Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, July 23, 2018

"Has the U.S. reached a ‘tipping point’ in marijuana legalization?"

Download (2)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Post piece authored by Daniel J. Mallinson and A. Lee Hannah.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Has the U.S. reached the “tipping point” in marijuana legalization?  That’s what one CNN commentator said happened last month when, on June 26, Oklahoma adopted medical marijuana through a ballot initiative....

It’s true that a lot was unusual about the Oklahoma initiative.  The state approved medical marijuana with roughly 57 percent of the vote — despite the fact that the ballot measure was held in a conservative state, during a primary — when only the most committed party members tend to vote — rather than during a general election, is more permissive than many comparable laws, and was opposed by statewide Republican leaders....

Notably, Oklahoma’s voters approved medical marijuana directly, rather than through the legislature.  In our previous research, we found that five states legalizing medical marijuana via ballot initiatives between 1996 and 1999 helped legitimize the effort — and, beginning in 2000, a handful of legislatures followed suit.  Direct democracy is one important way that advocates successfully force the issue in some states — either through successful initiatives, as in Oklahoma, or through the threat of an initiative campaign, as in Ohio, where the legislature quickly passed a medical marijuana law to head off a 2016 initiative sponsored by Marijuana Policy Project.

As a result, as fewer and fewer of the remaining 20 states without any legal marijuana use have mechanisms for such direct referendums, it becomes less and less likely that those states will liberalize cannabis policy.  In that sense, perhaps Oklahoma is not a tipping point....

Direct democracy has furthered marijuana liberalization, assisted by changes in how advocates frame the issue.  Journalists and advocates have been drawing attention to recent research that shows the potential of medical cannabis to treat conditions like PTSD, epilepsy and opioid addiction.  This type of coverage serves to lift the stigma on marijuana use by presenting conditions and patients that are more relatable and sympathetic than treatment for other conditions, or than recreational use.

One of us, Lee Hannah, recently conducted a content analysis of news articles about medical marijuana stories by The Washington Post from 1995 (a year prior to California adopting the first program) to 2017 to determine whether this narrative shift was being seen in news coverage.  Hannah searched the newspaper archives and counted how many articles about medical marijuana were paired with specific medical conditions.

In the period from 1995 to 1999, The Washington Post ran 56 articles about medical marijuana that associated it with cancer, 73 articles that mentioned HIV/AIDS and only 7 articles associating medical marijuana with opioid addiction, epilepsy or PTSD.  That relative emphasis has flipped in the last five years.  The Post continued to make the connection to cancer, in 71 articles, but only 31 articles included HIV/AIDS.  Meanwhile, The Post ran 195 articles that connected medical cannabis to opioid addiction (71), epilepsy (83) or PTSD (41). The results were similar when analyzing coverage in the New York Times.

Some observers argue that evidence so far suggests other policy approaches are more successful than medical marijuana in treating opioid addiction.  But if interest groups can successfully persuade citizens that medical cannabis could help diminish the opioid crisis, conservative voters and state legislatures may be persuaded to make it available....

Whether Oklahoma’s new law is indeed a tipping point, changing public opinion and industry pressures seem to be pushing the federal government and the remaining states to make marijuana available for medical use — and probably, from there, recreational use as well.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Responsible Ohio: Successes, Failures, and the Future of Adult Marijuana Use in Ohio"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article that was authored by Sean Klammer and got its start in my Marijuana Law and Policy seminar a few years ago. Here is the article's introduction:

On November 3, 2015, Ohioans went to the polls to vote on Issue 3, a ballot initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution to legalize adult marijuana use.  Though other states had legalized medicinal marijuana prior to eliminating prohibition, ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee (PAC) behind the initiative, believed it could skip this preliminary hurdle.  The group worked tirelessly for almost two years to ensure that Issue 3 would become law.  Had it succeeded, the organization would have possessed the blueprint to end prohibition in many other states, if not the entire country.  Yet, despite favorable polling in the months leading up to the election, it became clear that the PAC had miscalculated.  On election night, the initiative was soundly defeated, with Ohioans voting against legalization at a rate of two to one.  The State would have to wait until at least the 2016 presidential election to get another chance at legalization.

Part I of this Essay reviews the history and key players behind ResponsibleOhio as well as the initiative’s path to the ballot.  Part II summarizes the text of Issue 3 and assesses relevant provisions.  Parts III and IV highlight the debate between marijuana activists and prohibitionists, and Part V analyzes why the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.  Part VI notes that even though Issue 3 did not pass, it led to acceptance of medical marijuana in Ohio and thus set the stage for full legalization in 2020.  Finally, the Essay concludes in Part VII with a reflection on the lessons learned from ResponsibleOhio and gives suggestions on how to best frame a marijuana legalization campaign to appeal to voters in the next presidential election.

