Other business opportunities include advanced delivery services for homebound patients. However, there are still some remaining hurdles. Local jurisdictions could limit sales and there could be some barriers to doctors who want to participate. Plus, there is uncertainty surrounding the new Federal administration. Still, it's full steam ahead for medical marijuana in Florida unless someone says otherwise.
Friday, October 27, 2017
This past week brought two notable articles providing two important perspectives on how 2018 is shaping up to be yet another big year in the marijuana reform space:
From the Washington Examiner here, "Will 2018 be the year marijuana takes over?":
So far, all the states that have legalized marijuana have done so through grassroots petitions and ballot initiatives meant to bypass risk-averse lawmakers in state houses.
California, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have all followed Colorado and Washington either to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana or, at a minimum, to decriminalize possession and consumption of small amounts of the drug.
But 2018 may be a tipping point — the moment when the momentum of pot makes it impossible for state lawmakers to avoid. State legislatures are poised to begin passing marijuana reform laws next year. The taboos against smoking dope may go up in a cloud of narcotic smoke.
From Marijuana Moment here, "These States Will Probably Vote On Marijuana In 2018":
Last November, nine statewide marijuana ballot initiatives went before voters, and eight were approved. Next year, voters in a number of additional states are likely to see cannabis questions when they go to their polling places.
Here’s an in-depth look at those states that have the best chance of qualifying marijuana initiatives, followed by some brief info on a few that seem like longer shots…
Thursday, September 28, 2017
The District of Columbia — which, if anyone cares, is where I was born a long, long time ago — has long been a distinct part of the United States as a matter of law and practice. For that reason and others, it should come as no surprise that marijuana reform takes on distinctive dynamic in our nation's capital. This new AP piece, headlined "Giving the gift of green in the ‘District of Cannabis’," provides a profile of this interesting story, and here are excerpts:
A 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use passed overwhelmingly. But unlike the eight states that have legalized recreational use, the Washington initiative also maintained it was still illegal to buy or sell the drug.
So instead of the straightforward marijuana storefronts common in Colorado or Nevada, Washington has developed a thriving “gift economy” marijuana industry. These businesses — many offering delivery — sell everything from coffee cups to artwork — all overpriced and all coming with a little something extra.
It’s a curious legal and semantic tightrope, and one the District’s politicians and police seem determined to keep walking. “It’s definitely unique,” said Morgan Fox of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “The DC city council and the city government don’t want to be busting people for weed. They want this to work and work smoothly.”
Washington’s local government didn’t choose to make the District a real-time sociology lab for alternative legalization. The roots of this strange legal middle ground lie in the District’s tortured relationship with the federal government. “We would have regular stores if we had the normal rights of a U.S. state,” said Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of DCMJ, a pro-legalization group that helped draft the initiative’s text.
All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them by attaching riders to federal appropriations bills. After the initiative passed, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from neighboring Maryland, introduced a rider prohibiting the District government from spending any funds or resources on developing a regulatory or taxation system for marijuana sales.
Harris, an anesthesiologist and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, remains a staunch opponent of recreational marijuana use and has no regrets about complicating the District’s legalization model. “I think the District of Columbia made a bad decision,” Harris said in an interview. “I would hope the District comes to its senses and realizes the dangers.”
According to marijuana merchants, the change has resulted in spiraling supply and demand. The relative ease of availability without risking arrest or having to maintain a relationship with a dealer has brought a wave of consumers of all ages and demographics. And that wave of demand has brought a wave of new suppliers. In addition to the dozens of different businesses working through the gift loophole, there are now hundreds of marijuana-themed public events taking place across the city — most openly advertised on social media. “Seven days a week, you can find an event going on,” said Gregory Moorer, whose Laid Back Lords company offers marijuana gifts to accompany $50 baseball caps and $80 sweatshirts.
One such event, known as Cannemania, happens weekly at a closed Ethiopian restaurant. Inside isn’t so much a stoner party as a fairly businesslike trade show. On a recent night, about 150 people crowded in to peruse about 25 different vendors’ tables offering large jars of buds and a huge variety of edibles, from brownies to marijuana-infused gummi bears. There were also marijuana vape pens and “concentrates” — a substance that looks like candle wax and requires a waterpipe and a blowtorch to consume.
Vendors hawked their wares like THC sommeliers and offered free hits of concentrates. But there was, according to the rules, no smoking of marijuana buds. For the most part everyone kept to the necessary gift loophole script: your money technically bought you a raffle ticket, some expensive rolling paper or, in one case, the baseball card of former Cleveland Indians shortstop Julio Franco.
Despite the ubiquity of the drug, it would be inaccurate to describe the District as some sort of marijuana free-for-all. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government has worked hard to establish clear lines on what is and is not permitted. It remains illegal to smoke in public. Arrests for public consumption have actually spiked since the legalization initiative came into effect. Bowser also personally lobbied the city council to defeat a proposal to permit pot smoking in bars or restaurants — fearing it would lead to private cannabis clubs.
The police have also pounced on entrepreneurs who push things too far. In late 2015 they arrested Nicholas “Kush God” Cunningham, who had deployed a fleet of cars covered in marijuana-leaf decals that would hand out pot edibles in exchange for “donations.”...
Police maintain that the gift loophole isn’t fooling anyone. “In our estimation, that’s still illegal,” said Lt. Andrew Struhar of the Narcotics and Special Operations division of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. But Struhar also admitted that police aren’t “actively out hunting” for marijuana violators as long as everything stays low-key and the neighbors don’t complain.
“We serve the citizens and if they say there’s a problem on this or that block, we’re going to do something about it,” he said. “If you’re going to flaunt it and you’re going to stick it in our face and force us to take action against it, then we’re going to take action.”
For now the model seems to be staggering along, but it’s debatable how long this can continue. Legalization activists say that a quasi-legal grey area was never their goal. Members of the District’s government are even less enthusiastic; they complain about the intrusiveness of the congressional oversight and point to a study which estimated $130 million in potential annual revenue from taxing marijuana sales. “I don’t think it’s sustainable,” said City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “We have legal marijuana but we can’t regulate it. It’s stupid, it’s just stupid.”
