Sunday, December 15, 2013
Is a "worst-case scenario" regarding marijuana reform and regulation already emerging in Colorado and Washington?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to what strikes me as a "Chicken Little" comment appearing in this lengthy New York Times article about marijuana reform in Colorado and Washington. The article, which started on the front page of Saturday's Times is headlined "In 2 States, Corner Cannabis Store Nears Reality." And here are excerpts that provide some background and context for my query:
Starting early next year, any adult with a craving or curiosity will be able to stroll into a strip mall or downtown shop in Colorado or Washington State and do what has long been forbidden: buy a zip-lock bag of legal marijuana.
After landmark votes made marijuana legal for recreational consumption, users in these two states will no longer need doctors’ notes or medical reasons to buy the drug. Instead, they will simply show identification to prove they are at least 21, and with the cautious blessing of state and federal officials, they will be able to buy as much as an ounce of marijuana and smoke it in their living rooms.
It is a new frontier of drug legalization, one that marks a stark turn away from the eras of “Reefer Madness,” zero tolerance and Just Say No warnings about the dangers of marijuana. But it also raises questions about whether these pioneering states will be able to regulate and contain a drug that is still outlawed across most of the country — although medical marijuana can be sold legally in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The end of the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s, by contrast, to which some historians and legal scholars are comparing this moment, came all at once across the nation.
On this never-traveled road, the outcome on many fronts is uncertain: Supporters predict an economic boom in new business activity, cannabis tourism and reduced public expense with fewer low-level drug offenders clogging jails and courtrooms.
Elected officials, parents’ groups and police chiefs worry that drug traffickers will exploit the new markets, that more teenagers will take up marijuana, and that two places with reputations for fresh air and clean living will become known as America’s stoner states.
Other states flirting with legalization are watching closely too, not least for the expected windfall in state revenue in stiffly taxing something that has never been taxed at all. Referendum drives modeled on Colorado and Washington are already underway for next year in Arizona, California, Oregon and Alaska, and others are expected to follow in 2016. So the pressures to get it right the first time, local and state officials said, are immense. “We are floating in uncharted waters here,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock of Denver, where 149 businesses have applied to sell or grow retail marijuana.
Consider, for example, the strangely altered new role of the police, who in Washington are required to make sure all marijuana is of the legal, state-licensed variety. That could make for more crackdowns on illegal grow-and-sale operations, not fewer, a fact highlighted when federal agents raided several dispensaries in Colorado last month, smashing glass and hauling away hundreds of plants.
Practical questions about the legal, workaday drug trade have required reams of rules and regulations to answer: Should it be specifically taxed?... Can people give it away in public parks?...
But most important, Colorado and Washington must show skeptical federal authorities that they can control this new world of regulated marijuana, and keep it from flowing to underage consumers, into other states or into the grip of drug traffickers and violent cartels. Even as the Justice Department announced in August that it would not block states from regulating marijuana, it also warned that their enforcement rules “must be tough in practice, not just on paper.”
“We’re already seeing a worst-case scenario emerging,” said Kevin A. Sabet, an opponent of legalization and the co-founder of Project SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He said marijuana was already flowing from dispensaries into the hands of teenage users, and he predicted the social costs would only mount in the months ahead.
Though I genuinely hope that marijuana reform is successful in Colorado and Washington because it would provide more evidence that freedom and free markets tend to be superior public policy choices to big government, I am genuinely eager to see sensible and sober assessments of the on-the-ground pros and cons of what these two states are trying. But if anti-reform (or, for that matter, pro-reform) advocates are going to persistently scream that the sky is falling (or that all is nirvana), it is going to end up being very hard to come to a truly sound assessment of whether and how reform can be more or less successful.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Sam Kamin and Joel Warner have launched a new Slate series that is a must-read for any and everyone interested in following Colorado's path-breaking experiences with marijuana legalization. This first piece, headlined "Blazing a Trail: Colorado is about to become the first state in the modern world to legalize marijuana from seed to sale—is it ready?," sets up the themes, and here are excerpts:
On Jan. 1, Colorado will become the first state in the modern world to legalize marijuana from seed to sale. (Uruguay voted on Tuesday to legalize pot, but the law won't be implemented for 120 days. In the Netherlands, marijuana is simply decriminalized, not legal. While Washington state legalized marijuana at the same time Colorado passed Amendment 64, its regulatory system likely won’t be up and running until next summer.) That means Colorado’s lawmakers, businesses, and citizens are facing issues no one has tackled before. How do you legally produce marijuana? What procedures should be put in place for its packaging, transportation, sale, and taxation? How do you keep track of all that pot, and how do you discipline those who run afoul of your regulations? How do you regulate the financing of pot operations, the development of peripheral businesses, the marketing of marijuana to tourists? And how do you keep the whole thing from falling apart? In short, how do you build an entire industry from scratch?
Over the next two months, as Colorado’s legal pot industry opens for business, the two of us — Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor, and Joel Warner, a local writer — will look at how Colorado is answering these questions, with the world watching and possibly billions of dollars at stake — not to mention the federal government keeping a close eye on everything. Marijuana, after all, remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside LSD and heroin. That means Colorado has to figure out a way to abide by its voters’ wish to authorize marijuana’s possession, manufacture, and sale without causing the feds to act on the fact that all of these actions are still punishable by up to life in prison.
We’re beginning our coverage with the most important issue Colorado has had to wrestle with so far: How do you build a regulatory framework for pot? All other decisions on legalized marijuana derive from this one. Pretty much every legal good and service is regulated in one way or another—restaurants are inspected, plumbers are licensed, sodas have to list their ingredients—and marijuana is a psychoactive substance, like cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping pills, so clearly there have to be rules about how it’s used. Even marijuana’s most ardent proponents concede there have to be limits on its sale and usage — children shouldn’t have access to it, people shouldn’t drive under its influence. But the biggest argument of all for marijuana regulation, from the government’s perspective, is taxation. If the state doesn’t know who is selling it, where they are selling it, or who’s buying it and at what price, Colorado can’t make any money off it.
