Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I had a great time in San Francisco this weekend at Students for Sensible Drug Policy's western regional conference. Though the conference was Saturday, I stayed in the bay area for a few days longer to meet my newly born niece (I'm an Oakland native and most of my family is still in the area.) The conference was great and featured a fantastic keynote address from San Francisco's Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Most relevant to this blog was a panel on the future of marijuana reform in California, featuring Amanda Reiman (Drug Policy Alliance), Paul Armentano (NORML), Dale Sky Jones (Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform), and Perry Rosenstein (Marijuana Majority).
Among the interesting thoughts from the panelists:
• Amanda Reiman talked about the decision to wait until 2016 to run a legalization ballot measure in California. She said that given the loss in 2010, winning the next campaign in California is especially important. Two losses would make it tough to run another campaign in the near term. Because of the cost of running a ballot measure in California, and the fact that demographics make 2014 less certain than 2016, they decided not to go forward with a California ballot measure in 2014.
• Paul Armentano said he thought legalization through legislation may not be too far off, noting that New Hampshire House recently became the first legislative body to vote to legalize marijuana. He argued, however, that anything passed by legislatures is likely to be much more restrictive than Colorado and Washington's laws. He believes that this is because law-makers have a tendancy to over-regulate.
• Paul also talked about the differences between Colorado and Washington's laws, noting that Washington's was more restrictive (it does not permit home cultivation and included a marijuana DUI provision). He said that going into the election, the conventional wisdom was that Washington's additional restrictions would make the ballot measure more likely to pass but that the two laws ended up passing with about the same margin. He said that exit polling indicated this would not have been true in an off-year election. With an off-year election demographic, Washington's law would have still passed with about 55% of the vote. Colorado's would have been a toss-up.
• Dale Sky Jones argued that it is critical for California's legislature to enact medical marijuana regulations by 2015. She said that if California doesn't get regulations in place by 2015, the legislature will almost surely wait for the legalization measure in 2016. This would be problematic because, as the experiences in Colorado and Washington reveal, implementing a legalization law is much more difficult when there is a poorly regulated medical marijuana system (as was the case in Washington) than when there is a very robust medical marijuana regulatory system (as was the case in Colorado.) (Paul discussed the differences between Washington and Colorado in this regard as well.)
• Perry Rosenstein talked about messaging strategies when it comes to marijuana. He argued that visual design is incredibly important on this issue because anything that looks sloppy can reinforce the perception that advocates for legalization are pot-heads.
• Perry also raised an interesitng question: what happens if legal marijuana businesses in Washington and Colorado become established and start running legalization ballot measures in other states. To date, drug policy reform ballot measures have come from advocacy organizations. If the marijuana "industry" starts to run ballot measures, it could mean change comes more quickly. But, it could also result in initiatives that are drafted more in the interest of businesses behind the ballot measures than with public policy goals in mind. In response to this, Amanda mentioned that a vaporizer company has, apparently, been lobbying New York legislators to consider a medical marijuana law that would require patients to use vaporizor pens.
It was a very interesting discussion all around. I think the possibility of "industry" players running ballot measures is especially something to watch for. My own take is that this is unlikely in the near term (meaning 2014 or 2016), mainly because any ballot measure crafted by industry players would be more vulnerable to attacks from political opponents than one that is run by an advocacy organization (e.g., attacks like Project SAM's "big marijuana" argument.) I suspect that this dynamic may not deter industry-created ballot measures for all that long. And we may see one or more in 2016.
But if I had to guess, I would think 2018 is a more likely year for a wave of industry-created measures. If the current trend continues (and I will grant that this is not gauranteed), we will probably have at least 5 states with marijuana legalization laws after the 2016 election. By 2018, support for legalization would likely be more like 60% in favor than 50/50 (again if trends continue.) And, the marijuana industry should be pretty well established by then, at least in Colorado and Washington (and in any states that pass legalization in 2014.) In any event, if'and when this does happen, it could significantly change the landscape when it comes to marijuana law reform.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
One of many reasons I find state marijuana reform so interesting relates to how developments in this novel legal realm can and will interact with other more traditional bodies of law. A conversation today with a colleague got me to thinking especially about the potential intersection of state marijuana reform and traditional family law.
I wonder, for example, if one parent in a heated custody dispute in Colorado or Washington might now argue that even small state-legal personal marijuana use, because such use remains a federal offense, should be consider against the other parent seeking custody. Similarly, I wonder how judges in states like California with a robust medical marijuana industry might consider and equitably divide a couple's assets in a divorce if and whenever those assets involve what federal law would still consider contraband and/or evidence of a federal crime.
Perhaps some of these issues have been hashed out in some family law setting, and I would be eager to hear (via e-mail or comments) about any leading or noteworthy cases in this general area.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The title of this post is the reported title of a bill that, according to this Fox News report, is going to be introduced in Congress next week. Here are the details:
Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation next week aimed at preventing the misuse of the food stamp funds amid reports that welfare debit cards have been used to withdraw cash at ATMs at marijuana dispensaries in Colorado....
The bill would add pot dispensaries to the current list of locations where states must block welfare electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards from being used for purchases or ATM withdrawals, Reichert’s office told the station.
KDVR.com reported last week that at least 19 different dispensaries allowed electronic benefits transfer withdrawals inside their pot shops in January. Public records obtained by the station showed 56 transactions, totaling nearly $4,000.
