Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Monday, July 28, 2014

Latest Florida poll shows considerable support for both medical and recreational marijuana

As detailed via this report from the folks at Quinnipiac University, the latest polling numbers suggest Florida voters are keenly in support of marijuana reform. Here are the basics concerning a state seemingly poised to bring marijuana reform movement into the south:

Florida voters support legalized marijuana for medical use 88 - 10 percent, with support ranging from 83 - 14 percent among voters over 65 years old to 95 - 5 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. The lowest level of support is 80 - 19 percent among Republicans, the independent Quinnipiac University poll finds.

Sunshine State voters also support 55 - 41 percent "allowing adults in Florida to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use," or so-called "recreational marijuana." There is a wide gender gap and an even wider age gap: Men back recreational marijuana 61 - 36 percent while women back it by a narrow 49 - 45 percent. Voters 18 to 29 years old are ready to roll 72 - 25, while voters over 65 years old are opposed 59 - 36 percent. Support is 64 - 32 percent among Democrats and 55 - 40 percent among independent voters, with Republicans opposed 56 - 41 percent.

"Forget the stereotypes of stodgy old folks living out their golden years playing canasta and golf," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. "Almost nine- in-ten Floridians favor legalizing medical marijuana and a small majority says adults should be able to possess small amounts of the drug for recreational purposes.

"Even though a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, on the ballot this November, must meet a 60 percent threshold, these numbers make a strong bet the referendum is likely to pass," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll....

If medical marijuana is legalized in Florida, voters say 71 - 26 percent they would support having a marijuana dispensary in the town or city where they live. Support ranges from 57 - 37 percent among voters over 65 years old to 79 - 21 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old.

July 28, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"

NYTThe title of this post is the headline in this (historic?) new New York Times editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco....

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

In coming days, we will publish articles by members of the Editorial Board and supplementary material that will examine these questions. We invite readers to offer their ideas, and we will report back on their responses, pro and con.

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

In addition, today's New York Times has these related signed editorial pieces to kick off its series of coverage:

July 27, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Highlighting the short bench of those crusading against marijuana reform

The Washington Post has this interesting article which highlights some reasons why I tend to think marijuana reform movements will continue to gain steam.   The article is headlined "The lonely lot of the anti-pot crusader," and here are excerpts:

Parents [against drug reforms], once heroes of the just-say-no 1980s, find themselves outgunned: The anti-marijuana movement has little funding or staff, little momentum and, it appears, little audience.

Decriminalization went into effect last week in the District, setting a $25 penalty for possession of up to an ounce of weed.  Earlier in July, pro-marijuana activists scored another victory, submitting 57,000 voter signatures, more than double the number required, to bring the ballot measure, which could add the District to the vanguard of legalization along with Colorado and Washington state....

“Interestingly, whenever we have a debate on TV, we hear the producer asking, ‘Who can we get to debate against marijuana?’ ” says Tony Newman, spokesman for the reformist Drug Policy Alliance.   The cable-show bookers’ “con” choices are indeed scant.

“It’s unbelievable what’s happened,” says Robert DuPont, a psychiatrist who was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the 1970s.  “You can’t find anybody to speak on the other side. . . . The leaders in both parties have completely abandoned the issue.”

DuPont, an addiction specialist, could hold his own in any debate about drugs.  He and other experts point to research showing that 9 percent of marijuana users become addicted, a figure that rises to 16 percent when use begins in teen years.  In various studies, weed also is linked to lower academic performance and mental illness and other health problems.

The marijuana normalization movement bats back such findings by citing the devastating results of alcohol and tobacco dependency and abuse, for example, and the palliative effects of marijuana as medicine.  And they say the disproportionately higher rate of minorities’ arrests and incarceration for pot-related offenses have caused greater social harm — which became a major selling point for decriminalization in the District.

Backed by deep-pocketed funders, the legalizers deploy lobbyists, spokesmen and researchers from well-staffed organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  They even have their own business alliance: the National Cannabis Industry Association.

“These guys are in a full-court press coming at you from every angle,” says DuPont, 78, who runs the small, Rockville-based Institute for Behavior and Health. He sounds exasperated. “They have a bench 1,000 people deep. . . . We’ve got Kevin Sabet.”

Sabet, 35, first testified before the Senate against drug legalization when he was 17 and now runs an anti-pot-legalization group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). Last year he made No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s “Legalization’s Biggest Enemies” list.  “Do we want a stoned America?” asks Sabet, who has served drug czars in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.  “Is that where we want to go at a time when America’s place in the world, in terms of academic and economic competitiveness, is greatly threatened? Good luck.”

Based in Cambridge, Mass., Sabet says he commits “100-plus hours a week” to raising the alarm and has help from SAM affiliates in 27 states.  People who still see grass as “a harmless giggle in our basement” are ignoring the “Wall Street sharks” hoping to profit from a nationwide cannabis industry as large and powerful as the booze or tobacco businesses, he says. Sabet predicts increases in buzzed driving and health problems.

But such arguments clearly have not stopped the other side’s momentum.  “Woeful Kevin” is what Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s executive director, calls Sabet.  “I feel blessed by someone like Kevin,” St. Pierre says.  “Since he has come on the scene we have prevailed, prevailed, prevailed. We could use 500 Kevins.”...

Promoting a message of compassion for the sick, medical marijuana advocates led the way in the 1990s to a more accepting public view toward recreational pot.  The number of pro-pot groups began to surge.  “It’s our fault,” Sabet admits, but he cites one mitigating factor.  “They have money and we don’t.”

