Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, February 8, 2016

Oregon Health Authority report calls for "the creation of an independent, free‐standing Oregon Institute for Cannabis"

I was intrigued and pleased to see this notable new press story out of Oregon reporting on this notable new public health task force report titled "Researching the medical and public health properties of cannabis."  Here are the basics via the press coverage:

Oregon should fund an independent marijuana institute to support and conduct world-class research into the drug's medical and public health benefits, says a task force that includes state officials, scientists and leading physicians.

Tax dollars generated through recreational marijuana sales would supplement private funding to underwrite the quasi-public Oregon Institute for Cannabis Research. The center would hire research scientists, as well as staff to help academic researchers navigate the complexities of federally sanctioned cannabis research.

The recommendation, included in a report submitted Monday to the Legislature by the task force, calls for Oregon to break new ground by providing a sustained source of state money to support marijuana research. Among the proposals: the institute itself would grow and handle marijuana for research purposes. "This institute will position Oregon as a leader in cannabis research and serve as an international hub for what will soon be a rapidly accelerating scientific field," states the report, prepared by the Oregon Health Authority. "No other single initiative could do as much to strengthen the Oregon cannabis industry and to support the needs of Oregon medical marijuana patients."

The proposal represents the latest effort by states to fill gaps in marijuana research created by the federal prohibition of the drug. The government allows research on cannabis, but the approval process is especially complicated and involves marijuana produced at a government-run facility based at the University of Mississippi. The recommendation came out of a law passed last year by the Legislature that called for the creation of a governor-appointed task force to study ways to support a medical marijuana industry geared toward patients. The report doesn't include estimates for what it would cost to fund the center, but makes clear that financial support from the state would be essential. Other states have set aside money for research, but not on an ongoing basis.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, the lawmaker behind the provision that created the task force, said paying for the institute with revenue from the state's marijuana tax is a politically viable idea, but said it isn't likely to gain traction during the Legislature's 35-day session, which began last week. Under current law, marijuana tax revenue goes to the common school fund, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police, local and the health authority. "One thing I heard consistently is that people want to understand better the health effects and the health and safety issues -- the potential effects of pesticides and also the potential for medical uses of cannabis," he said. "I think there is broad support for those pieces."...

Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, also have plans for research. Colorado lawmakers in 2014 approved a one-time $9 million expenditure for marijuana-related studies, including three that will require federal approval, said Ken Gershman, medical marijuana research grant program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Six involve "observational studies" of people already consuming marijuana. University researchers in Colorado plan to examine whether young adults and adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease benefit from marijuana, and the effect of cannabidiol, a component of the marijuana plant known as CBD, on Parkinson's-related tremors. Other studies will examine the effect of high-CBD oil extracts on epilepsy, as well as the drug's impact on sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Washington, which offers a marijuana research license, carved out a percentage of its marijuana tax revenue for cannabis research. The law calls for some of that work to look at ways of measuring marijuana intoxication and impairment.

California was the first state to fund research into marijuana's medicinal benefits. In 2000, the state set aside $10 million to fund the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. The center oversaw multiple research projects, most of them looking at marijuana's effect on neuropathic pain. Like Colorado, California's funding was a one-time expenditure.

Dr. J.H. Atkinson, a co-director of the center and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said the research was "relatively small in scope and duration" but offered a potential model for other states. He said the studies showed a promising connection between cannabis and pain relief. "Without too much chest thumping," he said, "it was the most comprehensive body of research on the potential (of cannabis) ever conducted in this country."...

Research into marijuana is complicated by the drug's longtime status as a Schedule 1 drug. That category of drugs, which includes heroin, is defined as substances that have a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use." Federal research proposals involving involving Schedule 1 drugs must undergo review by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and must use cannabis produced by the University of Mississippi, which holds the lone government contract to grow pot for research purposes. The agency in 2014 said it planned to increase production of marijuana to support more research....

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said "ample research" and "an extensive history of human use" provide more than enough evidence to contradict marijuana's status under federal law as a drug that lacks medical benefit. Armentano said he welcomes more research from states like Oregon but is skeptical it will make a difference in the debate about marijuana's Schedule 1 status. "Unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy," he said. "If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place."

February 8, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 1, 2016

GAO says DOJ "should document its approach to monitoring" the impact of state marijuana legalization

I just learned of this notable new document authored by the US Government Accountability Office titled "STATE MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: DOJ Should Document Its Approach to Monitoring the Effects of Legalization." The report was apparently requested by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and here is a passage from its "Conclusions" section:

It has been over 2 years since DOJ’s ODAG issued guidance in August 2013 stating that in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form, if state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against threats to federal enforcement priorities, the federal government may seek to challenge the state regulatory structures themselves, in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions.  ODAG officials reported relying on U.S. Attorneys to monitor the effects of marijuana enforcement priorities through their individual enforcement actions and communication with state agencies about how state legalization may threaten these priorities.  ODAG officials also reported using various information sources provided by DOJ components and other federal agencies to monitor the effects of marijuana legalization and the degree to which existing state systems regulating marijuana-related activity protect federal enforcement priorities and public health and safety.

However, ODAG officials have not documented their monitoring process or provided specificity about key aspects of it, including potential limitations of the data they report using and how they will use the data to identify states that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities.  Given the growing number of states legalizing marijuana, it is important for DOJ to have a clear plan for how it will be monitoring the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to DOJ marijuana enforcement guidance.  Documenting a plan that specifies its monitoring process, such as the various data ODAG is using for monitoring along with their potential limitations, the roles of U.S. Attorneys in the monitoring process, and how ODAG is using all these inputs to monitor the effects of state legalization can provide DOJ with greater assurance that its monitoring activities are occurring as intended. Sharing the plan with DOJ components responsible for providing information to ODAG can help ensure that ODAG has an opportunity to gain institutional knowledge with respect to whether its monitoring plan includes the most appropriate information.  This will help place DOJ in the best position to identify state systems that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities, and take steps to challenge those systems if necessary in accordance with its 2013 marijuana enforcement guidance.

February 1, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Prez Obama clarifies that marijuana reform is NOT among his final priorities

Obama-weedThis Washington Post WonkBlog entry, headlined "Obama says marijuana reform is not on his agenda for 2016," reinforces my long-standing belief that Prez Barack Obama remains disinclined to use any of this limited political capital to try to advance a marijuana reform agenda. Here are the particulars:

Marijuana advocates hoping for a substantial shift in federal marijuana policy in the last year of the Obama administration are likely to be disappointed. At a briefing Friday, White House press secretary John Earnest said any progress on marijuana reform would need to come through Congress. President Obama had signaled his position a day earlier at the House Democratic retreat in Baltimore, saying marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, according to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

Cohen said he asked the president whether he wanted to "reschedule" marijuana. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, "the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence." Many lawmakers want to see it moved to Schedule 2, which acknowledges the plant's medical potential. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances altogether.