To determine the best way to regulate this new market, a week after the law passed, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper formed the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force comprised of elected officials, stakeholders in the state’s existing medical marijuana industry, and various experts (including one of us—the University of Denver’s Sam Kamin). It was no easy task, especially since Colorado had just over a year to pick a regulatory model, pass legislation implementing it, conduct rulemaking around it, and go through all the licensing and inspections required to implement it by Jan. 1. Compared to how long most governmental processes take, that was a blink of an eye.
Cross posted in part at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece in Time magazine. Here are excerpts:
Call it Black Wednesday. Recreational marijuana goes on sale legally in Colorado on Jan. 1, and Denver officials are worried that the city’s retail shops won’t be anywhere close to meeting demand.
At a city-council meeting Monday, lawmakers in Colorado’s largest city raised questions about licensing delays and the prospect of people queuing up for hours in what have been historically low temperatures. “If we have 10 stores open … we could have people camping out overnight with cash in their pocket,” said councilman Charlie Brown. “How is the industry, how is the police department going to work together?”
Though more than 100 stores are waiting to have applications approved by the city and state, a process that involves multiple inspections and a public hearing, a small fraction of that number are likely to be open by 8 a.m., Jan. 1, when legal sales for recreational marijuana begin. Employees from the city’s department of excise and licenses estimated that Denver will have around 12 legal retail outlets in operation.
City officials are worried about the ability of those stores to handle the expected crowds, which they said will be supplemented by marijuana tourists arriving on chartered buses. Security is also a concern, as marijuana can only be purchased with cash.
A representative from the medical-marijuana industry said he knows Denver is going to be under enormous scrutiny on New Year’s Day. “It’s very true that the whole world is watching,” said Michael Elliott, who noted that shoppers may be confused when they’re turned away from the vast majority of medical-marijuana dispensaries that aren’t licensed to sell recreational pot. “It’s very intense right now.”
After voters approved a measure to legalize marijuana in November 2012, Colorado spent the next six months developing regulations for consumption — dealing with advertising restrictions, childproof packaging, THC-limits and rules for driving while high. “Clearly we are charting new territory. Other states haven’t been through this process,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said in May. “Recreational marijuana is really a completely new entity.”...
Among the measures the council approved Monday was one its president called a “seminal” piece of marijuana legislation outlining procedural nuts and bolts like making it illegal to consume weed on the city’s tourist-heavy 16th Street Mall and banning “pot giveaways” in public parks. Then they moved on to the next item before them: revamping zoning codes to deal with growing marijuana. After being approved by the council, bills must still be signed by the mayor.
“In 22 days, whether you like it or not, the image of our city will change,” Brown said. “And if we need to make adjustments we will. This is not the end. This is, frankly, the beginning.”
Friday, November 29, 2013
The title of this post is the headline of this new AP article which highlights that Massachusetts is another state to watch closely for modern marijuana reform developments. Here are the details:
Pro-marijuana activists in Massachusetts have already succeeded in paving the way for dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug. Now many of those same activists have set their sights on the full legalization of marijuana for adults, effectively putting the drug on a par with alcohol and cigarettes. And those activists — as they have in the past — are again hoping to make their case directly to voters.
The group Bay State Repeal says it’s planning to put the proposal on the state’s 2016 ballot. The group is first planning to test different versions of the measure by placing nonbinding referendum questions on next year’s ballot in about a dozen state representative districts. Those nonbinding questions are intended to gauge voter support for possible variations of the final, binding question.
Bill Downing, a member of Bay State Repeal, said the state should legalize marijuana for many reasons, especially since the use of marijuana no longer carries the stigma it once did and many people smoke the drug despite laws against it. "That’s the problem with the marijuana laws," Downing said. "There’s no moral impact anymore because the laws don’t reflect our common values."...
In 2008, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce of pot, making it instead a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. Some Massachusetts towns have given up trying to enforce the law, however, saying it has too many loopholes.
Not everyone thinks legalizing marijuana is a good idea. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett says marijuana use can lead young people to harder drugs and other harmful behaviors. "I'm not saying everyone who tries marijuana becomes a heroin addict, but the medical information is irrefutable that kids who start smoking marijuana are more likely to have substance abuse problems as adults," said Blodgett, who also serves as president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.
Blodgett said one unintended consequence of the decriminalization law in Massachusetts is that it’s harder to get young people into treatment and diversion programs because they can’t be arrested for possession of the drug. He said many private health insurance plans don’t cover drug treatment. "Unless and until we have treatment-on-demand, we shouldn’t be talking about legalizing marijuana or any other drugs," Blodgett said.
Downing rejected the notion that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs and said the ballot question would restrict the sale of marijuana to adults. "This isn’t about getting pot for kids," he said. "No one on my side says we are getting marijuana for kids."...
Last year, Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved a ballot question allowing for up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries around the state. State health officials last week released a list of the 100 applicants that are seeking dispensary licenses. They said they hope to award the licenses early next year.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
As reported in this local article, headlined "Gubernatorial Candidate Mizeur Proposes Marijuana Legalization In Md.," a relatively high-profile candidate in a relatively high-profile state has come out with a campaign message that ensures she will be endorsed by High Times. Here are the basics:
A candidate for governor wants to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and she’s drawing passionate reaction.... It comes from Democratic candidate Heather Mizeur and would highly regulate the use of pot. She says it’s time to decriminalize it and she’s making more than just political waves.
