Friday, April 18, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent AP story from Colorado headlined "2 Denver deaths tied to recreational marijuana use." Here are excerpts:
This week, two Denver deaths were linked to marijuana use, and while some details of the deaths have yet to emerge, they are the first ones on record to be associated with a once-illegal drug that Colorado voters legalized for recreational use last year. One man jumped to his death after consuming a large amount of marijuana contained in a cookie, and in the other case, a man allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana candy.
Wyoming college student Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, jumped to his death at a Denver hotel on March 11 after eating more of a marijuana cookie than was recommended by a seller, police records show - a finding that comes amid increased concern about the strength of popular pot edibles after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Pongi consumed more than one cookie purchased by a friend - even though a store clerk told the friend to cut each cookie into six pieces and to eat just one piece at a time, said the reports obtained Thursday.
Pongi began shaking, screaming and throwing things around a hotel room before he jumped over a fourth-floor railing into the hotel lobby March 11. An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a "significant contributing factor" in the death....
In a separate case, a Denver man, Richard Kirk, 47, is accused of killing his wife, Kristine Kirk, 44, on Monday while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Police say he ate marijuana-infused candy and possibly took prescription pain medication before the attack, according to a search warrant affidavit released Thursday. The affidavit states that Kristine Kirk told the dispatcher her husband had ingested marijuana candy and was hallucinating.
She pleaded with dispatchers to hurry and send officers because her husband had asked her to get a gun and shoot him. She said she was "scared of what he might do." Richard Kirk could be heard in the background of the 911 call talking about the candy he bought from a pot dispensary earlier that night, and surveillance footage from the shop captured the transaction, police said.
A detective who interviewed him after the killing noted that he appeared to be under the influence of controlled substances based on his speech and inability to focus, according to the warrants. Blood samples will be tested to see whether he was on any other drugs or medications....
The cannabis industry tries to educate consumers about the potency of marijuana-infused foods. But despite the warnings - including waiting for up to an hour to feel any effects - complaints by visitors and first-time users have been rampant.
Investigators believe Pongi, a native of the Republic of Congo, and three friends from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., traveled to Colorado on spring break to try marijuana. At their hotel, the group of four friends followed the seller's instructions. But when Pongi felt nothing after about 30 minutes, he ate an entire cookie, police said. Within an hour, he began speaking erratically in French, shaking, screaming and throwing things around the hotel room. At one point he appeared to talk to a lamp....Pongi's friends tried to restrain him before he left the room and jumped to his death, police said.
One of his friends told investigators it may have been his first time using the drug - the only one toxicology tests found in his system. All three friends said they did not purchase or take any other drugs during their stay.
The marijuana concentration in Pongi's blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado law says juries can assume someone is driving while impaired if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter.
In the days that followed the death of Pongi, Denver police confiscated the remaining cookies from the pot shop to test their levels of THC. The wrapper of the cookies bought by the students said each contained 65 mg of THC for 6 1/2 servings. Tests showed the cookies were within the required THC limits, police said. "The thing to realize is the THC that is present in edibles is a drug like any drug, and there's a spectrum of ways in which people respond," said Michael Kosnett, a medical toxicologist on the clinical faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Monday, April 7, 2014
If it clearly cost thousands of innocent lives through heroin abuse, would most everyone oppose modern marijuana reforms?
I engendered an intriguing debate over research data, criminal drug reform and public safety concerns in my post at Sentencing Law & Policy last week titled "If it clearly saved thousands of innocent lives on roadways, would most everyone support medical marijuana reforms?". I am hoping to engender a similar debate with the question in the title of this new post, which is my sincere inquiry, directed particularly to those most supportive of modern marijuana reform movements, as a follow-up to this notable new Washington Post article headlined "Tracing the U.S. heroin surge back south of the border as Mexican cannabis output falls." Here are excerpts:
The surge of cheap heroin spreading in $4 hits across rural America can be traced back to the remote valleys of the northern Sierra Madre. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling — driven in part by decriminalization in sections of the United States — Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies.
Mexican heroin is flooding north as U.S. authorities trying to contain an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse have tightened controls on synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. As the pills become more costly and difficult to obtain, Mexican trafficking organizations have found new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, Va., and Brattleboro, Vt., where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown.
Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25. “It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”
Growers from this area and as far afield as Central America are sowing their plots with opium poppies, and large-scale operations are turning up in places where authorities have never seen them....
The needle habit in the United States has made a strong comeback as heroin rushes into the country. Use of the drug in the United States increased 79 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to federal data, triggering a wave of overdose deaths and an “urgent and growing public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. warned last month.
Although prescription painkillers remain more widely abused and account for far more fatal overdoses, heroin has been “moving all over the country and popping up in areas you didn’t see before,” said Carl Pike, a senior official in the Special Operations Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
With its low price and easy portability, heroin has reached beyond New York, Chicago and other places where it has long been available. Rural areas of New England, Appalachia and the Midwest are being hit especially hard, with cities such as Portland, Maine; St. Louis; and Oklahoma City struggling to cope with a new generation of addicts. Pike and other DEA officials say the spread is the result of a shrewd marketing strategy developed by Mexican traffickers. They have targeted areas with the worst prescription pill abuse, sending heroin pushers to “set up right outside the methadone clinics,” one DEA agent said.
Some new heroin users begin by snorting the drug. But like addicts of synthetic painkillers who go from swallowing the pills to crushing and snorting them, they eventually turn to intravenous injection of heroin for a more powerful high. By then, experts say, they have crossed a psychological threshold — overcoming the stigma of needle use. At the same time, they face diminishing satisfaction from prescription pills that can cost $80 each on the street and whose effects wear off after four to six hours. Those addicts are especially susceptible to high-grade heroin offered for as little as $4 a dose but with a narcotic payload that can top anything from a pharmacy.
