Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Evaluating ballot initiative support for legalised marijuana: The case of Washington"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new piece authored by Loren Collingwood, Ben Gonzalez O’Brien and Sarah Dreier published int The International Journal of Drug Policy. Here is the abstract:


In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalise recreational marijuana. By 2016, eight states and the District of Columbia had legalised recreational marijuana, with more expected to consider it in 2018. Despite this trend, little academic research explains what drives ballot-initiative vote choice on marijuana legalisation.


This paper uses a pre-election random sample voter survey to examine the individual characteristics that correlated with Washington voters’ support for legal recreational marijuana.


We find that voting on marijuana ballot initiatives largely reflects public opinion about marijuana and is particularly shaped voters’ political ideology, party affiliation, religious affiliation and practice, and education. Notably, we find that those reporting experiences (i.e., someone they know) with the criminal justice system are more supportive of legalisation than those who do not.


We conclude that marijuana legalisation voting behavior generally aligns with public opinion on the issue. However, one key aspect of Washington’s legalisation campaign–the criminal injustices of marijuana illegality–helped shape Washington state voting behavior. Further research is needed to examine if, when, and in what contexts criminal justice campaign themes are likely to strengthen or undermine future states’ marijuana legalisation efforts.

March 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

SAM releases major new report on "Lessons from Marijuana Legalization"

6a00d8341bfae553ef01bb09f38626970d-320wiThe leading national group opposed to modern marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), today released this big new report titled "Lessons from Marijuana Legalization in Four U.S. States and D.C." Here is how this big report was introduced and described via an email sent my way (with links from the original):

Today, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), the leading, nonpartisan U.S. organization offering a science-based approach to marijuana policy, released the most comprehensive study to date today entitled: Lessons from Marijuana Legalization in Four U.S. States and D.C.  This study, validated by scientists from around the country, found that since legalization, marijuana use has soared, the black market is thriving, and communities of color are being negatively affected.

The study found that legalized states are leading the nation in past-year marijuana use among every age group. Among those states, Colorado currently holds the lead for first-time marijuana use among youth aged 12-17, representing a 65% increase since legalization. Young adult use is also highest in legalized states. Further, the number of young people arrested for marijuana use in Colorado saw an increase from 2015-2016.
Not only are more young people being arrested for marijuana use in states that have legalized the substance, but Colorado has also seen an increase in the amount of youth on probation who have tested positive for the drug.
This rise in youth use of marijuana is particularly frightening to see given the longterm implications involved with young people becoming addicted to marijuana. "Since commercialization, those of us in addiction treatment have been seeing an increase in the number of patients who have become addicted to marijuana. Their symptoms, particularly sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance and psychosis, don't consistently remit after ninety days of treatment,"  said Bari Platter, Clinical Nurse Specialist at the University of Colorado Hospital's CeDAR (Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation). "We need to do more research about the devastating long-term effects of marijuana before considering commercialization in other states," continued Platter.

Some supporters of legalization have argued that the relaxing of marijuana laws would lead to lower rates of alcohol consumption. The data prove otherwise. In the immediate year following legalization of marijuana, there was a clear drop off, but by year three alcohol consumption was at a multi-year high. 

Commercialization advocates have long argued that legalization will reduce black market marijuana activity in legalized states. However, criminal activity has only been amplified. In 2016 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 7,116 pounds of marijuana, carried out 252 felony arrests, and made 346 highway interdictions of marijuana headed to 36 different U.S. states. The U.S. mail system has also been affected by the black market, seeing an 844% increase in postal marijuana seizures. Narcotics officers in Colorado have been busy responding to the 50% increase in illegal growing operations across rural areas in the state.

One of the most common arguments prevalent amongst the pro-marijuana lobby is that the legalization of the substance will greatly assist communities of color. The study found that the common disparities among use and criminal offense rates continue among race, ethnicity, and income levels. The District of Columbia saw public consumption and distribution arrests nearly triple and a disproportionate number of those marijuana-related arrests occur among African-Americans.

Finally, the study found a disturbing trend in that drugged driving and motor vehicle fatalities have increased in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013-2015 and marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization.

March 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Detailing how racial justice concerns are driving marijuana reform debate in New Jersey

732521_1One of many great lines in the great musical Hamilton is "Everything is legal in New Jersey."   But that is not quite right with respect to marijuana yet, though the recent election of a Governor who ran advocating for marijuana reform led to many reform advocates thinking the Garden State could become the next big legalization state.  But, as is often the case, legislative reform is full of complications, and this New York Times article highlights how completing views on racial justice is shaping the debate in New Jersey.  The piece is headlined "Racial Justice Drives Fight for, and Against, Legal Pot in New Jersey," and here are excerpts:

During his campaign for governor of New Jersey, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, pledged to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, telling Democrats at a party conference last year in Atlantic City that creating a new tax revenue was not what was motivating him.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Hey, are you sure you can generate $300 million from the legalization of marijuana?” Mr. Murphy said, citing a figure that his campaign had trumpeted. “I say, ‘You know what, I’m not sure, but that’s not the question. We’re not doing it for the dollars. We’re doing it for social justice.’”

Mr. Murphy argues that the disproportionate number of African-Americans who are jailed on marijuana charges is a main reason to legalize the drug, and he has the support of civil rights groups, cannabis business lobbyists, lawyers, doctors who prescribe medical marijuana and out-of-state cannabis growers.

But now that Mr. Murphy occupies the governor’s office, a major legislative obstacle is emerging: Ronald L. Rice, the state’s longest-serving black senator and the leader of its Black Caucus. “It’s always been said the issue is not money, the issue is social justice,” said Mr. Rice, a Democrat and a former Newark police officer. “But, it’s being sold on the backs of black folk and brown people. It’s clear there is big, big money pushing special interests to sell this to our communities.”

