Thursday, January 8, 2015
Via e-mail, I was alerted to this Brookings FixGov blog post by Brookings Fellow John Hudak titled "Marijuana Policy in 2015: Eight Big Things to Watch." The e-mail provided this helpful summary of various points made in the longer posting:
1) Oregon, Alaska Plan & Prepare for Legal Marijuana: How well each of these state legislatures and alcohol regulatory bodies work together will determine the success or failure of marijuana policy in these states. As it borders Washington, Oregon’s commercial and regulatory choices will be particularly crucial in understanding to what extent states may strive for market advantages vis-à-vis bordering states.
2) Identifying the Next States to Legalize: 2015 will show which states are serious about ballot initiatives in 2016. It’s widely expected that California will advance an initiative and Florida might take another swing at approving medical marijuana, after falling just short of approval in 2014.
3) Cannabis Policy & State Legislative Action: In some states, the battleground for enacting items like the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana is not the ballot box, but the state legislature.
4) Cannabis & the Courts: Multiple high-profile lawsuits surrounding marijuana policy may play out in 2015. For instance, Coats v. Dish Network may settle the issue of employer-sponsored marijuana testing and a Supreme Court case involving Nebraska and Oklahoma’s suing of Colorado over legalizing marijuana will indicate the willingness of federal courts to engage in this policy area.
5) Answers to Questions About D.C.’s Marijuana Policy: Clarity about the future of marijuana policy in Washington, D.C. will almost surely be left to the federal courts, particularly if there is congressional inaction on Initiative 71.
6) Colorado & Washington (& Uruguay) Continue Legalization: InColorado, edibles, product testing, and homegrows will be on the agenda. The policy challenge Washington faces is that legal weed could be too costly to lure consumers from the black market. On the international front, Uruguay works hard to ready a bureaucracy and a consumer base for the experiment.
7) Data, Data, Data: One key takeaway for policy advocates, both supporters and opponents, will be to patiently wait to draw conclusions as the data are currently incomplete and imperfect. 2015 will offer steady flows of data from Colorado and Washington, and eventually other states.
8) Presidential Candidates & Cannabis: Marijuana policy will definitely be part of the 2016 conversation in a way that it has not in previous presidential campaigns. And the issue will be particularly interesting to watch as it does not fall neatly along party lines.
I think points 7 and 8 are the most interesting, dynamic and unpredictable stories to watch from among this list. I would also add to the list...
9) Political Party leaders and Pot Policy: Key leaders of both parties inside and outside the Beltway have, to date, said relatively little about marijuana reform. Cautious "establishment" politicians --- ranging from Prez Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown on the D side and from Mitch McConnell to John Boehner to Mitt Romney on the GOP side --- will only be able to dodge the new terms of the modern policy debate for so long.
January 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
As reported in this CBS News article, headlined "$2 billion company betting big on marijuana," a notable new player has become an investor in the marijuana industry. Here are the details:
Until now, it's been a few rich individuals who secretly funded burgeoning pot companies, but for the first time, a major investment firm is going to put multimillion dollars behind marijuana. It's a partnership between two investors and the first institutional investments in pot, reports CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.
Geoff Lewis's firm, Founders Fund, a $2 billion company, made its name investing early in new companies like Facebook, Spotify and SpaceX. But now it's betting on pot. "We discuss all our investments for a long time. ...So particularly in this case, we did an extra, extra deep dive on the business," Lewis said. The business is recreational marijuana, now legal in four states. Medicinal marijuana is legal in more than 20.
Privateers Holdings CEO Brendan Kennedy said it is a watershed moment. "It's important for our company, but it's also important for the entire industry," Kennedy said. Privateers Holdings is the parent company of three cannabis brands: Tilray, which grows marijuana in Canada; Leafly, an online database of different pot strains and stores; and Marley Natural, from the family of reggae star Bob Marley, which aims to become the "Marlboro of marijuana."
Kennedy faced challenges along the way. "Raising money is always difficult, but raising money in this particular industry is the hardest thing I've ever done," he said. But Founders Fund is backing Kennedy's companies because it sees a future in what they says is already a $40 billion business in the U.S....
"The surest way of doubling your money investing in cannabis stocks is to fold it back over and put it in your pocket," UCLA professor Mark Klieman warned. Klieman studies the cannabis marketplace and cautions: investors beware. "A lot of people are crowding into the marijuana industry because they think they are going to be able to sell a legal good at illegal prices," Klieman said. "Competition's not going to allow that. Legal cannabis is going to be dirt cheap, and I think a lot of people are going to lose their shirts trying to sell it."
That is, if they don't get arrested first. Under federal law, marijuana is still illegal. While the Justice Department has said it won't prosecute cannabis companies following state laws, that could change. Kennedy said he doesn't see a risk, however. "Over 80 percent of Americans believe the medical cannabis should be legal, 8 out of 10; you can't get 8 out of 10 American's to agree on anything," Kennedy said.
Lewis said this isn't a politically motivated investment. "We're investing because we think it's a great business," he noted. Both Lewis and Kennedy believe marijuana will be fully legal in the U.S. within a decade. As of now, there are no numbers on how many businesses have already started, or how many jobs have been created, but many experts agree the marijuana market could become a $150 billion to $200 billion market worldwide.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
"Oklahoma Republicans Want To Snuff Out Their State's Lawsuit Over Colorado Marijuana" is the headline of this fascinating report from The Huffington Post (which Rebecca Pressman helpfully flagged in the comments to this post). Here are excerpts from the HuffPo piece:
Several Oklahoma lawmakers are calling for state Attorney General Scott Pruitt to drop his lawsuit against Colorado over its legalization of recreational marijuana, arguing that it's the "wrong way to deal with the issue."