September 28, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 18, 2017
This AP article, headlined "High Number of Applicants for Arkansas Medical Marijuana," reports on the last-minute rush to file applications to be a part of a green rush in the Natural State (which is also know as the Land of Opportunity). Here are some details:
Would-be growers and distributors of Arkansas' initial medical marijuana crop flooded a state office building Monday, turning in thousands of pages of paperwork and handing over thousands of dollars in application fees. Applicants faced a three-hour wait ahead of Monday afternoon's deadline, as their number greatly exceeded the clerks available to review paperwork to ensure it was complete. Those hoping to grow medical marijuana had to pay a $15,000 application fee, while potential distributors paid $7,500. Unsuccessful applicants will have half their money refunded.
Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said about 300 firms or individuals had submitted applications by the close of business Monday. Clerks were staying late to handle applications from those in the office by the deadline. About 100 people or firms sought to grow marijuana, with the others hoping to distribute it.
Arkansas voters last year approved marijuana use by people with certain medical conditions. The new state Medical Marijuana Commission will review applications after the names of companies and individuals have been redacted and then select up to five growers and 32 distributors. The Arkansas Health Department has approved 1,200 people for a medical marijuana registry, making them eligible to obtain the drug.
Applications from the potential growers and distributors were about 1,000 pages long, on average. Several who dropped off applications elected not to identify themselves publicly, while others spoke openly about why they considered their applications worthy. "If you can beat us at our game, I give you all the credit in the world," said Chris Stone, who operates two dispensaries in Illinois. He has teamed with a pair of Arkansas pharmacists and wants to grow marijuana in the rich, agricultural lands near Brinkley and distribute marijuana at a dispensary on the east side of Jonesboro.
He said his firm failed in a previous attempt to win a grower's permit in Illinois, but took the feedback from that loss to fashion a pair of 1,800-page applications in Arkansas. "Those with successes in other states probably have a leg up on those who are putting together an application for a first time," he said.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
The folks at Marijuana Business Daily have recently put together a two-part series on state-level marijuana reform efforts likely to be making headlines in 2018. Part I looks at initiative campaigns, and Part II is focused on legislature-driven efforts:
"Multiple 2018 marijuana legalization campaigns already underway" discusses ballot campaigns afoot in Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah.
"Which state legislatures could legalize recreational, medical marijuana in 2018?" discusses New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont as possible recreational legalization states, and Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Texas as (mostly-long-)shots for medical marijuana reforms.
Though all of these potential reform states are interesting to watch, I think Michigan and New Jersey could prove to be especially important states for the future of recreational marijuana reforms nationwide. (I also believe they are the states in which reform right now seems the most likely.)
Michigan is a state that went for Prez Trump along with other rust-belt states, and it seems certain to be an important state in the 2020 Prez campaign. A vote in favor of full legalization in Michigan in 2018 could immediately impact how would-be 2020 Prez candidates talk about state marijuana reforms.
New Jersey not only could be the first state to embrace recreational marijuana reforms through the traditional legislative process, but it also could have a marijuana industry that serves huge population centers ranging from New York City to Philadelphia to even Baltimore and Washington DC. With probably a quarter of the nation's population less than an afternoon's drive from some part of New Jersey, a decision by the Garden State to start legalizing the gardening of marijuana for recreational purposes surely could have all sorts of national echoes.
September 3, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, July 16, 2017
This extended Detroit Free Press article, headlined "Michigan marijuana campaign brings together activists, moneyed investors, tobacco dealers," provides an interesting mid-summer report on the developing efforts to put recreational marijuana reform on the ballot in Michigan in 2018. Here are excerpts:
A campaign to once again try to fully legalize marijuana in Michigan is getting big support from a Washington D.C. nonprofit activist group and from a tobacco store company that has talked of opening a chain of marijuana shops in the state.
The donor list, revealed in the latest campaign finance statements filed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, alarmed critics who have long contended that marijuana's nationwide march toward legalization is being funded not by the idealistic stoners and medical-marijuana users long linked to the politics of cannabis but instead by a pack of profit-minded investors and corporate types said to be similar to Big Tobacco — the nation's cigarette and cigar industry.
"It’s obvious that these tobacco guys are making a play for the marijuana money," Jeff Zinsmeister, executive vice president of Smart Alternatives to Marijuana, based in Alexandria, Va., said Friday. The group argues that Big Marijuana is "following the playbook of Big Tobacco," hoping to get young people addicted to pot early on, then keep them as hapless customers for life, Zinsmeister said.
Those who support legalization argue that marijuana will be more difficult for youths to obtain, not less, after it passes. They liken the current availability of marijuana to the nation's era of alcohol Prohibition, when people of any age had ready access to illegal alcoholic beverages; in contrast to later laws that made alcohol legal for adults but a crime to provide it to anyone under 21.
The campaign's goal is to put a ballot question before Michigan voters in 2018, when the governor's race will trigger a big voter turnout. Medical marijuana use was approved by state voters in 2008....
Based on the ballot campaign's latest report, "44% of our contributions were $250 or less — we have a broad range of both large donors and small," said [Josh] Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Since starting the drive to collect signatures less than two months ago, the group has gathered more than 100,000 signatures, he said. That's good progress toward collecting the required 252,523 signatures — a figure that, by law, must be 8% of the number of votes cast in Michigan's last election for governor. The group said it has until Nov. 22 to gather enough signatures.
And, in order to get a cushion to account for signatures that might be thrown out, the group has set a goal of gathering 350,000 signatures, said former state representative Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, who is the group's political director. "We're hitting the streets and talking to everybody," Irwin said Saturday.
In a failed effort last year to get on the ballot, a different marijuana group relied mainly on volunteers. This year's coalition, which includes supporters of last year's effort, is using paid petition circulators at considerable cost. "It's going to cost probably a million and a half dollars just to get on the ballot," Hovey said.