Unlike marijuana, which cartel peons usually carry across the border in backpacks, heroin (like cocaine) is typically smuggled inside fake vehicle panels or concealed in shipments of legitimate commercial goods and is more difficult to detect. By the time it reaches northern U.S. cities, a kilo may be worth $60,000 to $80,000, prior to being diluted or “cut” with fillers such as lactose and powdered milk. The increased demand for heroin in the United States appears to be keeping wholesale prices high, even with abundant supply.
The Mexican mountain folk in hamlets such as this one do not think of themselves as drug producers. They also plant corn, beans and other subsistence crops but say they could never earn a living from their small food plots. And, increasingly, they’re unable to compete with U.S. marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses — some licensed, others not. Mexican trafficking groups have also set up vast outdoor plantations on public land, especially in California, contributing to the fall in marijuana prices.
“When you have a product losing value, you diversify, and that’s true of any farmer,” said David Shirk, a Mexico researcher at the University of California at San Diego. “The wave of opium poppies we’re seeing is at least partially driven by changes we’re making in marijuana drug policy.”
I find this article fascinating in part because it highlight one (or surely many dozen) serious unintended consequences of modern marijuana reforms in the United States. I also find it fascinating because, just as my prior post explored some possible public safety benefits of consumers switching from alcohol use to marijuana use, this article spotlights some possible public safety harms of producers switching from marijuana farming to opium farming.
Some recent related posts:
- If it clearly saved thousands of innocent lives on roadways, would most everyone support medical marijuana reforms?
- As heroin concerns grow, so do proposals to increase sentences
- "Drug Dealers Aren't to Blame for the Heroin Boom. Doctors Are."
- Should the feds reallocate all drug war resources away from marijuana to heroin now?
Monday, March 31, 2014
A helpful reader alerted me to this notable article from the Asbury Park Press, headlined "It's high time to legalize pot, N.J. prosecutors say." Here is how it starts:
Proponents of legalizing marijuana in New Jersey received a boost from an unlikely source — the very people who prosecute pot users. The New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association in Hamilton, N.J., has come out in favor of legalizing possession of marijuana. The support of the prosecutors association comes as two bills were introduced this month in the New Jersey State Legislature and as polls show a majority of Americans favor legalization.
One of the bills, introduced March 10, calls for a referendum asking voters to legalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Assemblymen Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Trenton, N.J., who also is municipal prosecutor in Lawrence Township, N.J., and Michael Patrick Carroll, a Republican from Morris Township, N.J., are its sponsors.
"If it were up to me, I would make all quantities legal," Carroll said. "Why should the government be in the business of criminalizing marijuana? All it does is create administrative Al Capones and puts the power in the hands of gangsters." From the government's perspective, Carroll said legalizing marijuana would be a huge benefit. Government could save money by hiring fewer police and parole officers. Carroll also noted that getting an arrest record has ruined many people's careers.
On March 24, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Linden, N.J., who also is municipal prosecutor there, introduced another bill. Scutari's bill does not call for a referendum. Instead it would legalize the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana; set up an agency to oversee the industry; and then funnel the sales tax revenue to the state Transportation Trust Fund, drug prevention and enforcement efforts and women's health programs....
The board of trustees of the municipal prosecutors association voted Feb. 21 to endorse legalization, said its president, Jon-Henry Barr, who is municipal prosecutor in Kenilworth and Clark Township, N.J. "The board was not unanimous, but a clear majority of municipal prosecutors favor the idea," Barr said.
Of the 10 members of the board of trustees, seven were in favor of legalization, Barr said. Two members were opposed to legalization, and one member of the board abstained from voting, Barr said. He said the association is made up of 150 prosecutors. Among the reasons the municipal prosecutors favor legalization is the damage a prosecution for marijuana possession has on a person's reputation and the growing acceptance among Americans that marijuana should not be criminalized, Barr said....
"The time has come to understand that this particular offense makes about as much sense as prohibition of alcohol did," Barr said. "It is time to stop the insanity." Barr said prosecutors are spending time prosecuting marijuana cases when they could be attacking more pressing problems.
Some municipal prosecutors were unaware of the association's position on marijuana, and not all agree with it. "I was not at the meeting," Municipal Prosecutor Bonnie Peterson said. She is prosecutor in Seaside Park, Ship Bottom and Harvey Cedars, three communities on the Jersey Shore. "They sent an e-mail. I was surprised. ... I would find it very hard to believe the municipal prosecutors association would come out with a blanket endorsement of legalization of marijuana."... Steve Rubin, prosecutor in Long Branch and West Long Branch, N.J., was one of the municipal prosecutors association's board of trustees who voted to endorse legalization. Still, he said he has some concerns, especially during a transition to legalization. He said he fears some marijuana trade would remain in the hands of criminals. "There still are people who are bookmakers," Rubin said. "We thought they would have been eliminated with OTB (off-track betting) and the lottery."
But Rubin said legalization would eliminate many of the court cases he has to present. "I would no longer have to prosecute a bunch of 18-year-olds who went to a frat party," Rubin said.
Monday, March 24, 2014
As reported in this new Denver Post article, headlined "Colorado Supreme Court OKs lawyers to work with marijuana businesses," an notable amendment was made today to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):
Colorado's lawyers now have the state's permission to work with marijuana businesses, after the Colorado Supreme Court approved a rule change Monday that eliminates the threat of ethics sanctions.
The new rule gives lawyers the go-ahead to work with marijuana businesses — even though those businesses are breaking federal law — so long as the lawyers don't help businesses also break state law. The updated rule, signed by Chief Justice Nancy Rice, states that a lawyer "may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and the statutes, regulations, orders, and other state and local provisions implementing them." The rule requires lawyers also to advise their clients about federal marijuana laws and policies.
The notice of the new rule states that justices Nathan Coats and Allison Eid dissented, though no explanation was given.
Colorado's constitutional amendments legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana left Colorado lawyers in a professional pickle. Because ethics rules prevent lawyers from helping clients do illegal things, the Colorado Bar Association last year declared that lawyers could be in trouble for doing more than giving basic advice to marijuana businesses. Arranging a lease, negotiating a contract or soliciting financial help would all violate ethics rules, according to the bar association's analysis.