Still, other forces explain why reform has caught on now, including supportive baby boomer voters; a lingering recession that dampened government revenue, making the taxation of marijuana tempting; and an overwhelming public view that alcohol prohibition was a “great failed experiment,” St. Pierre says.  In addition, the Obama administration decided not to challenge legalization in Washington and Colorado and to allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.

“This is like gay marriage,” St. Pierre argues.  “Twenty years ago if you voted for it you were a loser; now 20 years later, if you vote against it you’re a loser.”  In the District, the legalizers are predicting success.  Sabet’s group decided against challenging the signatures gathered for the ballot initiative: “We are picking our battles,” he says.

July 24, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Is anyone seriously tracking collateral industries and jobs created by marijuana reform?

Th (2)The question in the title of this post was my first reaction to this notable new article, headlined "Next Gold Rush: Legal Marijuana Feeds Entrepreneurs’ Dreams, which appears on the front page of today's New York Times.  Here are excerpts from the article: 

Like the glint of gold or rumors of oil in ages past, the advent of legal, recreational marijuana is beginning to reshape economies in Colorado and Washington State.

Marijuana is beckoning thousands of entrepreneurs and workers, investors and hucksters from across the country, each looking to cash in on a rapidly changing industry that offers hefty portions of both promise and peril.

At convention centers and in hotel meeting rooms, start-up companies are floating sales pitches for marijuana delivery services or apps to name-tagged investors who sip red wine and munch on hempseed snacks. This year, hundreds of people seeking jobs lined up for blocks in downtown Denver, résumés in hand, for an industry-sponsored marijuana job fair....

Tourists have flocked to those stores, making up 44 percent of the customers at one Denver shop during a sample week this spring, according to the state’s first study of demand for marijuana. Tour companies and marijuana-friendly bed-and-breakfasts have sprung up to serve tourists, too.

In Washington State, where recreational sales kicked off last week, the retail industry is much smaller, with as few as eight stores open so far. But the ambitions are boundless, with more than 300 licenses under state review and an outdoor growing season — perfect for apples, wheat and grapes — that could make Washington a national powerhouse of production if legalization spreads.

Hundreds of other people have found work on the edges of the industry. They sell water systems, soil nutrients, lighting and accounting services, like the 19th-century merchants who profited by selling picks and shovels to gold miners. There are now dozens of marijuana-related mobile apps, marijuana-centric law firms and real estate agents, cannabis security experts (it is a risky, virtually all-cash trade) and marijuana-themed event promoters offering everything from luxury getaways to bus tours. Washington has a rule requiring bar-code tracking of every marijuana plant to ensure that only licensed, Washington-grown marijuana is sold in its stores. It has also created a niche for tech start-ups like Viridian Sciences, a software company aiming to help retailers prove the provenance of their product should a state inspector or customer ask....

[M]any are ready to gamble on marijuana’s success. After a decade in the military and a career working in security, Sy Alli, 53, moved to Colorado to become the director of corporate security for Dixie Brands, a company that makes marijuana-infused drinks and snacks. Zach Marburger, 28, visited in January to ski and check out the early days of legal use of recreational marijuana, and decided to relocate to Denver to develop software to connect customers and retailers.

And a few months ago, a 22-year-old mobile app developer named Isaac Dietrich and a friend were smoking marijuana in a Norfolk, Va., apartment when they realized: There could be money in this. They moved to Colorado, where they are working on an app called MassRoots, which lets marijuana enthusiasts privately post photos on an online platform out of sight of their parents or co-workers. They want it to be the Instagram for marijuana users. “We thought about relocating to Silicon Valley, but they haven’t backed a single marijuana company,” Mr. Dietrich said. “This is where everything’s happening. We didn’t want to be left out.”

July 19, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Should marijuana home delivery be embraced or feared?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new AP article headlined "Next up for legal pot? Marijuana at your doorstep." Here are excerpts:

William “Jackrabbit” Large pulls his SUV onto the side of a downtown Seattle street, parking behind an Amazon Fresh delivery truck and carrying a product the online retailer doesn’t offer: marijuana.

The thin, bespectacled Large is a delivery man for Winterlife, a Seattle company that is among a group of new businesses pushing the limits of Washington state’s recreational pot industry by offering to bring marijuana to almost any doorstep. “It’s an opportunity that should not be missed,” Large says with the kind of fast-talking voice meant for radio.

While delivery services have existed for years to supply medical marijuana patients, the rise of similar businesses geared toward serving recreational users in Washington and Colorado highlights how the industry is outpacing the states’ pot laws.

Winterlife’s business model is a felony under Washington state law, which allows only the sale of pot grown by licensed producers at licensed retail shops. Lawmakers should consider changing that, said Alison Holcomb, the author of the 2012 voter initiative that legalized the recreational use of pot, because providing more ways to access marijuana will help push people to the legal pot market.

In Colorado, where marijuana regulations require sales to be done in licensed dispensaries, there’s a flourishing market online for marijuana deliveries made in exchange for donations. The law allows adults over 21 to give one another up to an ounce of marijuana, provided it is done “without remuneration.”

The only known case of criminal charges brought against a Colorado delivery service came last year, when the owner of a pot-for-donations service in the Colorado Springs area faced felony distribution charges. He committed suicide before trial.

