Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, May 25, 2018

Some interesting holiday weekend reads on modern marijuana reform realities

As we head into a long weekend, I have noticed a few interesting reads about modern marijuana reform realities:

  • From The Atlantic by Ronald Brownstein here, "Will Texas Follow Houston’s Lead on Drug-Policy Reform?: District Attorney Kim Ogg is rapidly implementing progressive policies in Harris County—and she intends to be a model for the rest of her state."
  • From Forbes by Julie Weed here, "Advice To New Jersey, The Garden State, As It Expands Its Cannabis Market"

  • From Slate by Alex Halperin here, "Why the Marijuana Industry Wants Friends Like John Boehner: And why the low-regulation future some growers crave is the wrong one."

  • From the Washington Post by Judith Grisel here, "Pot Holes: Legalizing marijuana is fine. But don’t ignore the science on its dangers."

May 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"Cities should restrict marijuana businesses to the same areas as junkyards and strip clubs"

The title of this post is the (catchy?) subheadline of this new provocative Bloomberg commentary authored by economist Tyler Cowen under the main headline "Legalize Pot, But Don’t Normalize It." Here are excerpts:

I think it is the proper province of government to regulate the use of public spaces in ways that encourage order and utility.  Private shopping malls won’t let you walk through the halls snorting heroin or smoking marijuana, and there is nothing outrageous about that decision.  The property owners have decided that they want a particular kind of experience and image for their venue, and they regulate its use and access accordingly.  Municipal governments should make and enforce comparable decisions.

Cities and towns already face these trade-offs when it comes to zoning.  Even if you believe, as I do, that most zoning regulations are far too restrictive, it’s legitimate for a local government to decide that a waste dump, an auto junkyard or a strip club cannot simply set up shop anywhere in a city, hang out a sign and attract attention.  We ought to treat marijuana the same way.

I propose that cities and suburbs restrict the sale and usage of marijuana to the same areas we use for garbage disposal and other “zoned out of sight” enterprises.  We needn’t throw anyone in jail: If people or businesses violate these strictures, keep hitting them with the equivalent of parking tickets or injunctions, much as you would for an out-of-place repair shop.  It should be possible to visit Colorado without knowing that marijuana is legal there.  If someone is determined to ingest it, they can either drive to an industrial zone or order it online, and smoke it at home or up away in the mountains.

You might wonder why we should be so worried about public marijuana use.  To put it bluntly, I see intelligence as one of the ultimate scarcities when it comes to making the world a better place, and smoking marijuana does not make people smarter.  Even if you think there is no long-term damage, right after smoking a person is less able to perform most IQ-intensive tasks (with improvisational jazz as a possible exception).  By having city streets filled with pot, pot stores and the odor of pot, we are sending a signal that our society isn’t so oriented toward the intellect or bourgeois values.  Even if that signal is reflecting a good bit of truth, it would be better not to acknowledge it too openly, just as most advocates of legalized prostitution don’t want to allow brothels on Main Street....

Marijuana advocates commonly counter that the drug is no worse or more dangerous than alcohol.  I agree, but you nonetheless might still believe that alcohol has acquired too prominent a place in the American public sphere, even if that state of affairs is no longer reversible.  There is no reason we should compound that mistake with marijuana.

May 22, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

New York Daily News says "End the war on pot"

7FZLW5L46V6V6AGOGX2CDDHXYYFor many reasons, New York is an important and interesting state to watch in the array of debates over marijuana reform.  And another notable voice chimed in yesterday in the form of the New York Daily News editorial board, which published this editorial headlined "End the war on pot: We welcome the push to legalize and regulate marijuana." Here are excerpts from an effective editorial:

After many decades of treating as a crime the personal possession and use of a drug that is a negligible threat to public safety, New York is awakening to the folly of — and racial disparities widened by — its approach.

We are part of this awakening, which is why we welcome the push to legalize and regulate marijuana. By every honest measure, the substance has more in common with alcohol and tobacco than it does harder drugs that are rightly illegal.

Which is not to say we endorse vaping or toking, or that government should. Legalization can coexist with stigmatization, especially for young people, for whom drug use and abuse is disastrous.

But continuing to turn the punitive gears of the criminal justice system against 50 people per day in the five boroughs for so much as touching a drug that countless adults use harmlessly in the privacy of their own homes does not serve New York.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 1977, New York decriminalized possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, making it an infraction with a $100 fine. In the intervening 40 years, hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested. Police in the five boroughs continue to make some 17,000 arrests annually for pot possession. Though that's down 40% since 2013, due in large part to a rise in criminal summonses, it's still high.

And despite the fact that research shows marijuana is used in about equal numbers by whites, blacks and Latinos, blacks and Latinos make up 86% of arrestees. Those two groups account for just 51% of the city's overall population. Even the NYPD's chief of crime control strategies has said this gulf "should be troubling to anyone." While it's true that arrests are often driven by calls to 311 and 911, analysis by the Daily News this year showed the association to be far weaker than the city claims. The New York Times matched ethnically different neighborhoods with almost identical complaint levels — and found that the predominantly white and Asian neighborhoods generally saw orders of magnitude fewer arrests than the predominantly black and Latino ones.

This stubborn racial enforcement disparity points to a fundamental question: why it makes sense to treat marijuana use as a nail to be hit with the hammer of cuffs, cops and courts, saddling individuals with arrest records and sometimes, though infrequently, jail time for partaking....

Nine U.S. states, including Colorado, Massachusetts, California and Alaska, have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use. New Jersey is leaning strongly in the same direction.

Where the drug has been legalized, fears that taking sales out of the black market and into the open would lead to a surge in violent crime and drug use have not materialized. There are trends worth worrying about, and learning from, such as an apparent rise in pot-related DWIs. But the sky has not fallen, or even noticeably darkened, anywhere that marijuana has gone from being a criminally forbidden substance to a taxed and regulated one.

By the same token, it is crucial to make clear that legalization advocates oversell their product with the suggestion it will eliminate stubborn policing disparities. No state that allows small amounts of marijuana to be sold and held for personal use permits public smoking, which remains anything from a non-criminal ticket to a criminal misdemeanor. In other words, it is properly an offense to be enforced, and that enforcement may prove racially disparate, following differences in behavior. So, too, would black-market sales remain against the law.

One alternative to legalization is decriminalization. Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez call for declining to prosecute pot possession while keeping it illegal on the books. While tempting, this could create a patchwork of enforcement whereby the same offense is treated radically differently across New York jurisdictions. We've gained little, and lost plenty, in waging this misbegotten war. It's time to try another way.