Though no attorney had ever been disciplined for working with a marijuana business, the opinion alarmed the growing number of lawyers in Colorado who specialize in cannabis law. They argued that lawyers are crucial in helping marijuana businesses negotiate Colorado's complicated regulations.
Because I am not an expert on legal ethics and state bar rules, I am not sure it is unprecedented or unusual for a state rule to expressly require a state lawyer to advise certain clients about federal law. My instinct is that it is unusual for a state legal ehtics rule to include such a mandate, which in turn reinforces my view that the laws and regulations surround state-legal marijuana industries will be quirky and complicated as long as federal prohibition remains firmly in place. (In addition, I suspect unexplained dissents from the amendment of state ethics rules is also unusual.)
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I had a great time in San Francisco this weekend at Students for Sensible Drug Policy's western regional conference. Though the conference was Saturday, I stayed in the bay area for a few days longer to meet my newly born niece (I'm an Oakland native and most of my family is still in the area.) The conference was great and featured a fantastic keynote address from San Francisco's Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Most relevant to this blog was a panel on the future of marijuana reform in California, featuring Amanda Reiman (Drug Policy Alliance), Paul Armentano (NORML), Dale Sky Jones (Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform), and Perry Rosenstein (Marijuana Majority).
Among the interesting thoughts from the panelists:
• Amanda Reiman talked about the decision to wait until 2016 to run a legalization ballot measure in California. She said that given the loss in 2010, winning the next campaign in California is especially important. Two losses would make it tough to run another campaign in the near term. Because of the cost of running a ballot measure in California, and the fact that demographics make 2014 less certain than 2016, they decided not to go forward with a California ballot measure in 2014.
• Paul Armentano said he thought legalization through legislation may not be too far off, noting that New Hampshire House recently became the first legislative body to vote to legalize marijuana. He argued, however, that anything passed by legislatures is likely to be much more restrictive than Colorado and Washington's laws. He believes that this is because law-makers have a tendancy to over-regulate.
• Paul also talked about the differences between Colorado and Washington's laws, noting that Washington's was more restrictive (it does not permit home cultivation and included a marijuana DUI provision). He said that going into the election, the conventional wisdom was that Washington's additional restrictions would make the ballot measure more likely to pass but that the two laws ended up passing with about the same margin. He said that exit polling indicated this would not have been true in an off-year election. With an off-year election demographic, Washington's law would have still passed with about 55% of the vote. Colorado's would have been a toss-up.
• Dale Sky Jones argued that it is critical for California's legislature to enact medical marijuana regulations by 2015. She said that if California doesn't get regulations in place by 2015, the legislature will almost surely wait for the legalization measure in 2016. This would be problematic because, as the experiences in Colorado and Washington reveal, implementing a legalization law is much more difficult when there is a poorly regulated medical marijuana system (as was the case in Washington) than when there is a very robust medical marijuana regulatory system (as was the case in Colorado.) (Paul discussed the differences between Washington and Colorado in this regard as well.)
• Perry Rosenstein talked about messaging strategies when it comes to marijuana. He argued that visual design is incredibly important on this issue because anything that looks sloppy can reinforce the perception that advocates for legalization are pot-heads.
• Perry also raised an interesitng question: what happens if legal marijuana businesses in Washington and Colorado become established and start running legalization ballot measures in other states. To date, drug policy reform ballot measures have come from advocacy organizations. If the marijuana "industry" starts to run ballot measures, it could mean change comes more quickly. But, it could also result in initiatives that are drafted more in the interest of businesses behind the ballot measures than with public policy goals in mind. In response to this, Amanda mentioned that a vaporizer company has, apparently, been lobbying New York legislators to consider a medical marijuana law that would require patients to use vaporizor pens.
It was a very interesting discussion all around. I think the possibility of "industry" players running ballot measures is especially something to watch for. My own take is that this is unlikely in the near term (meaning 2014 or 2016), mainly because any ballot measure crafted by industry players would be more vulnerable to attacks from political opponents than one that is run by an advocacy organization (e.g., attacks like Project SAM's "big marijuana" argument.) I suspect that this dynamic may not deter industry-created ballot measures for all that long. And we may see one or more in 2016.
But if I had to guess, I would think 2018 is a more likely year for a wave of industry-created measures. If the current trend continues (and I will grant that this is not gauranteed), we will probably have at least 5 states with marijuana legalization laws after the 2016 election. By 2018, support for legalization would likely be more like 60% in favor than 50/50 (again if trends continue.) And, the marijuana industry should be pretty well established by then, at least in Colorado and Washington (and in any states that pass legalization in 2014.) In any event, if'and when this does happen, it could significantly change the landscape when it comes to marijuana law reform.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
One of many reasons I find state marijuana reform so interesting relates to how developments in this novel legal realm can and will interact with other more traditional bodies of law. A conversation today with a colleague got me to thinking especially about the potential intersection of state marijuana reform and traditional family law.
I wonder, for example, if one parent in a heated custody dispute in Colorado or Washington might now argue that even small state-legal personal marijuana use, because such use remains a federal offense, should be consider against the other parent seeking custody. Similarly, I wonder how judges in states like California with a robust medical marijuana industry might consider and equitably divide a couple's assets in a divorce if and whenever those assets involve what federal law would still consider contraband and/or evidence of a federal crime.
Perhaps some of these issues have been hashed out in some family law setting, and I would be eager to hear (via e-mail or comments) about any leading or noteworthy cases in this general area.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The title of this post is the reported title of a bill that, according to this Fox News report, is going to be introduced in Congress next week. Here are the details:
Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation next week aimed at preventing the misuse of the food stamp funds amid reports that welfare debit cards have been used to withdraw cash at ATMs at marijuana dispensaries in Colorado....
The bill would add pot dispensaries to the current list of locations where states must block welfare electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards from being used for purchases or ATM withdrawals, Reichert’s office told the station.
KDVR.com reported last week that at least 19 different dispensaries allowed electronic benefits transfer withdrawals inside their pot shops in January. Public records obtained by the station showed 56 transactions, totaling nearly $4,000.