In Washington, where the legal pot industry kicked off last week, companies like Winterlife jumped into fill demand from consumers for marijuana while the state spent the past 19 months building the regulations and licensing growers and retailers. Winterlife co-founder Evan Cox, a vegan and bicyclist enthusiast, began by advertising on Craigslist and made deliveries.

Now he has around 50 full and part-time employees, including 25 to 30 delivery personnel in cars and bicycles. Operators field between 400 and 600 calls a day. “We found a way to really fill the need that the Washington voter said that there is,” he says from his company’s headquarters, where workers busily sort, cut and package their different marijuana products into branded clear bags.

The Winterlife model is simple. They have a website that features their products – marijuana flowers, edibles and pipes. After making a call, the consumer’s phone is relayed to a driver, who then asks them where they want to meet.

Cox is fully aware of the shaky legal ground where he stands. All of the drivers operate under animal-inspired pseudonyms. There’s a jackrabbit, a wombat, a possum, among others. Cox is also mostly staying within Seattle, where police have tolerated the company’s presence and voters in the city made marijuana crimes a low priority for law enforcement years ago....

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, said Winterlife is undermining the spirit of the legal marijuana law. So far, he said, the police department has bigger priorities. But he said the department could change its stance if it receives information about underage sales or other complaints. The department recently seized more than 2,200 plants from a medical marijuana grow that was bothering neighbors.

July 15, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Unsurprisingly, two very divergent views of the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado

As everyone might have expected, proponents and opponents of marijuana reform have quite diverse perspectives on the success or failure of the legalization experiment in Colorado over the first six months of regular recreation pot sales.  Examples of the divergent views are well demonstrated by these two recent commentaries:

From Jacob Sullum, reform proponent, here in Forbes, "How Is Marijuana Legalization Going? The Price of Pot Peace Looks Like a Bargain."

From Kevin Sabet, reform opponent, here at CNN, "Colorado's troubles with pot."

The enduring problem posed by these divergent perspectives is that it become so much very harder for marijuana reform "agnostics" to know whether the sky is really falling or if in fact all is swell in the wake of recent reforms. Perhaps usefully, though, the divergent views may help ensure that we go a number of years with the on-going experiment before anyone should feel extra confident asserting great success or great failure in recent reforms.

July 11, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pot's latest business maven: former Gov and Prez candidate Gary Johnson

US News & World Report has this notable new article about a notable new player in the marijuana industry.  The piece is headlined "Former GOP Governor Looks to Build the 'Microsoft of Marijuana': Gary Johnson is now CEO of a firm that puts 'clean-your-house marijuana' in lozenges," and here are excerpts:

He founded a successful business, served two terms as a Republican governor of New Mexico and climbed Mount Everest. Now, Gary Johnson has set his sights on marijuana.

Nevada-based startup Cannabis Sativa Inc. announced Johnson as its new president and CEO on Tuesday, and he sees the potential for explosive nationwide growth. “I don't know if I’m the Bill Gates of marijuana, but we might be the Microsoft of marijuana,” he says. "The whole country is going to legalize marijuana in 10 years, and then so goes the world."

The company’s first product is a marijuana-infused lozenge, which Johnson says he’s tried several times. “It’s very, very pleasant,” Johnson says. “Rather than a go-to-sleep marijuana, it’s a clean-your-house marijuana.”

The company has sold some of the lozenges – for which it developed special marijuana strains – in California, where medical marijuana is legal. It is preparing a marketing campaign and working to develop local partners to produce the candy across the country....

Residents in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia – with the possible addition of Oklahoma – appear poised to vote on legalization in November. And Florida voters are considering a relatively lax medical marijuana initiative.

Johnson sees the tide of change and hopes to position Cannabis Sativa as an industry leader. Before serving as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, Johnson was an entrepreneur. He worked construction jobs in his teens before founding Big J Enterprises, which he built into a 1,000-employee construction company. He sold the firm in 1999. He’s proud of that business experience, and hopes to recreate his earlier success.

Johnson has long been a supporter of liberalizing drug laws. In 1999, the Clinton administration’s drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, flew to New Mexico to chastise the governor, calling his positions an "embarrassment" and "uninformed” at a press conference, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. "He ought to be ashamed of himself telling a bunch of college students that marijuana was wonderful,” McCaffrey said. “He's getting some of these sound bites out of Rolling Stone magazine.”

Johnson held a competing press conference in which he defended his opposition to the war on drugs and insisted on a taxed, regulated market.

July 3, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Is God a supporter of marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is my (only slightly) tounge-in-cheek response to this Christian Post article headlined "Oklahoma Senator Quotes Genesis 1:29 to Seek Marijuana Legalization." Here are excerpts:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson announced the filing of a statewide initiative petition to legalize marijuana, telling supporters that the campaign is based on Genesis 1:29, which suggests that God created "this wonderful, miraculous plant."

"We're putting forth Genesis 1:29 as the basis of this campaign," KFOR.com quoted Sen. Johnson, a Democrat, as telling supporters at the State Capitol on Friday after filing the petition with the office of the Oklahoma secretary of state.

"God created this wonderful, miraculous plant and we know that it has been vilified for the last 100 years, and it's time to change that in Oklahoma," added the senator, who has led efforts, along with attorney David Slane, to legalize pot.  The advocates of marijuana will require 160,000 signatures from registered voters within three months to get the proposal on a statewide ballot....

