Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Responsible Ohio: Successes, Failures, and the Future of Adult Marijuana Use in Ohio"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article that was authored by Sean Klammer and got its start in my Marijuana Law and Policy seminar a few years ago. Here is the article's introduction:

On November 3, 2015, Ohioans went to the polls to vote on Issue 3, a ballot initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution to legalize adult marijuana use.  Though other states had legalized medicinal marijuana prior to eliminating prohibition, ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee (PAC) behind the initiative, believed it could skip this preliminary hurdle.  The group worked tirelessly for almost two years to ensure that Issue 3 would become law.  Had it succeeded, the organization would have possessed the blueprint to end prohibition in many other states, if not the entire country.  Yet, despite favorable polling in the months leading up to the election, it became clear that the PAC had miscalculated.  On election night, the initiative was soundly defeated, with Ohioans voting against legalization at a rate of two to one.  The State would have to wait until at least the 2016 presidential election to get another chance at legalization.

Part I of this Essay reviews the history and key players behind ResponsibleOhio as well as the initiative’s path to the ballot.  Part II summarizes the text of Issue 3 and assesses relevant provisions.  Parts III and IV highlight the debate between marijuana activists and prohibitionists, and Part V analyzes why the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.  Part VI notes that even though Issue 3 did not pass, it led to acceptance of medical marijuana in Ohio and thus set the stage for full legalization in 2020.  Finally, the Essay concludes in Part VII with a reflection on the lessons learned from ResponsibleOhio and gives suggestions on how to best frame a marijuana legalization campaign to appeal to voters in the next presidential election.

July 17, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 13, 2018

New York Health Department issues big report concluding benefits of marijuana legalization outweighs potential costs

Department-of-healthAs the New York Daily News puts it here: "The New York State Health Department is high on the prospects of legal marijuana." Here is what they mean:

In a long-awaited report released Friday, the Health Department concluded the “positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts” and recommended that state officials move forward with the legalization of recreational pot use.

Such a move, however, should only happen after the development of a “well-thought-out” regulatory structure and public education campaign to inform the public about the benefits and risks associated with pot use, the report said. “It is imperative that a regulated marijuana program contain all necessary safeguards and measures to limit access for individuals under 21, minimize impaired driving, provide education and tailored messaging to different populations, and connect people to treatment if needed,” the report stated.

The report, which was ordered by Gov. Cuomo in January, found that a regulated marijuana market could have several benefits for New York, including increased quality controls, consumer protections and tax revenues. With New York’s current market for illegal marijuana estimated to tally between $1.74 billion and $3.5 billion annually, the report estimated that the state could see tax revenue of between $248 million and $677.7 million, assuming tax rates of between 7% and 15%. The report recommended an initial tax rate of between 7% and 10%.

The report also stressed that legalization of marijuana could have significant criminal justice impacts, noting that a large percentage of those arrested for marijuana-related offenses are minorities. It recommends that “NYS expunge the criminal records of individuals with marijuana-related offenses.”

Health officials also concluded that there’s little evidence that legalization would lead to increased marijuana use and said it also has the potential to reduce use of opioids.

Advocates for legalized marijuana hailed the report and urged state officials to follow through on its recommendations....

Cuomo on Friday said he would “put together a group” to come up with a “full program” for legalization. He noted that the report recommends that people be at least 21 to purchase pot, but doesn’t answer such questions such as who could sell it, where, and the quantity that can be sold. “That to me is the devil in the details,” he said.

Cuomo had previously opposed legalization of marijuana but ordered the Health Department to study the issue because of the steps nearby states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, were taking steps to legalize the drug. “Those are our two border states,” he said Friday. “You have more control and there’s a possibility for revenue when you regulate it and in this context, where you have New Jersey and Massachusetts legalizing it, it’s not really an option of preventing it because you can go over a bridge and over a border.”...

Despite the report’s findings, it is unlikely lawmakers will take any steps until at least next year since the Legislature has already adjourned for the year. The state Senate’s ruling GOP conference has also expressed opposition to legalizing pot.

“Our Senate Majority is focused on making New York more affordable for hardworking taxpayers, helping businesses create new jobs for the middle class, and keeping families and communities safe,” Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said in May. "Let others focus on legalizing drugs and what that would look like. Affordability, opportunity, security — those are our priorities for the remainder of the year.”