In a letter sent to Pruitt's office last week, seven Republican state lawmakers, led by state Rep. Mike Ritze, expressed their concern that the case could significantly undermine states' rights, including Oklahoma's....
The Oklahoma lawmakers fear that a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court against Colorado -- lawsuits between states go directly to the high court -- could sweep far more broadly than cannabis laws. "If the federal government can force Colorado to criminalize marijuana," the letter reads, "using the exact same arguments, it could also force Oklahoma to criminalize a wide range of goods and activities that would be an anathema to the citizens of Oklahoma that we are sworn to serve."
The lawmakers argue that the best move would be for Pruitt's office to "quietly drop the action against Colorado, and if necessary, defend [Colorado's] right to set its own policies as we would hope other states would defend our right to govern ourselves."
Were the Supreme Court to rule against Colorado, Oklahoma lawmakers said they also have "deep concern" over the potential implications for the "national sovereignty of [the] entire country." They note that the lawsuit points to United Nations drug conventions that ban marijuana to strengthen its case -- an argument that the Oklahoma lawmakers said equates U.N. treaties with federal laws. "If the argument in the lawsuit were successful, the federal government could, in theory, adopt any UN treaty, then force the states, including Oklahoma, to help impose it," the letter reads.
The state lawmakers said that many of their constituents have already asked them to file a brief in defense of Colorado if the court hears the case -- not because these Oklahomans want legal access to recreational marijuana, but because they fear their state's rights would be "put in jeopardy."...
“This is not about marijuana at its core -- it is about the U.S. Constitution, the Tenth Amendment, and the right of states to govern themselves as they see fit,” said Rep. Ritze in a statement about the letter. "Our Founding Fathers intended the states to be laboratories of self-government, free to tinker and experiment with different ideas. The founders, from Jefferson to Madison, were also strong proponents of states nullifying unconstitutional federal actions. If the people of Colorado want to end prohibition of marijuana, while I may personally disagree with the decision, constitutionally speaking, they are entitled to do so."
Joining Ritze in signing the letter were Oklahoma state Reps. Lewis Moore, John Bennett, Mike Christian, Dan Fisher and state Sens. Ralph Shortey and Nathan Dahm, all Republicans.
The full letter is available at this link, and it makes for quite an interesting read.
Prior related posts:
- Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization
- Could (and should) Colorado (or others) respond to attack on marijuana legalization by counter-attacking federal prohibition?
- Lots of commentary on states SCOTUS suit against Colorado marijuana reform
As highlighted by this new CNN article, headlined "Alcohol poisoning kills 6 people a day," new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the huge public health problems and costs resulting from the only currently fully legal intoxicant. Here are the details:
By the end of today, an average of six people will have died from alcohol poisoning, and it's a "surprising group" that's dying more than any other, according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That adds up to an average of 2,221 people in the United States -- a conservative estimate, according to the CDC — dying annually, making it one of the leading preventable causes of death. The numbers come from death certificate data collected from 2010 to 2012. However, earlier research shows most of the 38 million or more Americans who admit to binge drinking say they actually drink about eight drinks in two to three hours and they do this on average four times per month.
When you are suffering from alcohol poisoning, your liver can't keep up with the amount of alcohol in your body. Alcohol is a toxin and the liver has to filter it out of your blood. What the liver can't filter out backs up into your bloodstream. If the blood alcohol concentration in your bloodstream becomes too high, it has a severe impact on your mental and physical self....
While college students get a bad rap for binge drinking, the study found it's not typically college age people who die from drinking too much. In what the CDC said was a surprise, it found that white men between the ages of 35 and 64 are dying most often from alcohol poisoning. That demographic accounts for 76% of the deaths....
Thirty percent of the people who died were considered alcoholics. Alcohol-attributed deaths cost the country in terms of workplace productivity and in the number of accidents they cause, which cost about $223.5 billion, according to 2006 figures.
Ileana Arias, the CDC's principal deputy director who helped release the report, called Tuesday for more effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking.... Arias said binge drinking is a serious and "critical health issue facing this nation."
There is, critically, no evidence yet to support the supposition that marijuana reform will lead to a significant decrease in binge drinking. But there are reasons to hope that some binge drinkers might be inclined (or even encouraged) to use marijuana as a substitute for alcohol at least sometimes. To my knowledge, nobody has ever died from marijuana poisoning.
Monday, January 5, 2015
The leading anti-marijuana reform group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), today released this brief report titled "Lessons After Two Years of Marijuana Legalization - Short Report." According to this press release, SAM believe that the "report outlines both what data we know - and what we need to know - to accurately evaluate the consequences of marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado."
Unfortunately, the report is not anywhere close to a review of relevant data about legalization and it is entirely focused on stressing what SAM thinks is evidence of problems since legalization. For example, here is some of what appears in a section under the heading "DENVER CITY AND COUNTY CRIME IS UP":
In the city and county of Denver, overall crime is slightly higher through November 2014 than it was during that same time period in 2013. Most crime categories are up, like simple assault and criminal mischief; but some categories show reductions, like sex offenses, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft.... It's possible that crime statistics have little to do with marijuana law changes, but rampant media reports of “legalization linked with a crime drop” are unsubstantiated.
Most critically, the report say nothing about the metrics and factors stressed by those who push for marijuana reform such as (1) avoiding harms/costs that result from (racially skewed) arrests and enforcement of low-level marijuana criminal laws, (2) generating revenues from marijuana taxes, licenses and fees (3) allowing police to focus on more serious crimes, and (4) increasing monies available for drug prevention and addiction programs, (5) creating jobs/incomes from a new regulated legal industry and taking jobs/monies away from drug cartels and gangs involved in the black market.
