Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Big new public health analysis of marijuana legalization proposals in California

Download (2)As reported in this local piece out of California, "Researchers warn legal marijuana could be next Big Tobacco," a pair of public health scholars have produced this interesting new report examining marijuana reform proposals in Califronia from a public health persepctive.  Here is the start of the press account of the report and some reaction thereto:

A ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana would likely launch a new profit-driven industry similar to Big Tobacco that could impede public health efforts, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.  The 66-page analysis, released Tuesday, is the first in-depth look at the state’s main effort to legalize recreational marijuana this year.

Researchers said they began with the premise that legalizing marijuana makes sense because its prohibition has put too many people behind bars and cost taxpayers too much money.  But they concluded the two potential initiatives they examined would replace a crime problem with a public health issue.

The authors, Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz, of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy, said the measure most likely to qualify for the ballot establishes a regulatory system similar to the one used for alcohol.  They said it would have been better to pattern the guidelines after the state’s Tobacco Control Program, which they credited with reducing the health effects and costs related to tobacco.

“Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the report states.

In an interview, Glantz said treating marijuana like cigarettes could drive down its popularity.  “The goal (should be) to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” he said.

He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of money to curry favor with lawmakers.  “I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to stop,” he said, adding, “They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”

A spokesman for the legalization campaign noted the report was written by experts on tobacco, not marijuana, and said it makes broad assumptions unsupported by past research into the issue.  The measure is drafted in a way that takes public health into account, Jason Kinney said.  “This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive public health protections and mandate included in our measure – as well as the child safeguards, the small-business and anti-monopoly provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, education and treatment,” Kinney said.

The leading measure seeks to legitimize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over.  One of the proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician, helped write the California Medical Association’s 2011 policy calling for the legalization of marijuana.

The doctors’ lobby formally endorsed the main legalization measure on Monday, characterizing it as a “comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure.”  For years, some doctors have complained they have become gatekeepers for healthy people seeking weed recommendations via a flawed medical marijuana system.

Lyman, a former state public health official, said the notion that marijuana must be regulated exactly like tobacco “represents an awkward minority opinion not widely shared within the public health community.”  Lyman said it is widely accepted in the scientific community that marijuana has medical benefits, something that isn’t true of tobacco.

This notable new report is titled "A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry," and it is available at this link.

February 3, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 1, 2016

GAO says DOJ "should document its approach to monitoring" the impact of state marijuana legalization

I just learned of this notable new document authored by the US Government Accountability Office titled "STATE MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: DOJ Should Document Its Approach to Monitoring the Effects of Legalization." The report was apparently requested by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and here is a passage from its "Conclusions" section:

It has been over 2 years since DOJ’s ODAG issued guidance in August 2013 stating that in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form, if state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against threats to federal enforcement priorities, the federal government may seek to challenge the state regulatory structures themselves, in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions.  ODAG officials reported relying on U.S. Attorneys to monitor the effects of marijuana enforcement priorities through their individual enforcement actions and communication with state agencies about how state legalization may threaten these priorities.  ODAG officials also reported using various information sources provided by DOJ components and other federal agencies to monitor the effects of marijuana legalization and the degree to which existing state systems regulating marijuana-related activity protect federal enforcement priorities and public health and safety.

However, ODAG officials have not documented their monitoring process or provided specificity about key aspects of it, including potential limitations of the data they report using and how they will use the data to identify states that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities.  Given the growing number of states legalizing marijuana, it is important for DOJ to have a clear plan for how it will be monitoring the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to DOJ marijuana enforcement guidance.  Documenting a plan that specifies its monitoring process, such as the various data ODAG is using for monitoring along with their potential limitations, the roles of U.S. Attorneys in the monitoring process, and how ODAG is using all these inputs to monitor the effects of state legalization can provide DOJ with greater assurance that its monitoring activities are occurring as intended. Sharing the plan with DOJ components responsible for providing information to ODAG can help ensure that ODAG has an opportunity to gain institutional knowledge with respect to whether its monitoring plan includes the most appropriate information.  This will help place DOJ in the best position to identify state systems that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities, and take steps to challenge those systems if necessary in accordance with its 2013 marijuana enforcement guidance.

February 1, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Prez Obama clarifies that marijuana reform is NOT among his final priorities

Obama-weedThis Washington Post WonkBlog entry, headlined "Obama says marijuana reform is not on his agenda for 2016," reinforces my long-standing belief that Prez Barack Obama remains disinclined to use any of this limited political capital to try to advance a marijuana reform agenda. Here are the particulars:

Marijuana advocates hoping for a substantial shift in federal marijuana policy in the last year of the Obama administration are likely to be disappointed. At a briefing Friday, White House press secretary John Earnest said any progress on marijuana reform would need to come through Congress. President Obama had signaled his position a day earlier at the House Democratic retreat in Baltimore, saying marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, according to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

Cohen said he asked the president whether he wanted to "reschedule" marijuana. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, "the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence." Many lawmakers want to see it moved to Schedule 2, which acknowledges the plant's medical potential. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances altogether.

