Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Justice Department seemingly impacted more by rescission of Cole Memo than marijuana industry

Gardner-sessionsThis new Denver Post piece, headlined "Cory Gardner’s siege of the Justice Department over marijuana enters second month," provides an interested accounting of the current impact and import of the decision last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidance.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been a month since the pot blockade began, and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is standing firm in his vow to jam all appointments to the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions softens his stance on marijuana.

So far, his siege to protect both Colorado’s cannabis industry and the state’s sovereignty has prevented as many as 11 nominees from getting a Senate floor vote — the last major step before they can start work — and there is little indication that Gardner, R-Colo., and Sessions are any closer to finding common ground. “It may never resolve itself,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the committee in charge of getting these nominees to the floor.

If that happens, the consequences would extend far beyond the 11 nominees that Gardner has put on ice. More than 20 other candidates are in the congressional pipeline for Justice-related jobs, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys assigned to states across the country. One even hails from Colorado: David Weaver, a former Douglas County sheriff in line to become the state’s next U.S. marshal....

“Senator Gardner does a real disservice to the nation as a whole and we urgently ask him to reconsider his rash and ill-advised obstructionism,” said Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “Policy differences should be worked out by a dialogue and not turn into hostage situations.”

At the root of the fight is a decision last month by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that generally left alone states such as Colorado that have legalized marijuana, which remains illegal on a federal level. While the change hasn’t led to federal raids on pot dispensaries — and business largely has continued as usual — the move still sent shock waves through the fledgling cannabis industry.

Gardner wasn’t able to convince Sessions to reconsider when the two Republicans met last month, though aides to the Colorado lawmaker said the two sides haven’t given up on negotiations. “Our staff and DOJ staff continue to talk and meet to discuss a path forward which recognizes Colorado’s state’s rights and ensures law enforcement has the authority and tools needed to protect our communities,” said Casey Contres, a Gardner spokesman, in a statement. “These discussions continue to be necessary and we appreciate their willingness to have them.”...

[Debate over congressional spending bills mean] it could be another month or more before there’s a chance to resolve the issue — and another month in which Gardner is expected to keep up the pot blockade. “He opposed the legalization of marijuana in 2012 but is not going to sit back and let Colorado’s rights be trampled on by the federal government,” Contres said.

Under Senate rules and tradition, lawmakers are allowed to put a hold on nominees put forward by the White House — a tactic that’s often used to extract concessions from the executive branch. These holds can be overridden, but doing so requires party leaders to chew up valuable time on the Senate floor.

For the time being, Gardner’s hardball approach hasn’t caused much public strife among his Senate Republican colleagues. “I can understand why he did it,” said Grassley, who nonetheless disagreed with Gardner’s argument for states’ rights. “I’m an advocate for federal law under the Supremacy Clause of the constitution that federal law overrides state law.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also is awaiting a floor vote for a U.S. marshal candidate in his state. Aides to McConnell did not respond with comment, though Grassley said it’s up to him to broker a solution and end the siege. Said Grassley of the nomination process: If McConnell “isn’t willing to intervene then you know it all stops.”

February 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Noticing that some politicians are finally noticing that marijuana reform could be winning political issue

Download (8)Long-time readers know I have often posted articles and commentaries suggesting that politicians would be wise to see the potential to attract younger and independent voters by showing interest in marijuana reform.  This new Politico article suggest some folks running for Congress are finally getting this message.   The full headline of the lengthy piece highlights its themes: "These Red-State Democrats Think Legal Marijuana Can Help Them Win: With sky-high approval rates, pot is an issue challengers say will cure the Democratic malaise in Trump country."  Here are excerpts that everyone interested in the politics of marijuana reform should read in full:

Not so long ago — like maybe last cycle — a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1.  But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.  The numbers, they say, are on their side, not the side of the politicians who either duck the subject or endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent desire to return federal marijuana policy back to the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent.  In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-governor Mike Pence — a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip.  In fact, according to [congressional candidate Dan] Canon, it has only gotten stronger, and not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it.

Subsequently, his chief primary opponent, law school professor Liz Watson, instead of criticizing Canon’s position, posted a detailed pro-medical marijuana position on her website to eliminate any daylight between her and Canon on this issue. “In Southern Indiana, we are battling a raging opioid epidemic.  The last thing we need is for the federal government to punish people for turning to non-addictive alternatives to opioids,” she told POLITICO Magazine.  “We also do not need the federal government restricting study into the medical uses of marijuana.  Federal law currently categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, while oxycodone is Schedule 2. That makes no sense.” Watson’s stance nearly guarantees that no matter who survives the primary to face Trey Hollingsworth in the general, the Democrat in the race will be on the record as in favor of medical marijuana.

The candidates of Indiana’s 9th are not alone in their desire to use marijuana as a rallying flag. House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, plus Senate races in Texas and Nevada all feature Democratic candidates who have taken strong stands in favor of changing the federal marijuana laws, and running against Republican incumbents who have not.

“There’s nationwide support for recreational marijuana, and support for medical marijuana is even higher than that,” Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, told POLITICO Magazine.  According to Cross, there’s not much difference in the support for marijuana legalization in rural Southern states than in the Western blue states more commonly associated with marijuana.  “For some voters, marijuana could be a defining issue. We just don’t know how many that’s going to be yet.”...

It won’t be known for some months yet whether legalization has the power to take out sitting Republicans, but there’s no question that it is potent enough to change the complexion of primary races, at least in districts that have large college populations.

Take a look at what’s happening across the Ohio River from the Indiana 9th, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, which includes both the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.  The Democratic field to unseat the three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr has developed into an interesting portrait of the current Democratic Party coalition: a black state senator, a female veteran, and a gay mayor.  State Senator Reggie Thomas, who represents a portion of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, was first in the race to come out in favor of medical marijuana.  In a web video he states, “The evidence is clear. Medical marijuana helps those with chronic pain and other medical conditions.” In the same 60-second video, Thomas announced he was signing on as a co-sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the state Senate.  Asked by POLITICO Magazine if there was a campaign strategy associated with his advocacy of medical marijuana in order to differentiate himself from his primary opponents, Thomas wouldn’t take the bait, saying only that, “it’s just the right thing to do.”...

There are few places where marijuana politics are more exciting than in West Virginia, thanks to state senator (and retired U.S. Army major) Richard Ojeda, who is currently a candidate for Congress in West Virginia’s 3rd with a position on medical marijuana that has given him strong statewide name recognition.  “Anyone with half a brain should know that marijuana should never be Schedule I,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine over the phone, sounding more like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey than his own state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent.  Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.