In addition, though the title of this short report promises to provide "Lessons" from legalization, I struggled to draw any lessons from this report (other than that SAM is mostly interested in trumping up existing data to claim legalization is problematic when the extant evidence is anything but clear). That all said, this report merits credit for noting and lamenting that "no robust public tracking system by federal or state authorities has been implemented" and for noting that "more sophisticated data are sorely lacking with respect to marijuana in Colorado and Washington."
Friday, January 2, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article, which includues these passages:
To see the tax implications of legalizing marijuana in Colorado, there's no better place to start than an empty plot of land on a busy thoroughfare near downtown Denver. It is the future home of a 60,000-square-foot public recreational center that's been in the works for years.
Construction costs started going up, leaving city officials wondering whether they'd have to scale back the project. Instead, they hit on a solution — tap $3.2 million from pot taxes to keep the pool at 10 lanes, big enough to host swim meets.
The Denver rec center underscores how marijuana taxation has played throughout Colorado and Washington. The drug is bringing in tax money, but in the mix of multibillion budgets, the drug is a small boost, not a tsunami of cash.
Much of the drug's tax production has been used to pay for all the new regulation the drug requires — from a new state agency in Colorado to oversee the industry, to additional fire and building inspectors for local governments to make sure the new pot-growing facilities don't pose a safety risk....
In Colorado, where retail recreational sales began Jan. 1, 2014, the drug has a total effective tax rate of about 30 percent, depending on local add-on taxes. Through October, the most recent figures available, Colorado collected about $45.4 million from sales and excise taxes on recreational pot sales.
That puts the state on pace to bring in less than the $70 million a year Colorado voters approved when they agreed to a statewide 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax on recreational pot. Voters set aside the first $40 million in excise taxes for school construction; so far that fund has produced about $10 million.
But adding fees and licenses and the taxes from medical marijuana sales, Colorado had collected more than $60 million through October. Local governments can add additional taxes, too. That's what led to additional revenue streams like Denver's $3.2 million for a bigger pool at its rec center.
In Washington, where recreational pot sales began in July, recreational weed is taxed on a three-tier system as the plant moves from growers to processors to retailers. The total effective tax rate is about 44 percent. State tax officials are just getting a look at the first few months of pot taxes, and the money is coming in slowly because there aren't many stores there yet. State economists have predicted pot sales will bring in $25 million by next July.
The state anticipates a $200 million increase by mid-2017, and about $636 million to state coffers through the middle of 2019.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
The Denver Post has a notable series of articles taking stock of the experiences and perceptions of Colorado through the year-long experience with legalization recreational sales in the state. This main article, headlined "Colorado's cannabis experiment puts it into a global spotlight," includes these excerpts:
Only one year in, Colorado's unprecedented jump into marijuana legalization has become the stuff of legend. For opponents and supporters, the state comes up repeatedly in the evolving discussion about marijuana. It is perhaps the most underappreciated consequence of legalization. By becoming the first place in the world to actually legalize commercial sales of marijuana to anyone over 21, Colorado made the worldwide debate over pot more vibrant than it has ever been.
Those in favor of legalization now think of Colorado — and, to a lesser extent, Washington state, which debuted a smaller marijuana market later in the year — as a kind of political homeland. The states' campaigns and resulting industries were the inspiration for pro-pot successes in two more states this fall and are the blueprints for coming 2016 campaigns in as many as a half-dozen states. They helped foment never-before-seen congressional rebellion against federal enforcement of marijuana laws....
Those opposed to legalization, though, see Colorado as a cautionary tale — hard evidence of the kinds of dangers that they previously had been able to warn of only in the abstract. In speeches in states and countries considering legalization, marijuana opponents now talk about accidental pot ingestions, lower-than-predicted tax revenue, gaudy industry advertising and even deaths. They cite examples of each from Colorado's first year of legalized sales....
The on-the-ground reality, of course, has been less stark than either side's version. Marijuana legalization has changed Colorado. It's just tough to say exactly how.
Marijuana is more available in Colorado than ever before, but it's unclear whether marijuana consumption has risen as a result. Teens are less likely to think that marijuana is harmful, and marijuana arrests at Denver schools are up, but that hasn't yet translated into measurably increased use. More people may be driving stoned, but traffic fatalities are down....
Tourism to the state hit record levels this year. But how much of that has to do with marijuana?
After a full year, legal marijuana sales are an experiment still very much in progress. "People are trying to jump to conclusions much faster than the data allows," said Andrew Freedman, the man in charge of coordinating Colorado's policy efforts on marijuana legalization.
The jumps are even bigger because of Colorado's data-collection woes. The state lacks systems for quick, accurate measurements of youth use, marijuana-related incidents at schools, stoned driving and many other questions. State officials this year commissioned a 74-page report titled "Marijuana Data Discovery and Gap Analysis" just to address the problem. One person in the Department of Public Safety is now in charge of coordinating data-collection efforts for 2015....
Even when there are numbers to measure legalization's impacts, they often tell unexpected tales. For instance, state tax revenues from recreational marijuana once were predicted to top $100 million in the current fiscal year. They're on pace for a little more than half that. And, aside from the dollars constitutionally mandated to go to school construction, state officials haven't seen the revenue as a budgetary windfall. They've instead proposed the money all go toward marijuana-related issues.
In 2014, police said marijuana legalization would cost more for them to enforce than marijuana prohibition. Employers tightened their drug-testing policies, even though it was legal for their employees to use marijuana. More people became registered medical marijuana patients, despite the presence of a less-restrictive recreational market. "The big assumption here was that human behavior is a light switch," said Skyler McKinley, Freedman's deputy, "that you legalize marijuana and everything changes overnight."
