Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, January 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Policies ...

State Ballot Initiatives ...

State Legislation ...

On-site Consumption ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  The 2016 elections ...

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

3.  Can Epidiolex deliver? ...

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

MPP Director provides Top 10 accounting of marijuana reform achievements in 2015

I noted in this post yesterday a Huffington Post commentary by Kevin Sabet, the President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), headlined "Top 10 Anti-Marijuana Legalization Policy Victories of 2015."  Today I just realized that a similar (and yet very different) Huffington Post piece authored by Rob Kampia, Executive Director of Marijuana Policy Project, was published here last week under the headline "The Top 10 Marijuana Policy Victories of 2015. Here is how that piece starts and ends and the headings in-between:

In 2015, state legislators considered bills to legalize marijuana in 21 states, decriminalize marijuana possession in 17 states, and legalize medical marijuana in 19 states. Most of the action in 2015 was aimed at achieving substantial victories in 2016, which is slated to be the most successful year in the history of the movement to end marijuana prohibition.

With this in mind, the Marijuana Policy Project is hereby releasing its top 10 list for 2015. I'm excluding international and scientific developments, instead focusing on policy developments in the United States.

10. Local Decriminalization Measures: ...

9. Everything In Texas: ...

8. Medical Marijuana Expansion In Four States, D.C., and Puerto Rico: ...

7. Medical Marijuana In Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Utah: ...

6. Marijuana Decriminalization in Illinois: ...

5. Decriminalization in Delaware: ...

4. Legalization Ballot Initiatives in Five States: ...

3. U.S. House of Representatives: ...

2. U.S. Senate: ...

1. Presidential Candidates: ...

In 2015, the table was set in other ways that will lead to a healthy serving of marijuana policy reform in 2016.  For example, Alaska and Colorado appear poised to allow some form of on-site consumption of marijuana in private establishments (similar to alcohol bars), which would give these two jurisdictions the two best marijuana laws in the world.

December 29, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 28, 2015

SAM Prez provides Top 10 accounting of marijuana reform difficulties in 2015

Kevin Sabet, the President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), has this notable new Huffington Post commentary headlined "Top 10 Anti-Marijuana Legalization Policy Victories of 2015." Here is how it starts and ends and the headings in-between:

2015 will be remembered as the year legalization hit bumps most supporters never anticipated. For pro-health advocates that oppose marijuana legalization, it was a year of fantastic victories! Here are the top 10:

10. Big Marijuana is Real -- and People are Writing About It....

9. Continuing Positive Press Coverage of Groups Opposing Legalization....

8. Several States Resisted Full-Blown Legalization....

7. Lawyering Up....

6. Marijuana Stores Banned in California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan, and Elsewhere.

5. Legalizers Made No Gains in Congress This Year....

4. Continued Support from ONDCP, DEA, and NIDA....

3. Real Progress on Researching the Medical Components of Marijuana....

2. No States Legalized "Medical" Marijuana in 2015....

1. Ohio!...

Despite the nonstop talking point of "inevitability," we know that the 8% of Americans who use pot don't speak for 92% of Americans that don't want to see Big Tobacco 2.0, don't want to worry about another drug impairing drivers on the road, and don't want to think about keeping things like innocuous-looking "pot gummy bears" away from their kids.  We know that the pot lobby will work hard for things like not only full-blown legalization in several more states next year, but also things like on-site pot smoking "bars" (they are really proposing these in Alaska and Colorado as we speak) and an expansion of pot edibles.

In 2016, let's nip Big Marijuana in the bud.

December 28, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lots of marijuana news of note even during a holiday week

Due to a combination of work and family commitments, I have not blogged in this space as much as usual in recent weeks.  Come January, I hope to make up for lost time with a lot more original postings (some of which may be part of an assignment I give to students taking my marijuana reform seminar).  In the meantime, I will catch up a bit by posting headlines and links to some of the marijauna headlines/stories that caught my eye in recent days:

December 27, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Solicitor General just gave SCOTUS a good reason to punt Nebraska's lawsuit against Colorado

The Solicitor General today responded to the Nebraska / Oklahoma legal action against Colorado in the Supreme Court. Per its practice, SCOTUS had requested the SG’s input. The brief can be found via a link here. (To provide some background, the SG handles all litigation involving the United States before SCOTUS, and it also commonly files amicus briefs in SCOTUS cases in which the U.S. is not a party. The SG’s positions can be quite influential on the Court.) For earlier postings on this case, see here, here and here.