The full report, which I think is quite nicely done, as well as an extended executive summary and related materials are available via this NY Department of Health webpage and at these links:

July 13, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Behind Schedule — Reconciling Federal and State Marijuana Policy"

Nejmp1804408_f1The title of this post is the title of this new Perspectives piece appearing in the The New England Journal of Medicine and authored by Rebecca Haffajee, Robert MacCoun and Michelle Mello. I recommend the piece highly in part because of its terrific graphic under the heading "U.S. Marijuana Policy Milestones, 1970–2018." Here is part of its text:

The present state of conflicting laws seems unstable and suboptimal for rational drug control. Federal regulation that accommodates and reinforces state medical marijuana regulatory regimes would result in a safer, more reliable, more accessible supply of marijuana products. Congress, because it answers to the people and represents the states, appears the most likely branch to move on marijuana policy; it could even be encouraged to act by Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana.  Federal courts are increasingly hearing challenges to marijuana’s Schedule I status but have so far been unwilling to deem Congress’s scheduling determination irrational and therefore unconstitutional.

In Congress, rescheduling marijuana by amending the CSA is one attractive option.  The executive branch, too, can reschedule CSA substances, but the mechanisms are time consuming and unlikely to attract interest within the current administration.  Because considerable evidence now supports marijuana’s therapeutic benefits in reducing chronic pain, nausea, and vomiting in patients with cancer, as well as multiple sclerosis–related muscle spasms, there is a compelling argument that marijuana is more appropriately designated as a Schedule II or Schedule III drug.  Rescheduling would facilitate further study of products for FDA approval, but would not automatically change the severity of penalties for marijuana crimes or alter international treaty obligations, enshrined in the CSA, to ensure that all psychoactive substances are used only for legitimate medical and scientific purposes.

Congress could also remove marijuana from the CSA schedules altogether. This dramatic action could be coupled with legislation authorizing FDA oversight of marijuana products. Whether marijuana’s psychoactive effects preclude this move away from regulation as a controlled substance would provoke considerable debate. Subjecting marijuana products to FDA approval would hinder access initially but ultimately foster a robust system for regulation and research. FDA oversight of marketing would also improve product safety and consistent promotion across states.

The [proposed] legislation [sponsored by Senators Gardner and Warren] represents a third option designed to respect states’ rights — codifying the approach articulated in the Cole Memorandum by amending the CSA to exempt marijuana activities that are lawful in the jurisdiction where they occur. This solution would be more permanent than attorney-general guidance or agreements between states and the attorney general regarding enforcement, which shift with the political winds, and would therefore promote stability for medical users and suppliers. But it would not facilitate research into marijuana harms and benefits, bring products within the FDA’s purview to ensure safety and efficacy, alleviate interstate health risks, or address potential conflicts with international treaty obligations.

We think this third option, which addresses some pressing conflict-of-law concerns such as unpredictable criminal enforcement, is preferable to the current blurred vision of the future of marijuana policy.  Ultimately, a more comprehensive federal regime that perhaps resembles Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana could affirmatively promote health and safety through research and regulation.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Michigan press suggesting state has a lot to learn from the Colorado marijuana reform laboratory

MIvotersRec_BEver since Election Night 2012 once it was clear that voters in Colorado and Washington were eager to pioneer a new approach, my thinking about marijuana reform always gravitates back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famous description of the virtues of federalism in terms of a state being able to, "if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."  Part of serving as an effectively "laboratory" in this context, of course, is having result from a "novel social and economic experiments" that other states can seek to learn from.  

The point of this post prelude is to compliment a big new series of articles in the Detroit Free Press a few months before Michigan voters will be asked to decide whether to embrace full marijuana legalization in the state.  The lead article in this series, the first of those linked below, sets up the start of its learn and compare coverage with this note: "With Michigan having nearly double the population of Colorado — 9.9 million to 5.6 million — and an already well-established market of 289,205 medical marijuana cardholders, both supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana wonder (and worry) whether Michigan is on the same path as Colorado."

What Michigan needs to learn from Colorado's legalized marijuana

5 things I found surprising about legal marijuana in Colorado

How Michigan's marijuana proposal differs from Colorado law

Legalize marijuana? Advice for Michigan from Colorado

I recommend all the pieces in this series, but the "5 surprising things" piece has these not-so-surprising questions from a reporter after a Denver visit (click through for the "answers" though I have reprinted the final one)

Where’s the fire?

Where’s the money?

Where’s the advertising?

Where are the baggies?

Where, oh where, is the outrage or the joy?

Marijuana has become second nature for Colorado: Everyone seems kind of blasé about the proliferation of pot in the state. No one seems particularly up in arms about the legalization or overjoyed by the success of the business. The state bureaucrats say it’s too early to say whether the presence of legal weed is a nightmare or a boon for the state’s economy and the police say there’s not much difference — and not much of a spike in crashes — between a driver impaired by booze or one high on marijuana. The businesspeople are happy with their still relatively new industry, but plagued by the uncertainty of how marijuana is treated by the federal government.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Guns N’ Ganja: How Federalism Criminalizes the Lawful Use of Marijuana"

Guns-and-mmjThe title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Ira Robbins now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Federalism is a vital tenet of our Republic.  Although federal law is the supreme law of the land, our Constitution recognizes the integral role that state law plays in the national scheme.  Like any pharmaceutical drug that withstands rounds of clinical testing, state law functions as a laboratory in which Congress can evaluate and potentially adopt novel policies on a nation-wide basis.  Most of the time, federal and state law exist harmoniously, complementing one another; other times, however, the two systems clash, striking a dissonant chord.