That resiliency of old ways proved a boon to state regulators trying to implement legalization. Because Colorado already had a robust medical marijuana industry — and because the recreational marijuana industry initially was restricted to people who already owned a dispensary — the transition into legal sales was more of an evolution than a revolution....
Toni Savage, the owner of 3D Cannabis Center, said the most she ever grossed in a single year operating a medical marijuana dispensary was $400,000. This year, she's on track to top $3.5 million in sales — with more than half of those coming from out-of-state tourists.
But bigger sales means bigger tax bills. Not only is she paying nearly $100,000 a month in state and local taxes, she also expects to have a $500,000 federal tax bill because she can't deduct business expenses in the same way that stores that aren't illegal under federal law can. "I made a ton of money," she said, "but I owe more than I have."
The situation could get even tougher in 2015 because the state has started to allow newcomers into the recreational marijuana business. Savage said stores fear a glut of marijuana, which could drive down prices that have budged only slightly since the beginning of 2014. "If you're in the business, it's going to get really ugly," she said.
It's the change in the amount of attention Colorado has received from outside the state that defines the first year of legal marijuana sales. This was the year a New York Times columnist got stoned in a Denver hotel room, hallucinated that she had died, then wrote about the whole experience. Snoop Dogg recorded a theme song for a Colorado gubernatorial candidate, and Bill O'Reilly, upset over legalization, mused about running for the same office.
Monday, December 29, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Wichita Eagle article, headlined "Charles Koch’s views on criminal justice system just may surprise you." Here are a excerpts from a lengthy article which suggests at least one of the Koch brothers may be supportive of marijuana reform efforts:
Of all the contentious history between Koch Industries and the U.S. government, the Corpus Christi, Texas, case from 1995 is the one that Charles Koch remembers most vividly. A federal grand jury indicted his company on 97 felonies involving alleged environmental crimes at an oil refinery.
Prosecutors dropped all but one of the charges six years later, after the company spent tens of millions of dollars defending itself. Ultimately, Koch Petroleum Group agreed to pay a $10 million settlement.
“It was a really, really torturous experience,” said Mark Holden, Koch’s chief counsel. “We learned first-hand what happens when anyone gets into the criminal justice system.” Holden said Charles Koch wondered afterward “how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that.”
No one at Koch wants to re-litigate the Corpus Christi case, Holden said. But it prompted Charles Koch to study the justice system — both federal and state — wondering whether it has been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody. His conclusion: Yes, it has.
Ten years ago, he began giving money to support efforts by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense lawyers and reverse what some see as a national trend to get tough on crime, which has resulted in the tripling of the incarceration rate since the 1980s and has stripped the poor of their rights to a legal defense. He’s going to give more to that effort, he said.
“Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said. “And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.” The nation’s criminal justice system needs reform, “especially for the disadvantaged,” Koch said, “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”
It has long been my understanding that at least some members of the very wealthy Koch family have libertarian leanings, and thus I have long thought some of the Koch monies spent on political concerns might go to marijuana reform efforts. If Charles Koch becomes more even vocal and active in his criminal justice reform efforts in 2015, it will be interesting to watch for any comments about marijuana reform efforts.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
As reported in this local article, headlined "NAACP jumps into Nevada marijuana debate," a notable leader is making a notable pitch for marijuana legalization in a notable state. Here are the details:
Jeffery Blanck, the president of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has jumped into the legislative debate over the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada. Blanck has sent a letter to all legislators, urging them to legalize recreational use of marijuana during the 2015 Legislature.
Nevada lawmakers have the first 40 days of the 2015 Legislature to legalize recreational use. If that doesn't happen, the measure will be placed on the 2016 general-election ballot, since the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association has already collected enough signatures on a petition to do that.
In his letter, Blanck noted that the federal government has wasted millions of dollars on its "war on drugs." And when it comes to marijuana, that war in Nevada has been waged more against black citizens than white citizens. "The use of marijuana by blacks and whites is approximately the same," Blanck wrote in his letter to lawmakers. "Yet, if you are black and live in Nevada, you are four-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than if you are white.
"This is the 11th-worst disparity in arrest rates for marijuana possession in the country," Blanck wrote. "This is nothing to be proud of, seeing how we have historically been referred to as the 'Mississippi of the West.' "
Blanck told lawmakers that prisons populations have sky-rocketed because of drug possession laws and that the current system of punishment for low-level drugs crimes disproportionally hits blacks harder than whites. "It is time to end the failed war on marijuana," Blanck wrote. "Nevada needs to legalize its use and our federal government needs to repeal its listing as a dangerous drug. We need to stop wasting our hard-earned tax dollars on a program that provides no benefit and disproportionately impacts our black residents."...
Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick, who is set to retire on Jan. 4, continues to see any form of legal marijuana – medical or recreational – as a bad thing....
Gammick was asked if it would be better for Nevada to wait on the legalization of recreational marijuana, and see how issues surrounding recreational marijuana are handled in Colorado and Washington....
Gammick replied: "I have in my office a 150-page report out of the Office of Justice on Colorado and all of the issues they are dealing with," Gammick said. "They are having children OD (overdose) on this stuff. They are having children steal it from their grandparents and they're taking it to school and selling it. They are having all kinds of problems, not to include all the robberies and all of the other stuff going on."
Gammick continues to oppose legal marijuana of any kind. "As far as I'm concerned, let's never do it (legalize it) because it is a dangerous drug," he said. "But you can't seem to get that across. Everybody seems to want to toke – not everybody – but there are enough people who want to toke up and sit around and be blown out of their brains…I keep asking folks, do you want that to be your pilot in an airplane?"
