris's move on this issue is in part the result of a realization that running as the anti-legalization candidate in a Democratic primary against Newsom may not be a good look for her.  (On the other hand, more recent buzz has Harris lining up for a Senate run in 2016, leaving Newsom a clear path to the Governor's office in 2018.) 

Whether related to Newsom or not, Harris's comments are surely a sign that she (and her political advisers) believe opposing legalization (or laughing at the idea without taking a position) is bad politics for her.  As Attorney General she has been incredibly cautious.  And her remarks yesterday are no exception.  Though she says she thinks marijuana legalization is inevitable and that she has no moral objection to the idea, she does not go so far as to say she supports it.  

Specifically, Harris says: “It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop.”

Yes, it would be easier.  But, like too many Democratic politicians, Harris seems to be increasingly allergic to taking clear stands on political issues.

Her remarks seem like a very timid politician's way of saying: "I've come to realize that laughing at or opposing legalization is bad for me politically, so I need to find a way of implying that I probably support it.  But, as Attorney General, I don't want to say that I actually support it and upset the stuck-in-the-1980s law enforcement union lobby in the state.  After all, I'm not really in the habbit of standing up to them, as evidenced by my failures to take a stand on either Prop. 47 or 2012's death penalty repeal ballot measure (even though I'm on record as being opposed to the death penalty.)  So, I'll just try out the line 'I'm not opposed' for now."  

That said, the fact that she decided to go as far as she did in her comments (and to do so this far in advance of 2016) is very telling about where she thinks the conversation and political tone will be in 2016.  It suggests she is setting herself up to support a 2016 marijuana legalization ballot measure (or to remain agnostic on a specific proposal as the "top cop" while perhaps implying support in principle.)    

If California truly is the "make or break" state for legalization, Harris's comments give legalization supporters another reason to be optimistic.

November 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Some first thougts on the 2014 election results

Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia just voted to legalize recreational marijuana. In a sense, they broke no new ground -- Colorado and Washington already legalized recreational marijuana two years ago. But the passage of these measures is extraordinary in another sense: marijuana legalization no longer surprises anyone. Even the federal government, which continues to ban marijuana, seems unlikely to raise a fuss. Indeed, following similar votes in Colorado and Washington in 2012, the Department of Justice announced that it would refrain from prosecuting marijuana users and dealers who comply with state law, so long as they do not implicate a distinct federal interest (like stopping inter-state shipments of the drug).  As control of the Congress shifts to the Republican Party, it seems unlikely that the federal government will do anything but continue to sit on the sidelines for the next two years.

The votes on Tuesday are interesting for two other reasons as well. First, these votes arguably foretell how marijuana laws will evolve in the states over time. The four states and DC that were the first to legalize recreational marijuana were also among the first to legalize medical marijuana: Alaska, Oregon, and Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998, Colorado did so in 2000, and DC first tried in 1999. This suggests that voters might be more comfortable taking the plunge (i.e., legalizing recreational marijuana) after dipping their toes in the pool first (i.e., legalizing medical marijuana). It also suggests that the next states to legalize recreational marijuana are likely to be ones with more mature medical marijuana programs, such as California (1996) and Maine (1999).

Second, the defeat of a medical marijuana initiative in Florida is as unsurprising as the passage of legalization elsewhere. The south has been resistant to marijuana reforms; it remains the only region of the country without a legalization state. To some extent, southern resistance might be due to public attitudes toward marijuana; but it also might stem from lawmaking procedures used in many southern (and some other states) that impede the adoption even of popular reforms. After all, over half (58%) of Florida voters actually supported legalization of medical marijuana; but that figure just was not enough to change state law – the constitutional initiative process requires 60% support, higher than the simple majority needed in many other states, like California. A vote to legalize marijuana elsewhere in the country might not be surprising anymore, but when it happens in the south it will be noteworthy.

November 5, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oregon Senator plans to vote in favor of marijuana legalization

In another sign of the changing politics on marijuana legalization, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley told TalkingPointsMemo.com that he plans to vote for the marijuana legalization ballot measure in Oregon.  