But Obama's answer on the rescheduling was "disappointing," Cohen said in an interview. "On marijuana, he gave the same answer as when I asked him seven years ago: 'If you get me a bill, and get it on my desk, I'll probably sign it,' " Cohen said (emphasis his).

At the briefing, Earnest clarified further: "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.' "...

The DEA is reviewing another petition to reschedule pot, but given the history, most observers are skeptical that anything will change this time around. "I don't think they're doing anything," Cohen said. "They've slow-walked it for all these years." He'd like to see the White House be more vocal about the process. "The president could just tell them to get it done," he said.

The latest public opinion polls show broad support not just for marijuana reform, but also outright legalization: Fifty-eight percent of Americans want to see marijuana use fully legalized, according to the latest Gallup polling on the issue. And a 2015 CBS news poll found that 84 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Moving marijuana to Schedule 2 of the Controlled Substances Act is a more modest step than full legalization or legalization for medical purposes. It would simply remove some of the barriers to research on uses of marijuana, barriers that the Brookings Institution recently said were "stifling" medical research.

Among people who study the issue, there is near universal agreement that marijuana doesn't belong in the same category of substances as heroin, as even the DEA has finally acknowledged. The consensus among researchers is that it's a lot less dangerous than alcohol, too. A federal classification that stands in such stark opposition to expert consensus "breeds contempt for the government," Cohen said. But if this week's remarks are any indication, addressing that contempt is not high on the White House priority list for 2016.

January 31, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Should Bernie Sanders’ Home State Embrace Socialized Cannabis?"

Vermont Seal TokeoftheTown2013-thumb-200x239-thumb-205x244The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this effective new International Business Times article highlighting some interesting aspects of the the on-going debate over marijuana legalization in Vermont.  I recommend the article in full (especially for students in my marijuana reform seminar), and here are a few excerpts:

As one of Vermont’s approximately 2,500 official medical marijuana patients, Robert Gwynn is excited his state lawmakers are considering legalizing cannabis.  Born with neurofibromatosis type 1, a tumor disorder that has left him with debilitating nerve pain, limited appetite and ongoing fatigue, the 31-year-old has been part of the state’s medical marijuana program for the past two years.  Medical marijuana, he says, has helped him halve his 14-pill-a-day pharmaceutical regimen, which had left him so mentally disconnected from reality he was afraid to drive.  But he thinks a recreational market could encourage the sort of competition, proficiency and price constraints lacking in the state’s current system of four nonprofit dispensaries statewide.  Once a month, Gwynn drives to a dispensary in Brandon, a four-hour round-trip drive from where he lives in Brattleboro, since he says the medicine quality and patient care at the dispensary 10 minutes from his house are so poor, he won’t shop there.

If Vermont legalizes marijuana, Gwynn figures it will look similar to programs up and running in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon, where for-profit businesses produce and sell marijuana.  He hasn’t noticed anyone proposing alternatives.  “I haven’t really heard it come up,” he says.  “When people talk about it, I don’t think it is something that comes to mind.”

Gwynn isn’t the only one who assumes legalized marijuana in Vermont, which could occur in coming months, will resemble cannabis markets elsewhere.  But drug policy experts say the state is perfectly positioned to go in a bold new direction, one that challenges widely held assumptions about the country’s mounting marijuana movement. Among those options could be a state-run system similar to how Vermont controls the sale of hard liquor within its borders.  Alternatives like this could limit the public health impacts of a marijuana market while still generating state revenue — that is, if lawmakers are willing to consider them.  And if Vermont isn’t willing to deviate from the path set by legalization efforts that came before it, does that mean the only realistic U.S. cannabis model moving forward is a free-market free-for-all?

With recent encouragement from both a former state attorney general and Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont lawmakers are actively considering becoming the fifth state (not counting Washington, D.C.) to legalize marijuana, building on a medical marijuana law the state passed in 2004 and a dispensary system it launched in 2011.  The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of three weeks of in-depth testimony and statewide public hearings on the issue, with the goal of voting Friday on whether to advance a legalization bill.  “I’m impressed,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who’s based in Vermont.  “I’ve been studying this issue for 20 years, and here you have politicians sitting in rooms, asking the right questions and trying to understand it for the first time in my life.”

If such a bill passes in the near future, Vermont would become the first state in New England, much less the entire Northeast, to legalize marijuana.  While just 626,000 people live in Vermont, the second least populated state in the country, roughly 2.7 million regular marijuana users live within 200 miles of the state, including those in New York City.  That means whatever legalized marijuana system Vermont chooses could have financial and political impacts far beyond its modest borders.

Because Vermont does not have a ballot initiative system like many states, the only way it can legalize marijuana is through the legislative process.  And if it does so this legislative session, it will be the first time marijuana ever has been legalized by lawmakers, not voters.  According to some experts, this means Vermont has the option of considering legalization models not likely to be floated at the polls.  “The initiative process is going to be driven by folks who want something to happen, who want legalization,” says Pat Oglesby, a tax attorney who studies marijuana at the Center for New Revenue in North Carolina.  “The legislative process could result in a more moderate, middle-ground approach.”

It’s why last year a Rand Corp. legalization study commissioned by the state for $20,000 (the rest of the study’s $120,000 price tag was covered by the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures) urged lawmakers to consider “that marijuana policy should not be viewed as a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington.”  Instead, the report’s authors, a who’s who of drug policy authorities nationwide, laid out a series of alternatives, including a nonprofit-only system, a supply chain overseen by a public authority similarly to how the Vermont State Housing Authority manages affordable housing initiatives and a market only open to “benefit corporations,” or b-corporations, that have positive social impact.  But the report focused special attention on one option in particular: a government-run monopoly model where the state controls marijuana production and distribution.

According to experts, a state-run marijuana system could have several benefits.  For starters, government-run cannabis outlets wouldn’t have the same sort of financial incentive to promote excessive marijuana consumption similar to how alcohol companies market to heavy users.  Instead, government marijuana outlets could focus on the sort of social protections that are a top priority for Shumlin.  “You would like a system where nobody has an incentive to encourage overuse of a drug,” says New York University marijuana policy expert Mark Kleiman. “State-monopoly retailing could be a better option if the state officials involved didn’t have any incentive to encourage problematic drug use and even better if they had a responsibility to discourage it.”  Reviews of private versus state-run alcohol systems have found “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption and related harms.”...