In the United States, state marijuana laws are currently on a crash course with federal marijuana law, exemplifying the discordant consequences our dual-system of laws sometimes generates.  Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, yet under the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of federal law. Mere confusion concerning the legality of marijuana is not the only consequence, however.  One notable casualty ensuing from the battle of the mutually exclusive federal and state marijuana laws is the deprivation of rights belonging to the unsuspecting, average citizen.

The CSA establishes a schedule of drugs, and various federal regimes — such as entitlement programs and welfare benefits — impose compliance with the CSA as a necessary antecedent for conferral of those benefits.  For example, although possessing a firearm is a fundamental right under the Second Amendment, citizens who wish to lawfully smoke marijuana can no longer avail themselves of this fundamental right. Section 922(g)(3) of the Gun Control Act prevents users of Schedule I drugs pursuant to the CSA — irrespective of state law — from possessing or owning a firearm. Marijuana, despite its lack of potential for addiction, plethora of medical benefits, and disconnect from violence, has always been a Schedule I drug — essentially deemed more addictive and dangerous than methamphetamine, a Schedule II drug. Unknowing, ordinary citizens are consequently caught in this legal black hole, contemplating how conduct can be both lawful and unlawful.

This Article proposes a simple solution to a complex problem: deschedule marijuana.  The Article first surveys the past, observing that the Nixon Administration’s placement of marijuana in Schedule I rang of racial undertones, and then examines the present, noting the majority of states that have legalized medicinal marijuana and the numerous anecdotal reports of its alleviating properties.  Further, enforcing § 922(g)(3) against individuals who consume marijuana lawfully pursuant to state law simultaneously overreaches and under-reaches, failing to target the violent criminals that Congress initially sought to apprehend.  Thus, the federal government’s insistence on maintaining marijuana in Schedule I undermines principles of federalism and prevents law-abiding citizens from fully exercising their constitutional right to own a firearm.

July 11, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Could North Dakota(!?!) fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative this year?

Download (16)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent posting at Marijuana Moment titled "How North Dakota Could Fully Legalize Marijuana In November. Here are excerpts:

Under an effort that has so far gone mostly unnoticed by drug policy reform observers across the country, North Dakota voters could have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would fully legalize marijuana and create a pathway to exonerations for those with past cannabis convictions.

Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed a medical marijuana legalization measure with 64 percent support.  But the program’s rollout hasn’t been smooth — leaving prospective patients without access to dispensaries and barred from home cultivation — and so a small team of anti-prohibition organizers at Legalize ND decided to write a new initiative to help patients and adults consume and grow cannabis freely.

The organization hasn’t received financial backing from national advocacy groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance, Eric Owens Sr., who wrote the initiative, told Marijuana Moment in an interview.  Instead, it’s relied on a steady flow of grassroots support and word-of-mouth to collect signatures in support of the measure.  Owens said Legalize ND has collected more than 16,000 signatures so far, but the group is expecting to turn in about 20,000 to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on July 9.

The state requires 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. The signatures must first be verified before the initiative officially qualifies. “We’re thousands over the required amount,” Owens said.  “When people talk about grassroots, this really, legitimately was grassroots. Nobody was there because nobody cared about us in North Dakota.”...

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Legalize ND, which is expecting to face opposition from one of the largest employers in the state, Sanford Health, as well as the highway patrol and the prosecutors association.  That said, internal polling from the organization indicates strong support for the initiative, Owens said.  “We don’t have money to fight them with TV or radio, we’re just going to be common sense and let people know through social media.  The people — plain and simple — they got screwed out of their medical marijuana and they want revenge.”

Though North Dakota might not seem the most likely contender to become one of the next states to fully legalize marijuana, voters elsewhere have already delivered cannabis reform surprises in 2018: Oklahomans approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana [in late June]....

Local political commentator Rob Fort predicted in a column this week that “barring some major problem with the petitions this issue should be on the ballot.”

I still think is was a very big deal that last week voters in deep-red Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a broad medical marijuana ballot initiative (details here and here). But if voters in deep-red North Dakota were to this year approve a recreational marijuana reform initiative, I suspect that even folks like Jeff Sessions and Kevin Sabet would see the political inevitability of nationwide marijuana reforms.

Of course, with limited funding and significant in-state opposition, I would be inclined to predict that a full ballot initiative would fail in North Dakota. Polls generally show roughly a 50/50 split on support for full legalization among more conservative voters, whereas medical marijuana is usually support 3 to 1 in this group. But I have to think a very thoughtful campaign could stress not only the thwarting of the will of the voters on medical marijuana, but also the coming of full legalization regimes in Canada (which is just a couple of hours drive from just about every major ND city). Perhaps a kind of "Blame Canada" campaign could help carry a full legalization initiative in this unique context.