"I lean in support of it," the Democratic senator told TPM in an interview on Wednesday.

...

 

A vote for it would make Merkley the first U.S. senator to support making marijuana legal in his state.

 

Merkley didn't point to a time when he came around to the view that pot should be legal, saying it has not been an issue in his reelection bid. He's in good shape to win, according to recent polls.

October 23, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Call for papers from Richmond Journal of Law & the Public Interest

I am pleased and honored to have been asked to announce this call for paper from the Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest:

The Richmond Journal of Law & the Public Interest is seeking submissions for the Spring Issue of our 2014-2015 volume . We welcome high quality and well cited submissions from academics, judges, and established practitioners who would like to take part in the conversation of the evolution of law and its impact on citizens.

We currently have four total openings for articles for our Spring Issue.   As a Journal that centers in large part on the Public Interest, we are seeking at least one article that touches upon current Marijuana Law issue(s) and the effects that the issue(s) may have on the National Public Interest.  For a sense of what we are seeking for our general issues, please feel free to visit this link.

If you would like to submit an article for review and possibly publication, or if you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact our Lead Articles Editors - Rich Forzani and Hillary Wallace.  They can be reached, respectively, at rich.forzani AT richmond.edu and hillary.wallace AT richmond.edu.

October 9, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New polling suggests now declining support for legalization of marijuana

As highlighted in this Washington Post Wonkblog piece, headlined "Survey: Support for legal weed drops 7 points in the past year," a few recent polls suggest a reversal of recent trends of growing support for marijuana legalization. Here are excerpts from the report (with key links preserved, and my emphasis added):

National support for legalized marijuana has slipped by seven percentage points in the past year, from 51 percent in 2013 to 44 percent today, according to the Public Religion Research InstitutePRRI asked 4,500 Americans about the intensity of their support for or opposition to legalizing marijuana.  The year-over-year drop in overall support was concentrated among those who favored marijuana legalization last year, but not strongly.  Opposition increased greatest among those who strongly opposed legal marijuana.

These numbers suggest that people who only slightly supported legalization last year have changed their minds, and that people who slightly opposed legalization now feel more strongly about it....

An October 2013 Gallup poll found strong support for marijuana legalization nationally, with 58 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.  The PRRI and Gallup numbers are not directly comparable, since the questions were worded differently in each survey.  Moreover, survey responses on marijuana legalization tend to be highly sensitive to particular question wording.

Still, the year-over-year drop within this one poll is significant and well outside the poll's 1.8 point margin of error.  If other surveys show similar findings, it could mean that Americans generally don't like the news coming out of Colorado and Washington - even if that news has been largely positive.

I have emphasized an important line in this discussion of this latest poll data because I think all polling on marijuana reform can be subject to a lot of varied responses among a significant number of folks who are not strongly for or strongly against reform in principle.  Thus, I tend to view polling on specific ballot proposals in specific states as more important than broad national polls on these matters.  But every bit for data about public opinion on this fast-evolving issue is still notable and potentially consequential.

September 23, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In new ad campaign, "Marijuana Industry Battling Stoner Stereotypes"

Crprintad_sep2014bThe title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable new AP article.  Here are excerpts:

Tired of Cheech & Chong pot jokes and ominous anti-drug campaigns, the marijuana industry and activists are starting an ad blitz in Colorado aimed at promoting moderation and the safe consumption of pot. To get their message across, they are skewering some of the old Drug War-era ads that focused on the fears of marijuana, including the famous "This is your brain on drugs" fried-egg ad from the 1980s.

They are planning posters, brochures, billboards and magazine ads to caution consumers to use the drug responsibly and warn tourists and first-timers about the potential to get sick from accidentally eating too much medical-grade pot. "So far, every campaign designed to educate the public about marijuana has relied on fear-mongering and insulting marijuana users," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's biggest pot-policy advocacy group.

The MPP plans to unveil a billboard on Wednesday on a west Denver street where many pot shops are located that shows a woman slumped in a hotel room with the tagline: "Don't let a candy bar ruin your vacation." It's an allusion to Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist who got sick from eating one on a visit to write about pot.