But now, as Vermont lawmakers narrow possible legalization, there’s little indication the state will deviate significantly from legalization efforts that came before.  One of two legalization bills being considered by the state judiciary committee (it will likely end up voting on a hybrid bill containing elements of both) would provide licensing preferences to the sort of b-corporations detailed in the Rand report.  But the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. David Zuckerman, says the other alternatives proposed in last year's report are likely political nonstarters.  “I think the extremes on both ends — straight unfettered capitalism and a government-run monopoly — are off the table,” says Zuckerman, adding, he believes the chances of a legalization bill passing this year “are a little better than 50-50.”

Some observers are disappointed. “It’s kind of surprising,” says Dan Rifle, Marijuana Policy Project’s former federal policy director, who left the organization over concerns industry interests were taking over the marijuana movement.  “If there’s any state where this should be happening, it’s Vermont.  They commissioned a report, and no one seems to have read it.”

But others say options like a state-controlled system aren’t being considered because they don’t make sense. Government-run programs such as this are prone to bureaucratic bloat, and, as MPP's Simon points out, anyone who’s seen the billboards just over New Hampshire's state lines advertising the Granite State's tax-free alcohol stores knows government-controlled outlets can still promote heavy use.  Plus, adds Simon, there’s no indication the legalization models already up and running are broken, so why bother fixing them?  “We could spend years discussing hypothetical models, but that would be missing the fact that Vermonters are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the worst possible marijuana model right now,” he says.  “We want to move this from the illicit market, and Colorado and Oregon and Washington have already shown that can be done in a responsible fashion.”...

But likely the biggest reason of all options like a state-run program aren’t getting more attention is that many people worry having state workers sell marijuana would put Vermont on a collision course with the federal government.  “If you are thinking about this from a public-health perspective and are still trying to bring in state revenue, the approach that probably makes the most sense is the government monopoly,” says Beau Kilmer, co-director of Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of the Vermont report.  “However, because of the government prohibition, most states aren’t really talking about this because they don’t want to put their employees at risk of arrest.”...

[B]etween such legal questions and the lack of political will around the issue, it’s easy to understand why a state-run marijuana system and other alternatives aren’t getting more airtime as Vermont moves ever closer to recreational marijuana.  Some experts say that’s too bad, since the state might offer one of the last best chances to take a hard look at what, exactly, legalized marijuana has to look like.  “It could matter enormously if Vermont does something that nobody else does,” says Kleiman.  “But if it doesn’t, and California goes the commercial marijuana route this year, as it probably will, then it might be too late.  When Congress gets around to legalizing cannabis, you won’t be able to consider models that aren’t focused on commercial production because the commercial interests involved will dominate the political process.”

I have suggested before that the big Rand report on Vermont's marijuana reform options (released around this time last year and blogged about here and here) is a must-read for any and all persons seriously considering different possible models for marijuana legalization.  However, I have long thought the report tended to over-emphasize the potential harms of a free-market approach to legalization, and also under-emphasized the potential harms of a government-run system.  In particular, my sense of government-run systems (I am thinking here about schools, prisons and health-care systems) is that they tend to move slowly in response to changing conditions, tend to have relatively high costs for the provision of even limited services, and also tend not to invest effectively in product innovations.  Especially in the marijuana space over the next few years, where legal and market realities keep changing, where elevated costs are likely will keep the black-market running, and where market innovation might be especially important as we move from black-to-grey-to-freer markets, I worry about a government-run system of full legalization potentially being the worst of all possible short-term solutions.

That all said, one key point about this debate in Vermont that is highlighted by this article is the reality that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is impeding the opportunity for state labratories to seriously consider all possible experimental approaches to marijuana reform.  This is one of the many reasons I am hopeful that before too long Congress will have the good sense to recognize that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is already having a significant and likely harmful impact on sensible state development of sound marijuana policies.

January 24, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Incumbent Landscapes, Disruptive Uses: Perspectives on Marijuana-Related Land Use Control"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Donald Kochan available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The story behind the move toward marijuana’s legality is a story of disruptive forces to the incumbent legal and physical landscape.  It affects incumbent markets, incumbent places, the incumbent regulatory structure, and the legal system in general which must mediate the battles involving the push for relaxation of illegality and adaptation to accepting new marijuana-related land uses, against efforts toward entrenchment, resilience, and resistance to that disruption.

This Article is entirely agnostic on the issue of whether we should or should not decriminalize, legalize, or otherwise increase legal tolerance for marijuana or any other drugs.  Nonetheless, we must grapple with the fact that many jurisdictions are embracing a type of “legality innovation” regarding marijuana.  I define “legality innovation” as that effect which begins with the change in law that leads to the development of the lawful relevance of, lawful business regarding, and legal use for a newly-legal product, the successful deployment of which depends on the relative acceptance of the general public which must provide a venue for its operations along with the relative change in the consuming public’s attitudes as a result of the introduction of legality.

Marijuana-related land uses are and will be controversial.  Regulatory responses, neighborhood disputes, permit battles, and opposition coalitions are all predictable both as a matter of logical analysis in light of legal standards but also, very importantly, due to the lessons of history with similarly-situated, precursor land uses like liquor stores, adult entertainment, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and the like leading the way.  The Article also discusses the role of incumbent interests groups in shaping the new marijuana-related regulatory structure, including revealing Baptist and bootlegger coalitions that exist to oppose relaxation of marijuana laws and thwart land use successes of the marijuana industry in order to maintain their incumbent value or profit position. Finally, the Article engages with the growing literature in the social sciences on place and space, examining how the spaces and places we inhabit and in which we conduct our business and social affairs are necessarily impacted whenever legality innovations like we are seeing with marijuana work to disrupt the incumbent landscape.

January 21, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Is opposing maijuana reform more important to conservatives than restricting federal power?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Forbes commentary by Jacob Sullum headlined "Legalization Lawsuit Shows Conservative Constitutionalists Have Marijuana-Related Memory Loss."  Here is how it starts and ends (with links from the original):

Last week, two days before Mexican authorities recaptured Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt pointed to another drug lord, this one hiding in plain sight: John Hickenlooper, a.k.a. the governor of Colorado.  “The State of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects, and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing, and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 States in 2014,” Pruitt writes in a Supreme Court brief joined by Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson.  “If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”

Hickenlooper actually was a drug dealer of sorts before he got into politics, having cofounded Wynkoop Brewing Company, a Denver brewpub, in 1988.  But he ended up running the drug trafficking organization described in Pruitt’s brief by accident.  He was elected governor two years before Colorado voters decided, against his advice, to legalize marijuana.  Pruitt and Peterson are trying to overturn that result, claiming that it hurt Oklahoma and Nebraska by encouraging an influx of Colorado cannabis.  Their argument shows how readily some conservative Republicans let their anti-pot prejudices override their federalist principles....