Saturday, December 27, 2014
This Denver Post article reports on some new marijuana use data that suggests Colorado marijuana consumption has gone up considerably in recent years. But, as the title of this post highlights, I cannot help but wonder if legalization has really led to marijuana use spiking up or just honest reporting of use going up. Here are the data:
As marijuana legalization took hold in Colorado, the estimated percentage of regular cannabis users in the state jumped to the second-highest level in the country, according to new federal data. When asked, roughly one out of every eight Colorado residents over the age of 12 reported using marijuana in the previous month. Only Rhode Island topped Colorado in the percentage of residents who reported using marijuana as frequently.
The results come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and represent the average of estimates gathered in 2012 and 2013.
The numbers are among the first measurements of marijuana use in Colorado to be released after it became legal in late 2012 for people over 21 to use and possess marijuana in the state. But because they do not include data from this year, the numbers aren't able to answer the question experts have watched Colorado closely for: How will widespread commercial sales of marijuana impact use?
"This is not surprising, given what's going on on the medical side," Mark Kleiman, a University of California-Los Angeles professor who studies marijuana policy, said of the increase, referring to the uptick in medical marijuana patients in Colorado in the same period. "I don't think this tells us about the long-term impacts of legalization."
State-specific data from the survey are averaged over two-year periods to compensate for relatively small sample sizes. For the 2011-12 period, 10.4 percent of Coloradans 12 and older reported using marijuana in the month prior to being surveyed. That placed Colorado seventh in the country for monthly marijuana use. Monthly use in Colorado jumped to 12.7 percent — a 22 percent increase — in the 2012-13 data. The result means the survey estimates about 530,000 people in Colorado use marijuana at least once a month.
Nationally, monthly marijuana use by people 12 and older nudged upward by about 4 percent to 7.4 percent. In Washington state — which, like Colorado, in 2012 legalized marijuana use and limited possession for adults — monthly marijuana use rose by about 20 percent to 12.3 percent....
Monthly marijuana use increased across all age groups in Colorado, according to the new survey numbers. The number of people who reported using marijuana in the past year also increased in Colorado in the 2012-13 data, but the state ranked only sixth nationally in the measurement. Measurements for alcohol consumption and illicit drug use increased, as well.
This month, a different federally funded survey found that teen marijuana use had not increased nationally, despite marijuana legalization. A Colorado survey released this year found no increase in marijuana use by high schoolers in 2013.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Forbes piece by Robert Wood. Here are excerpts:
Taxes on marijuana are big, and it’s easy to see why. A discussion about legalizing marijuana often segues into one about tax revenues. Marijuana for medical use is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana is legal in DC and in four states, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. More states will be coming.
In the meantime, cannabis — even for medical use — remains illegal under federal law. That leads to numerous legal woes for operations that are legal under state law. One sweet spot among legislators is tax revenue. It is a boon for the states. It could be a boon for the feds too.
The proposed Marijuana Tax Equity Act (H.R. 501), if passed, would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed. Growers, sellers and users would not to fear violating federal law. But dealing with taxes would be another story. The bill would impose an excise tax of 50% on cannabis sales and an annual occupational tax on workers in the field of legal marijuana.
Even if passed, one wonders if such high taxes could be collected. In the meantime, Colorado has trumpeted its tax revenues, though perhaps prematurely. It turned out that the $33.5 million Colorado projected to collect in the first six months of 2014 was too optimistic. When the smoke cleared, Colorado was missing $21.5 million in pot taxes! Yet the math isn’t difficult.
There’s a 2.9% sales tax and a 10% marijuana sales tax. Plus, there is a 15% excise tax on the average market rate of retail marijuana. If you add them up, it’s 27.9%. But much of the volume goes to black market buys where sales taxes aren’t paid. But that could change.
In fact, Colorado is making some marijuana businesses happy with its rebate program. Sales tax applies to marijuana sales and vendors are required to collect and remit the tax to the state. However, Colorado rewards all businesses with a rebate for the prompt payment of taxes, letting businesses keep a percentage each month. Calling it a ‘vendor fee,’ Colorado allows businesses to keep 3.3 percent of the 2.9 percent state sales tax.
According to estimates by the Denver Post, Colorado’s medical and recreational marijuana stores have collected — and kept — over $447,000 in sales taxes in the 10 months ended October 31, 2013. That could mean more than 400 marijuana stores in the state will end up clearing approximately $575,000 for all their trouble. It is what has allowed pot shops to keep more than $500K in sales tax.
That’s not bad, and at least it is something for their trouble. The idea that retailers should get a little sweetener for collecting sales tax is nothing new. But in the marijuana context, it can be especially attractive precisely because it would otherwise be hard to collect.
Already, with typically higher taxes for recreational than medical use, there is a clear incentive to resort to the illegal market. The Marijuana Policy Group suggested that only 60% of purchases in Colorado may be made through legal channels. One reason is price, another is taxes....
The 2.9% medical marijuana tax compared with 27% on the recreational variety is a big spread. Some patients could be reselling their 2.9% medical stock to the public. But the sales tax rebate may be one of the few places marijuana businesses feel fairly treated.
This Boston Globe article, headlined "Schools offering courses on sale of marijuana: New Mass. schools are offering programs on what is likely to be a fast-growing business," highlights some notable economic echoes of medical marijuana legalization in Massachusetts. Here are some details:
The new Northeastern Institute of Cannabis, or NIC [is] a two-classroom school in an office park that prepares people for positions ranging from dispensary workers to medical marijuana educators. In advance of the expected opening of the first Massachusetts dispensaries next year, the for-profit NIC has graduated about 12 students and has 64 more enrolled.