For the first time, a major party candidate for Maryland governor wants to open the door to legalized recreational marijuana use. “We will take the underground market that exists for everyone trying to access this substance and bring it to the light of day,” Mizeur said.
Mizeur says it would only be for those over 21, illegal to smoke in public and she wants to tax it $50 an ounce, bringing in as much as $157 million a year for education. “Drug dealers on the streets are still selling marijuana to children. They’re not asking for an ID,” she said.
But critics like former addict and counselor Mike Gimbel call the controversial proposal dangerous. “It is totally backwards, irresponsible, stupid and it’s going to hurt people and nobody really seems to care,” he said.
A poll last month showed 51 percent of Marylanders support legalization and 40 percent oppose it.... Maryland is surrounded by jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana like D.C. and Delaware, and states considering doing so, like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Past attempts for less strict laws have largely failed here and none of Delegate Mizeur’s opponents – Democratic or Republican – support it.
What I find especially noteworthy (and appealing) about this political development is that delegate Mizeur seems eager to make marijuana reform a centerpiece of her campaign and she has this part her official website promoting this detailed 11-page document titled "A Comprehensive Plan to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in Maryland." Here is how that document gets started:
Marijuana's time as a controlled, illegal substance has run its course. Marijuana laws ruin lives, are enforced with racial bias, and distract law enforcement from serious and violent crimes. Marijuana criminalization costs our state hundreds of millions of dollars every year without making us any safer. A Maryland with legalized, regulated, and taxed marijuana will mean safer communities, universal childhood education, and fewer citizens unnecessarily exposed to our criminal justice system.
I do not know local Maryland politics well enough to have any real idea if Mizeur has any real chance to become the next governor of Maryland. But I do have an idea that her campaign on this issue is just the latest sign of being in interesting political times concerning drug laws and policies.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Jacob Sollum. Here are excerpts:
Possessing up to an ounce of marijuana in California is an “infraction” punishable by a $100 fine. In other words, state law treats pot smoking as a transgression akin to jaywalking or fishing without a license. Yet growing and selling marijuana are felonies that can send you to prison for years.
If consuming marijuana is not a crime, how can it be a crime merely to help someone consume marijuana? That is a question voters will confront next fall if the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative qualifies for the ballot.
The initiative, which would eliminate all state and local penalties for producing, possessing, and distributing marijuana, instructs the legislature to regulate cannabis “in a manner analogous to, and no more onerous than, California’s beer and wine model.” That is similar to the policies approved last fall by voters in Colorado, where the legalization initiative was known as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, and Washington, where the state liquor control board will license pot shops that are scheduled to open next year.
The Colorado and Washington initiatives both received about 55 percent of the vote, and recent polling in California indicates a similar level of support. All three states have had medical marijuana dispensaries for years, and that experience on the whole appears to have been reassuring.
The main criticism of the dispensaries — that they cater largely to recreational consumers who fake or exaggerate symptoms to get the requisite doctor’s notes — actually counts in favor of broader legalization. If medical marijuana is a charade that amounts to de facto legalization, what is there to fear from making it official?
States that allow medical use do not seem to have suffered as a result. In fact, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado economist Daniel Rees find that enacting medical marijuana laws is associated with a 13 percent drop in traffic fatalities, possibly because more cannabis consumption means less alcohol consumption, which has a much more dramatic effect on driving ability.
Anderson and Rees also consider the impact of legalization on pot smoking by teenagers. Looking at data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 1993 through 2011, they see “little evidence of a relationship between legalizing medical marijuana and the use of marijuana among high school students.” Narrowing the focus to California after medical marijuana dispensaries began proliferating, they find “little evidence that marijuana use among Los Angeles high school students increased in the mid-2000s.”
Saturday, November 16, 2013
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent New York Times commentary by Jim Dwyer headlined "A Marijuana Stash That Carried Little Risk." The piece is, I think, designed to complain about the impact and import of NYC stop-and-frisk policies, but my take-away is a bit distinct. Here are excerpts from the piece:
Walking down Eighth Avenue a few weeks ago, I made sure my backpack was fully zipped shut. Inside was a modest stash of pot, bought just an hour or so earlier. A friend knew someone in that world, and after an introduction, then a quiet, discreet meeting, I was on my way to the subway. Never before had I walked through Midtown Manhattan with it on my person. There were four cookies in vacuum-sealed pouches — “edibles” is the technical term — and then a few pinches of what was described as “herb.”
The innovations of Michael R. Bloomberg as mayor are legion, but his enforcement of marijuana laws has broken all records. More people have been arrested for marijuana possession than any other crime on the books. From 2002 through 2012, 442,000 people were charged with misdemeanors for openly displaying or burning 25 grams or less of pot.
I wasn’t sure about the weight of my stash — although a digital scale was used in the transaction, I didn’t see the display — but it didn’t feel too heavy. Still, I wasn’t about to openly display or burn it.
It turns out that there was little to fret over. While scores of people are arrested on these charges every day in New York, the laws apparently don’t apply to middle-aged white guys. Or at least they aren’t enforced against us.
“It is your age that would make you most unusual for an arrest,” said Professor Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist who has documented marijuana arrests in New York and across the country. “If you were a 56-year-old white woman, you might get to be the first such weed bust ever in New York City — except, possibly, for a mentally ill person.”
About 87 percent of the marijuana arrests in the Bloomberg era have been of blacks and Latinos, most of them men, and generally under the age of 25 — although surveys consistently show that whites are more likely to use it.
These drug busts were the No. 1 harvest of the city’s stop, question and frisk policing from 2009 through 2012, according to a report released Thursday by the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. Marijuana possession was the most common charge of those arrested during those stops. The few whites and Asians arrested on these charges were 50 percent more likely than blacks to have the case “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” the report showed.