Not merely an advocate for medical marijuana, Ojeda (pronounced oh-JEH-dah) criticizes the federal law that requires mandatory prison sentences for criminal marijuana cultivation: “One to five years? That’s garbage,” he told me. Instead, Ojeda, 47, believes that outlaw marijuana growers shouldn’t go to prison at all.  He thinks it should be a misdemeanor for a first offense, and that the harshest sentence for a repeat offender should be home confinement.  Those positions were once far outside the Democratic Party mainstream, but it’s difficult for Ojeda’s opponents to characterize him as a liberal who is soft on crime when he served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Ojeda ran for a West Virginia state Senate seat against a longtime incumbent Democrat and won the primary by 2,000 votes.  In his opening act as a freshman legislator, Ojeda sponsored a medical marijuana bill and quarterbacked it through both chambers, making West Virginia the 29th state to legalize it.  This was a stunning turn of events, even for marijuana advocacy groups, who had spent no money to support Ojeda’s effort. “There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine.  “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”...

These red-state Democrats have found strong footing on a position to the left of their party’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be working for them. None of them seem shaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement he would end the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that had legalized it. Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine: “I think we are on the verge of eventually voting in favor of marijuana [at the national level],”

February 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Is marijuana legalization really just "another Jim Crow law"?

RonriceThe notable question in the title of this post is prompted by the last sentence of this notable recent commentary, headlined "Marijuana Legalization Is Not the Answer to the Injustices of the War on Drugs," authored by New Jersey State Senator Ronald L. Rice. Here is the bulk of the piece (with one particular line stressed for follow-up commentary):

In 1982 President Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs. He promised to fund a major campaign against drugs and to develop a plan to carry out his war.  Reagan’s declaration followed that of President Richard Nixon, whose effort to vilify people of color and tear apart their communities began when he used those same words in 1971.  The ‘war on drugs’ theme of these administrations was the political rhetoric that ultimately became the statutory and legislative foundation over the years for the United States’ domestic policy.

The campaigns launched by these administrations were designed to change the public’s perception of the use of drugs. They were intended to demonstrate that the administrations of Nixon and Reagan were concerned about public safety, crime prevention and victims of crime.  As a result, African-Americans and Latinos became the target.  And the public perception became that these groups were responsible for the immoral habits, practices and crime such as drug use, possession, sales, prostitution, and bad conduct in general.

The war on drugs was a racially divisive campaign that put countless numbers of black people behind bars, became a political tool for the government and a money-making venture for too many in America. African-American communities to this day suffer from discriminatory practice of mass incarceration of black people.  The use and violation of drug laws by whites and blacks are reasonably proportionate; however, the enforcement effort disproportionately affects minorities.

In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union found that in New Jersey, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate of whites, despite similar usage rates. There is also disparity in sentencing, with blacks often receiving longer and more severe sentencing, for the same type and similarly-situated crimes.

In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado, black people are still arrested at a rate of nearly three times greater than whites for a violation of marijuana laws. There are more children being exposed with calls to poison control centers increasing, nearly half of the cases a result of a child ingesting an edible product. There are more babies born with THC in their system due to the mother’s use of marijuana than there were prior to legalization of recreational marijuana, and much we don’t know about the extent of harm this could cause.  And there is a lot of money being made by business people and investors, who are largely white, at the expense of people of color. Their profits are also coming at the expense of newborn babies, children and the poor....

Legalizing recreational marijuana would without a doubt produce in New Jersey’s urban communities, more so than any other community, unintended consequences.  It would continue the problems we are seeing now, such as racial profiling and disparity in arrests and incarceration.  It would mean increased homelessness and undoubtedly it would mean increased crime.  It would only compound the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is not the answer to the injustice, disparity issues and the discriminatory arrests of people of color.   We can begin the process of righting the wrong by passing legislation that will decriminalize marijuana use and possession, releasing people from jails and prisons who are incarcerated for use and possession of marijuana, and by expunging their records.

This we can do without passing another Jim Crow law that disproportionately harms people who historically have seen the most suffering as a result of the War on Drugs.

I have reprinted much of this commentary because I consider Senator Rice's perspective very interesting, important and debatable, particularly in light of the fact that many advocates for marijuana reform believe marijuana reforma can and will help ameliorate "the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs."

If Senator Rice were only to state that legalization and commercialization of marijuana has not yet sufficiently remedied drug-war inequities and that reform efforts must make such remediation a priority concern, this commentary would likely be widely embraced by many marijuana reform advocates.  But the assertion that legalization and commercialization of marijuana "would only compound the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs" is a more forceful claim that does not seem supported by existing data (e.g., such as this report indicating more minority marijuana executives than minority executives in other industries).  Nevertheless, it is both interesting and valuable to hear from a legislator clearly concerned about the racialized reality of the drug war who is also clearly concerned about racialized realities an impact of marijuana reform efforts.

January 23, 2018 in Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Interesting new data on the latest economics of marijuana reform politics

636518826214405336-Contributions-OnlineUSA Today has this interesting new article with interesting new data under the headline "Marijuana money increasingly flowing to Republican lawmakers." Here are excerpts:

Marijuana business owners are increasingly pouring their profits into lobbying lawmakers as they face a federal crackdown from the Trump administration.

A USA TODAY survey found hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing from the cannabis industry into campaign finance accounts of both lawmakers and political action committees, with emphasis this year on Congressional Republicans who are trying to stop the Trump administration from targeting marijuana businesses.

Combined, medical and recreational marijuana marketplaces across the country are worth a staggering $8 billion, and last year generated at least $2 billion in taxes, said Matt Karnes of cannabis data firm GreenWave Advisors. It’s no surprise those businesses want to protect what they’ve built, experts say.  “These are legitimate, taxpaying businesses that want and deserve to be heard, and lawmakers at every level of government have become more comfortable with accepting their contributions,” said Mason Tvert, a cannabis activist who helped lead Colorado’s legalization effort in 2012.

Politicians are increasingly willing to accept those contributions from an industry that remains illegal at the federal level and now faces even more scrutiny after Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month rolled back Obama administration policies not to interfere with state laws allowing people to use recreational marijuana....

Money is also flowing at the state level, where legislators and regulators decide on details about packaging, testing and even who can get business licenses. Legalization ballot initiatives across the country have also been backed by millions of dollars, particularly in California.

Cannabis lobbying groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), have long lobbied lawmakers, but now marijuana business owners themselves are contributing — and letting everyone know it.

John Lord, the CEO of Colorado-based LivWell Enlightened Health, whose company employs more than 600 people, has donated nearly $23,000 to federal lawmakers in the past four years, and another $10,000 to Colorado politicians and issue committees. Increasingly he’s been giving to Republicans at the federal level. "It would be rather imprudent if I didn’t,” Lord said.

Lord's donations make him one of the biggest individual donors in cannabis campaign contributions nationally, at least among those who admit where the money comes from. While campaign donors are supposed to disclose their employer, many black-market marijuana growers simply say they're self-employed or a consultant, obscuring the source of the money.

Democrats have typically been the largest recipients of marijuana campaign money in the past, but Republicans are now taking the lead in accepting those donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzed contributions at the request of USA TODAY. Experts say the recent shift is largely attributable to the belief by marijuana businesses that Republicans who support states' rights are their best allies today.