"After that, we’ll need to spend a lot more on advertising and all the methods of communication to make sure that voters have the full story. We’re estimating this is going to be, in total, an $8-million campaign, by the time the vote actually happens next year," he said.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
"State of Emergency"!?!: Nevada dispensaries struggling to keep up with demand after first week of recreational sales
As reported in this USA Today article, headlined "Nevada dispensaries running out of marijuana," recreational marijuana sales are off to quite a start in the Silver State and that is actually creating a significant problem:
Nevada dispensaries licensed to sell recreational marijuana are running out of pot less than a week after the legal market came to life, according to the state Department of Taxation.
On Friday, taxation officials announced that Gov. Brian Sandoval had endorsed the department's "statement of emergency," allowing state officials to consider adopting an emergency marijuana regulation that could alleviate the shortage. The Nevada Tax Commission will vote on the regulation Thursday.
"Based on reports of adult-use marijuana sales already far exceeding the industry’s expectations at the state’s 47 licensed retail marijuana stores, and the reality that many stores are running out of inventory, the Department must address the lack of distributors immediately. Some establishments report the need for delivery within the next several days," said department spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein in an email.
The regulation would allow the department to consider a larger pool of applicants for distribution licenses, licenses that permit the transport of recreational marijuana from cultivation and packaging facilities to the dispensaries.
When the state law legalizing recreational marijuana was passed in November, wholesale alcohol distributors were promised exclusive rights to transport wholesale marijuana for the first 18 months of legal sales. The department, however, has run into multiple roadblocks in reviewing the seven applications that they have received as of Friday.
"We continue to work with the liquor wholesalers who have applied for distribution licenses, but most don’t yet meet the requirements that would allow us to license them. Even as we attempted to schedule the final facility inspection for one of the applicants this week, they told us their facility was not ready and declined the inspection. As of mid-day Friday, not one distribution license has been issued," Klapstein said....
Now that any marijuana dispensary licensed to sell recreational marijuana must receive all product — both recreational and medical — from a distributor licensed to transport recreational marijuana, many of them are stuck with dwindling supply. "The business owners in this industry have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build facilities across the state," Klapstein said. “They have hired and trained thousands of additional employees to meet the demands of the market. Unless the issue with distributor licensing is resolved quickly, the inability to deliver product to retail stores will result in many of these people losing their jobs and will bring this nascent market to a grinding halt. A halt in this market will lead to a hole in the state’s school budget."
While the department does not plan to release any numbers on state tax revenue from the industry until late September, the Nevada Dispensary Association earlier this week estimated that dispensaries made about $3 million in sales and the state made about $1 million in tax revenue between Saturday and Tuesday. Revenue collected from the 15% cultivation tax goes toward schools, while the 10% sales tax revenue goes toward the state's rainy day fund, which can be used for any number of expenditures.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
As reported in this local article, "John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who spearheaded and financed the successful campaign to make medical access to cannabis a constitutional right, filed the lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court Thursday morning, asking the court to declare the [legislatively developed] law implementing the 2016 constitutional amendment unenforceable. Here is more about this lawsuit:
Arguing that Florida legislators violated voters’ intent when they prohibited smoking for the medical use of marijuana, the author of the state's medical marijuana amendment sued the state on Thursday to throw out the implementing law....
“By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of ‘a licensed Florida physician’ and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process,” the lawsuit states.
More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the amendment in November 2016, the largest percentage of support a medical marijuana initiative has received by popular vote, Morgan said. The amendment allowed the Legislature to address smoking — but only by prohibiting it in public places, he said, anything more violates the intent of the Constitution. “If something is not allowed in public, it is allowed in private,” Morgan said at a press conference outside the Leon County Courthouse. “It’s as clear to all of you as it is to any first grader taking first-grade logic.”...
If the court agrees and invalidates the law implementing the amendment, the task of writing the rules for implementing the new amendment will fall to the Florida Department of Health.
The legislation allows for edibles and “vaping” as a delivery system for THC and cannabinoids. It also provided funding for the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to conduct research into the uses and effectiveness of medical marijuana. But the House sponsor of the law, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, called smoking a “backdoor attempt at recreational” use of marijuana. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate sponsor, called the measure, which passed during the June special session, “patient-first legislation” that “will expand access to this medicine, while ensuring safety through a unified regulatory structure for each component of the process from cultivation to consumption."
But Morgan, who uses the hashtag #NoSmokeIsAJoke, argues that the legislative claim has been a “bogus argument from Day 1,” and if they were truly interested in keeping the public safe from smoking, they would have taxed tobacco “to the hilt.” Instead, he said, their arguments enforce what he believes is a quiet campaign against marijuana fueled by “Big Pharma,” which has capitalized on the explosion of opioid abuse. “I don’t know what drives these politicians other than money and donors,’’ he said.
He said that in the next few weeks he will add to the lawsuit patients suffering from ALS disease, epilepsy and other ailments for whom smoking marijuana is the best way to treat their symptoms. The lawsuit cites a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found smoking marijuana does not not impair lung function and, when not used heavily, was shown to increase lung capacity. “Despite decades of marijuana being used for smoking in the United States, there have been no reported medical cases of lung cancer or emphysema attributed to marijuana,” the lawsuit said.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes federal funding of marijuana research, blasted the lawsuit as “nothing more than a smokescreen designed to bypass the FDA and open the doors to a new for-profit, retail commercial marijuana industry in Florida.”
“There's a reason why every single major medical association opposes the use of the raw, smoked form of marijuana as medicine: smoke is not a reliable delivery system, it's impossible to measure dosage, and it contains hundreds of other chemical compounds that may do more harm than good,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of the group, in a statement.
Calvina Fay, executive director of the anti-marijuana group Drug Free America Foundation, also criticized the lawsuit. “While not perfect, the legislation succeeded in finding a balance that protects the public health and safety of all Floridians while allowing the legal access to marijuana that was approved by voters," she said in a statement.