A separate report by National Review Online said the amounts withdrawn ranged from $20 to $400, averaging $85.55. The maximum monthly benefit for the average household receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits is $462.
Last year, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting access to welfare benefits at casinos, gun shops, bars, and liquor stores. State lawmakers recently failed to pass legislation that would have prohibited such transactions at pot shops, NRO reported.
“It’s time to close this ‘pot shop loophole’ before it gets any bigger,” the lawmakers said in a letter circulated among House lawmakers and obtained by The Colorado Observer. “This bill does not comment on whether it makes sense for states to legalize the sale of pot, as Colorado and Washington have done,” the lawmakers wrote. “It simply says that, wherever pot is legally sold, welfare recipients shouldn’t be able to readily access welfare funds to pay for it.”
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Today's New York Times has this notable new front-page article headlined "Pivotal Point Is Seen as More States Consider Legalizing Marijuana." Here are some excerpts:
A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use. That has set up a watershed year in the battle over whether marijuana should be as available as alcohol.
Demonstrating how marijuana is no longer a strictly partisan issue, the two states considered likeliest this year to follow Colorado and Washington in outright legalization of the drug are Oregon, dominated by liberal Democrats, and Alaska, where libertarian Republicans hold sway.
Advocates of more lenient marijuana laws say they intend to maintain the momentum from their successes, heartened by national and statewide polls showing greater public acceptance of legalizing marijuana, President Obama’s recent musings on the discriminatory effect of marijuana prosecutions and the release of guidelines by his Treasury Department intended to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana businesses.
Their opponents, though, who also see this as a crucial year, are just as keen to slow the legalization drives. They are aided by a wait-and-see attitude among many governors and legislators, who seem wary of pushing ahead too quickly without seeing how the rollout of legal marijuana works in Colorado and Washington. “We feel that if Oregon or Alaska could be stopped, it would disrupt the whole narrative these groups have that legalization is inevitable,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which is spearheading much of the effort to stop these initiatives. “We could stop that momentum.”...
At least 14 states — including Florida, where an initiative has already qualified for the ballot — are considering new medical marijuana laws this year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, and 12 states and the District of Columbia are contemplating decriminalization, in which the drug remains illegal, but the penalties are softened or reduced to fines. Medical marijuana use is already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
An even larger number of states, at least 17, have seen bills introduced or initiatives begun to legalize the drug for adult use along the lines of alcohol, the same approach used in Colorado and Washington, but most of those efforts are considered unlikely of success this year.
The allure of tax revenues is also becoming a powerful selling point in some states, particularly after Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado said last week that taxes from legal marijuana sales would be $134 million in the coming fiscal year, much higher than had been predicted when the measure was passed in 2012....
Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, are mobilizing across the country to slow the momentum, keeping a sharp eye on Colorado for any problems in the rollout of the new law there. “Legalization almost had to happen in order for people to wake up and realize they don’t want it,” Mr. Sabet said. “In a strange way, we feel legalization in a few states could be a blessing.”...
While much of the recent attention has focused on these legalization efforts, medical marijuana may also cross what its backers consider an important threshold this year — most notably in the South where Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are among the states considering such laws....
Election data, compiled by Just Say Now, a pro-marijuana group, showed that the percentage of the vote that came from people under 30 increased significantly from 2008 to 2012 in states that had marijuana initiatives. This youth vote, predominantly Democratic, rose to 20 percent from 14 percent in Colorado, and to 22 percent from 10 percent in Washington, both far above the 1 percent rise in the national youth vote....
A narrow majority of Americans — 51 percent — believe marijuana should be legal, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week, matching the result in a CBS News poll the previous month. In 1979, when The Times and CBS first asked the question, only 27 percent wanted cannabis legalized. There were stark differences in the new poll, though. While 72 percent of people under 30 favored legalization, only 29 percent of those over 65 agreed. And while about a third of Republicans now favored legalization, this was far below the 60 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents who did so....
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading advocate for legalizing marijuana, said campaigns were already underway to stage aggressive legalization drives in several states over the next couple of years, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and possibly Montana. “It is certainly important to maintain the momentum,” Mr. Tvert said, “But I don’t think we can look at any one election cycle and see what the future holds. This is going to be a multiyear effort.”
I do not disagree with the general view that 2014 is a "watershed year" concerning discussion and debate over marijuana reform (and this was one big reason I developed a taught a seminar on the topic at my law school last Fall). But, as the title of this post highlights, I have come to believe that a much broader set of social and political forces help account for modern marijuana reform movement. The forces include, inter alia, a growing distrust of all government among both left-leaning and right-leaning opinion leaders over the last 15 years, growing evidence that the many aspects of the drug war may do more harm than some drugs, the failure of Big Pharma to provide effective pain relief (without too many side effects) to many who suffer from a range of serious medial problems, and changing labor and economic realities that change to cost/benefit realities of pot prohibition versus pot regulation.
I am happy to see the front-page of the NY Times discuss the various 2014 short-term realities that may impact marijuana reform over the next few years. But I would be especially eager to hear from readers concerning what they think are broader social and political forces that will shape these stories over the next few decades.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Saturday, February 22, 2014
The title of this post is the amusing subheadline of this amusing marijuana human interest story that has been making the rounds the last few days. The main headline of this Time report is "Smart Cookie: Girl Scout Sets Up Shop Outside Marijuana Dispensary," and here are the details:
You don’t need a MBA to know that the key to sales is to know your demographic. That’s why Girl Scout Danielle Lei should earn a merit badge in business for setting up shop outside of a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco.
