Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, October 27, 2016

New study details huge economic opportunities from marijuana legalization in Canada

Images (1)This new Toronto Star article reports on a notable new report about the economic potential presented by marijuana reform in Canada. The piece is headlined "Recreational weed could be a $22.6B industry: study; Sales of legalized recreational marijuana would surpass combined sales of beer, wine, and spirits, it says." Here are excerpts:

Legalized recreational marijuana promises to spark a $22.6-billion industry in Canada, eclipsing combined sales of beer, wine, and spirits, a new study suggests. The Deloitte report — titled Recreational Marijuana: Insights and Opportunities — being released soon concludes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s legalization of cannabis next year could jolt the economy.

“There hasn’t been anything like this — and granted it wasn’t legislated — but you think of the dot-com … flurry,” Mark Whitmore, vice-chair of Deloitte, said in an interview Wednesday. “It has that kind of feel to it. There’s a lot of froth, a lot of interest in this space and a lot of people think there’s going to be an opportunity,” said Whitmore.

Deloitte estimates that satisfying the recreational weed market will mean producing 600,000 kilograms of marijuana annually — far more than the existing 36 licensed producers grow for medicinal purposes.

The consulting firm warns there will be challenges as recreational pot is legalized. “Of course, there will be a practical consideration to take into account when setting marijuana prices that goes beyond what the market will pay,” the 11-page study says. “The challenge will be to set a price point that balances the goal of creating and sustaining a legitimate market (while eliminating ancillary criminal enterprise) with that of not promoting excess consumption.”

In partnership with RIWI Corp., Deloitte surveyed 5,000 Canadians this past summer — including 1,000 identified as recreational marijuana users — and calculated that the base retail market alone would be worth $4.9 billion to $8.7 billion annually. The ancillary market — growers, infused product makers, testing labs, and security — would increase that to between $12.7 billion to $22.6 billion. With tourism revenue, business taxes, licence fees and paraphernalia, Deloitte estimates the market will be even greater than $22.6 billion....

Federally, Trudeau has former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan leading a task force to examine how his government should proceed. McLellan’s panel of experts will report back before Nov. 30 with a blueprint for federal legislation to be introduced next spring. The Deloitte study said regardless of what the new law looks like, it “presents a bold new landscape for Canadian businesses and governments alike.” “What this new landscape might look like remains unclear,” the report says.

The RIWI-Deloitte survey found 40 per cent favour legalization, with 36 per cent opposing it, and 24 per cent undecided. “This will make it challenging to create a broadly accepted regulatory environment,” the report says.

October 27, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Disappointingly, New York Times editorial board tepidly notes how "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots"

Detail_of_a_new_york_times_advertisement_1895More than two years ago, as first reported here, this seemingly historic new New York Times editorial called for the legalization of marijuana under the bold headline "Repeal Prohibition, Again." At the time, I had thought this action by the Gray Lady's editorial board would mean that the marijuana reform movement would have a high-profile and powerful media champion and advocate.

Disappointingly (though perhaps not surprisingly), while the NY Times editorial board has been a a high-profile and powerful media voice on a number of other modern criminal justice reform issues, the Times editorial pages has been anything but bold (and has often just been silent) in the last two years on a wide range of notable state and federal marijuana reform issues. In 2016, for example, which has arguably been the most significant year (and after this election will be surely the most consequential year) in the modern history of the reform of state and federal marijuana laws (and which the New York Times has covered extensively as news), the NY Times editorial board until this week had put forward only one single editorial advocating for marijuana reforms.  (In telling contrast, the NY Times editorial board has had at least a dozen editorials advocating against forcefully capital punishment in 2016. )

 I would think that if the editorial board was still truly committed to its advocacy in 2014 that the US should "Repeal Prohibition, Again," that it would be saying a whole lot more on this topic during this critical year.  Against that backdrop, I am disappointed (but I suppose not too surprised) that this new New York Times editorial headlined "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots" is marked more by reporting than by advocacy. Here are excerpts:

People in nine states, including California, Florida and Massachusetts, will vote Nov. 8 on ballot proposals permitting recreational or medical use of marijuana. These initiatives could give a big push to legalization, prompting the next president and Congress to overhaul the country’s failed drug laws. This is a big moment for what was a fringe movement a few years ago. A Gallup poll released on Wednesday showed 60 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from 31 percent in 2000 and 12 percent in 1969.

The drive to end prohibition comes after decades in which marijuana laws led to millions of people being arrested and tens of thousands sent to prison, a vast majority of whom never committed any violent crimes. These policies have had a particularly devastating effect on minority communities. Federal and state governments have spent untold billions of dollars on enforcement, money that could have been much better spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

So far, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 25 states permit medical use. A recent Cato Institute study found that the states that have legalized recreational use have so far had no meaningful uptick in the use of marijuana by teenagers, or other negative consequences predicted by opponents. For example, in Colorado, drug-related expulsions and suspensions from schools have gone down in recent years. There has been no spike in drug-related traffic accidents and fatalities in Colorado or Washington.

On Election Day, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will consider proposals to allow recreational use. In California, which approved medical use in 1996, polls show that the measure is likely to win. In Massachusetts, a recent poll showed 55 percent of likely voters supporting legalization. In Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, residents will vote on medical marijuana. If Florida voters say yes, other Southern states that have been resistant to liberalizing drug laws could reconsider their prohibitions, too.

Passage of these proposals should increase pressure on the federal government to change how it treats marijuana. The Obama administration has chosen not to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states like Colorado and Washington. But this bizarre situation can’t last — even as more states legalize the drug, state-licensed marijuana businesses remain criminal operations under federal law. Even if they are not prosecuted by the federal government, this conflict in their legal status creates immense problems....

States are driving the change in marijuana policy because they see the damage created by draconian drug laws on communities, families and state budgets. It’s time the federal government acknowledged these costs and got out of the way of states adopting more rational laws.

When I saw the headline for this editorial --- which, as I suggested before, seems to be mostly a report of reality and fails to do much editorializing --- I at least expected it to mention and link to the New York Times' prior 2014 editorial calling for the US to "Repeal Prohibition, Again." I do not believe that the New York Times has changed its editorial stance on this front, but they seem now almost intent to make sure nobody remembers their bold advocacy two years ago.

Moreover, this "editorial," while seemingly eager to note that "negative consequences predicted by opponents" of reform have not materialized, entirely fails to note or highlights that all of the positive consequences predicted by supporters of marijuana reform have come to pass: huge new tax revenues are being collected, economic development has been considerable, arrest rates have gone down dramatically, and adults have safe and legal access to their preferred medicine or recreational drug. Simply saying at the end here that the federal government should get "out of the way of states adopting more rational laws" (which the Obama Administration has largely done, though Congress could and should do it more formally) is about the weakest tea support for reform I could imagine.