July 17, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Michigan press suggesting state has a lot to learn from the Colorado marijuana reform laboratory

MIvotersRec_BEver since Election Night 2012 once it was clear that voters in Colorado and Washington were eager to pioneer a new approach, my thinking about marijuana reform always gravitates back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famous description of the virtues of federalism in terms of a state being able to, "if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."  Part of serving as an effectively "laboratory" in this context, of course, is having result from a "novel social and economic experiments" that other states can seek to learn from.  

The point of this post prelude is to compliment a big new series of articles in the Detroit Free Press a few months before Michigan voters will be asked to decide whether to embrace full marijuana legalization in the state.  The lead article in this series, the first of those linked below, sets up the start of its learn and compare coverage with this note: "With Michigan having nearly double the population of Colorado — 9.9 million to 5.6 million — and an already well-established market of 289,205 medical marijuana cardholders, both supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana wonder (and worry) whether Michigan is on the same path as Colorado."

What Michigan needs to learn from Colorado's legalized marijuana

5 things I found surprising about legal marijuana in Colorado

How Michigan's marijuana proposal differs from Colorado law

Legalize marijuana? Advice for Michigan from Colorado

I recommend all the pieces in this series, but the "5 surprising things" piece has these not-so-surprising questions from a reporter after a Denver visit (click through for the "answers" though I have reprinted the final one)

Where’s the fire?

Where’s the money?

Where’s the advertising?

Where are the baggies?

Where, oh where, is the outrage or the joy?

Marijuana has become second nature for Colorado: Everyone seems kind of blasé about the proliferation of pot in the state. No one seems particularly up in arms about the legalization or overjoyed by the success of the business. The state bureaucrats say it’s too early to say whether the presence of legal weed is a nightmare or a boon for the state’s economy and the police say there’s not much difference — and not much of a spike in crashes — between a driver impaired by booze or one high on marijuana. The businesspeople are happy with their still relatively new industry, but plagued by the uncertainty of how marijuana is treated by the federal government.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Could North Dakota(!?!) fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative this year?

Download (16)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent posting at Marijuana Moment titled "How North Dakota Could Fully Legalize Marijuana In November. Here are excerpts:

Under an effort that has so far gone mostly unnoticed by drug policy reform observers across the country, North Dakota voters could have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would fully legalize marijuana and create a pathway to exonerations for those with past cannabis convictions.

Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed a medical marijuana legalization measure with 64 percent support.  But the program’s rollout hasn’t been smooth — leaving prospective patients without access to dispensaries and barred from home cultivation — and so a small team of anti-prohibition organizers at Legalize ND decided to write a new initiative to help patients and adults consume and grow cannabis freely.

The organization hasn’t received financial backing from national advocacy groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance, Eric Owens Sr., who wrote the initiative, told Marijuana Moment in an interview.  Instead, it’s relied on a steady flow of grassroots support and word-of-mouth to collect signatures in support of the measure.  Owens said Legalize ND has collected more than 16,000 signatures so far, but the group is expecting to turn in about 20,000 to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on July 9.

The state requires 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. The signatures must first be verified before the initiative officially qualifies. “We’re thousands over the required amount,” Owens said.  “When people talk about grassroots, this really, legitimately was grassroots. Nobody was there because nobody cared about us in North Dakota.”...

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Legalize ND, which is expecting to face opposition from one of the largest employers in the state, Sanford Health, as well as the highway patrol and the prosecutors association.  That said, internal polling from the organization indicates strong support for the initiative, Owens said.  “We don’t have money to fight them with TV or radio, we’re just going to be common sense and let people know through social media.  The people — plain and simple — they got screwed out of their medical marijuana and they want revenge.”

Though North Dakota might not seem the most likely contender to become one of the next states to fully legalize marijuana, voters elsewhere have already delivered cannabis reform surprises in 2018: Oklahomans approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana [in late June]....

Local political commentator Rob Fort predicted in a column this week that “barring some major problem with the petitions this issue should be on the ballot.”

I still think is was a very big deal that last week voters in deep-red Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a broad medical marijuana ballot initiative (details here and here). But if voters in deep-red North Dakota were to this year approve a recreational marijuana reform initiative, I suspect that even folks like Jeff Sessions and Kevin Sabet would see the political inevitability of nationwide marijuana reforms.

Of course, with limited funding and significant in-state opposition, I would be inclined to predict that a full ballot initiative would fail in North Dakota. Polls generally show roughly a 50/50 split on support for full legalization among more conservative voters, whereas medical marijuana is usually support 3 to 1 in this group. But I have to think a very thoughtful campaign could stress not only the thwarting of the will of the voters on medical marijuana, but also the coming of full legalization regimes in Canada (which is just a couple of hours drive from just about every major ND city). Perhaps a kind of "Blame Canada" campaign could help carry a full legalization initiative in this unique context.