Now, having a little bit of pot, like a joint, is not a crime as long as you don’t burn or openly display it. Having it in my backpack was a violation of law, meaning that it is an offense that is lower than a misdemeanor. Pot in the backpack is approximately the same as making an illegal turn in a car. Taking it out and waving it in the face of a police officer or lighting up a joint on the street would drive it up to the lowest-level misdemeanor.
How was it that all the black and Latino males were displaying or burning pot where it could be seen by the police? The answer is that many of them were asked during the stops to empty their pockets. What had been a concealed joint and the merest violation of the law was transformed into a misdemeanor by being “openly displayed.” If these were illegal searches — and they very well could have been — good luck trying to prove it....
Michael A. Cardozo, the chief lawyer for the city, is eager to get an appeals court to throw out the findings of fact by a judge who ruled against the city in a lawsuit over the stop-and-frisk tactics. Mr. Cardozo appears to believe, mistakenly, that losing a lawsuit is going to damage the legacy of his patron, Mayor Bloomberg. Undoing a lawsuit will not unstain this history.
As for me, the pot got to a couple of people who might need it to get through some medical storms. It’s too risky for me to use: I already have a hard enough time keeping my backpack zipped.
The title of this post is the headline of this amusing new NPR story highlighting one possible nasal echo effect of Colorado's brave new world of legalized marijuana. Here are excerpts:
Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado. But that doesn't mean residents want the air to smell like a pot rally. Denver is getting more calls to enforce an odor ordinance that can impose a buzz-killing fine on violators. To find them, the city relies on a device called the Nasal Ranger.
And that's where licensed smell investigator Ben Siller comes in. A member of Denver's Department of Environmental Health, he's trained to use an olfactometer to determine if people are breaking laws that protect the purity of Denver's air. Siller responds to citizens' odor complaints — an increasing number of which are tied to the rise of odiferous marijuana grow facilities. A recent Denver Post story about him began this way: "Ben Siller looked ridiculous on a recent afternoon, standing on a downtown Denver street corner with a giant device clamped to his face sniffing the air for odorous evidence of marijuana."
The Nasal Ranger is a cone-shaped device resembling a megaphone that's made by St. Croix Sensory, a company based in Minnesota. It samples the air to help an operator detect the presence and strength of odors. As others have noted, the device looks like a scaled-down and streamlined version of the Smell-O-Scope created by Professor Farnsworth on the TV series Futurama.
In Denver, the scent of marijuana would have to be very strong — exceeding a level of detection when one volume of the scented air is combined with seven volumes of clean air — to trigger a formal response and possible fine. Siller tells the Post that it's been nearly 20 years since anyone broke that threshold. A violation could bring a fine of up to $2,000, Denver's reported this summer.
Many expect Siller and his colleagues to get more calls as Colorado's pot industry continues to mature. The state's first stores selling marijuana for recreational use are scheduled to open in January. As that date approaches, the city is tweaking its rules to curtail "open and public" marijuana use, as reported Tuesday. That's when the City Council backed away from a rules proposal that could have exposed people to fines for smoking marijuana in their front yard, or for having the scent escape a window.
In addition to loving what the Nasal Ranger looks like, I am really enamored with the name of this device. I am also enjoying thinking about a possible super-hero move, with the name Nasal Ranger of course, which starts with a lab accident involving a scrawny guy who gets this devise permanently fused to his face and then fights crime using super smelling powers.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
What public health lessons for marijuana policies can and should be drawn from tobacco's legal history?
The question in the title of this post is the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar. Excitingly, my students have arranged for the ideal guest-speaker on this topic: Professor Micah Berman, who recently joined to The Ohio State University community as an Assistant Professor of Public Health and Law. (Micah and I are not related even though we share a last name and dashing good looks.)
On this general topic, the students have suggested reviewing one of Micah Berman's law review articles: Smoking Out the Impact of Tobacco-Related Decisions on Public Health Law, 75 Brooklyn Law Review (2010) (available at this link). As the students have explained, this article "provides a ton of insight to the tobacco industry and its history" as it reviews "the history of tobacco in the US and how big tobacco has defended itself from liability for the last fifty years."
Sunday, November 10, 2013
On this blog I regularly try to selectively pick and choose only the most noteworthy and/or informative of newspaper stories from among the wide array of notable mainstream reporting about marijuana reform that is now becoming common. But often I find myelf drawn to too many stories that seem worthy of extra attention; this weekend I will fall back on providing just headlines and links those pieces that seemed especially blog-worthy:
From the Colorado Springs Gazette here, "Battles already looming over Colorado marijuana revenues"
From CNBC here, "New investors lighting up legal marijuana industry"
From the Huffington Post here, "Bipartisan Marijuana Bill Appears To Have One More Big Supporter In Its Corner: The NAACP"
From the Orlando Sentinel here, "John Morgan: My dying dad's pain inspired push for medical marijuana"
From the Salt Lake Tribune here, "Families migrate to Colorado for marijuana miracle"
Thursday, November 7, 2013
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new report from the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Here are excerpts:
Buoyed by their success at the polls Tuesday, marijuana backers say they’ll now try to get the drug fully legalized in 13 more states by 2017. They’d join Colorado and Washington state, which voted last year to allow pot sales for recreational use.
The drive to legalize won considerable new momentum across the country on Election Day as voters in three states approved pro-pot measures. Portland, Maine, became the first East Coast City to legalize marijuana. Colorado approved a 25 percent tax on pot. Voters in the Michigan cities of Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale decided to remove all penalties for possession....
“Most Portlanders, like most Americans, are fed up with our nation’s failed marijuana laws,” said David Boyer, the Maine political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group.
While the measure won easily in Maine’s largest city, it may be more difficult for pro-pot forces to win across the state. Legalization backers hope to get the issue on the statewide ballot in 2016.