In a nutshell, the SG argued that SCOTUS should refuse to exercise original jurisdiction over the action. Why? Perhaps most importantly, the SG suggested that the NE / OK suit didn’t fit the mold of cases over which SCOTUS had traditionally exercised original jurisdiction – namely, cases in which one state had directly harmed another. Importantly, the SG argued that CO hadn’t directly injured its neighboring states, e.g., by exporting marijuana or authorizing private citizens to do so. Rather, any injury NE / OK have suffered is more directly traceable to the actions of private parties who buy marijuana in CO and then take it outside the state.

Because it focused on SCOTUS practice, the SG did not need to weigh in on the merits of the underlying action. But I think the argument the SG makes favors CO, if SCOTUS (or another court) ever had to decide the matter. After all, if CO is not directly responsible for the injury to NE / OK’s regulatory interests, it’s hard to see why CO could be held responsible for any injury to federal regulatory interests. In other words, if CO isn’t responsible for people using marijuana in NE / OK, then it arguably isn’t responsible for people using marijuana in CO either.

As the SG itself notes, even if SCOTUS declines original jurisdiction over the suit, NE / OK could still file it in a federal district court. Of course, it would have to overcome some daunting procedural hurdles there as well (e.g. ,standing), as noted in the SG brief.

December 16, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Going to pot? Canada leads way in legalizing marijuana"

C24540ce42f399a040f0229561b41b51.774x437x1The title of this post is the headline of this recent article, which gets started this way: "Justin Trudeau raised eyebrows when he admitted to having dabbled in marijuana while a member of parliament, but his pledge as prime minister to legalize pot has been broadly cheered." Here is more:

He said in a policy speech on [last week] that his Liberal government would introduce legislation as early as 2016 to legalize marijuana, making Canada the first in the G7 bloc of industrialized nations to do so, although precise details remain sketchy.

Two in three Canadians support decriminalizing possession and use of the mind-altering weed, according to a recent Ipsos poll. Support is widespread and at its highest level in three decades, it said, even though cannabis use has fallen off.

Details of the Liberal plan haven't yet been released. However, it is expected to go much further by not only legalizing marijuana but also creating a regulated market for it, as Uruguay and a few US states have done. An estimated one million out of Canada's 35 million people regularly smoke marijuana, according to the latest survey taken in 2014.

Trudeau admitted in 2013 to having smoked pot five or six times in his life, including at a dinner party with friends since being elected to parliament. He has also said that his late brother Michel was facing marijuana possession charges for a "tiny amount" of pot before his death in an avalanche in 1998, and that this influenced his decision to propose legalizing cannabis. "I'm not someone who is particularly interested in altered states, but I certainly won't judge someone else for it," Trudeau said. "I think that the prohibition that is currently on marijuana is unjustified."

In 2014, there were just under 104,000 police-reported drug incidents in Canada. Of these, 66 percent were related to cannabis, primarily for possession, according to the official Statistics Canada. Police chiefs have urged legislative change allowing them to hand out fines for small amounts of pot possession instead of laying criminal charges to reduce policing and court costs, and to do away with such convictions affecting Canadians' travel, employment and citizenship....

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes was effectively legalized in Canada in 1999, but subsequent efforts to soften Canada's pot laws went up in smoke with the election of Stephen Harper in 2006. Harper took a hard line against what he called a Beatles-era drug culture, saying cannabis was more dangerous for health than tobacco.

His former health minister Rona Ambrose, who succeeded Harper as Tory leader, warned that judicial rulings had chipped away at the 1923 cannabis prohibition before the drug could be shown in clinical trials to be safe to use. In June, she said she was "outraged" that the Supreme Court had expanded the definition of medical marijuana to allow users to bake it into cookies or brew pot leaves for tea instead of only smoking it.

The morning after the Liberals swept to power in October, pot stocks doubled in price as investors bet on firms already producing marijuana for medical use being able to quickly scale up to serve recreational pot users too. Only six firms were initially licensed by Health Canada to grow and sell medical marijuana in 2014. The number of licensees has since shot up to 26. 