May 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Interesting report on new study of state of marijuana in state of California

Images (11)This new Forbes article, headlined "New Study Highlights The Social Impacts Of Cannabis Legalization In California," details some highlights from an interesting new survey of Californians in the wake of the state's vote to legalize marijuana. Here are excerpts:

A recent study by BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry market trend and research group, suggests the impact of legalization has shifted Californians’ attitudes, opinions, motivations and actions in regards to cannabis. It also reveals an abundance of details about those who consume, accept and reject the plant, not only illustrating a shift in social culture, but also indicating — at least in the Golden State — cannabis’ archaic stigma is en route to extinction.

The survey assessed 1,001 California residents over 21-years-old in the first quarter of 2017, benchmarking public opinions and behaviors toward legal cannabis. Another group of 1,008 people was then evaluated in quarter one of 2018, examining the public's views toward cannabis laws, efficacy, and testing.

The survey yielded three clear groups. The "consumers,” whose average age is 39-years-old, and have used marijuana or products containing cannabinoids in the past six months. “Acceptors,” whose median age is 49-years-old, and haven’t used cannabis in the past six months, but would consider using it in the future. Lastly, “rejecters,” whose average age is 56-years-old, and haven’t consumed cannabis in the last six months and are not likely to consider future use.

According to the report, there’s been a significant increase in cannabis consumption among Californians' over the past year. Consumers currently account for 29 percent of adults in California, which is up from 23 percent in 2017. The number of acceptors, on the other hand, declined from 38 percent in 2017 to 33 percent in 2018, suggesting more people are currently using cannabis than they were a year ago. Additionally, the number of rejecters decreased from 40 percent in 2017 to 38 percent in 2018, implying the tolerance and acceptance of cannabis is becoming more common.

The reason acceptors and rejecters choose not to use cannabis, the study notes, is because they don't like how it makes them feel. Moreover, 25 percent of rejecters say pot makes them feel dysfunctional. Over a third of non-consumers say they'd be more inclined to use marijuana for the health benefits if they didn't have to endure its effects. In regards to compassionate-use, however, nearly 50 percent of rejecters say they'd want an ill loved-one to use cannabis if it eased their pain....

In 2017, BDS' data showed 63 percent of consumers lived in cities. According to Gilbert, that's where dispensaries have traditionally been located, making it easier for people to access and consume cannabis. Although 2018's survey results still show that most consumers live in cities, that number's dropped to 45 percent. In 2017, 31 percent of consumers lived in the suburbs, while only 4 percent of consumers lived in small towns. Those numbers jumped considerably in 2018. Now, 40 percent of consumers live in suburbs while 10 percent live in small towns....

The report also shows that next to the 68 percent of consumers who are Caucasian/white, nearly 45 percent of consumers are Hispanic-- quadrupling the percentage of consumers of other ethnicities. "This is one of the areas showing that cannabis use is becoming more aligned with how California looks generally," Gilbert says. "California is more likely to be Hispanic than anything else."

The data also found that only 32 percent of consumers are married, whereas 44 percent of both acceptors and rejecters are married. Interestingly, 58 percent of consumers have children. 44 percent of consumers have children over the age of 10 at home, while 28 percent of consumers have children under 10-years-old at home. In general, the stigma is deteriorating (in California). But it clings with fervor to specific groups of people, particularly parents—and even more so with mothers. Parents who use cannabis are often seen as irresponsible and incompetent caretakers. Thus, many often remain in the "green closet" and hide their use. But no judgment is passed for drinking wine....

The study also found, despite the lazy-stoner-stereotype, 53 percent of consumers work full-time jobs and have an average annual income of nearly $70,000. Only 44 percent of acceptors have full-time jobs, and 33 percent of rejecters work full-time. Although consumers are educated, only 10 percent of them have a master’s degree or higher. 21 percent of rejecters and 15 percent of acceptors have higher education degrees....

Although most of the report's findings provide evidence disproving the stigma, the study disclosed one confusing (read: alarming) revelation. According to the survey, consumers, who mostly identify as liberal, are less likely to believe it's important to vote in every election. Only 57 percent of consumers in 2018 think it’s important to vote, which is down from 71 percent in 2017. Rejecters, at 72 percent, and acceptors, at 67 percent, express a greater interest in social activism.

May 18, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Estimated Tax Revenues from Marijuana Legalization in New York"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report released yesterday by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.  Here is how it gets started: 

In just the past six years, voters in eight states and the District of Columbia have passed ballot measures to legalize the adult use of marijuana.  At least seven more states may follow suit this fall.  In total, over half of states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes since California first did so in 1996.  This dramatic change in public attitudes is reflective of changes as measured by survey data, with 61% of Americans now supporting lifting the ban on marijuana.  More than just a change in attitudes toward marijuana itself, the growing movement for legalization also acknowledges the immeasurable harm done by the criminalization of marijuana use, especially among communities of color.

New York State’s 2014 Compassionate Care Act legalized marijuana for medical use. Legislation to legalize adult marijuana use, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, has been reintroduced in each subsequent legislative session.  In his Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2018-2019, Governor Cuomo proposed a study of the economic impacts of legalization and the implications of continuing to prohibit use while other nearby states move to legalize.  In this report, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer provides an estimate of the fiscal impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana sales in New York.  This report estimates the legal, adult-use marijuana market at some $3.1 billion per year in New York State, about $1.1 billion of that in New York City.  In turn, the Comptroller’s Office estimates that this market could conservatively yield annual tax revenues of as much as $1.3 billion total at the State and City levels.  That assumes a combination of state and local sales and excise taxes in line with what other jurisdictions have passed that could yield up to $436 million in revenues for the State, $336 million for the City, and some $570 million for localities outside of the city.  Of course, the total revenues realized at the State and local levels would depend on the final outcome of any legalization effort.

Beyond the mere dollars that legalization could yield, decriminalization has clear human and societal benefits.  In states where adult marijuana use has been legalized, there have been declines in teenage usage of marijuana, and public health and safety concerns have been addressed.  Finally, misdemeanor marijuana arrests continue to fall most heavily on young Black and Latino New Yorkers, despite a higher reported usage rate among White youth. Erasing the harmful repercussions, including the stigma of a criminal record, would open doors that have been closed to too many for too long, yielding incalculable human, economic, and societal benefits.

May 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Budding Torts: Forecasting Emerging Tort Liabilty in the Cannabis Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by John Campbell now available via SSRN, Here is its abstract:

The marijuana industry is booming.  It is expanding into new states while it grows beyond the medical marijuana market into the recreational world.  What was once illicit profit is quickly becoming on-the-books gains.  As the industry matures, billions will be made, and companies once viewed suspiciously will become market giants.  But this growth will not be without consequences.