I suppose that when a paper's nickname is the "Gray Lady," I was foolish to expect or hope it would act or advocate like even a young smart conservative advocate (whom polls show support medical marijuana reform 10 to 1 and full marijuana reform 3 to 1). Still, I feel now as though the 2014 editorial headline really should have been "Repeal Prohibition, Again.... but do not expect the Gray Lady to really try to help make that happen anytime soon."

October 20, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Highlighting why innovation can (and will?) be the face of the marijuana industry

This new C/Net article, headlined "​Innovation is the budding theme at marijuana summit: Everything from high-tech advancements in edible weed to big-data analysis can be seen at this year's New West Summit in San Francisco," highlights why so many interesting folks find the futue of the marijuana industry so interesting.  Here are excerpts: 

The New West Summit at the Hyatt hotel in downtown San Francisco looked similar to other business conferences held there throughout the year. Men and women in business suits hurried around, people huddled in corners talking shop, and unembellished booths showed off varied graphs and charts.

But every once in a while, conference goers got hit with a strong waft of marijuana. That's because this summit was all about weed. At their booths, companies displayed glass urns filled with buds, cannabis-laced chocolate bars and different kinds of vape pens and bongs. Yet among the firms touting this typical pot paraphernalia, there were other kinds of businesses dealing in marijuana: tech startups.

"This plant has been illegal and underground since the invention of technology," said Steve DeAngelo, founder and CEO of Harborside, one of the world's largest medical cannabis dispensaries. "This conference represents the intersection of Bay Area startup culture and cannabis."...

By 2020, New Frontier forecasts, the industry will be worth $20.5 billion (and some estimates put that figure a lot higher). That type of escalation makes the weed business one of the fasting-growing industries in the US. It's no wonder startups are getting into the game.

A meander around the New West Summit gives a sense of where the business side of the industry is heading. There's Grownetics, for instance, which uses a machine-learning algorithm to help farmers grow bigger buds more sustainably. There's Fleurish Farms, which has invented a contraption that it says captures 99.7 percent of the sun spectrum to let people grow pot plants indoors at a higher efficiency than they could in a greenhouse. "It captures the sunlight from all angles," said Fleurish Farms CEO Jonathan Cachat. "This reduces the environmental imprint of indoor cannabis production."

Even edible marijuana is seeing innovation. Besides gummies, lozenges and chocolates, some companies showed off marijuana-infused dissolvable breath strips, while others had topical sprays with exact dosing per pump. "We're coming to a point where we're starting to see edibles that are lower dosed," said Kristi Knoblich, co-founder of Kiva Confections. "It's that person that's looking for a glass of wine in the evening, that person that isn't looking to get blasted."

As the weed industry becomes more professionalized, it's caught the eye of more investors. In 2015, investors dropped $360 million into marijuana-focused startups, and so far this year they've invested $137 million, according to PitchBook, a research firm specializing in venture capital. That's a lot compared with just four years ago; in 2012 investors put only $7 million toward funding weed companies.

UPDATE:  This new Business Insider article also speaks to emerging realities in a growing legal marijuana industry, and it includes these interesting points:

The marijuana industry is growing up in front of our eyes. As drug transactions move from back alleys and clubs to legal dispensaries, the culture around pot changes. In an effort to be taken more seriously, industry insiders find more sophisticated language to describe their trade. Slang no longer has a place in the industry vernacular. Entrepreneurs tell me they much prefer the scientific name for the plant, cannabis.

In the exhibit hall, purveyors showed their wares: high-tech vaporizers from companies like Firefly and Pax Labs, a marijuana-infused health products line from Fleurish Farms, and reports from business intelligence platform Headset. I spotted few companies with names that reveal the industry they operate in, and plenty advertising health and wellbeing.

A recent investigation by the Marijuana Business Daily underlines this trend. In an analysis of over 3,000 state-licensed marijuana companies, the publication found that companies use wellness-oriented words, such as "organic" and "herbal," in their names far more often than slang. The Marijuana Business Daily did not include businesses in California and Michigan, which do not issue licenses at the state level. "Farm," "green," "leaf," "bud," "garden," and "organic" are among the most popular words used in company names.

As Marijuana Business Daily writer Eli McVey points out, this hasn't always been the case. In the mid-2000s, before Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational weed in 2012, words like "ganja" and "dank" popped up more frequently. But as the national conversation around marijuana turned to issues around public health, rather than criminalization, the industry adopted a new vernacular around wellness and healing people.

October 17, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Exploring that as goes Massachusetts so goes New England on marijuana reform

NewEnglandThis Hartford Courant article, headlined "Massachusetts Marijuana Vote Could Mean Legalization Across New England," highlights reasons why I expect the recreational marijuana legalization initiative vote in the Bay State to have important ripple effects well beyond the state's borders. Here are excerpts from the piece:

As a multimillion dollar fight over recreational marijuana in Massachusetts races toward the finish line, both sides of the debate in Connecticut are keeping a close eye on a vote that could open the door to legalization across New England.

Massachusetts is one of five states where measures to legalize and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana will be on the ballot. Voters in Arizona, California, Maine and Nevada will also vote on the issue. An affirmative vote in Maine or Massachusetts would bring legal recreational marijuana to the region for the first time, putting new pressure on those in the state that oppose expanded marijuana use.

Jill Spineti, president and CEO of the Governor's Prevention Partnership, said her group wasn't yet willing to shift the dialogue from opposing recreational marijuana use to figuring out the best way to regulate it. At the same time she acknowledged how legal cannabis across the border would complicate that fight. "We're staying focused on opposition," Spineti said. "But I do believe that if Massachusetts approves it, it will be much harder to oppose it here."

There's also the question of people crossing the border to buy marijuana. Something Spineti said some Connecticut employers have raised concerns about.

It's been almost two years since a public opinion poll asked Connecticut voters about marijuana legalization. In that March 2015 Quinnipiac Poll, 63 percent of voters said they supported allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.... A legalization and taxation bill was introduced last year [in Connecticut] and had about a dozen Democratic co-sponsors. An informal informational hearing was held with experts on both sides offering testimony before interested legislators.

Proponents of the bill said Connecticut would be losing out on valuable tax dollars if it wasn't the first state in New England to move forward with recreational marijuana legalization. State Rep. Vin Candelora, a Republican from North Branford who opposed the bill, said lawmakers shouldn't see tax revenue from the legalization of marijuana as a solution to the state's budget problems. He called it "blood money."...