Last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott showed what a more consistent federalism looks like.  Abbott proposed nine constitutional amendments aimed at restoring the balance of power between the states and the federal government.  Number one on his list was an amendment that would “prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State,” in line with the original understanding of the Commerce Clause.  In a position paper that draws on the work of libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, who represented the plaintiffs in Raich, Abbott argues that the power to regulate interstate commerce is limited to activities that are both interstate and commerce (meaning the trade or exchange of goods).  He criticizes Raich at length, asking, “What constitutional provision conceivably could allow federal agents to raid a home and destroy plants that were planted, grown, and consumed inside the borders of one State and in accordance with that State’s law?”

Although Abbott does not say so explicitly, the implication of his argument is that federal prohibition — not just of marijuana but of cocaine, heroin, LSD, lawn darts, “assault weapons,” or “partial birth” abortion — is unconstitutional insofar as it extends to purely intrastate activity.  In other words, even if Oklahoma and Nebraska were right that Colorado’s regulation of the marijuana industry violates the CSA, it should not matter, because the CSA itself is unconstitutional.  When it comes to the Constitution, not all conservatives suffer from marijuana-related memory loss.

January 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Should we expect any major federal marijuana reform developments in 2016?

ImagesThe 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.

January 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gearing up for historic 2016 in the arena of marijuana law, policy and reform

Images (13)There are many reasons I have been telling colleagues and students that 2016 is likely to be a HUGE year in the marijuana law, policy and reform space, and I am obviously not alone in looking toward this new year as defining a dynamic and likely historic year in this arena.  To that end, here are links to (and brief excerpts from the start and headings of) two notable recent articles sounding these themes:

From Rob Kampia, executive director, Marijuana Policy Project at The Huffington Post, "2016 Will Be the Biggest Year Yet for Marijuana Policy Reform":

I don't often use superlatives, but it's easy to say that 2016 will be the most significant year yet in the battle to repeal marijuana prohibition in the United States. Up until now, the two biggest years were 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older.

2016 will likely comprise a cornucopia of cannabis policy advances, which I'll enumerate in the form of predictions.

Federal Policies ...

State Ballot Initiatives ...

State Legislation ...

On-site Consumption ...

From Sean Williams at The Motley Fool, "Here's Why 2016 Could Be Marijuana's Most Important Year Yet":

Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, many aspects of how marijuana is treated have changed dramatically over the past two decades.

In 1995, there wasn't a single state that allowed marijuana to be prescribed by doctors, support for marijuana's legalization stood at around 25% in Gallup's national poll, politicians avoided the topic like the plague, and the idea of recreational marijuana amounted to nothing more than a joke.

Yet, here we stand 21 years later with 23 states having legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, more than half of all respondents in Gallup's national poll sharing a favorable view of marijuana, politicians freely taking a stance on marijuana, and four states -- Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska -- all legalizing the recreational use of marijuana since 2012.  To opine that marijuana is gaining steam might be an understatement.

For marijuana supporters, access to new treatment pathways and the potential to use the drug recreationally without the fear of federal prosecution are the ultimate goals. For the states, it's all about the money. Tax revenue generated from the retail sale of marijuana can be critical to funding education, law enforcement, and even securing jobs within a state. Colorado's Proposition BB, which passed in a landslide in the November elections, secured $40 million in marijuana retail tax revenue for schools within the state.

But as exciting as marijuana's last two decades have been, the coming year could be its most important yet. The way I see it, there are three events in 2016 that could shape the future of the drug and marijuana businesses.

1.  The 2016 elections ...

2.  A look back at Oregon's first year of sales ...

3.  Can Epidiolex deliver? ...

January 2, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

More reform in Native lands: "Warm Springs tribes approve marijuana sales in historic vote"

Download (5)The title of this post is the headline of this recent article concerning a marijuana vote among a Native American tribal community in Oregon.  Here are the details:

Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs said yes to growing, processing and selling marijuana on the recreational market in a historic vote Thursday that drew record turnout, tribal officials said.

The referendum passed with 86 percent approval, said Don Sampson, CEO of Warm Springs Ventures, the tribes' economic development corporation, the group behind the proposal. Sampson said Friday that the election drew about 1,400 voters who "turned out even in a winter storm." Voter turnout among younger tribal members was especially strong.

Sampson called the vote "democracy in action" and said the tribes' marijuana enterprise will being "much needed jobs and revenue to the Warm Springs people." "Tribal citizens demonstrated the power of their vote," he said.

He said the tribe will develop a "model" of regulated cannabis for other tribes to follow nationwide.

Warm Springs is the latest Native American tribe to enter the regulated marijuana market. Legal experts estimate that no more than a dozen tribes nationwide have started up marijuana enterprises. The Warm Springs proposal calls for production and processing at a facility on the reservation with marijuana sales at three tribal run stores off the reservation. Marijuana possession, while legal in Oregon, remains illegal on the warm springs reservation.

Thursday's vote is the first step in the process of entering the market. The tribe will meet with officials in Gov. Kate Brown's office to hash out the conditions under which the enterprise will operate. Two tribes in Washington recently brokered historic agreements with the state to sell marijuana on the state's recreational market.

Regular readers know that I have given particular attention to marijuana reform efforts among Native American communities, in large part because I think these communities, if they become active in the legalized marijuana industry, are likely to further advance the need for the federal government to give up on marijuana prohibition sooner rather than later.

December 19, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mixed outcomes for marijuana reform efforts in latest omnibus spending bill from Congress

Though there are a number of federal marijuana reform bills kicking around Congress, it seems very unlikely any of these bills will be moving forward anytime soon. In the meantime, though, marijuana reform issues and proposals keep coming up in debates over government spending bills.  And, in the wee hours last night, Congress passed a big new spending bill that included (and failed to include) some notable marijuana reform provisions.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, a supporter of federal marijuana reforms, issued today this press release summarizing what appears and does not appear in the omnibus bill.  Here is part of the text of this release:

Representative Blumenauer is pleased to see the inclusion of the following provisions in the omnibus package:

  • The policy championed by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering in the ability of states to implement legal medical marijuana laws (Division B, Title V, Section 542)
  • Language that supports industrial hemp research allowed under Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill (Division B, Title V, Section 543 and Division A, Title VII, Section 763)

Representative Blumenauer is disappointed, however, that the bill falls short by not including provisions that:

  • Make it easier for banks to do business with state-legal marijuana businesses
  • Allow Veterans Health Administration providers to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in accordance with state law, a provision he championed in the House

Representative Blumenauer is also disappointed to see the continuation of a rider that interferes with Washington, DC's ability to pass laws dealing with the sale of marijuana for adult use.

