Thursday, December 8, 2016
Despite uncertainty as to his personal views on marijuana, President-elect Donald Trump hasn't shied away from nominating people to his administration who are openly hostile to it. Trump recently nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be the next attorney general and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as the next director of the Department of Health and Human Services, both of whom have been strong critics of legalization. Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that Trump will soon announce retired Marine General John F. Kelly as the next director of the Department of Homeland Security. While his views on marijuana policy appear slightly more nuanced than those of Session or Price, Kelly is still hostile to marijuana legalization. The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham writes:
Kelly served as the head of the U.S. Southern Command, a posting that gave him oversight ofU.S. security operations for Central America, the Caribbean and the entirety of South America. Trump settled on Kelly in part for his Southwest border expertise, according to people familiarwith the deliberations.
In that role, Kelly grappled with issues relating to the international illicit drug trade and the flow of narcotics, including heroin and cocaine, from countries in the Southern Hemisphere to markets in the United States...
Kelly is, however, critical of marijuana legalization. He calls the plant a gateway to harder drugs (this notion is disputed by many drug abuse researchers and the National Institute on Drug Abuse). He does support the use of medical marijuana, however: “I'm not a doctor,” he told the Military Times, “but I'm told it has a medical use. So whether it's veterans or anyone else, if it helps those people, then fine. Medicine is medicine.”
Kelly's nomination would be the third Trump Cabinet pick who is an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization. Attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been harshly critical of legalization efforts, arguing that “good people don't smoke marijuana.” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump's pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has been one of the most reliably anti-marijuana members of Congress in recent years, voting against even modest policy changes.
As DHS secretary, Kelly wouldn't have as direct an effect on federal drug policy as the attorney general or the Health and Human Services secretary. But if confirmed, he would be one more Cabinet-level skeptic of marijuana legalization in an era of increasing marijuana legalization at the state level.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
The title of this post comes from this Denver Post article by Christopher Ingraham noting new information from the Charlotte-Mecklenberg P.D. that the September 20th shooting that left Keith Lamont Scott dead was precipitated by simple marijuana possession.
According to police, plainclothes officers first noticed Scott when he pulled into the parking lot in which they were sitting in an unmarked car waiting to serve a warrant on a wanted suspect, after he began rolling what appeared to be a "blunt." Police say they were not initially interested in Scott but later became concerned when they saw him with a gun. Notably, as The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery reported last week:
Because of that, the officers had probable cause to arrest him for the drug violation and to further investigate Mr. Scott for being in possession of a gun.
After changing into clothes that clearly marked them as police officers, they confronted Scott. They claim they later shot and killed him after he aimed his gun at them, though this newly released video appears to contradict that claim. Whether Scott brandished his weapon in a manner that would legally warrant the use of deadly force hopefully will be clarified when police release all available video of the incident next week (although we perhaps may never have a definitive answer to that question).
Importantly, however, as Ingraham writes:
It’s not the first time low-level marijuana possession has escalated to a fatal police encounter. Last August, 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was fatally shot by police in Seneca, South Carolina, as he tried to flee from an attempted marijuana bust. In 2012, officers killed unarmed Bronx teenager Ramarley Graham as he tried to flush pot down the toilet. Trevon Cole was doing the same thing when police killed him in Las Vegas in 2010 during a drug raid at which no weapons were found.
As the Drug Enforcement Administration notes, nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose. But aggressive enforcement of drug laws has led to some deaths. Growing efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in part seek to reduce these kinds of police encounters that can turn fatal.
Places that have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana treat offenses essentially like parking tickets. Data shows that decriminalization typically leads to drastic reductions in the number of marijuana-related arrests. For instance, the month after the New York City Police Department announced it would treat low-level drug possession as a noncriminal violation instead of a misdemeanor, arrests plummeted 75 percent year over year, according to the Associated Press.
But as the cases above vividly illustrate, decriminalization doesn’t eliminate violent encounters. Marijuana was decriminalized in Nevada when Cole was killed. It was decriminalized in New York state when Graham was killed. And it’s decriminalized in North Carolina, where Scott was killed.
This is one reason many drug policy reformers say decriminalization isn’t enough...