Rep. Edwin Vargas, a Hartford Democrat who supported the marijuana legalization bill, said money that is funding criminal enterprises would instead be directed toward state government. Drug dealers would see their business undercut, he said, and fewer youths would be arrested for dealing.

"I knew all along this was going to sweep the states after the success in Colorado," Vargas said. Colorado, the first state to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use, brought in $130 million in tax revenue in the last fiscal year. "The only thing I feel bad about is we could have been first in the area and established the industry here. The one that establishes the industry first has a huge advantage."

At the University of Massachusetts last week, Rick Steves, an author and travel host who helped with the marijuana legalization effort in his home state of Washington, talked about the tax benefit. But he also made a civil liberties and criminal justice argument. "I'm a hardworking, kid-raising, church-going, taxpaying American citizen," he told the crowd of about 100 students and residents. "If I work hard all day long, want to go home, smoke a joint and just stare at the fireplace for three hours, that's my civil liberty."

Steves said marijuana could be regulated like alcohol. He didn't buy arguments by opponents who say it's a gateway drug, or that legalizing marijuana will lead to increased use by youths. "The opponents of these initiatives and moves to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, they cherry-pick their problems and they don't recognize that the major problem is with us right now — its called the status quo. We're arresting hundreds of thousands of people every year for nonviolent marijuana crimes. They're not rich white people, they're poor people and people of color. That's a real problem."

Steves acknowledged the difficulty getting marijuana legalized through a legislative effort rather than by ballot. Lawmakers in Vermont and Rhode Island had bills that progressed further than Connecticut's but neither were adopted. But public opinion is shifting. A national Pew poll released last week showed 57 percent of adults were in favor of legalizing marijuana use, up from 32 percent 10 years ago. "Politicians are realizing that the days when somebody could condemn you as being soft on drugs are slipping away," Steves said. "I don't think the issue is are you soft on drugs or are you hard on drugs. Now the issue is are you smart about drug policy reform?"

But even in Massachusetts most of the political establishment has shied away from supporting the ballot initiative. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healy and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, both Democrats, are against it. As is U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy. The "yes" campaign has fought back with television advertising and a substantial campaign war chest, including more than $3 million in contributions from a Washington, D.C.-based cannabis reform advocacy group.

October 15, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2016

New Drug Policy Alliance reports on "what we know" about marijuana legalization "so far"

The folks at the Drug Policy Alliance have released this notable new report titled "So Far, So Good: What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C." The website provides this summary of the short report's contents:

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to D.C. law).

The report’s key findings include:

  • Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.

  • Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.

  • Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.

  • Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.

October 14, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New Pew polling shows record high public support for recreational marijuana legalization

FT_16.10.11_marijuanaLegal_trendThe Pew Research Center has this new posting headlined "Support for marijuana legalization continues to rise," reporting on the results of its latest polling. Here are the particulars:

The share of Americans who favor legalizing the use of marijuana continues to increase. Today, 57% of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 37% say it should be illegal. A decade ago, opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse – just 32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed.

The shift in public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has occurred during a time when many U.S. states are relaxing their restrictions on the drug or legalizing it altogether. In June, Ohio became the 25th state (plus Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico) to legalize marijuana in some form after Gov. John Kasich signed a medical marijuana program into law. This November, Americans in nine states will vote on measures to establish or expand legal marijuana use.

Young adults have disproportionately driven the shift toward public support of the drug, though support is rising among other generations as well. Millennials – those ages 18 to 35 in 2016 – are more than twice as likely to support legalization of marijuana as they were in 2006 (71% today, up from 34% in 2006), and are significantly more likely to support legalization than other generations.

Support for marijuana legalization has also increased among members of Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 36-51 and 52-70 in 2016, respectively). More than half of Gen Xers (57%) support legalization, a considerable jump from just 21% in 1990. A majority of Boomers (56%) also support legalization, up from just 17% in 1990.

The Pew Research Center survey, conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 among 1,201 U.S. adults, also finds persistent partisan and ideological divides in public opinion on marijuana legalization. By more than two-to-one, Democrats favor legalizing marijuana over having it be illegal (66% vs. 30%). Most Republicans (55%) oppose marijuana legalization, while 41% favor it.

Republicans are internally divided over marijuana legalization. By a wide margin (63% to 35%), moderate and liberal Republicans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. By contrast, 62% of conservative Republicans oppose legalizing marijuana use, while just 33% favor it. The differences among Democrats are more modest. Liberal Democrats are 23 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legalization (78% vs. 55%).

As past Pew Research Center surveys have found, Hispanics are less supportive of legalizing marijuana than are whites or blacks. Hispanics are divided – 49% say the use of marijuana should be illegal, while 46% say it should be legal. Identical majorities of whites and blacks (59% each) favor marijuana legalization.

I do not find the age-based and party-based polling particulars to be at all surprising, but I do find it quite notable and interesting that this poll suggests Latinos are slightly more likely to oppose than support marijuana legalization. I suspect that this finding could and would be even more interesting and telling if the Latino responses were broken down further by age, as I suspect older Latinos might continue to recall and fear the anti-Mexican/Latino biases that were integral to a whole lot of anti-marijuana policies and rhetoric until very recently.

The interesting Pew Center finding about Latino views on marijuana legalization also provides still further reasons to pay particular attention this election cycle to the marijuana reform ballot initiatives in states like Arizona and California and Florida. In addition to wondering whether exit polling in those states might confirm the likelihood of large blocks of Latino voters ending up on the "no" side of reforms, the traditionally different Latino origins that distinguish Latino population in different states might reveal still further deep insights into whether there are actually an array of distinct policy views on these issues among distinct groups of Latinos.

October 13, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Effective snapshot of marijuana reform debate and polling four weeks before (game-changing?) 2016 election

The Atlantic has this effective new piece that provide an astute "at this moment" perspective on marijuana reform developments and the coming election sure to impact them.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana's Moment: As many as five states could approve its recreational use this November, potentially signaling a point of no return for legalized pot," and it merits a full read.  Here are excerpts:

Recreational marijuana users can now legally light up a joint in states representing about 5 percent of the U.S. population. By the time Americans wake up on November 9, that percentage could be swelling to more than one-quarter.  Measures to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis are on the ballot in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada, and recent polls show the “yes” vote is winning in all five states. Approval would mark the biggest advance yet for advocates in the decades-long fight over legalizing marijuana—one that they believe could ultimately force the federal government to end its prohibition of the drug.