July 2, 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, June 20, 2018

"Canada just legalized marijuana. That has big implications for US drug policy."

Legalize-canada-flag-redThe title of this post is the headline of this effective new Vox article that reports on the big marijuana reform news from the big country up north and details some of the likely echoes for Canada's neighbor and the rest of the world. I recommend the entire piece, and here are excerpts:

Canada has become the first wealthy nation in the world to fully legalize marijuana.  The Senate approved Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act, on Tuesday.  The measure was already approved by the House of Commons, so the Senate’s approval means it’s now set to become law.

The measure legalizes marijuana possession, home growing, and sales for adults.  The federal government will oversee remaining criminal sanctions (for, say, selling to minors) and the licensing of producers, while provincial governments will manage sales, distribution, and related regulations — as such, provinces will be able to impose tougher rules, such as raising the minimum age.  The statute largely follows recommendations made by a federal task force on marijuana legalization. Canadian and provincial governments are expected to need two to three months before retail sales and other parts of the law can roll out.

None of this may seem too shocking in the US, where already nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 29 states have allowed it for medicinal purposes.  What sets Canada apart, though, is it’s doing this as a country.  Previously, the South American nation of Uruguay was the only one that legally allowed marijuana for recreational purposes.

Canada, like the US, is part of international drug treaties that explicitly ban legalizing marijuana.  Although activists have been pushing to change these treaties for years, they have failed so far — and that means Canada will be, in effect, in violation of international law in moving to legalize.  (The US argues it’s still in accordance with the treaties because federal law still technically prohibits cannabis, even though some states have legalized it.)...

In moving forward, the Canadian government is now walking a fine line: It’s hoping to legalize marijuana to clamp down on the black market for cannabis and provide a safe outlet for adults, but it’s risking making pot more accessible to kids and people with drug use disorders.  It is taking a bold step against outdated international drug laws, but it could upset countries like Russia, China, and even the US that have historically adopted a stricter view of the treaties.  And while Canadian lawmakers may feel marijuana legalization is right for their country, there’s a risk that legal Canadian pot will spill over to the US — perhaps causing tensions with Canada’s neighbor and one of its closest allies.  Whether Canada is successful in its legalization attempts will depend on how it strikes a balance between these concerns. And depending on how it pulls this off, it may provide a model to other countries interested in legalization — including the US....

Legalization carries risks too.  It could lead to more use and misuse by making pot cheaper and more available.  Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at New York University’s Marron Institute, estimates that in the long term a legal marijuana joint will cost no more to make than, say, a tea bag — since both products come from plants that are fairly easy to grow.  It would also be available to anyone (of legal age) in retail outlets after legalization — meaning it would no longer require a shady or secretive meeting with a drug dealer.  Those are benefits for people who use marijuana without problems, to be sure, but easier access could also pose a risk for people who can’t control their cannabis consumption.

Although marijuana isn’t very dangerous compared to some drugs, it does carry some risks: dependence and overuse, accidents, nondeadly overdoses that lead to mental anguish and anxiety, and, in rare cases, psychotic episodes.  Still, it’s never been definitively linked to any serious ailments — not deadly overdoses, lung disease, or schizophrenia.  And it’s much less likely — around one-tenth so, based on data for fatal car crashes — to cause deadly accidents compared to alcohol, which is legal....

Canada is striking a balance unlike that of the US’s legalization experiments so far. So far in the US, the eight states that have legalized pot sales have done so with a model similar to alcohol.  (Vermont has only legalized possession, not retail sales.)  Basically, they’re setting up their systems to allow a for-profit pot industry to flourish, similar to the alcohol industry.

Drug policy experts, however, often point to the alcohol industry as a warning, not something to be admired and followed for other drugs.  For decades, big alcohol has successfully lobbied lawmakers to block tax increases and regulations on alcohol, all while marketing its product as fun and sexy in television programs, such as the Super Bowl, that are viewed by millions of Americans, including children.  Meanwhile, alcohol is linked to 88,000 deaths each year in the US.

If marijuana companies are able to act like the tobacco and alcohol industries have in the past, there's a good chance they’ll convince more Americans to try or even regularly use marijuana, and some of the heaviest users may use more of the drug.   And as these companies increase their profits, they’ll be able to influence lawmakers in a way that could stifle regulations or other policies that curtail cannabis misuse.   All of that will likely prove bad for public health (although likely not as bad as alcohol, since alcohol is simply more dangerous).