The petition states that up to one ounce of marijuana should be allowed for recreational use, and three ounces for medical reasons.  The senator is of the opinion that resultant tax benefits would benefit the state.... Johnson also says that decriminalizing possession would ease the burden on prisons. "We're locking up non-violent, marijuana possessing people, giving them felonies and filling up our prisons."

"It's just the right thing to do. It's a plant. It's a God given plant and it could change the world," Fox 25 quoted a petition supporter, Pamela Street, as saying Friday....

Marijuana is different in nature from caffeine, Christian theologian John Piper wrote on the blog of his Desiring God ministry recently. While marijuana "temporarily impairs the reliable processing of surrounding reality," caffeine "ordinarily sharpens that processing," he said.

June 15, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is a home rule/preemption local/state/federal legal battle brewing in Wenatchee, Washington?

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new New York Times article headlined, "With Marijuana Legalized, a City in Washington State Says, ‘Not So Fast’."  Here are the details of a legal battle that is sure to be followed closely by proponents and opponents of marijuana reform:

The first retail shops selling legal recreational marijuana in Washington State are preparing to open next month. Cash registers are standing by, and the first crops are almost ready for harvesting. But not every part of the state is joining the party.

The state attorney general, in a nonbinding legal opinion, has said local governments can regulate marijuana under the statute legalizing its recreational use, and at least 10 cities and counties in Washington have gone even further, banning marijuana businesses outright. An additional 69 municipalities, and 12 counties, have voted for moratoriums on such businesses, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center, a nonprofit group in Seattle that works with local governments on multiple issues.

Now, a lawsuit brought by a man who was denied a license to sell marijuana in Wenatchee in central Washington’s apple-growing country is challenging the rights of local governments to ban marijuana businesses — and also raising the possibility that the state’s marijuana law will come under sharp legal scrutiny.

The plaintiff, Shaun Preder, has been told by the city that he will not get a local business license to sell marijuana because the drug remains illegal under federal law — and that all Wenatchee businesses must comply with federal law. Mr. Preder, who runs an office furniture store in Woodinville, near Seattle, said he spent about $12,000 in rent for a 3,000 square-foot shop in Wenatchee that he had hoped to open for marijuana sales.  But uncertainty about a license has kept him from spending more to get the place ready.

Wenatchee’s City Council is scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide whether to respond to the suit, which was filed in Chelan County Superior Court . A resolve to fight — especially if the city takes the position that federal law pre-empts state law — could ultimately take the suit to the United States Supreme Court, where the conflicts between federal and state laws on marijuana have never been addressed, legal experts said.

Washington’s marijuana law could be affirmed by the courts, or struck down.  And what unfolds in Wenatchee, a city of about 33,000 that was closely divided from the start about the wisdom of legal marijuana — with a narrow majority in the county supporting it in 2012 — could set the stage.  Backers of legalization say it is a fight they are eager for, asserting that the statute will be affirmed.

“We need clarity,” said Alison Holcomb, the criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State and primary author of the Initiative 502 statute. Ms. Holcomb said the A.C.L.U. would seek to intervene in the case only if Wenatchee specifically claims federal protection for its position.  “The federal pre-emption issue hasn’t been resolved,” she said....

Mr. Preder’s lawyer, Hilary Bricken, said that no matter what the Council decides on Thursday, her client has already been harmed by Wenatchee’s actions because the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which regulates recreational marijuana, said it would proceed first in license applications in places where the local authorities are not trying to bar the door.  She said she would seek an emergency court order holding the city’s ban in abeyance if the suit goes forward.

June 11, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Maureen Dowd's experience with marijuana edibles is no joke

As you may have seen by now, Maureen Dowd went to Colorado, ate a marijuana candy, and had a very bad experience.  

HuffingtonPost has chronicled some of the reaction from twitter to Dowd's column.  For the most part, it hasn't been kind.  Gawker jokes, for example, that the column tells us Dowd is a "a really paranoid stoner."  The reaction is not surprising.  As the BBC put it, "[t]here's just something so tempting about imagining straight-laced paper-of-record columnists high as kites."  

But the issues raised by Dowd's experience with marijuana edibles are real.  And they are nothing to joke about.  

On a policy level, one of the key selling points of legalization is the ability to regulate the market.  Regulation brings many benefits (no more violent black market, the collection of taxes, and so on.).  One of these benefits is that regulation can help to make sure users know what they are getting as far as quantity, quality, etc.  Regulations can (and should) make it possible to use a substance more safely than under a prohibition model.

When it comes to edibles, I think it's fair to say that Colorado's regulations aren't really achieving that goal--at least not for a key segment of users (inexperienced users and/or users from out of state.)  

Here's the problem: Colorado permits 100mg of marijuana in a candy but says that 10mg is a single serving size.  In other words, a tiny piece of chocolate or single gummy bear might have 10 servings of marijuana in it.  

This is, quite frankly, crazy.  Why?  Because it is entirely inconsistent with how people are used to consuming other intoxicants (like alcohol) and other candies (like, well, any candy you've ever purchased.)

When it comes to alcohol, people are used to ordering a beer, a mixed drink, or a glass of wine (or maybe a bottle to share over dinner).  One glass might produce a buzz, but it will take more than that (for almost all users) to become intoxicated.  From that experience, it's natural that many people are going to assume--regardless of the fine print--that one candy is going to be rougly similar to one drnk.  These people will think: "Drink one glass of wine, achieve a mild buzz.  Eat one gummy, achieve a mild buzz."  Instead, people are eating one gummy and feeling like they're getting thrown through the doors of perception.

