Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Big new public health analysis of marijuana legalization proposals in California

Download (2)As reported in this local piece out of California, "Researchers warn legal marijuana could be next Big Tobacco," a pair of public health scholars have produced this interesting new report examining marijuana reform proposals in Califronia from a public health persepctive.  Here is the start of the press account of the report and some reaction thereto:

A ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana would likely launch a new profit-driven industry similar to Big Tobacco that could impede public health efforts, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.  The 66-page analysis, released Tuesday, is the first in-depth look at the state’s main effort to legalize recreational marijuana this year.

Researchers said they began with the premise that legalizing marijuana makes sense because its prohibition has put too many people behind bars and cost taxpayers too much money.  But they concluded the two potential initiatives they examined would replace a crime problem with a public health issue.

The authors, Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz, of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy, said the measure most likely to qualify for the ballot establishes a regulatory system similar to the one used for alcohol.  They said it would have been better to pattern the guidelines after the state’s Tobacco Control Program, which they credited with reducing the health effects and costs related to tobacco.

“Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the report states.

In an interview, Glantz said treating marijuana like cigarettes could drive down its popularity.  “The goal (should be) to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” he said.

He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of money to curry favor with lawmakers.  “I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to stop,” he said, adding, “They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”

A spokesman for the legalization campaign noted the report was written by experts on tobacco, not marijuana, and said it makes broad assumptions unsupported by past research into the issue.  The measure is drafted in a way that takes public health into account, Jason Kinney said.  “This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive public health protections and mandate included in our measure – as well as the child safeguards, the small-business and anti-monopoly provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, education and treatment,” Kinney said.

The leading measure seeks to legitimize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over.  One of the proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician, helped write the California Medical Association’s 2011 policy calling for the legalization of marijuana.

The doctors’ lobby formally endorsed the main legalization measure on Monday, characterizing it as a “comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure.”  For years, some doctors have complained they have become gatekeepers for healthy people seeking weed recommendations via a flawed medical marijuana system.

Lyman, a former state public health official, said the notion that marijuana must be regulated exactly like tobacco “represents an awkward minority opinion not widely shared within the public health community.”  Lyman said it is widely accepted in the scientific community that marijuana has medical benefits, something that isn’t true of tobacco.

This notable new report is titled "A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry," and it is available at this link.

February 3, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 1, 2016

GAO says DOJ "should document its approach to monitoring" the impact of state marijuana legalization

I just learned of this notable new document authored by the US Government Accountability Office titled "STATE MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: DOJ Should Document Its Approach to Monitoring the Effects of Legalization." The report was apparently requested by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and here is a passage from its "Conclusions" section:

It has been over 2 years since DOJ’s ODAG issued guidance in August 2013 stating that in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form, if state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against threats to federal enforcement priorities, the federal government may seek to challenge the state regulatory structures themselves, in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions.  ODAG officials reported relying on U.S. Attorneys to monitor the effects of marijuana enforcement priorities through their individual enforcement actions and communication with state agencies about how state legalization may threaten these priorities.  ODAG officials also reported using various information sources provided by DOJ components and other federal agencies to monitor the effects of marijuana legalization and the degree to which existing state systems regulating marijuana-related activity protect federal enforcement priorities and public health and safety.

However, ODAG officials have not documented their monitoring process or provided specificity about key aspects of it, including potential limitations of the data they report using and how they will use the data to identify states that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities.  Given the growing number of states legalizing marijuana, it is important for DOJ to have a clear plan for how it will be monitoring the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to DOJ marijuana enforcement guidance.  Documenting a plan that specifies its monitoring process, such as the various data ODAG is using for monitoring along with their potential limitations, the roles of U.S. Attorneys in the monitoring process, and how ODAG is using all these inputs to monitor the effects of state legalization can provide DOJ with greater assurance that its monitoring activities are occurring as intended. Sharing the plan with DOJ components responsible for providing information to ODAG can help ensure that ODAG has an opportunity to gain institutional knowledge with respect to whether its monitoring plan includes the most appropriate information.  This will help place DOJ in the best position to identify state systems that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities, and take steps to challenge those systems if necessary in accordance with its 2013 marijuana enforcement guidance.