Officials with Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an opposition group led by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said they planned to launch a statewide affiliate to gear up for the vote. “Maine is on the brink of creating a massive marijuana industry that will inevitably target teens and other vulnerable populations,” Kennedy, the group’s national chairman, said in a statement. “Misconceptions about marijuana are becoming more and more prevalent.” Kennedy said it was time “to clear the smoke and get the facts out about this drug.”...
Maine is among the 13 states targeted for full-scale legalization by the Marijuana Policy Project. The group said it would try to get legalization on the ballot in seven states and work to get state legislatures to pass it in the other six.
If a petition drive succeeds, Alaska voters are expected to consider legalization first, in 2014. In 2016, the group will try to get the issue on the ballot in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada. They’ll try to get state legislators to do the job in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Tuesday’s votes were the first ballot initiatives since last November, when Colorado and Washington state approved tax-and-regulate sales plans that will take effect next year.
In Colorado, voters gave the green light to a 25 percent pot tax that comprises a 15 percent excise tax to pay for school construction and a 10 percent tax to pay for enforcement. “Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to end marijuana prohibition and successfully regulate marijuana like alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver....
Many cities in Colorado already are eyeing marijuana as a possible source of revenue and are considering ballot measures that would impose local taxes on retail pot sales.
So far, nine U.S. cities or towns have voted to legalize marijuana or to remove penalties for possession, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. In Michigan on Tuesday, voters in Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale joined Detroit and Flint, where residents decided last year to remove all penalties for adult possession....
To fight the efforts, Project SAM officials said they wanted to warn the public that legalization could create a “Big Marijuana” tobacco-style industry. They said it was time to have an “adult conversation” about health effects and the possibility of increased drug addiction among teens. That discussion is already underway in Maine. “This is not about demonizing or legalizing marijuana, but rather educating the public about the most misunderstood drug in the state,” said Scott Gagnon, who’ll serve as Maine’s coordinator for Project SAM.
The question in the title of this post is drawn from a quote by someone from the Beer Institute appearing in this notable new National Journal item headlined "Alcohol Is Really Pissed Off at Marijuana Right Now; The marijuana industry is convincing Americans its substance is safer than alcohol, and booze lobbyists don't like it." Here are excerpts from the new National Journal piece:
Marijuana has been giving alcohol a bad name. So contend booze lobbyists, who are getting sick of an ad campaign that makes the claim that pot is safer than their beloved beverages.
"We're not against legalization of marijuana, we just don't want to be vilified in the process," said one alcohol industry representative who didn't want to be quoted harshing his colleagues mellow. "We don't want alcohol to be thrown under the bus, and we're going to fight to defend our industry when we are demonized."
The marijuana industry has had a good couple of years: a recent poll found that 58 percent of the country thinks the product should be legal, recreational use has been legalized in two states already, and this past election saw the city of Portland, Maine, legalize 2.5 ounces of pot. Ahead of the vote in Portland — which received 70 percent support — the Marijuana Policy Project put up signs around the city with messages like "I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it doesn't make me rowdy or reckless," and "I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it's less harmful to my body."
Alcohol lobbyists believe it's a "red herring" to compare the two. "We believe it's misleading to compare marijuana to beer," said Chris Thorne of the Beer Institute. "Beer is distinctly different both as a product and an industry."
Thorne notes that the alcohol industry is regulated, studied extensively, and perhaps more importantly already an accepted part of the culture. "Factually speaking beer has been a welcome part of American life for a long time," he said. "The vast majority drink responsibly, so having caricatures won't really influence people."
But MPP takes issue with the idea they are painting a false picture. In a recent Op-Ed for CNN, Dan Riffle, the group's director of federal policies, notes that according to the Centers for Disease Control excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death. Booze also "plays a role in a third of all emergency room visits," he says....
"That's like saying we shouldn't talk about relative harms of sushi to fried chicken," said Mason Tvert, who in addition to working at MPP wrote a book called Marijuana is Safer: So Why are We Driving People to Drink? "It's important that people know the relative harms of all substances, so there's no reason not to talk about the two most popular substances in the world."
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Sunday, November 3, 2013
The Nation talks up "Dope and Change" and explains "Why It’s Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana"
If magazine covers serve as a marker of some kind of tipping point, then November 2013 should be marked as the month when these covers went to pot. As noted in this prior post, the November 2013 issue of Reason magazine has lots of terrific coverage of modern marijuana realities and a lengthy cover story titled "Pot Goes Legit." Now I see that the November 18, 2013 issue of The Nation is covering marijuana mania with a cover picture of President Obama's high-school "Choom Gang" under the headline "Dope and Change" and this editorial headlined "Why It’s Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana." Here is how the editorial gets started:
“Marijuana is indeed a gateway drug,” quips Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. “It’s a gateway drug to the Oval Office!” Indeed. From Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale it” through George W. Bush’s “I was young and foolish” to Barack Obama’s teen years in the Choom Gang (“I inhaled frequently—that was the point”), the last three presidents have more or less owned up to breaking America’s drug laws.
All of them were elected. Then re-elected.
This raises obvious questions: If Clinton, Bush and Obama, ex–pot smokers all, were deemed responsible enough to lead the world’s most powerful nation, largest economy and strongest military (with thousands of nukes), why are we still arresting young men and women — especially young African-Americans and Latinos — for doing what these men did? Why do countless people languish behind bars for nonviolent drug crimes? And why is pot still classified as a dangerous drug?
This is especially astonishing when you consider that almost half of all Americans — myself included — admit to having at least tried pot. As a parent who has had the substance use-and-abuse talks with my 22-year-old daughter, I’ve had a hard time explaining why she can freely purchase cigarettes, which can certainly kill her, but not marijuana, which will surely not.