July 2, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Highlighting how extraordinary the approval of medical marijuana was in Oklahoma

OK-Yes-788Over at Marijuana Moment, Kyle Jaeger has this terrific new piece reflecting on the extraordinary dynamics surrounding the vote on Tuesday in Oklahoma approving a medical marijuana initiative. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Voters in one of the reddest states in the nation approved one of the most far-reaching marijuana ballot measures on Tuesday, making Oklahoma the 30th state to legalize medical cannabis.

And while advocates and pro-legalization organizers in the state will tell you they weren’t necessarily surprised by the results — with polls consistently showing majority support in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, for example — the initiative’s passage by a wide margin (57 percent to 43 percent) is still extraordinary.

In part, that’s because of the political landscape of Oklahoma. The state hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and its marijuana laws have historically reflected a staunch, prohibitionist mindset. Just four years ago, getting caught consuming cannabis in public twice could land you in prison for up to a decade.

But perhaps even more impressively, the initiative was decisively approved—during a midterm primary election—in spite of the fact that committees in support of State Question 788 were outspent by committees opposed to the measure six-to-one. According to the latest campaign finance records, Oklahomans for Health, which played a leading role in support of the initiative, and Yes On 788 spent a total of about $155,000 during their campaigns based on the latest campaign finance disclosure statements submitted June 26.

Committees opposed to the initiative, Oklahomans Against 788 and SQ Is NOT Medical spent a total of about $920,500 on their anti-legalization campaigns, some of which was used for television advertising against the measure. Supporters, on the other hand, did not have enough funds to go on the air with their message.

Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health, told Marijuana Moment that the group’s minimal spending “speaks volume for liberty, freedom, unity… because Oklahoma united around this and made it happen.”...

Unlike pro-legalization campaign committees advancing reform bids in many past state-level elections, Oklahomans for Health did not receive financial contributions from national advocacy groups such as Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance. Paul said it was better that way because “it means more if we do this for $0 or $10,000.”

Another element of the group’s campaign efforts involved strategically avoiding divisive, partisan politics. While the initiative itself has been characterized as “liberal” because it doesn’t include a list of limited medical conditions that qualify individuals for cannabis, the issue at hand is increasingly bipartisan. A recent survey from the progressive think tank Center for American Progress found a record 68 percent of Americans favor recreational legalization, including 57 percent of Republicans. Support for medical marijuana legalization is even higher, with 93 percent of Americans in agreement that patients should be able to legally access the plant. “For the most, we’ve managed to rise above things that would divide us,” Paul said.

June 28, 2018 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Oklahoma voters resoundingly pass medical marijuana initiative

OK-Yes-788

As reported by Tom Angell at Forbes, "Voters in Oklahoma approved a ballot measure making the state the 30th in the nation to allow broad access to medical marijuana."  Here is more:

The proposal, which was leading by a 57% to 43% margin with more than 98% of precincts reporting on Tuesday night, would allow doctors to recommend cannabis for any medical condition they see fit.  Most other state medical marijuana laws delineate a specific list of diseases and disorders for which physicians can authorize patients' participation.

The approval of such a far-reaching marijuana proposal in a deeply red state like Oklahoma -- during a midterm primary election, no less -- is a clear sign of the mainstream political support that cannabis reform now enjoys....

Under the new Oklahoma law as drafted, legal patients will receive state ID cards and be allowed to possess three ounces of cannabis in public, and store up to eight ounces at home.

Home cultivation of six mature plants and six seedlings is allowed, as is possession of up to one ounce of cannabis concentrates and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused edible products.  Patients could also designate a caregiver to purchase or grow medicine for them.

The new law would also add some level of protection for medical cannabis patients who don't go through the step of getting a state-issued identification card.  People who are caught with 1.5 ounces or less of marijuana and can "state a medical condition" would face a misdemeanor offense punishable by no more than a $400 fine.

The state would issue licenses for medical cannabis cultivation, processing, transportation and dispensing businesses, and a 7% retail tax would be applied to medical cannabis sales.  Revenue would first go toward covering implementation and regulation costs, with the remainder funding education as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Any of these provisions are subject to change, however, and there are indications that they may be amended soon. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said last week that she was prepared to call lawmakers into a special legislative session this summer to address provisions which, in her view, essentially allow "recreational marijuana in the state of Oklahoma."

And in a statement on Tuesday night, the governor said she "respect[s] the will of the voters in any question placed before them to determine the direction of our state" but that "it is our responsibility as state leaders to look out for the health and safety of Oklahoma citizens."