“On November 8, you can safely say we’ve reached the tipping point if these go our way,” said Tom Angell, founder of the group Marijuana Majority.  The most important battleground is California, where advocates expect voters to approve personal use of pot six years after they defeated a similar measure.  Support for Proposition 64 is polling at nearly 60 percent, and the measure has drawn support from leading politicians and newspapers that opposed it in 2010, including Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.  The leading candidate for California’s open Senate seat, Kamala Harris, predicted Wednesday that voters would approve the law, although as the state’s attorney general she can’t formally take a position....

Beyond California, slimmer majorities of voters are backing full legalization in Massachusetts, Arizona, and Maine.  In Nevada, polls have been mixed, with one in September showing strong support for passage and a more recent survey suggesting voters are split.....

Legalization advocates are trying to replicate their successes from 2012 and 2014, when voters sanctioned recreational marijuana use in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington D.C.  But they are facing a better-organized opposition this year led by the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has argued that the proposed laws are creating another “Big Tobacco,” but for marijuana.  They say these laws are industry-backed initiatives that allow companies to market pot to children just like cigarette companies did for decades.  “This is not about marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, the president of SAM.  He travels around the country warning that ballot measures legalizing marijuana are dangerously lax and written by an industry that wants to hook kids on pot lollipops and other “cannabis candy.”

“This is about a small amount of people making a lot of money,” he said.  “This is not about personal liberty.”  That’s especially true, Sabet argued, in California, where medical marijuana is famously easy to obtain and where recreational use hasn’t been considered a felony for 40 years.  The drive to legalize, then, is all about business.

Sabet also disputes the idea that November will be a tipping point for marijuana legalization if the ballot measures in California and elsewhere prevail.  “This is a very long game,” he said.  “This is not going to be determined once and for all either this November or in November of 2018.”  Sabet said there is already a backlash building in local communities in states that have legalized pot, spurred by rising rates of marijuana use and a spike in traffic fatalities linked to stoned drivers.

Sabet was speaking to me from an airport after leading seven rallies over two days against the California ballot measure. “California is much closer than we’re hearing about,” he argued.  “It’s a coin flip in all of the states right now.”  As Sabet sees it, the burden is lower for opponents of a ballot initiative like marijuana legalization to convince voters to go their way.  “With ‘no,’ you just have to put a little bit of doubt in people’s minds, and they are movable,” he told me.  “The more we get our message across, the more people change their minds from ‘yes’ to ‘no.’”

That’s a dynamic that worries Angell, a 15-year veteran of the legalization fight.  He launched the Marijuana Majority in 2012 as a way of broadcasting the breadth of public support for the movement....   Though Marijuana Majority touts polls showing that 88 percent of voters nationwide support medical marijuana and 58 percent back full legalization, Angell is not as confident as [others] about a broad victory in November.   Support for ballot measures typically drops in the run-up to an election, he notes.  And while supporters of legal pot are outspending opponents, he worries about the movement’s version of an “October surprise” — a rumored move by the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson to pour millions into last-minute ads against ballot measures in Nevada and Florida.  “I am very concerned about where we are in a number of these states right now,” Angell said. “It’s a little too close for comfort.”

In addition to the full legalization measures, voters in four other states — Florida, Montana, North Dakota, and Arkansas — are considering laws approving medical marijuana.  Supporters are confident about their chances in Florida but are less certain in Montana and North Dakota, where there has been little polling on the issue. They are most concerned about Arkansas because there are two medical-marijuana measures on the ballot — one supported by the legalization movement and another that is considerably narrower and more restrictive. “There’s a concern that voters will simply vote their favorite medical-marijuana measure and split the vote,” Angell said....

Another worry, Angell said, is complacency and overconfidence among marijuana advocates.  Contrary to Sabet’s claims, he complained that the marijuana industry was not contributing enough to the legalization drive — and indeed, the medical-marijuana community in California is reportedly divided over the ballot measure in part because small growers view it as a boon to big business, according to the Los Angeles Times.  The California Growers Association, for example, decided to stay neutral on the proposal. “There’s almost this sense that marijuana will legalize itself, that we’ve already won,” Angell said. If victories this year could put legalization on a nationwide path, losses would be a momentum killer. “A lot,” he admitted, “is riding on this.”

October 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Best Marijuana Taxes Yet: California's Proposition 64"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely essay by Pat Oglesby now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Two devastating traps threaten taxes on newly legalized marijuana. One is the quicksand of inflexibility, leading to impotence during a whirlwind of market change. Static laws and price-based taxes lead into that trap.

The trap other is playing favorites by favoring medical users, opening an abyss of tax evasion by recreational users pretending to be sick.

California’s Proposition 64, on the ballot in November, avoids those traps better than the marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada.

It takes lessons from failed initiatives in California, Ohio, and Oregon, and laws on the books in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

October 9, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 7, 2016

"Questions For The Candidates On Marijuana Reform"

10062016 promoThe title of this post is the headline of this timely new Huffington Post piece authored by Chris Weigant. Here is how it starts and ends:

There is a major political debate currently happening in many parts of this country, but the astonishing thing is that most politicians — especially those on the national stage — seem to want to pretend the debate doesn’t even exist.  We saw this previously on the issue of gay marriage, when even the Democratic candidates for president in 2008 wouldn’t support the idea for fear of losing votes — even though it was obviously the right thing to do.  Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would only support half-measures whose time had already passed, saying they were in favor of “civil unions,” but that “marriage” was too sacred a word to use for these unions.  That was only eight years ago, and the political shift since then has been monumental.  These days, it would be hard for any Democrat to get elected who didn’t wholeheartedly support marriage equality for all.  The people led, and the leaders eventually followed.

The next issue where this is already happening is marijuana legal reform.  The arc of history is clear, and it is bending in one obvious direction. But politicians from Hillary Clinton on down refuse to show more than lukewarm support for half-measures which are already outdated.  This is nothing short of political cowardice.  Hillary Clinton is a special case, because her husband was the first United States president to admit smoking marijuana, although even this admission was hedged in lawyerly fudging (“I didn’t inhale”).  But that was almost 25 years ago, and in the meantime public opinion has shifted dramatically.

On Hillary Clinton’s campaign website there are only a few desultory mentions of marijuana legal reform. Clinton, to her credit, says she is for letting the states be laboratories of democracy (without specifying what exactly this means), and for rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.  The only time she’s been asked about marijuana, at a primary debate, she responded that she was willing to let further studies of medical marijuana happen.  This is simply not enough, though.  Further studies? Half of the United States have already legalized medical marijuana. Half. It’s not an issue that’s even really up for debate anymore — politically akin to civil unions in 2008, in fact.  And yet Clinton can’t even come out in full support of medicinal marijuana — she’s content to just “further study” the issue for now.  This is not leadership, folks.