Lei sold 117 boxes of Dulce de Leches and Tagalong Girl Scout cookies during a two-hour stint outside The Green Cross pharmacy over Presidents Day weekend. According to her mother, Lei sold 37 more boxes catering to the munchies crowd than what she sold during the same two-hour period outside a Safeway store the next day, proving once again that when it comes to business it’s all about location, location, location.
“It’s no secret that cannabis is a powerful appetite stimulant, so we knew this would be a very beneficial endeavor for the girls,” Holli Bert, a staff member at The Green Cross, told Mashable. “It’s all about location, and what better place to sell Girl Scout cookies than outside a medical cannabis collective?”
No MBA or Glengarry Glen Ross style motivational speech necessary for this smart cookie.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of other media outlets were also giving this story attention, and this AP story from Phoenix suggests that other Girl Scouts are taking notice:
Customers of some medical marijuana dispensaries are finding they don't have to go far if they have a case of the munchies. Girl Scouts seem to be foregoing the usual supermarket stops for selling their beloved cookies.
A few days after a teenager sold dozens of cookie boxes outside a San Francisco pot dispensary, 8-year-old Lexi Menees will return to Trumed Dispensary in Phoenix on Saturday for the same purpose. The girl's mother, Heidi Carney, got the idea after hearing about what happened in San Francisco. The family says Lexi sold more than 50 boxes on Friday.
Susan de Queljoe, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts—Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, says this is not something the organization would encourage but that it's up to the parents.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
The question in the title of this post might be a bit of foolish wishful thinking on my part, but these passages from this notable new New York Times article provides the foundation for my (undue?) optimism:
[S]cience’s answers to crucial questions about driving while stoned — how dangerous it is, how to test for impairment, and how the risks compare to driving drunk — have been slow to reach the general public. “Our goal is to put out the science and have it used for evidence-based drug policy,” said Marilyn A. Huestis, a senior investigator at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “But I think it’s a mishmash.”
A 2007 study found that 12 percent of the drivers randomly stopped on American highways on Friday and Saturday nights had been drinking. (In return for taking part in the study, intoxicated drivers were told they would not be arrested, just taken home.) Six percent of the drivers tested positive for marijuana — a number that is likely to go up with increased availability. Some experts and officials are concerned that the campaign against drunken driving has not gotten through to marijuana smokers.
“We’ve done phone surveys, and we’re hearing that a lot of people think D.U.I. laws don’t apply to marijuana,” said Glenn Davis, highway safety manager at the Department of Transportation in Colorado, where recreational marijuana use became legal on Jan. 1. “And there’s always somebody who says, ‘I drive better while high.’ ”
Evidence suggests that is not the case. But it also suggests that we may not have as much to fear from stoned driving as from drunken driving. Some researchers say that limited resources are better applied to continuing to reduce drunken driving. Stoned driving, they say, is simply less dangerous.
Still, it is clear that marijuana use causes deficits that affect driving ability, Dr. Huestis said. She noted that several researchers, working independently of one another, have come up with the same estimate: a twofold increase in the risk of an accident if there is any measurable amount of THC in the bloodstream....
The estimate is low, however, compared with the dangers of drunken driving. A recent study of federal crash data found that 20-year-old drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent — the legal limit for driving — had an almost 20-fold increase in the risk of a fatal accident compared with sober drivers. For older adults, up to age 34, the increase was ninefold.
The study’s lead author, Eduardo Romano, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said that once he adjusted for demographics and the presence of alcohol, marijuana did not statistically increase the risk of a crash. “Despite our results, I still think that marijuana contributes to crash risk,” he said, “only that its contribution is not as important as it was expected.”
The difference in risk between marijuana and alcohol can probably be explained by two things, Dr. Huestis and Dr. Romano both say. First, stoned drivers drive differently from drunken ones, and they have different deficits. Drunken drivers tend to drive faster than normal and to overestimate their skills, studies have shown; the opposite is true for stoned drivers. “The joke with that is Cheech and Chong being arrested for doing 20 on the freeway,” said Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the U.C.L.A. School of Public Affairs....
Another factor is location. A lot of drinking is done in bars and clubs, away from home, with patrons driving to get there and then leaving by car. By contrast, marijuana smokers tend to get high at home....
All of these facts lead experts like Dr. Romano and Dr. Kleiman to believe that public resources are better spent combating drunken driving. Stoned driving, they say, is best dealt with by discouraging people from mixing marijuana and alcohol — a combination that is even riskier than alcohol alone — and by policies that minimize marijuana’s risk on the road.
For instance, states that legalize recreational marijuana, Dr. Kleiman said, should ban establishments like pot bars that encourage people to smoke away from home. And Dr. Romano said that lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration, or B.A.C., to 0.05 or even 0.02 percent would reduce risk far more effectively than any effort to curb stoned driving. “I’m not saying marijuana is safe,” he said. “But to me it’s clear that lowering the B.A.C. should be our top priority. That policy would save more lives.”
My supposition based on this article that marijuana reforms could end up making our roadways much safer is a result of two potential impacts of ending pot prohibition: (1) if marijuana reform leads a number of people who would generally go get drunk at a bar to instead now just get stoned at home, the net effect will be safer roads, and (2) if enduring concerns about the impact of marijuana reform leads more policy-makers to focus on highway harms, we might see a greater effort to get much tougher on the enduring public safety disaster that is drinking and driving.