For a variety of reasons, I think the commitment of Canada's new ruling party to create a legalized marketplace for marijuana up north could be extremely consequential for the on-going debate over marijuana reform throughout the United States.  In particular, if Canada does get a functional legalizaed marijuana market up and running in 2016, I think it will prove especially difficult for northern states throughout the US to resist reform efforts.  Thus, to parrot a famous South Park riff, if marijuana reform gets a significant boost from the north, supporters of preserving pot prohibition my want to "Blame Canada.

December 13, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Should Cannabis Disputes Be Arbitrated?

   The  topic of this post is raised by an International Business Times article announcing the formation of the Cannabis Dispute Resolution Institute "a Denver nonprofit that aims to be the world’s first arbitration organization focused on marijuana." Here are some excerpts from the article beginning with the dilemma  faced by marijuana business people:

 At the time, the lawsuit must have seemed like an open-and-shut case. In August 2010, Arizona entrepreneurs Mark Haile and Michele Hammer each loaned $250,000 to  Today's Health Care II, aka “THC,” a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado Springs, Colorado. But in March 2011, THC defaulted on its loan, which meant that, according to the  contract, the dispensary had to repay the principal loan at a default interest rate of 21 percent. When THC didn’t do so, the two lenders sued the business in Arizona Superior  Court in order to enforce their agreement.

             That didn’t happen.

That April, Judge Michael McVey threw out the lawsuit. The dismissal wasn’t due to errors in the contract or mistakes made by Haile or Hammer. The problem was the loan was for a marijuana business. In his ruling, which he admitted was “harsh,” McVey noted: “The explicitly stated purpose of these loan agreements was to finance the sale and distribution of marijuana. This was in clear violation of the laws of the United States. As such, this contract is void and unenforceable." 

“The cannabis industry is in a weird position because a lot of issues that other industries might handle in the court system are a little more fraught in the marijuana industry because everything brings up federal oversight, federal illegality, conflicts between state and federal law,” says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There is just this added wild card any time you are looking into the court system.”

 The founders [of the Cannabis Dispute Resolution Institute] say they’ve hit upon the sort of legal protection and stability all of these other businesses desperately need. That’s because according to the Federal Arbitration Act and repeated court decisions, arbitration arrangements are legally binding -- even if the matters being arbitrated are potentially illegal in the eyes of the court.

In short, CDRA aims to use federal arbitration law to circumnavigate federal drug law.

“The industry is being denied access to justice,” says Michael Reilly, one of CDRI’s principal founders and chairman of its advisory board. “Through arbitration, we can end up with a legal resolution to a dispute. There is a chance to be on the leading edge of this whole process.”

As the readers of this blog surely know, arbitration has its fans and its foes. The founders of the Institute are aware of this:

Finally, while bringing a notoriously pro-corporation dispute-resolution mechanism into the cannabis industry might be cause for concern among those who are already afraid that big-money interests are taking over the marijuana movement, Wells insists that CDRI isn’t just about helping marijuana businesses. It’s also about fixing the arbitration industry so it benefits everyone, he says. Among other things, CDRI arbitrations will allow parties the right to discovery, which many arbitration proceedings now limit, meaning that relevant company records won't be able to be concealed as part of the process. And when one of the parties is a consumer or an employee, the company on the other side of the dispute will shoulder 70 percent of arbitration costs.

“Arbitration has gone completely overboard in America,” Wells says. “We are taking a very different approach. We are trying to push the pendulum back in the other direction. Instead of arbitration being seen as obtrusive to  the little guy, we at least want an equal playing filed and a fair fight.”

    This is all very interesting as  another example of the fascinatingly fractured relationship between federal and state marijuana law. Put me in the "fine for b2b disputes but still worried about individuals camp." Comments please. 