As marijuana use grows, and those who profit from it become established companies, the marijuana industry will become a target for tort claims that other industries have faced for decades.  These claims, ranging from product liability claims to vehicular injury to consumer class actions, will expose actors in the industry to potentially ruinous damages.  This is particularly true if the industry remains, as it is now, only partially prepared.  Particularly dangerous will be third-party claims (claims filed by people who did not purchase marijuana themselves).  In those claims, the illegal status of marijuana in federal law could make establishing liability against manufacturers, wholesalers, and sellers easier than it is for other products.  This Article chronicles the most likely claims to emerge en masse in courts and puts forth potential, viable industry responses.

May 15, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Driving While Stoned: Issues and Policy Options"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Tyler Jones, Celeste Miller and Ross Halperin. Here is its abstract:

THC is the intoxicant most commonly detected in US drivers, with approximately 13% of drivers testing positive for marijuana use, compared to the 8% that show a measurable amount of alcohol (NHTSA, 2015). (The two figures are not strictly comparable because cannabis remains detectable for much longer than alcohol, and also for long after the driver is no longer impaired; therefore, the difference in rates does not show that stoned driving is more common than drunk driving.)  Cannabis intoxication has been shown to impair reaction time and visual-spatial judgment.

Many states, including those where cannabis sales are now permitted by state law, have laws against cannabis-impaired driving based on the drunk-driving model, defining criminally intoxicated driving as driving with more than a threshold amount of intoxicant in one’s bloodstream — a per se standard — as opposed to actual impairment.  That approach neglects crucial differences between alcohol and cannabis in their detectability, their pharmacokinetics, and their impact on highway safety.

Cannabis intoxication is more difficult to reliably detect chemically than alcohol intoxication.  A breath alcohol test is (1) cheap and reliable; (2) sufficiently simple and non-invasive to administer at the roadside; and (3) a good proxy for alcohol in the brain, which in turn is (4) a good proxy for subjective intoxication and for measurable driving impairment.  In addition, (5) the dose-effect curve linking blood alcohol to fatality risk is well-established and steep.

None of those things is true for cannabis.  A breath test remains to be developed.  Oral-fluid testing can demonstrate recent use but not the level of impairment.  A blood test requires a trained phlebotomist and therefore a trip to a medical facility, and blood THC levels drop very sharply over time-periods measured in minutes.  Blood THC is not a good proxy either for recency of use or for impairment, and the dose-effect curve for fatality risk remains a matter of sharp controversy.  The maximum risk for cannabis intoxication alone, unmixed with alcohol or other drugs, appears to be more comparable to risks such as talking on a hands-free cellphone (legal in all states) than to driving with a BAC above 0.08, let alone the rapidly-rising risks at higher BACs.  Moreover, the lipid-solubility of THC means that a frequent cannabis user will always have measurable THC in his or her blood, even when that person has not used recently and is neither subjectively intoxicated nor objectively impaired.  That suggests criminalizing only combination use, while treating driving under the influence of cannabis (however this is to be proven) as a traffic offense, like speeding.

May 10, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 7, 2018

"Can the Mass. marijuana industry help heal communities devastated by the War on Drugs?"

Massachusetts-marijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Boston Globe article.   (At the risk of getting redundant, I will again note ow this press piece is related in theme to my most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices.")  Here are excerpts from the Globe piece:

Last month, Massachusetts rolled out the country’s first statewide marijuana industry “equity” program, giving preferential treatment to people who are typically marginalized by the business world.

One key to the effort: giving a head start in the rush for cannabis licenses to companies that are led by or employ minorities, to people with past marijuana convictions, or to residents of low-income neighborhoods with high arrest rates for drug crimes. All other companies that grow, process, or sell pot, meanwhile, are required to help those communities, and are limited in the size of their operations. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will also launch a training program for inexperienced pot entrepreneurs.

The provisions spring from a simple premise: People of color were disproportionately prosecuted and jailed amid the nation’s “war on drugs,” even though whites had similar rates for using or selling marijuana. It would be unfair, proponents argued, to allow the windfall of a now-legal cannabis industry to flow only to the already privileged, while those who suffered the most under pot prohibition remain frozen out. “We’re going to use this moment to try to rebalance the scales — or, at the very least, to stop creating new unbalanced scales,’’ said state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who helped to write the so-called equity provisions into state law.

While it may seem radical to give previously incarcerated people the right to sell a product that was illegal until recently, the equity provisions so far haven’t been particularly controversial. Even Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, a fierce critic of legal marijuana, is on board. “It’s going to open the door for people who just wouldn’t otherwise have the ability and financial background to break in,” Carmichael said. “We have to give them a chance.”

As the commission developed its regulations this year, county prosecutors asked the agency to bar people convicted of trafficking certain still-illegal drugs such as heroin or fentanyl from even working at a cannabis company. “This is not an area for permissiveness,” the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association warned in a letter. The cannabis commission partially acquiesced, restricting such people to administrative positions that don’t involving handling marijuana products.

For owners of cannabis businesses, the bar is higher than for their employees. People convicted of serious crimes, including nonmarijuana drug felonies, firearm violations, and sex offenses, cannot own licensed pot companies. However, businesses can hire people with records for possessing opioids, for example, and receive preferential treatment if they employ enough people with criminal records. People convicted of large-scale marijuana trafficking may qualify under the rules, though some might have related convictions that would automatically disqualify them anyway. The commission also has discretion to reject any applicant.

Marijuana equity programs elsewhere operate only on the local level, and have a limited track record. Oakland, Calif., for example, this year adopted a policy that reserves more than half of the city’s licenses for equity applicants, and most of the rest for large companies that agree to host and mentor them. The system has indeed helped people of color break into the business — but it’s also drawn sharp backlash from smaller companies that do not qualify.

Massachusetts has taken a less restrictive approach. The primary initiative underway provides expedited review to applications from companies that meet certain criteria — those owned by people from places with high rates of poverty and drug arrests, for example, or that employ mostly people with drug-related convictions. It’s an important benefit, as many Massachusetts communities limit the number and locations of pot businesses, giving a big advantage to the first stores.

Later this year, the commission will work with community groups to develop a crash course in business planning and fund-raising for entrepreneurs who were arrested or live in so-called communities of disproportionate impact. Those entrepreneurs will also be exempt from many state fees and will be allowed to open pot-delivery services and lounges ahead of other companies if the commission decides to issue those licenses....

Entrepreneurs who do not have drug convictions or arrests can still qualify if they show their business will benefit poorer communities with high arrest rates. For example, Dishon Laing dreams of opening an alternative health center in his native Dorchester that would offer yoga, vegan food, and cannabis. He, too, wants to hire people with criminal records, and also plans to run drug education programs for teenagers. “Everything we do is connected to giving back,” said Laing, a city public health worker. “I know my partners and I will face stigma based on being people of color and the industry we’re in, but we want to show that we’re actually improving our communities.”