Medical marijuana became legal in New Jersey under former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, but his successor, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, rejected proposals to make recreational cannabis use legal.

The growing and selling of marijuana has already generated billions of dollars in the nine states where it is legal — but it is an industry that is overwhelmingly white. Mr. Rice fears the consequences would be dire in cities like Newark, which is already wrestling with a variety of problems, including widespread heroin addiction and a foreclosure crisis. Cannabis stores, he believes, would proliferate in black communities, much like liquor stores, and would produce a new generation of drug abusers....

His position on cannabis legalization not only puts him at odds with the governor and members of his party, but also with many African-Americans.

In New Jersey, African-Americans are three times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites, even though both populations use the drug at similar rates. That has galvanized civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P. and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to support legalization. “All the collateral consequences that come with an arrest — jail time, losing your job, losing your housing — are disproportionately falling on communities of color,” said Dianna Houenou, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey. “Through legalization we can begin to address the harms that have been inflicted.”

A statewide coalition of black pastors, the N.A.A.C.P. and the New Jersey chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance is pushing for legalization as a social justice issue, but only if it is linked to some type of compensation for the harm they say was done to black and brown families whose sons were incarcerated. The pastors said they wanted to make sure members of their communities were able to participate in the billion-dollar cannabis industry as growers and sellers, not just workers. They are frustrated that the wealth being generated in the other states where marijuana is legal is not reaching people of color.

Researchers at Marijuana Business Daily, an industry news site based in Denver, found that 81 percent of cannabis business owners were white, while less than 4 percent were black....

At a marijuana legalization forum held recently at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, the Rev. Charles Boyer of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Woodbury said the worst thing that could happen was for communities most harmed by the prohibition to not have a say about legalization. “Do we want to be the ones responsible for playing a part in a system that will make tons of young white millionaires after years of making hundreds of thousands of poor black felons?” Pastor Boyer said.

The Drug Policy Alliance is lobbying for a bill that includes the automatic and retroactive expungement of criminal records for possession, making permits for cannabis shops affordable so that the market is accessible to lower-income entrepreneurs, and a commitment that a portion of the revenue from marijuana sales be used to provide education and job training for people of color. Some social justice activists are also calling for allowing people to grow their own cannabis plants.

State Senator Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Linden, is the author of a bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for anyone over 21 and would establish a state Division of Marijuana Enforcement. But it does not include any language discussing compensation. Mr. Scutari agrees that arrests for marijuana possession are disproportionately higher for blacks and Latinos and says his bill addresses the issue of social justice. “The individuals that are previously convicted of marijuana possession will no longer be subject to prosecution,” Mr. Scutari said....

For his part, Mr. Rice has proposed his own marijuana bill that would decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana, and make carrying more a disorderly persons charge that would impose only a fine. It would also expunge criminal records and release incarcerated people serving sentences for possessing small amounts of marijuana. But Mr. Scutari said that decriminalization would simply create an open-air drug market that would allow drug dealers to get richer without creating any kind of regulatory system to control how marijuana is sold.

Ultimately, any effort to promote civil rights could depend on what kind of bill Mr. Murphy is willing to sign. In a statement, Daniel Bryan, a spokesman for the governor, said that Mr. Murphy was committed to “the goal of building a stronger and fairer New Jersey, and supports the legalization of marijuana to advance the cause of social justice and combat the racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

March 13, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 2, 2018

"Marijuana for Moms"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy Atlantic piece, with the subheadline: "In states where weed is legal, new mild cannabis products are catching on with parents."  Here is how it gets started:

Many a meme has been made about “wine moms”—mothers who joke online about their love for a relaxing glass of cabernet, or three.  But a new drug is gaining popularity with the playgroup circuit.  As it becomes more socially acceptable, more moms are using marijuana and its various incarnations to deal with everything from the daily aches and stresses of motherhood, to postpartum depression and anxiety, to menstrual cramps.  And forget the simple bongs and pipes of the past; as the industry expands, it’s creating a whole new world of sprays, drinks, drops, and oils.  The needs of this market of marijuana-friendly mothers have inspired a new crop of cannabis products.

In her recent High Times article, Jessica Delfino discusses the changing social attitudes toward motherhood and marijuana: “Mothers and women who use medical marijuana…are often put into a position in which they feel they have to explain themselves and what their condition is, and then steel themselves for the judgment that will inevitably follow,” she writes.

But also, Delfino tells me: “I think cannabis use in moms is becoming more widespread because it’s becoming more legal, and so people feel more willing and able to discuss it.”

Adam Grossman, the CEO of the cannabis company Papa and Barkley, has also noticed a burgeoning interest in marijuana from moms.  “In the last month alone, we have seen the emergence of cannabis-and-parenthood workshops, new ‘parenting and cannabis’ publications like Splimm, and Facebook groups," he says.  “More and more parents are starting to have the conversation about cannabis and breastfeeding, cannabis and pregnancy, and cannabis and parenting.”

But according to those in the pot industry, one new product in particular is spreading fast in mom circles: sublingual spray, a convenient, THC-infused ingestible liquid.

Once you spritz the liquid under your tongue, it activates quickly (within 60 seconds), it’s hard to overdo, and the high doesn't last very long, says Leslie Siu, the CMO and cofounder of cannabis company Mother and Clone.  “After a minute you’ll start to feel this uplifting euphoric feeling, almost like a gentle rush,” Siu says of her sublingual nano-sprays. (Nano-sprays are a form of microdosing — Mother and Clone bottles deliver a metered dose of the drug.)  By the five-minute mark, she says, you’ll know just how strong the effects will be for the next hour and you can decide to re-up and spray some more — in the industry this is called “stacking.”

Siu was moved to start Mother and Clone after she experienced postpartum depression.  “Everything felt dark,” she recalls of that first “ominous” year after having her daughter Veda.  Siu started searching for ways to ease the overwhelming, stressful feelings she was having.  “Then a few things happened that got me back on track,” Siu says. "Time, therapy, running, and weed.”