I am not expecting that we will get strong evidence that marijuana reforms end up making our roadways much safer anytime soon, but I am hopeful that researchers like Dr. Romano and Dr. Kleiman continue to stress that our modern alcohol policies and practices now impact highway safety much more than any marijuana reforms are likely to do. And, as these related recent articles also highlight, the media so far is doing a pretty good job defusing the risk of misguided reefer madness when it comes to driving under the influence:
From the Denver Post: "Colorado marijuana legalization's impact on stoned driving unknown
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new report on the latest notable legal frontier concerning marijuana law and reforms. Here are the basics:
The publisher of marijuana magazine High Times has sued the state of Colorado in federal court over the state’s rules preventing recreational cannabis businesses from advertising in most publications. High Times, along with local weekly magazine Westword, filed the lawsuit on Monday. It marks the first time anyone has challenged the restrictions in court.
The rules allow recreational marijuana businesses to advertise only in publications that are adult-oriented. According to the state’s rules, recreational marijuana stores can advertise only in a publication that “has reliable evidence that no more than 30 percent of the publication’s readership is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21.” There is no such restriction on medical marijuana businesses.
The lawsuit argues the rules, which also restrict television, radio and outdoor advertising, are an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. The magazines are “chilled from soliciting advertisements from prospective clients and prevented from making revenue from clients who wish to engage in advertising concerning marijuana-related products and services,” the lawsuit’s complaint states....
It is also unclear how the suit’s filing in federal court will impact the judge’s assessment of its claim that the ads concern “lawful activity,” since marijuana is illegal federally. But publications have previously had success in federal court in overturning another Colorado marijuana law — one that required marijuana-themed publications to be kept behind the counter at stores.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Though I think we may be nearing the point of inevitability when it comes to marijuana legalization, we aren't there yet. There's a chance that as things move forward, we will see a backlash that reverses the current trend.
If I had to pick issues that could potentially cause such a backlash, the risks of marijuana candies would be near the top of the list. And for good reason. Marijuana candies pose serious policy concerns.
Products that are packaged like and taste like candy can be easily mistaken as regular candy. And we all know who loves candy--kids. Perhaps just as important, many marijuana candies contain so much marijuana that the suggested serving size may be 1/4 or 1/10 of the candy. This is particularly odd when one considers that some of these candies come in the form of a single gummy bear or bon-bon style sweet. When most people see a single gummy bear or bon bon, they assume they should eat the whole thing. But if you were to eat an entire marijuana gummy in one serving, you could end up high out of your mind.
Two new New York Times pieces discuss this problem. In one, a mother recounts how her son had to go to the emergency room after eating a roommate's marijuana candy bar. In the other, the writer begins: "This is not what I thought marijuana looked like."
Those of us who favor marijuana legalization would be wise to take these concerns very seriously. There are real public health and safety risks that come from people--particularly children-- accidentally ingesting super-strong marijuana candies (or ingesting on purpose, but without realizing that one gummy is meant to be consumed in four servings.)
In terms of the politics, I think the "this is not what I thought marijuana looked like" sentiment is particularly noteworthy. I suspect that many voters who supported legalization in Colorado and Washington had no idea that it might result in the sale of sophisticated candies (or even that such candies were even possible.) And if enough of the folks in this group don't like what they see when they learn about marijuana candy, it is entirely possible they might sour on legalization generally.
To be sure, I don't think we are anywhere near seeing a political backlash because of this issue. But marijuana advocates would be foolish to ignore the possibility of one developing.
February 11, 2014 in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 10, 2014
Taking up Mark Kleiman's argument that marijuana rescheduling would be meaningless, Jacob Sullum has this excellent piece on Forbes.com, in which he notes:
From the perspective of people who believe marijuana should be legalized for medical or general use, the advantages of [rescheduling] are not as substantial as you might think. But neither are they, as UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman claims, “identically zero.” Moving marijuana to a less restrictive legal category would have some significant practical effects, perhaps the most important of which would be to advance a more honest discussion of marijuana’s hazards and benefits.
The whole thing is well worth reading.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The Super Bowl may be behind us, but the question of marijuana use by NFL players is not. The latest, Jets Player Antonio Cromartie says he thinks it is time for the NFL to let the issue go:
Cromartie said in an interview with Thisis50.com, a website launched by rapper 50 Cent, that he thinks the NFL should take marijuana off the banned substances list.
“They need to just let it go,” Cromartie said, via Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We’re just going to do it anyway. They just need to let it go. They need to go ahead and say, ‘Y’all go ahead, smoke it, do what you need to do.’ “
Cromartie may be a free agent this off-season. It will be interesting to see if this impacts interest in him among NFL teams (and, in the nearer team, whether his agent or some Jets media rep will encourage Cromartie to retract or "clarify" his comments.)
As reported in this lengthy local article, "Alaska moved one big step closer Tuesday to a public vote on legalizing marijuana." Here are the details:
On Tuesday, a ballot initiative campaign to decriminalize and regulate pot reached the signature threshold necessary under state election law to put the issue on the Aug. 19 primary ballot.
If the measure passes, Alaska would become the third state in the nation, after Colorado and Washington, to allow cannabis for recreational use. Backers modeled the proposed initiative after Colorado's new law, which regulates and taxes marijuana similarly to alcohol.