December 11, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Interesting on-the-ground perspective on impact (or lack thereof) of marijuana reform from a Florida public defender

CBS News has this intriguing new first-person piece about marijuana reform authored by Kim Segal, who serves as a public defender in Broward County, Florida.  Here are excerpts:

A client called me to ask if I saw the news.  He was referring to the unanimous vote by the Broward County Commission that would allow law enforcement to issue a civil citation instead of filing a criminal misdemeanor charge against anyone caught with a small amount of marijuana.  The problem, I explained to my client, was that he was facing state charges. In the state of Florida marijuana is not only against the law but possession of a small amount is still punishable by a year in jail.  In case that punishment wasn't enough of a deterrent the state legislature included in the law that anyone adjudicated guilty on this charge will lose their driver's license for a year.

While it has been decided in our county that fines are appropriate for people caught with small amounts of marijuana there are still many people fighting the system.  They must fight to keep their license and to avoid a criminal charge on their record.

Take my client Drew Brown for example -- a young man who was getting ready to go to college to play football when he picked up a possession of cannabis 10 grams or less charge.  The state refused to drop the case. Considering the national climate on marijuana I thought Drew's case would be an easy one for the prosecutor to justify dropping.

Why?  This was a case of constructive possession as opposed to actual possession.  A basic explanation is the marijuana was not found on my client it was found in an area where other people had access to it.  Despite being adamant that the marijuana wasn't his, Drew had to go to trial if he wanted any chance of the charge going away. His record and his need for a driver's license while in college made the risky decision to go to trial easy for Drew.

As in all jury trials a panel of potential jurors was assembled.  After a couple hours of questioning the group of eighteen, we were left with six people who would decide whether Drew broke the law....  Drew told the jury he was walking to a friend's house when a guy he knew drove by and offered him a ride.  Drew was in the acquaintance's car for just a few minutes when he heard sirens and saw the lights from the police car behind them.  The car was being stopped for a traffic violation.  The driver continued a couple of blocks before stopping.  The driver said he was near a house where he knew people and he wanted to stop in a place where he would feel safe.  Once out of the vehicle the officers found marijuana under the passenger seat that Drew just vacated.  Drew told the jurors he had no idea the marijuana was there.

The officer didn't believe him so Drew was arrested for possession of marijuana.  Nary a bowl, pipe, wrapping papers or even a lighter was found on his person.  Drew faced a criminal charge for allegedly bending over while sitting in a car that had marijuana in a drawer under the passenger seat, that he unfortunately chose to sit in. Thankfully the jury had the good sense to find Drew not guilty.  This verdict only reinforced my thoughts on whether this case should have been pursued at all.

As headlines continue with stories about states and local governments decriminalizing the personal use of marijuana, the county court is still full of defendants facing this serious charge.  Just this week I have three possession of cannabis cases set for trial.  Until there's news that these criminal charges will be changed to civil infractions the court will be spending valuable time hearing about personal use of marijuana that often includes evidence of only residue and roaches.

December 2, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lots of notable medical marijuana stories from various states during a holiday week

While on the road last week, I did not get a chance to blog about various interesting marijuana reform stories I noticed over the long holiday weekend.  Making up for the time away, here is a round up of some of the notable medical marijuana pieces from various states that emerged over the past week:

  • From Alabama here, "Epileptic mom who used marijuana raising funds to fight charges"

  • From Connecticut here, "One year later, patients swear by medical marijuana"

  • From Florida here, "Medical marijuana back in Florida political spotlight"

  • From North Dakota here, "Medical marijuana petitions to begin circulation in North Dakota"

  • From Wyoming here, "Medical marijuana proposal in peril as pro-pot group suffers from infighting in Wyoming"
  • From the AP here, "In Medical Marijuana States,' Pot Doctors' Push Boundaries"

December 1, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Interesting recreational marijuana regulatory rules emerging in Alaska's laboratory

Download (1)Because Alaska is a "red state" and distinctive in various other ways, I have long been saying that The Last Frontier should be an especially interesting jurisdiction to watch as it develops rules for its recreational marijuana industry.   This local article reporting on the work of Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board as it is finalizing the state's commercial marijuana regulations confirms my thinking on this front. Here are highlights from the article:

At the end of an all-day meeting Friday to craft Alaska's first regulations over the cannabis industry, the state Marijuana Control Board adopted new rules that could blow the door wide open to Outside investment. Marijuana businesses must be 100 percent Alaskan owned, but the definition of what makes an Alaskan was changed from matching what is needed to receive a Permanent Fund dividend to matching voter registration requirements, which is far easier to achieve. Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milks called it a “sea change” that could “upend the whole program.”