Because marijuana contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign donations and lobbying spending, it's hard to track exactly how much money is flowing to candidates.

Industry groups with political action committees are the biggest donors, among them the MPP, NORML and the National Cannabis Industry Association, which combined have donated about $327,000 to candidates over the past three Congressional election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, the National Beer Wholesalers Association donated about $1.5 million to candidates in the past year alone.

While the marijuana contributions represent a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to traditional businesses like brewers, grocers, manufacturers or liquor stores, the increasing flow from cannabis entrepreneurs suggests the industry won’t willingly let the federal government slow this fast-growing juggernaut.

January 21, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Vermont legislature brings state to cusp of being first to legalize marijuana through standard legislation

As reported in this AP article, "the Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow the recreational use of marijuana, putting Vermont on course to become the first state in the country to legalize pot via legislative act rather than through a citizen referendum." Here is more:

By voice vote, the Senate agreed to the proposal that would make it legal for adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana but does not set up a system to tax and regulate the production and sale of the drug.  The state House approved the bill last week, and Gov. Phil Scott has indicated he would sign it....

The bill would allow adults older than 21 to possess of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and have two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants in each dwelling unit no matter how many people live there.  State senators who voted against the legislation did not ask for a roll call. The law would take effect July 1.

GOP Sen. Randy Brock of Franklin, Vt., who recently was appointed to fill a vacancy, said he voted against the bill after hearing opposition from educators, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and his constituents. He also was concerned that legalization would conflict with federal law.  "This is a federal question," Brock said. "It needs to be decided federally."

If Scott signs the bill, Vermont will join eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Washington — and the District of Columbia where possession of small amounts of marijuana are legal for recreational use.

In spring 2016, Vermont's Legislature passed a similar bill, but Scott vetoed it because the Republican thought it didn't do enough to protect children from marijuana and ensure highway safety.  Lawmakers changed the proposal to address the governor's concerns didn't have enough time to pass it during a short veto session in June.

While this bill does not contain a mechanism to tax and regulate marijuana, as some states do, lawmakers who favor legalization hope the bill will prompt the Legislature to do that later. The District of Columbia's pot initiative also does not have a mechanism for sales, regulation and taxation.  "I hope this step leads us to tax and regulate," said Vermont state Sen. Richard Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The expected based on developments last year, this is still very big and important news and arguably start yet another new chapter in the history of marijuana reform. Whether and how the state considers moving forward with a commercial sale regime or sits tight with just legalization is one of many interesting next questions for the state.

January 10, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Unsurprisingly, Colorado congressional contingent contesting AG Sessions' decision to rescind Cole Memo

Images (5)Two new article from the Denver Post detail the various steps being taken by various members of Congress from Colorado in response to Attorney General Sessions' recent decision to rescind the Cole Memo (basics here and here).  Here are links to the stories and their leads:

"Colorado Congress members send letter to Sessions, urging reinstatement of Cole Memo: Democratic representatives Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman signed the letter"

Colorado congressional legislators fired off a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking that he reconsider last week’s rescission of the Cole Memo and related marijuana guidance. Democratic representatives Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman signed the letter to Sessions.  In it, they “strongly urge” the Department of Justice to reinstate the Cole Memo in order to ensure the Justice Department “is acting to uphold the will of Colorado voters and the rights of the states to regulate intrastate commerce.” 

"Colorado Rep. DeGette convenes delegation to respond to Sessions, discuss federal marijuana protections"

Colorado’s congressional delegation convened an emergency meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to shore up protections for state-legal marijuana operations and, in turn, states’ rights. In the meeting, members advanced plans for federal marijuana protections and honed near- and long-term strategies to counter U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescission of the 2013 Cole Memo.

"Cory Gardner to meet with Jeff Sessions after doubling down on threats over marijuana enforcement change: Wednesday’s meeting follows threats Gardner made last week"

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said he plans to press Attorney General Jeff Sessions on federal marijuana policy when the two Republicans meet Wednesday.

In an interview, the Republican from Colorado emphasized that he is prepared, if he doesn’t get his way, to block all nominees related to the Department of Justice, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys from other states.  The comments build on threats that Gardner made last week after a decision by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that left alone Colorado and other states that legalized marijuana in spite of federal laws against it.

“It’s my job to protect those states’ rights and states’ decisions,” Gardner said. “I would anticipate it being (Justice) officials.  I would anticipate it being U.S. marshals (and) U.S. attorneys.  But the bottom line is (that) this can be solved by the Department of Justice.”

I will be very interested to see and hear what becomes of Senator Gardner's meeting with AG Sessions.  I am certain the Trump Administration and AG Sessions in particular would not like to see all DOJ nominations blocked as the Senator has been threatening.  But I am also certain AG Sessions in particular would not be too keen on affording Senator Gardner a kind of "heckler's veto" over federal prosecutorial policies. Stay tuned.

Prior related posts:

January 9, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Pew reporting its latest marijuana poll numbers showing its highest support for full legalization

FT_16.10.11_marijuanaLegal_trendThis new posting from the Pew Research Center, headlined "About six-in-ten Americans support marijuana legalization," provides this accounting of the latest survey (done back in October) on public opinion on marijuana reform:

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say the use of marijuana should be legalized, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The survey, conducted in October, finds that the share of U.S. adults who support marijuana legalization is little changed from about a year ago – when 57% favored it – but it is nearly double what it was in 2000 (31%).

As in the past, there are wide generational and partisan differences in views of marijuana legalization. Majorities of Millennials (70%), Gen Xers (66%) and Baby Boomers (56%) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Only among the Silent Generation does a greater share oppose (58%) than favor (35%) marijuana legalization.

Nearly seven-in-ten Democrats say marijuana use should be legal, as do 65% of independents. By contrast, just 43% of Republicans favor marijuana legalization, while 55% are opposed.

While both parties are divided along age lines in views of marijuana legalization, the differences are especially stark among Republicans.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, those younger than 40 favor legalizing marijuana use, 62% to 38%. Republicans ages 40 to 64 are divided (48% say it should be legal, 49% illegal), while those 65 and older oppose marijuana legalization by more than two-to-one (67% to 30%).

Sizable majorities of Democrats and Democratic leaners younger than 40 (79%) and 40 to 64 (70%) favor marijuana legalization. Older Democrats – those 65 and older – are more divided (50% favor legalization, 42% oppose it).

I have highlighted a few key demographic data points that strikes me as especially important politically now that Attorney General Sessions has rescinded the Cole Memo and essentially delegated federal enforcement priorities to individual US Attorneys. Any and every politician (or US Attorney) thinking about long-term political popularity must realize that young cohorts of voters in both parties are pretty strongly in favor of marijuana legalization. Acting as or even appearing supportive of any ardent foe of marijuana reform appears, based on this polling, carry some real political risks that seem likely to grow over time.

January 5, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d2812d0c970c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new report from Tom Angell under the headline "Will Legalize Marijuana In Early January, House Speaker Says." Here are the details:

A top Vermont lawmaker says the state could become the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.  “It will be up for a vote in early January,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said on Friday. “I expect that it likely will pass in early January.”