This November, citizens of at least five states will be voting on legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults, and the polls now indicate that all five ballot measures may win. Four states and Washington D.C. have already legalized recreational use, meaning we could have a total of nine states next year where marijuana is fully legal for anyone of age to consume without fear of being arrested or having their lives ruined by the Draconian drug laws which have outlawed marijuana for the past century. These states are in open rebellion against federal law on the matter, it bears pointing out....

For almost the entire election season, all the presidential candidates have (for the most part) not even been asked by journalists where they stand on one of the fastest-moving political issues this year.  That is a failure by both the media and by the cowardly politicians afraid of losing some votes by taking a clear stand.  The transition from the War On Weed to a sane approach towards regulating marijuana is going to happen eventually, but the next president will have an enormous influence on how smooth (or bumpy) this transition will be — and how fast it will happen.  This is precisely why they need to be specifically asked about it now.

This Sunday night will be the only presidential debate where normal people will get the chance to pose questions to the two remaining candidates . I am hoping at least one voter will ask for clear details on what the candidates would do as president on federal marijuana legal reform.  And I don’t mean just a generic, gauzy question on medicinal marijuana, either.  If I were sitting in that audience, here are the questions I would ask:

“Given that, after November’s election, nine states may have legalized recreational adult usage of marijuana, would you recognize this new reality by not just rescheduling marijuana — which would still leave recreational use federally illegal — but by descheduling it altogether and handing off all federal marijuana regulation to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, where it really belongs? Furthermore, would you support changing the tax code and federal banking regulations so that state-legal marijuana businesses can freely operate without fear of being federally prosecuted as major drug traffickers?”

October 7, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A month out from the election, recreational marijuana reform ballot initiatives are ahead in the polls in all five states

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b7c888d83f970bFor a variety of reasons, I have been thinking that a majority but not all of the five state ballot initiatives coming to voters this November to legalize recreational marijuana were likely to pass.   However, this Washington Post article has a headline suggesting my forecast for recreational marijuana reform efforts might be unduly pessimistic: "Marijuana legalization is leading in every state where it’s on the ballot this November." Here are the interesting details:

Marijuana advocates are heading into the final weeks of the 2016 campaign with the wind at their backs as the latest polling shows legalization measures currently favored by voters in all five states where they're on the ballot. This is something of a reversal from just a month ago, when the most recent polling had shown voters wary of legalization measures in Massachusetts and Arizona. But the margins of support aren't huge in any state, meaning that the contests could still swing either way.

Polling ballot issues is a tricky business, all the more so with marijuana-related issues, where responses can be heavily influenced by particular question wording. So in the same state, different polls with different question wording can yield radically different results even if fielded at similar times. Those caveats aside, here's what the latest numbers show.

In Arizona, a late-August Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll of 784 registered voters found that 50 percent supported marijuana legalization, 40 percent opposed it, and 10 percent remain undecided. That result is sharply at odds with a July poll of likely voters showing that only 39 percent said they favored the measure.

In California, a post-debate SurveyUSA poll of 751 likely voters found that Proposition 64, which would legalize, tax and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana, is supported by 52 percent of the electorate and opposed by 41 percent, with 6 percent undecided. This is a lower margin than some other recent polls there, which have pegged support at 60 percent or more.

Across the country in Massachusetts, the marijuana legalization measure there enjoys 53 percent support among likely voters, according to a recent WBZ-UMASS Amherst poll of 700 likely voters. Forty percent oppose it, while another 7 percent are unsure. That's also a turnaround from an earlier poll of 900 registered voters, which found only 41 percent supported the measure.

Up the coast in Maine, a late September poll of 505 likely voters found 53 percent support for the legalization measure, 38 percent opposed to it and 10 percent undecided. This number has been fairly stable since the spring.

A poll fielded last week of 500 likely voters in Nevada found the legalization measure there leading with 57 percent support, compared to 33 percent opposing it. That number is sharply at odds with a Review-Journal survey of 800 likely voters, fielded at the exact same time, which found the legalization measure leading by just 1 percentage point, well within the margin of error....

Marijuana opponents, for their part, are optimistic about their chances. "If anything, the polls should give the opposition some comfort," said Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. "If you are not at 60 percent at this stage in the game, it usually spells trouble for ballot initiatives." Sabet says his group is planning for a busy final month of the campaign season: "We plan to do much more in the next 30 days."

For a variety of reasons, I am disinclined to alter my thinking that a majority but not all of the five state ballot initiatives coming to voters this November to legalize recreational marijuana were likely to pass. (For those who want specifics, I am expecting California, Maine and Nevada voters to approve recreational, while I am expecting the Arizona and Massachusetts initiatives to not quite make it to 50%.) And especially because I expect to votes to be reasonable close on these issues in every state, the only thing I will predict with certainty is that I will be up into the wee hours of Election Night awaiting returns from all these states.

October 6, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Highlighting effective media coverage of California's marijuana legalization initiative

In just five weeks, Californians will vote on Proposition 64, the state ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use for persons 21-years-old and older. With Election Day looming, media coverage of the measure has picked up. Most of the state's major newspapers weighed in on legalization a couple weeks ago; and, last week, the local Sacramento CBS station ran a five part series discussing the perceived risks and benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana use in California--coverage that ranged from the lessons to be learned from legalization in Colorado to the effect legalization might have on the image of the state. 

Two other useful resources for commentary on Proposition 64 are The San Francisco Chronicle's blog Smell the Truth and The Sacramento Bee's regular coverage here. The Los Angeles Times's Robin Abcarian also regularly reports on the subject.

October 3, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is recreational marijuana reform initiative likely to fail (badly) in Arizona?

AZThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting new local article headlined "Foes of legalized recreational marijuana in Arizona have cash edge." Here are excerpts from the article: 

Foes of legalized recreational marijuana are building up a war chest in a bid to kill Proposition 205, apparently with a last-minute barrage of media. New reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office show that the anti-205 Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has so far collected slightly more than $2 million.

That still leaves the group short of the nearly $3.2 million reported by the pro-205 Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. But the pro-205 forces already have burned through more than $3 million of that, much of it to get the measure on the ballot in the first place. The latest report shows that organization has less than $170,000 on hand.

By contrast, the campaign to kill the measure reported it has close to $1.4 million in the bank. That cash differential could prove crucial.

Various polls have come up with conflicting results. One from July had the measure failing with 52 percent of those questioned opposed. Another one released last month suggested the initiative had 50 percent support.

But the tide could be on the side of initiative foes, and not just because of the financial edge. Pollster Earl de Berge said that, generally speaking, when people are undecided or confused, they tend to vote “no” on ballot measures. And pollster Michael O’Neil, who did not conduct either survey, said that even if proponents really do have a 10-point lead, that’s not good news at this point in the election cycle. He said that’s probably a high point and it’s unlikely that number will improve between now and the election.

