Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Advocates for marijuana reform in Vermont highlight economic development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

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

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

Minister of Health Mandate Letter

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Mandate Letter 

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Mandate Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The invited speakers are:

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Lots of notable Ohio stories about marijuana reform even after voters soundly reject Issue 3

As reported in prior posts (here and here), earlier this week Ohioans went to the polls and voted by large margin against a controversial ballot initiative, Issue 3, which would have legalized recreational marijuana in Ohio and give exclusive rights to growing marijuana to 10 designated investors.  But, as highlighted by the headlines and stories linked below, this vote has not ended the conversations about marijuana reform in the Buckeye State:

Finally, for anyone who likes believing  grand government conspiracies against changing the political status quo, another article would be especially appealing: "Was Ohio's Marijuana Vote Stolen? TV Screen Shots Show Massive Number of Votes Flipping."

November 7, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"If Mexico legalizes marijuana, what will the U.S. do?"

Mexico-Marijuana-900The title of this post is the headline of this notable and interesting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times authored by Jorge Castañeda, who once served as foreign minister of Mexicoand now teaches at New York University. Here are excerpts:

Mexico may soon enter an elite club composed of Holland, Portugal, Uruguay and Colorado, Oregon and Washington state: It's on the verge of excluding marijuana from the destructive war on drugs. But will the United States stand in its way?

On Nov. 4, Mexico's Supreme Court voted by a wide margin to declare unconstitutional the country's ban on the production, possession and recreational consumption of marijuana. A group of citizens had banded together in a so-called cannabis club (named SMART, for the initials in Spanish of its full title) and requested permission to grow and exchange marijuana among themselves; the government's health agency (the equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) denied them permission; the group sought a writ of habeas corpus, and went all the way to the Supreme Court, which granted them the writ and ordered the agency to legalize the club and allow it to function.

This decision does not entail an across-the-board decriminalization of recreational marijuana. For the moment, it applies only to the group that sought permission. But the court's ruling may eventually extend to everyone seeking to grow or consume the drug.

Absent injury to third parties, the court resolved that, under the constitution, every individual has the right to enjoy life as he or she sees fit, and that secondary legislation — like prohibiting marijuana — cannot curtail that right. The court also ruled that although marijuana may cause some degree of harm to some adult users in large quantities, prohibition is an excessive antidote to that harm....

Unlike in the U.S., public opinion in Mexico is against legalizing pot, which is why SMART chose the judicial road instead of pursuing a legislative approach. Recent history has shown that once the courts resolve controversial social issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, living wills — public opinion shifts and eventually comes around to the more progressive view.

The ruling means a great deal for Mexico. Domestically, it probably spells the beginning of the end of its bloody, costly, fruitless war of choice on marijuana. It will be increasingly awkward for the country's armed forces and police to prosecute growers, wholesale traffickers and retail dealers of a substance that can be grown and consumed legally, if not yet bought and sold freely.

The decision will not immediately affect the country's cartels, or the rising (once again) levels of drug-related violence and corruption. It will, however, eventually bring down marijuana prices, which over time will damage the cartels' business. And if President Enrique Peña Nieto wishes to continue the drug war, the decision will free him to concentrate on heroin and methamphetamines (produced in Mexico) and cocaine (brought from South America).

For the country's always prickly ties with Washington, Mexico's Supreme Court ruling could cut either way. If hard-liners in the U.S. — the Drug Enforcement Administration and its supporters in Congress — determine the American response, there will be trouble.... Or, if President Obama as well as the moderates in the State and Justice departments run the show, the decision could serve as a much-needed excuse to rethink prohibition.

Just as Obama wisely decided not to interfere with state-level legalization in the U.S., he could encourage Peña Nieto not to interfere with the court decision. Both governments could unite in making clear that the ruling, plus next year's probable legalization of recreational use in California, make the war on drugs unmanageable.

Both the U.S. and Mexico would then have no choice but to search for alternative solutions, and leave behind the punitive, security-based approach Washington has imposed on the world since the early 1970s.

November 7, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

New York Times editorial praises spread of push for marijuana legalization

The New York Times has this lengthy and astute editorial headlined "The Push for Legal Marijuana Spreads." Here is how it starts and ends:

Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing.  Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.

In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country.  And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recently introduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.

Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws.  Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain....

What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind of legislation Mr. Sanders has proposed.  His bill would remove marijuana, or “marihuana” as it is called in federal law, from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which is meant for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medical use.

This change would allow states to decide if they want to make the drug legal and how to regulate it without being limited by federal law.  Mr. Sanders’s bill would also make it illegal to transport the drug across state lines.  If Congress is unwilling to act, Mr. Obama should move on his own by ordering the attorney general to request a study by the secretary of health and human services, which would be needed if the administration is to remove the drug from Schedule I on its own.

A growing group of activists, judges and lawmakers is showing the world a path to more sensible drug policies. Mr. Obama and Congress should join them.