Siu wanted to create a cannabis product that would be easy and safe for mothers in similar situations to use, and she landed on sublingual sprays.  Because it’s easier to control the dose with sublingual spray, Siu says that it’s ideal for parents (her products also have child-resistant bottles).  The sprays can also help with sleep, she says.  “A lot of [postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety] sufferers develop terrible insomnia even if the baby starts to sleep through the night.”

March 2, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

New report suggests big increase in pedestrian fatalities in marijuana legalization states... but only by leaving out California

4 - Marijuana LawsThis new press release, headlined "No National Progress in Reducing Pedestrian Fatalities," details the finding of this new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) which "projects nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2017, marking the second year in a row at numbers not seen in 25 years."  Here is more from the press release that advocates for marijuana reform should consider:

States reported a total of 2,636 pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017.  Adjusting the raw data based on past data trends, GHSA projects that pedestrian deaths in 2017 will total 5,984, essentially unchanged from 2016, in which 5,987 people on foot lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes.  Pedestrians now account for approximately 16% of all motor vehicle deaths, compared with 11% just a few years ago.

Two recent trends present an interesting correlation with rising pedestrian fatalities: the growth in smartphone use nationally and the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states.  While the report does not find or imply a definitive link between these factors and pedestrian deaths, it is widely accepted both smartphones and marijuana can impair the attention and judgment necessary to navigate roadways safely behind the wheel and on foot.

The reported number of smartphones in active use in the U.S. increased 236% from 2010 to 2016, and the number of cell phone-related emergency room visits is increasing as the devices before more prevalent in daily life.

The seven states and D.C. that legalized recreational marijuana use between 2012 and 2016 experienced a collective 16.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2017, while all other states saw a combined 5.8% decrease.

As report author [Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting] notes, “This preliminary 2017 data is the first opportunity to look at marijuana-impairment as a possible contributing factor in pedestrian deaths, given the recent law changes. It’s critical to use this early data to look for potential warning signs.”

Without discounting the significance of the interesting data in this report, close followers of marijuana reforms should be able to identify some important quirkiness in how these data are assembled in the report:

The seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and DC that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 reported a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017 versus the first six months of 2016, whereas all other states reported a collective 5.8 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities.

Notably missing from the states listed here is California, which also legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016 along with Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. Notably, California actually saw a major decrease in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017, and I believe that moving California from the "all other states" category into the legalization category would actually lead to the legalization states to have collectively a larger decrease in pedestrian fatalities than the "all other states" group.

Critically, California did not have operating recreational marijuana stores in the first part of 2017, so there is a plausible basis for saying that it should not be considered a "full legalization" state until 2018. But, critically, the same is true for Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada (Nevada got stores going in the second part of 2017, and neither Maine or Massachusetts has stores operative yet).  I see little basis for including Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada in this analysis and leaving out California other than an interest in having the numbers come out a certain way.

Also critical in any assessment of this data is to appreciate the "small number" dynamics and the challenge of identifying what may have significantly changed from 2016 to 2017 in "mature" marijuana reform states.  Colorado, for example, had a reported pedestrian fatality increase in this new report of only 4 persons, from 33 to 37 in the relevant period from 2016 to 2017;  but the comparable data from 2013 and 2014, when legal recreational sales started in this state, indicates big pedestrian fatality decrease in Colorado from 33 down to 23.

February 28, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Highlighting the perspectives of governors in dynamic marijuana reform times

News-8Rolling Stone has this lengthy new article on modern state marijuana reforms focused on how governors are reacting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' latest policy directives to federal prosecutors.  The piece is  headlines "Sorry, Jeff Sessions – Governors Are Moving Ahead with Pot: At their annual meeting, pro-pot governors say the AG isn't stopping them from advancing plans for medical and recreational legalization." Here are excerpts:

Over the past few days, most of the nation's governors descended on Washington for their annual meeting with administration officials and the president. As the governors mingled about and chatted in between sessions, many of them were exchanging ideas and best practices on how to roll out a successful regulatory regime on marijuana. But hanging over their talks was the specter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who would like to clamp down on the nation's burgeoning, though disparate, marijuana industry.

Some Democratic governors say they were denied a private meeting with Sessions to discuss his anti-marijuana stance. And besides attending the formal Governors' Ball on Sunday night, the attorney general only made one appearance to the group, at a White House briefing on opioids. Some say they're frustrated they couldn't pick his brain on his controversial move to rescind an Obama-era memo that directed the nation's top prosecutors to prioritize other offenses over marijuana in states where it's legal. "I tried, but I couldn't get called on," Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) tells Rolling Stone. "He only took about six questions. There were probably 40 governors in the room."

Even though there's fear that Sessions wants to go after legal marijuana business owners, many states are moving ahead with efforts to either launch a new medicinal marijuana industry, expand an existing one or to legalize weed for recreational purposes. And governors say so far Sessions' opposition hasn't had an impact on the ground. "It has not impacted us and we believe it will not, although that doesn't mean we're not paying attention," Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) tells Rolling Stone.

Murphy, who was elected last year, campaigned aggressively on marijuana legalization. For him, it's a criminal-justice issue because his state has the largest racial disparity in its prison population of any state in the nation, and many of those convicts are serving terms for nonviolent drug offenses. While he's received some pushback from his legislature on his plan to legalize pot, he's moving ahead on expanding medicinal marijuana because currently there are only five dispensaries in a state with nine million people. "We're proceeding apace, again, beginning to make sure we get the medical piece right because it's life or death," Murphy says. "And then we will deliberately and steadily get to the recreational side."