December 16, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 20, 2015

"After federal raids, U.S. tribes cautioned about marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP article providing an effective review of the state of tribal affairs concerning marijuana reform roughly a year since the US Department of Justice issued notable guidance concerning federal law enforcement priorities in this arena.  Here are excerpts (with links from the source):

Tribes across the U.S. are finding marijuana is a is risky business nearly a year after a Justice Department policy indicated they could grow and sell pot under the same guidelines as states.

Federal raids on tribal cannabis operations in California followed by a South Dakota tribe's move this month to burn its crop amid fears it could be next have raised questions over whether there's more to complying with DOJ standards than a department memo suggested last December.

The uncertainty — blamed partly on thin DOJ guidelines, the fact that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal laws, and a complex tangle of state, federal and tribal law enforcement oversight on reservations — has led attorneys to urge tribal leaders to weigh the risks involved before moving forward with legalizing and growing pot.

"Everybody who is smart is pausing to look at the feasibility and risks of growing hemp and marijuana," said Lance Gumbs, a former chairman of the Shinnecock Tribe in New York and regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. "But are we giving up on it? Absolutely not."

At a conference on tribal economic development held in Santa Fe, tribal leaders and attorneys said Wednesday that the raids have shown there may be more red tape for tribes to negotiate when it comes to legalizing cannabis than states have faced.  That's especially the case for tribes that are within states where marijuana is not legal....

"Industrial hemp, medical marijuana and maybe recreational marijuana present a lot of opportunity. But for now, the best advice is to proceed with caution," said Michael Reif, an attorney for the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, where tribal leaders filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday after federal agents recently seized thousands of hemp plants grown for research.  "We're seeing the ramifications of things being unclear in a way states didn't."

The Flandreau Santee Sioux in South Dakota — a state where marijuana isn't legal — was the first to approve recreational pot under tribal law with a vote in June, and was one of the most aggressive about entering the industry, with plans to open the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation north of Sioux Falls.

But after weeks of discussions with authorities who signaled a raid was possible, the tribe announced last week it had burned all of its marijuana plants.  Anthony Reider, the tribe's president, told The Associated Press the main holdup centered on whether the tribe could sell marijuana to non-Indians, along with issues over where the seed used for planting originated.  He suggested that by burning the crops, the tribe could have a clean slate to relaunch a grow operation in consultation with authorities.

In California, the Alturas and Pit River Indian rancherias launched tribally run marijuana operations that were raided by federal authorities, with agents seizing 12,000 marijuana plants in July.  The regional U.S. attorney's office said in a statement that the two neighboring tribes planned to distribute the pot off tribal lands and the large-scale operations may have been financed by a foreign third-party foreign.   It's not clear if the two tribes have plans for a new marijuana venture, and calls from the AP were not immediately returned.

The California and South Dakota tribes are three of just six so far this year that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana on their reservations.  The Squaxin Island Tribe in Washington state is another, and just opened a store last week for retail sales of the drug. But most expect the tribe to face fewer legal challenges because Washington allows for recreational marijuana use and the tribe entered into a compact with the state that sets guidelines for taxing pot sales.

"The tribes are not going to be immune to what the local attitudes toward marijuana are going to be," Trueblood said.  "If there's one 30,000-feet takeaway from this year, it's that you're not going to be successful if you don't work with you local governments or U.S. attorneys."

Prior related posts:

November 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Menominee Indian Tribe files suit seeking declaration it has right under federal Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp

TribalSealThis press release reports on a interesting new lawsuit filed in federal district court this week.  Here are the details: 

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit for declaratory judgment today against the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) seeking a judicial determination that Menominee has the right to cultivate industrial hemp pursuant to the Agricultural Act of 2014 (“Farm Bill”). Menominee filed its lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin – Green Bay Division.

Menominee Chairman Gary Besaw stated: “The Menominee Tribe, in cooperation with the College of Menominee Nation, should have the right under the Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp in the same manner as Kentucky, Colorado, and other states. These and other states cultivate industrial hemp without threats or interference from the United States government. In contrast, when our Tribe attempted to cultivate industrial hemp we were subjected to armed federal agents who came to our Reservation and destroyed our crop. The Department of Justice should recognize the equality of Tribes under the Farm Bill, and provide us with the same respect they have demonstrated to states growing industrial hemp for research purposes.”

Industrial hemp — which can be grown as a fiber and a seed crop — is used to produce a range of textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics, and building materials that are available throughout North America, the European Union, and Asia. Unlike marijuana, it has no psychoactive effect. Industrial hemp is currently cultivated by farmers in more than 30 countries around the world—from Australia to Canada to China. Menominee had been in discussions regarding its growth of industrial hemp with federal officials for months prior to October 23, 2015 when DEA and DOJ officials raided the Menominee Reservation and destroyed its industrial hemp crop. Brendan Johnson, Partner at Robins Kaplan LLP, former United States Attorney for South Dakota, former Chair of then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s Native American Issues Subcommittee, and an attorney representing Menominee in the action filed today stated: “This is a straightforward legal issue. The lawsuit focuses on the specific legal question of whether the Farm Bill’s industrial hemp provisions apply to Menominee. We are confident that the provisions do apply to Menominee; that Menominee is authorized under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp consistent with those provisions; and that a federal court will read the Farm Bill provisions as we do and require the federal government to recognize Menominee’s rights under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp.”

November 19, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Senate Approves Funding Bill That Allows Veterans to Access Medical Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Drug Policy Alliance on a notable new vote in the US Senate today.  Here are the details:

The Senate today passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which includes language to allow Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The language was included as an amendment in the Senate Appropriations committee in May....

The Veterans Equal Access Amendment was sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It passed the Committee 18-12 in a bipartisan vote. The funding bill will now be negotiated with the House’s version as part of an omnibus spending bill.

"On this eve of Veterans/Armistice Day where we remember those who served in the military and the treaty agreement to reach peace concluding WWI, we see this victory as a step toward a peace treaty with the government we volunteered to defend with our lives and as a step toward restoring our first amendment rights and dignity as citizens of the United States, " said TJ Thompson, a disabled Navy veteran.

Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding participation in a state medical marijuana program. The Daines-Merkley amendment authorizes VA physicians and other health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the use of medical marijuana to veterans who live in medical marijuana states....