February 1, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Should Bernie Sanders’ Home State Embrace Socialized Cannabis?"

Vermont Seal TokeoftheTown2013-thumb-200x239-thumb-205x244The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this effective new International Business Times article highlighting some interesting aspects of the the on-going debate over marijuana legalization in Vermont.  I recommend the article in full (especially for students in my marijuana reform seminar), and here are a few excerpts:

As one of Vermont’s approximately 2,500 official medical marijuana patients, Robert Gwynn is excited his state lawmakers are considering legalizing cannabis.  Born with neurofibromatosis type 1, a tumor disorder that has left him with debilitating nerve pain, limited appetite and ongoing fatigue, the 31-year-old has been part of the state’s medical marijuana program for the past two years.  Medical marijuana, he says, has helped him halve his 14-pill-a-day pharmaceutical regimen, which had left him so mentally disconnected from reality he was afraid to drive.  But he thinks a recreational market could encourage the sort of competition, proficiency and price constraints lacking in the state’s current system of four nonprofit dispensaries statewide.  Once a month, Gwynn drives to a dispensary in Brandon, a four-hour round-trip drive from where he lives in Brattleboro, since he says the medicine quality and patient care at the dispensary 10 minutes from his house are so poor, he won’t shop there.

If Vermont legalizes marijuana, Gwynn figures it will look similar to programs up and running in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon, where for-profit businesses produce and sell marijuana.  He hasn’t noticed anyone proposing alternatives.  “I haven’t really heard it come up,” he says.  “When people talk about it, I don’t think it is something that comes to mind.”

Gwynn isn’t the only one who assumes legalized marijuana in Vermont, which could occur in coming months, will resemble cannabis markets elsewhere.  But drug policy experts say the state is perfectly positioned to go in a bold new direction, one that challenges widely held assumptions about the country’s mounting marijuana movement. Among those options could be a state-run system similar to how Vermont controls the sale of hard liquor within its borders.  Alternatives like this could limit the public health impacts of a marijuana market while still generating state revenue — that is, if lawmakers are willing to consider them.  And if Vermont isn’t willing to deviate from the path set by legalization efforts that came before it, does that mean the only realistic U.S. cannabis model moving forward is a free-market free-for-all?

With recent encouragement from both a former state attorney general and Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont lawmakers are actively considering becoming the fifth state (not counting Washington, D.C.) to legalize marijuana, building on a medical marijuana law the state passed in 2004 and a dispensary system it launched in 2011.  The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of three weeks of in-depth testimony and statewide public hearings on the issue, with the goal of voting Friday on whether to advance a legalization bill.  “I’m impressed,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who’s based in Vermont.  “I’ve been studying this issue for 20 years, and here you have politicians sitting in rooms, asking the right questions and trying to understand it for the first time in my life.”

If such a bill passes in the near future, Vermont would become the first state in New England, much less the entire Northeast, to legalize marijuana.  While just 626,000 people live in Vermont, the second least populated state in the country, roughly 2.7 million regular marijuana users live within 200 miles of the state, including those in New York City.  That means whatever legalized marijuana system Vermont chooses could have financial and political impacts far beyond its modest borders.

Because Vermont does not have a ballot initiative system like many states, the only way it can legalize marijuana is through the legislative process.  And if it does so this legislative session, it will be the first time marijuana ever has been legalized by lawmakers, not voters.  According to some experts, this means Vermont has the option of considering legalization models not likely to be floated at the polls.  “The initiative process is going to be driven by folks who want something to happen, who want legalization,” says Pat Oglesby, a tax attorney who studies marijuana at the Center for New Revenue in North Carolina.  “The legislative process could result in a more moderate, middle-ground approach.”

It’s why last year a Rand Corp. legalization study commissioned by the state for $20,000 (the rest of the study’s $120,000 price tag was covered by the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures) urged lawmakers to consider “that marijuana policy should not be viewed as a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington.”  Instead, the report’s authors, a who’s who of drug policy authorities nationwide, laid out a series of alternatives, including a nonprofit-only system, a supply chain overseen by a public authority similarly to how the Vermont State Housing Authority manages affordable housing initiatives and a market only open to “benefit corporations,” or b-corporations, that have positive social impact.  But the report focused special attention on one option in particular: a government-run monopoly model where the state controls marijuana production and distribution.