But Obama's answer on the rescheduling was "disappointing," Cohen said in an interview. "On marijuana, he gave the same answer as when I asked him seven years ago: 'If you get me a bill, and get it on my desk, I'll probably sign it,' " Cohen said (emphasis his).

At the briefing, Earnest clarified further: "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.' "...

The DEA is reviewing another petition to reschedule pot, but given the history, most observers are skeptical that anything will change this time around. "I don't think they're doing anything," Cohen said. "They've slow-walked it for all these years." He'd like to see the White House be more vocal about the process. "The president could just tell them to get it done," he said.

The latest public opinion polls show broad support not just for marijuana reform, but also outright legalization: Fifty-eight percent of Americans want to see marijuana use fully legalized, according to the latest Gallup polling on the issue. And a 2015 CBS news poll found that 84 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Moving marijuana to Schedule 2 of the Controlled Substances Act is a more modest step than full legalization or legalization for medical purposes. It would simply remove some of the barriers to research on uses of marijuana, barriers that the Brookings Institution recently said were "stifling" medical research.

Among people who study the issue, there is near universal agreement that marijuana doesn't belong in the same category of substances as heroin, as even the DEA has finally acknowledged. The consensus among researchers is that it's a lot less dangerous than alcohol, too. A federal classification that stands in such stark opposition to expert consensus "breeds contempt for the government," Cohen said. But if this week's remarks are any indication, addressing that contempt is not high on the White House priority list for 2016.

January 31, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Should Bernie Sanders’ Home State Embrace Socialized Cannabis?"

Vermont Seal TokeoftheTown2013-thumb-200x239-thumb-205x244The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this effective new International Business Times article highlighting some interesting aspects of the the on-going debate over marijuana legalization in Vermont.  I recommend the article in full (especially for students in my marijuana reform seminar), and here are a few excerpts:

As one of Vermont’s approximately 2,500 official medical marijuana patients, Robert Gwynn is excited his state lawmakers are considering legalizing cannabis.  Born with neurofibromatosis type 1, a tumor disorder that has left him with debilitating nerve pain, limited appetite and ongoing fatigue, the 31-year-old has been part of the state’s medical marijuana program for the past two years.  Medical marijuana, he says, has helped him halve his 14-pill-a-day pharmaceutical regimen, which had left him so mentally disconnected from reality he was afraid to drive.  But he thinks a recreational market could encourage the sort of competition, proficiency and price constraints lacking in the state’s current system of four nonprofit dispensaries statewide.  Once a month, Gwynn drives to a dispensary in Brandon, a four-hour round-trip drive from where he lives in Brattleboro, since he says the medicine quality and patient care at the dispensary 10 minutes from his house are so poor, he won’t shop there.

If Vermont legalizes marijuana, Gwynn figures it will look similar to programs up and running in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon, where for-profit businesses produce and sell marijuana.  He hasn’t noticed anyone proposing alternatives.  “I haven’t really heard it come up,” he says.  “When people talk about it, I don’t think it is something that comes to mind.”

Gwynn isn’t the only one who assumes legalized marijuana in Vermont, which could occur in coming months, will resemble cannabis markets elsewhere.  But drug policy experts say the state is perfectly positioned to go in a bold new direction, one that challenges widely held assumptions about the country’s mounting marijuana movement. Among those options could be a state-run system similar to how Vermont controls the sale of hard liquor within its borders.  Alternatives like this could limit the public health impacts of a marijuana market while still generating state revenue — that is, if lawmakers are willing to consider them.  And if Vermont isn’t willing to deviate from the path set by legalization efforts that came before it, does that mean the only realistic U.S. cannabis model moving forward is a free-market free-for-all?

With recent encouragement from both a former state attorney general and Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont lawmakers are actively considering becoming the fifth state (not counting Washington, D.C.) to legalize marijuana, building on a medical marijuana law the state passed in 2004 and a dispensary system it launched in 2011.  The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of three weeks of in-depth testimony and statewide public hearings on the issue, with the goal of voting Friday on whether to advance a legalization bill.  “I’m impressed,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who’s based in Vermont.  “I’ve been studying this issue for 20 years, and here you have politicians sitting in rooms, asking the right questions and trying to understand it for the first time in my life.”

If such a bill passes in the near future, Vermont would become the first state in New England, much less the entire Northeast, to legalize marijuana.  While just 626,000 people live in Vermont, the second least populated state in the country, roughly 2.7 million regular marijuana users live within 200 miles of the state, including those in New York City.  That means whatever legalized marijuana system Vermont chooses could have financial and political impacts far beyond its modest borders.