Qualifying for a PFD requires documents such as employment and school records or vehicle registration, and a certain number of days spent physically in the state. By contrast, for Alaska voter registration requirements, all that is needed is a physical address and no other voter registration elsewhere....

Board member Mark Springer said he proposed the amendment because there had been concerns that the requirement would limit opportunity for some Alaskans to be able to invest. “There are people in this state who travel out of state long enough not to get a dividend, but they live here, so I was looking at it as providing the opportunity,” Springer said. He said he’d consider it a “major failure” if non-Alaskans flew up, rented an apartment and claimed residency. He noted that the amendment still had to withstand the Department of Law's review.

Earlier in the day, the board had voted down two separate amendments that would have allowed for 25 percent Outside investment, but the final changes, some said, were actually far more inclusive for Outsiders. “When you have 75 percent ownership then you give immediate value to Alaska residents. Now, right now …. an Alaska resident is not needed to have a place in this market,” marijuana industry attorney Jana Weltzin said. “They don’t need us anymore,” Weltzin added....

With Tuesday’s deadline approaching, the board had met in downtown Anchorage on Friday with hopes of ironing out remaining questions and concerns surrounding Alaska’s marijuana regulations. Aspects small and large – from licensing fees to retail store hours to packaging requirements -- have been considered by the board in crafting its 133 pages of regulations. Forty-two pages of amendments were posted on the board’s website Friday morning.

Another big change Friday was allowing for marijuana retail licenses to have an area for on-site consumption of marijuana. An adult 21-years or older would purchase marijuana and consume it in a designated area on the store’s premises, similar to a bar. Details on the on-site consumption were not figured out Friday; they will be defined at a later date, Alcoholic Beverage Control and Marijuana Control Board director Cynthia Franklin said.

The vote passed 3-2; the audience, a room composed mostly of marijuana industry advocates, clapped after the vote. “Common sense finally prevailed on one issue,” Weltzin said later.

Other changes made Friday:

• The board voted to remove a cap on THC limits for marijuana concentrates. A prior draft version had capped THC at 76 percent, a calculation derived from the limit placed on spirits; board member Bruce Schulte argued that the cap was taking the idea of regulating marijuana like alcohol too literally.

• Marijuana can be packaged in such a way as to allow consumers to see the product before they purchase it in a retail store, the board voted Friday. A previous version of the regulations had specified that marijuana must be packaged in opaque plastic.

• A broker cultivation license was removed from proposed regulations. Under a previous draft version of the regulations, a license would have allowed for brokers to procure marijuana from small growers and then sell the marijuana to retailers. The license was seen as a way to help small black-market growers transition to the legal market, but the board decided that the broker did not fall under the auspices of a cultivation license.

November 22, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting data on changing marijuana prohibition enforcement realities in New York City

Big_apple_NY-copyThe New York Post has this notable new piece on marijuana enforcement patterns in the Big Apple.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana arrests drop 40% this year as NYPD mellows out," and here are excerpts:

Cops are following through on Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to stop locking people up for carrying small amounts of pot. Police cuffed 18,120 stoners through Oct. 20 — a 40 percent plummet from the 29,906 pot busts in the same period last year, state Division of Criminal Justice records show.

At the same time, tickets for pot violations have surged. Cops handed out 13,081 low-level pot summonses through the end of September — and are on pace for more than 16,000 tickets. The NYPD issued 13,378 pot tickets for all of last year, and 13,316 tickets in 2013, records show. City Hall ordered cops last year to ticket suspects they caught with 25 grams or less of marijuana instead of arresting them after district attorneys and activists clamored for drug decriminalization.

Still, arrests outnumber tickets citywide, and there appears to be wide variations in enforcement. Bronx cops in the 45th Precinct in upscale Throggs Neck handed out 415 tickets for marijuana possession and made only 48 arrests in the first nine months of the year. Similarly, Staten Island cops in the 122nd Precinct ticketed 258 people and arrested only 18 suspects, city and state crime data show. But Bronx cops in the 52nd Precinct in Kingsbridge arrested 720 individuals but ticketed only 168 people in the first nine months of the year. And Queens cops made 259 pot arrests but only ticketed 79 people in South Jamaica’s 113th Precinct, the records show.