Similarly, when it comes to candy, people are used to eating a single Bon-Bon, gummy bear, or even full candy bar, all at once.  (Often, when it comes to Bon-Bons and gummies, people will eat a few at a time.)  The idea that you would eat only part of a chocolate truffle or a gummy--whether it be 1/10 or 1/2--is ridiculous.  

So, personally, I'm quite sympathetic when Dowd writes that the "caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child."  This is how many average people are going to view the product--based on their past experiences eating candies and consuming alcohol. 

I understand the argument that when people make assumptions, they are assuming the risk that they're wrong.  But the fact is that regulators decide the dosage levels and there's no good reason for these levels to be wildly inconsistent with the expectations of novice users.      

Sure, if candies are limited to 10mg per candy, a strong user might have to eat 10 or 20 gummies to get the desired effect.  But I think that is a small price to pay to make sure that the novice or occasional user does not end up having an unexpectedly terrible experience.  

This dynamic also has important implications for the politics of marijuana legalization.  People don't like feeling as though they voted for one thing and got something else entirely.  And I don't think the average voter anticipated there would be bite-sized candies containing 10 servings of marijuana each when they voted for legalization.  

The more out-of-state visitors and casual users that have bad experiences like Dowd's, the greater the potential for a backlash on legalization.  These people will (mistakenly, but perhaps understandly) become skeptical that legalization actually means regulation and control.    

Of course, legalization does mean regulation and control.  And that's why the problems with edibles can be fixed relatively easily in a legalization regime.  It's just a matter of adjusting the serving sizes and labels to better conform with people's expectations and better inform novice users.  (In a world of prohibition, by contrast, nothing is labeled and users have no way of knowing what they're getting.)

Thankfully, Colorado is already at work on this very thing.  A few weeks ago, Gov. Hickenlooper signed a bill for a study into edibles, with an eye toward updating regulations later this year.  Personally, I think these changes can't come soon enough.  Until then, we can expect to be seeing more stories like Dowd's.  

June 4, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Two Words: Marijuana Coffee"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Time piece.  Here is a snippet:

Cannabis-infused coffee is expected to be available in Washington state in July, the product’s developer Adam Stites told The Huffington Post earlier this week.   A tongue-in-cheek manifesto for the brand “Mirth Provisions” says the product will “establish unprecedented chillness” and enable consumers to “listen to the dark side of the Moon again.”

Stites described the effect of the cold brew — which also comes in a cream and sugar variety — as “wake and bake,” in an interview with MyNorthwest.com.  He claims it contains 20mg THC, which will give drinkers about the same buzz as an “IPA or glass of wine.”

As more and more pot edibles pop up on the market, there are concerns that people will overeat them and harm themselves and others, raising questions about how much cannabis regulation is needed.

Though this news can and surely will prompt plenty of jokes about a pot of pot coffee, it serves for me as yet another indication that products for marijuana consumption in methods other than smoking are likely to play a major role in the future of this industry.

June 4, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

"After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy recent article appearing in the New York Times.  As the headline suggests, the article documents glass-half-empty data and perspectives on Colorado's on-going experiment with marijuana legalization.  Here are excerpts:

Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, the battle over legalization is still raging. Law enforcement officers in Colorado and neighboring states, emergency room doctors and legalization opponents increasingly are highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary lessons for other states flirting with loosening marijuana laws.

There is the Denver man who, hours after buying a package of marijuana-infused Karma Kandy from one of Colorado’s new recreational marijuana shops, began raving about the end of the world and then pulled a handgun from the family safe and killed his wife, the authorities say.  Some hospital officials say they are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana.  Sheriffs in neighboring states complain about stoned drivers streaming out of Colorado and through their towns.

“I think, by any measure, the experience of Colorado has not been a good one unless you’re in the marijuana business,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization.  “We’ve seen lives damaged. We’ve seen deaths directly attributed to marijuana legalization. We’ve seen marijuana slipping through Colorado’s borders. We’ve seen marijuana getting into the hands of kids.”

Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data.  Because of the lag in reporting many health statistics, it may take years to know legal marijuana’s effect — if any — on teenage drug use, school expulsions or the number of fatal car crashes. It was only in January, for example, that the Colorado State Patrol began tracking the number of people pulled over for driving while stoned. Since then, marijuana-impaired drivers have made up about 1.5 percent of all citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Proponents of legalization argue that the critics s are cherry-picking anecdotes to tarnish a young industry that has been flourishing under intense scrutiny.  The vast majority of the state’s medical and recreational marijuana stores are living up to stringent state rules, they say.  The stores have sold marijuana to hundreds of thousands of customers without incident.  The industry has generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees so far, though the revenues have not matched some early projections.

Marijuana supporters note that violent crimes in Denver — where the bulk of Colorado’s pot retailers are — are down so far this year. The number of robberies from January through April fell by 4.8 percent from the same time in 2013, and assaults were down by 3.7 percent. Over all, crime in Denver is down by about 10 percent, though it is impossible to say whether changes to marijuana laws played any role in that decline....

The argument is being waged with fervor because both sides say Colorado’s successes and failures with regulating marijuana will shape perceptions of legalization for voters considering similar measures in other states and for leery federal law enforcement officials.  After the 2012 legalization votes in Colorado and Washington State — where recreational sales are expected to begin this summer — Justice Department officials gave the states a cautious green light. But they warned that they might intervene if marijuana ended up fueling violence or drug trafficking, or flowing across state lines or into the hands of children.