Another requirement is intended to recruit marijuana companies that don’t qualify for the equity program to the cause: All applicants must show how their businesses will benefit communities hurt by the drug war. For example, Sira Naturals, a larger medical marijuana operator that’s seeking recreational licenses, plans to host an incubator for equity applicants at its growing facility in Milford. Licensed marijuana businesses must also write and adhere to a diversity plan that promotes gender equity and the employment of veterans, LGBT people, and people with disabilities.

The commission also offers incentives: Companies that provide money and mentoring to entrepreneurs from “areas of disproportionate impact” can get the cannabis equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval: a “social justice leader” label affixed to their product packaging. State officials also have moved to protect smaller equity businesses by banning larger companies from holding more than three licenses of any type and capping each company’s cultivation area at 100,000 square feet.

All these advantages, however, may not help applicants overcome the biggest hurdle: winning approval from local officials for the location and opening of their businesses. Somerville and other municipalities are considering local versions of the equity program, but none have been adopted yet. Advocates are worried established companies — such as existing medical dispensaries, which are nearly all white-owned — can outbid smaller players by offering communities generous financial packages.

“Cities and towns need to step up, or in a few years we’ll see we had this opportunity to put diversity into action and we failed,” said Ross Bradshaw, who hopes to open a pot business in a Worcester neighborhood designated as an area of disproportionate impact. “There are going to be municipalities that only allow three licenses, and two are going to medical marijuana companies. That’s less opportunity for people of color.”

Cannabis commissioner Shaleen Title, who championed the equity initiatives, acknowledged they are hardly a cure-all. But Title is heartened by the early numbers: 68 applicants have cleared a first hurdle in the process for licensing, and more than 100 more under review. Those people would have their applications reviewed ahead of others. “We’ll never be able to repair the damage caused by drug prohibition, but these programs at least begin to help provide a fair shot,” Title said. “Think about having a conviction that was based on unfair enforcement, and how that holds you back in so many different ways — we want to make that right.”

May 7, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 4, 2018

"Some Prosecutors Are Erasing Old Weed Convictions. Why Isn’t Yours?"

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91The title of this post is the title of this new HuffPost piece on a topic that readers know is dear to my heart in part due to my work on my most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices."  Here are excerpts from the HuffPo piece: 

In California, prosecutors in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Diego and San Francisco counties announced earlier this year they will automatically review, recall, resentence and potentially dismiss and seal more than 10,000 misdemeanor and felony marijuana convictions.

The movement is spreading. On Friday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes became the latest top prosecutor to join, asking a city court to vacate all convictions and dismiss all charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession that were prosecuted in the city before the state legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012. Now prosecutors in Denver and Burlington, Vt., are mulling similar measures, their representatives told HuffPost this week.

In Denver, where prosecution of low-level pot offenses has been a low priority for a decade, Ken Lane, a spokesman for newly elected DA Beth McCann, said that while McCann hasn’t retroactively applied Colorado’s laws for post-conviction relief, “she has asked staff to research the matter... in response to what DAs in California are doing.” And in Vermont, which recently became the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana via legislature rather than ballot measure, another prosecutor is making moves.

Justin Jiron, deputy state’s attorney in Chittenden County, Vermont, which contains Burlington, told HuffPost that his office is weeks away from announcing a new policy that will allow individuals to apply to have their past marijuana possession records expunged or sealed regardless of when the conviction took place. It’s not as immediate of a review as San Franciscans and San Diegans can expect, but it’s a meaningful step. “I think the simplest way of looking at it for us is just that these people have convictions that if they were to commit them today they wouldn’t be a crime,” Jiron said. “So it seems unfair to basically saddle them with a conviction for something that is now legal.”

Prosecutors in pot-friendly jurisdictions have enormous power to offer relief for people previously convicted of marijuana offenses in their jurisdiction, but many aren’t using it. California’s marijuana law requires individuals to apply for relief for previous marijuana-related crimes — a process that can be costly and time-consuming. Prosecutors there could greatly speed up the process by following San Francisco’s automatic process, which makes relief more immediate.

Prosecutors in other legal-weed jurisdictions could potentially follow Seattle prosecutor Holmes’ lead and leverage their own state’s laws to move for post-conviction relief for past marijuana offenses. Those state laws, however, are complex and vary tremendously by jurisdiction ― this includes expungement, which does not have a standard definition across jurisdictions, as well as sealing and dismissal. Some states don’t address retroactive relief for past criminal convictions. Some require a governor’s pardon to vacate a conviction. Others allow post-conviction relief but require years-long wait periods, or limit which kinds of convictions can be removed from a person’s record.

But few prosecutors are making moves like Holmes’ — either because they don’t want to, or because state legislatures haven’t passed laws that allow relief for now-legal acts. People convicted of state pot crimes in the past in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine — all places where the drug is now legal for recreational purposes — may still have violations on their record. And even in California, where the legal marijuana industry is already valued at $7 billion, according to one estimate.

In Los Angeles County, California’s largest by population, District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced in February that individuals will have to continue to apply for relief themselves, “rather than wait for [her] office to go through tens of thousands of case files.” Lacey estimated there were 40,000 felony convictions involving marijuana since 1993 in Los Angeles County. When reached by HuffPost, her office did not have any updates on this decision....

The exact extent to which prosecutors can retroactively apply their state marijuana laws o
r seek to vacate past convictions is a point of debate, and it depends on many complicated factors. This includes a prosecutors’ individual preferences, resources, a state’s laws regarding retroactivity and post-conviction relief, said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, a former prosecutor who is now a senior fellow at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s no one right answer to this,” Eisen said. “But what’s happening with marijuana in states like California and Colorado, which have built in some of this retroactivity, it does open the door absolutely for a little bit more pushing the envelope by DAs.”

Rodney Holcombe, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance echoed this sentiment, saying it is not enough to simply legalize marijuana because prohibition ravaged many communities. “Tens of thousands of people across the country – especially persons of color – continue to suffer from the consequences of prohibition,” he said. “We cannot in good conscience legalize without repairing the harms wrought by the failed drug war. We can only truly claim victory when we center our efforts on the persons most harmed by prohibition.”

Prior related post:

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

May 4, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Maine legislature final enacts framework for regulating marijuana sales 18 months after initiative vote for legalization

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As reported in this local article, on Wednesday the Maine legislature "overturned a veto by Gov. Paul LePage that would have again stalled the legal sale of recreational marijuana, moving Maine a major step closer to launching a legal retail market for the drug." Here is more:

The House voted 109-39 and the Senate 28-6 to override LePage’s veto of cannabis legalization legislation, setting the state on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved legalization at the ballot box in November 2016. However, it will likely be the spring of 2019 before the first retail shops can open for business.