“I disagree with that,” responded Barrett Marson, spokesman for the legalization campaign. He said proponents are conducting a “vigorous” campaign and continuing to raise money. He conceded the anti-205 campaign has more cash on hand. But he said much of that is due to a $500,000 donation from Chandler-based Insys Corp., “a company that wants to sell synthetic marijuana and opposes legalization for business reasons.”...

The 2010 ballot measure that squeaked by allows individuals with certain medical conditions, a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued ID card to obtain up to 2½ ounces every two weeks from a state-licensed dispensary. Proposition 205 would allow any adult to have up to an ounce at a time, purchased through an expanded retail dispensary system but with a 15 percent tax added on. The measure also would spell out certain rights of marijuana users as to employment and child-custody cases.

Driving while impaired on marijuana would remain illegal. But unlike alcohol, where a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 is presumption of impairment, there is no such standard in Proposition 205. That would require prosecutors to prove in each case that the motorist was impaired.

Proponents have spent much of their resources to date on their claims that revenues from the tax would benefit education. Foes counter that similar promises were made to Colorado voters before they legalized recreational marijuana, but the funds have not materialized. But the prime message of the anti-205 forces has been that making marijuana more available to adults will lead to greater accessibility and use by minors. They also point out that the Arizona law specifically allows the sale of marijuana-laced candy bars, lollipops and other edibles that might be attractive to children.

Especially given that a medical marijuana initiative barely passed in Arizona in 2010, I have long assumed that the recreational reform initiative would be facing an uphill climb in the Grand Canyon state.  But, given the typical pattern of marijuana reform supporters having a (much) larger campaign war chest than opponents, I thought maybe folks in Arizona could move the election needle by extensively showcasing to undecided voters some of the positive consequences of full legalization in other states.  Yet this article suggests that the opponents of reform are going to have a lot more resources to tell voters about what they perceive to be the negative consequences of full legalization in other states. 

October 3, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Noting the good being done with huge tax revenues from marijuana reform in Colorado

This new Huffington Post article, headlined "Colorado To Use Pot Tax To Fund Anti-Bullying Programs In Schools," reports on state tax developments that I strongly believe marijuana reform advocates ought to be highlighting and promoting a lot more. Here are excerpts:

Colorado is trying to weed out the bullies from its schools. The Colorado Department of Education is using surplus marijuana tax revenue to create anti-bullying programs in the state’s schools.

The CDE will award 50 schools grants of up to $40,000 per school each year to administer these programs, ABC affiliate KMGH-TV reports.  The programs implemented will employ evidence-based anti-bullying practices and will also teach families and communities strategies to deal with bullying, the grant’s description says....

In November, Colorado voters chose to have the state keep the money made from marijuana sales taxes. The amount totaled $66 million, according to CNN Money.  The state is using the cash to support schools, law enforcement, drug education and other programs, reported USA Today.

Aurora, Colorado, for instance, used the $1.5 million it generated to help its homeless population.

September 30, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Legalizing Marijuana: It Changes Policing, But May Leave Racial Disparities"

The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR story, which includes these excerpts:

California is one of five states this year where marijuana legalization is on the ballot. Washington and Colorado paved the way for making recreational pot legal back in 2012. Since then marijuana arrests have plunged in Washington. They've also gone down in Colorado, but not by as much. This raises the question, what is the effect of legalizing marijuana on policing?...

Defense Attorney James Clark's office window looks down on the lake. He says [California police's] "stop and smell" practice happens across the state. In California, the smell of marijuana gives police probable cause to search someone's entire vehicle. If cops find something bigger - guns, stolen property - Clark says that can turn a traffic stop into a felony. "You can imagine that if you're trying to advance your career by searching cars along the freeway, that this is a tool that would be difficult to resist passing up," Clark says. [So now people] are wondering, if recreational pot gets legalized in California, could that be the end of this "stop and smell" practice?

Meanwhile, in Washington state, there have been some changes in policing since the legalization of recreational marijuana. Patrol sergeant Nate Hovinghoff has been with the Washington State Patrol for 11 years and works along the scenic Columbia River Gorge dividing Washington and Oregon, another state that recently legalized pot. "Prior to legalization in Washington state, odor alone was enough to arrest," Hovinghoff says.

If Hovinghoff pulled over a vehicle, say, for speeding and smelled marijuana, that gave him license to investigate further. "In my experience as a trooper, probably 90 percent of my felony arrests, they started with the odor of marijuana," he says.

But once pot was legalized in Washington state, the rules of engagement changed. "Now when I stop a vehicle and I go up and I smell marijuana, if they're 21 years or over it doesn't mean automatically a crime's occurred," Hovinghoff explains. He says as long as the driver of the car is compliant with the law and not impaired, and that's key, it's basically, "Have a nice day."

But folks ... aren't convinced that it will go down like that in California.... In fact, recent data from police stops in Oakland show that African-Americans are more likely than whites to be searched, handcuffed, and arrested.

That question of disparity is very much on the minds of researchers who are tracking the effects of marijuana legalization. Mike Males is with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. He released a study earlier this year that's been widely cited. It shows that while marijuana arrests dropped dramatically in Washington state, African-Americans are still two times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses.

"So there's still a large racial discrepancy. It doesn't solve that. It does reduce the overall impact of marijuana arrests, but it doesn't change the racial discrepancy as much," Males says. The bottom line, says Males: "If one of the goals is to reduce marijuana-related arrests then legalization appears to accomplish that." But it may not resolve disparities in how the law is enforced or applied.

A few of many prior related posts:

September 25, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Are all opponents of marijuana reform ultimately suspicious and critical of capitalism and free markets?

The question in the title of this post came to my mind as I started heading this morning the great book I first flagged here at my sentencing blog: Harvard historian Lisa McGirr's The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State.  The start of the book highlights how many early alcohol Prohibitionist were much more troubled by and focused on the "liquor trade" and "liquor trafficking" rather than just individuals drinking.  

I see, of course, a huge parallel in this sense to the leading modern anti-marijuana-reform group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which repeatedly claims that its advocacy is not driven by support for blanket marijuana prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions, but rather is just concerned about the creation of a legal "Big Marijuana" industry.  As SAM explains here at its website

People often ask us what our biggest fear of legalization is.  The answer is simple: Big Pot....

The tobacco and alcohol industries follow similar patterns while hawking their legal, addictive substances. And we know how that story ends: money-hungry industries, targeting the vulnerable, will stop at nothing to increase addiction and profit. Why on earth would we want to repeat that debacle with cannabis?