Morgan counters that those arguments miss the point. “If you are on your death bed, or on your bed in debilitating pain, who really cares if you smoke?” he said. He warns that by aggressively working against the implementation of what voters supported, legislators have inadvertently “kicked the door wide open for recreational marijuana use in Florida.” If they don’t allow for smoking as a medical use, the newly formed industry will “bankroll a constitutional amendment to put recreational marijuana on the ballot...and I believe it will pass with 60 percent of the vote," he said.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
As reported in this lengthy local article, headlined "Nevada celebrates first legal recreation marijuana sales," today was officially a big day for marijuana reform in the Silver State. Here are the details:
A sense of jubilee was in the air midnight Saturday, and so too was the occasional whiff of Nevada's newest cash crop. Hundreds of Nevadans stood in line at midnight and throughout the day Saturday as Nevada became the fifth state in the U.S. to have legal recreational marijuana sales.
"Right at 12:01 a.m., they already have my transaction ready so that I can be the first in the state," said Todd Weatherhead, the first person in line at Sierra Wellness Connection in Reno. Weatherhead, a cultivation and production manager at a Reno cultivation facility, High Sierra Holistics, had been waiting in line since 4:20 p.m. Friday, he said....
Inside the dispensaries, "budtenders" took wads of cash in exchange for tightly sealed, opaque white Ziploc bags containing everything from joints to gummies to oils. As eager patrons jaunted in one by one, Sierra Wellness started running out of $1 bills, requiring a visit to a men's club down the street for more change....
Although Nevadan voters approved Question 2 to legalize recreational marijuana in November, voters twice before had proved themselves not quite ready. Nevada had the chance to become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2002, but voters turned it down. In 2006, they repeated themselves. In November, voters turned the tables and approved Question 2, allowing anyone 21 and older with a valid ID to buy up to an ounce of pot and one-eighth of an ounce of concentrate.
In Reno, four dispensaries -- including Sierra Wellness, Blüm, The Dispensary and Mynt -- are now selling recreational marijuana, and up to 40 statewide are estimated to have their licenses, the Associated Press reported. All of the Reno dispensaries had lines around the building Saturday, throughout the day. "We are the new Amsterdam. We are the new Denver. Nevada is going to be the gold standard for marijuana starting at midnight," said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who is known among industry leaders as the "Cannabis King" or the "Godfather of marijuana" in Nevada.
Segerblom made the first purchase at The Source dispensary at a strip mall in Las Vegas, according to the Associated Press. Segerblom was a key proponent of Nevada executing what is now the fastest turnaround between a vote and sales, faster than the other states that voted to legalize in November. California, Maine and Massachusetts will be following suit soon, in the footsteps of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, but Nevada could see the most hefty out-of-the-gate sales of any state so far.
The millions of tourists who visit Reno, Las Vegas and other Nevada cities every year are expected to account for about two-thirds of the purchases.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has budgeted $69 million in revenue from the industry in the next two years. Money from the 15 percent cultivation tax on all marijuana product in the state will go toward schools, and the 10 percent tax collected from recreational marijuana upon sale will go toward the state's rainy day fund....
Reno's Alisha White, 38, stood in the line at Sierra Wellness to show moral support for her brother and daughter even though she doesn't smoke. “My daughter started to have seizures two years ago,” she said. “I gave her some marijuana, and it helped her. “Marijuana helps people in pain. I’ve watched it change people’s lives.”
Many of the middle-aged attendees who stood in line on Saturday feel like they've waited forever for July 1. "You always had to hide it," said Randy McCuster, 60, who's been smoking since the age of 13. "I smoked pot in the basement and it would come up out of the sink and my mom would stomp on the floor... She was something."
Sunday, June 25, 2017
"The Golden State's ‘High’ Expectations: Will California Realize the Fiscal Benefits of Cannabis Legalization?"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by George Theofanis now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The federal government has been taking an increasingly relaxed approach to enforcing marijuana laws, allowing states that have legalized to realize the tax benefits of lawful marijuana. California is now seeking to realize those same benefits. In 2016, California voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passing of Proposition 64 (Prop. 64), also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA).
With the country’s highest population and largest economy, California’s impact on the marijuana industry is expected to be massive. Some are predicting that California’s marijuana market will generate $1 billion in tax revenue alone. Nonetheless, successfully generating revenue from the recreational market largely depends on several unknowable and unpredictable variables. For example, high prices when legal sales begin could polarize consumers toward the illicit market and stall industry growth. On the other hand, low prices could undercut a state’s revenue goals. In addition, even with the general success of the recreational markets in Colorado and Washington, the unique circumstance’s present in California make revenue projections unpredictable. Complicating matters more, marijuana’s illegal status under federal law also has the potential to slow down market growth and decrease revenue, depending on unpredictable circumstances. Accordingly, a sound cannabis tax scheme must take these and other uncertainties into account.
This Article focuses on how a tax regime that strives for short term gains will be more susceptible to the unstable conditions of the market. It explores how California is able to minimize financial risk in the recreational market while facilitating its growth. This Article argues that California should adopt several mechanisms for adjusting the marijuana tax rate, as recommended in the Rand report, because the current tax scheme is too aspiring and will result in slower market growth over time. For instance, by scheduling future tax rate increases and exploiting untapped tax bases, California can cash in long-term without overburdening the market in its infancy. Indeed, a tax scheme that focuses on a short rate of return rather than long term gain will fail to optimize cannabis tax revenue. The marijuana industry will continue to develop in unpredictable ways, making flexibility to change important to the overall success of any marijuana tax regime. By minimizing risk and facilitating market growth, California can seek to become the golden standard of the cannabis industry.
June 25, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, June 19, 2017
I already have my eye upon states like Arizona and Michigan for potential notable marijuana initiative votes in 2018. And this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana advocates within weeks of filing ballot initiative," suggests Utah is another state worth watching. Here are the basics:
For years now, the Utah Legislature has labored over the question of whether or not to legalize medical marijuana. In 2014, the Legislature chose to legalize a marijuana extract for use in controlling epileptic seizures.
In 2016, two laws which would have legalized medical marijuana — to differing extents — both passed through the Utah Senate, but never reached a vote in the House of Representatives. And in the 2017 session, the only marijuana legislation passed allowed only for studies to take place, which could take years to yield results.