November 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Serious money for serious people to study marijuana reform seriously

Global-logoI am very pleased to see via this press release that a notable institution has just recently receive a notable grant to work on modern marijuana reform issues.  Here are the details:

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law, in collaboration with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), has received a $250,000 grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to help develop guidelines on how states, countries, and other jurisdictions that opt to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can create regulatory frameworks, consistent with the goals of legalization, that will work effectively to protect and promote the public health.

“Now is an opportune time to develop regulatory approaches and guidelines that can prevent unnecessary public health harms from the legalization of medical or recreational cannabis while maximizing the potential public health benefits,” says the project’s lead investigator, Oscar Cabrera, Abogado (JD equivalent), LL.M., executive director of the O’Neill Institute.  “With new ballot questions and legislation pending, it is especially important, now, to avoid elements that will unnecessarily create health risks or fail to secure potential benefits and likely be harder to fix after they are in place.”

Cabrera says the purpose of the project is not to advocate for or against legalizing cannabis, but rather to inform deliberations over the design and implementation of the laws and regulations governing legalized cannabis products with guidance from relevant experts in public health policy and law, both in the United States and abroad.

The Open Philanthropy Project is a collaboration between the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures and the nonprofit GiveWell in which they aim to identify outstanding giving opportunities, make grants, follow the results and publish their findings.  The project between the O’Neill Institute and WOLA complements this mission.

“Whether or not one agrees with cannabis legalization, it is already happening in several U.S. states and in the country of Uruguay, and appears likely to spread to more jurisdictions,” explains John Walsh, Senior Associate at WOLA, a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas.  “Different jurisdictions are likely to make different choices about exactly how to legalize, but it is crucial to engage the public health community in identifying strategies that can minimize possible public health harms and maximize public health gains.”

In addition to looking at available research and the experience of those jurisdictions that have already legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, the organizations’ leaders say they will also draw from the public health community’s considerable experience relating to the regulation of other products, such as tobacco, alcohol and both over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

“It makes good sense to assess what lessons from tobacco and alcohol control — both positive and negative — should be taken into account when designing regulations for legalized cannabis,” Cabrera adds.  “But until now, public health officials largely have been on the sidelines of this issue.”

The O’Neill-WOLA collaboration brings the public health aspects of cannabis legalization to the forefront and seeks to generate more participation in the issue from public health experts and organizations.  WOLA has a long history in the field of drug policy reform with a particular focus on human rights protections.  The O’Neill Institute brings great expertise and stature in the field of public health law and policy.  Both organizations have broad access to scholars, practitioners, activists, and government officials.

November 5, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pueblo County voters in Colorado approve local marijuana tax to fund college scholarship

Images (4)This local story from Colorado, which is headlined "New in Colorado: College scholarships funded by weed" (and amazingly does not make any jokes about higher education), discusses an interesting local tax initiativ that looks to reinvestment marijuana revenues to a very sound cause.  Here are the details:

A Colorado county that boasts the world's largest outdoor marijuana farm and has been actively courting the new pot industry has approved the world s first marijuana-funded college scholarship.

Pueblo County voters approved the pot tax by a 20-point margin Tuesday.  The 5 percent excise tax on marijuana growers is expected to raise about $3.5 million a year by 2020, with the money available for any high school senior in the county who attends one of two public colleges in the county.

The scholarship awards will depend on how many students apply, but county planners are projecting about 400 students a year will get scholarships of about $1,000 each per year.  The awards are the world's first scholarships funded entirely by pot taxes.  "It's a landmark vote," said Brian Vicente, a Denver-based marijuana attorney who wrote Colorado's 2012 legalization measure.  "This is the first time you have marijuana tax money being used directly for scholarships, and that's pretty remarkable."  Pueblo's booming pot industry didn't oppose the measure, which brings their tax rate from 15 percent to 20 percent, phased in over five year....

Scholarship backers insist the fund isn't any different than the scholarships already funded by alcohol companies.  "Adding a scholarship that comes from an industry we are fostering is a logical method to address several of our community issues, including an unemployment rate that lags the statewide average," said Chris Markuson, Pueblo's economic development director.

Through aggressive recruitment efforts and financial incentives, the southern Colorado county has attracted a booming industry of marijuana growers fleeing higher costs in the Denver area....

Pueblo also has taken the unusual step of putting marijuana growers on equal footing with traditional farmers when it comes to water rights — something it's able to do because its water supply in the Arkansas River Basin is controlled locally, not by the federal government.   "We are aggressive, trying to build the Silicon Valley of the marijuana industry," Markuson said.

Just last week Pueblo officials announced an $8 million incentives package to lure pot growers to convert a defunct Boeing rocket plant into a production facility for hemp oil that will eventually employ 163 people.  Pueblo County now accounts for about 3 percent of Colorado's recreational marijuana sales, but about 20 percent of the state's recreational pot production.  The county has about 65 commercial pot growers, including the 36-acre Los Suenos farm, which is believed to be the world's largest pot cultivation site.