Indeed, after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, the overall arrest rate for marijuana-related crimes fell significantly, although not indiscriminately. As The San Francisco Chronicle recent reported:
In the first two years of legalization, marijuana arrests fell 46 percent as many people complied with the new regulations, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety. However, while the number of arrests decreased 51 percent for whites, they dropped only 33 percent for Latinos and 25 percent for African Americans. The pot-related arrest rate for African Americans remained nearly triple that of whites.
Juvenile marijuana arrests increased by 5 percent overall, but went up 29 percent for Latino youths and 58 percent for black youths. The number of white juveniles arrested fell 8 percent.
Put simply, marijuana won't kill you, but getting caught with it by police might; and, the chance of an encounter with police because of marijuana possession is higher if you're a person of color. If Chelsea Clinton had made this argument during her Ohio campaign stop earlier this week, perhaps she would have saved herself from the mockery of suggesting that marijuana can kill you, a claim she of course took back shortly thereafter.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by the fact that, as highlighted in this recent post, lots of folks (myself included) expect 2016 to be a big year in the marijuana reform arena largely because many states will be seriously considering, legislatively and/or through voter initiatives, full legalization of marijuana for recreational use. In addition, 2016 could also include major "on the ground" developments in newer recreational states like Alaska and Oregon and in newer medical states like Illinois and Maryland and New York.
But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front. Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies. And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).
Of course, if the Supreme Court were to take up for review on the merits the lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado, then the federal judiciary would quickly become the focal point for possible federal developments. But, as noted here by Rob Mikos, the US Solicitor General of the Department of Justice urged SCOTUS not to take up this case. And even if SCOTUS were to decided to consider this suit on the merits, I am not sure the Court would come out with a major ruling in this quirky "original suit" setting in 2016.
But perhaps, living as I do way outside the Beltway, perhaps I am reading the tea leaves wrong about the prospect of some notable federal marijuana reform developments in 2016. Maybe issues related to federal prohibition will become a topic of discussion on the Prez campaign trail, especially if reform-friendly places out west like Arizona, Colorado and Nevada start looking like major swing states. And maybe I am missing some other possible development entirely. For that reason, I would love to hear from readers, in the comments or via e-mail, about whether they expect any noteworthy marijuana reform developments on the federal front in 2016.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
I recently had the pleasure of speaking at length to a terrific reporter covering marijuana reform issues for International Business Times, and I told the reporter that I was quite impressed with the extent and sophistication of IBT's on-going coverage of these issues. Thereafter, it dawned on me that I have not consistently highlighted these realities on this blog space. But here is just an abridged review of some of the great IBT pieces from various reporters in just the last few weeks:
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Opponents of marijuana reforms have, understandably, made much of any deaths in Colorado that might be reasonably linked in some way to marijuana legalization. But this sad story from New York, headlined "Bronx Teenager Who Fell From Roof While Fleeing the Police Dies," provides an example of a death that might be reasonably linked to marijuana prohibition:
A Bronx teenager who fell off the roof of a sixstory apartment building on Thursday while fleeing police officers died of his injuries on Saturday at St. Barnabas Hospital, the police said.
Authorities said Hakeem Kuta, 17, was with a group of other teenagers who were smoking marijuana Thursday evening in the lobby of the apartment building at 2685 Valentine Avenue in the Bronx. A man who exited the building complained to four uniformed officers, who then entered the lobby.
When Mr. Kuta and several others ran to the roof, two officers chased them. All but Mr. Kuta and a 14-year-old were able to elude the police. With officers shouting, “please don’t move,” Mr. Kuta tried to step over a short wall at the edge of the building but stumbled, officials said. The 14yearold grabbed for Mr. Kuta’s vest as he fell, officials said, but he was not able to hang on.
The Police Department said that the officers appeared to have acted appropriately. After Mr. Kuta fell, officers raced from the roof to give first aid, officials said. Officer Maria Imburgia applied chest compressions until paramedics arrived. Officers made no arrests on Thursday evening, though marijuana was found in the lobby.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
"First Church of Cannabis" moves quickly to take advantage of Indiana's controversial religious freedom law
As reported in this Huffington Post article, there is an interesting new cannabis angle on the new law in Indiana that is stirring up much controversy. Here are the details:
Indiana's new "religious freedom" law has been widely criticized and condemned by many, but an innovative marijuana activist in the state is using the bill's legal protections as a means to set up a new religious sect -- the First Church of Cannabis, where members would aim to use marijuana freely as a sacrament in a state where the substance remains banned.