The campaign is a direct response to the state's post-legalization marijuana-education efforts. One of them is intended to prevent stoned driving and shows men zoning out while trying to play basketball, light a grill or hang a television. Many in the industry said the ads showed stereotypical stoners instead of average adults.

Even more concerning to activists is a youth-education campaign that relies on a human-sized cage and the message, "Don't Be a Lab Rat," along with warnings about pot and developing brains. The cage in Denver has been repeatedly vandalized. At least one school district rejected the traveling exhibit, saying it was well-intentioned but inappropriate.

"To me, that's not really any different than Nancy Reagan saying 'Just Say No,'" said Tim Cullen, co-owner of four marijuana dispensaries and a critic of the "lab rat" campaign, referring to the former first lady's effort to combat drug use....

The advocacy ads tackle anti-drug messaging from year past. Inside pictures of old TV sets are images from historic ads. Along with the fried-egg one is an image from one ad of a father finding his son's drug stash and demanding to know who taught him to use it. The kid answers: "You, all right! I learned it by watching you!"

The print ad concludes, "Decades of fear-mongering and condescending anti-marijuana ads have not taught us anything about the substance or made anyone safer." It then directs viewers to consumeresposibly.org, which is patterned after the alcohol industry's "Drink Responsibly" campaign.

September 17, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 5, 2014

The latest episode of the Marijuana Today podcast is up

If you're in the market for something to listen to while you do chores around the house this weekend or during your Monday commute, look no further.  The most recent episode of the Marijuana Today, which covers marijuana policy news, podcast is now available.  I served as one of the panelists this week, alongside Adam Smith and Dan Goldman, with host Kris Lotlikar.  We talk about a new poll showing significant support for marijuana legalization, a Berkeley ordinance that requires marijuana dispensaries to distribute 2% of their product free of charge to patients below the poverty line, and a recent study that suggests medical marijuana legalization may reduce pain killer overdoses. You can download or listen to the podcast here or on iTunes.    

September 5, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 15, 2014

New episode of the Marijuana Today podcast

As I noted a few weeks ago, a new podcast called Marijuana Today has started up to take a weekly look at the latest in marijuana business and politics.   

I had the chance to appear as a panelist on this week's episode alongside Taylor West (Deputy Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association), Adam Smith (drug policy reform movement veteran), and the show's host, Kris Lotlikar.  Though I'm biased, I thought it was a great conversation and I had a lot of fun doing it.  We talked about Colorado's new youth anti-marijuana ads, federal roadblocks to marijuana research, and Gavin Newsom's latest comments on marijuana legalization, among other things.  

You can listen to the podcast here or on itunes.   

August 15, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Local Option for Marijuana

I haven’t blogged for a while, but I’ve been enjoying Doug’s and Alex’s and Rebecca’s posts over the summer.

After starting up several new projects over the summer, I’m finally able to begin blogging again. In my first few posts, I’m actually going to focus on one of the projects that consumed my summer time -- a symposium paper I’m writing tentatively called The Local Option for Marijuana. The paper asks whether states should allow local governments to ban marijuana sales, notwithstanding state legalization of the drug. Doug, Alex, and I have debated the merits of the local option before – see posts and comments here, here, and here. I think we identified most of the major arguments both for and against local control. But it also became clear to me that many of our arguments depended on contested assumptions about the effects of local control. For example, local control looks a lot less appealing if it simply displaces – rather than reduces – the harms associated with marijuana distribution (DUIs, etc.). But it’ll probably be decades before we can know with any certainty what happens when local communities ban vs. allow marijuana distribution. And that will simply be too late for most states, which must decide now whether to grant local governments the option of banning marijuana sales.   