The nation's other newly seated governor, Ralph Northam (D-VA), also campaigned on marijuana. He faces more headwinds from Republicans who control his state's House of Delegates, but he's still calling for marijuana decriminalization. As a physician, Northam is also vocal about the medicinal benefits of weed, though he says more research is needed. For that he's calling on Congress to reclassify pot, since it's currently listed as a Schedule I narcotic, making it extremely difficult to study in any official capacity. "I think that it would be great if at the federal level they could change the schedule of marijuana so that we can get more data on it – do more research," Northam tells Rolling Stone. "I remind people all the time that probably over 100 medicines that we use routinely in health care come from plants, so let's be a little bit more open minded and look at potential uses for medicinal marijuana."...

While the movement on medical marijuana is steadily picking up steam in red and blue states alike, the recreational effort is going more slowly but some governors say there's starting to be an air of certainty that eventually marijuana will be viewed as the same as alcohol in most every state.

Back in 2011, Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT) moved to decriminalize marijuana and set up a medicinal marijuana regime. While he hasn't come down one way or another on recreational marijuana, he says it's just a matter of time before it happens in Connecticut because efforts to legalize weed are sweeping the entire northeast corridor. "As Canada moves in that direction, as Massachusetts and Vermont, it's going to be a neighborhood thing, and I understand that," Malloy tells Rolling Stone. While he remains lukewarm on recreational marijuana, he did pen a blunt letter to Sessions on it.

"I told him to stop messing around with marijuana, because it really isn't important," Malloy says. "I have not taken the opportunity to endorse marijuana, but that's very different than spending resources trying to combat marijuana use. And, quite frankly, if you're going to be serious about opioids, you can't be screwing around with marijuana."

While many governors are now rushing out new marijuana regulations, they're still keeping one eye on Jeff Sessions. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) says during this visit he was rebuffed when he asked for a private meeting with the attorney general to discuss his state's recreational marijuana marketplace, but he says his offer for Sessions to come out west and tour his state's pot businesses still stands. "It's a shame that he has a closed mind, and he's much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts," Inslee tells Rolling Stone. "The fears that he might have had 30 years ago have not been realized, and we wish he would just open his eyes to the reality of the situation. If he did, I think he would no longer try to fight an old battle that the community and the nation is moving very rapidly forward on."

February 27, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Interesting interview with the "Cannabis Czar" of Los Angeles

1518463390123-unnamedIn this post from last summer, I flagged the announcement from the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles that Mayor Eric Garcetti had appointed Cat Packer as Executive Director of the newly-established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation. This news was so very pleasing and exciting because Director Packer was a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and as a star student in my marijuana seminar in Spring 2015, she has impressively and swiftly vindicated my representation to students that they could become leaders in the field of marijuana law and policy relatively quickly.

Director Packer's vision and activities are sure to have a profound impact on marijuana reform realities in California, and this new Vice piece headlined "LA's 'Pot Czar' Cares Who Cashes in on Legal Weed," provides a Q&A perspective on her work. Here is the piece's start and excerpts:

As cannabis laws across America continue to soften, states and local communities are beginning to come to terms with the destruction wreaked by the war on drugs, especially on black communities. Some cities are already beginning to make amends by going beyond mere legalization. They have started the process of overturning thousands of cannabis-related convictions. These policies would never manifest, however, without the help of activists who take their passion for social justice from the protests outside of city halls to the offices within them.

Cat Packer, who was recently appointed as the executive director of Los Angeles’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation, has been given a unique opportunity to help create pot policy for one of the largest cities on the planet. As a woman of color with a background in drug policy reform, Packer is hyper-aware of the negative impact of past drug laws and the challenges those miscarriages of justice will present for her going forward.

I spoke to Packer to discuss how she plans to navigate the bureaucratic era of legal pot through the lens of activism and empathy.

LA is now the largest pot-friendly city in America. With that distinction and the rest of the country’s eyes on us, what sort of expectations or pressures are you fielding from others or putting upon yourself?

It's not really secret that Los Angeles has an opportunity to be a leader in cannabis policy. It’s going to be interesting because, as the largest city to take on this regulatory responsibility, and as a place that’s often regarded as the largest cannabis market in the world, we understand that cannabis and its impact are probably going to be felt the heaviest here.

We have communities here who have had very negative experiences, not only with cannabis policy, but are looking for a way forward. Voters across California and in the city of Los Angeles have voted overwhelmingly in support of responsible regulation and moving away from criminalization. That’s a huge shift in public opinion, and it’s a huge shift in public policy, and it’s going to take us some time to implement this policy effectively, but we’ve been given directions from voters, so we want to do everything we can to set up a responsible framework.

With many [dispensaries] having operated in a legally gray area for so long, what kind of resistance to this regulatory shift are you encountering and what are you doing to ensure it isn't just favoring large entities with the funds to quickly become compliant and crushing the small businesses currently operating in LA’s cannabis space?

There are folks on all sides of the spectrum, as to be expected. There are folks who are frustrated with the process, folks who are excited about the economic opportunity that comes from business ownership and jobs and opportunity. But I think that folks are realizing that this is a first-time policy for the city of Los Angeles, and we’re trying to make sure we do it the right way. One of the things we’re prioritizing is social equity.

We’re making sure that within these new cannabis laws and policies, we take a moment to look at these issues through a social justice lens. We have an opportunity to, at the very least, address the harm that communities here have experienced as a part of the enforcement of the war on drugs and as a part of the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws against certain communities.  So we want to take a moment to acknowledge those communities and do what we can, as a city, to give folks meaningful access to what is going to be a multimillion dollar industry.

February 25, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

"E.U. Regulation Will Revolutionize Global Data Privacy. How Will This Affect The Regulated Cannabis Sector?"

In prior posts here and here, I spotlighted articles published at the Cannabis Law Report discussing federal tax treatment of cannabis businesses authored by Chris Nani, a student in my Marijuana Law & Policy seminar last semester. I am now pleased and proud to spotlight that Chris Nani has branched out by authoring this new piece with the title that serves as the title of this post. Here is how it starts and ends:

A European Union regulation may soon shape the way U.S. cannabis companies create their privacy policies and standards. The European Union will fully implement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by May 25, 2018....