According to experts, a state-run marijuana system could have several benefits.  For starters, government-run cannabis outlets wouldn’t have the same sort of financial incentive to promote excessive marijuana consumption similar to how alcohol companies market to heavy users.  Instead, government marijuana outlets could focus on the sort of social protections that are a top priority for Shumlin.  “You would like a system where nobody has an incentive to encourage overuse of a drug,” says New York University marijuana policy expert Mark Kleiman. “State-monopoly retailing could be a better option if the state officials involved didn’t have any incentive to encourage problematic drug use and even better if they had a responsibility to discourage it.”  Reviews of private versus state-run alcohol systems have found “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption and related harms.”...

But now, as Vermont lawmakers narrow possible legalization, there’s little indication the state will deviate significantly from legalization efforts that came before.  One of two legalization bills being considered by the state judiciary committee (it will likely end up voting on a hybrid bill containing elements of both) would provide licensing preferences to the sort of b-corporations detailed in the Rand report.  But the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. David Zuckerman, says the other alternatives proposed in last year's report are likely political nonstarters.  “I think the extremes on both ends — straight unfettered capitalism and a government-run monopoly — are off the table,” says Zuckerman, adding, he believes the chances of a legalization bill passing this year “are a little better than 50-50.”

Some observers are disappointed. “It’s kind of surprising,” says Dan Rifle, Marijuana Policy Project’s former federal policy director, who left the organization over concerns industry interests were taking over the marijuana movement.  “If there’s any state where this should be happening, it’s Vermont.  They commissioned a report, and no one seems to have read it.”

But others say options like a state-controlled system aren’t being considered because they don’t make sense. Government-run programs such as this are prone to bureaucratic bloat, and, as MPP's Simon points out, anyone who’s seen the billboards just over New Hampshire's state lines advertising the Granite State's tax-free alcohol stores knows government-controlled outlets can still promote heavy use.  Plus, adds Simon, there’s no indication the legalization models already up and running are broken, so why bother fixing them?  “We could spend years discussing hypothetical models, but that would be missing the fact that Vermonters are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the worst possible marijuana model right now,” he says.  “We want to move this from the illicit market, and Colorado and Oregon and Washington have already shown that can be done in a responsible fashion.”...

But likely the biggest reason of all options like a state-run program aren’t getting more attention is that many people worry having state workers sell marijuana would put Vermont on a collision course with the federal government.  “If you are thinking about this from a public-health perspective and are still trying to bring in state revenue, the approach that probably makes the most sense is the government monopoly,” says Beau Kilmer, co-director of Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of the Vermont report.  “However, because of the government prohibition, most states aren’t really talking about this because they don’t want to put their employees at risk of arrest.”...

[B]etween such legal questions and the lack of political will around the issue, it’s easy to understand why a state-run marijuana system and other alternatives aren’t getting more airtime as Vermont moves ever closer to recreational marijuana.  Some experts say that’s too bad, since the state might offer one of the last best chances to take a hard look at what, exactly, legalized marijuana has to look like.  “It could matter enormously if Vermont does something that nobody else does,” says Kleiman.  “But if it doesn’t, and California goes the commercial marijuana route this year, as it probably will, then it might be too late.  When Congress gets around to legalizing cannabis, you won’t be able to consider models that aren’t focused on commercial production because the commercial interests involved will dominate the political process.”

I have suggested before that the big Rand report on Vermont's marijuana reform options (released around this time last year and blogged about here and here) is a must-read for any and all persons seriously considering different possible models for marijuana legalization.  However, I have long thought the report tended to over-emphasize the potential harms of a free-market approach to legalization, and also under-emphasized the potential harms of a government-run system.  In particular, my sense of government-run systems (I am thinking here about schools, prisons and health-care systems) is that they tend to move slowly in response to changing conditions, tend to have relatively high costs for the provision of even limited services, and also tend not to invest effectively in product innovations.  Especially in the marijuana space over the next few years, where legal and market realities keep changing, where elevated costs are likely will keep the black-market running, and where market innovation might be especially important as we move from black-to-grey-to-freer markets, I worry about a government-run system of full legalization potentially being the worst of all possible short-term solutions.