Because Vermont does not have a ballot initiative system like many states, the only way it can legalize marijuana is through the legislative process.  And if it does so this legislative session, it will be the first time marijuana ever has been legalized by lawmakers, not voters.  According to some experts, this means Vermont has the option of considering legalization models not likely to be floated at the polls.  “The initiative process is going to be driven by folks who want something to happen, who want legalization,” says Pat Oglesby, a tax attorney who studies marijuana at the Center for New Revenue in North Carolina.  “The legislative process could result in a more moderate, middle-ground approach.”

It’s why last year a Rand Corp. legalization study commissioned by the state for $20,000 (the rest of the study’s $120,000 price tag was covered by the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures) urged lawmakers to consider “that marijuana policy should not be viewed as a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington.”  Instead, the report’s authors, a who’s who of drug policy authorities nationwide, laid out a series of alternatives, including a nonprofit-only system, a supply chain overseen by a public authority similarly to how the Vermont State Housing Authority manages affordable housing initiatives and a market only open to “benefit corporations,” or b-corporations, that have positive social impact.  But the report focused special attention on one option in particular: a government-run monopoly model where the state controls marijuana production and distribution.

According to experts, a state-run marijuana system could have several benefits.  For starters, government-run cannabis outlets wouldn’t have the same sort of financial incentive to promote excessive marijuana consumption similar to how alcohol companies market to heavy users.  Instead, government marijuana outlets could focus on the sort of social protections that are a top priority for Shumlin.  “You would like a system where nobody has an incentive to encourage overuse of a drug,” says New York University marijuana policy expert Mark Kleiman. “State-monopoly retailing could be a better option if the state officials involved didn’t have any incentive to encourage problematic drug use and even better if they had a responsibility to discourage it.”  Reviews of private versus state-run alcohol systems have found “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption and related harms.”...

But now, as Vermont lawmakers narrow possible legalization, there’s little indication the state will deviate significantly from legalization efforts that came before.  One of two legalization bills being considered by the state judiciary committee (it will likely end up voting on a hybrid bill containing elements of both) would provide licensing preferences to the sort of b-corporations detailed in the Rand report.  But the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. David Zuckerman, says the other alternatives proposed in last year's report are likely political nonstarters.  “I think the extremes on both ends — straight unfettered capitalism and a government-run monopoly — are off the table,” says Zuckerman, adding, he believes the chances of a legalization bill passing this year “are a little better than 50-50.”

Some observers are disappointed. “It’s kind of surprising,” says Dan Rifle, Marijuana Policy Project’s former federal policy director, who left the organization over concerns industry interests were taking over the marijuana movement.  “If there’s any state where this should be happening, it’s Vermont.  They commissioned a report, and no one seems to have read it.”

But others say options like a state-controlled system aren’t being considered because they don’t make sense. Government-run programs such as this are prone to bureaucratic bloat, and, as MPP's Simon points out, anyone who’s seen the billboards just over New Hampshire's state lines advertising the Granite State's tax-free alcohol stores knows government-controlled outlets can still promote heavy use.  Plus, adds Simon, there’s no indication the legalization models already up and running are broken, so why bother fixing them?  “We could spend years discussing hypothetical models, but that would be missing the fact that Vermonters are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the worst possible marijuana model right now,” he says.  “We want to move this from the illicit market, and Colorado and Oregon and Washington have already shown that can be done in a responsible fashion.”...

But likely the biggest reason of all options like a state-run program aren’t getting more attention is that many people worry having state workers sell marijuana would put Vermont on a collision course with the federal government.  “If you are thinking about this from a public-health perspective and are still trying to bring in state revenue, the approach that probably makes the most sense is the government monopoly,” says Beau Kilmer, co-director of Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of the Vermont report.  “However, because of the government prohibition, most states aren’t really talking about this because they don’t want to put their employees at risk of arrest.”...

[B]etween such legal questions and the lack of political will around the issue, it’s easy to understand why a state-run marijuana system and other alternatives aren’t getting more airtime as Vermont moves ever closer to recreational marijuana.  Some experts say that’s too bad, since the state might offer one of the last best chances to take a hard look at what, exactly, legalized marijuana has to look like.  “It could matter enormously if Vermont does something that nobody else does,” says Kleiman.  “But if it doesn’t, and California goes the commercial marijuana route this year, as it probably will, then it might be too late.  When Congress gets around to legalizing cannabis, you won’t be able to consider models that aren’t focused on commercial production because the commercial interests involved will dominate the political process.”