When the Eighteenth Amendment banned alcohol in 1920, it took thirteen years to admit failure and enact the Twenty-first, which ended Prohibition. By contrast, it has now been almost eighty years since the Federal Bureau of Narcotics launched the “reefer madness” era. The ensuing decades have been a debacle, from Nixon’s “war on drugs” to the creation, by Joe Biden, of a national “drug czar.”
So much failure. So many lives ruined. So much time wasted. Enough. It’s time to end pot prohibition. It’s time to legalize marijuana.
In addition to this editorial, The Nation has in both its print edition and on-line an extraordinary amount of insightful commentary about modern marijuana realities past, present and future. Here are links to all the coverage, cut and pasted straight from the end of the editorial:
Also In This Issue
Mike Riggs: “Obama’s War on Pot”
Carl L. Hart: “Pot Reform’s Race Problem”
Kristen Gwynne: “Can Medical Marijuana Survive in Washington State?”
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian: “Baking Bad: A Potted History of High Times”
Various Contributors: “The Drug War Touched My Life: Why I’m Fighting Back”
And only online…
J. Hoberman: “The Cineaste’s Guide to Watching Movies While Stoned”
Harmon Leon: “Pot Block! Trapped in the Marijuana Rescheduling Maze”
Seth Zuckerman: “Is Pot-Growing Bad for the Environment?”
November 3, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, November 2, 2013
In their 2012 book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, Jonathan Caulkins and three other drug policy scholars identify the impact of repealing pot prohibition on alcohol consumption as the most important thing no one knows. Are cannabis and alcohol complements, so that drinking can be expected to increase along with pot smoking? Or are they substitutes, implying that more pot smoking will mean less drinking? For analysts attempting to calculate the costs and benefits of legalizing marijuana, the question matters a lot, because alcohol is considerably more dangerous than marijuana by most measures. If the two products are complements, states that legalize marijuana can expect to see more consumption of both, exacerbating existing health and safety problems. But if the two products are substitutes, legalizing marijuana can alleviate those problems by reducing alcohol consumption.
Reviewing the evidence in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado economist Daniel Rees find that “studies based on clearly defined natural experiments generally support the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.” [Study Here] Increasing the drinking age seems to result in more marijuana consumption, for instance, and pot smoking drops off sharply at age 21, “suggesting that young adults treat alcohol and marijuana as substitutes.” Another study found that legalizing marijuana for medical use is associated with a drop in beer sales and a decrease in heavy drinking. These results, Anderson and Rees say, “suggest that, as marijuana becomes more available, young adults in Colorado and Washington will respond by drinking less, not more.”
That conclusion is consistent with earlier research in which Anderson and Rees found that enacting medical marijuana laws is associated with a 13 percent drop in traffic fatalities. [Study Here] That effect could be due to the fact that marijuana impairs driving ability much less dramatically than alcohol does, although the fact that alcohol is more likely to be consumed outside the home (resulting in more driving under its influence) may play a role as well....
Anderson and Rees note that UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman, who co-wrote Marijuana Legalization and has been advising Washington’s cannabis regulators, recently described a worst-case scenario for legalization featuring an increase in heavy drinking, “carnage on our highways,” and a “massive” increase in marijuana consumption among teenagers. “Kleiman’s worst-case scenario is possible, but not likely,” they conclude. “Based on existing empirical evidence, we expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use. While it is more than likely that marijuana produced by state-sanctioned growers will end up in the hands of minors, we predict that overall youth consumption will remain stable. On net, we predict the public-health benefits of legalization to be positive.”
Notably, this commentary and the research it emphasizes appears only to consider the public health benefits that could result from folks substituting marijuana use for alcohol use. I have long thought that another possible public health benefit could flow from marijuana legalization if some heavy cigarette smokers end up smoking less in total because they sometimes substitute a few joints for a few packs of cigs. Similarly, one might further speculate that there might be a positive "reverse gateway" effect from marijuana legalization with respect to other dangerous drug use and abuse: perhaps fewer folks will try using, or end up harmfully abusing, harder drugs like ecstasy and heroin and meth and oxycodone if they can get always get a cheap and legal buzz from marijuana.
Of course, a lot of research about the use and abuse of various drugs will be needed in order to come to dependable conclusions about the full public health impact of modern marijuana reform developments. Still, especially when everyone is understandably all worked up about the Obamacare roll-out and broader health care reform realities, it is fun to speculate that modern marijuana reforms could end up being the most consequential and positive public health development of the Obama era.
I have long been drawn to the marijuana legal reform movement due to my general affinity for expanding personal freedom and my generally disaffinity for big-government programs like the war on drugs that seem very costly and mostly ineffective. But I have always respected the concerns expressed by serious people that pot prohibition is a public health necessity and that even modest moves toward marijuana legalization could prove costly and harmful in various ways. Without getting too much into the weeds of an empirical debate, I wonder if those who are vigorously opposed to (or even just generally resistant to) marijuana reform movements would still oppose reform if (and when?) empirical evidence starts to show that (some? many? all?) US public health measures and metrics are improved in the wake of marijuana legalization reforms.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
When televangelist Pat Robertson announced his support for legalizing marijuana last year, pot backers wasted no time in putting his picture on an electronic billboard in Colorado.
Marijuana billboards have popped up along busy freeways from Seattle to Florida. In September, one greeted fans going to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver for the first NFL game of the season. In July, pot supporters tried to get a video ad on a jumbo screen outside a NASCAR event in Indianapolis, but objections forced them to pull it in the last minute.
In the latest twist, pro-pot billboards are emblazoned on city buses in Portland, Maine, aimed at winning votes for a Nov. 5 ballot measure that would make the city the first on the East Coast to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Critics fear that the increased advertising is a sign of things to come as support for legalization continues to grow, reflected by a Gallup poll released last week that found backing from a record high 58 percent of Americans. They see the stepped-up promotion as a dangerous trend that will lead to more drug abuse among children.