I find this basic data quite interesting, and I am hopeful there will soon be some serious resesrch done in conjunction with what this data reveal and suggest. For example, I would be interested in learning more about related economic realities, e.g., is the city as a whole and/or certain precincts starting to raise (considerably?) more revenue from issuing more tickets instead of making more arrests? And, of course, the relationships between these charing marijuana arrest rates and broader crime patterns could be fascinating if there were any notable correlations between the two. Finally, especially in light of historical patterns of disparate arrest rates for marijuana offenses for different races, I wonder if there are notable new racial dynamics in these notable new data.

November 22, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

GOP firebrand Sarah Palin suggests Republicans ought not be fighting against marijuana reform

Faith_PalinThough I somewhat doubt that Sarah Palin is still a significant voice in conservative circles, I do not doubt that it is still somewhat significant that the former GOP Vice-President candidate is saying pretty clearly that politicians ought not be too concerned about bringing an end to blanket marijuana prohibition. This Huffington Post article, headlined "Sarah Palin: Legalizing Weed Is 'No Big Deal'," highlights Palin's latest comments on this topic:

Supporters of marijuana legalization may have an unlikely ally: Sarah Palin. Breaking with many members of her party who oppose legalizing marijuana, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee on Thursday said it is "no big deal" and argued that it should not be a controversial issue.

"I look on the national scene and think, wow, of all things to be fighting over and battling over, especially when it comes to medical marijuana. I think, hmm, this is just not my baby," Palin told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

When Hewitt expressed disbelief that Palin's home state legalized recreational marijuana last year, she said the vote "didn't surprise me."

"We've got that libertarian streak in us," she said, explaining that Alaska, the most conservative state to legalize marijuana so far, already had lax marijuana laws, so it was a less divisive issue than in other states. "I grew up in Alaska when pot was legal anyway. It was absolutely no big deal. I mean you didn't smoke it because your parents would strangle you. And if you were a jock and you were, you know, a Christian going to youth group, you just didn't do it, right?" Palin recalled. "And I still believe that. But when it comes to picking our battles, for many of us in Alaska, legalization of marijuana just was never really a bright blip on the radar screen."

November 20, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pennsylvania moves one legislative step closer to legalizing medical marijuana

Bipartisan-Medical-Marijuana-Bill-Introduced-to-Pennsylvania-Senate1.thumbnailAs reported in this local article, headlined "Pennsylvania House panel advances medical marijuana legislation," the Keystone State had a key legislative development yesterday with respect to marijuana reform.  Here are the basic details:

Pennsylvania is one step closer to legalizing medical marijuana, following a successful committee vote Wednesday in the House that positions the bill for final passage.  Before any proposal becomes law, however, it is subject to an amendment process that legalization advocates fear could dilute it.

Senate Bill 3 received an affirmative 25-8 vote in the House Rules Committee.  The proposal would legalize marijuana use for patients with certain illnesses and establish a regulatory framework for growing, processing and prescribing.

“We believe that it can benefit a significant number of Pennsylvanians, but if the House waters it down with arbitrary restrictions, then we fear that it will be a medical cannabis bill in name only,” said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of the legalization advocacy group Pittsburgh NORML.  The vote is a victory, Nightingale said, but he's cautious about what comes next.

All eight votes in opposition came from Republicans, who control the majority in the chamber.  House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said amendments are being prepared and the bill could be voted on by the full House as early as next week.  Feared changes could include a cap on the amount of THC that can be used in the medicine.  Under the current proposal, patients with select illnesses — such as cancer and seizure disorders, among others — could receive a prescription.  Smoking marijuana would not be a permitted treatment, and delivery methods would be limited to oils, edible products, ointments and tinctures.

Gov. Tom Wolf favors legalization for medical purposes and called on the Legislature to send a proposal to his desk. “It's past time for them to act on it,” said his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan....