There are policies that can curtail this, some of which Canada’s plan will allow.  For example, Canada’s measure restricts marketing and advertising. In the US, this is generally more difficult because the First Amendment protects commercial free speech.  (Tobacco marketing is largely prohibited due to a massive legal settlement.)  But in Canada, the restrictions could stop marijuana companies from marketing their product in a way that targets, say, children or people who already heavily use cannabis....

Canada’s bill also lets provinces entirely handle the distribution and sales of marijuana — up to letting provincial governments directly manage and staff all pot stores by themselves. While state-run liquor stores aren’t unheard of in the US when it comes to alcohol, it’s widely seen as risky in America with marijuana: Since cannabis is illegal at the federal level, asking state employees to run marijuana shops would effectively ask them to violate federal law.  But since Canada is legalizing marijuana nationwide in one go, it can do this — and several provinces are expected to take up this option.

The promise of government-run marijuana shops is that they could be better for public health.  In short, government agencies that run shops are generally going to be more mindful of public health and safety, while private companies are only going to be interested in maximizing sales, even if that means making prices very low or selling to minors and people with drug use disorders.  Previous research found that states that maintained a government-operated monopoly for alcohol kept prices higher, reduced youth access, and reduced overall levels of use — all benefits to public health.

June 20, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lots of big marijuana reform news emerging from the Big Apple

DownloadThis local article sums up some developing marijuana reform news from New York that seems likely to have national ripples:

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill are expected to announce a new plan Tuesday on how police deal with people caught with marijuana. Sources tell CBS2 that police will soon issue a summons instead of making an arrest. It applies to people smoking or in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported.

“The goals are to reduce unnecessary arrests, which is something we’ve been doing overall — 100,000 fewer arrests overall in 2017 than 2013, crime going down consistently in that time frame. We want to build on that,” de Blasio said on NY1. But sources say there will exceptions, which include if the person is on parole or probation or behind the wheel and an arrest would be at the discretion of the officer.

The announcement comes as the New York State Health Department is also set to issue a recommendation to legalize marijuana state-wide, six months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the department to study the effects of legalizing marijuana. “We have neighboring states that have legal marijuana. When those facts change, we need to look at things differently,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. “That’s the decision, at this point, to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults.”

While the report has not yet been finalized, Zucker said its authors reached their conclusion after a thorough review of the legal, medical and social implications of legalization. “We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons,” Zucker said. “When we were done we realized that the pros outweighed the cons.”

Though a new NYC arrest policy could have a real impact real quickly, I see the forthcoming report by the New York State Health Department to be especially notable and perhaps quite consequential.  I would be inclined to expect a state health department to be concerned about the public health consequences of legalization and to see potential health "cons" to generally outweigh other "pros."  I think that if the New York State Health Department articulates the pros and cons of full legalization in a powerful way that really speaking to public health and safety issues, this forthcoming report could become a template for marijuana reform advocacy in a lot of areas beyond New York.

June 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Interesting review of the "footprint" of marijuana prohibition and expungement prospects in Michigan months before full legalization vote

RMLA-MichiganThe Detroit Free Press has this notable new article that includes interesting data on the bite of marijuana prohibition in the Wolverine State. The piece is headlined "Some marijuana convictions could disappear if voters approve legal pot," and here are excerpts:

Untold thousands of Michiganders could be in line for a second chance if voters decide to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the Nov. 6 election.

In some other states where recreational use of marijuana has been legalized, voters or lawmakers have decided to make it easier for people convicted of marijuana crimes to get their records expunged or sealed. And Michigan could be on the same path if a bill introduced last week by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley gets a hearing and is passed.

“I hope we will listen to the will of the people. If the November vote is loud and clear, we should take a good look at it and balance the playing field on the usage of marijuana in the state of Michigan,” said the Flint Democrat. “We definitely don’t want people to have a criminal record for a nonviolent crime that is now legal if it passes in November.”

His bill would only deal with misdemeanor convictions, such as use or possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as some cannabis growing. But under the legislation, judges “shall grant” requests for expungement of criminal convictions if the proposal is passed by voters and the convictions are no longer considered a crime under the legalization....

In the past five years, 117,123 Michiganders have been arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana offenses and 49,928 of those people have been convicted, according to statistics compiled by Michigan State Police from records supplied by county prosecutors and courts.

Nationally, according to figures compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 8.2 million people were arrested for marijuana offenses between 2001 and 2010. African-Americans were three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes as whites, according to the data, compiled from the FBI’s annual crime statistics.

Altogether, 3,670 people are either in prison, jail or on probation for felony marijuana convictions, according to the Michigan Department of Correction’s 2016 annual report of its inmate population. Some of those convictions are for high-level marijuana distribution charges, but others are for possession or use of marijuana. Neeley’s bill would allow some of those people to request an expungement of their conviction, but judges wouldn’t be required to grant those requests.