Now that the bill has passed, the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services must hire a consultant to help the state write more regulatory rules, including inspection and licensing of wholesale commercial growing facilities, licensing of retail sellers and collection of sales taxes. The rules will have to be approved by the next Legislature, which convenes in January.

The Republican governor, a steadfast opponent of legalization, had vetoed the Legislature’s first attempt at drafting a law to launch the retail market for cannabis in November. It’s not clear how quickly the state will move to hire workers to administer and enforce the new law, and seek bids to design a seed-to-sale tracking system that will be used to regulate the marijuana market.

Wednesday’s vote provoked mixed reactions, even among those who campaigned successfully to gather voter signatures and get the legalization question on the 2016 ballot. David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the bill includes provisions that the organization supports and others that it dislikes. “Ultimately, we’re glad that the Legislature is moving towards a regulated marketplace,” he said. “We are approaching two years since Maine voters passed this and adults in Maine deserve a place to purchase marijuana legally.”

Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposed the referendum, was pleased that the bill had been amended to ban social clubs and reduce the number of plants that can be grown for personal use from six to three. “This is an improvement” over previous proposals, he said. “It’s going in the right direction.” He said Smart Approaches to Marijuana now will focus on things such as helping communities that don’t want shops selling marijuana in their towns, making sure that shops don’t get concentrated in particular neighborhoods, trying to offset “normalization” of pot use and counteracting problems that arise....

The adult-use bill is more conservative than the bill approved by referendum voters in November 2016. It doesn’t allow for social clubs, which means adults who buy their cannabis here will have to consume it on private property, with the permission of the property owner. And lawmakers cut the number of plants that can be grown for personal use on their own property – or someone else’s with permission – from six to three in an effort to reduce black market sales.

The bill doesn’t cap the number of business licenses, or the amount of recreational cannabis that can be grown in Maine, which some entrepreneurs complain will drive down prices so far that small growers won’t be able to survive, leaving only those with out-of-state money behind them standing in the end. To allay those concerns, lawmakers voted to give the first three years of business licenses to those who have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least four years.

May 3, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Center for American Progress produces short report on "Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy"

Footer-logoThe folks at the Center for American Progress have this new Issue Brief titled "Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy." Here are parts of its recommendations:

Congress now should seriously consider proposals that lead to the legalization of marijuana.  This is a time-consuming process that involves numerous issues, industries, and stakeholders, but the experiments in multiple states to liberalize marijuana laws provide a roadmap for the steps that the federal government should take toward legalization.

Any federal liberalization of marijuana must apply retroactively so as to fairly address the thousands of Americans whose life opportunities have been destroyed by federal marijuana convictions.  A number of states across the country have been enacting legislation that would seal or expunge a larger number of criminal convictions, so people with records can more easily obtain jobs, get a loan, and overcome obstacles to leading a productive life after serving their sentence.  States like Pennsylvania are passing legislation to make sealing records automatic in order to reduce the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that often cause unnecessary and burdensome delays in the process.  Congress should consider legislation that automatically and immediately seals federal marijuana convictions, especially for those convicted of simple possession.

Congress must consider ways to solve racial disparities that exist even in legal marijuana markets.  While loosening state marijuana laws has resulted in lower arrest rates across all racial groups, black people are still more likely than other groups to be arrested for marijuana law violations.  Furthermore, black people have been largely left out of the legal marijuana industry.  One 2016 estimate concluded that fewer than three dozen marijuana dispensaries — or about 1 percent of all dispensaries in the United States — are black-owned.   Congress must support, train, and license black entrepreneurs in order to ensure that jobs in this industry are also filled by people of color.  This can be accomplished by following a model similar to the one proposed in Oakland, California, which recently established an equity program that sets aside half of all marijuana business permits for residents who have been targets of the war on drugs.

The fact that marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug establishes significant roadblocks for researchers to understand marijuana, its effects, its risks, and its potential benefits.  Scientists are legally restricted in the types, quantity, and quality of the marijuana that may be used for research, preventing long-term, large-scale analyses required for evaluating drugs.  The limited research conducted to date has supported the notion that marijuana has positive benefits and may be used to treat various medical conditions, including, but not limited to, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and nausea related to chemotherapy.  However, experts and policymakers are locked in a Catch-22, making it difficult to answer the very questions necessary to understanding the full scope of marijuana’s effect on public health, which in turn could help determine marijuana’s placement on the drug schedule.

Federal marijuana legalization can facilitate job creation while significantly increasing tax revenue, and Congress should consider how to equitably maximize these economic benefits.  A recent study found that legalizing marijuana nationwide could generate at least $132 billion in tax revenue between 2017 and 2025 as well as more than 1 million new jobs across the country.  As states have increasingly legalized marijuana, the legal marijuana market in the United States has grown to $9.7 billion. Experts think this is a small fraction of the potential market since, last year, more than 4 million people used marijuana in states where it was legal, but 44 million people across the country consume marijuana products in a given year.

May 2, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Marijuana Edibles and 'Gummy Bears'"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new paper authored by Paul Larkin now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Contemporary American society has decided that, whatever may be the benefits and harms of liberalizing marijuana use by adults, we should continue to outlaw the sale of recreational-use marijuana to children and adolescents.  Even the states that permit recreational marijuana use under state law draw the line between adults and minors. Unfortunately, some companies pay only lip service to that line.  The ability to develop products that closely resemble cookies, brownies, candies, and other substances that are attractive to children and adolescents — albeit, for different reasons — poses the risk that minors — some accidentally, some intentionally — will consume marijuana edibles found around the home or elsewhere.  Any use of marijuana by children and long-term use of marijuana by adolescents poses health risks avoidable through federal prohibition or regulation of edibles.

To avoid the danger to their health and safety, the Justice Department and the FDA should take steps to prevent adulterated and mislabeled edibles from harming the public.  Even if the Justice Department decides not to challenge the state medical or recreational use programs, the FDA should consider treating such edibles as adulterated foods under the FDCA — taking whatever steps are available to prevent the sale of any such products altogether — or to allow sales to go forward only under strictly regulated conditions.  Doing so would help to reduce the danger that edibles pose to the health and safety of children and adolescents without materially interfering in state decisions on how to regulate the distribution of medical-use marijuana or the recreational use of that drug by adults.

April 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable accounting of how hard it is to account for all the new marijuana data in legalization states

MarijuanadrugtestingfactsThe AP has this interesting new article about data collection and analysis in the marijuana space. The piece is headlined "Oregon Marijuana: Lots of Data, Few to Analyze and Check It: Oregon is awash in data on its marijuana industry but has few workers to monitor and check what its legal businesses are doing." Here is an excerpt:

Oregon's experience is reflective of one of the significant challenges in the expanding legal U.S. marijuana industry: the ability of governments to keep track of their own markets.