The two colleges eligible for scholarship spending — Pueblo Community College and Colorado State University-Pueblo — did not immediately return calls about the new weed scholarships.

Sal Pace, a county commissioner who pushed the scholarship ballot measure, called the pot industry a natural source of funds.  "For years we ve been floating the idea of a special funding source in Pueblo to help kids afford college," Pace said.  "This seemed like a natural fit."

November 5, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ohio 2015 results highlight how marijuana elections are different (and not-so-different) than other elections

Vote-ohioAmong the many reasons I was so interested in the controversial ballot initiative to legalize recreation marijuana in Ohio, Issue 3, was my expectation that the campaign and vote in the Buckeye State in an off-off-election year would reveal just whether and how marijuana elections are different than other elections.  With nearly all the votes counted, here are a couple of ways the Ohio 2015 experience shows that marijuana elections are different and not-so-different:

Big difference #1:  Local polls are not so reliable:  I generally surmise that lots of public polls, especially those done by major professional, are pretty reliable.  And Nate Silver has demostrated that combining together a number of polls can produce extraordinary reliable predictions of election day outcomes.  But all the local polling done around marijuana legalization in Ohio suggested a majority of Ohioans were supportive of reform and polls focused on Issue 3 suggested that it would at least be a close vote.  But none of the public polls even hinted that Issue 3 would be a blowout.

Big difference #2:  Big money does not ensure big votes:  I tend to think that concerns and complaints about money "buying" elections can often be overstated.  But, especially in elections for representatives, it is generally true that having lots of money to raise a candidate's profile (and to attack any opponents) can be critical to electorial success.  But in Ohio the backers of Issue 3 had a huge war chest and they spent tens of millions on advertising and other traditional campaign efforts.  But, despite out-spending opponents of Issue 3 more than 10-to-1, the backers of Issue 3 seemingly got very little return at the ballot box for all their spending.

Not-so-big difference #1:  Making enemies of natural allies is not a good political strategy:  At the outset of ResponsibleOhio campaign, I wondered how traditional supporters of marijuana reform would respond to the "corporate" reform plan that Issue 3 represented.  I had expected that the Issue 3 backers would work hard to get the traditional marijuana reform community (both locally and nationally) to support their efforts.  But it seems that the Issue 3 political team was much better at making enemies than making friends in both the local and national reform community.  Throughout the heart of the campaign, I kept discovering that leading marijuana reform activists were far more energizied by the prospect of defeating Issue 3 than by the possibility that passage of Issue 3 could put Ohio at the forefront of the marijuana reform movement.

Not-so-big difference #2:  It is really hard to get young people to vote on off years:  Generational demographics provide a big reason why I think (smart) marijuana legalization campaigns can  be successful  in the years ahead; polling consistently shows that voters under 40 support reform by a significant margin.  But having political support among younger folks does not practically mean  much if these folks do not make it to the polls on election day.  I had expected, and the Issue 3 backers hand banked on, having marijuana reform on the ballot in 2015 would motivate many more younger, reform-supportive voters to go to the polls.  But it appears turn out in Ohio in 2015 was low and that any get-out-the-vote effort by ResponsibleOhio on college campuses produced no tangible results.

November 4, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Will big loss of Issue 3 in Ohio set back marijuana reform movement in midwest and nationally?

As noted in this post at my other blog and as reported in this local article, "Ohio voters strongly rejected legalizing marijuana today, despite a $25 million campaign by proponents.   The issue to legalize pot for recreational and medical use [Issue 3] is going down 65 percent to 35 percent, losing in all 88 counties with about 72 percent of the of the statewide vote counted."  

Based on the significant criticisms of the corporate reform model brought to Ohio voters, which generated significant criticisms from the traditional marijuana reform advocacy community, I am not to surprised that Issue 3 failed to garner a majority of off-off-year voters.  But I am somwhat surprised, especially in light of polling that suggested a closer outcome, that Issue 3 is losing by such a significant margin.  And I think the size of the loss in Ohio could slow down the momentum for full marijuana legalization in midwestern states.

Helpfully, John Hudak at Brookings already has this lengthy post providing lots of Ohio election take-aways.  The post's title highlights its main themes: "Ohio's failure to legalize marijuana tells us little about reform, and less about the future." Here is how it concludes:

I have written previously that the success of previous marijuana reform ballot initiatives was due in part to the professionalization of the reform community, hiring political strategists, lawyers, lobbyists, communications professionals, and others to join issue-driven activists in the fight for their cause.  The failure of Issue 3 was a failure by Responsible Ohio to implement an effective political strategy that is sensitive to the challenges facing referenda.

The “big” takeaway from tonight’s rejection of legalization is this: don’t run a controversial marijuana initiative in Ohio in an off-off year. Anyone who suggests Ohio’s decision tells us anything about the success or failure of initiatives in 2016 is just blowing smoke.