Alaska's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana reached the signature threshold on Tuesday morning, when totals posted on the Alaska Division of Elections' website showed that 31,593 valid voter signatures had been counted. State election law requires 30,000 signatures. Ballot initiative backers also met a requirement to gather signatures from voters in at least 30 of 40 House districts. "They have hit the magic numbers," said state elections director Gail Fenumiai....
Reaching the signature requirement was the last major hurdle to getting the question on the Aug. 19 primary election ballot. There, Alaskans will decide on legal pot along other big questions for the state, including a controversial oil-tax referendum, an initiative that would require legislative approval for future large-scale mines in the Bristol Bay region and potentially a boost to the minimum wage.
All that -- plus a contested U.S. Senate race primary -- could draw large numbers of voters, said Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster and campaign consultant. "The primary election is looking at being one of the highest turnout primaries we've had ever, I think," he said. It's not clear how that will play for the marijuana question....
In a 2004 Ivan Moore Research poll that asked if pot should be decriminalized, only 38 percent of Alaskans said yes. By 2010, the number jumped to 43 percent when Alaskans were asked if pot should be legalized. A 2013 poll by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling firm on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project found that 54 percent of Alaskans polled would vote yes on a ballot initiative. "There has been phenomenal change," Moore said.
So far, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana has mostly been funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that is the largest marijuana policy reform group in the country. The group has contributed $1,000 in cash and $3,757 in services and other in-kind donations, according to Alaska Public Offices Commission campaign disclosure reports. Four individual donors had contributed a total of $1,800 as of Jan. 11....
A national anti-legalization group headed by Patrick Kennedy has said it plans to campaign against the ballot initiative. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, like its opponent the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, appears to be selling its side of the issue as the only approach compatible with the Alaskan value of independence.
"Smart Approaches to Marijuana has been approached by Alaskan activists who don't want to see the safety problems and burdensome government regulation that would come with legalization," wrote spokesman Kevin Sabet in an email Tuesdsay. Sabet wouldn't say who those Alaskan activists were. Plans will be announced later this spring, he wrote.
[Taylor Bickford, who works for Strategies 360] said that argument won't far. "I don't think Alaskans are going to have a member of the Kennedy family from the East Coast telling us how to live our lives," Bickford said.
Recent related post:
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting article from the Washington Post headlined "Faith leaders wrestle over growing support for marijuana." Here are excerpts:
Sunday’s Super Bowl was dubbed by some as the “pot bowl,” as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks hail from the two states where fans can soon get marijuana as easily as they can get pizza. As public opinion has shifted in support of legalized marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.
According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favor legalizing the use of marijuana. On the other side, nearly seven-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose it.
Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalization and 50 percent opposing it. Opinions on how states should handle those who possess or sell marijuana varies among Christian leaders.
Caught in the middle of the debate are pastors, theologians and other religious leaders, torn over how to uphold traditional understandings of sin and morality amid a rapidly changing tide of public opinion.
Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for several prominent evangelicals including Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, admits he takes a view that might not be held by most Christian leaders. “When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said. “None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.”
Alcohol abuse, he said, is a much more serious issue. President Obama suggested something similar to The New Yorker recently when he said that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.
But don’t expect pastors to start preaching in line with DeMoss, who said he has not seen much comment from religious leaders on the issue. “If a pastor said some of what I said, there would be some who would feel the pastor was compromising on a moral issue,” he said. “No one wants to risk looking like they’re in favor of marijuana. I’m not in favor, but I think we should address how high of a priority it should be.”...
Laws on marijuana have disproportionately impacted minorities, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “There are community programs that can better engage young people than incarceration,” he said. “Many black and brown lives are destroyed because of incarceration.”...
Most Christians are still reluctant to favor legalization, Rodriguez said, since the effects of marijuana aren’t much different from getting drunk, which is a biblical no-no. “It has the ability of diluting reason, behavior, putting your guard down,” he said. “We are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and it has the ability of hindering a clear thought process.”
Some who favor legalized marijuana liken the Christians who oppose it to be like the early 20th-century evangelicals and fundamentalists who supported a federal prohibition on alcohol. Part of a move in the Republican Party toward a loosening on marijuana legislation could be coming from people who also would sympathize with the Tea Party, said Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“I definitely think there’s been a coalition of ‘leave us alone’ libertarians and Woodstock nation progressives on this issue of marijuana,” Moore said. “I do think there has been an effort to stigmatize those with concerns as Carrie Nations holding on to prohibition.”
Sunday, February 2, 2014
As is now common, this past week brought a lot of interesting new stories and commentary in the traditional and new media about new marijuana laws and practices throughout the United States. But, with the biggest annual US sporting event now only a few hours away, I figured I should focus my regular round-up of interesting marijuana news and commentary on matters related to the Super Bowl:
From the AP here, "THC-Hawks? Pot Puns Pack This Super Bowl"
From the Baltimore Sun here, "Ayanbadejo says teammates on one of his Super Bowl teams used marijuana week of game"
From BuzzFeed here, "17 Marijuana Snacks To Eat During The Stoner Bowl, AKA the Bud Bowl, aka Super Bowl XLVIII."