That all said, one key point about this debate in Vermont that is highlighted by this article is the reality that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is impeding the opportunity for state labratories to seriously consider all possible experimental approaches to marijuana reform.  This is one of the many reasons I am hopeful that before too long Congress will have the good sense to recognize that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is already having a significant and likely harmful impact on sensible state development of sound marijuana policies.

January 24, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Interesting demographic data from latest research on US marijuana opinions

Marijuana-fixed2The folks at YouGov, as detailed in this posting headlined "Most Americans support marijuana legalization," have released some interesting new data based on interviews of one thousands of Americans in mid-December 2015.  Here is part of the YouGov summary of its main findings:

Research from YouGov shows that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. 52% of Americans now support legalization, while only 34% oppose it.  This is slightly up from 48% support for legalization when the question was last asked in March 2015.

Over half of all adults under the age of 65 support it, but over-65s do tend to oppose (49%) rather than support (39%) legalization.  Politically, Democrats (66%) and independents (51%) want to legalize marijuana but half of Republicans are opposed. Just over a third of Republicans (36%) do support legalization, however.

While full legalization has the support of just over half of the country two-thirds of Americans believe that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth.  Unsurprisingly a huge majority of people in favor of legalization (86%) say that the efforts cost more than they are worth, but even opponents of legalization narrowly tend to say that current efforts aren't worth the cost (42% to 33%).

As the last sentence of this summary reveals, the detailed YouGov poll results (which are available here) includes some interesting marijuana-related questions beyond just support for legalization reforms and its breaks down poll responses in some notable ways.

Of particular interest was that the only racial demographic not expressing majority support for legalization was "Hispanic" and the lowest level of support for for legalization among economic demographics was found among families making less than $50,000 per year. I tend to assume that minority populations and lower income groups are more inclined to support marijuana reform because these groups seem to be subject to a larger share of the criminal justice consequences of blanket prohibition. But this YouGov poll suggests that reality may be far more nuanced.

In addition, I find especially significant the findings and political demographic breakdowns concerning the question "Do you agree or disagree that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth?". Notably, independents are more than five times more likely to agree (70%) than disagree (13%) with this statement, and even Republicans are more than twice as likely to agree (55%) than disagree (24%) with this statement. If other polls ask this question and produce similar result, such findings I think could well have a real impact on the positions of various presidential candidates in the months ahead.

January 17, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Advocates for marijuana reform in Vermont highlight economic development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Are a lot more Americans smoking pot or are just a lot more now comfortable admitting they are?

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this CNN report on new marijuana use research released yesterday.   Here are the basics: 

A heck of a lot more Americans were toking up in 2012-13 than 10 years before -- and not for medical reasons, either -- according to a new study.  The percentage of American adults who had used marijuana within the last year was 9.5%, the study found.  That compared to 4.1% in 2001-02.

The study -- published this week in Jama Psychiatry, a monthly journal published by the American Medical Association -- was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  It was based on in-person interviews with more than 36,000 Americans over the age of 18.

With the increase in use has come an increase in the total number of what the study called "marijuana use disorders."  But the authors of the study put that down to the increase in use:  The percentage of pot smokers with such disorders actually dropped, with about one in three showing signs of dependence or abuse.  As the authors of the study put it, "The prevalence of marijuana use disorder among marijuana users decreased significantly from 2001-2013," from 35.6 percent of users to 30.6.

The attitudes toward the use of marijuana are shifting in the United States, as are the laws governing its use.  Twenty-three states now allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons, the study notes, and four of those states also allow recreational use of the drug. "Given changing laws and attitudes toward marijuana, a balanced presentation of the likelihood of adverse consequences of marijuana use to policy makers, professionals and the public is needed," the study said.

I have been struggling this morning to access the full study/article reference in this press report, but I continue to wonder how much identified changes in self-reported marijuana use in recent years reflects changes in self-reporting rates as much as changes in marijuana use rates.  I hope this new study (and any other similar studies about changes in self-reported marijuana use over long periods of time) take this possibility into account. 