November 3, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Omaha Tribe assessing interest in marijuana legalization in northeast Nebraska

Bright-futuresNebraska has a pending suit (along with Oklahoma) in the US Supreme Court against its neighbor Colorado complaining about that state's marijuana reform efforts (basics here and here).  But, as this local article highlights, the Cornhusker state may soon have to be concerned about a marijuana reform effort within its own borders.  The article is headlined "Omaha Tribe to consider legalizing marijuana," and here are excerpts:  

The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is considering getting into the lucrative marijuana business, but at least one tribal expert fears doing so could put the tribe at risk of losing any investment it may make in marijuana industries.

The tribe plans to hold a referendum Tuesday in which members will vote on whether the tribe should allow recreational use of marijuana, medicinal use of marijuana, and growing industrial hemp on its northeast Nebraska reservation.

Ultimately, however, the Omaha tribal council will decide all three questions. The referendum vote simply will give the council guidance on whether to move forward, according to an information sheet distributed by the tribe.

Tribal law expert Lance Morgan, who also is president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe’s economic development arm, said it likely will be difficult for the Omaha Tribe to legalize the use or manufacture of marijuana on its reservation, despite a U.S. Department of Justice memo issued last year that some tribal advocates have argued grants tribes the right to legalize use of marijuana on their reservations.

Morgan said the federal memo doesn’t actually allow tribes to legalize marijuana. Rather, he said, it allows them to work with local U.S. attorneys to do so. And, he said, U.S. attorneys in many states have been unwilling to allow tribes to move forward. “I think the government should be more direct in whether it’s allowable or not,” he said.

Morgan said it will be especially difficult for tribes in Nebraska to legalize marijuana, considering the firm stance Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has taken against it. Spokeswoman Suzanne Gage declined to comment Friday on the referendum....

Morgan said the ambiguous Justice Department memo has encouraged tribes across the country to launch expensive marijuana and hemp operations, and now some of those tribes have discovered they don’t actually have the right to legalize marijuana. “This is just one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen come out of D.C.,” Morgan said. “Encouraging us to invest capital and then coming in and destroying that capital and raiding the tribe doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Morgan said the Winnebago Tribe has discussed legalized marijuana but has no plans to move forward with such a plan. He sees the Omaha Tribe's plan to gauge opinion through a referendum as a good idea. “The only way tribes are going to do it is if they hold a referendum,” he said. “Then they know what the people think and can act accordingly.”

November 1, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Highlighting how Ohio initiative has deeply split traditional marijuana reform groups

Jacob Sullum has this notable new Forbes article about the notable rift created by the unique marijuana reform proposal going to voters in Ohio next week.  The article is headlined "Why Antiprohibitionists Are Ambivalent About Ohio's Marijuana Legalization Initiative," and here is how the piece starts and ends:

Next Tuesday voters in Ohio will decide whether to legalize marijuana. If Issue 3 passes and if another constitutional amendment aimed at overriding it does not, Ohio will be the first state to leap from complete pot prohibition to legalization for both medical and recreational use.  It will also be the most populous state and the first state east of the Great Plains to legalize marijuana.  A legalization victory in Ohio, a bellwether in presidential elections, could have a big impact on politicians’ willingness to deviate from prohibitionist orthodoxy and on voters’ willingness to support next year’s crop of marijuana initiatives in other states.

Despite its potential significance, Issue 3 does not merit a mention in a message about marijuana legalization that I received yesterday from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). In the fundraising letter, DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann recalls last year’s successful initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., and he looks forward to next year’s contests, when “more people than ever before will have the opportunity to vote on marijuana legalization.”  But he says nothing about next week’s election. There is no discussion of Issue 3 on DPA’s website either, although a few posts mention Ohio as one of the states where marijuana might be legalized.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), another leading reform group, has a paragraph about Issue 3 on its website but is not calling attention to the initiative as the vote nears. Nor is its description an endorsement.  “We encourage residents to carefully consider the measure and be sure to vote this November!” it says.

DPA and MPP, which had prominent roles in legalization campaigns last year and will again next year, are not involved in the Ohio initiative, so maybe it’s not surprising that they are not promoting it.  But that lack of involvement reflects strategic and philosophical differences within the drug policy reform movement that have made many opponents of pot prohibition ambivalent about Issue 3.  It’s an ambivalence I share. Although I’d like to see Issue 3 pass, I’m not exactly rooting for it.

Some of the objections to Issue 3 have to do with timing. MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia thinks it’s risky to put a marijuana initiative on the ballot in a year when people are not electing a president, since turnout is lower then, especially among the younger voters who are most likely to favor legalization.  He worries that a defeat in Ohio could be portrayed as a reversal of the legalization movement’s momentum. “That failure will be the only failure in the country,” he says, “and then the media will feed on that: ‘Oh, my God, legalization is backsliding.’…If they lose, which is not guaranteed, it might change the national narrative for one year.”