From the Denver Business Journal here, "Pot, Super Bowl don’t mix for most people, poll finds"
From Forbes here, "Dueling Pot Billboards At The Stoner Bowl: Marijuana Is Safer Vs. Marijuana Will Ruin Your Life"
- From a local Seattle Fox station here, "From marijuana to sushi, businesses are riding the Super Bowl frenzy"
From Rolling Stone here, "Which Super Bowl Team's State Is Better for Weed? Comparing the legal marijuana laws for Broncos and Seahawks fans"
- From the Seattle Times here, "Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch inspires Beast Mode pot"
From Time here , "Pot Will See Sales Spike For Super Bowl, Just Like Pizza
From the Washington Post here, "The Super Bowl is the latest front in the fight over legalizing marijuana"
Some recent related posts:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
- "Super Bowl Attracts a Marijuana Message"
- "Football, Pain and Marijuana"
- NFL not yet actively considering marijuana policy change
Friday, January 31, 2014
I'm late in joining the exchange between Doug and Rob on local control of marijuana policy. A couple of years ago, I chaired a City of San Diego task force on local regulation of medical marijuana. In California, there is very little state-wide regulation of medical marijuana (approaching zero.) And, in the absence of state control, it has been up to localities to fill the void.
The San Diego City Council established the task force on which I served in 2009 and we gave the City our recommendations in 2010. Although the City Council passed an ordinance based in large part on our recommendations, it was rescinded after a backlash from dispensary owners (who used a quirky signature gathering procedure that we have to force Council's hand on the issue). Today, San Diego has no medical marijuana ordinance and dispensaries operate in a gray area here (to the extent they are able to operate at all.)
My experience on the task force convinced me more than ever of the value in state-wide regulation when it comes to marijuana policy. There are many aspects of marijuana policy that cities and counties are really not equipped to handle. And plenty of others that can be addressed locally but are much more efficiently handled at the state level.
That said, I do think there is real value in local control on some points. I lean towards Doug's view that cities and counties should be permitted to ban retail sale of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, for example. I think this sort of local control would be likely to help reform efforts overall, since residents in deeply prohibitionist counties and cities might be less concerned about statewide legalization if they can prevent "pot shops" from operating where they live. (My position is much different when it comes medical marijuana, where I've found that the sickest patients with the greatest need are the ones who suffer most when they don't have access to local dispensaries.)
When local control goes beyond land use and retail stores, however, then Rob's concern about the complexity of a dis-uniform regime becomes much more persuasive to me. It is one thing for a city or country to be able to ban retail marijuana sales (or regulate hours of operation, zoning, outdoor signage, etc.) It's quite another if cities can regulate, for example, the THC content in products that are sold. Or, even more problematic, if a locality had the power to ban transportation of marijuana or to re-criminalize personal possession by adults. For a state-wide regulatory scheme to function well, a marijuana manufacturer in one part of Washington needs to be be able to transport marijuana across the state without being subjected to a patchwork system of transportation regulations and outright transportation bans.
In California, an appeals court recently held that localities can ban all medical marijuana cultivation--even a single plant. The ruling, if adopted by other appeals courts (or the California Supreme Court), could leave patients in many parts of the state without any legal way to access marijuana. I think that is a serious problem and at-odds with the intent of California's Proposition 215.
All this is to say, when it comes to localism, I think the devil is in the details. On some points, like banning the retail sale of recreational marijuana, the benefits of local control may justify the costs. But on other items, like THC content or product labeling, I think state-wide uniformity is critical.
January 31, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (3)
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times piece, which includes these passages:
The Marijuana Policy Project, one of the main groups behind the push to legalize marijuana possession in Colorado, posted advertisements on billboards near Mile High Stadium before the first game of the Broncos’ season on Sept. 5.
Now the group has spent $5,000 to rent several 60-foot-wide billboards in New Jersey, within easy driving distance of MetLife Stadium, where the Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday....
The message is directed at the National Football League, just as it was in Denver, and is repeated in a petition the marijuana group plans to deliver to the N.F.L. on Wednesday. “Why are players punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?” asked Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the group. “In Colorado and Washington State, this is now a legal product, and the N.F.L. has no legitimate reason to be policing marijuana use by players.”...
N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, indicated last week that the league might reconsider its policy on marijuana for medicinal purposes, if research showed that it was a viable treatment for concussions.
There is also a lighter side to the discussion of marijuana and the Super Bowl. There have been many jokes about how Super Bowl XLVIII will be the “stoner bowl” because the Broncos and the Seahawks are from the two states that have moved to legalize marijuana. Bryan Weinman said that was the instigation for the website www.stonerbowl.org.
“It got hatched over a table of beers before the playoff games,” said Mr. Weinman, who has been a nightclub D.J. in Denver. He added that he and several friends “got to joking about what happens if Denver and Seattle ended up in the S.B., how many endless puns would be made by the average individual.”
“We got the easy ones out of the way,” he continued, “and it evolved into somebody saying, ‘What would happen if we put some of this on a T-shirt?' ” And no, he said, they are not marijuana users themselves.
Some recent related posts:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
Monday, January 27, 2014
I’ve heard it said that if you like federalism, you’ll love localism. The idea is that some of the key benefits of devolving policy onto the states, such as the ability to tailor policies to fit geographic preferences, can be realized to an even greater degree by devolving policy onto localities. If control of marijuana policy is handed to the states, for example, then the people of Mississippi can ban the drug while the people of Colorado legalize it. More people are happy with this outcome than the same policy were foisted on both states. But if local communities within both states were allowed to opt out of the choice made by their respective state majorities, even more people would be happy with the outcome. What is more, since most of the costs and benefits of marijuana likely fall upon people who live near users and distributors (e.g., the cost of drugged driving accidents), such devolution would not present a collective action problem. Perhaps this is why Doug welcomes the idea of legalization states like Colorado giving local governments the ability to ban marijuana in their borders. Let the voters of each locality decide what to do because they’ll ultimately bear the costs and benefits of their choices.