Data security is tantamount to consumers and companies that comply with the GDPR will have an advantage over others and their clients will appreciate the additional security.

February 23, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New report from SAM and affiliate assembles data to highlight problems in Colorado after legalization

SAMVia email I received notice of a new report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Ohio.  Here are part of the email with links from the original:

The Marijuana Accountability Coalition (MAC), along with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), launched a new report today examining marijuana legalization in Colorado, joining Colorado Christian University and the Centennial Institute in an open press event. SAM honorary advisor, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, also delivered the report to Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran earlier today.  MAC is an affiliate of SAM Action, SAM's 501 c-4 organization, started by former Obama and Bush Administration advisors.

"We will continue to investigate, expose, challenge, and hold the marijuana industry accountable," said Justin Luke Riley, founder of MAC. "We will not remain silent anymore as we see our state overtaken by special marijuana interests."  The report also comes with a two-page report card synopsis giving Colorado an "F" on many key public health and safety indicators.   Future MAC initiatives include an effort to expose politicians taking marijuana industry money, and exposing the harms of 4/20 celebrations.... 

The new report card discussed the following impacts in the state:

  • Colorado currently holds the top ranking for first-time marijuana use among youth, representing a 65% increase in the years since legalization (NSDUH, 2006-2016). Young adult use (youth aged 18-25) in Colorado is rapidly increasing (NSDUH, 2006-2016).  
  • Colorado toxicology reports show the percentage of adolescent suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased (Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment [CDPHE], 2017).  
  • Colorado marijuana arrests for young African-American and Hispanic youth have increased since legalization (Colorado Department of Public Safety [CDPS], 2016).  
  • The gallons of alcohol consumed in Colorado since marijuana legalization has increased by 8% (Colorado Department of Revenue [CDR], Colorado Liquor Excise Tax, 2017).  
  • In Colorado, calls to poison control centers have risen 210% between the four-year averages before and after recreational legalization (Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center [RMPCD], 2017 and Wang, et al., 2017).... 

Other data highlighted in the report include: 

  • In Colorado, the annual rate of marijuana-related emergency room visits increased 35% between the years 2011 and 2015 (CDPHE, 2017).
  • Narcotics officers in Colorado have been busy responding to the 50% increase in illegal grow operations across rural areas in the state (Stewart, 2017).
    • In 2016 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 7,116 pounds of marijuana, carried out 252 felony arrests, and made 346 highway interdictions of marijuana headed to 36 different U.S. states (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The U.S. mail system has also been affected by the black market, seeing an 844% increase in marijuana seizures (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The crime rate in Colorado has increased 11 times faster than the rest of the nation since legalization (Mitchell, 2017), with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reporting an 8.3% increase in property crimes and an 18.6% increase in violent crimes (Colorado Bureau of Investigation [CBI], 2017).
    • The Boulder Police Department reported a 54% increase in public consumption of marijuana citations since legalization (Boulder Police Department [BPD], 2017).
  • Marijuana urine test results in Colorado are now double the national average (Quest Diagnostics, 2016).  
  • Insurance claims have become a growing concern among companies in legalized states (Hlavac & Easterly, 2016).
  • The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013 to 2015 (Migoya, 2017). Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017).
    • Driving under the influence of drugs (DUIDs) have also risen in Colorado, with 76% of statewide DUIDs involving marijuana (Colorado State Patrol [CSP], 2017).

Because I recently saw SAM fudging how it reported some arrest data in order to advance its advocacy agenda, folks interested in these data may want also to check this list of citations.

February 22, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

"'Doobies Make Boobies': Police Apologize After Officer Says Marijuana Makes Men Grow Breasts"

9M1YJMo-_400x400The title of this post is the amusing headline of this amusing story about a little bit of misinformation delivered by law enforcement officers to teens in Canada.  Here are the details:

Don't smoke marijuana, boys, or you'll develop breasts.  That's the message that an officer for Canada's York Regional Police shared with high school boys last week during a drug-awareness talk in which the officer claimed that smoking marijuana would make boys develop breasts.

“There are studies that marijuana lowers your testosterone,” drug recognition officer Nigel Cole told students during a panel held at the York District School Board headquarters.  “We call it ‘doobies make boobies,’ we are finding that 60 percent of 14-year-olds are developing ‘boobies.’”

Health experts quickly responded to dismiss the bogus claim.  “Smoking marijuana does not give you breasts,” said Dr. John Harrison, Chief Scientific Officer for the healthcare company TeamMD.  “Marijuana does impact hormones but by no means does it give anyone breasts. That’s what you call knowledge going the wrong way.  There’s no scientific basis that I know of.”...

The police agree.  Yesterday, the official Twitter account for the York Regional Police released an apology for spreading misinformation.  "We’re no health experts," YPR wrote, "but we’re pretty sure getting high does not cause enhanced mammary growth in men.  We are aware of the misinformation about cannabis that was unfortunately provided to the community by our officers.  We’re working to address it."

The York Regional Police should certainly be given credit for forthrightly apologizing for spreading misinformation rather than for trying to deny this happened. But this incident serves to provide another reminder of the enduring challenges of ensuring that only sound information is part of needed efforts to educate the community about the array of potential pros and cons of marijuana use.

February 22, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Strategies to Help Young Adults Limit Negative Consequences of Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Rand commentary authored by Eric Pedersen. Here are excerpts:

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have been shown to be the most prevalent and problematic users of marijuana. And now with laws for recreational marijuana sales emerging in multiple states, there is a need to understand how the potential for harm can be minimized among young adults who choose to use the drug.

My colleagues and I at RAND and other research institutions have developed a Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale for Marijuana that helps identify some practices young adults can use to help limit their use of marijuana and avoid negative consequences....