I sense that all activities that carry some measure of social stigma (even legal activities like watching pornography or drinking heavily or gambling) are done (a lot?) more than most people will readily admit, and I think the tendency to under-report stigmatized behavior is especially true when an activity involves serious federal and state criminal activity in addition to being shunned by "respectable" people.  Back in 2001-02, the negative stigma (and criminal concerns) surrounding marijuana use was, I think, quite high and claims about valid medical use of marijuana were rarely embraced (especially as compared social views by 2012-13).  For that reason, I wonder if the number of self-reported marijuana users a decade ago was much lower than in more recent years for reasons that are not only about changing rates of actual marijuana use.

October 22, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

If you legalize it, they will come (and buy even more than expected), Oregon edition

DownloadThis local article, headlined "Oregon's first week of recreational pot sales tops $11 million," spotlights the notable reality that individuals given legal permission to purchase marijuana seem eager to do so in large numbers. Here are the details:

After just one week of recreational marijuana sales, Oregon dispensaries have raked in an estimated $11 million. That figure could mean the state's estimate is shockingly low for how much money it'll make when pot taxes kick in this January.

At Nectar on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 33rd Avenue, they're restocking the shelves a lot this week. "We're seeing about 500 people a day," said Nectar owner Jeff Johnson. Dispensary owners and customers are reporting Oregon's first week has gone very well....

The Oregon Retail Cannabis Association told KGW after tallying up sales from its members statewide and factoring in projections, they estimated there were $3.5 million in sales on the first day, October 1.

One week in, Oregon is already far ahead of dollars spent on pot compared to Colorado's first week of legal recreational sales, at $5 million. Washington took a month to sell its first $2 million, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

When Oregon voters approved recreational marijuana, the state set an estimate of $9 million in net tax revenue for the first full year of 2017. But the Oregon Retail Cannabis Association believes it'll bring in three to four times that much.

"It's just person after person after person," said Rachel Clerk, employee at Fresh Buds in Southeast Portland. For her store, these hundreds of new customers came at a crucial time. They were trying to stay afloat with only 15 medical customers a day.

"There for awhile, towards the end we were thinking we might have to close the doors because we weren't getting any kind of steady business," said Clerk. In this past week, they're back in the black, averaging 10 times as much foot traffic.

And dispensaries are seeing the customer base vary as much as the strains they're buying. "Obviously we're seeing a young crowd but we're also seeing people in their 50s and 60s that would never have bought the product if it wasn't legal," said Johnson.

Oregon recreational marijuana sales are all tax-free until January. Once that 25 percent tax gets added on, it'll go to help fund schools, mental health programs, state police and the cities and counties that are allowing recreational sales.

October 11, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oregon on the verge of becoming third state with lawful recreational marijuana sales

In a few hours, Oregon will officially join the ranks of Colorado and Washington as states with functioning state-authorized marijuana sales for recreational purposes.  This lengthy Oregonian article, headlined "Pot won't be for sale in many Oregon cities," provides the basic lay of the land on the eve of a new era in the Beaver State.   Here are excerpts:

When recreational cannabis sales start Thursday in Oregon, consumers will be able to buy the drug at most of the state's 300-plus medical marijuana dispensaries. But some communities — ranging from Portland suburbs to cities in eastern Oregon — are keeping the door shut to storefront pot sales of any kind.

In many towns, marijuana remains shunned by the majority and is seen as something that shouldn't be given any official stamp of approval. And even where voters agreed to legalize marijuana, there are worries that retail sales will encourage youth consumption, attract crime or tarnish their commercial districts....

The taboo against the drug is particularly strong throughout many of the state's rural communities. Carol Free, a medical marijuana patient and grower in Baker City, was unable to persuade her city or county to allow even a dispensary — perhaps not a surprise given the nearly 60 percent no vote locally against the Measure 91 legalization measure last year. "It's just a huge fear factor," she said. "People are so wrapped up in the negatives about it."...

In the 15 counties — all in eastern Oregon — where at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91, city councils and county commissions can vote to prohibit marijuana businesses of any kind. In the rest of the state, local governments can refer a measure to the November 2016 ballot to ban sales.