Fortunately, we do have decades of experience with local control of alcohol that could prove instructive. Since the mid-to-late 1800s, states have delegated power to local governments to control – even ban -- the distribution of alcohol. Indeed, hundreds of counties inhabited by roughly 10% of the nation’s population remain “dry” today. Social scientists have exploited county-by -county variations to test the effects of various local controls on alcohol consumption, cirrhosis, traffic fatalities, etc.  In this article, I’m poring through that research for lessons about local control over marijuana. I have a few tentatively formed conclusions that I’ll share in the coming days. As always, I’m open to comments, critiques, and suggestions – sources, avenues of inquiry, etc.

August 13, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Highlighting how marijuana reform provides extraordinary small business opportunities

This morning's New York Times has this lengthy new article about the modern businesses surrounding marijuana reform headlined "Start-Ups Seize Marijuana Opportunities as Big Companies Hold Back." Here are excerpts:

When Garett Fortune’s brother was found to have cancer in early 2013, it was so advanced that all he could do was to try to live out the remainder of his life in as little pain and discomfort as possible. That meant taking about 30 pills a day, Mr. Fortune said — until his brother tried marijuana. “I saw him go from 30 pills a day to almost zero,” he said. “It helped his appetite and the nausea. He had a way better quality of life at the end than he would have without the cannabis. It made me a proponent of the industry.”

It also gave Mr. Fortune the idea for a business. With more states legalizing marijuana for medical uses — and, in Colorado and Washington, recreational ones — Mr. Fortune identified one of the industry’s challenges: packaging. The old standby, the resealable plastic bag, was not sufficiently effective, especially for a regulated industry, and Mr. Fortune already owned OdorNo, a company that made odor-proof bags for human and animal waste.

Mr. Fortune proposed a new product, odor-proof and child-resistant marijuana bags, to OdorNo’s advisory board. He expected the members to laugh him out of the room, but they did not. “Every single one of them told me: ‘This is the biggest opportunity on the planet right now. Follow that.’”

In May he licensed out production and distribution of OdorNo, and he and his team began building FunkSac in Denver. Although FunkSac bags are awaiting government approval, Mr. Fortune said he had hundreds of thousands of orders from cultivators, dispensaries and wholesalers. The company plans to begin delivering them this month and estimates it will have first-year revenue of about $2 million. Mr. Fortune said he had been contacted by dispensaries in 17 of the 22 states where medical marijuana was legal. “Right now,” he said, “it’s like drinking from a fire hose.”

To many, today’s cannabis industry resembles a modern-day Gold Rush. Troy Dayton, co-founder and chief executive of the ArcView Group in San Francisco, a network of 250 high-net-worth investors that backs cannabis start-ups, said more than 30 early-stage companies contact it every week. In the last year, he said, the group sent about $12 million in funding to 14 companies.

The size of the legal cannabis industry in the United States, measured by sales of the plant, was $1.5 billion in 2013, according to ArcView, which projects it will reach $2.6 billion in 2014 and $10 billion by 2018 — figures that do not include the growing numbers of ancillary businesses. The entire industry is dominated by small businesses, Mr. Dayton said, both because it is so new and because marijuana’s legality remains murky. Banks, for example, have been reluctant to take deposits or make loans to dispensaries because the drug is still illegal under federal law.

“You can’t have a national business,” Mr. Dayton said, because the laws vary by state. Opportunities for small businesses also exist because the stigma associated with the industry has discouraged bigger companies from getting involved. “You can’t find another industry growing at this clip that doesn’t have any major players,” he said. “That gives the little guy a chance to make a run at this.”...

SpeedWeed, a Los Angeles delivery service, allows customers to place an order online or by phone and have it delivered — depending on traffic — within 45 minutes. Although there are hundreds of marijuana delivery services in Los Angeles, AJ Gentile, a founder, said SpeedWeed was the largest. “Delivery services here are typically guys driving around in their car with a big box of weed,” he said.

Mr. Gentile said that SpeedWeed worked only with cultivators its legal team had vetted and that along with its delivery service, it planned to sell proprietary software to dispensaries nationwide. He estimated that the company had 20,000 legal customers and that revenue would double this year, up from $1.7 million in 2013.