I have suggested before that the big Rand report on Vermont's marijuana reform options (released around this time last year and blogged about here and here) is a must-read for any and all persons seriously considering different possible models for marijuana legalization.  However, I have long thought the report tended to over-emphasize the potential harms of a free-market approach to legalization, and also under-emphasized the potential harms of a government-run system.  In particular, my sense of government-run systems (I am thinking here about schools, prisons and health-care systems) is that they tend to move slowly in response to changing conditions, tend to have relatively high costs for the provision of even limited services, and also tend not to invest effectively in product innovations.  Especially in the marijuana space over the next few years, where legal and market realities keep changing, where elevated costs are likely will keep the black-market running, and where market innovation might be especially important as we move from black-to-grey-to-freer markets, I worry about a government-run system of full legalization potentially being the worst of all possible short-term solutions.

That all said, one key point about this debate in Vermont that is highlighted by this article is the reality that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is impeding the opportunity for state labratories to seriously consider all possible experimental approaches to marijuana reform.  This is one of the many reasons I am hopeful that before too long Congress will have the good sense to recognize that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is already having a significant and likely harmful impact on sensible state development of sound marijuana policies.

January 24, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Incumbent Landscapes, Disruptive Uses: Perspectives on Marijuana-Related Land Use Control"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Donald Kochan available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The story behind the move toward marijuana’s legality is a story of disruptive forces to the incumbent legal and physical landscape.  It affects incumbent markets, incumbent places, the incumbent regulatory structure, and the legal system in general which must mediate the battles involving the push for relaxation of illegality and adaptation to accepting new marijuana-related land uses, against efforts toward entrenchment, resilience, and resistance to that disruption.

This Article is entirely agnostic on the issue of whether we should or should not decriminalize, legalize, or otherwise increase legal tolerance for marijuana or any other drugs.  Nonetheless, we must grapple with the fact that many jurisdictions are embracing a type of “legality innovation” regarding marijuana.  I define “legality innovation” as that effect which begins with the change in law that leads to the development of the lawful relevance of, lawful business regarding, and legal use for a newly-legal product, the successful deployment of which depends on the relative acceptance of the general public which must provide a venue for its operations along with the relative change in the consuming public’s attitudes as a result of the introduction of legality.

Marijuana-related land uses are and will be controversial.  Regulatory responses, neighborhood disputes, permit battles, and opposition coalitions are all predictable both as a matter of logical analysis in light of legal standards but also, very importantly, due to the lessons of history with similarly-situated, precursor land uses like liquor stores, adult entertainment, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and the like leading the way.  The Article also discusses the role of incumbent interests groups in shaping the new marijuana-related regulatory structure, including revealing Baptist and bootlegger coalitions that exist to oppose relaxation of marijuana laws and thwart land use successes of the marijuana industry in order to maintain their incumbent value or profit position. Finally, the Article engages with the growing literature in the social sciences on place and space, examining how the spaces and places we inhabit and in which we conduct our business and social affairs are necessarily impacted whenever legality innovations like we are seeing with marijuana work to disrupt the incumbent landscape.

January 21, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Are Journalists Too Soft On Pot?"

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this lengthy and effective piece by Joel Warner at International Business Times.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

After decades of critical reporting on marijuana issues, if they bothered to cover the subject at all, have the media as a whole moved too far in the opposite direction? Are reporters and editors now so high on the topic of cannabis that they’re going too soft on the subject?...

Even longtime marijuana advocates say media coverage has shifted. “Back in the ’90s, I would be the only person on the TV show on the issue in favor of reform, and there would be a cop, a prosecutor and a drug specialist, along with the host, who would also be anti-marijuana,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Now, today, Kevin [Sabet] is the one who has to scramble because the host of the show is neutral or supportive of reform, and I am joined by someone from the marijuana-business community and a member of [the pro-legalization group] Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.”

For years, St. Pierre says, NORML has maintained an internal database of editorial boards nationwide that it considered to be anti-marijuana. In the late 1980s, that list encompassed more than 150 newspapers. Now it’s down to just 30 or 40, and St. Pierre says most of them are owned by a handful of corporate owners opposed to legalization.

It’s not just TV news hosts and newspaper editorial boards that have changed their tune on cannabis. Now there are marijuana-business newspapers and marijuana-culture magazines, full-time marijuana-industry reporters (this writer included) and even an marijuana-editorial division at the Denver Post called the Cannabist staffed with a marijuana editor and cannabis strain reviewers that is the subject of a major documentary....

If the resulting media coverage is generally positive, it could be because, all in all, there’s not much to complain about when it comes to the marijuana movement. “I would contend that if Project SAM is seeing more coverage of the positive aspects of legalization, it’s because the positive aspects of legalization are outweighing the negative,” says Taylor West, deputy director the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There are absolutely things that need to be looked at and fixed, and that is an ongoing process. But all of this ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric that people like them have used for years hasn’t come true.”

Plus, many pro-marijuana activists say if anything, most journalists are still unfairly critical of cannabis. “You are framing your story around the question of whether the media is ‘going too light on the movement,’ which inherently suggests you are going too hard on the movement,” says Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “An unbiased story would be about whether the media is covering the issue and the movement accurately. We are still in a situation in which the marijuana-policy-reform movement has to prove everything and constantly defend itself, whereas opponents are generally taken at their word.”...