"I will be discussing with legislative leaders and state agencies our options going forward on how best to proceed with adding a medical and proper regulatory framework to make sure marijuana use is truly for valid medical illnesses [said] Governor Mary Fallin...

In the lead up to the vote, the measure faced vocal opposition from Fallin and from other popular officials like U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R), who appeared in a television ad urging voters to reject medical marijuana.  Groups like the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association and the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association also campaigned against legalization.

I thought there was a real chance that this Oklahoma initiative might fail because state leaders seemingly did an effective job of conveying the message that the proposal was tantamount to approving recreational marijuana, and it also seemed more resources were spent in the campaign against the initiative than for it. But despite these forces, a significant form of marijuana reform passed by a very wide margin in a very red state. Too bad representatives in Washington DC have still not yet fully come to understand the depth and strength of voter interest in ending blanket marijuana prohibitions.

June 26, 2018 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Mapping out Oklahoma positions with approaching medical marijuana reform initiative vote

OK-Yes-788

This recent article from Religion News Service, headlined "In red-state Oklahoma, marijuana ballot question splits people of faith," provides a great look at the range of perspectives on marijuana reform in Oklahoma with only weeks before a big initiative vote. Here are snippets from an article worth reading in full:

As Presbyterian minister Bobby Griffith sees it, legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma could help arthritis sufferers with chronic pain and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 41-year-old husband and father has a personal reason, too, for supporting State Question 788 — a pro-marijuana initiative that the Bible Belt state’s voters will decide June 26. “For myself, I would be interested in a prescription for it to see if it works better than my anxiety and depression medications,” said Griffith, co-pastor of a Presbyterian church near downtown Oklahoma City and a member of the national group Clergy for a New Drug Policy.

As Griffith characterizes it, the Oklahoma ballot measure’s potential to improve health outcomes and reduce dependence on addictive opioid painkillers makes it a “moral issue.”

Religious opponents counter that backing the issue would be immoral. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, blasts the ballot measure as a “recreational marijuana vote disguised as medical marijuana.”

“The moral issue to me is really a family issue,” Lankford, who directed a Baptist youth camp before his 2010 election to Congress, told Religion News Service. “The best thing for our state is not to get more parents and grandparents to smoke marijuana,” added the senator, who filmed a commercial urging voters to reject State Question 788. “To have our communities more drug-addicted and distracted, that doesn’t help our families. It doesn’t make us more prosperous. It doesn’t make our schools more successful.”...

[F]aith arguments are prominent in a state where three out of four residents describe themselves in Gallup polling as “moderately religious” or “very religious.” The vote — which will take place on the state’s primary day for governor and other state and federal offices — resulted from a petition signed by nearly 68,000 voters and presented to state officials two years ago.

If State Question 788 passes, Abner warns, Oklahoma could follow the nine states that have authorized recreational use of marijuana. “The key thing is that it’s not medical,” he said. “This is something that’s hiding behind that (terminology) to bring recreational marijuana to Oklahoma. And from a spiritual standpoint, none of us can sustain the sound minds and healthy bodies God desires us to have when we place ourselves under the controlling influence of something other than the Holy Spirit.”

Other religious opponents include top officials of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma — representing the state’s roughly 577,000 Southern Baptists — and the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, the public policy arm of the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses, comprising roughly 288,000 parishioners. “My hope is that Oklahoma will vote down marijuana legalization and continue to put legal barriers between addiction and the communities it devastates,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement published by The Baptist Messenger, an Oklahoma newspaper.

But Jon Middendorf, senior pastor of Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, said he favors “whatever can bring relief to folks who are in chronic pain.”

“I’m just exhausted of conspiracy theories that always seem to emanate from the Christian right,” said Middendorf, who stressed that he was speaking personally and not on behalf of his congregation. “There’s always some sinister story behind it all,” he added. “It really might be that somebody who’s in pain just needs something that hasn’t been tried just yet, that offers some help for relief and quality of life, that they would not have had otherwise.”...

Typically, Oklahomans rank among the most conservative voters in the nation.... But on the medical marijuana issue, recent polling shows State Question 788 enjoying support from 57.5 percent of voters and seeming likely to pass, reported Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com.

“We’ve polled this issue multiple times over the last five years, and we continue to see that certain groups, who one might think would be opposed to SQ788, continue to support it,” Shapard said in a statement. “Thirty years ago, these groups would have opposed it, but roughly half have changed their minds since then.”

Griffith, whose congregation is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, said some of his most conservative friends support State Question 788. “A very conservative person I know — I mean, she loves President Trump but she also wants medical marijuana,” he said. “She has rheumatoid arthritis and wants to have something that helps relieve the pain and has some healing qualities about it without the addiction.”