Although Kampia has a point, my main problem with Issue 3 is the cannabis cultivation cartel it would create: Commercial production would be limited to 10 pre-selected sites owned by the initiative’s financial backers, who are investing in the gains to be made from the economic privileges they are trying to award themselves.  This approach has the advantage of quickly raising a lot of money — money that can be used to pay marijuana mascots and produce ads featuring sympathetic beneficiaries of legalization (such as the mother who moved from Ohio to Colorado so she could treat her daughter’s epilepsy with cannabis oil).  The downside is that the crony capitalism embodied in Issue 3 disgusts a lot of people who otherwise support legalization.

That reaction is not limited to libertarians like me. “Damn,” DPA’s Nadelmann said while discussing the initiative in San Francisco last February.  “This thing sticks in my craw. Ten business interests are going to dominate this thing?”  Despite objections from the Yes on 3 campaign, a.k.a. Responsible Ohio, the ballot description highlights that aspect of the initiative, which unites progressives and libertarians in revulsion almost as much as prohibition itself....

Russ Belville, a longtime marijuana reform activist and talk radio host, faults leading antiprohibitionists for doing little or nothing to help push Issue 3 over the top.  “Why isn’t every drug law reform group making their get-out-the-vote push and shouting it from the rooftops?” he asked in an October 12 Marijuana Politics post.  Belville noted that Issue 3 is in some respects superior to I-502, the 2012 Washington initiative, which got much more enthusiastic support from groups such as DPA, MPP, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  Unlike I-502, for instance, Issue 3 allows home cultivation (although only with a state-issued license), and it does not create an arbitrary definition of drugged driving based on THC blood levels.

NORML, unlike DPA and MPP, has endorsed Issue 3, albeit under the headline “Investor-Driven Legalization: A Bitter Pill to Swallow.”  In that September 14 post, NORML founder Keith Stroup, now the group’s general counsel, noted that the board vote in favor of the initiative was “less than unanimous.”  He explained that “a couple of board members abstained, and one flatly opposed the endorsement, to register their displeasure with the self-enrichment aspects of the Ohio proposal.”  Stroup added that “this specific version of legalization ― in which the investors alone would control and profit from the 10 commercial cultivation and extraction centers (where marijuana-infused products would be produced) permitted under the proposal — is a perversion of the voter initiative process available in 24 states.”

This week Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) joined NORML in supporting Issue 3, without mentioning the perversion that troubles Stroup.  Instead LEAP emphasized the benefits of eliminating arrests for marijuana possession and moving the industry out of the black market.  The statement quoted Howard Rahtz, a retired Cincinnati police captain: “Legalization will take money away from the cartels, provide funding for public safety and health services, and reduce the violence associated with the illegal drug market.”

Belville urges antiprohibitionists to focus on the main issue: the government’s power “to abrogate my rights because the drug I choose to use is contraband.”  The Issue 3 campaign is a battle in a war, he says, and “the way the war is won is by taking from the authorities, state by state, the ability to fuck with adults who use marijuana.”  After that is accomplished, “we fight for cultivation rights,” and “we fight to make the business model more equitable,” but “we’ve got to get it legal first.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Ohioans will indisputably have more freedom if Issue 3 passes than if it doesn’t, and that victory can only accelerate the continuing collapse of marijuana prohibition across the country.  If we must choose between cartels, the one Issue 3 creates is clearly preferable to the ones Capt. Rahtz wants to push out of the marijuana business.

October 29, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Has candidate Bernie Sanders already produced "big political moment" for marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Washington Post commentary by Amber Phillips headlined "Why Bernie Sanders’s marijuana announcement is a big political moment for pot." Here are excepts from the piece:

One day in the perhaps-not-too-distant future, when we — not the royal we, of course — light up a joint and reflect on how marijuana became as accepted and as legal as alcohol and cigarettes in this country, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) probably won't be top of mind.

But future marijuana-legalization scholars won't soon forget the first presidential candidate to publicly support removing marijuana from the government's list of dangerous drugs.  It currently resides on that list; Sanders wants it off entirely, which is a political turning point in our relationship with pot.

In a Virginia town hall broadcast (naturally) to about 300 college campuses Wednesday, Sanders told an audience of more than 1,700 applauding students: "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use," he said, according to The Washington Post's John Wagner and Christopher Ingraham. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

What Sanders is calling for is not legalization. But the policy implications of removing pot entirely from the government's schedule of controlled substances would be big: States would be allowed to legalize it without interference from Washington, it would help economies involving pot (like banking) grow without fear of prosecution from the federal government, and fewer people would go to jail for possessing marijuana.

We're still quite a ways from that becoming a reality, despite the most recent Gallup polling showing a substantial majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana and a few states moving to do just that in recent years.  But Sanders, in being the first national candidate to call for this change, took us a clear step closer.