A separate report by National Review Online said the amounts withdrawn ranged from $20 to $400, averaging $85.55. The maximum monthly benefit for the average household receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits is $462.
Last year, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting access to welfare benefits at casinos, gun shops, bars, and liquor stores. State lawmakers recently failed to pass legislation that would have prohibited such transactions at pot shops, NRO reported.
“It’s time to close this ‘pot shop loophole’ before it gets any bigger,” the lawmakers said in a letter circulated among House lawmakers and obtained by The Colorado Observer. “This bill does not comment on whether it makes sense for states to legalize the sale of pot, as Colorado and Washington have done,” the lawmakers wrote. “It simply says that, wherever pot is legally sold, welfare recipients shouldn’t be able to readily access welfare funds to pay for it.”
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Today's New York Times has this notable new front-page article headlined "Pivotal Point Is Seen as More States Consider Legalizing Marijuana." Here are some excerpts:
A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use. That has set up a watershed year in the battle over whether marijuana should be as available as alcohol.
Demonstrating how marijuana is no longer a strictly partisan issue, the two states considered likeliest this year to follow Colorado and Washington in outright legalization of the drug are Oregon, dominated by liberal Democrats, and Alaska, where libertarian Republicans hold sway.
Advocates of more lenient marijuana laws say they intend to maintain the momentum from their successes, heartened by national and statewide polls showing greater public acceptance of legalizing marijuana, President Obama’s recent musings on the discriminatory effect of marijuana prosecutions and the release of guidelines by his Treasury Department intended to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana businesses.
Their opponents, though, who also see this as a crucial year, are just as keen to slow the legalization drives. They are aided by a wait-and-see attitude among many governors and legislators, who seem wary of pushing ahead too quickly without seeing how the rollout of legal marijuana works in Colorado and Washington. “We feel that if Oregon or Alaska could be stopped, it would disrupt the whole narrative these groups have that legalization is inevitable,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which is spearheading much of the effort to stop these initiatives. “We could stop that momentum.”...
At least 14 states — including Florida, where an initiative has already qualified for the ballot — are considering new medical marijuana laws this year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, and 12 states and the District of Columbia are contemplating decriminalization, in which the drug remains illegal, but the penalties are softened or reduced to fines. Medical marijuana use is already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
An even larger number of states, at least 17, have seen bills introduced or initiatives begun to legalize the drug for adult use along the lines of alcohol, the same approach used in Colorado and Washington, but most of those efforts are considered unlikely of success this year.
The allure of tax revenues is also becoming a powerful selling point in some states, particularly after Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado said last week that taxes from legal marijuana sales would be $134 million in the coming fiscal year, much higher than had been predicted when the measure was passed in 2012....
Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, are mobilizing across the country to slow the momentum, keeping a sharp eye on Colorado for any problems in the rollout of the new law there. “Legalization almost had to happen in order for people to wake up and realize they don’t want it,” Mr. Sabet said. “In a strange way, we feel legalization in a few states could be a blessing.”...
While much of the recent attention has focused on these legalization efforts, medical marijuana may also cross what its backers consider an important threshold this year — most notably in the South where Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are among the states considering such laws....
Election data, compiled by Just Say Now, a pro-marijuana group, showed that the percentage of the vote that came from people under 30 increased significantly from 2008 to 2012 in states that had marijuana initiatives. This youth vote, predominantly Democratic, rose to 20 percent from 14 percent in Colorado, and to 22 percent from 10 percent in Washington, both far above the 1 percent rise in the national youth vote....
A narrow majority of Americans — 51 percent — believe marijuana should be legal, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week, matching the result in a CBS News poll the previous month. In 1979, when The Times and CBS first asked the question, only 27 percent wanted cannabis legalized. There were stark differences in the new poll, though. While 72 percent of people under 30 favored legalization, only 29 percent of those over 65 agreed. And while about a third of Republicans now favored legalization, this was far below the 60 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents who did so....
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading advocate for legalizing marijuana, said campaigns were already underway to stage aggressive legalization drives in several states over the next couple of years, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and possibly Montana. “It is certainly important to maintain the momentum,” Mr. Tvert said, “But I don’t think we can look at any one election cycle and see what the future holds. This is going to be a multiyear effort.”
I do not disagree with the general view that 2014 is a "watershed year" concerning discussion and debate over marijuana reform (and this was one big reason I developed a taught a seminar on the topic at my law school last Fall). But, as the title of this post highlights, I have come to believe that a much broader set of social and political forces help account for modern marijuana reform movement. The forces include, inter alia, a growing distrust of all government among both left-leaning and right-leaning opinion leaders over the last 15 years, growing evidence that the many aspects of the drug war may do more harm than some drugs, the failure of Big Pharma to provide effective pain relief (without too many side effects) to many who suffer from a range of serious medial problems, and changing labor and economic realities that change to cost/benefit realities of pot prohibition versus pot regulation.
I am happy to see the front-page of the NY Times discuss the various 2014 short-term realities that may impact marijuana reform over the next few years. But I would be especially eager to hear from readers concerning what they think are broader social and political forces that will shape these stories over the next few decades.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Saturday, February 22, 2014
The title of this post is the amusing subheadline of this amusing marijuana human interest story that has been making the rounds the last few days. The main headline of this Time report is "Smart Cookie: Girl Scout Sets Up Shop Outside Marijuana Dispensary," and here are the details:
You don’t need a MBA to know that the key to sales is to know your demographic. That’s why Girl Scout Danielle Lei should earn a merit badge in business for setting up shop outside of a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco.
Lei sold 117 boxes of Dulce de Leches and Tagalong Girl Scout cookies during a two-hour stint outside The Green Cross pharmacy over Presidents Day weekend. According to her mother, Lei sold 37 more boxes catering to the munchies crowd than what she sold during the same two-hour period outside a Safeway store the next day, proving once again that when it comes to business it’s all about location, location, location.