I can see the upside of granting local control. But I think giving local governments a say over whether marijuana is legal has some overlooked costs, and these costs could outweigh the benefits of localism.
First, there is a cost to adding one more decision-maker into the mix. If localities are empowered to ban (or legalize) marijuana, policy advocates will now have to lobby three (or even more) different layers of government to secure their preferred policy outcome. The time and resources spent trying to persuade Congress, the Executive branch, 50 state legislatures (and electorates), 50 state governors, and literally thousands (if not tens of thousands) of localities about how best to regulate marijuana represents a significant cost. Perhaps it’s the price of democracy. But I suspect the arguments that would be made before local city councils would be (and are) largely a rehash of well-worn arguments already being heard on national and state stages: Is marijuana safe? Is prohibition effective? Is this mic on? and so on. I doubt the gains from granting every local government the ability to opt out of legalization (or prohibition) outweigh the costs of having to make the same basic decision again and again and again.
A second related cost stems from the complexity inherent in such a dis-uniform localist regime. This cost will be greater the more leeway local governments have in dealing with marijuana. Indeed, there could be endless variation in terms of how local governments choose to regulate the drug. And such variation wouldn’t necessarily reflect the unique and deep seated preferences of local voters, as opposed to what the different officials assigned to translate mandates into legal text had for lunch. But the variation would increase the costs of compliance, as businesses will have to spend more to understand differences in regulations across the jurisdictions in which they operate.
Third, the variation in local laws makes it more difficult to learn from the experiments now underway. Variation is, of course, inherent in any experiment. Indeed, other states could potentially learn a great deal from the novel policies now being crafted by Colorado and Washington: how much tax revenue can be raised, how much usage will rise, etc., in the wake of legalization. But it’s much tougher for other states to learn when the experiment is not carefully controlled. If the 64 counties comprising Colorado all adopt different marijuana regulations, we may never know whether state reforms have impacted usage rates, driving fatalities, crime rates, etc., especially since some data are simply available only on a state-wide level.
Fourth, the policy choices made by local governments can impose indirect externalities on other parts of the state. For example, if one county were to ban the sale of marijuana, its residents might flock to neighboring counties to buy the drug. To be sure, there’s an upside to this: counties that allow distribution would enjoy a tax windfall from marijuana tourism. But those counties might prefer not to be deluged with the added car traffic and its attendant costs. The problem is, there may be no legal or practical way for them to exclude non-residents from their borders.
Of course, similar problems arise when state governments break from federal policy, but the costs are likely to be much lower given the larger size and relatively small number of state governments. At bottom, I doubt there is a strong normative justification for allowing local governments to opt-out of marijuana prohibition or legalization. I suspect granting them this choice may simply reflect a political compromise, designed to lessen opposition to state legalization in more conservative parts of the states.
January 27, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (6)
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new front-page New York Times article, which is headlined "Cannabis Legal, Localities Begin to Just Say No." Here is how the article gets started:
The momentum toward legalized marijuana might seem like an inevitable tide, with states from Florida to New York considering easing laws for medical use, and a full-blown recreational industry rapidly emerging in Colorado and here in Washington State.
But across the country, resistance to legal marijuana is also rising, with an increasing number of towns and counties moving to ban legal sales. The efforts, still largely local, have been fueled by the opening, or imminent opening, of retail marijuana stores here and in Colorado, as well as by recent legal opinions that have supported such bans in some states.
At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues from marijuana sales — promised by legalization’s supporters and now eagerly anticipated by state governments — that could be sharply reduced if local efforts to ban such sales expand.
But the fight also signals a larger battle over the future of legal marijuana: whether it will be a national industry providing near-universal access, or a patchwork system with isolated islands of mainly urban sales. To some partisans, the debate has echoes to the post-Prohibition era, when “dry towns” emerged in some states in response to legalized alcohol. “At some point we have to put some boundaries,” said Rosetta Horne, a nondenominational Christian church minister here in Yakima, at a public hearing on Tuesday night where she urged the City Council to enact a permanent ban on marijuana businesses.
Though it seems strongest in more rural and conservative communities, the resistance has been surprisingly bipartisan. In states from Louisiana to Indiana that are discussing decriminalizing marijuana, Republican opponents of relaxing the drug laws are finding themselves loosely allied with Democratic skeptics. Voices in the Obama administration concerned about growing access have joined antidrug crusaders like Patrick J. Kennedy, a Democratic former United States representative from Rhode Island, who contends that the potential health risks of marijuana have not been adequately explored, especially for juveniles — and who has written and spoken widely about his own struggles with alcohol and prescription drugs.
“In some ways I think the best thing that could have happened to the anti-legalization movement was legalization, because I think it shows people the ugly side,” said Kevin A. Sabet, a former drug policy adviser to President Obama and the executive director and co-founder, with Mr. Kennedy, of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The group, founded last year, supports removing criminal penalties for using marijuana, but opposes full legalization, and is working with local organizations around the nation to challenge legalization. “If legalization advocates just took a little bit more time and were not so obsessed with doing this at a thousand miles per hour,” he added, “it might be better. Instead, they are helping precipitate a backlash.”