Last, the Legislature decided to allow limited recreational sales at medical marijuana dispensaries starting Oct. 1 to give consumers a way to legally buy the drug after it's allowed under Measure 91 but before the state is ready to issue retail licenses. The Legislature left it to cities and county governments to decide whether to opt out.

At last count, governments in six eastern Oregon counties — plus 13 cities in those counties — have voted to ban medical and recreational marijuana sales, production or processing, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Meanwhile, Douglas County and eight other cities have decided to take the issue to voters next year....

In many cases, cities have placed tough zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses. Tualatin, for instance, requires a 3,000-foot buffer from residences, schools and parks that restricts them to one corner of the city. So far, no one has applied to open a dispensary there, according to City Manager Sherilyn Lombos.

Lake Oswego has a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries even though 55 percent of the city's voters approved Measure 91. At a Sept. 15 council meeting, officials fretted about how allowing marijuana businesses would affect life in one of Oregon's wealthiest enclaves....

In more isolated communities, many officials and voters hope to wall themselves off from the effects of Measure 91. "Just pure logic tells you, if there are retail sales, use will go up," said Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff, who urged officials in both his county and Baker City to ban marijuana businesses....

Don Morse, a Portland dispensary owner who heads the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said his group is organizing to fight local sales bans on the ballot next year. But he said his group is inclined to give places such as Baker County time for the culture to change. "We have no desire to go into a community and force something down their throat," Morse said. "There were some communities that remained dry for a long time after Prohibition ended."

September 30, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Colorado tax revenues from marijuana now clearly exceeding those from alcohol

As highlighted by this recent Forbes article, headlined "Colorado Now Reaping More Tax Revenue From Pot Than From Alcohol," the Centennial State now seems to be reaping more public revenue benefits from the wicked weed than from the golden grape. Here are the details:

The tipping point has finally occurred in Colorado: The state is raising more revenue from marijuana taxes than from alcohol.

According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the state has received nearly $70 million in tax revenue from marijuana from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, easily beating the nearly $42 million in taxes on alcohol....

Colorado is having record recreational sales this summer. In June, recreational marijuana sales hit $50 million for the first time, then in July sales rose over $55 million. If you add in medical marijuana sales, the total comes to $96 million for July, also higher than June’s total of $85 million. The portion of these sales in July that is earmarked for school construction projects is $3 million....

“It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market,” said [Mason] Tvert [of the Marijuana Policy Project] in a statement. “It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.”

September 20, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases third annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

DownloadHigh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States."  Usefully, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform, and the last three years it has produced a annual report around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact."  Volume Three of that report, which runs nearly 200 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here is an excerpt from the report's executive summary highlighting its coverage:

Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) is tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado. This report will utilize, whenever possible, a comparison of three different eras in Colorado’s legalization history:

• 2006 – 2008: Early medical marijuana era

• 2009 – Present: Medical marijuana commercialization and expansion era

• 2013 – Present: Recreational marijuana era

Rocky Mountain HIDTA will collect and report comparative data in a variety of areas, including but not limited to:

• Impaired driving

• Youth marijuana use

• Adult marijuana use

• Emergency room admissions

• Marijuana-related exposure cases • Diversion of Colorado marijuana

This is the third annual report on the impact of legalized marijuana in Colorado. It is divided into eleven sections, each providing information on the impact of marijuana legalization. The sections are as follows:

Section 1 – Impaired Driving...

Section 2 – Youth Marijuana Use...

Section 3 – Adult Marijuana Use...

Section 4 – Emergency Room Marijuana and Hospital Marijuana-Related Admissions...

Section 5 – Marijuana-Related Exposure...

Section 6 – Treatment...

Section 7 – Diversion of Colorado Marijuana...

Section 8 – Diversion by Parcel...

Section 9 – THC Extraction Labs...

Section 10 – Related Data...

Section 11 – Related Material...

The nature and order of the sections in this big RMHIDTA "Impact" report help highlight that RMHIDTA is almost exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado and deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts.  

This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization.  Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report starts with this warning: "It will take years of data collection to complete an analysis of whether marijuana legalization is economically positive or an economic disaster."  