"It's a new religion for people who happen to live in our day and age," Bill Levin, the church's founder, told The Huffington Post in an interview Monday. "All these old religions, guys walking across the desert without Dr. Scholls inserts, drinking wine out of goat bladders, no compass, speaking Latin and Hebrew -- I cannot relate to that shit. I drive by Burger Kings, bars and corn fields. I cannot relate to an antique magic book."
As Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act last Thursday, Levin was filing church registration paperwork with the secretary of state, which was approved on Friday, he announced on the church's Facebook page.
Levin is dead-serious about his new church. He says it's founded on universal principals of love, respect, equality and compassion. And similarly to other religious movements like the Rastafarians in Jamaica who see cannabis use as a sacrament, Levin said members of his church will adopt a similar belief in the plant. But unlike the Rastas, there is not a traditional deity at the top of this faith....
Levin is strongly against his state's controversial RFRA, but he said he'll take full advantage of the legal loopholes the bill may create. No stranger to marijuana advocacy, Levin has worked for years to change the laws in his home state through an organization he founded, Relegalize Indiana. "I fought this bill tooth and nail," Levin said. "And because of our brave and brilliant governor," he continued, his voice brimming with sarcasm, "he opened up the door for me to take my campaign to religion. The state will not interfere with religious belief -- well buddy, my religious belief is green with red hairs, and boy do I like to smoke it."
Marijuana is still illegal in Indiana, so it remains unclear if Levin's plan would work under current state laws. While a church that includes sacramental marijuana use is not without precedent, and several have emerged in the United States with varying degrees of success, much of their ability to survive hinges on a state at least decriminalizing marijuana, if not legalizing it for limited purpose. But Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, an Indiana attorney and political commentator, told RawStory that if Levin can convince the state that, under the RFRA, smoking marijuana is part of his religion's practices, he may have "a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”
Levin says the announcement of the church has created a firestorm of interest and support. He set up a crowdfunding account last week when the church first received notice that its registration was approved by the state, and as of Monday morning, the church had already raised close to $2,000. He also says that he has personally received thousands of messages of support, and hundreds of people ready to volunteer to help him with his mission. The church's Facebook page, set up just days ago, already has more than 5,000 likes.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
After three years of legalization and 15 months of recreational sales, there is now another sad case in which a premature death apparently can be closely connected to the consumption of edible marijuana. This local story, headlined "Keystone visitor commits suicide after eating marijuana candies," provides these details:
A Tulsa, Oklahoma man visiting Keystone committed suicide after consuming a large amount of edible marijuana candies, according to a Summit County Coroner’s report. Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Luke Gregory Goodman, 22, was staying in Keystone with his cousin at the time of the incident, and was taken to Summit Medical Center Saturday night. Later, he was flown to St. Anthony’s Lakewood Hospital, where he was kept on life support for two days until he died Tuesday morning.
Wood said that Goodman’s cousin reported he and Goodman had consumed edibles earlier Saturday. A CBS4 report says Goodman bought $78 of edible marijuana with his cousin, Caleb Fowler, in Silverthorne. Goodman consumed five peach tart candies in total, each containing 10 mg of the active ingredient in marijuana, the recommended dose for an adult. The back of the package said the candies were supposed to take 1-2 hours take effect.
According to CBS4, Fowler said that several hours later, Goodman became “jittery” then incoherent and talking nonsensically. “He would make eye contact with us but didn’t see us, didn’t recognize our presence almost. He had never got close to this point, I had never seen him like this,” Fowler said.
Later, when his family left the condo, Goodman refused to join them. According to the report, Goodman may have used a handgun he normally carried for protection. Taneil Ilano, a Public Information Officer with the Summit County Sheriff’s Department, said a witness reported that Goodman consumed about four marijuana edibles that day, described as gummy bears. She added that police were dispatched around 10 p.m. on Saturday.
Luke Goodman’s mother, Kim Goodman, told CBS4 that her son had no signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, and believed the large amounts of edibles triggered his death. “It was 100 percent the drugs,” she said. “It was completely because of the drugs — he had consumed so much of it.”
The toxicology results are pending and will take about three weeks to be finalized.
As noted in this prior post from nearly a year ago, in the first part of 2014 two deaths in Denver were linked to marijuana intoxication . I have been pleasantly surprised that there have not been more of these kinds of tragic cases resulting from misuse of the drug, but my heart now goes out to everyone connected to this latest tragic incident.