Notably, this article was published before Prez Trump's comments this past Friday suggesting he would support a federal marijuana reform bill that would formally respect state marijuana reform laws.   I suggested in this post a few months ago that proponents of Question 788 likely could benefit greatly, given that 65% of the state voted for Prez Trump, if they could claim he was supportive of state marijuana reform efforts.   interesting times.

Some prior related posts:

June 9, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 7, 2018

"Can the Mass. marijuana industry help heal communities devastated by the War on Drugs?"

Massachusetts-marijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Boston Globe article.   (At the risk of getting redundant, I will again note ow this press piece is related in theme to my most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices.")  Here are excerpts from the Globe piece:

Last month, Massachusetts rolled out the country’s first statewide marijuana industry “equity” program, giving preferential treatment to people who are typically marginalized by the business world.

One key to the effort: giving a head start in the rush for cannabis licenses to companies that are led by or employ minorities, to people with past marijuana convictions, or to residents of low-income neighborhoods with high arrest rates for drug crimes. All other companies that grow, process, or sell pot, meanwhile, are required to help those communities, and are limited in the size of their operations. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will also launch a training program for inexperienced pot entrepreneurs.

The provisions spring from a simple premise: People of color were disproportionately prosecuted and jailed amid the nation’s “war on drugs,” even though whites had similar rates for using or selling marijuana. It would be unfair, proponents argued, to allow the windfall of a now-legal cannabis industry to flow only to the already privileged, while those who suffered the most under pot prohibition remain frozen out. “We’re going to use this moment to try to rebalance the scales — or, at the very least, to stop creating new unbalanced scales,’’ said state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who helped to write the so-called equity provisions into state law.

While it may seem radical to give previously incarcerated people the right to sell a product that was illegal until recently, the equity provisions so far haven’t been particularly controversial. Even Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, a fierce critic of legal marijuana, is on board. “It’s going to open the door for people who just wouldn’t otherwise have the ability and financial background to break in,” Carmichael said. “We have to give them a chance.”

As the commission developed its regulations this year, county prosecutors asked the agency to bar people convicted of trafficking certain still-illegal drugs such as heroin or fentanyl from even working at a cannabis company. “This is not an area for permissiveness,” the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association warned in a letter. The cannabis commission partially acquiesced, restricting such people to administrative positions that don’t involving handling marijuana products.

For owners of cannabis businesses, the bar is higher than for their employees. People convicted of serious crimes, including nonmarijuana drug felonies, firearm violations, and sex offenses, cannot own licensed pot companies. However, businesses can hire people with records for possessing opioids, for example, and receive preferential treatment if they employ enough people with criminal records. People convicted of large-scale marijuana trafficking may qualify under the rules, though some might have related convictions that would automatically disqualify them anyway. The commission also has discretion to reject any applicant.

Marijuana equity programs elsewhere operate only on the local level, and have a limited track record. Oakland, Calif., for example, this year adopted a policy that reserves more than half of the city’s licenses for equity applicants, and most of the rest for large companies that agree to host and mentor them. The system has indeed helped people of color break into the business — but it’s also drawn sharp backlash from smaller companies that do not qualify.

Massachusetts has taken a less restrictive approach. The primary initiative underway provides expedited review to applications from companies that meet certain criteria — those owned by people from places with high rates of poverty and drug arrests, for example, or that employ mostly people with drug-related convictions. It’s an important benefit, as many Massachusetts communities limit the number and locations of pot businesses, giving a big advantage to the first stores.

Later this year, the commission will work with community groups to develop a crash course in business planning and fund-raising for entrepreneurs who were arrested or live in so-called communities of disproportionate impact. Those entrepreneurs will also be exempt from many state fees and will be allowed to open pot-delivery services and lounges ahead of other companies if the commission decides to issue those licenses....

Entrepreneurs who do not have drug convictions or arrests can still qualify if they show their business will benefit poorer communities with high arrest rates. For example, Dishon Laing dreams of opening an alternative health center in his native Dorchester that would offer yoga, vegan food, and cannabis. He, too, wants to hire people with criminal records, and also plans to run drug education programs for teenagers. “Everything we do is connected to giving back,” said Laing, a city public health worker. “I know my partners and I will face stigma based on being people of color and the industry we’re in, but we want to show that we’re actually improving our communities.”

Another requirement is intended to recruit marijuana companies that don’t qualify for the equity program to the cause: All applicants must show how their businesses will benefit communities hurt by the drug war. For example, Sira Naturals, a larger medical marijuana operator that’s seeking recreational licenses, plans to host an incubator for equity applicants at its growing facility in Milford. Licensed marijuana businesses must also write and adhere to a diversity plan that promotes gender equity and the employment of veterans, LGBT people, and people with disabilities.