There are numerous federal healthcare programs besides the VA such as Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP – but only the VA prohibits physicians from discussing and recommending medical marijuana to their patients. A Medicare patient may freely discuss medical marijuana use with her doctor, while a returning veteran is denied the same right.

Studies have shown that medical marijuana can help treat post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, illnesses typically suffered by veterans. A 2014 study of people with PTSD showed a greater than 75% reduction in severity of symptoms when patients were using marijuana to treat their illness, compared to when they were not.

A legislative version of the Daines-Merkley amendment was included in groundbreaking Senate medical marijuana legislation introduced in March. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The bill was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and generated enormous interest.

With the Senate approving one element in the bill, supporters say it is time for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the full bill. “The politics around marijuana have shifted in recent years, yet Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley hasn’t held a hearing on the bill,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We will move the CARERS Act piece by piece if we have to but now is the time for the Senate to hold a hearing on the bill as a whole.”

November 10, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 9, 2015

South Dakota tribe planning first marijuana resort (mysteriously?) changes plans and destroys (valuable?) crops

As regular readers should recall from lots of prior posts, a Native American tribe seemed well on its way to opening the nation's first "marijuana resort" on tribal lands in South Dakota at the end of the year.  But, as reported in this local article, headlined "Flandreau tribe temporarily suspending marijuana operations," there appears to have been a significant and sudden change in pot plans. Here is the local report, which prompts a lot more questions than answers:

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is temporarily suspending its marijuana cultivation and distributing facilities and is destroying its existing crop as leaders seek clarification on regulations from the federal government, according to the tribe's lawyer.

Seth Pearman said the suspension is pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture and that tribal leadership is confident that after getting clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice, "it will be better suited to succeed."

"The tribe will continue to consult with the federal and state government and hopes to be granted parity with states that have legalized marijuana," Pearman said in the news release. Pearman said despite suspending the current plan, the tribe intends to be a participant in the marijuana industry.

South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley called the about-face a "positive" choice. "The decision by the Flandreau Tribe to not move forward at this time with marijuana growth in South Dakota is positive and is in the best interest of both tribal and non-tribal members," Jackley said.  "I understand that this has been a divisive matter and that this decision by tribal authorities has not been easy."

Jackley said that he and tribal government officials have had opportunities to sit down and discuss the marijuana operation throughout the process. "We haven't always agreed, but we've had good, positive discussions," he said.  "I will do whatever I can as South Dakota's Attorney General to assist Flandreau in the decision and as I have done throughout this process, make myself available to tribal leadership for further discussions." Jackley told the Associated Press that he was informed of the tribe's decision Saturday. He plans to meet with tribal officials Monday or Tuesday.

Jonathan Hunt, vice present of Monarch America, a Denver-based marijuana consulting firm hired by the tribe, told the Associated Press that a reported fire Saturday was caused by wood and not marijuana. He declined further comment.

Rep. Matthew Wollmann, R-Flandreau, had the opportunity to tour the tribe's marijuana facilities in October.  Wollmann said he was surprised by the decision to forego the venture for now. "They've invested a lot of money into the facilities," he said. Wollmann added that despite the delay, the fact that marijuana is still illegal across South Dakota could continue to create tension between the tribe and the rest of the state.

"Quite frankly, nine out of 10 people that I've spoken to about the issue were not in favor of it," he said.  "I think they had a lot more pushback than they expected. ... Maybe they're waiting for a better environment."...

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe became the first South Dakota tribe to move forward with making marijuana legal.  The tribe's executive committee voted June 11 to make the sale and use of marijuana legal on its reservation in Moody County about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls. The facility had been slated to open at the end of the year.

I would not have been too surprised if, for administrative reasons, the planned opening for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's marijuana resort was being delayed. But the (unclear?) indication that the Tribe has now decided against opening up a pot shop on its lands and has destroyed its crop leads me to wonder if the Tribe was subject to considerable pressure from local, state and federal authorities to not be the first tribe actively promoting recreational marijuana sales and tourism.

I hope there will be a lot more (and clearer) reporting on this front in the days ahead, as I am quite curious what prompted the change of plans and also whether the change will greatly influence whether and how other tribes consider moving forward in this challenging space.

Prior related posts:

November 9, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"If Mexico legalizes marijuana, what will the U.S. do?"

Mexico-Marijuana-900The title of this post is the headline of this notable and interesting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times authored by Jorge Castañeda, who once served as foreign minister of Mexicoand now teaches at New York University. Here are excerpts:

Mexico may soon enter an elite club composed of Holland, Portugal, Uruguay and Colorado, Oregon and Washington state: It's on the verge of excluding marijuana from the destructive war on drugs. But will the United States stand in its way?

On Nov. 4, Mexico's Supreme Court voted by a wide margin to declare unconstitutional the country's ban on the production, possession and recreational consumption of marijuana. A group of citizens had banded together in a so-called cannabis club (named SMART, for the initials in Spanish of its full title) and requested permission to grow and exchange marijuana among themselves; the government's health agency (the equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) denied them permission; the group sought a writ of habeas corpus, and went all the way to the Supreme Court, which granted them the writ and ordered the agency to legalize the club and allow it to function.

This decision does not entail an across-the-board decriminalization of recreational marijuana. For the moment, it applies only to the group that sought permission. But the court's ruling may eventually extend to everyone seeking to grow or consume the drug.

Absent injury to third parties, the court resolved that, under the constitution, every individual has the right to enjoy life as he or she sees fit, and that secondary legislation — like prohibiting marijuana — cannot curtail that right. The court also ruled that although marijuana may cause some degree of harm to some adult users in large quantities, prohibition is an excessive antidote to that harm....

Unlike in the U.S., public opinion in Mexico is against legalizing pot, which is why SMART chose the judicial road instead of pursuing a legislative approach. Recent history has shown that once the courts resolve controversial social issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, living wills — public opinion shifts and eventually comes around to the more progressive view.

The ruling means a great deal for Mexico. Domestically, it probably spells the beginning of the end of its bloody, costly, fruitless war of choice on marijuana. It will be increasingly awkward for the country's armed forces and police to prosecute growers, wholesale traffickers and retail dealers of a substance that can be grown and consumed legally, if not yet bought and sold freely.

The decision will not immediately affect the country's cartels, or the rising (once again) levels of drug-related violence and corruption. It will, however, eventually bring down marijuana prices, which over time will damage the cartels' business. And if President Enrique Peña Nieto wishes to continue the drug war, the decision will free him to concentrate on heroin and methamphetamines (produced in Mexico) and cocaine (brought from South America).