Not many marijuana offenders are locked up in county jails in metro Detroit. In Wayne County, 25 of the 1,725 inmates in the county jail are there on felony marijuana charges and no one is locked up on a misdemeanor pot charge, according to Undersheriff Dan Pfannes. Others may be there on marijuana crimes, but have other charges pending as well, he said. In Oakland County, seven of the 1,300 inmates are in jail on misdemeanor marijuana charges and four for felony crimes, said Undersheriff Mike McCabe....

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which spearheaded the petition drive that got the marijuana legalization on the November ballot, considered adding a clause that would have allowed for expungement of criminal convictions. California did the same thing in 2016 when voters there passed a referendum to legalize weed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.

But there was a fear that because the proposal would deal with more than one state law that it could become vulnerable to a legal challenge. “Expungement is a separate issue than legalization,” said Josh Hovey, spokesman for the coalition. “Our first draft included expungement, but our attorneys strongly recommended pulling it or risk the whole thing.”

Neeley hopes his bill will get a hearing before the November election, but that’s unlikely in the Republican-controlled Legislature. “I’d like to see it taken up before the November election so people will have a clearer vision of what’s going to happen going forward,” he said, noting he hasn’t made up his mind on how he’ll vote on the ballot proposal.

But he will have support from some of the candidates running for statewide office. All the Democratic gubernatorial candidates — former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, former Detroit Health Department Director Abdul El-Sayed and retired businessman Shri Thanedar, as well as attorney general candidate Dana Nessel — favor the pot legalization proposal and allowing for the expungement of low-level marijuana convictions.

All of the Republican candidates for governor — Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Saginaw Township doctor Jim Hines, as well as Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who are running for attorney general, oppose legalizing marijuana, but they have said they would respect the will of the voters if the measure passes. Schuitmaker said it would make sense to expunge low-level convictions, but she would want to check with prosecutors first to see whether the original charge was more severe and pleaded down. None of the other GOP candidates were willing to address the expungement issue before the legalization vote is taken.

In addition to California, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon have taken steps to make it easier for people to get their convictions sealed or expunged. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Nevada Republican, vetoed a bill last year that would have made clearing those convictions easier, saying that the bill didn’t differentiate enough between low-level and more serious crimes.

Regular readers likely know I am very interested in these discussions because of my recent work on a recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

June 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Detailing the growth (and growing pains) of Alaska's recreational marijuana regime in its largest city

Marijuana_retail_sales_taxesThis local article, headlined "Anchorage considers increasing marijuana sales tax as consumers clamor for cannabis," provides an effective report on the continued development of the marijuana regime in the biggest city of the only deep-red state that has legalized recreational marijuana use.  Here are excerpts:

The Municipality of Anchorage is looking to bump up its marijuana sales tax, citing a "tremendous" amount of resources it has spent working with the city's fledgling cannabis industry.  Meanwhile, consumers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars on legal weed in Anchorage since stores opened in December 2016.

Alaska's largest city has a 5 percent cannabis sales tax in place.  An ordinance introduced at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday evening would increase that to 7 percent.  At its current rate, Anchorage's sales tax is expected to bring in $3.5 million this year.  If the 2 percent tax increase passes, an additional $1.4 million in revenue is expected each calendar year, according to the municipality.

A gram of legal marijuana averages around $18 in Anchorage, according to the municipality.

Chris Schutte, director of Anchorage's Office of Economic and Community Development, said the city is requesting the tax increase for two reasons: City departments are spending more money working with the industry than anticipated, and the city has a limited time frame in which to raise taxes.

Schutte said various departments were spending "tremendous resources" to work with marijuana business applicants, some of whom are "brand-new entrepreneurs in a brand-new industry."

"We didn't realize that there would be a lot of (pre-application work) done with the industry … nor did we fully think through all of the things that have to occur after that's done," Schutte said.  More money from taxes would help recoup those costs, Schutte said. He said there are 22 pot shops paying taxes to the city.

The second factor is that the deadline to tweak the tax is July 1, Schutte said.  After that, the city would need to wait two years to seek an increase in taxes.

Anchorage's first marijuana shop opened in late December 2016. In the next 14 months — from January 2017 to March 2018 — consumers spent $36.8 million at Anchorage pot shops, according to municipality data.  The city collected $1.8 million in sales taxes for the same time frame.  In March, the most recent month for which data is available, the municipality collected $216,715 in sales taxes from roughly $4.3 million worth of marijuana products.

Since legal marijuana sales began in Alaska in Oct. 2016, consumers have spent upwards of $100 million at pot shops statewide, according to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office....

The state of Alaska has a flat-rate excise tax of $50 per ounce of bud or flower, and $15 per ounce of trim (parts of the plant like leaves or stems).  Growers pay the state tax.

Some local municipalities — like Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage — have put an additional sales tax on top, which is levied on the retail side.  Anchorage is allowed to increase its tax rate every two years by up to 2 percent.  The tax rate is capped at 12 percent.