The situation has left some of those with a stake in the game fuming. “Unfortunately, the type of one-sided, advocacy-driven reporting we used to see relegated to the pages of High Times is now commonplace in the mainstream media,” says a former top drug-policy official, who asked to remain anonymous. “That’s a real disservice for the millions of Americans who are poised to live each day with the public-health consequences of this experiment.”

There are several factors that could lead to skewed marijuana coverage in favor of legalization. For starters, the fact that there are relatively few major anti-legalization advocates making noise these days, compared with a lengthy parade of well-funded marijuana activist organizations, trade groups, lobbying firms and public-relations outfits means it’s easier for one side to get its message out to news outlets than for the other....

Then there is the impact of all those reading and disseminating the resulting news coverage. Online, cannabis activists have become a loud and powerful bunch, launching advocacy blogs, sharing articles on Reddit and Twitter that support their case and lambasting those that don’t. This means positive cannabis coverage can equal big social media hits and resulting clicks, while negative stories can face a backlash — and the sheer scale of the pro-marijuana community’s passion can be intimidating. When the New York Times’ David Brooks penned a column criticizing legalization efforts in early 2014, he was besieged by online ridicule, derision that was echoed by some of his colleagues in the media. He hasn’t touched the subject since.

Marijuana advertising could also be an issue. At a time when ad revenue is shrinking and classified sections have been decimated, the nascent marijuana industry has proven to be a welcome new source of advertising dollars, especially for free alternative-weekly newspapers such as Seattle Weekly and Denver’s Westword (where, in the interest of full disclosure, this reporter used to work). While publications such as these maintain strict firewalls between the advertising and editorial sides, there’s a risk that some outlets could be seen as becoming so financially intertwined with the marijuana industry that their objectivity could threatened, such as how ESPN’s dependence on NFL contracts has led some to suggest the organization can no longer accurately cover football. Similarly, journalism jobs, including this reporter’s, have been created to cover the burgeoning marijuana business. If the data support it, could these journalists be expected to conclude that legalization has been a failure, if that means they would also be writing the obituaries for their own jobs?...

Some skewed marijuana coverage might have less to do with newsroom bias and more about how news operations are allocating resources to the issue. Stick “marijuana” in a headline these days and it’s bound to get hits. So then why bother devoting precious manpower over days or weeks to investigating whether potency labels on marijuana edibles are accurate or tracking down the dealings of shady cannabis penny stocks when a report on a marijuana-infused film screening — and its accompanying puntastic headline — will attract just as much attention?...

But there are signs that marijuana coverage, like the cannabis scene itself, is evolving. If cannabis continues to be a news draw, it could lead to ever-more skillful and in-depth journalism on the subject. It’s a promising sign that journalism professors such as Matranga are teaching classes on marijuana journalism and objective news startups such as Cannabis Wire are taking root. Plus, as medical-marijuana programs develop in cities such as New York and Chicago, the ample media operations in these towns will likely pay close attention to how these ventures are progressing in their midst.

January 19, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Significant legislative (and initiative) developments now swirling around marijuana reform in Ohio

Vote_ohio_mmj_ballotI was supportive of the failed (and very far from ideal) marijuana reform initiative campaign in Ohio in 2015 in part because the Ohio General Assembly had never before shown any serious interest in even considering any serious marijuana reform in the Buckeye State.  But, as this local article highlights, the legislative times they are a-changing in 2016 already in Ohio.   And the article, headlined "Strange Bedfellows Are Part Of New Medical Marijuana Task Force," reports that some folks involved in the failed 2015 initiative are being included in the new year developments:

Ohio lawmakers who have been signaling they want to consider medical marijuana legalization have taken an unexpected step.  Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger stood in front of an interesting group of people when he announced there will be a task force to study medical marijuana in Ohio.  “There’s a lot of groups that are going to have interest in this topic and what we have tried to do is put together a group of interested parties that can represent a broad swath of different interest groups throughout the state with different aspects and different varieties with an open mind to hear out this issue and talk about this issue before us in medical marijuana.”

That diverse group on this task force includes representatives from the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.  And there are two somewhat surprising members: Chris Stock and Jimmy Gould, former leaders of ResponsibleOhio, the group that brought forward the pot plan that voters overwhelmingly rejected last fall.  Gould says he's glad to be working with the groups that had fought against Issue 3 last fall.

“Ohio needs medical marijuana, first and foremost and needs it for everything….for chronic pain, for conditions, but it needs to be regulated properly.  It needs to be done the right way.  We went from probably zero to 250 miles an hour in a state that it is a little difficult to go from zero to 100.  I’m prepared to accept 100 right now and that is to pass a legislative action for medical marijuana.”