Washington, which with Colorado became the first state to broadly legalize marijuana in 2012, recently switched tracking contractors after it outgrew the first system, and quickly ran into major technical problems. Colorado has reported no significant technical issues but has only five people on the data analysis staff to help with investigations and look for potential violators.

Last year, Nevada switched tracking companies after its first system crashed. California became the world's largest legal marijuana market on Jan. 1 without the promised vast computer system for tracking. It won't be available for months.

The Oregon tracking system was created by Franwell, a Florida-based technology company that has contracts in a handful of states, including California. Licensees log entries into the system as seeds sprout into plants, the plants are harvested, processed, sent to stores and then sold. The flood of data is checked by the single full-time marijuana data analyst, with occasional help. Five more will be hired soon, but they'll have their hands full as an estimated 2,000 medical marijuana growers start entering the tracking system on July 1. According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, a recent inventory of adult-use marijuana in the state stood at more than 1 million pounds (0.45 million kilograms). That's roughly 4 ounces (113 grams) for each of the state's 4.1 million residents.

Avitas general manager Joe Bergen said the pot businesses are inputting a "ridiculous" amount of information to the tracking system. He said 10 percent of Avitas' staff at the Salem facility is dedicated to rules compliance: tagging plants and finished products, tracking the inventory and filling out official shipping manifests. "It's important to do it, but it's burdensome for a small business," Bergen said.

The data has been useful in confirming wrongdoing in roughly 50 investigations, though less than half of them were triggered by the data, commission spokesman Rob Pettinger said.

On a recent morning, Cecilia Espinoza sat at a table inside Avitas' production facility, staring at a desktop computer. A small wheel spun on the screen for a couple of minutes as she waited for the web application to open so she could update information about the hundreds of plants growing in the 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-meter) building. "We call it the 'spinning wheel of death,'" Espinoza said with a laugh. "It's tedious."...

Cannabis producers and regulators compare the tracking system to filing income taxes: They operate to a large extent on good faith, but when an auditor or inspector comes there better be evidence to back the numbers. However, the chances of a "compliance inspector" showing up at a site is low. The Oregon commission only employs 19, with four more to be added soon.

They don't have time to randomly check grow sites and compare amounts of marijuana they see with the data. Instead, inspectors are largely tied up investigating complaints, for example on someone carrying out a function beyond the scope of a license, or harvesters lacking the required permit, commission officials said.

Companies that have gone the legal route - paying for licenses, security and other systems to meet the requirements - say regulators should focus on those who remain outside the legal system. They note the illegal producers are unfair competition, without the large overhead. "Really, there is no incentive for us to do anything but stay in the recreational market," said Bergen, whose company invested millions in the Salem facility. "Why would we have gone to all this trouble, just to lose our license from doing something stupid like selling on the black market?"

April 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Making a case for the FDA as the main federal agency on marijuana reform

Download (13)Paul J. Larkin Jr., a senior legal research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, has this interesting new Fox News commentary headlined "On marijuana, let the Food and Drug Administration make the decisions." Here are excerpts:

Reports about the Trump-Gardner deal and Schumer proposal [to reform federal marijuana laws and policies] raise several additional questions:

· Will the federal government pursue an entirely new policy regarding marijuana regulation?

· If so, will that new direction leave decision-making entirely up to the states?

· If not, will the federal government still play a role?

· Will that change lead to a net social plus or minus?

The answer to each of those questions is the same: “Maybe yes, maybe no.” That’s because there is another possible option lying between “absolute federal ban” and “complete state freedom.”...

In 1962, Congress also prohibited the distribution of new drugs unless the FDA commissioner first found them to be both “safe” and “effective.” Since then, Congress has consistently reiterated that the FDA should be responsible for making those decisions – not Congress, not the states, not the public. It’s an important matter. We do not decide by plebiscite which drugs should be sold to the public. America has resolved that experts should make that decision because the average person lacks the education, training and experience to answer the medical question of whether a particular drug is safe and effective.

Why should we treat marijuana differently? For more than two decades, states have decided to reconsider their marijuana laws and permit people to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes even though the distribution of marijuana is forbidden under federal law. Three presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – each failed to force Congress to decide whether federal law should also be re-examined.

President Trump may be willing to do what his three predecessors should have done. It is time for Congress to take up this subject once again. Great nations, like great people, always must be willing to reconsider their laws in light of new developments. It makes sense for Congress to revisit this issue.

But that does not mean senators and representatives should act in a vacuum, without regard for the nation’s designated authority on food and drug safety. Nor should members of Congress simply act according to polling results. We do not let the public decide which antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, or chemotherapy drugs can be marketed. There is no reason to treat marijuana differently.

Congress has never let the FDA decide this issue, because federal law has treated marijuana as contraband since the year before the FDCA became law. Maybe we should treat marijuana in the same way that we treat any other new drug that someone argues should be used therapeutically.

No healthy democracy can afford to glibly disregard the opinions of experts on matters within their expertise. Since 1962, the United States has decided to trust the FDA with the responsibility to resolve any debate, either within or beyond the scientific community, over a drug’s safety and efficacy. That decision is entitled to no less respect today than it was 50 years ago.

So maybe Congress will re-examine the treatment of marijuana under federal law and send the nation in a new direction. But maybe that new direction will be to leave the decision how to treat marijuana in the hands of the person we trust to make other, similar decisions: the commissioner of food and drugs. And maybe that approach will be a net social plus. We certainly think so with respect to other drugs. Perhaps, it’s time to enlist the FDA commissioner to make a scientific judgment about this issue too.

April 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"'High' Standards: The Wave of Marijuana Legalization Sweeping America Conveniently Ignores the Hidden Risks"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Steve Calandrillo and Katelyn J. Fulton recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

As a tide of marijuana legalization sweeps across the United States, there is a surprising lack of scrutiny as to whether the benefits of recreational marijuana outweigh the risks.  Notably, marijuana edibles present special risks to the population that are not present in smoked marijuana.  States that have legalized recreational marijuana are seeing an increase in edible-related calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms.  These negative reactions are especially prevalent in vulnerable populations such as children, persons with underlying preexisting conditions, and out-of-state marijuana novices.