We are still learning about the effects of legalization on marijuana consumption, but young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 represent the drug's most prevalent users and 5 percent of those in that age category meet criteria for cannabis use disorder — more than double the percentage of individuals in any other age category. Given that young adults are using the drug, and it is becoming increasingly more available for medical and recreational use, there is a need to understand whether the potential for harm can be minimized among those who choose to use marijuana.

One of my mentors in graduate school at the University of Washington, the late Alan Marlatt, was instrumental in challenging the notion that misuse of alcohol could only be controlled by abstinence, as in never using it again. He demonstrated that “harm-reduction techniques” could help individuals limit their use so that they experience few to no harms from use.  Any step toward reduced risk, such as drinking one less day per week or limiting oneself to two drinks per day, was a step in the right direction.  This proved to be an effective approach for some people and has been particularly attractive to young adults.  That is, if young people chose to drink, they were provided with strategies for how to moderate their drinking in a way to minimize associated harms. 

Using Marlatt's principles, my colleagues and I developed a list of strategies that young people can turn to before, during, after — or instead of — using marijuana to help protect themselves from experiencing negative consequences. In multiple studies we have shown that to be true: College students who use these strategies were at significantly less risk for heavily using the drug and experiencing negative consequences from use. And we came to a similar conclusion in another study with young veterans.

We have developed 36-item and 17-item versions of our list of strategies — the Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale for Marijuana (or the PBSM) — that researchers and clinicians can use in their research studies and in practice. Items on the list relate to a variety of situations and practices, and include strategies that may be helpful to try if someone desires to cut down use, wants to limit use around certain times of the day, and avoid or limit use in particularly risky situations, such as when everyone else around them is using. Some examples of items on the list are:

Avoid using marijuana before work or school.

Keep track of your costs to get an accurate picture of how much you spend on marijuana.

Avoid situations that you anticipate being pressured to use marijuana.

Use marijuana only among trusted peers.

Avoid using marijuana to cope with emotions such as sadness or depression.

Use a little and then wait to see how you feel before using more.

Limit use to weekends.

February 20, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Interesting report on felony arrests and black market realities in Colorado after legalization

Marijuana+colorado+mgnThis lengthy article from the Colorado Springs Gazette, headlined "Black market marijuana busts nearly quadruple under recreational legalization," provides some notable data on marijuana enforcement in in the first state to have a regulated legal marijuana marketplace. Here are excerpts:

Four years after legal recreational marijuana went on sale in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper says the black market for marijuana in the state is shrinking and predicted that it "will be largely gone" in a few years. But new statistics show that arrests for the production of black market pot increased by 380 percent in the 2014-16 time frame, and Colorado law enforcement agencies say they are battling a boom in illegal marijuana cultivation by sometimes violent groups of criminals who rake in millions of dollars by exporting what they grow.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety, which tracks various marijuana-related statistics, found that manufacturing arrests leapt from 126 in 2014 to 476 in 2016, according to new state data obtained by The Gazette. Illegal manufacturing encompasses the unlicensed making of THC-laced products, as well as large, hidden growing operations where plant counts far exceed those allowed by state law.

Those numbers have not been put into a formal report yet. But Jack Reed, the state official who compiles them, confirmed the dramatic increase in arrests for illegal grows. Reed deferred to law enforcement officials for interpretation of the new data. Other police agencies also report a growing element of violence in the illegal marijuana trade. Denver counts seven of its 56 homicides in 2017 as marijuana-related. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver classified one-third of its 2017 marijuana cases as violent. Other agencies routinely report seizing guns in marijuana busts.

Overall, marijuana cases filed in state courts have plummeted by about 80 percent since voters legalized recreational marijuana in November, 2012, with sales beginning in 2014. Most officials attribute that number to the precipitous drop in simple possession arrests. There were 9,789 total cases in 2012, compared to 1,650 overall cases in 2016, and a 6 percent spike to 1,759 cases in 2017.

However, felony marijuana cases have risen steadily beginning in 2015 with 579 cases; 2016 saw 807 felony cases, and there were 901 in 2017. Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is legal, whereas possessing 10 ounces or more is a felony. That complicates enforcement, because a single home-grown plant can produce up to 2 pounds of leaves and flowers, officials say....

By nature, black market sales are impossible to quantify accurately, but even as arrests rise, black market sales appear to be a fraction of the legal sales in Colorado. From 2014 through 2017, recreational and medical marijuana sales grew from $683 million annually to $1.5 billion last year. By comparison, the largest Colorado bust in 2017 charged 62 people and netted 4,000 pounds, which authorities estimate could be worth $16 million in states where marijuana is contraband....

Mark Bolton, the governor's marijuana advisor, doesn't dispute that arrests for illegal manufacturing have risen. But he said Hickenlooper has taken "important steps to getting rid of black market activity," from supporting legislation that reduced the legal number of plants per household to bolstering law enforcement budgets for investigation.

Law enforcement officials, particularly Republicans, accuse the state's Democratic governor of minimizing the side effects of legalization. They contend that illegal basement businesses are thriving under their noses in a state that permits growing small amounts for personal use. "It's out of control," said Ray Padilla, a drug agent who had just returned from a 20-house bust that yielded thousands of plants and several hundred pounds of harvested marijuana. "We probably spend more assets on marijuana now than we ever did."

Padilla, a balding 42-year-old sporting a beard, earrings and jeans, heads the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. He and other law enforcement leaders say the lure of marijuana millions has drawn armed growers from places as distant as Florida, California and Mexico, as well as home-grown black marketeers who set up elaborate lighting and irrigation systems in suburban houses. "I have encountered more weapons in marijuana locations than any other type of drug," Padilla said....

In 27 raids last year, Sheriff Bill Elder said, "We seized guns out of almost every single one." He holds the high potency of Colorado marijuana partly to blame. "Colorado is exporting the best marijuana in the country, and it's the number one exporter," Elder said. "We are cranking out some seriously good weed."...