The Senate passed the legalization in May by a 40-7 vote. House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, then convened a bipartisan committee to vet the bill and consider changes.  Reed voted for the bill on Wednesday.  State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 3 and began pushing for a legalization proposal in 2010.  “We hope the entire House acts quickly to pass our bill without amendment,” said Leach's Chief of Staff Steve Hoenstine.

November 19, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advocates for marijuana reform in Vermont highlight economic development

Vt_magnet_allI have long thought advocates for marijuana reform could and should focus on the economic development benefits that seem to flow from permitting a legal market in cannabis.  I now see from this local article in Vermont, headlined "Marijuana pitched for young VT entrepreneurs," that some folks in the Green Mountain State are making a pitch in this way. Here is how the article gets started:

Entrepreneurs are pitching marijuana as a cash crop that would keep college graduates in Vermont and create thousands of jobs. The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative says in a new report that if Vermont lawmakers bring “order to the chaos” of the underground illegal marijuana market, business opportunities would abound.

“This provides a whole new industry for our young millennials coming out of college and trying to find what to do in Vermont to jump in and become the next Steve Jobs, to become the next Ben and Jerry’s, to become the next Seventh Generation,” Alan Newman, a founder of Seventh Generation and Magic Hat Brewing Company, said Wednesday.

Newman spoke during a news conference in Burlington one day after legalization opponents rallied at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Newman and other members of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative group have been working for months on recommendations for a legal marijuana industry in the state.

The resulting report, titled “What Cannabis Can Do for Vermont,” suggests that any large-scale marijuana-growing operation should be at least 51 percent owned by Vermonters and certified as a benefit corporation, meaning the business would consider social and environmental values in addition to profit. The proposed Vermont marijuana economy also would include home growers with six or fewer plants, and artisanal craft growers with seven to 99 plants.

The idea is to create a market unlike the kind that Ohio voters recently rejected, which would have allowed just 10 commercial growers. “We think we have a chance here to grow an economy based on Vermont values, based on Vermont tradition, and one that embraces the already-existing infrastructure that can really help keep young people here and make Vermont an attractive place to live,” said Bill Lofy, former chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Lofy’s former boss is publicly coy on whether he will push a legalization bill during his final year as governor. Shumlin, a Democrat, favors legalization and last year accepted thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from the groups that are calling for legalization, but he has hesitated to set a date.

The governor promised this week to make up his mind by January. “I gotta be candid with you,” Shumlin said Monday. “I’m focusing on a lot of other things, like the budget, creating jobs. We will get to that, but I haven’t made a decision.”

Creating jobs is among the goals of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative, which argues that legalization would create as many as 4,000 positions, because the industry would need growers, architects, lawyers, marketing experts, security experts and more. The group used a custom economic model to estimate the total market at about $250 million, assuming 50,000 pounds of marijuana would be consumed annually.

The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative has a lot of reform resources collected at this web page, and its recent report, titled "What Cannabis can do for Vermont: How to grow a thriving, community-based, legal cannabis economy," is available at this link.

November 19, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Effective general overview of the state of US marijuana reforms as of Fall 2015

I am giving a lecture this afternoon to a local bar association about the state of marijana reform in Ohio and throughout the United States as of Fall 2015.  Helpfully, this recent article from BloombergBNA provides a useful national overview with a number of state-level specifics.  The piece is titled "Marijuana in America, 2015: A Survey of Federal And States' Responses to Marijuana Legalization and Taxation," and I recommend it for those looking to get up to speed on a lot of the legal and tax basics ASAP.

November 18, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Canadian Prime Minister orders key Cabinet officials to work toward marijuana legalization

As reported in this post a few weeks ago, the big winner in the Canadian national election was the Justin Trudeau, who became Canada's new Prime Minister after leading his Liberal Party to a majority government win.  As noted before, this was big news for marijuana reform fans because the Liberal Party, as detailed here, campaigned with an express promise to "legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana."  Now, thanks to this blog posting. I see that Prime Minister Trudeau recently issued a series of ministerial mandate letters detailing his instructions to his Cabinet officials.  In these three letters, marijuana reform is specified as among the mandates:

Minister of Health Mandate Letter

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Mandate Letter 

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Mandate Letter

Here is the key mandate language from the first of these letters which is comparable in all three: "Support the Ministers of Justice and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on efforts that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana."

November 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)