Prior related post:
Thursday, March 5, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new article emerging from inside the Beltway headlined "Marijuana gets lift as 2016 presidential race takes shape." Here are excerpts:
Early signs indicate that marijuana entrepreneurs may have little to worry about as the 2016 presidential campaign takes shape, with some top-rung hopefuls warming to the idea of letting states decide whether to legalize recreational pot.
On the Republican side, those potential candidates include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom have admitted to using the drug during their younger years, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has said he was no “choir boy” in college. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she never experimented with marijuana but appears open to the idea of allowing states to legalize it.
It’s all good news for Tim Thompson, who commits a felony under federal law every time he sells marijuana to his customers at Altitude, the retail pot shop he opened last July in Prosser, Wash. With Thompson’s store legal under Washington state law, he said it would be a mistake for anyone running for president in 2016 to try to shut down his operation. “They’d be alienating themselves from a large majority of people who are for legalization if they took a hard line against it,” Thompson said.
While the push for legalization has gained great momentum in the past two years, the next president will have to decide whether to enforce the federal law that bans marijuana or follow the Obama administration’s lead in allowing states to tax and regulate it, as long as they do a good job policing themselves.
Legalization emerged as a big winner at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, where nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 activists who voted in a straw poll said it should be legal for either recreational or medical purposes. Nationally, the most most recent Gallup poll, conducted in October, found 51 percent of Americans backing legalization. But less than a third of conservatives said it should be legal.
The growing popularity of legalization was not lost on the parade of politicians at CPAC. “Well, I was told Colorado provided the brownies here today,” Cruz told his audience, a reference to the first state that allowed recreational pot sales in January of last year.
At the gathering, Paul, Bush and Cruz all said that legalization should be left up to the states, responding to questions from talk show host Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel. Clinton disclosed her views in June on CNN.
Tom Angell, chairman of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, based in Washington, D.C., said it’s obvious that presidential candidates are paying attention to polls. “Letting states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference is quickly becoming the default position among ambitious politicians in both parties. . . . When voters lead, politicians have to follow or get left behind,” he said.
To be sure, not all of the likely contenders in the top tier are jumping on the bandwagon. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a crowd-pleaser at CPAC who’s scoring high in early polls, is among those who have consistently opposed legalization. And others say it’s far too early to draw any conclusions on how the issue would fare in 2016.
Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said that with the general election still 20 months away, it’s hardly a surprise that candidates are using what he called “the states’ rights card” as often as possible. But he noted that even George W. Bush, as a Republican presidential candidate in 1999, said states should have the right to decide whether to legalize medical marijuana. As president, Bush backed the federal law outlawing marijuana. “I doubt that any of these candidates will want to run as the pro-marijuana candidate,” Sabet said. “Even Rand Paul stopped short of endorsing legalization, and he is the most libertarian of the bunch.”
Paul, who won the straw poll Saturday at CPAC for the third consecutive year, had plenty of backing from pro-marijuana activists at the conference. Many of his supporters said they believe Paul would move to legalize marijuana if he won the presidency. “He’s more receptive to it than any other candidate,” said Dave Hargitt of Fayetteville, N.C., president of the North Carolina chapter of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, a group that had a booth at the exhibit hall at CPAC. “God gave us all free will, and that’s free will to make good decisions or bad decisions – it’s not the government’s place to tell me what I can and cannot do.”
Paul, who backs reduced penalties for drug offenses, appears ready to make marijuana a campaign issue. Last week at the political conference, he accused Bush of hypocrisy for opposing medical marijuana as governor even though he had smoked pot as a prep student.
John Baucum, president of the Houston Young Republicans, said that’s a message that resonates with the large group of voters under 40. “First of all, I think he’s somebody who can win,” Baucum said of Paul. “We don’t see a lot of the candidates reaching out for that demographic, except for Rand.”...
Thompson, co-owner of the Washington state pot store, said it would be a relief to not have to worry about the federal law prohibiting marijuana after Obama leaves office in January 2017. “Having it controlled by the state is a good idea,” he said. “In this area – and it’s a conservative area – most people like it when the federal government has less control of what we do in our day-to-day lives, especially something like this. It’s basically adults just trying to enjoy themselves.”