Biological Advantage, founded in April, has a system of products it plans to introduce this month that are applied to a marijuana plant’s soil and leaves to enhance photosynthesis. The company’s chief executive, John Kempf, is also founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a crop-nutrition consulting company he started that has invested $400,000 in Biological Advantage. Mr. Kempf said his companies were a bit ahead of the game, anticipating what the market would need. “Growers aren’t yet looking at nutrition as a means for improving the medicinal concentrations in plants,” he said. “But they will.”

August 7, 2014 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Could Vermont become the first state to legislatively legalize marijuana?

The question in the title in this post is prompted by news yesterday that Vermont has contracted with RAND to study the possible effects of legalizing marijuana in the state.  

A study like this could provide political momentum and support for a planned 2015 legalization bill.  Though, of course, its actual impact will depend in large part on what the study finds.  At the very least, however, it indicates that a critical mass of elected officials in Vermont have more than just a passing interest in legalization.  

Also of note, Vermont's Governor, Peter Shumlin has been praised by NORML in the past for his support of reforming marijuana laws.  Shumlin is up for reelection this year.  Assuming he retains office, his presence would go a long way toward making legalization via legislation a real possibility.  (Some may recall that New Hampshire's legislative legalization efforts hit a road block earlier this year after opposition from their Governor.)

And, whatever the political outcome, I'm sure RAND's report will be interesting reading for all who follow this issue, especially since the news story indicates Beau Kilmer--whose work in this area is consistently must-read--will be meeting with Vermont officials next week to get the study going.

Here's some highlights from the story about the upcoming study:

Rand Corp. representatives will be in Vermont next week to begin work on a study of the effects that marijuana legalization might have on the state's economy, individual health and public safety.

 

The international, nonprofit research organization was chosen to conduct the study, which was mandated in a bill passed by the Legislature last session.

 

The state will pay $20,000 toward the study, which will be augmented by as much as $100,000 in private donations, officials said Friday.

 

Rand Corp. declined to comment on the research until the organization's senior policy analyst Beau Kilmer meets with Vermont officials next week. More details on the study would be released then, Rand spokesperson Warren Robak said.

 

"We were looking for someone who wasn't going to make a case that we legalize or not legalize," Spaulding said, adding that Rand is "very well-respected."

 

The report generated by Rand should give Vermont legislators the facts they need to have a well-informed debate next winter, one lawmaker says.

 

"I think the study will help with legislators and the public who inherently think it's a good idea but want evidence they can hold up to show people," said state Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden. Zuckerman said he will propose a marijuana regulation and legalization bill in the 2015 legislative session.

 

"It can work in other states," Zuckerman said. "We just have to make some changes."

July 22, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Latest polling shows rich, white, midwestern guys aged 30-44 most likely to favor pot legalization

As this press release details, the "latest research from YouGov shows that most Americans (51%) support legalizing marijuana, while 37% oppose it."  And, as the title of this post highlights, I find especially interesting the demographics of which groups of persons are most in favor of legalization as reflected in these detailed breakdowns:

Male: 54% to 36%

Age 30-44: 60% to 28%

Democrat: 62% to 27%

White: 52% to 37%

Income $100+: 57% to 32%

Midwest: 55% to 31%

July 16, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New "Marijuana Today" podcast on marijuana business, policy and politics

My good friend Kris Lotlikar has started a new podcast called "Marijuana Today," releasing the first episode yesterday.  I just listened to it and can't recommend it enough.  Anyone interested in marijuana law and policy who wants something to help pass the time while working out or commuting will definitely enjoy it.  

Kris has a long history in drug policy, having served as the first executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.  He's now in business, as co-founder and president of an alternative energy company, Renewable Choice Energy.  Kris has also continued his involvement in drug policy and he is affiliated with the Arcview Group

Unlike other marijuana-related podcasts, which seem to be targeted at users, Marijuana Today takes a serious look at marijuana policy and features experts in business, law, politics, and more. 