Keith Saunders, a sociology professor who oversees the curriculum at NIC, said help-wanted ads for medical marijuana workers already are appearing on the jobs website Monster.com. He figures each of the state’s 15 provisionally approved dispensaries will immediately need 35 to 40 workers, and then continue to hire. “When [dispensaries] roll out, it will happen quickly,” he said.
The institute is not the only school of its kind in Massachusetts. The New England Grass Roots Institute in Quincy caters to medical marijuana patients, and the Cannabis Career Institute, a national company, periodically offers marijuana business training sessions in Boston.
Although it is difficult to project how many jobs medical marijuana might create statewide, it could be significant, said Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug law reform group with headquarters in New York City.
The jobs do not just entail growing and selling marijuana, she said. Think commercial kitchens cooking marijuana-laced foods, manufacturers providing packaging, and marketing firms promoting brands. “There’s all of these ancillary businesses that are involved in the industry,” Reiman said.
The curriculum at Northeastern Institute of Cannabis is based on discussions with dispensary operators in other states — including California, Colorado, Maine, and Rhode Island — producers of cannabis medicine, state legislators, and industry specialists, according to school officials. They have applied for state certification as an occupational trade school.
To receive a certificate, students must complete 12 four-hour courses, including medical marijuana 101, which covers the basics of marijuana as a medicine, cannabis law New England, an overview of state marijuana laws, and cannabis cultivation, about the art and science of growing marijuana. (It’s all strictly academic: The school cannot have marijuana on site). Students also must pass a two-hour exam by scoring at least 70 percent on each of 12 sections and 75 percent overall.
The cost of the program, which typically takes four to six weeks to complete, will increase to $2,000 from $1,500 on Jan. 1. Students range in age from their 20s to 60s and come from a variety of backgrounds. They include chefs, mechanics, and business owners....
[Jeanne] Ficcardi-Sauro, a 56-year-old mother of two grown children, said she has had difficulty finding full-time employment, so she is giving the medical marijuana industry a try. She also is a cancer patient and smokes marijuana to manage pain and fall asleep. Her goal: to educate and counsel other patients. “It can just help so many people in so many ways,” she said....
The school has amenities found at other trade schools and community colleges, including a student lounge, movie nights, and a store that sells T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the NIC logo. Along with textbooks, students can buy medical marijuana cookbooks, vaporizers, and glass pipes.
Mickey Martin, a longtime advocate for reform of marijuana laws, founded the school earlier this year. He said the school plans to host its first job fair in March. Launching the school posed several challenges, said Martin, who is from Oakland, Calif. It took months to find a location because landlords were reluctant to rent to a school specializing in marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law. The school’s insurance rates are double that of an average trade school, and the school’s bank account was canceled.
“There’s nothing illegal about what we’re doing,” Martin said. “But because we have cannabis in our name I’m forced to jump through the same hurdles as dispensary groups. It’s kind of insanity.” Still, Martin said, he has recruited high-quality faculty and administrators. Saunders, who developed the school’s curriculum, has taught drug policy courses at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Bill Downing, a longtime business owner and activist for marijuana law reform, teaches classes in business management and the history of marijuana. Uma Dhanabalan, who teaches the medical marijuana 101 course, has a medical degree, is a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and holds a master’s in public health from Harvard University.
Dhanabalan said it was not until later in her career that she learned marijuana could help relieve chronic pain, nausea, and migraines, as well as treat diseases such as glaucoma. When she was asked to teach at the school, she said, it was easy to say yes. “This is history in the making,” she said.
I am pleased to see that the notable lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court last week by Nebraska and Oklahoma (basics here; commentary here and here) has generated lots of commentary from all sort of perspectives. Here are links to some of the commentary via various blogs:
By Jonathan Adler, "Are Nebraska and Oklahoma just fair-weather federalists?"
By Randy Barnett, "Nebraska and Oklahoma are misreading Raich"
By Kent Scheidegger, "Pot, Prohibition, and Original Jurisdiction"
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Anyone and everyone eager to get up to speed on marijuana law, policy and reform developments should be sure to read this lengthy new article via NBC News headlined "The Year in Pot: Legal Sales and Anti-Marijuana Voices Boomed." Here are snippets form a piece that merits a full read:
Marijuana has never had a year like 2014.
The first aboveboard just-for-fun cannabis markets rose in Colorado and Washington. Voters in Oregon and Alaska passed ballot initiatives to create the same. And a consistent majority of Americans said they support plans to legalize the drug nationwide, according to polls by NBC News and others.
Yet 2014 also brought the first formidable anti-marijuana message in ages. The men and women of Smart Approaches on Marijuana, or Project SAM, might be the most potent voice of prohibition since Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" tour three decades ago.
The result was a year of fierce cross currents.
The anti-drug crowd fought to protect people from marijuana, believing that sobriety is the ideal and indulgence dangerous. The reform side, meanwhile, fought to protect marijuana users from legal harm, believing that insobriety is normal and indulgence should not be a crime.
Here are five marijuana storylines that stood out amid all the smoke:
1. The First Legal Sales in Colorado and Washington...
2. The Savvy, Well-Funded Campaigns in Oregon, Alaska, and Nationwide...
3. The Rise of an Anti-Pot Establishment...
4. The Rise of Big Pot...
5. The More Things Changed, The More They Stayed the Same
In 2014, marijuana made some mainstream friends like never before.
First, in January, President Obama took a strikingly casual attitude toward a drug past presidents have tried to crush with billions of dollars in federal muscle. "I smoked pot as a kid," he said. "I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life." No, he added, "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."
Next the New York Times editorial board came out in support of marijuana legalization, winking at Obama as it argued that 40 years of criminalization have come at the price of "inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol."