Some prior related posts:
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Newest (and most interesting?) laboratory experiment with marijuana reform officially underway in Alaska
As detailed in this lengthy AP piece, headlined "No street parties, no citations: Alaska quietly ushers in legalized marijuana," the state nicknamed The Last Frontier is now an important and especially interesting new frontier in the state-level laboratories of democracy experimenting with recreational marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:
Alaska on Tuesday became the third U.S. state to legalize marijuana. But the historic day passed with little public acknowledgement in a state with a savvy marijuana culture that has seen varying degrees of legal acceptance of the drug for 40 years.
Supporters said the day was a milestone, comparing it to the end of Prohibition. But unlike in Colorado and Washington state, there were no street parties and public smoking displays in Alaska's biggest cities.
Dolly Fleck-Phelps, a Kenai resident with an ancillary marijuana business, said she thought people would look back on the day as a turning point for Alaska. "Absolutely this is history in the making," Fleck-Phelps said. "This is the opening of the door. Now it's time for the real work to begin."
Legalization marked the end of a 43-year political battle for Bill Parker, 70. The Anchorage man, who was listed as a sponsor of the initiative, first banded together with a group of young Democrats elected to the state House of Representatives to introduce a legalization bill in 1972. "Gee, there weren't enough votes to worry about," the retired deputy commissioner of corrections said.
Parker's hopes for legal weed dwindled as he saw Alaska become more Republican and more conservative over the years. He said perhaps the marijuana vote marks the end of that pendulum swing. Now that pot is legal, Parker is ready to take a pause to enjoy the moment, but he said he won't stop fighting. "Well, it makes me feel good. It's not over, of course. The initiative passed by between 5 and 6 percent, so 40 some percent of the people voted against it. Not all of them are ready to lay down and go along," Parker said....
Alaska has had a complicated history with marijuana over the years. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1975 said personal marijuana possession was protected under the state constitution's right-to-privacy clause. In 1998, voters legalized medicinal marijuana. But over the years, state lawmakers twice criminalized any possession, creating an odd legal limbo, and never created rules for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.
Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of the pro-pot coalition that included libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution....
As of Tuesday, adult Alaskans can not only keep and use pot, they can transport, grow it and give it away. A second phase, creating a regulated and taxed marijuana market, won't start until 2016 at the earliest. That's about the same timeline for Oregon, where voters approved legalizing marijuana the same day as Alaska did. But the law there doesn't go into effect until July 1.
Police throughout Alaska were prepared to hand out $100 citations for anyone caught smoking pot in public, but departments stretching more than 1,100 miles from Nome on the state's western coast to Juneau in the southeast panhandle hadn't issued a ticket during the day. "We haven't even received a call or complaint about anybody doing it," said Steve Goetz, deputy chief for the University of Alaska Fairbanks police department....
Others remained concerned on Tuesday about the details not yet worked out regarding legalization. When the public voted last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, voters left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out. Elisabeth Schafer, a Sitka resident visiting Juneau for work, said she was worried about the state developing a workable system of regulations. "I just wish we had waited longer as a state," Schafer said. "I don't want to blaze the way for other states."
Among the questions remaining on Tuesday were what public places consumption was prohibited in, and how the regulations for a new commercial industry would look. The initiative bans smoking in public, but it doesn't define what that means, and lawmakers left the question to the alcohol regulatory board. There were missteps even as the board decided pot can't be smoked in places generally accessible to the public, like parks, schools or on the street in Alaska.
Board members met via a teleconference Tuesday, but it started late because organizers gave out the wrong telephone number. The call originated from the board's Anchorage office. However, a locked gate blocked access to the meeting site.
I think Alsaka is an especially interesting state to watch closely in the months and years ahead because it is such a unique state in so many ways: its size, small population, history of libertarian/conservative values and its relative isolation from the rest of the US. Also, Alaska as part of the second set of jurisdictions legalization recreational marijuana, can and should be able to draw some regulatory lessons from Colorado and Washington as it creates a new regulatory structure for a commercial marijuana industry. And, especially as debate over federal marijuana reform begins to heat up in Congress in the months and years ahead, Alaska's two GOP senators might provide to be especially important national players within the establishment of the political party that has been recently most resistant to reform of federal criminal drug laws.
February 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, January 18, 2015
The front-page of today's New York Times has this notable lengthy article about a notable problem increasing in Colorado since marijuana legalization. The piece is headlined "Odd Byproduct of Legal Marijuana: Homes That Blow Up," and here is how the article starts:
When Colorado legalized marijuana two years ago, nobody was quite ready for the problem of exploding houses. But that is exactly what firefighters, courts and lawmakers across the state are confronting these days: amateur marijuana alchemists who are turning their kitchens and basements into “Breaking Bad”style laboratories, using flammable chemicals to extract potent drops of a marijuana concentrate commonly called hash oil, and sometimes accidentally blowing up their homes and lighting themselves on fire in the process.