While the Greater Portland Transit District has banned tobacco ads, it accepted $2,500 to display the marijuana billboards on the exterior of four of its 32 city buses and in two bus shelters. The ads, which debuted early this month, are set to run until Election Day.
In one ad, a bespectacled woman says: “I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it’s less toxic, so there’s no hangover.” Another features a smiling young man who says he prefers pot over booze “because it doesn’t make me rowdy or reckless.” Transit officials say the ads are constitutionally protected political speech since they also encourage a “yes” vote on a city ballot initiative.
“We’re allowing this message because it’s political speech. It’s designed to help change a law,” said Gregory Jordan, the general manager of the transit district. “It’s not the promotion of a commercial product. . . . We don’t have a position on the content of the advertising, just that it’s a political message and by its very nature it’s protected by the First Amendment.”
Opponents say the ads go well beyond endorsing a ballot measure, instead promoting an illegal product. They say the ads shouldn’t be allowed in places where they’re so easily viewed by youths, including high school students who ride city buses to school. “What we say and what we do is being watched by the kids in our communities, and they look to us for clues on what’s acceptable and what’s normal and how they should act,” said Jo Morrissey, the project manager for a substance abuse group called 21 Reasons, which asked the transit district to drop the ads....
Jordan said the transit line, which serves nearly 1.5 million riders a year, was on solid legal ground but that he understood the criticism: “I can certainly see how maybe it’s a fine distinction.”
David Boyer, the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which bought the ads, said the backlash had surprised him. He defended the ads, saying it’s important that everyone, including kids, knows that marijuana is safer than alcohol....
The Portland vote is the first ballot test for legalization backers since last November, when Washington state and Colorado approved plans to sell and tax the drug for recreational use beginning next year. If the measure passes, residents of Maine’s largest city who are 21 and older each will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
Monday, October 28, 2013
I receive a lot (read: too much) e-mail that promotes infographics on some hot topic in an effort, it would seem, to drive my blog readers to some legal source or website or marketplace. I tend not to be inclined to post these infographics, but one just sent to me dealing with marijuana law, policy and reform today fed my addition for some new visual content. Ergo, thanks to the folks promoting "this new infographic giving a timeline of marijuana usage in the U.S." and related information, here is a visual presentation of (not-quite) all you need to know about the state of marijuana law, policy and reform:
Source: Up in Smoke: A Timeline of Marijuana Use in the U.S.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
We’ve reached the point where there should be no surprise if a major national politician embraces marijuana legalization. Without any large-scale campaign on its behalf, surveys show that approximately half of Americans now support marijuana legalization, including 58 percent in a recent, but potentially outlying, Gallup poll. Regardless of the exact support today, marijuana is all but assured to emerge as an issue in national elections — it's only a question of how and when.
So far, neither party wants to touch the issue. The Democratic governors of Washington and Colorado didn’t even support initiatives to legalize the possession, distribution, and consumption of marijuana, even though the initiatives ultimately prevailed by clear margins. It took the administration ten months to announce — in the middle of the Syria debate — that the Department of Justice wouldn’t pursue legal action against Washington and Colorado. And on the other hand, Republicans weren't exactly screaming about hippies and gateway drugs, either.
Despite their apparent reservation to engage the issue, it’s hard to imagine Democrats staying on the sidelines for too many more election cycles. The party’s base is already on board, with polls showing a clear majority of self-described Democrats in support....
To date, Democrats haven’t had many incentives to take a risk on the issue. Democrats are already winning the winnable culture war skirmishes, at least from a national electoral perspective, and they have a winning demographic hand. And let’s get perspective: Marijuana legalization may be increasingly popular, but it’s not clearly an electoral bonanza. Support for legalization isn’t very far above 50 percent, if it is in fact, and there are potential downsides. National surveys show that a third of Democrats still oppose marijuana legalization. Seniors, who turnout in high numbers in off year elections, are also opposed. Altogether, it’s very conceivable that there are more votes to be lost than won by supporting marijuana. After all, marijuana legalization underperformed President Obama in Washington State.
Even so, Democratic voters will eventually prevail over cautious politicians, most likely through the primary process. Any liberal rival to Hillary Clinton in 2016 will have every incentive to support marijuana legalization. Whether Clinton will follow suit is harder to say, given that frontrunners (and Clintons) are generally pretty cautious. It’s probably more likely that Clinton would endorse steps toward liberalization, like weaker criminal penalties and support for the legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado.
Republicans, meanwhile, are less likely to support legalization or liberalization. To be sure, some Republicans will. They can take a states’ rights position and the party has a growing libertarian bent, perhaps best exemplified by Rand Paul’s willingness to support more liberal marijuana laws. Republicans also have electoral incentives to lead on issues where they can earn a few votes among millennials, who pose a serious threat to the continued viability of the national Republican coalition. If the Republicans can't adjust their existing positions to compensate for demographic and generational change, which (for now) it appears they cannot, then perhaps taking a stance on a new issue, like marijuana, is the best they can do.
Of course, the problem is that a majority of Republicans are opposed to legalization. Two thirds of Republicans voted against legalization in Colorado and Washington, where one might expect Republicans be somewhat more amenable than the nation as a whole. It probably doesn’t help that marijuana is closely aligned with the liberal counterculture. It's also possible that many pro-legalization conservatives don't identify as Republicans at all, but instead might be independents....
With Republicans likely to remain opposed, marijuana could emerge as a big cultural issue in the 2016 election. In particular, Clinton would be well-positioned to deploy the issue. Her strength among older voters and women mitigates the risk that she would lose very much support, while legalization could help Clinton with the young, independent, and male voters who could clinch her primary or general election victory.
But realistically, Clinton or another Democrat won't campaign on marijuana legalization. For one, it’s most likely that the Democratic nominee will support incremental measures....