The commission also offers incentives: Companies that provide money and mentoring to entrepreneurs from “areas of disproportionate impact” can get the cannabis equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval: a “social justice leader” label affixed to their product packaging. State officials also have moved to protect smaller equity businesses by banning larger companies from holding more than three licenses of any type and capping each company’s cultivation area at 100,000 square feet.

All these advantages, however, may not help applicants overcome the biggest hurdle: winning approval from local officials for the location and opening of their businesses. Somerville and other municipalities are considering local versions of the equity program, but none have been adopted yet. Advocates are worried established companies — such as existing medical dispensaries, which are nearly all white-owned — can outbid smaller players by offering communities generous financial packages.

“Cities and towns need to step up, or in a few years we’ll see we had this opportunity to put diversity into action and we failed,” said Ross Bradshaw, who hopes to open a pot business in a Worcester neighborhood designated as an area of disproportionate impact. “There are going to be municipalities that only allow three licenses, and two are going to medical marijuana companies. That’s less opportunity for people of color.”

Cannabis commissioner Shaleen Title, who championed the equity initiatives, acknowledged they are hardly a cure-all. But Title is heartened by the early numbers: 68 applicants have cleared a first hurdle in the process for licensing, and more than 100 more under review. Those people would have their applications reviewed ahead of others. “We’ll never be able to repair the damage caused by drug prohibition, but these programs at least begin to help provide a fair shot,” Title said. “Think about having a conviction that was based on unfair enforcement, and how that holds you back in so many different ways — we want to make that right.”

May 7, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Maine legislature final enacts framework for regulating marijuana sales 18 months after initiative vote for legalization

YesOn1-300x189

As reported in this local article, on Wednesday the Maine legislature "overturned a veto by Gov. Paul LePage that would have again stalled the legal sale of recreational marijuana, moving Maine a major step closer to launching a legal retail market for the drug." Here is more:

The House voted 109-39 and the Senate 28-6 to override LePage’s veto of cannabis legalization legislation, setting the state on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved legalization at the ballot box in November 2016. However, it will likely be the spring of 2019 before the first retail shops can open for business.

Now that the bill has passed, the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services must hire a consultant to help the state write more regulatory rules, including inspection and licensing of wholesale commercial growing facilities, licensing of retail sellers and collection of sales taxes. The rules will have to be approved by the next Legislature, which convenes in January.

The Republican governor, a steadfast opponent of legalization, had vetoed the Legislature’s first attempt at drafting a law to launch the retail market for cannabis in November. It’s not clear how quickly the state will move to hire workers to administer and enforce the new law, and seek bids to design a seed-to-sale tracking system that will be used to regulate the marijuana market.

Wednesday’s vote provoked mixed reactions, even among those who campaigned successfully to gather voter signatures and get the legalization question on the 2016 ballot. David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the bill includes provisions that the organization supports and others that it dislikes. “Ultimately, we’re glad that the Legislature is moving towards a regulated marketplace,” he said. “We are approaching two years since Maine voters passed this and adults in Maine deserve a place to purchase marijuana legally.”

Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposed the referendum, was pleased that the bill had been amended to ban social clubs and reduce the number of plants that can be grown for personal use from six to three. “This is an improvement” over previous proposals, he said. “It’s going in the right direction.” He said Smart Approaches to Marijuana now will focus on things such as helping communities that don’t want shops selling marijuana in their towns, making sure that shops don’t get concentrated in particular neighborhoods, trying to offset “normalization” of pot use and counteracting problems that arise....

The adult-use bill is more conservative than the bill approved by referendum voters in November 2016. It doesn’t allow for social clubs, which means adults who buy their cannabis here will have to consume it on private property, with the permission of the property owner. And lawmakers cut the number of plants that can be grown for personal use on their own property – or someone else’s with permission – from six to three in an effort to reduce black market sales.

The bill doesn’t cap the number of business licenses, or the amount of recreational cannabis that can be grown in Maine, which some entrepreneurs complain will drive down prices so far that small growers won’t be able to survive, leaving only those with out-of-state money behind them standing in the end. To allay those concerns, lawmakers voted to give the first three years of business licenses to those who have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least four years.

May 3, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Michigan proposal for full legalization of marijuana officially approved for Nov 2018 vote

Images (1)As reported in this local article, headlined "Michigan approves marijuana legalization vote for November," the Wolverine State is now positioned to be the latest political battleground for the debate over recreational marijuana reform. Here are the details:

The battle to free the weed officially started Thursday when the State Board of Canvassers ruled that a group pushing a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use got enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. The 4-0 decision by the board was met with cheers by advocates for the proposal.

"The people of Michigan deserve this. They earned it," said Rick Thompson, a board member of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. "We've faced many trials and tribulations. We've had so many stop and go signs from the federal government. That's why states have to take the reins on the issue and really be the crucibles of democracy that they've always been intended to be."