But with friends came enemies, notably casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands and America's 12th richest person, poured more than $6 million into Drug Free Florida, the organization that led a successful effort to block the legalization of medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.
It was his first foray into pot politics, and, advocates worry, it won't be pot's last broadside from the right. In December, in fact, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing state-legalized marijuana from Colorado is improperly spilling across state lines.
"Yep," as Kevin Sabet put it earlier this year, spoiling for a broader fight over marijuana policy. "Game on."
Saturday, December 20, 2014
The provocative question in the title of this post is prompted by this press report, headlined "Cigarette smoking costs weigh heavily on the healthcare system," on some notable new research about the health care costs attributed to tobacco use. Here are excerpts:
Of every $10 spent on healthcare in the U.S., almost 90 cents is due to smoking, a new analysis says. Using recent health and medical spending surveys, researchers calculated that 8.7 percent of all healthcare spending, or $170 billion a year, is for illness caused by tobacco smoke, and public programs like Medicare and Medicaid paid for most of these costs.
“Fifty years after the first Surgeon General’s report, tobacco use remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of death and disease, despite declines in adult cigarette smoking prevalence,” said Xin Xu from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who led the study.
Over 18 percent of U.S. adults smoke cigarettes and about one in five deaths are caused by smoking, according to the CDC. Xu and colleagues linked data on healthcare use and costs from the 2006-2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to the 2004-2009 National Health Interview Survey for a nationally-representative picture of smoking behavior and costs....
In [their] analysis, 9.6 percent of Medicare spending, 15.2 percent of Medicaid spending and 32.8 percent of other government healthcare spending by sources such as the Veterans Affairs department, Tricare and the Indian Health Service, were attributable to smoking.
Of the $170 billion spent on smoking-related healthcare, more than 60 percent was paid by government sources, they wrote in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Smoking-related healthcare costs affect most types of medical care, said Kenneth Warner at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Smoking infiltrates the entire body, through the blood stream, and causes disease in many of the body's organs,” he told Reuters Health in an email. Along with lung and heart problems, smoking can cause eye disease, skin problems and many cancers including pancreatic and bladder cancer, noted Warner, who was not involved in the new analysis.
“This study shows that, in addition to the human misery it inflicts, (smoking) imposes a substantial burden on the nation's health care institutions, especially those funded by the public's tax dollars,” he said.
The true cost of tobacco use may be even higher, Xu said. His study didn't include medical costs linked to other tobacco products like cigars and chewing tobacco.... “Smoking kills about 480,000 Americans each year and remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. No matter what age, it is never too late to quit,” Xu said.
Of course, there are sure to be health risks and costs that will emerge if (and when) a lot more folks start smoking marijuana (especially if they become heavy users). But this research suggests that if a decent number of new marijuana smokers come from the ranks of tobacco users and that use of marijuana decreases tobacco use, there could be real health benefits and perhaps significant public health cost savings.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Could (and should) Colorado (or others) respond to attack on marijuana legalization by counter-attacking federal prohibition?
As detailed in this prior post, yesterday Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit in the US Supreme Court seeking "a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution [legalizing and regulating marijuana sales] are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution." I find this lawsuit fascinating for any number of reasons, and I am still trying to understand the procedures through which the Justices will consider this case and I am still thinking through some of the implications of the claims being made by Nebraska and Oklahoma. And, as the title of this post suggests, I am wondering if this case might enable advocates for marijuana reform to bring complaints about federal marijuana prohibition directly to the Supreme Court.
This thought occurred to me in part because the SCOTUS filing by Nebraska and Oklahoma relies so very heavily on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Here are passages from the filing to that end:
Congress has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug. 21 U.S.C. § 812(c). Schedule I drugs are those with a high potential for abuse, lack of any accepted medical use, and absence of any accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment. § 812(b)(1)....
Because Congress explicitly found that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and had categorized marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug, the CSA was enacted in order to eradicate the market for such drugs. As such, the United States argued [in Gonzales v. Raich a decade ago], “the CSA makes it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess any Schedule I drug for any purpose, medical or otherwise, except as part of a strictly controlled research project.”
There has been lots of litigation in the past attacking in the DC Circuit the rationality of marijuana's placement on Schedule I in light of scientific evidence that marijuana has medical potentials. But all that litigation took place before a majority of states (now numbering well over 30) had formally legalized medical marijuana in some form. In light of all the recent state reform supportive of medical marijuana, I think new claims could (and perhaps should) now be made that it is entirely irrational (and thus unconstitutional) for Congress in the CSA to keep marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
Consequently, it seems to me one possible way (of many) for Colorado to defend its marijuana reform would be to assert a new full-throated attack on federal marijuana prohibition in the Supreme Court in light of the "new evidence" that the majority of US jurisdictions recognize in law the potential value of marijuana as medicine.
I doubt that Colorado will seek to attack Congress or the CSA is defense of its marijuana reform efforts. But perhaps others who in the past have legally attacked the rationality of marijuana's placement on Schedule I will see the special opportunity provided by this notable new lawsuit as an opportunity to take their arguments directly to the Supreme Court.
Recent related post:
Thursday, December 18, 2014
As Doug blogged, the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma just filed a suit in the United States Supreme Court (under its original jurisdiction) against Colorado. In a nutshell, they are seeking a declaration that Colorado’s Amendment 64 is preempted by federal law.
Not surprisingly, I think the suit lacks merit. As I’ve explained before, Congress can’t force states to criminalize marijuana. It follows that Congress also can’t stop states from legalizing marijuana; after all, legalization is just repeal of criminalization. It would be odd to say Congress can’t force a state to criminalize marijuana in the first instance, but it could force a state to keep a criminal prohibition on its books if it had already passed one. There are, of course, limits to this anti-commandeering principle. For example, Colorado probably couldn't open a state-run marijuana store. But nothing in the lawsuit remotely suggests that Colorado has yet exceeded those limits and done something that is preemptable.