Despite the Legislature’s hesitancy to act on medical marijuana legalization, Utahns may have the chance to vote on the issue directly in the form of a ballot initiative in 2018. “Having tried multiple times to persuade the legislature to help these people and facing significant resistance, we think it’s best now to give the public a chance to decide for themselves,” said Connor Boyack, who is acting as a consultant for the ballot initiative. Boyack has previously advocated for medical marijuana in his role as the president of Libertas Institute, a Libertarian think tank....
It’s an extensive process to put an issue on the ballot. First, the language of the legislation must be written and an application turned into the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. The language of the medical marijuana initiative is almost complete, Boyack said, and is based off of language from one of the bills that failed in the Legislature in 2016. Senate Bill 73, sponsored by then-Sen. Mark Madsen of Saratoga Springs, was used as a baseline for the language of the ballot initiative, Boyack said, with just a few tweaks. For instance, autism was added to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana could be used....
According to state law, to get an initiative on the ballot, signatures must be gathered that total 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last presidential election. Since Utahns cast approximately 1.13 million votes in the 2016 presidential election, it would take just over 113,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot. It’s not as simple as just collecting the 113,000 signatures. They have to be spread out semi-evenly over the many senate districts in the state....
Boyack said they already have much of the financial backing that will be needed to pay professionals to gather signatures. “We’ve got some very strong commitments,” Boyack said. “We’re following up to get checks written.” He said he’s confident that they’ll get the $2 million needed to pay for signature gathering and promotional media. “There are a lot of individuals who are very upset with the Legislature for having the chance to help people, then punting,” Boyack said....
Even if the necessary signatures are collected, Utah voters would still have to choose to pass the initiative. Organizations like the Utah Medical Association have consistently opposed legalizing cannabis as medicine before it has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Even the prominent and influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weighed in on the issue in 2016, specifically favoring one medical marijuana bill over another more comprehensive one. Boyack says he believes the odds of passage are good — polls show that people want medical marijuana to be legal, he said.
June 19, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, May 5, 2017
Will Michigan become the ninth US state, and first in Midwest, to fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative in 2018?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article headlined "Pot petition drive officially begins for 2018 Michigan ballot." Here are the basics:
Marijuana would be legalized for recreational uses and taxed at a rate of 16% under petition language that will be turned in to the Secretary of State today.
If the petition language is approved by the state Board of Canvassers, the group pushing the initiative — the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol — will have 180 days to collect 252,523 signatures from valid registered voters in Michigan. In order to get a cushion to account for signatures that might be thrown out, the group is setting a goal of gathering 350,000 signatures.
That’s a task that will take money, said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition. The group hopes to raise between $8 million and $10 million to both pay people to gather the signatures needed to get on the ballot and to wage a campaign to get the measure passed in November 2018.
“Prohibition is a failed big government program,” said former state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who is the political director of the coalition. “We have 20,000 people arrested every year in Michigan. And we’re now going to be in a position to give our citizens a choice to end that.”...
The coalition will have an advantage this year over previous efforts to get the issue on the ballot. The national Marijuana Policy Project, which has gotten involved in several other states where marijuana legalization has succeeded, has jumped into Michigan’s ballot drive. So far eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, while 29 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana use.
The last group to try and get the issue on the 2016 ballot – MiLegalize – gathered more than 350,000 signatures, but not within the 180-day time frame. MiLegalize, as well as the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for Marijuana Legalization or Norml, have signed on to the latest effort and will bring its army of volunteers to the push to free the weed.
Marijuana Policy Project has an extraordinary recent track record of success with marijuana reform initiatives, and my sense is that MPP will not get involved in a state campaign unless it feels confident it has a good chance of winning. Michigan will be such an interesting state to watch in the run up to 2018 because of both politics and geography: the state has an (outgoing) Republic Gov and it supported Prez Trump in 2016, but it has two Democratic senators and is sometimes thought of as more of a "blue" state; the state borders Canada and a number of upper-Midwest states (Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin) that currently have fairly restrictive marijuana policies and politics.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
The title of this post is the title of a notable new report issued by National Families in Action. The report can be downloaded at this link, and this press release about the report provides a summary of its themes and core contents:
A new report by National Families in Action (NFIA) uncovers and documents how three billionaires, who favor legal recreational marijuana, manipulated the ballot initiative process in 16 U.S. states for more than a decade, convincing voters to legalize medical marijuana. NFIA is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1977, that has been helping parents prevent children from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. NFIA researched and issued the paper to mark its 40th anniversary.
The NFIA study, Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters, exposes, for the first time, the money trail behind the marijuana legalization effort during a 13-year period. The report lays bare the strategy to use medical marijuana as a runway to legalized recreational pot, describing how financier George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, and for-profit education baron John Sperling (and groups they and their families fund) systematically chipped away at resistance to marijuana while denying that full legalization was their goal. The report documents state-by-state financial data, identifying the groups and the amount of money used either to fund or oppose ballot initiatives legalizing medical or recreational marijuana in 16 states. The paper unearths how legalizers fleeced voters and outspent — sometimes by hundreds of times — the people who opposed marijuana.
Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters illustrates that legalizers lied about the health benefits of marijuana, preyed on the hopes of sick people, flouted scientific evidence and advice from the medical community and gutted consumer protections against unsafe, ineffective drugs. And, it proves that once the billionaires achieved their goal of legalizing recreational marijuana (in Colorado and Washington in 2012), they virtually stopped financing medical pot ballot initiatives and switched to financing recreational pot. In 2014 and 2016, they donated $44 million to legalize recreational pot in Alaska, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. Only Arizona defeated the onslaught (for recreational marijuana).
March 15, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Reviewing ups-and-downs and defeat in 2015 of Ohio effort to legalize recreational marijuana via Issue 3
I am excited to remind readers (and also my students) that it is that time of year again: students in my Ohio State University Moritz College of Law marijuana reform seminar are gearing up to begin in-class presentations. This means, inter alia, that this blog space will be filled in coming weeks with links and materials provided by my students as a background/preview for their coming presentation.