Gould says he’s agreed to put any effort to legalize marijuana on hold for now.  And he says the Fresh Start plan, the initiative that would allow people with past non-violent marijuana offenses to clear their records, is dead for now. “You can’t expunge without having legalization.  The voters knew that.  They knew exactly what they were doing when they voted the way they voted.  I had to hear them.  We spent $25 million, we got defeated.  And when you lose, you get back up on your feet and you take the best path that is available to you.  When we were approached by several people and I approached several people, you know we want a victory out of this thing and the victory we want is what is good for Ohio and we have always wanted that.”

Just last month, Ian James, the man who headed up the failed ResponsibleOhio campaign, said investors of it wanted to go back to the ballot this fall with another legalization plan.  The ResponsibleOhio campaign had been renamed Free Market Ohio and James said it was full speed ahead to collect petition signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this fall.  But Gould says moving forward with that right now is not the answer. “We didn’t just lose 51 to 49.  We got beat.  And I come from a competitive sports family and world and we got beat. And when you get beat that way, you come back and figure out, ok, what’s the next best way? FreeMarket Ohio was not the answer."

Republican State Representative Kirk Shuring will head up the task force. And he says while it will meet several times between now and the end of March, there is no promise of specific legislation. He says this task force is an opportunity for different groups of people with different ideas on the subject of marijuana to get together to try to find some common ground. “We have a time out and we are going to have a conversation and we are optimistic that it will lead to something we can point to at the end of March.”

Meanwhile, Ohio Senators plan to approach the issue of medical marijuana differently.  Republican Senate Caucus Communications Director John Fortney says Republican Senator David Burke and Democratic Senator Kenny Yuko plan to hold a series of town hall meetings on medical marijuana in public forums throughout the state.  “The people of Ohio are not interested in seeing the pill mill equivalent of medical marijuana on every street corner in the state of Ohio.  That said, we understand that there is some support for what it can do for people who are suffering from chronic illness and I think that’s going to be part of the conversation from these public forums.”

I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.

Notably, though, as this other local article details, the emergence of a medicial marijuana reform task force in Ohio is unlikely to completely quash interest and efforts for initiative-based reforms in the Buckeye state in the months ahead. The article is headlined "Ohio marijuana legalization supporters still push for 2016 ballot issues," and here are excerpts:

ResponsibleOhio won't be back with another marijuana legalization amendment this year, but marijuana advocates said Friday they will push forward with ballot measures for November as well as work with state lawmakers studying medical marijuana legalization.

Legalize Ohio 2016, also known as Ohioans to End Prohibition, plans to continue to try to collect the 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters necessary by July 6 to qualify its issue for the November ballot.  Its proposed constitutional amendment would legalize recreational and medical marijuana, as well as allow farmers to grow hemp.

Legalize Ohio 2016 President Sri Kavuru said his group will encourage its supporters to be involved in discussions at the Statehouse on the medical marijuana issue.... Kavuru said his group will encourage advocates to testify at the task force meetings and in town hall meetings state Senators plan to hold across the state.

Kavuru said he's hopeful the legislature will enact good legislation that establishes an industry and serves many types of patients. "At the end of the day, we do want reform for patients first," Kavuru said. "If they pass the right medical marijuana law, then it's not worth going through a ballot initiative.  If they don't or we hear they're passing something we don't like, we'll continue with the initiative.  The citizens' initiative process is there in case the government doesn't do what you want."

The group has collected about 80,000 signatures, Kavuru said, but many petition books are still in the field. Kavuru said the group, which has relied on volunteers thus far, will have the money to hire paid signature collectors. Legalize Ohio 2016 is the only recreational marijuana measure in motion....

Ohio Rights Group, which had been collecting signatures for a medical-only measure until it backed Issue 3, could still qualify for the November ballot.  ORG President Mary Jane Borden said the group does not have the money to pay signature collectors or run a campaign and instead will focus on educating lawmakers about the benefits of medical cannabis....

A new, medical-only measure was filed Thursday with the Ohio attorney general. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, backed by longtime marijuana advocates Tonya Davis and Carlis McDerment, would allow people with a qualifying condition such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis to purchase and use marijuana.  If the proposed summary is cleared by the attorney general, the group will have to collect 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the measure on the ballot.

Disconcertingly, while the folks involved with Legalize Ohio 2016 pushed for a no vote on full legalization proposed by ResponsibleOhio in 2015 with promises that they would bring much better reform to voters in 2016, it now sounds as though the Legalize Ohio 2016 folks are suggesting they would be content now with just medical marijuana reform. Moreover, with the challenges posed by collecting hundred of thousands of signatures and a new Ohio constitutional restriction on ballot access for initiative, my deep fear that the Legalize Ohio folks would face an uphill battle to give voters another chance to consider full legalization seem to be coming to fruition.