In 2017, the state fell just short of enacting legalization. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support.  The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.

Because the legislature operates on a biennial basis, the bill is still alive, and the House just needs to take one more vote to get the bill onto the governor’s desk.  Last week, Scott said he is “comfortable” signing a marijuana legalization bill into law early next year.

Johnson, in the Friday interview with Vermont Public Radio, said there “hasn’t been a significant shift” in support in the legislature since the momentum for legalization that built up earlier this year. “We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what that bill currently says,” she said....

Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization....

Johnson, in the new interview, said the commission “will provide some suggestions for further action,” such as potentially legalizing and regulating cannabis sales. “We’ll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible,” she said.

I was disappointed by the veto of the marijuana reform bill that Vermont's legislature passed last year in large part because I think it could be extremely valuable, to both policy-makers and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization. Now I am excited anew that this distinctive approach to marijuana legalization may still soon become law in the Green Mountain State.

In the article linked above, Tom Angell notes that marijuana reform advocates have been watching New Jersey closely as a state that might in early 2018 enacted marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative process. For various reasons, I think action in New Jersey becomes even more likely if Vermont becomes the first state to legalize through the usual legislative process.

A few prior related posts from May 2017:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives takes on “The Marijuana Gateway Fallacy”

BC-weed-cover-792x1024Earlier this week, the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz released this notable discussion brief titled, “The Marijuana Gateway Fallacy.” This short report covers a lot of marijuana reform ground outside the arena of "gateway drug" discourse, but here is one passage from the report on that front highlighting that we still hear "gateway" talk from politicians on both sides of the political aisle: 

There are alternative explanations to the gateway hypothesis for why most users of dangerous drugs report the use of marijuana. The Common Liability Model posits that the use of multiple drugs reflects a common risk for drug use, rather than the use of one drug increasing the risk of using other. This may arise from common genetic predispositions, psychosocial factors, drug availability, and opportunity to use. Availability is linked to the age of an individual. Because of the relative ease of obtaining alcohol and marijuana in the home (compared with cocaine and heroin), youth interested in drug experimentation are likely to try these first.

In 2016, the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) — while not fully rejecting the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug—concluded that, given the evidence to date, “further research is needed to explore this question.” Shortly after NIDA released this determination, D.A.R.E. quietly removed marijuana from its publicized list of gateway drugs.

Yet, non-evidence-based political factors on both the left and the right remain the reason for the persistence of the gateway myth. In 2015, Chris Christie, New Jersey Governor and former Republican presidential candidate is quoted as saying, “Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country, and we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement.”

In Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, both Democrats, and Republican Governor Charlie Baker formed a coalition opposing legalization of recreational marijuana. Mayor Walsh said “You’ll hear the other side say that marijuana is not a gateway drug. If you know anyone in the recovery community, talk to them… You’ll hear that most of them, many of them started with marijuana.” Speaker DeLeo added that it would be hypocritical to support legalization of marijuana while fighting the opioid abuse epidemic. When talking about legalization of the medical use of marijuana in Florida, her state, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said about marijuana policy: “I just don’t think we should legalize more mind altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs.”

September 8, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Can marijuana rescue coal country?"

JO-welcome-WV-02The title of this post is the headline of this extended Washington Post magazine article exploring whether marijuana reform could help address some of the woes to be found in Wast Virginia.  Here are excerpts:

One of the leading proponents of loosening restrictions on marijuana in West Virginia is Democratic state Del. Mike Pushkin, who represents parts of Charleston and its surrounding areas. Pushkin is an unconventional pol — a cabdriver and folk musician who has spoken about his own struggles with addiction. He once told the Charleston Gazette-Mail how he spent 11 years living from crisis to crisis. “I’m sure there were times that my mother would have thought it more likely she would be attending my funeral than she would be attending my swearing-in at the Capitol,” he said.

It took a spiritual awakening to get his addiction under control. To stay sober, he told me, he volunteers at detox facilities and talks to addicts in area jails. This experience informs his policy positions. He’s sure West Virginia can’t arrest its way out of this drug crisis. And he has pushed his colleagues to consider marijuana in a new light. “While marijuana is described as a gateway drug, that’s not proven,” he says. “What is proven is that a lot of people who are prescribed painkillers get hooked on heroin.”...

In May 2016, Pushkin introduced a bill in the West Virginia House of Delegates to let adults grow, use and possess a limited quantity of marijuana, provided that they paid a one-time fee of $500. That month, he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that he didn’t have high hopes for its passage. He was right: It wasn’t even debated in a committee. But it did spark media attention and prompted an eye-opening brief from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, which showed that a marijuana tax could be a boon for the state, generating as much as $194 million annually if the drug were legal for adult use. That would be enough to eliminate West Virginia’s projected deficit and create a $183 million surplus, a dramatic improvement in a place that’s been slashing everything from higher education to Medicaid as it tries to stay afloat.

Indeed, Pushkin’s argument for marijuana legalization had a strong economic component. “They’re not having the types of budget issues in Colorado that we’re having here,” he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In Colorado, where pot is now fully legalized, the industry created 18,000 full-time jobs in 2015 alone. New Frontier Data, a financial consultancy in Washington, estimates that by 2020 the marijuana industry will create upward of a quarter of a million jobs in the United States, more than manufacturing is expected to create.

It’s hard to imagine anywhere that could use these jobs more than West Virginia. Since the 1980s, both coal and manufacturing in the Mountain State have been in a steep decline. As these industries have dried up, so have others that rely on them — such as freight rail, which has cut jobs by the thousands and begun pulling up tracks.

August 11, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Will Utah be among the states voting directly on marijuana reform in 2018?

Logo_Final-copy_200I already have my eye upon states like Arizona and Michigan for potential notable marijuana initiative votes in 2018.   And this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana advocates within weeks of filing ballot initiative," suggests Utah is another state worth watching.  Here are the basics:

For years now, the Utah Legislature has labored over the question of whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.  In 2014, the Legislature chose to legalize a marijuana extract for use in controlling epileptic seizures.

In 2016, two laws which would have legalized medical marijuana — to differing extents — both passed through the Utah Senate, but never reached a vote in the House of Representatives.  And in the 2017 session, the only marijuana legislation passed allowed only for studies to take place, which could take years to yield results.

Despite the Legislature’s hesitancy to act on medical marijuana legalization, Utahns may have the chance to vote on the issue directly in the form of a ballot initiative in 2018.  “Having tried multiple times to persuade the legislature to help these people and facing significant resistance, we think it’s best now to give the public a chance to decide for themselves,” said Connor Boyack, who is acting as a consultant for the ballot initiative.  Boyack has previously advocated for medical marijuana in his role as the president of Libertas Institute, a Libertarian think tank....