The first of the scheduled presentations involves a review of this history (and epic fail) of Issue 3, the 2015 campaign in Ohio seeking passage of a state constitutional amendment that would have fully legalized marijuana in the Buckeye State and put the rights to grow marijuana in the hands of a small group of financial backers of the initiative campaign. The student making this presentations has suggested the following reading for classmates (and any others interested in recalling this tale):
"Is Responsible Ohio's mascot Buddie 'the Joe Camel of marijuana'?"(Oct 21, 2015 press article)
"On Ballot, Ohio Grapples With Specter of Marijuana Monopoly" (Nov 1, 2015 press article)
Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 2: "Anti-monopoly amendment; protects the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit"
Proposed Constitutional Amendment Issue 3: "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes"
"Ohioans reject legalizing marijuana" (Nov 4, 2015 press article)
UPDATE: And here is one more: "Will Ohio's Marijuana Amendment Go up in Smoke" (Sept/Oct Ohio Lawyer article)
February 22, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, February 9, 2017
In Massachusetts and Maine and even in California there have been various moves made by various state officials and politicians to slow the process and progress of implementing 2016 ballot initiatives that legalized recreational marijuana in those states. But the state-level implementation story seems quite different in Nevada according to this new local article headlined "Nevada officials fast track plan to regulate recreational marijuana." Here are the details:
State officials plan to move quickly with a task force for regulating recreational marijuana, the Nevada Senate Judiciary Committee heard Wednesday. The first steps will be putting temporary regulations in place by July to allow medical marijuana establishments to sell recreational marijuana. By the end of the year, permanent regulations are to be in place.
In the world of state government, that is a fast-tracked process for completing regulations. It can take a year or so for that to happen. “The idea is that we would get going pretty quickly,” said Deonne Contine, executive director of the Nevada Department of Taxation.
In November, Nevada voters approved Question 2, which legalized recreational marijuana and tasked the state’s Department of Taxation with developing regulations to guide the new industry. Recreational marijuana has a strong place in the budget plans of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has proposed a 10 percent tax on the retail recreational marijuana sales to generate an estimated $70 million for public education.
The state is piggybacking on its medical marijuana program, which started in 2014. The temporary program will allow licensed medical marijuana establishments to sell recreational marijuana. Those licenses will be good until Dec. 31, or 30 days after permanent regulations are in place, whichever is first. To get temporary regulations in place, the state will have a public workshop in mid-March followed by an adoption hearing on May 8 at the Nevada Tax Commission meeting. The state would start accepting applications for temporary licenses in May and begin issuing them on July 1.
During that time, the legwork for the permanent regulations will be underway. Sandoval issued an executive order this week for a 16-member statewide task force to develop regulations, with input from local government, public safety and public health officials. That task force will meet monthly between February and April and issue a report in May. The goal is to send a draft of permanent regulations to the Legislative Counsel Bureau for review in July. That will be followed by a public workshop in the fall and adoption by December.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
As reported in this local article, "Massachusetts lawmakers quietly shuttled a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk delaying the implementation of recreational marijuana by six months." Here is more:
The bill does not affect the provisions that are already in effect: Personal possession inside and outside a person's primary residence, as well as home growing. Those provisions went into effect on Dec. 15, 2016. Under the new law voters passed in November, retail pot shops were likely to open in 2018, after the set-up of a Cannabis Control Commission.
But the bill on its way to Baker's desk changes the deadlines for the commission to draft and approve regulations, vet applicants and issue retail licenses for selling and cultivation. The commission was originally due to be set up by March 2017. The Massachusetts House and Senate passed the bill on Wednesday. Marijuana legalization advocates have repeatedly called for the timelines and deadlines to stay the same, saying they are doable.
"The legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and public safety. This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law," Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said in a statement. "Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country," he added, referring to states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
December 28, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, December 16, 2016
This local article, headlined "Connecticut prepares for consequences of Massachusetts marijuana legalization," provides still more evidence for the reality that marijuana legalization in Massachusetts really means marijuana reform for much of New England. Here are excerpts from the article:
Police Chief Ricky Hayes of Putnam, Connecticut, is not too worried about Massachusetts legalizing marijuana -- yet. "I don't think we're that concerned right now," Hayes said. "Once they get into the dispensing and selling, we may have a lot of people traveling from Connecticut into Massachusetts to try to do some purchasing."
Recreational marijuana became legal in Massachusetts on Thursday, the result of a ballot vote in November. Residents can now grow a limited quantity of marijuana plants at home and can possess marijuana legally. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and transporting marijuana across state lines is a federal crime. But a state like neighboring Connecticut could still see an increase in people bringing marijuana across the border.
After Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, attorneys general in neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the law because their states were seeing an influx of marijuana coming from Colorado. The Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit. Some Connecticut law enforcement officials say the bigger impact of Massachusetts' legalization is likely to hit a year from now. Although marijuana was legal to possess as of Thursday, legal retail sales are not expected to be up and running for at least another year, since the state must develop regulations and a licensing process. So there is still no legal method for buying the drug in Massachusetts....
Some Connecticut lawmakers have been pushing for a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in that state. Although the bill did not pass in 2016, the Legislature is expected to consider it again, and it is possible Massachusetts' legalization could boost that effort....
Another question is what impact Massachusetts' legal marijuana will have on Connecticut's medical marijuana program. It is illegal under state law for a Connecticut medical marijuana patient to buy marijuana in Massachusetts or anywhere other than in a licensed dispensary in Connecticut. But that does not mean some patients, or potential patients, will not find it easier to bypass Connecticut's medical system and buy marijuana across the border.
Lora Rae Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the medical marijuana program, said she hopes patients have been satisfied enough with the medical marijuana system not to buy their marijuana in Massachusetts. "We want patients to have an experience that is medical, supported by doctors, that helps remedy their severe debilitating condition and is compliant with state law," Anderson said.