The trend is not limited to Colorado — officials from Florida to Illinois to California have reported similar problems — but the blasts are creating a special headache for lawmakers and courts here, the state at the center of legal marijuana. Even as cities try to clamp down on homemade hash oil and lawmakers consider outlawing it, some enthusiasts argue for their right to make it safely without butane, and criminal defense lawyers say the practice can no longer be considered a crime under the 2012 constitutional amendment that made marijuana legal to grow, smoke, process and sell.
“This is uncharted territory,” said State Representative Mike Foote, a Democrat from northern Colorado who is grappling with how to address hashoil explosions. “These things come up for the first time, and no one’s dealt with them before.”
Thursday, January 15, 2015
The question in the title of this post is the question I am asking myself as I gear up for second year of teaching my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform Seminar. As the National Law Journal highlighted in this lengthy article, headlined "Law Schools Firing Up Marijuana Law Classes," a law school course devoted specifically to marijuana laws and policies was novel back in Fall 2013 when I first taught my seminar, but not it is becoming all the rage. Specifically, I am aware of marijuana-focused courses this Spring being offered at:
University of Denver College of Law, titled "Representing the Marijuana Client"
Hofstra University School of Law, titled "Business and Law of Marijuana"
Santa Clara University College of Law, titled "Drug Policy Practicum"
Vanderbilt Law School, titled "Marijuana Law & Policy"
Conversations with some of the professors teaching these courses, and even the diverse course titles themselves, strongly suggest that various (and perhaps very distinct) themes and materials will be at the center of these various courses. But I am wondering now whether all the different students in all these different courses will (or should) get exposed to certain essential marijuana law materials.
To this end, I know that Vanderbilt's Rob Mikos is working on a casebook tentatively titled Marijuana Law and Policy, and I surmise his (somewhat traditional?) law school course is focused a good bit on the substance of federal and state marijuana laws and the (ever-evolving) doctrinal implications of these laws. In contrast, I have found myself inclined to focused my seminar on the social and political history of intoxicant prohibitions in the United States and the (ever-evolving) prospects for and potential consequences of continued marijuana law reforms. Consequently, I am not going to expect my students to delve too deeply into the doctrinal intricacies of particular state and federal laws.
Ironically, one reason I have been encouraging more and more folks to consider developing new courses around marijuana law, policy and reform is because I see so many distinct and distinctly valuable ways to present recent legal developments to students and to encourage them to think critically about the modern marijuana reform movement. And yet, as the title of this post indicates, I am finding myself growing ever more concerned that law professors working in this space should perhaps be working toward identifying a core cannabis canon.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Via e-mail, I was alerted to this Brookings FixGov blog post by Brookings Fellow John Hudak titled "Marijuana Policy in 2015: Eight Big Things to Watch." The e-mail provided this helpful summary of various points made in the longer posting:
1) Oregon, Alaska Plan & Prepare for Legal Marijuana: How well each of these state legislatures and alcohol regulatory bodies work together will determine the success or failure of marijuana policy in these states. As it borders Washington, Oregon’s commercial and regulatory choices will be particularly crucial in understanding to what extent states may strive for market advantages vis-à-vis bordering states.
2) Identifying the Next States to Legalize: 2015 will show which states are serious about ballot initiatives in 2016. It’s widely expected that California will advance an initiative and Florida might take another swing at approving medical marijuana, after falling just short of approval in 2014.
3) Cannabis Policy & State Legislative Action: In some states, the battleground for enacting items like the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana is not the ballot box, but the state legislature.
4) Cannabis & the Courts: Multiple high-profile lawsuits surrounding marijuana policy may play out in 2015. For instance, Coats v. Dish Network may settle the issue of employer-sponsored marijuana testing and a Supreme Court case involving Nebraska and Oklahoma’s suing of Colorado over legalizing marijuana will indicate the willingness of federal courts to engage in this policy area.
5) Answers to Questions About D.C.’s Marijuana Policy: Clarity about the future of marijuana policy in Washington, D.C. will almost surely be left to the federal courts, particularly if there is congressional inaction on Initiative 71.