John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney in Denver when recreational sales began, described smuggling as a cause for concern but not panic. "Has there been an influx of people from out of state? Yes. Has there been an effective law enforcement response? Also yes. It is an ongoing problem," he said. He credits the Hickenlooper administration for "taking it very seriously" and cooperating with federal efforts to curb black market dealing. "This is a new world. Colorado is on the front end," he said. "We're doing more than any other state in trying to set up a really effective regulatory system."

February 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Insuring the Product Liability Risks of Cannabis"

The title of this post is the title of this short paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Ian Stewart and Francis Joseph Mootz. Here is its abstract:

Legal adult-use marijuana is associated with risks that may cause bodily injury and property damage.  Many of these risks have been well documented and widely discussed in the media, including theft, fire, motor vehicle accidents and consumption-related injuries. T he potential for an increase in the number and value of cannabis-related product liability claims and lawsuits, however, is of particular concern to the cannabis and insurance industries.  The production, distribution and sale of an ingestible product that has psychoactive effects – accompanied by a wide range of anticipated labeling and marketing representations – will certainly result in robust product liability litigation.

February 18, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

SAM releases report asserting Connecticut would face cost from marijuana legalization double projected tax revenues

Download (10)The leading national group opposed to modern marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), today released this big new report titled "The Projected Costs of Marijuana Legalization in Connecticut."  Here is how its "Introduction/Summary" gets started:

Much has been said about the revenue that marijuana legalization might bring to Connecticut. Few, however, discuss the costs of such a policy. Omitting costs is a critical oversight: no policy or business plan would be complete without discussing both sides of the balance sheet.

Although a full cost accounting of marijuana legalization would be impossible at present, enough data exists to make rough-and-ready estimates of certain likely direct and short-term costs, such as:

1. Administrative and enforcement costs for regulators

2. Increased drugged-driving fatalities

3. Increased drugged-driving injuries

4. Increased property damage to vehicles related to drugged driving

5. Short-term health costs

a. More emergency room visits for marijuana poisonings

b. Injuries from marijuana-concentrate extraction lab explosions/fires

6. Increased rates of homelessness

7. Workplace costs

a. Increased absenteeism

b. More workplace accidents among full-time employees

Initial approximations of these preliminary costs indicate that it is unlikely that revenues from legalization would ever exceed its costs. This report concludes that even a conservative cost estimate limited to only the issues above would cost Connecticut approximately $216 million in 2020, which would be the third year of legalization if the policy was implemented in 2018. (According to data from the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, the legalization program will only be fully operational in its third year of operation.)

Such costs exceed, by more than 90 percent, the maximum projected official revenue estimate of $113.6 million for the third year of the proposed legalization program. (These costs are almost 300 percent of the minimum revenue estimate of $54.4 million, but to be conservative, this report uses the maximum estimate.)

February 15, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"Can Olympic Athletes Use Cannabis? Officially No, But…"

Marijuana-summer-olympics-2016The title of this post is the headline of this recent Leafy article that struck me as both timely and informative.  Here is how the extended piece starts and ends:

Whether or not you consider cannabis a performance-enhancing substance, it’s still a no-no for Olympic athletes. Being caught can mean suspension or even the loss of a medal. Just ask Canada’s Ross Rebagliati, who in 1998 was stripped of the first-ever Olympic gold for snowboarding after his urine tested positive for THC.

Rebagliati eventually got his medal back after pointing out that cannabis at the time wasn’t actually classified as a banned substance. But every year since, cannabinoids have appeared on the official “Prohibited List” put out annually by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sorry, brah.

That’s not to say WADA is especially strict when it comes to cannabis. In fact, the agency’s limits are probably more lenient than your employer’s.

In 2016, we called the Olympic limits on cannabinoids “shockingly reasonable”—and they’ve only gotten more sensible since. Athletes’ urine must contain less than 150 nanograms per milliliter of carboxy-THC, a cannabis metabolite.

By comparison, workplace drug tests commonly used by private employers in the United States set thresholds between about 15 ng/mL and 100 ng/mL. (Rebagliati, the snowboarder, returned a result of 17.8 ng/mL.) Legal-cannabis states often have per se limits for cannabis DUIs, but those are generally based on concentrations of active THC in whole blood rather than WADA’s test for metabolites in urine, making the limits difficult to compare directly.

WADA’s THC limit used to be just 15 ng/mL, but the agency quietly raised it in 2013. The head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission said at the time that the change was “a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter,” adding: “There is a big debate on it.”

How does the limit translate in terms of actual cannabis consumption? That’s hard to say for certain. How long cannabis remains in a person’s system depends consumption habits, genetics, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Athletes, who are generally leaner and more active than average, would likely be able to pass a test sooner than those of us watching from the couch at home....

At the end of the day, Olympic athletes are allowed a fair amount of leeway when it comes to cannabis test results, but they still operate in a world with scant protection for medical use. As more countries move to legalize, perhaps that will change.

February 14, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

"The April 20 Cannabis Celebration and Fatal Traffic Crashes in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new "Research Letter" authored by John Staples and Donald Redelmeier published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Here is how the publication starts and ends:

On April 20 each year, thousands of Americans celebrate the intoxicating properties of marijuana on a popular counterculture holiday known as “4/20.” Legal marijuana sales surge in anticipation of the “High Holiday,” and college students report increased cannabis consumption on 4/20 itself. In many cities, activists and enthusiasts gather at public celebrations that feature synchronized mass consumption of cannabis at 4:20 pm.

Driving simulation studies indicate that higher blood Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentrations decrease reaction times and increase variability in speed and lane position, while some epidemiologic studies suggest that acute cannabis intoxication increases crash risk. Despite this evidence, driving after cannabis consumption is surprisingly common. We hypothesized that the April 20 cannabis celebration might be associated with a population-level increase in the risk of fatal traffic crash involvement....