Marijuana opponents like Thomas J. Gorman of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which helps law enforcement, say Colorado is already falling short of those standards.  “In any other state if they were making as much money and growing as much dope, they’d be taken out by the feds,” Mr. Gorman said.

Few agree on how much legally purchased marijuana is being secreted out of Colorado.  Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas had tallied a 61 percent increase in Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas had tallied a 61 percent increase inseizures of marijuana that could be traced to Colorado. But according to the Kansas Highway Patrol, total marijuana seizures fell to 1,090 pounds from 2,790 pounds during the first four months of the year, a 61 percent decline.

Some sheriffs and police chiefs along Colorado’s borders say they have noticed little change. But in Colby, Kan., which sits along an interstate highway running west to Colorado, Police Chief Ron Alexander said charges for sale, distribution or possession related to marijuana were rising fast.  This year, he tallied 20 such cases through May 23. Two years ago, there were six during that same time period.  Sheriff Adam Hayward of Deuel County, Neb., said he was locking up more people for marijuana-related offenses. “It’s kind of a free-for-all,” he said. “The state or the federal government needs to step up and do something.”...

Police and fire officials across the state have been contending with a sharp rise in home explosions, as people use flammable butane to make hashish oil.. And despite a galaxy of legal, regulated marijuana stores across the state, prosecutors say a dangerous illicit market persists....

Many of Colorado’s starkest problems with legal marijuana stem from pot-infused cookies, chocolates and other surprisingly potent edible treats that are especially popular with tourists and casual marijuana users. On Colorado’s northern plains, for example, a fourth grader showed up on the playground one day in April and sold some of his grandmother’s marijuana to three classmates.  The next day, one of those students returned the favor by bringing in a marijuana edible he had swiped from his own grandmother.  “This was kind of an unintended consequence of Colorado’s new law,” said John Gates, the district’s director of school safety and security. “For crying out loud, secure your weed. If you can legally possess it, that’s fine. But it has no place in an elementary school.”

So far this year, nine children have ended up at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora after consuming marijuana, six of whom got critically sick.  In all of 2013, the hospital treated only eight such cases.

June 2, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Brookings discovers "professional businesses that are innovative and scientific" in Colorado

BrookingsI am pleased to learn from this new post on the Brookings Institution's blog that folks at this prestigious think tank "will be researching the new marijuana industry, not as advocates, but as social scientists, interested in how our federal system comes to terms with statewide decisions to legalize a substance that is illegal in the rest of the country, and how states implement those policy changes." And this new post authored by John Hudak, headlined "Dispatch from Colorado: The Interesting Case of Marijuana Entrepreneurs," already provides an interesting and exciting perspective on what the folks at Brookings are discovering as their research begins. Here are snippets: 

I spent last week in the Greater Denver area researching implementation of legalized cannabis. In the process, I found a remarkable situation: a robust entrepreneurialism around an industry that elsewhere lives in the shadows of society....

Regardless of one’s personal feelings on the issue, Colorado has determined (and within bounds, the federal government has allowed) the construction of a legal, recreational, and highly regulated market by which consumers can purchase a vast array of cannabis products. And business is booming....

The legal market in Colorado, from professional grow operations to medical dispensaries to recreational dispensaries, looks nothing like street corner drug operation. These are professional businesses that are innovative and scientific. They bring black market lessons to the new, white market, while using tools of agriculture, engineering, science, manufacturing, and business to advance an industrial effort.

Businesses function in a market — though highly regulated — competing with each other to produce the best product in the highest demand. Surely there are members of the industry — like in any industry — who try to skirt the rules or operate outside of the regulatory structures. However, my interaction with businesses involved talking with executives, operators, and employees who embodied professionalism and care for their craft. They reminded me at every turn that they were quite aware that playing by the rules was a necessary condition to avoid the ever-possible federal intervention. At the same time, they showed pride in their efforts, just as a brewmaster would at a microbrewery or a vintner at a winery.

And the operations were just as scientific. For example, at the grow operation I toured, I was led through a series of rooms, engineered specifically for the growing of cannabis. The process involved water purification, testing pH levels, temperature, and conductivity. There was a genetics room where employees ensure a strain of marijuana is consistent in each subsequent plant of that strain. Lights (as it was an indoor grow) were metered, colored properly for the correct stages of growth, measured the proper distance from plants, and were shut off for the necessary periods of time each day. Feeding and watering were timed and measured, and every plant pinned with the state-required seed-to-sale tracking system identifier tags. While in some ways similar to a greenhouse where one would buy roses or petunias, this space looked nothing like the neighborhood florist’s supply space. It was a warehouse filled with advanced agro-science and manufacturing.

In addition, my visits to dispensaries and a grow operation offered a peek into the emerging labor market within the industry: it employs demographic groups hit hardest by the recent recession. Most employees were young (appearing 30 or under). There were numerous females and individuals of color. Though I lack systematic industry employment data and cannot make broad claims about employment trends, my conversations with those who know the industry best suggested that those observations were more than just anecdotes and reflect real trends among cannabis businesses.

Is the industry perfect? No. Does it need regulatory and legislative solutions to operate in a more effective, safe, and consistent way? Absolutely. I will address these topics in a paper to be released in the coming months.