There are a few reasons his announcement was a big moment for pot politically.  First, the medical community at large would agree with Sanders that pot is not as dangerous as, say, crack cocaine and heroin and the other highly addictive drugs it is currently classified with.  Respected organizations like the American Medical Association have also said keeping marijuana on a legally unreachable shelf stymies research for its healing potentials.  In that way, Sanders is bringing already-existent medical views of pot to the forefront of a political debate that hasn't yet embraced them.

Second, Sanders is not a fringe candidate — although you could argue some of the democratic socialist's policies aren't exactly mainstream.  He regularly draws crowds in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, and is giving Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton a run for her money.  And if there's anything this campaign has taught us, it's that Sanders has the ability to draw Clinton to the left politically.  That doesn't mean Clinton will take the same stance, but it does mean there could be pressure to move in that direction.

Third, this just feels like something of a turning point in our nation's approach to marijuana.  Like it or not, the signs would indicate we're on a national trajectory toward decriminalization, perhaps even legalization. And it's happening remarkably fast, relative to other social issues....

Most other presidential contenders have been more cautious about recreational marijuana.  Clinton has very much taken a wait-and-see approach when it comes to states that have legalized it. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has raised money from the marijuana industry for his presidential campaign, has said the federal government shouldn't interfere with states who want to legalize it.  He and and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (D) have said they'd support bumping down a notch the government's classification of pot as a drug.  Only Sanders has supported taking it off completely.  And of course, neither Paul nor O'Malley are drawing the kind of support that Sanders is.

It seems only a matter of time before more politicians join Sanders in taking more definitive policy positions that move along the drug's slow but apparently inevitable march toward acceptance in America.  Maybe it's this election, maybe it's the next.  But Sanders will likely be remembered as the guy who took us one step closer to our inevitable new relationship with pot.

Speaking as a current "marijuana-legalization scholar," I fear that this commentary reflects a somewhat enhanced view of the significance of what Senator Sanders has said on this topic. Still, this is a big deal, and Fall 2015 will surely be seen as a watershed period in the marijuana reform movement if Ohio voters next week pass a controversial legalization plan in a bellwether state.

October 29, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Spotlighting how, in bellwether Ohio, "Corporations, Activists Clash Over Legal Pot"

1035x376-R1247_REPORT_Pot_CRolling Stone has this terrific new article that details not only the dynamics surrounding the 2015 marijuana initiative reform efforts, but also the broader battle this represents concerning who will be leading the marijuana reform movement in the months and years ahead.  The lengthy piece is headlined "Ohio's Weed War: Corporations, Activists Clash Over Legal Pot; Why are corporate raiders and old-school activists locked in a battle for the soul of the marijuana movement?". I recommend the piece in full, and here is how it gets started:

On November 3rd, voters in Ohio will decide the fate of legal weed — making the Buckeye State an unlikely ground zero in the national divide of the legalization movement. The fight pits the movement's ponytailed old guard against its rising carpetbaggers, a cadre of Rolex-wearing, politically connected businessmen intent on controlling the growth, sale and subsequent $100 million profits of legal weed. Unlike Ohio's longtime activists, the new weed elite has a $23.5 million war chest to campaign for dispensaries on every block. But while victory in heartland America would instantly notch the single greatest electoral achievement in marijuana reform, many see the movement's corporate takeover as the death knell of what has long been a grassroots reform campaign — destroying the last vestiges of the drug's counterculture relevance.

"New people come into the picture primarily motivated by money, not by a sense of injustice," says Troy Dayton, a decades-long activist and CEO of the Oakland-based ArcView Group, the country's largest marijuana-investor group. "And thus you have the problem. I've seen the movement fight over a wide range of things. But I've never seen something quite like what's happening in Ohio."

Without a doubt, the face of the corporate takeover of the marijuana movement is ResponsibleOhio, the statewide campaign that launched last November, the same month Oregon became the fourth state to legalize pot. ResponsibleOhio's ballot initiative, known as Issue 3, would legalize recreational marijuana by constitutional amendment. The initiative language creates a marijuana oversight board, allows for 1,100 retailers — more pot shops than the state has Starbucks — and permits each adult citizen four homegrown plants. Issue 3 creates just 10 marijuana farms and hands the keys to wealthy campaign donors, transforming a slew of real-estate executives, financiers and a curious bevy of celebrity investors — NBA legend Oscar Robertson, fashion mogul Nanette Lepore, former boy-band star Nick Lachey — into a monopoly of newfangled marijuana farmers, virtually overnight.

Traditionally in Ohio, legalization has been championed by the movement's activist class, a loose statewide network of protest politics with names like Ohio Rights Group (ORG) and Legalize Ohio 2016, with most outfits operating in the orbit of the country's three oldest drug-reform organizations: Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the National Organization for Reform of Mari-juana Laws (NORML). Many of Ohio's old-school legalization activists describe watching in horror as their cause succumbs to a big-business stampede. "We're for full legalization," says Bob Fitrakis, an Ohio Green Party leader and also an ORG board member. "But this isn't about that. This is about 10 people with a lot of money....essentially saying, 'Hi! We're going to use our money to create a new cartel.'"