We examined a quarter-century of national data and found a 12% increase in the relative risk of a fatal traffic crash after 4:20 pm on April 20 compared with identical time intervals on control days. Although the vast majority of Americans do not celebrate 4/20, the observed association was comparable in magnitude to the increase in traffic risks observed on Superbowl Sunday. Policy makers may wish to consider these risks when liberalizing marijuana laws, paying particular attention to regulatory and enforcement strategies to curtail drugged driving.

February 12, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Rounding up some recent notable marijuana reform commentaries

When I started this blog almost five years ago, it was not entirely overwhelming to try keep up with much of the serious and thoughtful commentary about marijuana reform.  But, in the last few years, there is now so much more good writing about marijuana reform developments in the traditional and new media --- no doubt in part because there is now so many more  marijuana reform developments worth writing about.  If I had the time, I would be eager to do separate posts (and even some original commentary) about all the pieces I have rounded up below.  But my time in short, so my round-up will be too:

From Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) at The Hill, "Sessions' war on marijuana a handout for illegal operators"

From David Keene at the Washington Times, "Marijuana laws and gun ownership"

Fro Richard Freidman at the New York Times, "Marijuana Can Save Lives"

From the Los Angeles Times editorial board, "Marijuana is now legal in California. Continuing to punish prior offenders is cruel and unnecessary"

From Keith Humphries at the Washington Post, "Why states should limit the potency of marijuana: It’s in everyone’s best interest for states to harsh the mellow a bit."

February 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | 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)

Friday, February 2, 2018

US Attorney for Oregon, apparently serving now as chief state regulator, conducts marijuana summit

As reported in this post three weeks ago, Billy J. Williams, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, penned a commentary to express a "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon." That commentary also spoke of his plans to convene a summit to discuss his concerns.

This new local article, headlined "US Attorney for Oregon says state has 'formidable' problem with black market marijuana," reports on the summit which took place today. Here are some details:

The top federal prosecutor in Oregon on Friday pressed for data and details about the scope of the state's role as a source of black market marijuana. U.S. Attorney Billy Williams told a large gathering that included Gov. Kate Brown, law enforcement officials and representatives of the cannabis industry that Oregon has an "identifiable and formidable overproduction and diversion problem."

"That is the fact," he told the crowd at the U.S. District courthouse. "And my responsibility is to work with our state partners to do something about it."

Added Williams: "Make no mistake. We are going to do something about it but that requires an effort to do this together. It requires transparency. The facts are what they are. The numbers are what they are."

Williams didn't detail how his office will carry out a new federal directive stripping legal protections for marijuana businesses. He said his office needs more information so it can accurately assess the scope of the problem and come up with a response. Williams didn't say what data he's looking for, but he previously he has said he wants more information from the state about black market trafficking. In a recent opinion piece published in The Oregonian/OregonLive, Williams said he is awaiting a final version of a Oregon State Police report on the issue.

He convened a daylong "marijuana summit" where public health and law enforcement officials gave presentations, along with land owners and industry representatives. He said Oregonians are worried about the implications of legal marijuana on their property rights, their water rights and the environment. Public health, particularly teen access and use, is a priority, he said.

"I am not an alarmist," he said. "Please don't have that perception of me. I just believe in looking at things head on. Take the blinders off, here are the realities."

The press was shut out of those presentations and was allowed only to report on statements offered by Williams and Brown....

Brown also spoke briefly Friday, telling those gathered that Williams has assured her staff that "lawful Oregon businesses" are "not targets of law enforcement." She didn't offer details on how the state will address Oregon's role as an illicit source of cannabis, saying only that she is committed to keeping cannabis in the state.

Prior related post:

US Attorney for Oregon, expressing "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework," plans summit in response to new AG enforcement policy

February 2, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics about marijuana legalization"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary in The Hill by Sam Kamin. Here are excerpts:

On Aug. 7, 2017, Jeff Hunt wrote an op-ed purporting to document what had changed in Colorado since marijuana legalization went into effect. What he describes is a dystopian hellscape of childhood drug addiction, disappointing taxing revenue and stoned drivers presenting a constant threat on the highways. He concluded that “[t]he negative consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana will be felt for generations.”

To many of us who live and work in Colorado, Hunt describes a world we don’t recognize. Our state is booming: the population has grown 10 percent since 2010, Denver’s skyline is perpetually dotted with construction cranes, and the city recently made the shortlist of cities competing to host Amazon’s second headquarters. Gov. John Hickenlooper, who initially opposed legalization in the state, has become a cautious supporter.

Perhaps the truest statement in Hunt’s piece appears in the last paragraph: “The true impact of marijuana on our communities is just starting to be learned.” Five years after marijuana legalization passed in Colorado and four years after the first retail stores opened, there is still robust debate around how successful legalization has been in the Centennial State....

All too often, both those in favor of marijuana legalization and those opposed to it pick and choose data to support their position. Denver’s district attorney stated that legalization has led to an increase in murders, car thefts, robberies and home invasions, while another study released just a few months later argued that no increase had taken place. One can find studies that show youth consumption of marijuana has gone up since legalization, as well as those showing a drop. With only three years of data on a regulated market available in Colorado (and far less in other states that legalized after it) it may be some time before clear trends in the data emerge....

No one argues that marijuana legalization has proceeded flawlessly in Colorado or elsewhere. There are significant complications associated with taxing and regulating conduct that the federal government continues to see as criminal in all instances. Regulators and lawmakers need to be nimble in responding to patterns in consumer behavior and to ever-changing signals from the federal government. As they do so, they must look carefully at those who invoke questionable statistics to influence policy. They should also recognize that an important part of any marijuana law reform is the collecting of good, objective data to influence policy going forward.

February 1, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)