For the country's always prickly ties with Washington, Mexico's Supreme Court ruling could cut either way. If hard-liners in the U.S. — the Drug Enforcement Administration and its supporters in Congress — determine the American response, there will be trouble.... Or, if President Obama as well as the moderates in the State and Justice departments run the show, the decision could serve as a much-needed excuse to rethink prohibition.

Just as Obama wisely decided not to interfere with state-level legalization in the U.S., he could encourage Peña Nieto not to interfere with the court decision. Both governments could unite in making clear that the ruling, plus next year's probable legalization of recreational use in California, make the war on drugs unmanageable.

Both the U.S. and Mexico would then have no choice but to search for alternative solutions, and leave behind the punitive, security-based approach Washington has imposed on the world since the early 1970s.

November 7, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Omaha Tribe assessing interest in marijuana legalization in northeast Nebraska

Bright-futuresNebraska has a pending suit (along with Oklahoma) in the US Supreme Court against its neighbor Colorado complaining about that state's marijuana reform efforts (basics here and here).  But, as this local article highlights, the Cornhusker state may soon have to be concerned about a marijuana reform effort within its own borders.  The article is headlined "Omaha Tribe to consider legalizing marijuana," and here are excerpts:  

The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is considering getting into the lucrative marijuana business, but at least one tribal expert fears doing so could put the tribe at risk of losing any investment it may make in marijuana industries.

The tribe plans to hold a referendum Tuesday in which members will vote on whether the tribe should allow recreational use of marijuana, medicinal use of marijuana, and growing industrial hemp on its northeast Nebraska reservation.

Ultimately, however, the Omaha tribal council will decide all three questions. The referendum vote simply will give the council guidance on whether to move forward, according to an information sheet distributed by the tribe.

Tribal law expert Lance Morgan, who also is president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe’s economic development arm, said it likely will be difficult for the Omaha Tribe to legalize the use or manufacture of marijuana on its reservation, despite a U.S. Department of Justice memo issued last year that some tribal advocates have argued grants tribes the right to legalize use of marijuana on their reservations.

Morgan said the federal memo doesn’t actually allow tribes to legalize marijuana. Rather, he said, it allows them to work with local U.S. attorneys to do so. And, he said, U.S. attorneys in many states have been unwilling to allow tribes to move forward. “I think the government should be more direct in whether it’s allowable or not,” he said.

Morgan said it will be especially difficult for tribes in Nebraska to legalize marijuana, considering the firm stance Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has taken against it. Spokeswoman Suzanne Gage declined to comment Friday on the referendum....

Morgan said the ambiguous Justice Department memo has encouraged tribes across the country to launch expensive marijuana and hemp operations, and now some of those tribes have discovered they don’t actually have the right to legalize marijuana. “This is just one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen come out of D.C.,” Morgan said. “Encouraging us to invest capital and then coming in and destroying that capital and raiding the tribe doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Morgan said the Winnebago Tribe has discussed legalized marijuana but has no plans to move forward with such a plan. He sees the Omaha Tribe's plan to gauge opinion through a referendum as a good idea. “The only way tribes are going to do it is if they hold a referendum,” he said. “Then they know what the people think and can act accordingly.”

November 1, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Has candidate Bernie Sanders already produced "big political moment" for marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Washington Post commentary by Amber Phillips headlined "Why Bernie Sanders’s marijuana announcement is a big political moment for pot." Here are excepts from the piece:

One day in the perhaps-not-too-distant future, when we — not the royal we, of course — light up a joint and reflect on how marijuana became as accepted and as legal as alcohol and cigarettes in this country, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) probably won't be top of mind.

But future marijuana-legalization scholars won't soon forget the first presidential candidate to publicly support removing marijuana from the government's list of dangerous drugs.  It currently resides on that list; Sanders wants it off entirely, which is a political turning point in our relationship with pot.

In a Virginia town hall broadcast (naturally) to about 300 college campuses Wednesday, Sanders told an audience of more than 1,700 applauding students: "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use," he said, according to The Washington Post's John Wagner and Christopher Ingraham. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

What Sanders is calling for is not legalization. But the policy implications of removing pot entirely from the government's schedule of controlled substances would be big: States would be allowed to legalize it without interference from Washington, it would help economies involving pot (like banking) grow without fear of prosecution from the federal government, and fewer people would go to jail for possessing marijuana.

We're still quite a ways from that becoming a reality, despite the most recent Gallup polling showing a substantial majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana and a few states moving to do just that in recent years.  But Sanders, in being the first national candidate to call for this change, took us a clear step closer.

There are a few reasons his announcement was a big moment for pot politically.  First, the medical community at large would agree with Sanders that pot is not as dangerous as, say, crack cocaine and heroin and the other highly addictive drugs it is currently classified with.  Respected organizations like the American Medical Association have also said keeping marijuana on a legally unreachable shelf stymies research for its healing potentials.  In that way, Sanders is bringing already-existent medical views of pot to the forefront of a political debate that hasn't yet embraced them.

Second, Sanders is not a fringe candidate — although you could argue some of the democratic socialist's policies aren't exactly mainstream.  He regularly draws crowds in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, and is giving Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton a run for her money.  And if there's anything this campaign has taught us, it's that Sanders has the ability to draw Clinton to the left politically.  That doesn't mean Clinton will take the same stance, but it does mean there could be pressure to move in that direction.

Third, this just feels like something of a turning point in our nation's approach to marijuana.  Like it or not, the signs would indicate we're on a national trajectory toward decriminalization, perhaps even legalization. And it's happening remarkably fast, relative to other social issues....

Most other presidential contenders have been more cautious about recreational marijuana.  Clinton has very much taken a wait-and-see approach when it comes to states that have legalized it. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has raised money from the marijuana industry for his presidential campaign, has said the federal government shouldn't interfere with states who want to legalize it.  He and and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (D) have said they'd support bumping down a notch the government's classification of pot as a drug.  Only Sanders has supported taking it off completely.  And of course, neither Paul nor O'Malley are drawing the kind of support that Sanders is.

It seems only a matter of time before more politicians join Sanders in taking more definitive policy positions that move along the drug's slow but apparently inevitable march toward acceptance in America.  Maybe it's this election, maybe it's the next.  But Sanders will likely be remembered as the guy who took us one step closer to our inevitable new relationship with pot.

Speaking as a current "marijuana-legalization scholar," I fear that this commentary reflects a somewhat enhanced view of the significance of what Senator Sanders has said on this topic. Still, this is a big deal, and Fall 2015 will surely be seen as a watershed period in the marijuana reform movement if Ohio voters next week pass a controversial legalization plan in a bellwether state.