For the past four decades, the non-profit status and equal-justice missions of MPP, DPA and NORML have colored the legalization movement's identity, but so, too, has political reality: It takes a few million dollars to win a pot campaign. Colorado's successful initiative cost around $3 million, and Oregon's around $9 million. In the past, such national money veered away from Ohio, an expensive and uncertain battleground state. When your movement dangles on a nonprofit budget, experts explain, you have to pick your states wisely.

ResponsibleOhio has emerged at the precise moment that legalization is grappling with this conundrum: How in the world to finance a movement that's rocketing at a speed that senior leaders privately confess is faster than they ever expected? Against this dilemma, ResponsibleOhio posed a radical answer: Forget the national leadership and fund yourself. The marijuana market, already an estimated $2.7 billion industry, long ago went private. But in Ohio, legalization experts say, the marijuana movement itself has gone private.

"In the Ohio case, this is very much a new phenomenon," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the DPA. "It's basically investors who are in it for the money. The political reality is that the role of groups that fight for this from a place of principle is just going to diminish very rapidly. And that's unfortunate."

UPDATE: Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of other national media outlets are now taking a closer looks at what is going on with marijuana reform in Ohio. Here are a few other notable lengthy recent pieces:

  • From the AP here, "Ohio marijuana debate heats up"

  • From the Pacific Standard here, "The Most Unusual Marijuana Battle in America: Behind the push to legalize pot in Ohio"

October 24, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Should next week's GOP debate start with a question about marijuana reform and economic development?

103066411-YMYV.530x298The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new CBNC article headlined "GOP candidates divided on marijuana." The actual article does not really cover any new ground, but its source is especially notable because CNBC is the host of the next big GOP debate on Wednesday night. Accourding to the article, the CNBC debate on Wednesday, Oct. 28 is being titled "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate" and it will "feature two sets of candidates discussing critical issues facing America today, including job growth, taxes and the health of our economy." Moreover, as noted in this prior post, the debate is taking place in Colorado, a state which has experienced notable changes in job growth and taxes as a result of state-level marijuana reform.

In addition to being well-suited for the main topics and setting for next week's GOP debate, marijuana reform issues and related politics are especially timely. Just earlier this week, the Liberal Party in Canada won a huge national election while running on a platform advocating full marijuana legalization.  And just six days after the debate, the swing state of Ohio will have voters deciding whether to become the first state east of the Mississippi to vote on a full marijuana legalization initiative.

At the very least, I would love to see candidate John Kasich, the current Governor of Ohio, asked next week about whether he would acknowledge the potential for marijuana reform in Ohio to enhance job growth and tax revenues while reducing government expenditures on failed big-government, freedom-restricting policies.  In addition, I would love for New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, who has pledged to "enforce the federal law" aggressively even in states that have legalized marijuana, exactly how he would try to prevent Ohio officials from moving ahead with state reforms if voters enact such reforms in the Ohio constitution next month. 

October 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Marijuana, Ohio, and Esau"

Te title of this post is the headline of this lovely and astute new Huffington Post commentary authored by Pat Oglesby. Here are excerpts from its start and end:

"Politics is always the lesser of two evils," Federal Fifth Circuit Judge John Minor Wisdom told me when I was one of his law clerks. I didn't quite understand that then, in the late 1970s, but I get it now.

Marijuana legalization is gaining steam, and the question is becoming not "whether to legalize" but "how."  And it's about the money.  A recent RAND report put it this way: "A state that legalizes marijuana by allowing limited private sales creates a privilege to sell it. T hat privilege is worth money, maybe lots of money."

So the money is up for grabs.  And a small group plans to grab all the money in Ohio. The "Responsible Ohio" ballot initiative, to be voted on in November, lets medical and adult-use marijuana be grown and processed only in "ten designated sites," all owned by wealthy funders of the initiative.   Sites like a "40.44 acre area in Butler County, Ohio, identified by the Butler County Auditor, as of February 2, 2015, as tax parcel numbers Q6542084000008 and Q6542084000041."  And the initiative caps taxes permanently.   All by Constitutional amendment.

The Responsible Ohio initiative sets up, for some of my friends in the cannabis community, a choice between two evils: prohibition and what NORML's Keith Stroup calls "a bitter pill to swallow" and "a perversion of the voter initiative process."  But he points out that, for now, the Responsible Ohio initiative "is the only option available to stop the senseless and destructive practice of arresting marijuana smokers in Ohio. Each year nearly 20,000 Ohio residents are arrested on marijuana charges.  That's an enormous price to pay when we have the ability to end prohibition now, albeit with some undesirable provisions."...