“It’s no secret that cannabis is a powerful appetite stimulant, so we knew this would be a very beneficial endeavor for the girls,” Holli Bert, a staff member at The Green Cross, told Mashable. “It’s all about location, and what better place to sell Girl Scout cookies than outside a medical cannabis collective?”
No MBA or Glengarry Glen Ross style motivational speech necessary for this smart cookie.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of other media outlets were also giving this story attention, and this AP story from Phoenix suggests that other Girl Scouts are taking notice:
Customers of some medical marijuana dispensaries are finding they don't have to go far if they have a case of the munchies. Girl Scouts seem to be foregoing the usual supermarket stops for selling their beloved cookies.
A few days after a teenager sold dozens of cookie boxes outside a San Francisco pot dispensary, 8-year-old Lexi Menees will return to Trumed Dispensary in Phoenix on Saturday for the same purpose. The girl's mother, Heidi Carney, got the idea after hearing about what happened in San Francisco. The family says Lexi sold more than 50 boxes on Friday.
Susan de Queljoe, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts—Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, says this is not something the organization would encourage but that it's up to the parents.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
The question in the title of this post might be a bit of foolish wishful thinking on my part, but these passages from this notable new New York Times article provides the foundation for my (undue?) optimism:
[S]cience’s answers to crucial questions about driving while stoned — how dangerous it is, how to test for impairment, and how the risks compare to driving drunk — have been slow to reach the general public. “Our goal is to put out the science and have it used for evidence-based drug policy,” said Marilyn A. Huestis, a senior investigator at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “But I think it’s a mishmash.”
A 2007 study found that 12 percent of the drivers randomly stopped on American highways on Friday and Saturday nights had been drinking. (In return for taking part in the study, intoxicated drivers were told they would not be arrested, just taken home.) Six percent of the drivers tested positive for marijuana — a number that is likely to go up with increased availability. Some experts and officials are concerned that the campaign against drunken driving has not gotten through to marijuana smokers.
“We’ve done phone surveys, and we’re hearing that a lot of people think D.U.I. laws don’t apply to marijuana,” said Glenn Davis, highway safety manager at the Department of Transportation in Colorado, where recreational marijuana use became legal on Jan. 1. “And there’s always somebody who says, ‘I drive better while high.’ ”
Evidence suggests that is not the case. But it also suggests that we may not have as much to fear from stoned driving as from drunken driving. Some researchers say that limited resources are better applied to continuing to reduce drunken driving. Stoned driving, they say, is simply less dangerous.
Still, it is clear that marijuana use causes deficits that affect driving ability, Dr. Huestis said. She noted that several researchers, working independently of one another, have come up with the same estimate: a twofold increase in the risk of an accident if there is any measurable amount of THC in the bloodstream....
The estimate is low, however, compared with the dangers of drunken driving. A recent study of federal crash data found that 20-year-old drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent — the legal limit for driving — had an almost 20-fold increase in the risk of a fatal accident compared with sober drivers. For older adults, up to age 34, the increase was ninefold.
The study’s lead author, Eduardo Romano, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said that once he adjusted for demographics and the presence of alcohol, marijuana did not statistically increase the risk of a crash. “Despite our results, I still think that marijuana contributes to crash risk,” he said, “only that its contribution is not as important as it was expected.”
The difference in risk between marijuana and alcohol can probably be explained by two things, Dr. Huestis and Dr. Romano both say. First, stoned drivers drive differently from drunken ones, and they have different deficits. Drunken drivers tend to drive faster than normal and to overestimate their skills, studies have shown; the opposite is true for stoned drivers. “The joke with that is Cheech and Chong being arrested for doing 20 on the freeway,” said Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the U.C.L.A. School of Public Affairs....
Another factor is location. A lot of drinking is done in bars and clubs, away from home, with patrons driving to get there and then leaving by car. By contrast, marijuana smokers tend to get high at home....
All of these facts lead experts like Dr. Romano and Dr. Kleiman to believe that public resources are better spent combating drunken driving. Stoned driving, they say, is best dealt with by discouraging people from mixing marijuana and alcohol — a combination that is even riskier than alcohol alone — and by policies that minimize marijuana’s risk on the road.
For instance, states that legalize recreational marijuana, Dr. Kleiman said, should ban establishments like pot bars that encourage people to smoke away from home. And Dr. Romano said that lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration, or B.A.C., to 0.05 or even 0.02 percent would reduce risk far more effectively than any effort to curb stoned driving. “I’m not saying marijuana is safe,” he said. “But to me it’s clear that lowering the B.A.C. should be our top priority. That policy would save more lives.”
My supposition based on this article that marijuana reforms could end up making our roadways much safer is a result of two potential impacts of ending pot prohibition: (1) if marijuana reform leads a number of people who would generally go get drunk at a bar to instead now just get stoned at home, the net effect will be safer roads, and (2) if enduring concerns about the impact of marijuana reform leads more policy-makers to focus on highway harms, we might see a greater effort to get much tougher on the enduring public safety disaster that is drinking and driving.
I am not expecting that we will get strong evidence that marijuana reforms end up making our roadways much safer anytime soon, but I am hopeful that researchers like Dr. Romano and Dr. Kleiman continue to stress that our modern alcohol policies and practices now impact highway safety much more than any marijuana reforms are likely to do. And, as these related recent articles also highlight, the media so far is doing a pretty good job defusing the risk of misguided reefer madness when it comes to driving under the influence:
From the Denver Post: "Colorado marijuana legalization's impact on stoned driving unknown
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new report on the latest notable legal frontier concerning marijuana law and reforms. Here are the basics:
The publisher of marijuana magazine High Times has sued the state of Colorado in federal court over the state’s rules preventing recreational cannabis businesses from advertising in most publications. High Times, along with local weekly magazine Westword, filed the lawsuit on Monday. It marks the first time anyone has challenged the restrictions in court.
The rules allow recreational marijuana businesses to advertise only in publications that are adult-oriented. According to the state’s rules, recreational marijuana stores can advertise only in a publication that “has reliable evidence that no more than 30 percent of the publication’s readership is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21.” There is no such restriction on medical marijuana businesses.