I bring this up because I have long said and long believed that my affinity for and support of marijuana reform is part of a "conservative" commitment not only to personal liberty but also to capitalism and free markets. Though I fully understand and respect concerns about the long-term political and practical impact of "Big Marijuana" (and/or Big Pharma and/or Big Oil and/or Big Google), I still firmly believe the long-term political and practical impact of Big Government is and should be more worrisome at least to those who are fans of capitalism and free markets.  Ergo, I think it is fair to at least suggest that all opponents of marijuana reform (and even a good number of marijuana reform supporters) are likely fundamentally suspicious and critical of capitalism and free markets.

September 23, 2016 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"If Brangelina broke up over marijuana, what could it mean for their divorce?"

I genuinely try to avoid covering what might be thought of as fluff stories about marijuana.  But this new Guardian story, which has the headline I am using as the title of this post, was just way too juicy to resist.  Plus, the story actually effectively covers some not-so-fluffy legal realities about various connections between marijuana reform and family law.  Here are excerpts:

The stoner dude who refuses to put down the pipe and pick up the Pampers is an archetype that Judd Apatow has made an entire career out of mining. Internet forums and advice columns teem with queries from spouses who feel widowed by their partner’s relationship with weed. So the announcement that Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt – and a report by TMZ that Jolie was “fed up” with Pitt’s marijuana and alcohol use – has set off a bevy of speculation that Pitt never fully left behind his 1993 role as a stoner room-mate in True Romance.

Pitt has spoken openly about using marijuana recreationally in the 1990s, telling the Hollywood Reporter: “I was smoking way too much dope; I was sitting on the couch and just turning into a doughnut; and I really got irritated with myself.” But in a 2009 interview with Bill Maher, Pitt said that he had given up marijuana: “I’m a dad now. You want to be alert.”

Allegations of marijuana abuse have no direct bearing on a divorce filing, according to attorney Daniel Beck, who specializes in California medical marijuana law. That’s because California law allows for “no-fault” divorces, meaning a spouse does not have to sue his or her partner for any specific grievance, such as adultery or abandonment. “What I take away from this so-called allegation has more to do with public relations than it does anything else,” Beck added.

However, marijuana use can be a factor in custody decisions, and Jolie is reportedly seeking physical custody of the couple’s six children. “Marijuana, like any other substance, can be abused,” Beck said. “The question is, what is the effect on the children? Even if someone has a medicinal [marijuana] card, if they imbibe with the children in the room, that could be looked at as something that is not in the children’s best interest.”...

Though the legal and social stigma of marijuana use is declining, studies have shown that it can have a negative impact on marriage.  Researchers Kazuo Yamaguchi and Denise B Kandel have found that marijuana use tends to decrease once individuals get married, and that smoking pot while married “greatly increases the rate of becoming divorced”. Anecdotally, a mismatch in marijuana use is often cited as a reason for conflict in relationships....

Diana Richmond, a family law attorney with 40 years of experience in California, said that substance abuse was a very common reason for divorce but that marijuana was rarely the sole cause.  Much more frequently cited are “alcohol, various prescription drugs, and cocaine”, she said, with occasional instances where “marijuana is used in conjunction with other things”.

Since the legalization of medical marijuana in California, however, the drug has become a frequent topic in custody battles, said Monica Mazzei Potter, a family law attorney with Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco.  But, she added, marijuana – whether used medicinally or recreationally – is treated more like alcohol by family law judges than like other drugs, such as cocaine. “I don’t think it’s seen in the same category for family law judges,” she said. “Even if [parents] don’t have a license for it, I’m not seeing it as an impediment for custody issues.”  Parents who use marijuana might lose custody of their children if the case involves abuse and neglect, she said, but added: “I’ve never seen a case where there’s a parent using marijuana responsibly, there’s no abuse or neglect, and a parent has lost custody.”

September 21, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cato Institute releases new policy analysis on marijuana legalization providing a "Dose of Reality"

I am very pleased to see the release of this lengthy new policy analysis published by the Cato institute under the title "Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations." Here is its executive summary:

In November 2012 voters in the states of Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives that legalized marijuana for recreational use.  Two years later, Alaska and Oregon followed suit.  As many as 11 other states may consider similar measures in November 2016, through either ballot initiative or legislative action.

Supporters and opponents of such initiatives make numerous claims about state-level marijuana legalization. Advocates think legalization reduces crime, raises tax revenue, lowers criminal justice expenditures, improves public health, bolsters traffic safety, and stimulates the economy.  Critics argue that legalization spurs marijuana and other drug or alcohol use, increases crime, diminishes traffic safety, harms public health, and lowers teen educational achievement.  Systematic evaluation of these claims, however, has been largely absent.

This paper assesses recent marijuana legalizations and related policies in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes.  We cannot rule out small effects of legalization, and insufficient time has elapsed since the four initial legalizations to allow strong inference.  On the basis of available data, however, we find little support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates of legalization. The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.

September 19, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

California's largest newspapers split on state's recreational marijuana use initiative

Last week, several of California’s largest newspapers weighed in on Proposition 64, the state’s November ballot initiative—also known as the Adult Use Imagesof Marijuana Act—that would legalize recreational marijuana use. The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle announced support for it. The Times offered the more comprehensive endorsement of the two, writing in part:

In November, Californians will again consider whether to legalize pot, this time with Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Voters will have to ask themselves whether the time has come to treat marijuana less like heroin and more like alcohol — as a regulated but acceptable product for adult use. Do the risks of legalization outweigh the costs of prohibition? Does Proposition 64 strike the right balance between allowing adult Californians to make their own recreational choices and protecting their health and safety? Does the measure put cannabis-industry profits ahead of public health? What does it mean that marijuana will be legal under California law but still illegal under federal law? 


On balance, the proposition deserves a “yes” vote. It is ultimately better for public health, for law and order and for society if marijuana is a legal, regulated and controlled product for adults. Proposition 64 — while not perfect — offers a logical, pragmatic approach to legalization that also would give lawmakers and regulators the flexibility to change the law to address the inevitable unintended consequences...


The Times urges a “yes” vote. 

The Times and The Chronicle agreed on most of the major points. Marijuana prohibition has burdened more than it has benefited society. Marijuana is already abundantly available in California; cities and municipalities can restrict and even ban marijuana businesses; and, the legislature retains the authority to amend the law. The 2010 legalization initiative was silly, but Proposition 64 fixes most of the previous attempt's shortcomings.