And look -- Responsible Ohio doesn't have a monopoly on grabbing marijuana money. But it is the first marijuana consortium to limit its taxes permanently in a State Constitution.  That's outrageous.  There are at least six better ways to divide the new wealth and income from marijuana commerce than to give it all to the first self-nominated grabbers.  But that brings me back to Judge Wisdom's point about the lesser of two evils.  Different people have different views about which evil is lesser. Where you stand depends on where you sit.  That's why we vote.

Polls seem to be saying Responsible Ohio may win.  If it does, much of the blame will be on elected officials who should have seen this coming and figured out a way to handle it.  Combined with possible legalization of marijuana in Canada, a win for Responsible Ohio would shake the windows and rattle the walls in Legislatures across the country.  Sure, figuring out how to share the newly-created wealth from marijuana legalization fairly is not easy.  But it's not impossible.

October 22, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Latest Gallup poll shows 58% support for marijuana legalization (and 2/3 support for those under 50)

Bplgz4vavkyps762r8vilqThis new release from Gallup, headlined "In U.S., 58% Back Legal Marijuana Use," reinforces my ever-growing belief that it is no long a question of "if" but rather "when" and "how" blanket marijuana prohibition comes to an end. Here are the reasons why (with my emphasis added):

A majority of Americans continue to say marijuana use should be legal in the United States, with 58% holding that view, tying the high point in Gallup's 46-year trend.

Americans' support for legal marijuana has steadily grown over time. When Gallup first asked the question, in 1969, 12% of Americans thought marijuana use should be legal, with little change in two early 1970s polls. By the late 1970s, support had increased to about 25%, and held there through the mid-1990s. The percentage of Americans who favored making use of the drug legal exceeded 30% by 2000 and was higher than 40% by 2009.

Over the past six years, support has vacillated a bit, but averaged 48% from 2010 through 2012 and has averaged above the majority level, 56%, since 2013.

The higher level of support comes as many states and localities are changing, or considering changing, their laws on marijuana.  So far, four states and the District of Columbia have made recreational use of marijuana legal, and Ohio voters are set to decide a ballot initiative that would do the same this coming Election Day.  The topic has been an issue on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, and several candidates have expressed a willingness to let states set their own marijuana laws even though federal law prohibits marijuana use.

Gallup has previously reported that two of the biggest differentiators of Americans' opinions on legal marijuana are age and party identification.  Younger Americans, Democrats and independents are the most likely of major demographic and political groups to favor legalizing use of the drug, while Republicans and older Americans are least likely to do so.

Younger Americans have always shown the most support of any age group for making marijuana legal, but this has grown from 20% of 18- to 34-year-olds in 1969 to 71% of those in the same age group today.  But even older age groups today are more likely to favor legal marijuana than the comparable age groups in the past. For example, 35% of senior citizens today (aged 65 and older) are in favor of legalization, compared with 4% of senior citizens in 1969. Among all age groups, the increase in support has been proportionately greater over the last 15 years than it was between any of the earlier time periods.

These patterns by age indicate that one reason Americans are more likely to support legal marijuana today than they were in the past is because newer generations of adults, who are much more inclined to favor use of the drug, are replacing older generations in the population who were much less inclined to want it to be legalized. But the increase in support nationwide is also a function of attitude change within generations of Americans over the course of their adult lifespans....

Americans' support for legalizing marijuana is the highest Gallup has measured to date, at 58%. Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future.  Younger generations of Americans have been increasingly likely to favor legal use of marijuana as they entered adulthood compared with older generations of Americans when they were the same age decades ago.  Now, more than seven in 10 of today's young adults support legalization.

But Americans today -- particularly those between 35 and 64 -- are more supportive of legal marijuana than members of their same birth cohort were in the past. Now senior citizens are alone among age groups in opposing pot legalization. These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.

The notable dip in support for full legalization that the Gallup polling numbers showed in 2014 had me thinking that the early experience with full legalization in Colorado might have been starting to lead a few more average Americans to question whether they liked full marijuana legalization in practice quite as much as they liked it in theory. But now that support has ticked up to 58% again, I surmise that more folks are now coming to see that full legalization has lots of tangible economic benefits and that much of all the doom-and-gloom predicted by drug warriors have just not (yet?) come to reality.

Of particular importance in my view is the data suggesting that now roughly two-third of all Americans in their prime "parent years" (i.e., between ages 30 and 50) are now expressing support for full legalization. Especially as someone in that cohort, I have long thought that parents of young kids (and of current or future teenagers) cannot help but have lingering concerns and fears about the possible impact of full legalization on their children. But it seems that, at least for now, this generation by a two-to-one margin sees more problems from current marijuana prohibition than what could happen with major reform.

For these (and other) reasons, I think still more major legal reforms at both the state and federal level are getting ever closer to a near certainty unless and until prohibitionists do a much better job demonstrating that the potentiual harms of reform are much greater than what so many have come to see as the current harms of blanket prohibition.

October 21, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)