It’s an extensive process to put an issue on the ballot.  First, the language of the legislation must be written and an application turned into the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.  The language of the medical marijuana initiative is almost complete, Boyack said, and is based off of language from one of the bills that failed in the Legislature in 2016.  Senate Bill 73, sponsored by then-Sen. Mark Madsen of Saratoga Springs, was used as a baseline for the language of the ballot initiative, Boyack said, with just a few tweaks.  For instance, autism was added to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana could be used....

According to state law, to get an initiative on the ballot, signatures must be gathered that total 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last presidential election.  Since Utahns cast approximately 1.13 million votes in the 2016 presidential election, it would take just over 113,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot.  It’s not as simple as just collecting the 113,000 signatures.  They have to be spread out semi-evenly over the many senate districts in the state....

Boyack said they already have much of the financial backing that will be needed to pay professionals to gather signatures. “We’ve got some very strong commitments,” Boyack said. “We’re following up to get checks written.” He said he’s confident that they’ll get the $2 million needed to pay for signature gathering and promotional media.  “There are a lot of individuals who are very upset with the Legislature for having the chance to help people, then punting,” Boyack said....

Even if the necessary signatures are collected, Utah voters would still have to choose to pass the initiative. Organizations like the Utah Medical Association have consistently opposed legalizing cannabis as medicine before it has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration.  Even the prominent and influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weighed in on the issue in 2016, specifically favoring one medical marijuana bill over another more comprehensive one.  Boyack says he believes the odds of passage are good — polls show that people want medical marijuana to be legal, he said.

June 19, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

Images (3)As reported in this local article, "Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in Vermont."  Here is more:

At a highly anticipated press conference in his Montpelier office, the Republican governor said he could not sign S.22, which passed the Vermont House and Senate in the waning days of the recently concluded legislative session. But Scott said he was open to revisiting the debate with legislators — perhaps as soon as an expected veto session next month.

Vermont’s Democratic legislature is unlikely to override Scott’s veto, given that the bill squeaked through the House two weeks ago on a 79-66 vote.

The legislation would have allowed adults over age 21 to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow as many as two mature plants per household, starting in July 2018. Similar to Washington, D.C.’s marijuana law, it would not have allowed for sale or commercial growing of the drug. The bill would also have created a commission to study how Vermont could tax and regulate marijuana sales, as Colorado and several other states have done.

The governor has said he does not consider marijuana legalization a priority and has concerns about the lack a roadside test to detect driver impairment.

Had Scott signed the bill, Vermont would have been the first state to legalize marijuana through legislative action rather by public referendum.

Prior related post:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

UPDATE:   I have now had a chance to read Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's remarks explaining his veto, and they are available at this link.  Here are some of the interesting particulars:

I have been clear since the campaign and throughout the session: I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction. However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.

We must get this right. Let the science inform any policy we make around this issue, learn from the experience of other states, and take whatever time is required to do so. In my view, policymakers have an obligation to all Vermonters – and those who visit us – to address health, safety, prevention and education questions before committing the state to a specific timeline for moving forward.

More specifically – as I have said repeatedly throughout the campaign and this session – we should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our roadways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.

From my vantage point, S.22 does not yet adequately address these questions. Therefore, I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market.

I’ll be providing the Legislature with recommended changes. And to be clear, if they are willing to work with me to address my concerns in a new bill passed during the veto session this summer, there is a path forward on this issue.

Those recommendations include the following:

First, in its attempt to equate marijuana with alcohol. This bill appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors. Sections of this bill must be rewritten to make clear that existing penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors and on school grounds remain unchanged.

Weakening these protections and penalties should be totally unacceptable to even the most ardent legalization advocates.

Second, I am asking for changes to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors....

Third, the Marijuana Regulatory Commission section must be enhanced in order to be taken seriously. It must include a broader membership, including representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, and the substance abuse prevention and treatment community.  The Commission must be charged with determining outcomes, such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle; an impairment testing mechanism; an education and prevention strategy to address use by minors; and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health.

May 24, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Latest polling shows new high for support of marijuana legalization

Support-mj-pollThis new CBS News item, headlined "Support for marijuana legalization at all-time high," reports on a notable new CBS News poll about marijuana policy and reform.  Here are some details:

Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll.  Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.

Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs.  And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.

More generally on the topic of drug abuse, 69 percent think that should be treated as an addiction and mental health problem rather than a criminal offense.

The belief that pot should be legal has reached a new high in CBS News polls. Sixty-one percent of Americans now say the it should be, a five-point increase from a year ago. This sentiment has increased each year we’ve measured it since 2013, with the turning point to majority support coming in 2014. Back in 1979, this poll found just 27 percent saying it should be legal.

Those over 65 are the most opposed to legalization, but most under age 65 support it. And women are now as much in favor of legal marijuana as men are; in previous years they were less so.

Many states have legalized pot in some form, and most Americans don’t think the federal government should try to stop its sale and use in those states. Even among those who think marijuana should be illegal, only half think the federal government should get involved with the states.  This sentiment cuts across party lines: Majorities of Republicans (63 percent), Democrats (76 percent), and independents (72 percent) oppose the federal government trying to stop marijuana use in these states.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asserted a connection between marijuana and violent crime, but few Americans see it that way: just 23 percent think legalizing pot increases violent crime, while nearly as many think legal marijuana decreases it.

Generally, most Americans think habitual drug use should be treated as an addiction problem rather than a criminal offense.  Even most Americans who oppose legalizing marijuana think so. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all agree. Most Americans view marijuana in particular as safer than alcohol....

Support for legalization has risen among all age groups – particularly those under 55.  Americans under 35 show the strongest support.  Three in four adults between 18 and 34 support legal marijuana use, as do six in 10 Americans between 35 and 64.  Seniors remain the one age group for whom a majority still think marijuana use should be against the law.

I think especially interesting and notable are the breakdown in these numbers by party affiliation detailed here. Specifically, I find it quite interesting that, according to this poll, Republicans disfavor marijuana legalization by a slight margin (49% to 46%), they still overwhelming support medical marijuana access (87% to 11%) and significantly oppose the federal government taking action to stop marijuana sales in legalization states (63% to 33%). These numbers suggest that any strong Trump Administration push against state legalization efforts will likely engender some backlash among supporters as well as opponents of the President.

April 20, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

More notable comments about marijuana and federal enforcement from AG Sessions in new speech and Q&A

Jeff-sessions-attorney-general-630x354Over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog, I have this new post highlights various aspects of  this extended speech delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions today in Richmond, Virginia.  Though covering various topics, these passages from the speech are sure to intrigue those following marijuana law, policy and reform:  

Our nation is in the throes of a heroin and opioid epidemic. Overdose deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014. According to the CDC, about 140 Americans on average now die from a drug overdose each day. That means every three weeks, we are losing as many American lives to drug overdoses as we lost in the 9/11 attacks. Illegal drugs are flooding across our southern border and into cities across our country, bringing violence, addiction, and misery. We have also seen an increase in the trafficking of new, low-cost heroin by Mexican drug cartels working with local street gangs. As the market for this heroin expands, gangs fight for territory and new customers and neighborhoods are caught in the crossfire.