Conversely, The Sacramento Bee and The Fresno Bee (both owned by The McClatchy Group) came out against Proposition 64. The two editorials are strikingly similar—at times they are indeed identical. They claim the aim of legalization advocates is not social justice reform or public health, but big business. Both lament that there is no currently accepted device available to law enforcement to help them detect drivers impaired by marijuana use (although two devices are currently being field-tested). Both worry recreational use will lead to greater exposure of youths to the drug. Both are cynical about the motives of Proposition 64’s advocates, and both conclude with this warning:

[O]nce approved, laws adopted by initiative are all but impossible to roll back without going back to the electorate. For all the spin by backers about how carefully they wrote Proposition 64, the initiative is not fully baked. Or maybe it’s cooked just right for the entrepreneurs promoting it.*

While it's unclear whether old media sources actually retain enough gravitas to persuade readers, the Bees better hope they do because opposition efforts appear to have been futile thus far. Polls continue to show Californians heavily favor legalizing recreational marijuana use. Last week, the USC Dornsife/LATimes poll showed 58 percent of California voters back Proposition 64. Notably, public opposition to legalization actually appears to have declined slightly. In May, a Public Policy Institute of California poll found that 40 percent of Californians opposed the measure. The most recent numbers show only 34 percent of Californians currently expect to vote against it; and, a California Counts poll released earlier this month found just 26 percent of respondents felt that way.

Regardless of the strength of conclusions that can be drawn from these numbers, it’s clear that legalization opponents have failed to gain much traction with Californians. Perhaps the problem stems from an unwillingness to acknowledge the current reality—that, in terms of access to marijuana, the drug is already de facto legal in California. As The Times acknowledges:

The reality is that California has already, essentially, legalized marijuana. Virtually any adult can get a medical marijuana recommendation and buy pot products legally at a dispensary. And those who can’t be bothered to fake a headache or back pain can buy it on the black market without fear of going to jail. 


Proposition 64 would end the need for such ruses and deal a blow to the illegal market, which thrives on prohibition.

And The Chronicle:

Any serious discussion of marijuana legalization must begin with the acknowledgment of reality: Prohibition is not working. The drug is popular and readily available for recreational use, either through medical marijuana dispensaries, where 18-year-olds can purchase cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation, often after a nudge-and-a-wink; or a black market that continues to thrive.

The preceding statements certainly comport with my understanding of the current condition of the marijuana market in California.

Earlier this year, I met a doctor friend for dinner who regularly moonlights for a company that connects potential medical marijuana patients with prescribers. I asked her if she had ever rejected someone seeking a medical marijuana use license. “Of course!” she laughed. But, still chuckling, she added that its exceedingly rare and only happens when patients do not understand what constitutes a qualifying condition under California’s lax medical marijuana statute. When I asked her for an example, she recounted a recent high school graduate who had sought a medical marijuana license for the ankle he had twisted at a recent pick-up soccer match. Tellingly, however, she was not upset that he had tried to get a card. Rather, she was miffed mostly because the young man had not taken the time to “consult the internet” before making the appointment. If he had, she added facetiously, he would have realized that he suffers from recurring migraines. 

Put simply, if they hope to move the needle in their direction, marijuana legalization opponents must not only persuade voters that marijuana legalization will result in future societal harm; but also they must convince the millions of California voters living in marijuana-friendly municipalities that their communities are already suffering from it. With a dearth of data to support that view, convincing voters to change their minds could be a tall order. 

The San Diego Union Tribune has yet to take a position on Proposition 64, and The Orange County Register so far has declined to either support or oppose it. Earlier this year, both The San Jose Mercury News and The East Bay Times came out in support of the measure.

Here are several recent related posts on marijuana policy reform in California:

* In the last sentence The Fresno Bee describes the backers of Proposition 64 as “guys and gals” rather than “entrepreneurs.” 

September 19, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 16, 2016

If money really can "buy" elections, marijuana legalization in California should pass with nearly 98% of the vote

One of many reasons I find the politics of marijuana reform so interesting is because it can often provide interesting and telling (and often unexpected) lessons that can and should inform what we know and what we think we know about modern politics.   One theme in modern politics and criticisms thereof concerns the role of money in elections and the notion that an issue or candidate that raises enough money will be sure to prevail in an election no matter what the voters really think of the substantive merits of that issue or candidate.   Based on this recent reporting about some recent funding numbers surrounding the California marijuana legalization initiative, if this is true we should expect the pro-reform vote to win by a record-setting landslide:

California law enforcement organizations are giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight efforts to repeal the death penalty and legalize marijuana, according to a MapLight analysis.  While five of the 17 measures on the state’s November ballot concern crime and punishment, contributions from police groups are focused on three initiative battles [two on capital punishment and one on marijuana reform], the analysis found....

Police groups have contributed about 45 percent of the funding -- or $114,450 -- to the campaign against Proposition 64, a measure to legalize marijuana. The “no” campaign has raised a little more than $254,000, while supporters of the initiative have contributed about $11.5 million. Under state law, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction, punishable by a fine.

I have emphasized the line reporting that supporters of the marijuana reform initiative have in hand roughly 50 times more campaign resources to make their case to the voters. I do not find these campaign resource numbers at all surprising, but I also will not be surprised if it does not come anywhere close to translating into a landslide. (And if you want a firm prediction from me, as of this writing I am thinking that the marijuana reform initiative in California will pass by roughly a 55/45 margin.)

September 16, 2016 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, September 14, 2016

"Legal Cannabis in the US: Not Whether But How?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new paper authored by Sam Kamin. Here is the abstract:

The 2016 election promises to be a turning point in the history of marijuana regulation in this country.  Although the federal prohibition on all marijuana conduct remains in place, twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia currently authorize the medical use of marijuana and four states plus D.C. have legalized marijuana use by all adults.  Many more states are expected to vote on marijuana law reform this fall and these numbers are almost certain to grow; the end of federal marijuana prohibition may soon be close at hand.

But it is important to remember that federal drug policy – like the state-level drug reform that has preceded it – is not an all-or-nothing choice.  Federal lawmakers will not choose between the current system under which marijuana is prohibited in all circumstances and for all purposes and a world in which there are no limits placed on how marijuana is produced, distributed, and consumed.  

My goal in this essay is to describe the current, tenuous status of marijuana under state and federal law and then to investigate the various alternatives to prohibition available to federal lawmakers seeking to reform the nation’s marijuana laws.  I situate these alternatives on a continuum between the current federal prohibition and a relatively free market model similar to that in place in a state like Colorado.  Each of these models will have pluses and minuses and it is important that lawmakers firmly establish their goals in moving away from the prohibition of marijuana; winners and losers will be chosen in this area far sooner than many realize.

September 14, 2016 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)