June 13, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"The most exciting thing about Canada legalising weed? Data"

Download (15)The title of this post is the headline of this interesting article in Wired UK. Here are excerpts:

Cannabis users around the world are eagerly awaiting legalisation day in Canada, with many no doubt ready to book a ticket to the Great White North where they’ll be able to smoke pot in peace. That day may still be a couple months off – on Thursday, the country’s senate voted to pass the bill with changes; it’s now with the House of Commons for another vote – but that’s not stopping Rick Kreminski from thinking about when he may be able to visit. “I’m going to Canada – I might even have to relocate there,” he says.

Kreminski, though, isn’t coming to partake in the legal weed. As the director of Colorado State University Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research, he’s salivating at the potential research and data-gathering opportunities that legalisation in Canada will provide. In the US, where cannabis can be consumed in ten states, scientific research remains sparse. Until it’s legal federally, universities can’t give research subjects cannabis or test strains of it, either.

But in Canada, once legalisation occurs, all is fair game and that has Kreminski – and a heap of other researchers – rather excited. “If more people are allowed to undertake research then they’ll be able to answer the questions that a lot of people have here,” he says. “All kinds of things can be answered.”

For those interested in cannabis-related information, which includes academics, governments, accounting firms, think tanks and the average dataphile, Canada presents an enormous learning opportunity. With a population of 36 million, it will soon be the only country of any significant size where scientific research, with experimental and control groups, can be conducted.

“Canada has an important opportunity to become leaders in the area of cannabis research,” says Jason Busse, co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at Hamilton, Ontario’s McMaster University. “There’s a lot of interest in what’s happening here from researchers and producers in other countries.”

While the US, Uruguay – the only other country where cannabis is legal – and some countries in Europe, are engaging in research activities, most of it has been observational, Busse says. For instance, one study found that in some US states where cannabis can be purchased, opioid overdoses fell by 25 per cent. The problem? Without studying this in a more scientific way, it’s impossible to know for sure what’s causing opioid mortality rates to decline. “If we could really take down the rate of overdoses by 25 per cent on average then that would be important to discover,” Busse explains. “But because it’s observational data, you don’t entirely know for sure what’s happening. We don’t know if we have causation there.”...

There’s almost no limit on the kind of data that will be gathered, either. When the information floodgates open, researchers from all fields – health, criminology, policy, economy and more – will be able to collect information they weren’t able to get before. Patricia Erikson, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, is particularly excited about the ability to conduct longitudinal studies, which is when researchers follow the same people year after year....

Kreminski has a wishlist of things he’d like to learn more about, such as how cannabis use impairs functioning, the extent to which cannabis is addictive and how pot impacts an adolescent brain versus an adult brain. Some of these things, such as addictiveness, have been tested in animals, but the value of such data has its limits. “Just being able to do studies that replicate other studies will be valuable,” he says. “It’ll help settle some of these questions.”

It’s more than just academics who are gearing up for legalisation. Government agencies, such as Health Canada and Statistics Canada, will also be able to do more research, and obtain better information, after legalisation, says James Tebrake, director general of macroeconomics at Statistics Canada.

Up until this point, these agencies have had to find creative ways to measure marijuana’s impact. For instance, Statistics Canada, which collects data on economic, social and justice-related issues, is testing the THC (one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis) content in the wastewater of six Canadian cities to determine cannabis consumption habits. When Tebrake wanted to figure out how much Canadians are spending on weed, he looked at the website thepriceofweed.com for information. Statistics Canada then set up its own website, StatsCannabis, where people could anonymously reveal how much they spend on pot.

Once weed becomes legal, Statistics Canada will be able to find out from producers exactly how much they’re selling and for what price. While Health Canada already has a survey that asks about drug and alcohol consumption habits, it will now be able to ask more probing questions, in part, because people will now respond more truthfully than they did before, says Tebrake. Collecting this kind of data is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, says Tebrake. It’s not every day that he gets to study a banned product that will soon be sold in stores. “At Statistics Canada we feel we have an obligation to collect as much information as we can about this transition,” he says. “We get to collect data on what happens to a society when something goes from illegal to legal.”

The rest of the world will be happy to know that Statistics Canada plans to share as much information as it can. It already has some data on its Cannabis Stats Hub site, but Tebrake says there’s a lot more to come.

June 12, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

New York City Bar Association issues report supporting proposed New York marijuana legalization law

Logo-nyc-blueThe New York City Bar Association's Committee on Drugs and the Law released this notable 11-page report today (also available here), which starts and ends this way:

The New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Drugs and the Law (“the Committee”) respectfully submits this report examining and approving the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana for adult non-medical use in New York State and providing support for A.3506-B/S.3040-B (“the Legislation”), which would create a system for the production, distribution, and adult non-medical use of marijuana.  We also recommend, if feasible, minor revisions to the Legislation, as noted herein.  The Committee also takes this opportunity to express its support for the policy of ending criminalization of marijuana, and for taxing and responsible regulation of marijuana...