There are three main ways to fight the scourge of drugs: criminal enforcement, treatment and prevention. Criminal enforcement is essential to stop both the transnational cartels that ship drugs into our country, and the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their product. One of the President’s executive orders directed the Justice Department to dismantle these organizations and gangs — and we will do just that.

Treatment programs are also vital.  But treatment often comes too late to save people from addiction or death. So we need to focus on the third way we can fight drug use: preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place.

I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable.  I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

In the ’80s and ’90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction.  We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.

In addition to these prepared remarks, AG Sessions also apparently had some interesting things to say during a Q&A after his speech.  Tom Angell, in this new MassRoots posting, provides this report:

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is indicating that he might keep Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidelines in place, perhaps with some modifications. "The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama's Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid," he said in a question-and-answer session with reporters following a speech in Richmond, Virginia.

That memo, adopted in 2013, lays out guidelines for how states can avoid federal interference with their marijuana laws.

Sessions added that he "may have some different ideas myself in addition to that" but indicated that the federal government would not be able to enforce its remaining marijuana prohibition across the board in states with legalization. "Essentially we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades," he said.

The attorney general also addressed medical cannabis, suggesting that it "has been hyped, maybe too much."

"It's possible that some dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial," he said. "But if you ever just smoke marijuana for example where you have no idea how much THC you're getting it's probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So, forgive me if I'm a bit dubious about that."

March 15, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pennsylvania's Auditor General suggests marijuana legalization could help state close budget deficit

Regulating Marijuana FINALA notable bean-counter is making a notable case for marijuana reform in the Keystone State. This official press release, headlined "Auditor General DePasquale Recommends Regulating, Taxing Marijuana as Right Move to Help Deal with Critical Issues: Result would bring in revenue, create jobs, reduce corrections costs," explains:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said today Pennsylvania should strongly consider regulating and taxing marijuana to benefit from a booming industry expected to be worth $20 billion and employ more than 280,000 in the next decade. “The regulation and taxation of the marijuana train has rumbled out of the station, and it is time to add a stop in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said during a news conference at the state capitol.

“I make this recommendation because it is a more sane policy to deal with a critical issue facing the state. Other states are already taking advantage of the opportunity for massive job creation and savings from reduced arrests and criminal prosecutions. In addition, it would generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year that could help tackle Pennsylvania’s budget problems.”...

In 2012, Colorado voters approved legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. Last year, Colorado – which has less than half the population of Pennsylvania – brought in $129 million in tax revenue on $1 billion in marijuana sales from the new industry that had already created an estimated 18,000 jobs. “The revenue that could be generated would help address Pennsylvania’s revenue and spending issue. But there is more to this than simply tax dollars and jobs,” DePasquale said. “There is also social impact, specifically related to arrests, and the personal, emotional, and financial devastation that may result from such arrests.”

In Colorado’s experience, after regulation and taxation of marijuana, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by nearly half between 2012 and 2014, from nearly 13,000 arrests to 7,000 arrests. Marijuana possession arrests, which make up the majority of all marijuana arrests, were nearly cut in half, down 47 percent, and marijuana sales arrests decreased by 24 percent. “All told, this decrease in arrest numbers represent thousands of people who would otherwise have blemished records that could prevent them from obtaining future employment or even housing,” DePasquale said. “Decriminalization also generates millions in savings from fewer arrests and prosecutions.”

DePasquale said Pennsylvania has already benefited by some cities decriminalizing marijuana. In Philadelphia, marijuana arrests went from 2,843 in 2014 to 969 in 2016. Based on a recent study, the RAND Corporation estimated the cost for each marijuana arrest and prosecution is approximately $2,200. Using those figures, that’s a savings of more than $4.1 million in one Pennsylvania city. Last year, York, Dauphin, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties each had more arrests for small amounts of marijuana than Philadelphia. Those counties had between 800 and 1,400 arrests in 2015.

“Obviously, regulation and taxation of marijuana is not something that should be entered into lightly,” DePasquale said. “Should Pennsylvania join the growing number of states benefiting financially and socially from the taxation and regulation of marijuana; there are many things to consider, including details about age limits, regulatory oversight, licensing, grow policies, sale and use locations, and possession limitations.

“As I said earlier, the train has indeed left the station on the regulation and taxation of marijuana,” DePasquale said. “It is time for this commonwealth to seriously consider this opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.”

March 6, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

California folks gearing up for possible fight with feds over marijuana law and policy

DownloadThis new lengthy Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California officials and the marijuana industry are ready to fight a federal crackdown," reports on what folks on the Left Coast are thinking and saying in the wake of  the recent comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggesting the Trump Administration might be ramping up federal enforcement of blanket marijuana prohibition.  Here are excerpts:

Warned of a possible federal crackdown on marijuana, California elected officials and cannabis industry leaders said Friday they were preparing for a potential showdown in the courts and Congress to protect the legalization measure approved by state voters in November.

The flashpoint that set off a scramble in California was a news conference Thursday at which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration had no plans to continue the Obama administration's permissive approach in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement,” he said, adding that the administration would continue to allow states to regulate the sale of marijuana for medical use.

The latest development could force California officials and marijuana industry leaders into an unusual alliance against the federal government, with billions of dollars in profits for businesses and taxes for state coffers at stake.

The state agency responsible for drafting regulations said Friday it was going ahead with its plans to start issuing licenses to growers and sellers in January. “Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it’s full speed ahead for us,” said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra says he is ready to safeguard the rights of the 56% of voters who approved Proposition 64, which allows California adults to possess, transport and buy up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. “I took an oath to enforce the laws that California has passed,” Becerra said in a statement Thursday after Spicer’s comments. “If there is action from the federal government on this subject, I will respond in an appropriate way to protect the interests of California.”

State lawmakers also say California should do what it can to preserve Proposition 64. “We will support and honor the laws that California voters have democratically enacted,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), an author of legislation creating the licensing system for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Becerra would likely be joined in any defense of the state’s marijuana policy by attorneys general in other parts of the country. Recreational use has also been legalized in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, home to a combined 68 million Americans.

Washington Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, who has worked with Becerra on opposing President Trump’s travel ban, said he and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last week asked for a meeting with U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to discuss how the recreational marijuana use system is working in their state.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading supporter of Proposition 64, took a similar approach, sending a letter Friday to Trump urging him not to carry through with threats to launch a federal enforcement effort. “I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other … states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws that protect the public and our children, while targeting the bad actors,” the Democrat wrote.

If the Justice Department starts arresting licensed marijuana sellers, the multibillion-dollar industry would join forces with the states that issue permits to challenge the action in court, said Amy Margolis, an attorney whose law firm has more than 200 clients in the marijuana industry, including businesses in California. “This industry is so mature and it’s so far along that I have no doubt that if the Department of Justice started true enforcement actions against cannabis businesses, that they would go to court,” Margolis said. “I see joint actions between the states and the industry hoping to prevent those type of actions.”