A medical marijuana patient in Connecticut must be certified by a doctor, then discuss their needs with a dispensary pharmacist. "We have a very highly regulated and specific medical model to our program here, so people here have a very different experience going to a dispensary facility, which is regulated like a pharmacy, than you would going into a store where you purchase medical marijuana," Anderson said. She added that the types of marijuana that are sold in dispensaries are different products from what a person would buy in a retail store. "It's a medication, not a drug," Anderson said.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this Boston Globe article, which gets started this way:
It was 1911. The New England Watch and Ward Society (née the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice) was battling against drugs and other “special evils.” And in April of that year, the group’s leaders successfully petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature to outlaw possession of several “hypnotic drugs,” including cannabis.
One hundred five years, seven months, and 16 days later — Thursday — marijuana became legal again in Massachusetts. The Governor’s Council, a Colonial-era body that vets judges and accepts election tabulations, on Wednesday formally certified the results of a ballot question that allows marijuana for recreational use.
The initiative passed last month with 1.8 million people voting for the measure, despite the opposition of top politicians, the Catholic Church, doctors and business groups, and an array of other civic leaders. About 1.5 million people voted against it.
Perhaps the loudest voices opposed to the measure came from law enforcement. But on Wednesday, police were learning how to enforce what one top public safety official called “a complex web” of rules for licensed and unlicensed sellers, for those who sell the drug for profit and those who give it away.
Even as pot remains illegal under federal law, possession, use, and home-growing are now allowed under state law for adults 21 and over. But public consumption of the drug remains forbidden in Massachusetts, as do several related activities, such as smoking weed anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. It will also be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, though there is no cannabis equivalent in the law to the 0.08 blood-alcohol limit.
Selling pot, too, remains outlawed until the state treasurer sets up a regulated marketplace and licenses retail stores. The law sets a January 2018 time frame for pot shops to open, creating a legal gray zone until then — buying up to an ounce of pot from a dealer is legal, but the dealer is breaking the law.
The Massachusetts measure is part of a national trend. Voters here were joined on Nov. 8 by those in Maine, California, and Nevada. The people of Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, Alaska, and the District of Columbia also voted to legalize marijuana in recent years.
Monday, December 12, 2016
The question in the title of this post comes from this local article on the progress of the recount of the marijuana legalization initiative in Maine, which began last week and (very likely?) could extend into 2017. The unofficial result from Election Night was a victory of 4,073 votes for marijuana legalization, but an automatic recount is required by state election law because the result was by a margin of less than one percent. Officials have until the end of the week to complete the count, otherwise the counting will resume after the holiday break on January 1. From the article:
The recount of the marijuana legalization vote moves into its second week Monday with the No on 1 campaign picking up a small number of votes.
The recount of the contentious ballot issue began last Monday and focused on the largest cities in Maine, including Portland and Bangor. Sixteen percent of ballots cast statewide have been recounted by hand.
The start of the recount was delayed until 11 a.m. Monday because of snow.
The No on 1 campaign says it continues to pick up votes, but did not provide specific numbers. The Secretary of State’s Office will not release new vote totals until the recount is over.
Question 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot appeared to have legalized marijuana by a margin of just over 4,000 votes.
David Boyer, manager of the Yes on 1 campaign, said last week the no side picked up 26 votes in Portland, a number he characterized as statistically insignificant. The results released on Election Day showed Portland residents approving Question 1 by a vote of 25,594 to 13,008. He said the yes side has gained votes in other towns...
The recount could take a month to finish and cost up to $500,000, largely in costs for State Police to collect ballots from 503 municipalities.
Question 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot passed by 4,073 votes – 381,692 to 377,619 – according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office. Opponents did not have to pay for the recount because the margin was so small at less than 1 percent of votes cast.
If the election results stand, the new law will take effect as soon as the first week of January, though the exact date is unclear because the recount must be completed first. The process of reviewing as many as 700,000 ballots from roughly 500 communities could delay implementation even if the review does not uncover enough counting errors to overturn the results.
The new law makes it legal for adults to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow a limited number of plants. It also allows for retail stores and social clubs, which likely won’t open until 2018 because the state has to develop licensing and regulatory rules.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
In the run-up to the November 2016 election, I suggested that Florida's vote over a significant medical marijuana ballot initiative could be as important as any of the recreational marijuana reform votes taking place in other states. This new Forbes article, headlined "Florida Medical Marijuana Sales Could Rival Colorado By 2020," reinforces my view. Here are excerpts (with links from the original):
Colorado and California may be ground zero for medical marijuana, but Florida could quickly catch up. A new report from New Frontier Data with market data provided by Arcview Market Research projects that Florida's market will grow to $1.6 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 140%. That would make it half the size of California's projected $2.6 billion market and top the projected $1.5 billion medical marijuana market for Colorado.
Florida voters legalized medical marijuana during this past election with more than 70% of the vote. Florida has the fifth-highest median age and is one of the most popular places to retire in the country. It is considered to be well-positioned to serve the aging population with medical cannabis products. The New Frontier report believes that Florida could end up becoming 7.5% of the total legal U.S. cannabis market and 14% of the medical marijuana market by 2020.
“Florida has the potential to be one of the largest medical markets in the country. The state is home to the nation's largest percentage of people 65 and older, a demographic for whom chronic pain and catastrophic illnesses are commonplace and expensive to treat. Amendment 2 gives this large patient pool access to legal cannabis as an alternative therapy to their diverse medical needs,” said New Frontier Data Founder & CEO Giadha DeCarcer.
Troy Dayton of The Arcview Group said, “The opportunity for good jobs, tax money and wealth creation created by Amendment 2 passing cannot be understated. And, thankfully, seriously ill patients will no longer need to go to high school parking lots or drug dealers to get their medicine.” Dayton also noted that cannabis entrepreneurs are pretty excited at their prospects in the state.