The lawsuit argues the rules, which also restrict television, radio and outdoor advertising, are an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. The magazines are “chilled from soliciting advertisements from prospective clients and prevented from making revenue from clients who wish to engage in advertising concerning marijuana-related products and services,” the lawsuit’s complaint states....
It is also unclear how the suit’s filing in federal court will impact the judge’s assessment of its claim that the ads concern “lawful activity,” since marijuana is illegal federally. But publications have previously had success in federal court in overturning another Colorado marijuana law — one that required marijuana-themed publications to be kept behind the counter at stores.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Though I think we may be nearing the point of inevitability when it comes to marijuana legalization, we aren't there yet. There's a chance that as things move forward, we will see a backlash that reverses the current trend.
If I had to pick issues that could potentially cause such a backlash, the risks of marijuana candies would be near the top of the list. And for good reason. Marijuana candies pose serious policy concerns.
Products that are packaged like and taste like candy can be easily mistaken as regular candy. And we all know who loves candy--kids. Perhaps just as important, many marijuana candies contain so much marijuana that the suggested serving size may be 1/4 or 1/10 of the candy. This is particularly odd when one considers that some of these candies come in the form of a single gummy bear or bon-bon style sweet. When most people see a single gummy bear or bon bon, they assume they should eat the whole thing. But if you were to eat an entire marijuana gummy in one serving, you could end up high out of your mind.
Two new New York Times pieces discuss this problem. In one, a mother recounts how her son had to go to the emergency room after eating a roommate's marijuana candy bar. In the other, the writer begins: "This is not what I thought marijuana looked like."
Those of us who favor marijuana legalization would be wise to take these concerns very seriously. There are real public health and safety risks that come from people--particularly children-- accidentally ingesting super-strong marijuana candies (or ingesting on purpose, but without realizing that one gummy is meant to be consumed in four servings.)
In terms of the politics, I think the "this is not what I thought marijuana looked like" sentiment is particularly noteworthy. I suspect that many voters who supported legalization in Colorado and Washington had no idea that it might result in the sale of sophisticated candies (or even that such candies were even possible.) And if enough of the folks in this group don't like what they see when they learn about marijuana candy, it is entirely possible they might sour on legalization generally.
To be sure, I don't think we are anywhere near seeing a political backlash because of this issue. But marijuana advocates would be foolish to ignore the possibility of one developing.
February 11, 2014 in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, 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)
Monday, February 10, 2014
Taking up Mark Kleiman's argument that marijuana rescheduling would be meaningless, Jacob Sullum has this excellent piece on Forbes.com, in which he notes:
From the perspective of people who believe marijuana should be legalized for medical or general use, the advantages of [rescheduling] are not as substantial as you might think. But neither are they, as UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman claims, “identically zero.” Moving marijuana to a less restrictive legal category would have some significant practical effects, perhaps the most important of which would be to advance a more honest discussion of marijuana’s hazards and benefits.
The whole thing is well worth reading.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The Super Bowl may be behind us, but the question of marijuana use by NFL players is not. The latest, Jets Player Antonio Cromartie says he thinks it is time for the NFL to let the issue go:
Cromartie said in an interview with Thisis50.com, a website launched by rapper 50 Cent, that he thinks the NFL should take marijuana off the banned substances list.
“They need to just let it go,” Cromartie said, via Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We’re just going to do it anyway. They just need to let it go. They need to go ahead and say, ‘Y’all go ahead, smoke it, do what you need to do.’ “
Cromartie may be a free agent this off-season. It will be interesting to see if this impacts interest in him among NFL teams (and, in the nearer team, whether his agent or some Jets media rep will encourage Cromartie to retract or "clarify" his comments.)
As reported in this lengthy local article, "Alaska moved one big step closer Tuesday to a public vote on legalizing marijuana." Here are the details:
On Tuesday, a ballot initiative campaign to decriminalize and regulate pot reached the signature threshold necessary under state election law to put the issue on the Aug. 19 primary ballot.
If the measure passes, Alaska would become the third state in the nation, after Colorado and Washington, to allow cannabis for recreational use. Backers modeled the proposed initiative after Colorado's new law, which regulates and taxes marijuana similarly to alcohol.
Alaska's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana reached the signature threshold on Tuesday morning, when totals posted on the Alaska Division of Elections' website showed that 31,593 valid voter signatures had been counted. State election law requires 30,000 signatures. Ballot initiative backers also met a requirement to gather signatures from voters in at least 30 of 40 House districts. "They have hit the magic numbers," said state elections director Gail Fenumiai....
Reaching the signature requirement was the last major hurdle to getting the question on the Aug. 19 primary election ballot. There, Alaskans will decide on legal pot along other big questions for the state, including a controversial oil-tax referendum, an initiative that would require legislative approval for future large-scale mines in the Bristol Bay region and potentially a boost to the minimum wage.
All that -- plus a contested U.S. Senate race primary -- could draw large numbers of voters, said Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster and campaign consultant. "The primary election is looking at being one of the highest turnout primaries we've had ever, I think," he said. It's not clear how that will play for the marijuana question....
In a 2004 Ivan Moore Research poll that asked if pot should be decriminalized, only 38 percent of Alaskans said yes. By 2010, the number jumped to 43 percent when Alaskans were asked if pot should be legalized. A 2013 poll by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling firm on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project found that 54 percent of Alaskans polled would vote yes on a ballot initiative. "There has been phenomenal change," Moore said.
So far, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana has mostly been funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that is the largest marijuana policy reform group in the country. The group has contributed $1,000 in cash and $3,757 in services and other in-kind donations, according to Alaska Public Offices Commission campaign disclosure reports. Four individual donors had contributed a total of $1,800 as of Jan. 11....
A national anti-legalization group headed by Patrick Kennedy has said it plans to campaign against the ballot initiative. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, like its opponent the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, appears to be selling its side of the issue as the only approach compatible with the Alaskan value of independence.