It was the second time that the coalition had turned in enough signatures to get on the ballot. The last time, however, it didn't get the signatures in a state-mandated 180-day window and the petition was thrown out. But the coalition didn't have the same problem this time around. "We expected this," said John Truscott, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Now we'll be out and about talking to people and educating them about the issues."

Scott Greenlee, executive director of the Healthy and Productive Michigan political action committee, which opposes the ballot proposal, urged the Board of Canvassers to keep the issue off the ballot because marijuana is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government. "By putting this on the ballot, you're disregarding federal law," he said. "I recognize that other states have done it, but like my mom always told me, 'Just because your friends jump off a bridge, doesn't mean you have to do the same thing.'"...

The Michigan marijuana ballot proposal would:

  • Legalize the possession and sale of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal, recreational use.
  • Impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales at the retail level as well as a 6% sales tax. The estimated revenues from the taxes are at least $100 million.
  • Split those revenues with 35% going to K-12 education, 35% to roads, 15% to the communities that allow marijuana businesses in their communities and 15% to counties where marijuana business are located.
  • Allow communities to decide whether they’ll permit marijuana businesses.
  • Restrict purchases of marijuana for recreational purposes to 2.5 ounces but an individual could keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home.
  • Allow the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and not the politically appointed licensing board that will regulate the medical marijuana side of the market, to regulate and license marijuana businesses, ranging from growers, transporters, testers and dispensaries.
  • Set up three classes of marijuana growers: up to 100, 500 and 2,000 plants.

Michigan voters have already weighed in on marijuana once, approving cannabis for medical use in 2008 by a 63%-37% margin. As of March, 1, 277,752 people are medical marijuana cardholders and 43,131 people are caregivers who can grow up to 72 plants for up to five cardholders. The state is in the process of vetting applications of people who want to get into the medial marijuana business, which is expected to generate at least $700 million in sales. That financial prediction is estimated to grow to more than $1 billion a year if voters pass the ballot proposal and Michigan becomes the ninth state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use....

But getting the ballot proposal passed is not a foregone conclusion, despite recent polls showing more than 60% support for legalizing marijuana. Healthy and Productive Michigan has $215,286 for the battle ahead, primarily from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based organization that supports cannabis for medical, but not recreational uses.

"We'll continue to press forward with education and explain to the public the problems that recreational marijuana will cause in our state," Greenlee said. "And once it's certified for the ballot, we'll have a number of people from Michigan who will come in and support us."

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol has raised more than $1 million, but spent the vast majority on paying the firm that collected petition signatures. According to campaign finance reports filed this week with the Secretary of State, the coalition has only $17,326 in available cash for the upcoming campaign.

April 26, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

California legislator proposing state law to automatically expunge past marijuana convictions

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California lawmaker wants to make it easier to clear marijuana convictions from criminal records," a lawmaker in California is talking about making a law to make expungement of certain past marijuana convictions automatic. Here are the details:

Proposition 64, approved by California voters in 2016 to legalize recreational pot use, allows people to petition the courts to have past convictions for marijuana offenses expunged from their records. But the process can be difficult and expensive, according to supporters of pot legalization.

In response, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) on Tuesday proposed legislation that would make it easier to have criminal convictions removed from the records of marijuana users, potentially opening more doors to employment and housing. Rather than require people to petition the courts for a determination, AB 1793 would require criminal convictions for marijuana-related offenses to be automatically expunged, placing the burden on the courts, Bonta said.

“Let’s be honest, navigating the legal system bureaucracy can be costly and time-consuming,” the lawmaker told reporters at the Capitol. His bill, he said, “will give people the fresh start to which they are legally entitled and allow them to move on with their lives.”

Proposition 64 legalizes, among other things, the possession and purchase of up to an ounce of marijuana and allows individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use. The measure also allows people convicted of marijuana possession crimes eliminated by Proposition 64 to petition the court to have those convictions expunged from their records as long as the person does not pose a risk to public safety. They can also petition the court to reduce some crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, including possession of more than an ounce of marijuana by a person who is 18 or older.

As of September, 4,885 Californians have petitioned the courts to have marijuana convictions expunged or reclassified, but many people don’t know about the process, which can be difficult, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported Proposition 64.

Bonta’s bill was supported Tuesday by alliance state director Laura Thomas and Dale Gieringer, who is the state coordinator of California NORML, another legalization group. The bill, Thomas said, “will help to expedite the ability of people to achieve the promise of restorative justice.”

Some prior related posts:

January 9, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative set for June vote

As reported in this press release, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin yesterday "set a June election date for the medical marijuana ballot measure." Here is more from the release:

Fallin filed an executive proclamation placing State Question 788 on the June 26 primary election ballot. The governor’s other option was to place the issue on the November general election ballot.