January 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Is opposing maijuana reform more important to conservatives than restricting federal power?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Forbes commentary by Jacob Sullum headlined "Legalization Lawsuit Shows Conservative Constitutionalists Have Marijuana-Related Memory Loss."  Here is how it starts and ends (with links from the original):

Last week, two days before Mexican authorities recaptured Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt pointed to another drug lord, this one hiding in plain sight: John Hickenlooper, a.k.a. the governor of Colorado.  “The State of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects, and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing, and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 States in 2014,” Pruitt writes in a Supreme Court brief joined by Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson.  “If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”

Hickenlooper actually was a drug dealer of sorts before he got into politics, having cofounded Wynkoop Brewing Company, a Denver brewpub, in 1988.  But he ended up running the drug trafficking organization described in Pruitt’s brief by accident.  He was elected governor two years before Colorado voters decided, against his advice, to legalize marijuana.  Pruitt and Peterson are trying to overturn that result, claiming that it hurt Oklahoma and Nebraska by encouraging an influx of Colorado cannabis.  Their argument shows how readily some conservative Republicans let their anti-pot prejudices override their federalist principles....

Last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott showed what a more consistent federalism looks like.  Abbott proposed nine constitutional amendments aimed at restoring the balance of power between the states and the federal government.  Number one on his list was an amendment that would “prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State,” in line with the original understanding of the Commerce Clause.  In a position paper that draws on the work of libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, who represented the plaintiffs in Raich, Abbott argues that the power to regulate interstate commerce is limited to activities that are both interstate and commerce (meaning the trade or exchange of goods).  He criticizes Raich at length, asking, “What constitutional provision conceivably could allow federal agents to raid a home and destroy plants that were planted, grown, and consumed inside the borders of one State and in accordance with that State’s law?”

Although Abbott does not say so explicitly, the implication of his argument is that federal prohibition — not just of marijuana but of cocaine, heroin, LSD, lawn darts, “assault weapons,” or “partial birth” abortion — is unconstitutional insofar as it extends to purely intrastate activity.  In other words, even if Oklahoma and Nebraska were right that Colorado’s regulation of the marijuana industry violates the CSA, it should not matter, because the CSA itself is unconstitutional.  When it comes to the Constitution, not all conservatives suffer from marijuana-related memory loss.

January 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Two different prespectives on the coming marijuana reform future

Inspired by our big calendar change, in recent posts provide links to various informed observers and advocates reviewing the biggest 2015 marijuana reform stories and previewing the biggest stories to watch in 2016.  Continuing in this vein, I came across thes two distinct pieces that provide very different "ground level" views of the likely marijuana reform future:

Via USA Today, "11 states least likely to legalize marijuana"

Via High Times, "Pot Matters: The New Marijuana Issues"

The first article usefully highlights that, even if election results and other legal developments in 2016 contribute to continuing nationwide reform momentum, there are still likely to be large sections of the United States that will continue to embrance marijuana prohibition.  The second article usefully highlights that, in regions where marijuana reform has already advanced significantly, many are going to start advocating aggressive positions like "all Americans must have the right to grow cannabis for both personal and commercial use" and "marijuana users must be protected from employment discrimination."

Interesting times.

January 4, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Policies ...

State Ballot Initiatives ...

State Legislation ...

On-site Consumption ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.  The 2016 elections ...

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

3.  Can Epidiolex deliver? ...

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

10. Local Decriminalization Measures: ...

9. Everything In Texas: ...

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

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

6. Marijuana Decriminalization in Illinois: ...

5. Decriminalization in Delaware: ...

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

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

2. U.S. Senate: ...

1. Presidential Candidates: ...

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Lawyering Up....

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

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

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

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

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

1. Ohio!...

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lots of marijuana news of note even during a holiday week

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Advocates for marijuana reform in Vermont highlight economic development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

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

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

Minister of Health Mandate Letter

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Mandate Letter 

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Mandate Letter

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

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

New Jersey legislature to hold (historic?) hearing on full marijuana legalization

Images (5)As reported in this local story, headlined "Legalize recreational marijuana in N.J.? Supporters to pitch for it at hearing," the Garden State is due to have a legislative hearing this afternoon that explores the pssibility of allowing gardens to grow an especially notable weed.  Here are the details:

Eighteen months after proposing a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey [text of bill here], state Sen. Nicholas Scutari will preside over a hearing Monday that allows only supporters to testify. "I am going to start positive, then open up the floor to the people are against it," said Scutari (D-Union). Opponents will get their turn at a future hearing, he said.

With a governor who firmly opposes legalizing recreational marijuana use, there is plenty of time to give everybody who wants to speak out a chance to do so, he said. He admits he thinks opponents offer "shallow arguments" to make their point.

"A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first," said Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the hearing. "The first step was introducing the bill and this is the natural next step — to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had."...