"Smart Approaches to Marijuana has been approached by Alaskan activists who don't want to see the safety problems and burdensome government regulation that would come with legalization," wrote spokesman Kevin Sabet in an email Tuesdsay. Sabet wouldn't say who those Alaskan activists were. Plans will be announced later this spring, he wrote.
[Taylor Bickford, who works for Strategies 360] said that argument won't far. "I don't think Alaskans are going to have a member of the Kennedy family from the East Coast telling us how to live our lives," Bickford said.
Recent related post:
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting article from the Washington Post headlined "Faith leaders wrestle over growing support for marijuana." Here are excerpts:
Sunday’s Super Bowl was dubbed by some as the “pot bowl,” as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks hail from the two states where fans can soon get marijuana as easily as they can get pizza. As public opinion has shifted in support of legalized marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.
According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favor legalizing the use of marijuana. On the other side, nearly seven-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose it.
Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalization and 50 percent opposing it. Opinions on how states should handle those who possess or sell marijuana varies among Christian leaders.
Caught in the middle of the debate are pastors, theologians and other religious leaders, torn over how to uphold traditional understandings of sin and morality amid a rapidly changing tide of public opinion.
Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for several prominent evangelicals including Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, admits he takes a view that might not be held by most Christian leaders. “When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said. “None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.”
Alcohol abuse, he said, is a much more serious issue. President Obama suggested something similar to The New Yorker recently when he said that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.
But don’t expect pastors to start preaching in line with DeMoss, who said he has not seen much comment from religious leaders on the issue. “If a pastor said some of what I said, there would be some who would feel the pastor was compromising on a moral issue,” he said. “No one wants to risk looking like they’re in favor of marijuana. I’m not in favor, but I think we should address how high of a priority it should be.”...
Laws on marijuana have disproportionately impacted minorities, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “There are community programs that can better engage young people than incarceration,” he said. “Many black and brown lives are destroyed because of incarceration.”...
Most Christians are still reluctant to favor legalization, Rodriguez said, since the effects of marijuana aren’t much different from getting drunk, which is a biblical no-no. “It has the ability of diluting reason, behavior, putting your guard down,” he said. “We are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and it has the ability of hindering a clear thought process.”
Some who favor legalized marijuana liken the Christians who oppose it to be like the early 20th-century evangelicals and fundamentalists who supported a federal prohibition on alcohol. Part of a move in the Republican Party toward a loosening on marijuana legislation could be coming from people who also would sympathize with the Tea Party, said Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“I definitely think there’s been a coalition of ‘leave us alone’ libertarians and Woodstock nation progressives on this issue of marijuana,” Moore said. “I do think there has been an effort to stigmatize those with concerns as Carrie Nations holding on to prohibition.”
Sunday, February 2, 2014
As is now common, this past week brought a lot of interesting new stories and commentary in the traditional and new media about new marijuana laws and practices throughout the United States. But, with the biggest annual US sporting event now only a few hours away, I figured I should focus my regular round-up of interesting marijuana news and commentary on matters related to the Super Bowl:
From the AP here, "THC-Hawks? Pot Puns Pack This Super Bowl"
From the Baltimore Sun here, "Ayanbadejo says teammates on one of his Super Bowl teams used marijuana week of game"
From BuzzFeed here, "17 Marijuana Snacks To Eat During The Stoner Bowl, AKA the Bud Bowl, aka Super Bowl XLVIII."
From the Denver Business Journal here, "Pot, Super Bowl don’t mix for most people, poll finds"
From Forbes here, "Dueling Pot Billboards At The Stoner Bowl: Marijuana Is Safer Vs. Marijuana Will Ruin Your Life"
- From a local Seattle Fox station here, "From marijuana to sushi, businesses are riding the Super Bowl frenzy"
From Rolling Stone here, "Which Super Bowl Team's State Is Better for Weed? Comparing the legal marijuana laws for Broncos and Seahawks fans"
- From the Seattle Times here, "Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch inspires Beast Mode pot"
From Time here , "Pot Will See Sales Spike For Super Bowl, Just Like Pizza
From the Washington Post here, "The Super Bowl is the latest front in the fight over legalizing marijuana"
Some recent related posts:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
- "Super Bowl Attracts a Marijuana Message"
- "Football, Pain and Marijuana"
- NFL not yet actively considering marijuana policy change
Friday, January 31, 2014
I'm late in joining the exchange between Doug and Rob on local control of marijuana policy. A couple of years ago, I chaired a City of San Diego task force on local regulation of medical marijuana. In California, there is very little state-wide regulation of medical marijuana (approaching zero.) And, in the absence of state control, it has been up to localities to fill the void.
The San Diego City Council established the task force on which I served in 2009 and we gave the City our recommendations in 2010. Although the City Council passed an ordinance based in large part on our recommendations, it was rescinded after a backlash from dispensary owners (who used a quirky signature gathering procedure that we have to force Council's hand on the issue). Today, San Diego has no medical marijuana ordinance and dispensaries operate in a gray area here (to the extent they are able to operate at all.)
My experience on the task force convinced me more than ever of the value in state-wide regulation when it comes to marijuana policy. There are many aspects of marijuana policy that cities and counties are really not equipped to handle. And plenty of others that can be addressed locally but are much more efficiently handled at the state level.
That said, I do think there is real value in local control on some points. I lean towards Doug's view that cities and counties should be permitted to ban retail sale of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, for example. I think this sort of local control would be likely to help reform efforts overall, since residents in deeply prohibitionist counties and cities might be less concerned about statewide legalization if they can prevent "pot shops" from operating where they live. (My position is much different when it comes medical marijuana, where I've found that the sickest patients with the greatest need are the ones who suffer most when they don't have access to local dispensaries.)
When local control goes beyond land use and retail stores, however, then Rob's concern about the complexity of a dis-uniform regime becomes much more persuasive to me. It is one thing for a city or country to be able to ban retail marijuana sales (or regulate hours of operation, zoning, outdoor signage, etc.) It's quite another if cities can regulate, for example, the THC content in products that are sold. Or, even more problematic, if a locality had the power to ban transportation of marijuana or to re-criminalize personal possession by adults. For a state-wide regulatory scheme to function well, a marijuana manufacturer in one part of Washington needs to be be able to transport marijuana across the state without being subjected to a patchwork system of transportation regulations and outright transportation bans.