6) Colorado & Washington (& Uruguay) Continue Legalization: InColorado, edibles, product testing, and homegrows will be on the agenda. The policy challenge Washington faces is that legal weed could be too costly to lure consumers from the black market. On the international front, Uruguay works hard to ready a bureaucracy and a consumer base for the experiment.
7) Data, Data, Data: One key takeaway for policy advocates, both supporters and opponents, will be to patiently wait to draw conclusions as the data are currently incomplete and imperfect. 2015 will offer steady flows of data from Colorado and Washington, and eventually other states.
8) Presidential Candidates & Cannabis: Marijuana policy will definitely be part of the 2016 conversation in a way that it has not in previous presidential campaigns. And the issue will be particularly interesting to watch as it does not fall neatly along party lines.
I think points 7 and 8 are the most interesting, dynamic and unpredictable stories to watch from among this list. I would also add to the list...
9) Political Party leaders and Pot Policy: Key leaders of both parties inside and outside the Beltway have, to date, said relatively little about marijuana reform. Cautious "establishment" politicians --- ranging from Prez Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown on the D side and from Mitch McConnell to John Boehner to Mitt Romney on the GOP side --- will only be able to dodge the new terms of the modern policy debate for so long.
January 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
As reported in this CBS News article, headlined "$2 billion company betting big on marijuana," a notable new player has become an investor in the marijuana industry. Here are the details:
Until now, it's been a few rich individuals who secretly funded burgeoning pot companies, but for the first time, a major investment firm is going to put multimillion dollars behind marijuana. It's a partnership between two investors and the first institutional investments in pot, reports CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.
Geoff Lewis's firm, Founders Fund, a $2 billion company, made its name investing early in new companies like Facebook, Spotify and SpaceX. But now it's betting on pot. "We discuss all our investments for a long time. ...So particularly in this case, we did an extra, extra deep dive on the business," Lewis said. The business is recreational marijuana, now legal in four states. Medicinal marijuana is legal in more than 20.
Privateers Holdings CEO Brendan Kennedy said it is a watershed moment. "It's important for our company, but it's also important for the entire industry," Kennedy said. Privateers Holdings is the parent company of three cannabis brands: Tilray, which grows marijuana in Canada; Leafly, an online database of different pot strains and stores; and Marley Natural, from the family of reggae star Bob Marley, which aims to become the "Marlboro of marijuana."
Kennedy faced challenges along the way. "Raising money is always difficult, but raising money in this particular industry is the hardest thing I've ever done," he said. But Founders Fund is backing Kennedy's companies because it sees a future in what they says is already a $40 billion business in the U.S....
"The surest way of doubling your money investing in cannabis stocks is to fold it back over and put it in your pocket," UCLA professor Mark Klieman warned. Klieman studies the cannabis marketplace and cautions: investors beware. "A lot of people are crowding into the marijuana industry because they think they are going to be able to sell a legal good at illegal prices," Klieman said. "Competition's not going to allow that. Legal cannabis is going to be dirt cheap, and I think a lot of people are going to lose their shirts trying to sell it."
That is, if they don't get arrested first. Under federal law, marijuana is still illegal. While the Justice Department has said it won't prosecute cannabis companies following state laws, that could change. Kennedy said he doesn't see a risk, however. "Over 80 percent of Americans believe the medical cannabis should be legal, 8 out of 10; you can't get 8 out of 10 American's to agree on anything," Kennedy said.
Lewis said this isn't a politically motivated investment. "We're investing because we think it's a great business," he noted. Both Lewis and Kennedy believe marijuana will be fully legal in the U.S. within a decade. As of now, there are no numbers on how many businesses have already started, or how many jobs have been created, but many experts agree the marijuana market could become a $150 billion to $200 billion market worldwide.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
I am pleased to see that the notable lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court last week by Nebraska and Oklahoma (basics here; commentary here and here) has generated lots of commentary from all sort of perspectives. Here are links to some of the commentary via various blogs:
By Jonathan Adler, "Are Nebraska and Oklahoma just fair-weather federalists?"
By Randy Barnett, "Nebraska and Oklahoma are misreading Raich"
By Kent Scheidegger, "Pot, Prohibition, and Original Jurisdiction"
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Anyone 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."
Thursday, December 18, 2014
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."
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
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."
Friday, November 21, 2014
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.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
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.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
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)