However, a deep look into Colorado’s industry shows a professionalized marketplace that contrasts starkly with caricatures or stereotypes about marijuana growers and sellers. In Colorado, the marijuana seller may not look or dress the same as the woman selling pharmaceuticals or the man selling insurance, but they’re driven by similar entrepreneurial energy and a willingness to play by the rules in a regulated marketplace. The emergence of that marketplace, the ability of the state to respond to the unprecedented and unique challenges it will present, and its adaptation to the broader federal system will be the topics of more research.

I am especially eager to see this report focus on the "emerging labor market" within the marijuana industry. I have long suspected and have been hoping that the labor force dynamics that can surround a legalized marijuana industry, especially if it is regulated in a manner that encourages job creation, could be very beneficial for many under-employed populations. I hope the folks at Brookings give particular attention to this issue in its coming research, in part because I have not seen any significant coverage of labor issues in other work to date in this field.

May 23, 2014 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is anyone tracking closely and rigorously job creation (and related tax revenue) from marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article in the Los Angeles Times headlined "Marijuana boom spawns ancillary businesses."  Here are excerpts:

Container brands like Kush Bottles are among a slew of ancillary companies joining what many are calling the green rush. Where there's weed, there's also a growing need for everything from greenhouses and fertilizer to pipes and vaporizers.  "The annual revenue is easily in the hundreds of millions, and likely much more," said Chris Walsh, editor of website Marijuana Business Daily.

Demand for pot-related products and services is expected to grow sharply as more states loosen marijuana laws. Already, 21 states and Washington, D.C., allow the sale of some form of pot. Entrepreneurs are attracted by the industry's open field, with few established players and many untapped markets. Some say the marijuana boom reminds them of the Gold Rush a century and a half ago.

"We're selling shovels in a gold rush is all we're doing," said Rich Nagle, a former electrical engineer who now peddles an automated indoor marijuana growing system, designed to be managed remotely with a smartphone.

No one has been able to estimate the potential market for ancillary products and services. But legal cannabis sales are expected to grow to $2.57 billion this year, up from $1.53 billion a year ago, according to ArcView Group, a San Francisco investment network and market research firm focused on legal cannabis.

In addition to product suppliers, marijuana retailers and dispensaries are also increasingly seeking lawyers, accountants and security consultants, said Troy Dayton, CEO and co-founder of ArcView. But many of those professional firms still avoid the pot business. "The reason there's so much opportunity in ancillary businesses is because the industry is being underserved by traditional players," Dayton said. "In part, it's because they fear the reputational risk and they fear the market is too small. But it's growing fast."

Growers and dispensaries offer some of the quickest returns on investments and fattest profit margins. But they also are exposed to risks that don't affect supply chain companies. The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, on par with heroin and ecstasy. That means any enterprise that handles pot faces the threat of closure or prosecution, no matter what state laws say. Because it's a cash-only business, companies that sell pot are also at higher risk of being robbed or burglarized: Most banks are prohibited from taking deposits from marijuana sellers.

"Any time you're literally touching marijuana, you're subject to a different set of laws," said Justin Hartfield, founder of Weedmaps, a review website that is similar to Yelp but for pot dispensaries. "We don't touch the product itself, and that's how we're able to get a bank account." Hartfield's site is one of the most recognized brands to emerge out of the recent rise of legalized pot. Founded in 2007, shortly after Hartfield received his first medical marijuana card, Weedmaps grossed about $25 million in revenue last year.

Dispensaries post their menu of marijuana plants and prices for a monthly fee of $420. Hartfield is building an empire around legalized marijuana. The Weedmaps site is one of a constellation of ventures, including the recently redesigned Marijuana.com, a news and forum site, and MMJ Menu, a point-of-sales software for tracking marijuana sales, inventory and patients.

Some prior related posts:

May 8, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Should we criminalize every dangerous item that children might accidentally ingest?

The question in the title of this post came to mind when I saw this post by Bill Otis at the Everyone I Don't Like Should Be In Prison Blog Crime & Consequences Blog.  

Bill highlights a new report telling us that between 2005 and 2011 there were "985 calls to U.S. poison centers for unintentional marijuana exposure in children ages 9 and younger" due to accidental injestion.  The study also reports that the rate of calls "in states that had passed legislation legalizing marijuana use for recreational or medicinal purposes before 2005 more than tripled over this period."  (Since it wasn't until 2012 that any state legalized marijuana for recreaational purposes, I'm not entirely sure what this last part means.  But I'll put that to the side for now.)    

From this data, Bill appears to surmise that "what pot legalizers really want" (this line is the title of his post) is to hurt our children because, of course, we "may infer that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his acts." 

Here's the thing.  I don't know if Bill knows this but marijuana is not the only dangerous item small children ingest.  In fact, I used the google machine and found this 2012 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers National Poison Data System (PDF).  If Bill thinks 985 calls over 6 years is a moral outrage, he should prepare to turn his outrage meter to 11.

In 2012 alone, there were 159,970 calls involving "cosmetics/personal care products," 111,148 for "cleaning substances," 49,086 for "vitamins," and 21,721 for "arts/crafts/office supplies."  And this is just for kids aged 5 and younger.  (The data is at Table 17C.)  (These are also just a handful of examples from the top 25 substances.)

I always suspected that the cosmetics industry's true goal was to poison our children!  And same with the vitamin makers!  And the arts and crafts suppliers!  

I'm looking forward to seeing Bill's call for the prohibition of lipstick and cleaning goods.  ...