It’s easier to imagine marijuana playing a role in the 2016 primaries. Many candidates will have incentives to use the issue, whether it’s a cultural conservative using marijuana to hurt Rand Paul among evangelicals in Iowa, or a liberal trying to stoke a progressive revolt against Clinton’s candidacy. And once one party begins to debate the issue, the other will almost certainly be confronted by the same question. Marijuana won’t be decisive in a primary, but 2016’s primary battles will shape the two party’s initial positions on the issue.
Yet marijuana’s big moment will probably come later, perhaps in 2024. Legalization might eventually be popular enough for Democrats to use the issue in general elections, first at the state level and then nationally. As with gay marriage, the GOP’s obvious but difficult solution is to take their own creed on states’ rights seriously, and devolve the issue — and the politics — to the states. Compared to gay marriage, which strikes at the heart of the evangelical wing of the party, it should be easier for the Republicans to make an adjustment on marijuana. But if they cannot, the GOP will again find itself on the losing side of the culture wars.
I see lots and lots of merit to this analysis, and I find especially intriguing the cogent observation that a older female politician like Hillary Clinton might be especially well positioned to experiences far more political benefits than costs from pro-marijuana reform positions. (Indeed, I have been thinking for some time that the marijuana reform movement needs a prominent female (and motherly) face and voice comparable to Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee, who was a vocal advocate from repealing alcohol prohibition 80 years ago.)
But I think this commentary may be missing one key reality that I am certain will impact dramatically the politics of pot over the next few cycles: the reality and perceptions of what ends up happening, good or bad, in Colorado and Washington as recreational pot goes mainstream in these two distinct states. If legalization is seen as a huge success inside and outside these states over the next 12 months, especially in swing-state Colorado, we should expect marijuana reform supporters to see positive political possibilities as early as 2014. But if things go poorly in these states, the reform politics necessarily will take on a much different character.
Labaoratories of democracy, here we come: buckle up local, state and national politicians, we are likely in for a bumpy and unpredictable politicial ride.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
The special interest marijuana lobby -- who, like the tobacco industry, intend to make millions off of marijuana products by advertising and promoting their substance of choice -- can't stop talking about a recent Gallup poll finding that 58 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. Media outlets are already calling "game over" on the debate, expressing that, like gay marriage, marijuana is an issue whose time has come.
Not so fast. Though marijuana lobbyists, like other special interest groups, are masters at manipulating and overplaying findings favorable to their crusade -- and ignoring findings that are unfavorable (like the link between marijuana and IQ loss or mental illness), the rest of us should see through the smoke and mirrors. There are at least three major problems with using Gallup as a reliable marker for marijuana attitudes in the U.S....
Earlier this year, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and I founded Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), along with a slew of public health researchers and physicians -- from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Addiction Medicine, and other prominent medical organizations -- to raise awareness about what the likely real result of legalization will be: this century's version of Big Tobacco. That's because millionaire ex-Microsoft executives are already launching, in their words, the "Starbucks of Marijuana." And multimillion-dollar private holding groups continue to raise money from investors eager to cash in on the "green rush."
People's image of marijuana legalization, however, is not consistent with this new corporate reality. Folks are still stuck in the 1970s -- they think of peace loving, drum playing, harmless pot smokers who just want to light up without the hassle of the law. And thanks to a marijuana industry casting doubt on any shred of scientific evidence (indeed mounds of it) that puts the drug in a bad light, confusion persists.
Hippies, step aside please. Marijuana's Marlboro Man is about to take the stage.
Recent related post:
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
For marijuana advocates, the last 12 months have been a period of unprecedented success as Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. And now for the first time, a clear majority of Americans (58%) say the drug should be legalized. This is in sharp contrast to the time Gallup first asked the question in 1969, when only 12% favored legalization.
Public support for legalization more than doubled in the 1970s, growing to 28%. It then plateaued during the 1980s and 1990s before inching steadily higher since 2000, reaching 50% in 2011. A sizable percentage of Americans (38%) this year admitted to having tried the drug, which may be a contributing factor to greater acceptance.
Success at the ballot box in the past year in Colorado and Washington may have increased Americans' tolerance for marijuana legalization. Support for legalization has jumped 10 percentage points since last November and the legal momentum shows no sign of abating. Last week, California's second-highest elected official, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, said that pot should be legal in the Golden State, and advocates of legalization are poised to introduce a statewide referendum in 2014 to legalize the drug....
Independents' growing support for legalization has mostly driven the jump in Americans' overall support. Sixty-two percent of independents now favor legalization, up 12 points from November 2012. Support for legalization among Democrats and Republicans saw little change. Yet there is a marked divide between Republicans, who still oppose legalizing marijuana, and Democrats and independents.
Americans 65 and older are the only age group that still opposes legalizing marijuana. Still, support among this group has jumped 14 percentage points since 2011. In contrast, 67% of Americans aged 18 to 29 back legalization. Clear majorities of Americans aged 30 to 64 also favor legalization....
Whatever the reasons for Americans' greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide. But detractors such as law enforcement and substance abuse professionals have cited health risks including an increased heart rate, and respiratory and memory problems.
With Americans' support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future.
A. Consider Ohio's current approach to P.C./marijuana (Read State v. Moore, 90 Ohio St.3d 47, 2000-Ohio-10 (2000))
B. What is a "crime" for Fourth Amendment purposes (Read Controlled Substances casebook pp. 193-209 (trafficking, etc))
Note: Give thought to issues surrounding drugged driving in this context
C. Special topic: drug dogs. When is a "sniff up to snuff?" (Read Florida v Harris, 133 S.Ct. 1050 (2013))
II. State (potential?) remedies
A. State Statutes (Consider Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001))
B. State Constitutional Analogues