Unfortunately, research on edible marijuana is scant and state regulatory regimes are not adequately accounting for the special risks that edibles pose.  Edibles are metabolized differently than smoked marijuana, resulting in late-onset, longer-lasting, and unpredictable intoxication.  Novices are particularly vulnerable because of inaccurate dosing and delayed highs.  Children are also at risk because edibles are often packaged as chocolate and other forms of candy to which unsuspecting kids are attracted.  To minimize these risks and maximize the social utility received from marijuana edibles, further study of their effects is required and tighter regulations are necessary.  Conducting research studies and enforcing new regulations takes time, and in the interim a state-implemented ban on marijuana edibles may be necessary to halt the increase of edible-related harms and hospitalizations.

April 24, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Is It Too Late to Stop the Rise of Marijuana, Inc.?"

Because of the date on the calendar, there is today waaaaaay too much mainstream press coverage of marijuana issues for me to cover in this space.  But I cannot ignore it all, and the headline of this post is the headline of this new Atlantic piece by Reihan Salam that seemed worth spotlighting. Here is how it starts and its core proposal:

The marijuana wars are entering a new phase.  The first phase, over whether or not to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, is over.  The partisans of legalization have won the battle for public opinion.  Soon, I suspect, marijuana legalization will be entrenched in federal law.  At this point, to fight against legalization is to fight against the inevitable.  The only question now is what form America’s legal marijuana markets will take.  Will they be dominated by for-profit business enterprises with a vested interest in promoting binge consumption?  Or will they be designed to minimize the very real harms caused by cannabis dependence, even if that means minting fewer marijuana millionaires?  I fear that the burgeoning cannabis industry will win out—but their victory is not yet assured....

The fundamental challenge, as [Jonathan] Caulkins argues, is that cannabis is a dependence-inducing intoxicant, and a cheap one at that.  In Washington state, a marijuana-legalization pioneer, he observes that the cost per hour of cannabis intoxication “has fallen below $1, cheaper than beer or going to the movies.”  This is despite the fact that the state’s marijuana growers and distributors operate in a grey zone — legal at the state level, but not legal at the federal level — which leaves them ineligible for the federal tax deductions to which all more straightforwardly legal businesses are entitled.

If marijuana were largely consumed by adults who partake rarely and responsibly, this would not be much of a concern.  According to Caulkins, though, only about one in three cannabis users fall into this fortunate category, and they account for no more than 2 percent of total consumption.  Meanwhile, daily and near-daily users account for 80 percent of total consumption, and a far larger share of the profits of your friendly neighborhood marijuana business.  Yes, there are cancer patients who use regularly marijuana to ease their pain, and there are traumatized veterans who do much the same.  I am happy to concede that cannabis abuse is preferable to opioid abuse.  But let’s not kid ourselves: Marijuana, Inc., thrives by catering to binge users, many of whom explicitly state that their dependence is getting in the way of their lives.  By the time the cost of an hour of cannabis intoxication falls below $1 nationwide, the picture will start to change: The number of people who will turn to marijuana as a form of self-medication, or as a form of escape, will drastically increase.  And most of them will be poor and vulnerable people, not the affluent bohemians so affectionately portrayed on HBO dramedies.

In a 2014 essay for Washington Monthly, Mark A.R. Kleiman, who along with Caulkins is one of the country’s leading experts on drug policy, anticipated the outsized role the marijuana industry would play in debates to come: “As more and more states begin to legalize marijuana over the next few years, the cannabis industry will begin to get richer—and that means it will start to wield considerably more political power, not only over the states but over national policy, too.” As a result, he warned, “we could get locked into a bad system in which the primary downside of legalizing pot — increased drug abuse, especially by minors — will be greater than it needs to be, and the benefits, including tax revenues, smaller than they could be.”

Is it possible to legalize marijuana without drastically increasing the number of Americans who find themselves dependent on it?  I certainly hope so. In my ideal world, Congess would establish a federal monopoly on the sale and distribution of narcotics, including but not limited to cannabis, with an eye towards minimizing the size of the black market and avoiding the aggressive marketing and lobbying that would inevitably accompany the emergence of a large for-profit industry.  But I recognize that this is, for now, a pipe dream.

April 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"The Economic Effects of the Marijuana Industry in Colorado"

Images (9)The title of this post is the title of this thorough and effective review of myriad economic impacts of the marijuana industry in the first state to have a functioning recreational marijuana market. This piece was authored by the Federal Reserve Back of Kansas City, and I recommend the piece in full to anyone and everyone interested in certain economic realities flowing from legalization and commercialization of recreational marijuana. Here are some snippets from the start and heart of the piece:

In 2012, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, making Colorado one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, the legalization trend has continued, and today, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., and recreational marijuana is legal in eight states and Washington, D.C. So far in 2018, Vermont’s lawmakers have legalized marijuana starting July 1, and at least 11 other states are considering recreational or medical marijuana legalization.  The marijuana industry has had many effects on the state of Colorado since it was legalized. This issue of the Rocky Mountain Economist focuses on the economic impacts of the marijuana industry in Colorado, the first state to open recreational marijuana stores....

Marijuana Sales in Colorado

To put the magnitude of marijuana sales in perspective, personal consumption expenditures on all goods and services totaled $236.3 billion in 2016 in Colorado. Marijuana sales were $1.3 billion in 2016, or 0.55 percent of all personal consumer expenditures. By comparison, spending on food and beverages purchased for off-site consumption made up 7.2 percent of personal consumption expenditures in Colorado....

To get a sense of the magnitude of the marijuana industry, we can compare the total number of marijuana-related business licenses in the state to the number of new entity business filings for all industries in the state.  Between the first quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter of 2017, there were about 431,997 new entity business filings in Colorado.  By comparison, slightly more than 3,000 marijuana-related business licenses were active at the end of 2017.  If all of these marijuana-related businesses started during the first quarter of 2014 through the end of 2017, then they would represent about 0.7 percent of total new business filings in the state since 2014.  The actual percentage likely is lower than 0.7 percent because some marijuana-related businesses existed in Colorado prior to 2014, particularly those serving the medical side of the industry....

Employment in the Marijuana Industry

As of March 2018, there were more than 38,000 issued individual licenses in the marijuana industry, including 1,637 business owners.  Of course, not everyone with a license is working in the industry, and the Marijuana Policy Group estimates that one active license equates to 0.467 full-time equivalent positions.  Using this estimate, the marijuana industry currently employs about 17,821 full-time equivalent staff, a 17.7 percent increase in employment over the previous year....

Taxation of the Marijuana Industry

In 2017, the state of Colorado collected more than $247 million from the marijuana industry, including state sales taxes on recreational and medical, special sales taxes on recreational, excise taxes on recreational and application and licenses fees.  Tax collections since 2014 have increased significantly, though at a slower pace over the past year.  Between 2014 and 2015, total collections increased 93 percent. By contrast, collections increased about 28 percent between 2016 and 2017. To put the magnitude of marijuana tax collections in perspective, they equate to about 2.3 percent of Colorado’s 2017 general fund revenue. Although this calculation is useful for perspective, most marijuana revenue does not go into the state general fund....