Margolis would argue that it is a states’ rights issue. “The argument would be that this is a situation where the states have the right to regulate and tax an industry the way they want,” she said, adding that states are gaining tax revenue to pay for government programs....

However, the states may find their hands tied legally if they try to keep federal agents from raiding and shutting down marijuana growing and sales operations, according to Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law. “I imagine that California will mount a legal challenge to any crackdown on recreational marijuana,” Winkler said. “Yet there is not much California can do. Federal law is supreme over conflicting state law. Federal agents are entitled to enforce federal law anywhere in the country, including California.” He said there are limits to federal power, but the courts have held that the federal government does have the authority to enforce federal drug laws.

Aaron Herzberg, an attorney for the industry, agreed that the state would face a tough fight. He cited the 2005 case Gonzales vs. Raich, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown marijuana even if states approve its use for medical purposes. “Let's face it: If the federal government wants to shut down recreational marijuana they could quite easily accomplish it using federal law enforcement and taxation tools,” Herzberg said.

Others say one basis for legal action would be an argument that enforcing laws against marijuana would damage states that have put regulations in place and are depending on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to pay for government programs. States are too far down the path of regulating, licensing and taxing those who are making big investments in the sanctioned marijuana industry to pull the rug out now, said Richard Miadich, an attorney who co-wrote Proposition 64....

Because Spicer did not provide details on what an enforcement effort might look like, many in the industry hope it will focus on the illegal exporting of marijuana to other states, leaving alone state-licensed firms that grow and sell pot. “The biggest crackdown we may see is on the increase of cannabis being illegally exported out of recreational states,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn.

Prior related post:

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

February 25, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New poll shows strong and growing support for marijuana reform in the Lone Star State

TT-UT_polls_001_jpeg_800x1000_q100As reported in this local article, "opposition to legal marijuana is dropping in Texas, with fewer than one in five respondents to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll saying they are against legalization in any form."  Here is more on these poll results:

“We’ve seen this movie before on a couple of social issues,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. He thinks the changes in Texas have more to do with shifting attitudes than with news of legalization in other states. “There’s a little bit of normalization. I don’t think this is a states-as-laboratories issue. Voters don’t care about that kind of stuff.”

Overall, 83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use; 53 percent would go beyond legal medical marijuana to allow possession for any use, the poll found. Two years ago, 24 percent of Texans said no amount of marijuana should be legal for any use and another 34 percent said it should be allowed only for medical use.

Legal pot is more popular with Democrats than Republicans, with men than with women, and with younger Texans more than older ones. All of those subgroups support legalization of marijuana for medical or nonmedical use. Among Democrats, 62 percent would legalize pot in some amount for nonmedical use, while only 41 percent of Republicans agreed. Sixty percent of men would support legalization of non-medical marijuana, compared with 48 percent of women. Among 18-44 year olds, 55 percent would approve of non-medical marijuana and 51 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds agreed. But only 38 percent of Texans 65 and older agreed.

“The number of people who want to keep marijuana completely illegal decreased by seven points,” said poll co-director Jim Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “The commensurate shift is in Republicans saying small amounts should be legal, and those who said any amount should be legal increased by six points."

February 21, 2017 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

New Textbook on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority

I’m happy to announce that my first-of-its-kind textbook on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority will soon be published by Aspen. It will be out in April (in e form) and May (in print). The teacher’s manual and a companion website will be available soon thereafter. Many thanks to Doug and others who have provided helpful feedback on this book over the last 2.5 years!

The book covers a lot of ground, befitting a field that implicates so many different areas of law. The first chapter of the book is now available on SSRN. That chapter provides more details about the book’s coverage and approach, and it also explains why this is such an interesting and worthwhile area of law to study – and not just for those who are interested in practicing in this burgeoning field.

Not coincidentally, I will be posting more this month (both here and at Prawfsblawg) on topics drawn from the book. My first post at Prawfsblawg briefly laid out the case for teaching and writing about marijuana law. Even though most people who read this blog are already sold on the subject, I’ll copy the relevant passage here:

“For one thing, state marijuana reforms and the federal response to them have sparked some of the most challenging and interesting legal controversies of our day. May the states legalize a drug while Congress forbids it? Even so, are state regulations governing marijuana preempted by federal law? Does anyone (besides the DOJ) have a cause of action to challenge them as such? Can the President suspend enforcement of the federal ban? Do state restrictions on marijuana industry advertising violate the First Amendment? These are just a handful of the intriguing questions that are now being confronted in this field.

Just as importantly, there is a large and growing number of people who care about the answers to such questions. Forty-three (43) states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession and use of some form of marijuana by at least some people. These reforms – not to mention the prohibitions that remain in place at the federal level – affect a staggering number of people. Roughly 40% of adults in the U.S. have tried marijuana, and more than 22 million people use the drug regularly. To supply this demand, thousands of people are growing and selling marijuana. In Colorado alone, for example, there are more than 600 state licensed marijuana suppliers. There are also countless third parties who regularly deal with these users and suppliers, including physicians who recommend marijuana to patients, banks that provide payment services to the marijuana industry, firms that employ marijuana users, and lawyers who advise all of the above.

All of these people need help navigating a thicket of complicated and oftentimes conflicting laws governing marijuana. Colorado, for example, has promulgated more than 200 pages of regulations to govern its $1 billion a year licensed marijuana industry. Among many other things, Colorado’s regulations require suppliers to carefully track their inventories, test and label their products, and limit where and how they advertise. These regulations are complicated enough but doubts about their enforceability (highlighted in the questions above) only add to the confusion and the need for informed legal advice.”

In the coming weeks, I will blog about some of the questions noted above. In the meantime, if you are interested in teaching a course or a unit on any aspect of marijuana law, contact me – robert<dot>mikos<at>vanderbilt<dot>edu -- I would be happy to chat.

February 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Books, Business laws and regulatory issues, Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Spotlighting the (inevitable?) mixture of marijuana, regulators, money and lobbying

The Hill has this notable lengthy article, headlined "Marijuana lobby goes mainstream," highlighting the . Here are excerpts:

In a sign that the budding marijuana industry is moving away from the fringes and into the political mainstream, into the political mainstream, a number of officials once tasked with managing the growing legal cannabis sector are leaving their government positions to take jobs in the sector.

Many are advising states and cities as voters loosen marijuana restrictions across the country. Others are becoming industry advocates, lobbying the former colleagues and coworkers they left behind to craft more favorable rules and regulations.

In Colorado, Andrew Freedman, once the state’s director of marijuana coordination, and Lewis Koski, who headed the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, teamed up to form a consulting firm that advises local and state governments on crafting new marijuana regulations. Laura Harris, Koski’s predecessor at the Marijuana Enforcement Division, took a post this month as director of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

Manny Munson-Regala, who oversaw Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, now runs a consulting firm of his own. John O’Brien resigned his post overseeing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to take a job as chief compliance officer of a New York cannabis company. And several former top officials at Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board have left in recent years to form their own firms.