To be sure, I sympathize somewhat with the plight of Nebraska and Oklahoma. They suspect that marijuana produced by private Colorado residents is finding its way into their states, and they want Colorado to do more to stop the flow. But under current constitutional doctrine, they cannot simply force Colorado join their fight (and neither can Congress).
As reported in this local article, "Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed a lawsuit Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana violates the U.S. Constitution." Here is more on the latest fascinating development in the world of marijuana reform law and policy:
At a press conference Thursday, Bruning said he was being joined in the case by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles."
Bruning said he placed a courtesy call to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers before filing the lawsuit. Suthers said in a news release he was not “entirely surprised” to learn of the lawsuit. “We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
Some Nebraska law enforcement officers undoubtedly will welcome Thursday’s action. Anticipating that the attorney general planned to announce a lawsuit, Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman said Thursday he supports the move. "This stuff is illegal here, it’s coming here and it’s had an adverse effect on our citizens and way of life," Overman said. "Nebraska, from highest elected officials on down, should do something about it."...
He blamed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for not enforcing federal drug laws in Colorado. "I am adamantly against the spread of marijuana across our country," Bruning said. He said he talked recently with a father who said marijuana was a "gateway drug" for his teen.
Colorado’s legalization of pot use has had a significant impact on Nebraska law enforcement agencies. Many departments, particularly in western Nebraska counties along Interstate 80, have seen spikes in their marijuana-related arrests tied to legally purchased pot that transforms into contraband once it crosses the border. At the western tip of the Oklahoma Panhandle, authorities regularly apprehend travelers coming from southeast Colorado with marijuana.
During a September hearing on the issue in Ogallala, Nebraska, a panel of lawmakers heard law enforcement authorities express concern about the flow of high-potency pot into Nebraska and increasing numbers of impaired drivers and possession by teens as young as 14. "Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost," Bruning said Thursday. "We can’t afford to divert resources to deal with Colorado’s problem."
Via the Denver Post, the 83-page SCOTUS filing can be found at this link.
December 18, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
The National Law Journal has this lengthy new article headlined "Law Schools Firing Up Marijuana Law Classes." I was pleased to have been interviewed by the author of the piece, and here are excerpts discussing some of the activity going on in this space:
Who has legal authority to establish marijuana law and regulations — the federal, state or local government? How should the law treat motorists who drive while high? Should employers test workers for marijuana use in jurisdictions where the drug is legal?
Those are a few of the questions Vanderbilt University Law School students will tackle in professor Robert Mikos' marijuana law and policy seminar next semester — one of a growing number of law school classes focused on marijuana. "For most students, this is an inherently interesting topic," Mikos said. "They read about it in the media all the time, and so many are curious about it. As more states confront this issue, the interest will only grow."...
Besides Vanderbilt's program, at least two additional marijuana-specific classes will debut next spring. At University of Denver Sturm College of Law, professor Sam Kamin will teach "Representing the Marijuana Client." David Ball, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, will preside over a "mini think tank" about the legal matters California will face if the state legalizes marijuana for recreational use. Students in Ball's class will research topics including whether and how the state might restrict marijuana advertising and how the drug could be taxed. They will share their research with an American Civil Liberties Union panel investigating the implications of marijuana legalization. Ball sits on the panel, which is led by California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. A ballot initiative to legalize could come as early as 2016, according to the ACLU.
"When I was appointed to the panel, I thought, 'This is a good opportunity for my students to write on something that will be of immediate interest to people in California,' " Ball said. His class will maintain a blog to publish students' research and marijuana law news. Ball hopes his course will help students adapt in an ever-changing legal landscape.
Kamin believes his course is the first designed specifically to prepare students to represent marijuana clients — whether growers and retailers or government regulators. "Almost every lawyer in the state needs to know something about this," Kamin said. "There are people in Denver and Colorado who practice marijuana law, but there are many others in real estate law, administrative law and other areas who deal with it as well. I've had people asking me to teach this class for a while. They're hungry for this knowledge."...
The subject is ideal because it touches so many different areas of law, said Franklin Snyder, a professor at Texas A&M University School of Law who in September founded the Cannabis Law Prof Blog. For example, he said, the large amount of energy required to produce marijuana raises environmental and agricultural law questions, and it remains unclear what kinds of corporate and bankruptcy protections marijuana businesses enjoy.
"Too often in law school, we teach in silos — we teach contract law, tax law and corporations law," Snyder said. "In the real world, clients don't have 'tax problems.' They have problems that are all interconnected. Marijuana law allows you to bring it all together and demonstrate how every decision you make impacts all these other things."
Hilary Bricken, an attorney in the cannabis practice of Seattle boutique firm Harris Moure, expressed surprise that law schools are starting to discuss marijuana given that they typically don’t teach courses on alcohol law or the adult entertainment industry, for example. Still, she said, local and state marijuana regulations could make for an interesting law course. "I would love to see a clinic where students could interact with clients," Bricken said. "I think it would really send home the reality of the difficulty of practicing in this era of prohibition."...
Mikos is scheduled to publish a marijuana law textbook in 2016. "I think we're going to see more law schools offer these classes," he said. "There's a big focus right now on teaching students about the types of cases they might actually handle after graduation. This is very practical."
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Students for Sensible Drug Policy has created a soon to be up and running job board to match students with cannabusiness employers and advocacy groups. You can read more about this program in this Marijuana Business Daily interview with SSDP's Executive Director Betty Aldworth. What better gift for that favorite law student than sharing the job board link and helping them find a job!