Under the bill, local elected officials could impose an ordinance barring a dispensary or any pot-related business from opening, and dictate how many would be allowed, hours of operation and licensing fees and regulations. Sales tax and application fee revenue would be dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund, drug enforcement and prevention efforts, and women's health programs, which Christie has cut since taking office in 2010....

The invited speakers are:

  • Richard Smith, President, NAACP-NJ
  • Udi Ofer, executive director, ACLU-NJ
  • Lazaro Cardenas, Latino Action Network
  • J.H. Barr, Clark prosecutor and president of the NJ Municipal Prosecutors Association
  • Lt. Nick Bucci, retired, N.J. State Police
  • Annette DePalma, Maplewood prosecutor and incoming president of the Municipal Prosecutors Association;
  • Dr. David Nathan, director of Continuing Medical Education for Princeton HealthCare System and clinical associate professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
  • Rev. James A. Dunkins, Shiloh Baptist Church, Vineland
  • Rev. Craig Hirshberg, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry
  • Evan Nison, director of the New Jersey chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
  • Ken Wolski, executive director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey
  • Bill Caruso, attorney with Archer & Greiner, member of NJ United for Marijuana Reform

As the title of this post hints, I think this hearing itself is historic for being the first significant state legislative hearing enabling a full and robust discussion of the pros and cons of full marijuana legalization. I am hopeful that, among other developments, this hearing will result in considerable discussion (and perhaps detailed written testimony) with detailed data on the impact of marijuana legalization in states like Colorado and Washington.

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

South Dakota tribe planning first marijuana resort (mysteriously?) changes plans and destroys (valuable?) crops

As regular readers should recall from lots of prior posts, a Native American tribe seemed well on its way to opening the nation's first "marijuana resort" on tribal lands in South Dakota at the end of the year.  But, as reported in this local article, headlined "Flandreau tribe temporarily suspending marijuana operations," there appears to have been a significant and sudden change in pot plans. Here is the local report, which prompts a lot more questions than answers:

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is temporarily suspending its marijuana cultivation and distributing facilities and is destroying its existing crop as leaders seek clarification on regulations from the federal government, according to the tribe's lawyer.

Seth Pearman said the suspension is pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture and that tribal leadership is confident that after getting clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice, "it will be better suited to succeed."

"The tribe will continue to consult with the federal and state government and hopes to be granted parity with states that have legalized marijuana," Pearman said in the news release. Pearman said despite suspending the current plan, the tribe intends to be a participant in the marijuana industry.

South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley called the about-face a "positive" choice. "The decision by the Flandreau Tribe to not move forward at this time with marijuana growth in South Dakota is positive and is in the best interest of both tribal and non-tribal members," Jackley said.  "I understand that this has been a divisive matter and that this decision by tribal authorities has not been easy."

Jackley said that he and tribal government officials have had opportunities to sit down and discuss the marijuana operation throughout the process. "We haven't always agreed, but we've had good, positive discussions," he said.  "I will do whatever I can as South Dakota's Attorney General to assist Flandreau in the decision and as I have done throughout this process, make myself available to tribal leadership for further discussions." Jackley told the Associated Press that he was informed of the tribe's decision Saturday. He plans to meet with tribal officials Monday or Tuesday.

Jonathan Hunt, vice present of Monarch America, a Denver-based marijuana consulting firm hired by the tribe, told the Associated Press that a reported fire Saturday was caused by wood and not marijuana. He declined further comment.

Rep. Matthew Wollmann, R-Flandreau, had the opportunity to tour the tribe's marijuana facilities in October.  Wollmann said he was surprised by the decision to forego the venture for now. "They've invested a lot of money into the facilities," he said. Wollmann added that despite the delay, the fact that marijuana is still illegal across South Dakota could continue to create tension between the tribe and the rest of the state.

"Quite frankly, nine out of 10 people that I've spoken to about the issue were not in favor of it," he said.  "I think they had a lot more pushback than they expected. ... Maybe they're waiting for a better environment."...

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe became the first South Dakota tribe to move forward with making marijuana legal.  The tribe's executive committee voted June 11 to make the sale and use of marijuana legal on its reservation in Moody County about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls. The facility had been slated to open at the end of the year.

I would not have been too surprised if, for administrative reasons, the planned opening for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's marijuana resort was being delayed. But the (unclear?) indication that the Tribe has now decided against opening up a pot shop on its lands and has destroyed its crop leads me to wonder if the Tribe was subject to considerable pressure from local, state and federal authorities to not be the first tribe actively promoting recreational marijuana sales and tourism.

I hope there will be a lot more (and clearer) reporting on this front in the days ahead, as I am quite curious what prompted the change of plans and also whether the change will greatly influence whether and how other tribes consider moving forward in this challenging space.

Prior related posts:

November 9, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)