The Committee on Drugs and the Law supports this Legislation to create a legal, regulated market for adult non–medical use of marijuana in New York State.  New York was the first state to turn away from alcohol Prohibition in 1923, and the Committee hopes the state will show similar leadership on this analogous issue, whether through this Legislation or another vehicle.  Marijuana prohibition is a costly and ineffective policy that has not succeeded in eliminating marijuana use. The failed policy has devastated families and communities, eroded respect for the law, and strained police-citizen relations.  Accordingly, the Committee applauds this Legislation and urges its adoption. Further, regardless of the vehicle, the Committee supports state and federal legislative and policy changes that reduce or eliminate criminalization of marijuana and that permit, tax, and regulate the production, distribution, and adult use of marijuana.

I think it somewhat amusing (and I suppose a bit depressing) that the conclusion of this document notes that New York "turn[ed] away from alcohol Prohibition" only three years after federal Prohibition became effective in January 1920. We are now 48 years since the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 gave marijuana the prohibition treatment and New York has still not yet gotten around to turning away.

June 11, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

Rounding-up some notable and thoughtful reactions to the new STATES Act approach to federal marijuana reform

As noted in this prior post, President Donald Trump this morning seemingly indicated support for the new marijuana reform law proposed yesterday by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).  The proposal, knows as Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act), has already drawn reactions both political and academic.  Here is a round up:

Tom Angell has collected a lot of notable reactions at Marijuana Moment under the heading, "Lawmakers And Advocates React To Bipartisan Trump-Supported Marijuana Bill"

For more detailed and academic perspectives, I highly recommend:

Prior related posts:

June 8, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

"Canada moves a step closer to legalising marijuana"

319030_87b0d3e2e5596a530b55b4f110aa6dbc440af205.png_facebookThe title of this post is the headline of this BBC article reporting on a notable legislative development in Canada.  Here are the details:

A key legislative hurdle has been passed as Canada moves closer to legalising recreational cannabis. Canadian senators passed the Cannabis Act by 56 votes to 30 with one abstention after studying the landmark legislation for six months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to making marijuana legal by this summer. Canada will be the first G7 nation to legalise recreational use of the drug. Medical use has been legal since 2001.

The vote on Thursday sends the bill back to the House of Commons, where members of Parliament will decide whether to accept the dozens of amendments added to the legislation by the Senate.

The vote had been expected to be close, and the Trudeau government moved on Wednesday to shore up support by assuring indigenous senators it would address significant concerns they had with bill. That included committing more resources to mental health and addiction services for indigenous people in Canada.

Canadians will still have to wait up to 12 weeks after the bill finally becomes law before they can purchase recreational cannabis.

Provinces and territories are responsible for various elements of the retail market, including how marijuana will be sold and whether users can smoke in public. They are expected to need that time to set up the new marketplace.

June 7, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States"

HeaderImageThe title of this post is the title of this big new report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association.  This press release about the report provides some highlights on its coverage and points of emphasis:

A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) finds that in 2016, 44% of fatally-injured drivers with known results tested positive for drugs, up from 28% just 10 years prior.  More than half of these drivers had marijuana, opioids, or a combination of the two in their system.

Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States presents new research to examine the impact of marijuana and opioids on driving ability and provides recommendations on how best to address these emerging challenges.  Funded by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org), the report found that among drug-positive fatally-injured drivers in 2016, 38% tested positive for some form of marijuana, 16% tested positive for opioids, and 4% tested positive for both marijuana and opioids.

While alcohol-impaired driving remains a significant threat to traffic safety, presence of alcohol in fatally-injured drivers is slightly lower than it was a decade ago, decreasing from 41% in 2006 to 38% in 2016.  Some of the strategies that have been used to address alcohol-impaired driving can also be employed to deter drug-impaired driving, yet drug impairment presents several unique challenges.  For example, there is no nationally-accepted method for testing driver drug impairment; there are an unwieldy number of drugs to test for; and different drugs have different impairing effects in different drivers.

Report author Dr. Jim Hedlund, former senior NHTSA official and nationally-recognized issue expert, explained, “Drugs can impair, and drug-impaired drivers can crash. But it’s impossible to understand the full scope of the drugged driving problem because many drivers who are arrested or involved in crashes, even those who are killed, are not tested for drugs. Drivers who are drug-positive may not necessarily be impaired.”

Adding to these concerns is the frequency of poly-drug use, or the use of multiple potentially-impairing substances simultaneously.  In 2016, 51% of drug-positive fatally-injured drivers were found positive for two or more drugs.  Alcohol is often in the mix as well: 49% of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for alcohol in 2016 also tested positive for drugs.

May 31, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)