Potential Costs of Marijuana Legalization

The data on legalization’s impact on public safety is limited, and therefore, the full effects of legalization on public safety are uncertain. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of marijuana arrests fell 46 percent, primarily due to a decline in marijuana possession arrests.  In Denver, the number of crimes reported to the Denver Police Department that were determined to have a clear connection to marijuana increased from 234 in 2013 to 276 in 2014, but then fell to 183 in 2017.  Of the crimes reported with a connection to marijuana in 2017, 54 percent were burglaries and 74 percent were industry-related.xxviii Fifteen percent of DUI summons issued by the Colorado State Patrol in 2015 were for marijuana or marijuana in combination with alcohol or other drugs although the number of these types of DUIs fell 1 percent between 2014 and 2015.  Traffic fatalities with THC-only or THC-in-combination positive drivers rose from 55 in 2013 to 79 in 2014....

Conclusion

As the first state to open recreational marijuana retail stores, Colorado provides a case study to examine the potential economic effects from legalization.  Direct employment in the marijuana sector has risen robustly since the passage of Amendment 64, contributing about 5.4 percent of all employment growth in Colorado since January 2014.  Despite these solid gains, employment in the sector makes up just 0.7 percent of total employment in the state.  Similar to employment, tax collections from marijuana have also increased sharply in recent years, and are equal to about 2 percent of general fund revenues in the state.  Although legalization has contributed to employment growth and tax revenues in the state, it is important to weigh those benefits against the potential costs to public safety and health outcomes.

April 19, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SBNation takes big look at "Sports in the age of cannabis"

DownloadThe sports website SBNation has this big new series of articles under the banner "Sports in the age of cannabis." Here is how the site sets up its coverage along with links to more than a half-dozen article of note:

We, as a nation, are changing the way we feel about cannabis.

Gone are the days of Reefer Madness, the hysteria of the War on Drugs.  As more and more states decriminalize and legalize cannabis, we are seeing a new American attitude that views it as much a business opportunity as something to be feared or banned.

These attitudes are making their way into the sporting world as well. Some professional leagues still test for weed, though how eager they are to actually bust athletes is a matter of debate. And athletes are now seriously turning toward cannabis as a pain-management solution — as we learn more about the dangers of opioid abuse, weed appears more and more like a safer option.

While the changing stigmas around cannabis present exciting opportunities for some, it’s not all that simple. We still live in a country where people, too often people of color, are being arrested for selling and using a product that is already making entrepreneurs, in the sporting world and outside of it, tons of money.

We wanted to look at it all, from the mountains of Colorado to the streets of Atlanta, THC and CBD, oils and smoke, and all the rest.  This is sports in the age of cannabis.

ATHLETES ARE LEADING CANNABIS INTO THE MAINSTREAM

WEED AND SPORTS: A TIMELINE

CANNABIS IS FUELING ONE OF THE BEST RUNNERS IN AMERICA

WHICH WEED IS RIGHT FOR ATHLETES?

HOW ATHLETES BEAT WEED TESTS

THE GENDER DOUBLE STANDARD OF WEED IN SNOWBOARDING

WEED STIGMAS ARE CHANGING, BUT NOT FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR

April 17, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Guest post: "New Database Tracks Local Variation in Implementing Cannabis Legalization in California"

David-Ball-2015Professor W. David Ball, who has served on California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Regulation, was kind enough to alert me to a new database that details how localities in California are implementing the state's marijuana reform laws. He was even kinder to take up my invitation to write up an account of this resource. Here is his terrific guest post:

California's regulated cannabis market is roughly four months old, but within the statewide framework, there are notable local variations.  The ballot initiative that legalized adult-use provided for a strong degree of local control and, as this article details, some areas have been quicker (and more willing) to license activities than others.   This database provides details about which activities county and municipal governments have decided to permit (sales, testing, manufacturing, growing, and distributing) for both the medical and adult-use market.

The database (and accompanying article) point out a number of dynamics likely to be replicated in other nascent adult-use markets.  First, the statewide framework is usually only the beginning -- localities still have a great degree of control over which geographical areas (and which parts of the new market) will be a part of a regulated cannabis regime.  California requires local licensing, but even if it didn't, local governments, via land-use regulations and zoning laws, would still be able to exercise a significant amount of control.  Focusing only on inter-state differences fails to capture the significant intra-state differences that exist within a given statewide regime.  It may be true that, say, the regulations of the San Francisco market have more in common with Seattle than they do with Fresno.

Second, we should remember that regulation is an ongoing process. Proposition 64, the adult-use legalization initiative, gave California the foundation to enact administrative rule-making.  These administrative rules, in turn, will be modified as the market develops.  Indeed, one bill currently under consideration in the state assembly would cut cannabis taxes in order to lure price-sensitive customers to the legal market.  There is no reason to suspect that the database of local regulations won't change on a regular basis.  Some localities might expand the scope and depth of permitted activities, some might contract them.  This is why it is important both to have a flexible framework and to ensure that stakeholders (including those not participating in the market as either consumers or producers) remain engaged.

With almost 40 million people and a population and landscape that contains almost every kind of diversity one sees in the country, a closer analysis of these local regulations is sure to yield insights normally associated with the federalist conception of "laboratories of democracy."  In this instance, though, the laboratories are to be found within a single state, rather than among the 50 states.

April 16, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Legalizing Marijuana: A View from Among the Weeds"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Michael Vitiello and Rosemary Deck just published in the UC Hastings Law Journal. Here is its abstract:

The United States is on a fast-track to a new era in marijuana law.  The prospect of a federal pathway to legalization opens a Pandora’s Box of issues for states like California. This Article focuses on Humboldt County in the Emerald Triangle, California’s prime marijuana growing area, and examines how the region might be impacted by state legalization.  After a brief look into the development of the marijuana market in Humboldt County, this Article identifies some of the costs that have come with leaving the county outside the legal fold, including a failure to address poor working conditions for seasonal trimmers and an epidemic of sexual harassment that has only recently come to light.

The Article then explores some of the obstacles to bringing the county into the legal economy.  Depending on how policymakers and marijuana producers respond to these issues, Humboldt County may become a boom-or-bust economy.  The Article then examines some of the benefits of bringing producers into the legal economy, including improved working conditions for the scores of individuals employed in the industry.  Failing to bring the county into compliance with county and state cannabis regulations also threatens the goals of marijuana reformers.  The Article concludes with thoughts about how Humboldt County might fare in the new world of legal pot.  Just as in the wine industry, the region’s best hope may lie in the move towards marijuana appellations, which will require entry into the legal market.

April 10, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)