The first episode includes (among other things) an insightful discussion on the differences between Colorado and Washington's legalization laws, a discussion about the flaws and features of New York's new medical marijuana law, and some interesting news about the status of medical marijuana licenses in Massachusetts.  Joining Kris Lotlikar on the episode are: Kris Krane, Managing Partner of the marijuana dispensary consulting firm 4Front Advisors; community organizer Dan Goldman; and Oregon political mover Adam Smith.  

I've been in touch with Kris about appearing on a future episode myself and hope to do so as soon as scheduling permits.

You can listen to it at the link above or via iTunes (just search for "Marijuana Today" in Podcasts). 

July 15, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Seattle's only marijuana store out of product, the DEA losing ground on legalization, Cuomo's medical marijuana problem, and more

This weekend saw a number of noteworthy posts and articles on marijuana law issues.  Among them:

July 14, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lines form to greet start legal recreation marijuana sales in Washington

WapotAs reported in this AP article, headlined "Line forms early, trucks deliver goods as Washington’s legal pot sales start," today officially kicks off legal recreational marijuana sales in a second US state. Here are the basics:

Marijuana growers loaded trucks with boxes of packaged pot on Tuesday as lines of customers grew outside a handful of stores poised to be the first to sell recreational cannabis legally in Washington state.

“I voted for it, and I’m just so excited to see it come to be in my lifetime,” said Deb Greene, a 65-year-old retiree who waited all night outside Cannabis City, the only licensed shop in Seattle. “I’m not a heavy user; I’m just proud of our state for giving this a try.”

Tuesday’s start of legal pot sales in Washington marks a major step that’s been 20 months in the making. Washington and Colorado stunned much of the world by voting in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot. Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1.

The final days before sales have been frenetic for growers and retailers alike throughout Washington. Cannabis City owner James Lathrop and his team hired an events company to provide crowd control, arranged for a food truck and free water for those who might spend hours waiting outside, and rented portable toilets to keep his customers from burdening nearby businesses with requests to use the restrooms.

Store openings are expected to be accompanied by high prices, shortages and celebration. As soon as the stores were notified Monday, they began working to place their orders with some of the state’s first licensed growers. Once the orders were received through state-approved software for tracking the bar-coded pot, the growers placed their products in a required 24-hour “quarantine” before shipping it Tuesday morning.

Sea of Green Farms co-owner Bob Leeds got an early start Tuesday as he loaded about seven pounds of marijuana into boxes for a drive to Bellingham and delivery to the Top Shelf Cannabis store in time for its 8 a.m. opening. The pot was packaged in 1 gram plastic bags. An AP survey of licensees awarded by Washington state to store owners showed that only about six planned to open Tuesday, including two stores in Bellingham, one in Seattle, one in Spokane, one in Prosser and one in Kelso. Some were set to open later this week or next, while others said it could be a month or more before they could acquire marijuana to sell.

Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational pot shops across the state. Pot prices were expected to reach $25 a gram or higher on the first day of sales — twice what people pay in the state’s unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. That was largely due to the short supply of legally produced pot in the state. Although more than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers, fewer than 100 have been approved — and only about a dozen were ready to harvest by early this month.

Nevertheless, John Evich, an investor in Bellingham’s Top Shelf Cannabis, said his shop wanted to thank the state’s residents for voting for the law by offering $10 grams of one cannabis strain to the first 50 or 100 customers. The other strains would be priced between $12 and $25, he said.

July 8, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Bill Clinton on medical marijuana: "I think we should leave it to the states"

A couple of weeks ago, likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said medical marijuana should be available for some patients under appropriate circumstances.  Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, appears to have gone a bit further in support of marijuana law reform in these remarks on Meet the Press over the weekend:

 

"I think there's a lot of evidence to argue for the medical marijuana thing," Clinton said. "I think there are a lot of unresolved questions, but I think we should leave it to the states. This really is a time when there should be laboratories of democracy, because nobody really knows where this is going."

 

While Clinton stopped short of endorsing legalization at the federal level, he said he supports states' experimentation.

 

"There’s all these questions, and I think that I like where it is now," he said. "If the state wants to try it, they can. And then they’ll be able to see what happens.”

June 30, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)