October 29, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Unsurprisingly, MPP and SAM have very different marijuana grades for Prez candidates

As this prior post suggests, I am not surprised that the marijuana positions of various Presidential candidates are getting more attention from marijuana public policy groups as the GOP candidates gear up for a debate in Boulder, Colorado.   Perhaps even less surprising is that the two most significant groups advocating for and against marijuana reform,  Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), have two distinct perspectives on how each of the candidates ought to be "graded."  These two starting sentences from the two groups' recent press releases provides the basics:

  • The nation’s largest marijuana policy organization has upgraded Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders in its report card-style voter guide to the 2016 major party presidential candidates.  The voter guide can be viewed online at http:// mpp.org/president.

  • With the 2016 presidential primary campaigns in full swing, today Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) released a groundbreaking analysis and rating of every candidate’s position on a range of issues related to marijuana policy-not just legalization, but also whether candidates support a focus on prevention and treatment, and a scientific approach to medical cannabinoids and other marijuana-derived medications.

October 28, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Should next week's GOP debate start with a question about marijuana reform and economic development?

103066411-YMYV.530x298The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new CBNC article headlined "GOP candidates divided on marijuana." The actual article does not really cover any new ground, but its source is especially notable because CNBC is the host of the next big GOP debate on Wednesday night. Accourding to the article, the CNBC debate on Wednesday, Oct. 28 is being titled "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate" and it will "feature two sets of candidates discussing critical issues facing America today, including job growth, taxes and the health of our economy." Moreover, as noted in this prior post, the debate is taking place in Colorado, a state which has experienced notable changes in job growth and taxes as a result of state-level marijuana reform.

In addition to being well-suited for the main topics and setting for next week's GOP debate, marijuana reform issues and related politics are especially timely. Just earlier this week, the Liberal Party in Canada won a huge national election while running on a platform advocating full marijuana legalization.  And just six days after the debate, the swing state of Ohio will have voters deciding whether to become the first state east of the Mississippi to vote on a full marijuana legalization initiative.

At the very least, I would love to see candidate John Kasich, the current Governor of Ohio, asked next week about whether he would acknowledge the potential for marijuana reform in Ohio to enhance job growth and tax revenues while reducing government expenditures on failed big-government, freedom-restricting policies.  In addition, I would love for New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, who has pledged to "enforce the federal law" aggressively even in states that have legalized marijuana, exactly how he would try to prevent Ohio officials from moving ahead with state reforms if voters enact such reforms in the Ohio constitution next month. 

October 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Latest Gallup poll shows 58% support for marijuana legalization (and 2/3 support for those under 50)

Bplgz4vavkyps762r8vilqThis new release from Gallup, headlined "In U.S., 58% Back Legal Marijuana Use," reinforces my ever-growing belief that it is no long a question of "if" but rather "when" and "how" blanket marijuana prohibition comes to an end. Here are the reasons why (with my emphasis added):

A majority of Americans continue to say marijuana use should be legal in the United States, with 58% holding that view, tying the high point in Gallup's 46-year trend.

Americans' support for legal marijuana has steadily grown over time. When Gallup first asked the question, in 1969, 12% of Americans thought marijuana use should be legal, with little change in two early 1970s polls. By the late 1970s, support had increased to about 25%, and held there through the mid-1990s. The percentage of Americans who favored making use of the drug legal exceeded 30% by 2000 and was higher than 40% by 2009.

Over the past six years, support has vacillated a bit, but averaged 48% from 2010 through 2012 and has averaged above the majority level, 56%, since 2013.

The higher level of support comes as many states and localities are changing, or considering changing, their laws on marijuana.  So far, four states and the District of Columbia have made recreational use of marijuana legal, and Ohio voters are set to decide a ballot initiative that would do the same this coming Election Day.  The topic has been an issue on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, and several candidates have expressed a willingness to let states set their own marijuana laws even though federal law prohibits marijuana use.

Gallup has previously reported that two of the biggest differentiators of Americans' opinions on legal marijuana are age and party identification.  Younger Americans, Democrats and independents are the most likely of major demographic and political groups to favor legalizing use of the drug, while Republicans and older Americans are least likely to do so.

Younger Americans have always shown the most support of any age group for making marijuana legal, but this has grown from 20% of 18- to 34-year-olds in 1969 to 71% of those in the same age group today.  But even older age groups today are more likely to favor legal marijuana than the comparable age groups in the past. For example, 35% of senior citizens today (aged 65 and older) are in favor of legalization, compared with 4% of senior citizens in 1969. Among all age groups, the increase in support has been proportionately greater over the last 15 years than it was between any of the earlier time periods.

These patterns by age indicate that one reason Americans are more likely to support legal marijuana today than they were in the past is because newer generations of adults, who are much more inclined to favor use of the drug, are replacing older generations in the population who were much less inclined to want it to be legalized. But the increase in support nationwide is also a function of attitude change within generations of Americans over the course of their adult lifespans....

Americans' support for legalizing marijuana is the highest Gallup has measured to date, at 58%. Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future.  Younger generations of Americans have been increasingly likely to favor legal use of marijuana as they entered adulthood compared with older generations of Americans when they were the same age decades ago.  Now, more than seven in 10 of today's young adults support legalization.

But Americans today -- particularly those between 35 and 64 -- are more supportive of legal marijuana than members of their same birth cohort were in the past. Now senior citizens are alone among age groups in opposing pot legalization. These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.

The notable dip in support for full legalization that the Gallup polling numbers showed in 2014 had me thinking that the early experience with full legalization in Colorado might have been starting to lead a few more average Americans to question whether they liked full marijuana legalization in practice quite as much as they liked it in theory. But now that support has ticked up to 58% again, I surmise that more folks are now coming to see that full legalization has lots of tangible economic benefits and that much of all the doom-and-gloom predicted by drug warriors have just not (yet?) come to reality.

Of particular importance in my view is the data suggesting that now roughly two-third of all Americans in their prime "parent years" (i.e., between ages 30 and 50) are now expressing support for full legalization. Especially as someone in that cohort, I have long thought that parents of young kids (and of current or future teenagers) cannot help but have lingering concerns and fears about the possible impact of full legalization on their children. But it seems that, at least for now, this generation by a two-to-one margin sees more problems from current marijuana prohibition than what could happen with major reform.

For these (and other) reasons, I think still more major legal reforms at both the state and federal level are getting ever closer to a near certainty unless and until prohibitionists do a much better job demonstrating that the potentiual harms of reform are much greater than what so many have come to see as the current harms of blanket prohibition.

October 21, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)