In Washington, the Yakima County Commission has already said that it plans to ban marijuana businesses in the unincorporated areas outside Yakima city. Clark County, Washington, is considering a ban on recreational sales that would affect the huge marijuana market in Portland, Ore., just across the Columbia River. And the state’s second most populous county, Pierce, just south of Seattle, said last month it would bar recreational businesses from opening.
By my lights, I think everyone eager for the sound and sensible reform of modern marijuana laws and policies should be pleased if and when localities have authority and decide to preserve pot prohibition. If legalization ends up having all the benefits that reformers believe it will have, then over time localities are likely to ease any prohibitions they preserve now. And if local communities are initially inclined to assume the worst about the impact of reform, it would seem better that they get to continue to embrace pot prohibition as the modern reform experiment unfolds in more receptive communities.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
I am grateful for all the great commentary being added by the guest bloggers of late, especially because the traditional media continue now to do be doing a pretty good job of covering some of the major modern marijuana reform news. Still, with another weekend bringing many new marijuana worthy of attention, I am going to once again set forth headlines and links those pieces that struck me as especially noteworthy:
- From the Christian Science Monitor here, "US marijuana policy edges toward acceptance"
From Forbes here, Until 100% Legal, Banks to Turn Away Marijuana Money Forbes"
From FoxNews here "Marijuana export could pay off Hawaii’s debts, lawmaker says"
- From the Newark Star-Ledger here, "Legalize marijuana in NJ? One lawmaker says yes"
From the Tamba Bay Times here, "Medical marijuana advocates meet Florida ballot goal"
From USA Today here, "Texas Gov. Perry shocks some with comments on marijuana"
Friday, January 24, 2014
This morning I appeared on Nevada public radio to talk about recent developments on medical marijuana in the state. One of the other guests was Joe Brezny, a former Nevada state director for Mitt Romney and current head of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association.
Brezny had an interesting take about recent statements from President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about marijuana. He said he thought Obama and Reid (in part) may have been trying to bait Republican politicians into coming out strongly on the other side. Although Republican voters are much more prohibitionist than Democratic voters overall, a good chunk of the party's base favors legalization and--perhaps more importantly--a much larger percentage is skeptical of federal interference with state laws.
I don't know if Brezny's theory is true. But if it is, Republicans didn't take the bait this week. In fact, the past few days have seen a number of prominent Republican politicians express support for easing marijuana laws. Like Obama and Reid's statements, the comments have been tepid. But it is a very interesting dynamic nonetheless.
Indeed, this reaction might tell us more about the political state of marijuana policy than what Obama and Reid said themselves. There was a time when any statement in support of marijuana law reform, however mild, would have generated a swift and certain backlash from political opponents (especially if the support was coming from a Democratic politician.)
But this week, instead of a backlash, we saw this:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Thursday that he's open to marijuana decriminalization in the Lone Star state.
“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization," Perry said at a World Economic Forum panel on drug legalization in Davos, Switzerland, according to the San Antonio Express-News. He was referring to "drug courts" in the state that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses.
A Perry spokeswoman confirmed to the Express-News that while Perry is opposed to legalization of the drug because of medical issues, the governor supports policies that lower punishments for marijuana use in order to keep smokers out of jail.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday (Jan. 22) he would be open to the idea of medical marijuana use becoming legal in Louisiana, as long as patients were under the close supervision of a doctor and the drug's distribution was tightly controlled.
Governor Chris Christie today took the oath of office for a second term and delivered his inaugural address at the War Memorial in Trenton. During his inaugural address he called for an end to the drug war and compassion for those suffering from drug addiction.
“We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse. We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands this simple truth: every life has value and no life is disposable,” Christie said during his inaugural speech this morning.
By my count, that's three Republicans rumored to be considering 2016 presidential bids expressing support for easing drug laws. Thinking about the politics of these issues 10, 5 or even 1 or 2 years ago, this trend is something to behold.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article appearing in The Atlantic. I am pleased that my law school seminar, Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, is discussed in the piece, and I am even more pleased to learn from the article that at least one other law school is now innovating in this interesting new legal space:
Professors who found an intersection between the cannabis issue and their own area of study are not the only ones pushing to introduce cannabis to higher education. Rehman Bhalesha, a South Texas College of Law student, approached the dean about wanting to establish a drug policy institute at the law school that concentrated on the legalization of cannabis. Instead, the school started a collaboration with Rice University's Baker Institute, which already focused on drug policy. The first class at South Texas College of Law, which covered cannabis legislation, was taught last spring semester. It is offered again this semester.
“Internally, the administration is really thrilled about it because it’s something innovative. And the students are excited because they get to feel like they’re putting their legal knowledge to use and to do something that might have a lasting impact in the real world. They’re not just taking exams and doing make-believe projects. We’re taking what they draft and turning it over to people who have been approached by state legislators asking for ideas,” said Dru Stevenson, the professor who teaches the legislation course.
Students in the legislation class have a range of personal feelings about cannabis. Some feel all drugs should be legalized, others think cannabis should be legalized for medical purposes only, while a few others think all drugs are bad. But Stevenson said even those who think no one should ever consume cannabis recognize the trend toward relaxing cannabis laws from a historical perspective.
“I teach a lot of courses, but I’ve never had one where people were emailing me months in advance wanting to make sure that I’m going to be offering the course and wishing they could reserve a seat ahead of time,” Stevenson said.