One example of this is the decision by High There!, a social media site that caters to the cannabis crowd, to move from Colorado to Florida. “When we launched 18 months ago, we felt Denver was the right city to be home to High There!, as it was a legal state. But with Florida legalizing medical marijuana, we realized the opportunity was really in our home state, and High There! could be a model of the economic impact a legal marijuana market can bring to a region,” said co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Darren Roberts.High There! is bringing jobs with it as it moves its headquarters back to the founders home state. The company plans to add positions in operations, and marketing in the coming months, and continues to add strategic partners as the company solidifies itself as a leading technology platform for the cannabis community. The company wants to promote accessibility of medical marijuana and has partnered with United For Care, the largest organization that worked to pass Amendment 2....
December 10, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, November 26, 2016
As long-time readers know, my modern professional interests in marijuana law policy and reform emerged directly from my professional interests in criminal justice reform general and sentencing reform in particular. For that reason, I will be watching especially closely the application and impact of the criminal justice/sentence provisions that were part of California's marijuana legalization proposition, Prop 64. This new article from the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Green wave: Legalized marijuana setting scores of defendants free," provides an early report:
Chris Phillips, a marijuana entrepreneur and Livermore father of four, faced five felony counts and possible prison time after he was accused of illegally growing pot at his home, which police raided in June. But when California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use Nov. 8, they retroactively erased several small-time pot crimes and reduced the penalties for bigger ones like growing, selling and transporting.
So at 9 a.m. the next day, Phillips sat in a courtroom in Pleasanton. He was first on the docket, and it wasn’t long before his attorney Bill Panzer and Alameda County prosecutors hammered out a deal for the 36-year-old to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor possession charge. “It was literally a sigh of relief,” said Phillips, who runs several pot farms, a medical dispensary in Long Beach and an extract brand — and had been out of jail on a half-million-dollar bond....
California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names.
California does not keep detailed records on pot crimes, but the attorney general’s office said police made 8,866 felony pot arrests in 2015, involving 7,987 adults and 879 juveniles — mainly for possession for sale, cultivation and transportation. Roughly 2,000 jail and prison inmates are affected by Prop. 64, according to estimates from the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group that helped sponsor the initiative.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said Prop. 64 could result in net court savings of tens of millions of dollars per year. Counties that took the hardest line on pot in the past are seeing the biggest shares of sentence reductions and dismissals, lawyers say. “We’re getting calls many times throughout the day,” said Joe Rogoway, an attorney who practices in San Francisco and the North Bay and specializes in cannabis law. “It’s cathartic. I’m elated to be able to go into court and help people.”
The changes are profound. For example, illegally growing a single marijuana plant used to be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Today, it’s no longer a crime. About a dozen other crimes were either deleted or downgraded. Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, an office spokeswoman, said local judges were sending felony pot cases to misdemeanor court, though she didn’t have the exact number of cases. “We’re absolutely following the law,” she said.
Sacramento County prosecutors say they have about 75 affected cases. San Mateo officials report approximately 100 pending cases, mostly felonies for alleged cultivation, while San Francisco prosecutors report about 200 affected cases, mostly involving small-time sales. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said defendants being held in county jails because they could not post bail are being released if they’ve already served more time than they would if convicted of what’s now a misdemeanor. “That will be common,” he said. “There’ll be plenty of those.”
Wagstaffe, who is also president of the California District Attorneys Association, expects Prop. 64 to cause police officers to arrest and cite fewer people for remaining pot crimes that are now misdemeanors, because the effort is “not worth” the paperwork and police time....
Because young, low-income people of color have felt the brunt of drug enforcement, they stand to gain the most from the law’s changes, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “That’s certainly what we’re hoping,” he said. Now, citizens who potentially faced years in jail are sometimes facing days. Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol attorney specializing in cannabis, said one of his clients was looking at up to nearly five years in prison for felony transporting of pot and possession for sale, as well as a related probation violation. After Prop. 64, Figueroa said Sonoma County prosecutors agreed to an infraction charge, with no jail and no probation.
In Los Angeles, attorney Allison Margolin spoke of a client with a 3-year-old warrant alleging hash possession. The defendant never surrendered, and now he doesn’t have to. “Possession of hash is no longer a crime at all,” she said. “We can take away his warrant.”
Beyond those in jail, or awaiting trial on pending cases, an estimated tens of thousands of Californians on probation or parole have begun petitioning to reduce or end supervision, which would give them full rights to travel, refuse a search and use marijuana medically. Many crimes that once yielded three, five or seven years of probation now have a maximum term of one year under Prop. 64.
Margolin noted that Prop. 64 builds on Proposition 47, which reduced drug possession and low-level theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors when California voters approved it in 2014. While Prop. 47 diverted most drug users out of the felony court system, she said, Prop. 64 diverts pot growers, sellers, transporters and all juveniles, as well. “It’s really awesome for a lot of people, of course,” Margolin said. “A young person who sold weed in college and gets caught and then has it affect their whole life — there’s probably more than 100,000 people in those situations.”
The biggest group touched by Prop. 64 — those who have already been punished for past pot convictions — may number in the hundreds of thousands. Many are now eligible to clean up their records, which could improve their job prospects or give them the right to possess a gun. “I cannot overstate the significance of this,” said Rogoway. “It really is a paradigm shift.”
The California Judicial Council posted forms online last week for any pot convict or defendant — adult or juvenile — to petition for a resentencing, for reduced charges, or to expunge and seal their record. Those who are awaiting trial or are behind bars don’t need a form. They can petition for a Prop. 64 sentence reduction orally at their next court date.
Margolin plans to hold a Prop. 64 legal clinic Dec. 3 while offering to help people address past convictions for $1,000. She said such expungements may not totally clear people’s records in all databases, but they will no longer have to check employment application boxes saying they were convicted of a felony.
For those aiming to make a living in the marijuana business, Prop. 64 may be even more pivotal. Felons who felt locked out of the industry “now have a reason to strive forward,” said Phillips, the Livermore entrepreneur, who announced with pride that he had become Puerto Rico’s first medical marijuana licensee. “You can make your new life happen.”
Ironically, Phillips had spent a year opposing Prop. 64, believing the law would lead to a corporate takeover of cannabis that would undermine medical patients. But just two weeks before the election, Phillips said he sat down with his lawyer, read the 62-page initiative and realized it would set him free. “How stupid I was for a whole year talking about this,” he said.