Look, I don't mean to make light of the danger edible marijuana candies can pose to kids (I've posted about it before myself.)  I certainly believe that legalization states should enact strict labeling, packaging and dosage regulations when it comes to marijuana edibles.  No sane person would want a 9 year old child to accidentally eat a marijuana cookie.

But I don't think the fact that something can harm a child if accidentally swallowed means we should criminalize it.  Nor does the fact that 985 kids have ingested marijuana over 6 years mean that "what legalizers really want" is to hurt our children.  Honestly, it's a little sad that some prohibitionists apparently believe otherwise.  

May 6, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This is your brain on drugs: what a recent fMRI study can and can’t tell us about the effects of marijuana use

Two weeks ago (okay, I'm late to the party), news broke of a new study showing that the brains of casual marijuana users are different than those of non-users. The study was just published in the Journal of Neuroscience and can be found here.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 40 young adults aged 18-25. 20 of those subjects were casual marijuana users and 20 were non-users. Controlling for other behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use, the researchers found that marijuana use was correlated with changes to the shape, size, and density of particular areas of the brain. From the study:

“The results of this study indicate that in young, recreational marijuana users, structural abnormalities in gray matter density, volume, and shape of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala can be observed. Pending confirmation in other cohorts of marijuana users, the present findings suggest that further study of marijuana effects are needed to help inform discussion about the legalization of marijuana.”

The study generated a lot of media coverage, and, unfortunately, over-statements of the study’s actual implications for ongoing policy debates. For example, the Society for Neuroscience issued a press release for the study. The release, while titled with appropriate caution (“Brain Changes are Associated with Casual Marijuana Use in Young Adults”), relays unsupported claims from scientists regarding the ramifications of the study. One of the authors, Hans Breiter, is quoted as saying ““This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.” And Carl Lupica, a researcher from the National Institute on Drug Abuse who was not involved with the study, similarly suggests that “This study suggests that even light to moderate recreational marijuana use can cause changes in brain anatomy.”  

The problem is that the study doesn’t necessarily support such conclusions. The study’s findings, while intriguing and valuable, are still quite limited. For one thing, the study will need to be replicated. The subject pool of 40 is rather small. That’s not reason enough to dismiss the study -- much brain science research relies on small n studies, because MRIs are cumbersome and expensive, and one can find statistically significant results with small pools – but it is reason to be particularly cautious about the results pre-replication.

Second, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Law policymakers commonly ignore this important scientific concept, but even scientists sometimes get ahead of themselves and jump to conclusions not warranted by a study’s design. In this study, for example, it is quite possible that people who use marijuana have differently sized and shaped brains to begin with; for example, maybe their brains are simply wired to seek out more risky behaviors and that’s why they’ve decided to use an illicit substance. Since we don’t know the size and shapes of these brains before they started using marijuana, we can’t say which came first: the marijuana usage or “the structural abnormalities in gray matter density, volume, and shape of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala.”

Third, even if the study’s results could be replicated and even if they could (somehow) demonstrate a causal connection between marijuana use and brain structure, it’s not clear from this study anyway why we should care. To be sure, different areas of the brain are associated with different functions and I wouldn't want to tinker with the size, shape, or density of my brain. But the study’s author’s can’t yet say that the changes they observe in brain structure necessarily cause negative changes in behavior.  For example, some studies suggest that the nucleus accumbens might play a role in drug addiction. But it’s not clear whether that changes observed in this study are associated with (let alone cause) marijuana addiction or any other bad behavioral outcomes; indeed, the authors made a point of excluding “dependent” marijuana users from the subject pool.

Law and neuroscience is a very promising field. It is generating intriguing findings concerning important issues like culpability. But as the best in this nascent field know, there is still much to be learned about the brain. This study is an intriguing development and clearly worthy of more follow ups. I think research on the brain cold help us understand marijuana’s effects and put them in perspective with those of alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, etc. But for now, bold statements about the import of brain science for policy debates over marijuana seem premature.

April 29, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Science | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Legalizing marijuana has been good for Colorado, voters in the state say 52 - 38 percent"

The title of this post is the first line of this notable press release discussing the results of a notable new Colorado poll.  Here is more from the press release:

Legalizing marijuana has been good for Colorado, voters in the state say 52 - 38 percent, but 52 percent of voters are less likely to vote for a candidate for office who smokes marijuana two or three days a week, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today....

Legalized marijuana has been bad for the state, Republicans say 63 - 28 percent and voters over 65 years old say 62 - 28 percent. All other listed groups say it's good for the state....

"Colorado voters are generally good to go on grass, across the spectrum, from personal freedom to its taxpayer benefits to its positive impact on the criminal justice system," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. "But if you are a politician, think twice before smokin' them if you got 'em," Malloy added.

I tend not to put too much stock in a single poll, and a lot could change concerning public opinion regarding legalized marijuana in the weeks and months ahead. But the demographic breakdown of the results in this poll are quite interesting and reveal that, relatively to the general Colorado population, independents, women and persons under 50 all most strongly believe that legalizing marijuana has been good for the state. These numbers confirm my sense that supporting legalized marijuana may now help a politician attract key swing voters more than opposing it.

April 28, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 18, 2014

How might (rare?) tragedies linked to legal marijuana use impact reform developments?

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.

April 18, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (7)

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:

April 7, 2014 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 31, 2014

New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association endorses marijuana legalization

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.

March 31, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)