“That’s how America works. You work for the government, then you become a lobbyist,” said Ian Eisenberg, a leader in the legal marijuana industry who runs Uncle Ike’s, a dispensary in Seattle, Wash. “I don’t think it’s any different than the defense industry.”

Those who have made the jump from the government sector to the private sector say they offer a valuable service, both to governments that need to establish new rules and to the businesses that need to navigate complex regulatory schemes that have never been implemented before. “We’re the only ones to have stood this up before,” said Freedman, who now consults with governments looking to set up their regulatory structures. “There’s a real opportunity to come in and show lessons learned quickly.”...

But opponents of legalized pot, and some government transparency groups, say the relationship between the marijuana industry and its regulators should be treated like any other. “The revolving door from government to private sector isn’t anything new, but it represents the worst of our politics. This isn’t the paper clip or oven mitt lobby, this is the drug lobby,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. And we know that the pot lobby wants to make money, just like big tobacco executives do.”

Aaron Scherb, legislative affairs director at the government transparency group Common Cause, said states should implement a cooling-off period between the time when a regulator leaves government service and when he or she begins working on behalf of the industry. “These individuals are the most familiar with the rules and regulations of a particular industry, and their experience means they’re able to exploit loopholes,” Scherb said. “At least some minimal amount of time is appropriate so we can avoid this revolving door problem.”

At least one state, Minnesota, required its regulators to take a year off before returning to work in the field they oversaw. Munson-Regala, the former head of the state’s medical marijuana program, said that reminded him of other industries he helped regulate, like the insurance business. “Embedded in that one-year cooling off period was an understanding that regulators are in a good position to help folks who are being regulated, in part because they understand what it takes to be compliant,” Munson-Regala said in an interview.

The revolving door is just one of the ways an industry that was once seen as the domain of hippies is trying to professionalize. Just a few years ago, proponents of legalizing marijuana brought 1970s-era stoner icon Tommy Chong to Capitol Hill to woo lawmakers. Today, Chong is gone, replaced by a booming industry of cultivators and retailers — and the trade shows, consultants and lobbyists who offer services to boost their business.

On Tuesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association kicked off a two-day Seed to Sale trade show in Denver, focusing on business practices for producers and retailers. The group’s first trade show several years ago attracted 800 participants; this year, they expect 2,000 vendors — and 4,000 to 5,000 at the annual Cannabis Business Summit and Expo, said Taylor West, the group’s deputy director. In November, 10,000 people showed up to another trade show in Las Vegas. “This industry is not slowing down,” West said.

Around the country, hundreds of lobbyists are already bending lawmakers’ ears on marijuana measures. In Colorado alone, 81 lobbyists reported advocating on marijuana proposals before the state legislature, according to data filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

February 2, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bring it, Jeff: why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive

Lead_960The title of this post is my (foolish?) reaction to this notable new Politico magazine article headlined "Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana: There’s little to stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters." Here are excerpts from the start of the article which I follow with a (too brief) explanation for my blunt "bring it" bravado:

By nominating Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for attorney general, President-elect Donald J. Trump is about to put into the nation’s top law enforcement job a man with a long and antagonistic attitude toward marijuana. As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK "were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In April, he said, “Good people don't smoke marijuana,” and that it was a "very real danger" that is “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Sessions, who turns 70 on Christmas Eve, has called marijuana reform a "tragic mistake" and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing a the federal prohibition that President Obama has called “untenable over the long term.”  In a floor speech earlier this year, Senator Sessions said: "You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink… It is different….It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”

Sessions has not shared his plans on marijuana enforcement, but if he chooses, he will be able to act decisively and quickly — more so perhaps than with any other of his top agenda items such as re-doubling efforts to combat illegal immigration and relaxing oversight of local police forces and federal civil rights laws. With little more than the stroke of his own pen, the new attorney general will be able to arrest growers, retailers and users, defying the will of more than half the nation’s voters, including those in his own state who approved the use of CBD. Aggressive enforcement could cause chaos in a $6.7 billion industry that is already attracting major investment from Wall Street hedge funds and expected to hit $21.8 billion by 2020.

And so far, Congress has shown no interest in trying to stop the Sessions nomination, at least on this issue. Even members who are in favor of protecting states from federal interference on the marijuana issue have said they support Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general: “I strongly support Jeff Sessions as Attorney General,” said Representative Tom McClintock, Republican from California. “He is a strict constitutionalist who believes in the rule of law. I would expect that he will respect the prerogative of individual states to determine their own laws involving strictly intra-state commerce.”

There are dozens of reasons I think it would be quite foolish as a matter of constitutional law and sound federal policing priorities for future Attorney General Jeff Sessions to start his tenure by using broad federal police powers to criminally prosecute tens of thousands of players in a growing recreational marijuana industry.  This industry is already well-established and producing thousands of jobs and tens of millions in tax revenues in Colorado, Oregon and Washington; it is now gearing up for growth in Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Nevada and maybe Maine.

In the most simple of terms, it would be foolish for the Trump/Sessions Administration to try to "Make America Great Again" via tough federal pot prohibition enforcement because it would show to all who care to pay attention that the GOP's purported affinity for personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights is a huge bunch of hooey.  But I genuinely believe that most younger GOP Senators — e.g., folks like Ted Cruz, my wish pick for AG, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott— have always voiced a genuine commitment to personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights.  Consequently, I do not think these important GOP voices are going to be quick to bless any efforts by future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.

Moreover, and completely missing from the facile analysis in this superficial Politico article, even if future AG Jeff Sessions were eager to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat for the emerging recreational marijuana industry, there will still be the bigger and stronger and much more consequential medical marijuana industry chugging along — especially in so many swing/red states that were critical to the election of Donald J. Trump circa 2016.  I am thinking here specifically of now-red states like Arizona and Florida and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Those now-red states alone add up to nearly 100 electoral votes that a whole bunch of Dems would love to win back in 2018 and 2020; and they are all states that, I think, could easily go back into the Dem column if/when establishment Dems finally figure out that medical marijuana reform in a winning issue worth promoting forcefully.  (I have blogged here an explanation for my claim in a post at my other blog that Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform.)

Importantly, in this post I have only outlined some obvious political/policy reasons for why I think it would be foolish (and ultimately unlikely) for future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal pot Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  In a future post, assuming readers are interested, I can explain all the reasons I think the other two branches of the federal government — Congress and the federal judiciary — can and would and should find an array of means to "stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters."  Given that Congress and federal judges over the last eight years have done a whole lot to preclude the Obama Administration from doing too much by executive fiat,  everyone concerned about criminal justice and marijuana policy in the Trumpian future much keep in mind that the Framers gave us a wonderful federal system of check-and-balances that has been pretty effective at keeping the big bad federal government from doing too many stupid things that are obviously against the considered will of the people.

Just sayin'

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Reform

December 5, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)