Supporters of an initiative petition asking voters to legalize medical marijuana gathered enough signatures in 2016 to schedule a statewide referendum on the measure. “Backers of this proposal to legalize medical marijuana followed procedures and gathered the more than 66,000 required signatures to submit the issue to a vote of the people,” said Fallin. “I’m fulfilling my duty as governor to decide when that election will occur this year.”

If approved by voters, the measure would permit doctors to recommend a patient, who is at least 18 years old, for a state-issued medical marijuana license. A license holder would be allowed to legally possess up to 3 ounces of the drug, six mature plants and six seedlings. These limits can be increased by individual counties or cities. 

Primary elections, typically, will bring out many fewer voters than general elections. But it seems elections involving marijuana ballot issues will bring out, sometime, at least a few more than the usual voters. It will be interesting to watch the turn out dynamics, as well as of course the outcome, in the Sooner State now that the Governor has called for a sooner vote.

January 5, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2017

New talk about a new marijuana legalization initiaitive in Ohio from some old voices

As reported in this local article, headlined "Anyone over 21 could grow weed at home under proposed Ohio ballot initiative," there is some new talk about a new initiative to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State. Here are the details:

A group of local investors who failed in their bid to secure a state license to grow medical marijuana on Monday announced plans for a statewide ballot issue to fully legalize marijuana.

Jimmy Gould, chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquisitions, proposed an Ohio constitutional amendment that would allow anyone 21 or older to grow marijuana in their homes for personal use or commercial cultivation. Gould said the ballot issue would not conflict with Ohio's current medical marijuana law but would expand legalized marijuana use among qualified adults without a physician's recommendation.

Gould said he would need 305,592 signatures to place the issue before Ohio voters next year. His group plans to finalize the language in the proposal and begin circulating it next month. The initial filing deadline for the ballot proposal is July 4, 2018. Gould is a longtime proponent of decriminalizing marijuana, which he said can be a useful tool for dealing with a variety of chronic conditions, including the opioid addiction crisis that has plagued Ohio.

He co-founded the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind Ohio's failed Issue 3 marijuana initiative in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and non-medical use. The measure lost in all 88 Ohio counties, with nearly two-thirds of voters statewide voting "no" to recreational and medical marijuana.

But the new proposal "is as different from Issue 3 as night and day," Gould said. "We spent a lot of time and effort to get this right. This is not Issue 3 revisited.'' Gould said the new ballot proposal is a responsible way to fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like alcohol-related businesses in Ohio.

In addition, the new proposal tosses out many of the contentious items that Gould blames for Issue 3's ultimate defeat, including designating certain properties as the only places in Ohio where the cannabis plant could be legally grown. Critics charged the stipulation would have benefitted only a handful of mega-growers. "The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this," Gould said.

Gould said another reason he thinks now is the right time to introduce a new marijuana initiative is that "a lot of time has gone by" since Issue 3 was defeated, and more Americans are inclined to support legalized marijuana based on studies, opinion polls and the sheer number of states that have adopted such laws over the past several years....

Gould said his new ballot initiative would "run parallel" to a lawsuit he plans to file against the state after his firm, CannAscend Ohio, and dozens of other applicants were denied "Level 1" licenses for large-scale medical marijuana growers.

The Ohio Department of Commerce earlier this month awarded 12 preliminary Level 1 licenses based on what Gould alleges was a deeply flawed selection process and the use of questionable application graders, including one who was a convicted drug dealer. "That stuff is just not OK," Gould said. "Commerce feel asleep at the wheel. They either didn’t know, or they didn’t do background checks" on the application graders.

I am tempted to not take this new talk of a new initiative all that seriously because right now it seems a bit like the expression of sour grapes (sour weed?) based on the failure of Gould to get a state "Level 1" license. But Gould and his team were able to get a (poorly conceived) initiative to the voters back in 2015, and maybe they really want to and really can do it again in 2018.

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Some insightful perspectives on the year to come in the marijuana reform universe

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…

October 27, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Examining the distinctive marijuana market in the distinctive District of Coulmbia

The_Naked_Truth__District_of_Cannabis__TThe 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

Another notable new medical marijuana state accepting applications and receiving plenty

33810141423_746482ddf4_bThis 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.

September 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Helpful review of possible reform states to watch in 2018 on initiative and legislative fronts

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

Noting the state of recreational reform efforts in state up north (aka Michigan)

Michigan-weedThis 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.

July 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"State of Emergency"!?!: Nevada dispensaries struggling to keep up with demand after first week of recreational sales

Download (5)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.

July 8, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Florida medical marijuana advocate sues after legislature blocks smoking as means to consumption

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.

July 6, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)