In California, an appeals court recently held that localities can ban all medical marijuana cultivation--even a single plant. The ruling, if adopted by other appeals courts (or the California Supreme Court), could leave patients in many parts of the state without any legal way to access marijuana. I think that is a serious problem and at-odds with the intent of California's Proposition 215.
All this is to say, when it comes to localism, I think the devil is in the details. On some points, like banning the retail sale of recreational marijuana, the benefits of local control may justify the costs. But on other items, like THC content or product labeling, I think state-wide uniformity is critical.
January 31, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (3)
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times piece, which includes these passages:
The Marijuana Policy Project, one of the main groups behind the push to legalize marijuana possession in Colorado, posted advertisements on billboards near Mile High Stadium before the first game of the Broncos’ season on Sept. 5.
Now the group has spent $5,000 to rent several 60-foot-wide billboards in New Jersey, within easy driving distance of MetLife Stadium, where the Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday....
The message is directed at the National Football League, just as it was in Denver, and is repeated in a petition the marijuana group plans to deliver to the N.F.L. on Wednesday. “Why are players punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?” asked Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the group. “In Colorado and Washington State, this is now a legal product, and the N.F.L. has no legitimate reason to be policing marijuana use by players.”...
N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, indicated last week that the league might reconsider its policy on marijuana for medicinal purposes, if research showed that it was a viable treatment for concussions.
There is also a lighter side to the discussion of marijuana and the Super Bowl. There have been many jokes about how Super Bowl XLVIII will be the “stoner bowl” because the Broncos and the Seahawks are from the two states that have moved to legalize marijuana. Bryan Weinman said that was the instigation for the website www.stonerbowl.org.
“It got hatched over a table of beers before the playoff games,” said Mr. Weinman, who has been a nightclub D.J. in Denver. He added that he and several friends “got to joking about what happens if Denver and Seattle ended up in the S.B., how many endless puns would be made by the average individual.”
“We got the easy ones out of the way,” he continued, “and it evolved into somebody saying, ‘What would happen if we put some of this on a T-shirt?' ” And no, he said, they are not marijuana users themselves.
Some recent related posts:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
Monday, January 27, 2014
I’ve heard it said that if you like federalism, you’ll love localism. The idea is that some of the key benefits of devolving policy onto the states, such as the ability to tailor policies to fit geographic preferences, can be realized to an even greater degree by devolving policy onto localities. If control of marijuana policy is handed to the states, for example, then the people of Mississippi can ban the drug while the people of Colorado legalize it. More people are happy with this outcome than the same policy were foisted on both states. But if local communities within both states were allowed to opt out of the choice made by their respective state majorities, even more people would be happy with the outcome. What is more, since most of the costs and benefits of marijuana likely fall upon people who live near users and distributors (e.g., the cost of drugged driving accidents), such devolution would not present a collective action problem. Perhaps this is why Doug welcomes the idea of legalization states like Colorado giving local governments the ability to ban marijuana in their borders. Let the voters of each locality decide what to do because they’ll ultimately bear the costs and benefits of their choices.
I can see the upside of granting local control. But I think giving local governments a say over whether marijuana is legal has some overlooked costs, and these costs could outweigh the benefits of localism.
First, there is a cost to adding one more decision-maker into the mix. If localities are empowered to ban (or legalize) marijuana, policy advocates will now have to lobby three (or even more) different layers of government to secure their preferred policy outcome. The time and resources spent trying to persuade Congress, the Executive branch, 50 state legislatures (and electorates), 50 state governors, and literally thousands (if not tens of thousands) of localities about how best to regulate marijuana represents a significant cost. Perhaps it’s the price of democracy. But I suspect the arguments that would be made before local city councils would be (and are) largely a rehash of well-worn arguments already being heard on national and state stages: Is marijuana safe? Is prohibition effective? Is this mic on? and so on. I doubt the gains from granting every local government the ability to opt out of legalization (or prohibition) outweigh the costs of having to make the same basic decision again and again and again.
A second related cost stems from the complexity inherent in such a dis-uniform localist regime. This cost will be greater the more leeway local governments have in dealing with marijuana. Indeed, there could be endless variation in terms of how local governments choose to regulate the drug. And such variation wouldn’t necessarily reflect the unique and deep seated preferences of local voters, as opposed to what the different officials assigned to translate mandates into legal text had for lunch. But the variation would increase the costs of compliance, as businesses will have to spend more to understand differences in regulations across the jurisdictions in which they operate.
Third, the variation in local laws makes it more difficult to learn from the experiments now underway. Variation is, of course, inherent in any experiment. Indeed, other states could potentially learn a great deal from the novel policies now being crafted by Colorado and Washington: how much tax revenue can be raised, how much usage will rise, etc., in the wake of legalization. But it’s much tougher for other states to learn when the experiment is not carefully controlled. If the 64 counties comprising Colorado all adopt different marijuana regulations, we may never know whether state reforms have impacted usage rates, driving fatalities, crime rates, etc., especially since some data are simply available only on a state-wide level.
Fourth, the policy choices made by local governments can impose indirect externalities on other parts of the state. For example, if one county were to ban the sale of marijuana, its residents might flock to neighboring counties to buy the drug. To be sure, there’s an upside to this: counties that allow distribution would enjoy a tax windfall from marijuana tourism. But those counties might prefer not to be deluged with the added car traffic and its attendant costs. The problem is, there may be no legal or practical way for them to exclude non-residents from their borders.
Of course, similar problems arise when state governments break from federal policy, but the costs are likely to be much lower given the larger size and relatively small number of state governments. At bottom, I doubt there is a strong normative justification for allowing local governments to opt-out of marijuana prohibition or legalization. I suspect granting them this choice may simply reflect a political compromise, designed to lessen opposition to state legalization in more conservative parts of the states.
January 27, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (6)