Similarly, changes in overall crime rates are only briefly discussed in the final "related data" section of the report, probably because the news seems pretty positive: property crime rates seem to be going down since marijuana reform throughout Colorado while violent crimes rates seem flat.  Of particular note, as this semi-official chart reveals, it appears Denver (which is sort-of ground-zero for marijuana reform relalities and likely impact) experienced a significant decrease in reported homicides, rapes and robbery in 2014 relative to 2013.   I suspect that this RMHIDTA report would have made much of Colorado and/or Denver homicide rates if they had gone up, but instead this "impact" goes undiscussed. 

Reporting biases notwithstanding, this is still an important report that assembles lots of data. And, perhaps in part because of its biases, this report now stands as the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment. Any and all serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying.

September 15, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

If you build it (and make it legal), they will keep coming and coming....

With apologies to the Field of Dreams mantra, the title of this post was my first reaction to this news via The Cannabist headlined "Colorado pot sales spike in July, continue to set records; The latest monthly data for Colorado marijuana: more than $96 million sold in July, with recreational and medical each setting a new bar in the legal era." Here are the basic details:

Colorado pot sales — recreational and medical — were thriving in July 2015, the most recent month for which the Department of Revenue has released marijuana tax data.

After topping $50 million for the first time in June, recreational sales cleared the $55 million hurdle in July when sales totaled more than $56.4 million — a record for retail cannabis in Colorado.  Medical marijuana sales numbers in July were also at their highest in the recreational era’s 19 months of recorded data, reaching more than $39.8 million....

In total, more than $96 million of marijuana was sold in Colorado shops in July — up from $85 million in June.  For context, 2014’s most robust month of recreational and medical cannabis sales was August, when those sales totaled $67 million....

“Those numbers are showing that our pot tourism is surely increasing,” said Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.  “People want to come here and try this out and tell their friends and family that they came to Colorado and tried some of the best cannabis the world has to offer and they had a great time.”

September 11, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Praising the first big marijuana report from Washington state for saying so little

Wsipp-imageThis new Brookings FixGov post by Phillip Wallach, titled "What does the first major official report on the outcomes of marijuana legalization tell us?," heeps praise on a big report released this week by Washington State Institute for Public Policy in large part because the report says very little. Here are highlights from the posting:

[The report tells us...] Not too much…and that’s greatly to its credit! The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP, pronounced “wissip”), which is the official think tank for Washington’s state legislature in Olympia, has been charged with comprehensively assessing the costs and benefits of marijuana legalization for Washington’s citizens. The initiative that legalized recreational marijuana back in 2012, I-502, explicitly requires reports from WSIPP in 2015, 2017, 2022, and 2032. It published the first of those reports (authored by Senior Research Associate Adam Darnell) yesterday [and is available here].

Naturally, advocates on both sides are ready to pounce on any hint of a conclusion in the report, however preliminary. WSIPP makes sure to disappoint them, declaring right in the second paragraph of the introduction: “We want to emphasize that this preliminary report does not contain findings on whether I-502 has had any effects on outcomes.” That’s a prudent concession to reality, since “effects of the law will not be detectable until several years after implementation, and it may take longer for any effects to stabilize.”

As I argued in my August 2014 report about Washington’s knowledge-sensitive approach to legalization, we can only hope that having a respected, independent research organization announce that it is too early to judge the results of legalization will help create a space for calm, evidence-based policymaking in what are still the very early days of this brave new policy regime. Advocates awaiting official results will have to wait until September 1, 2017, for WSIPP’s preliminary evaluation of outcomes.

In the meantime, yesterday’s WSIPP report is a rich resource for anyone hoping to understand the evolution of Washington’s marijuana policies. First there is an excellent narrative account of legal and regulatory developments in Washington from the passage of the state’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1971 through the recent 2015 laws designed to harmonize medical marijuana with the new regulated recreational system, simplify the tax structure, and share revenue with local governments. There is also a thorough review of local government policies and the level of commercial marijuana activity in each county.

Then the report lays out a plan for studying outcomes as data are collected in the coming years. In doing so, it presents an excellent model of clear thinking about the effects of marijuana legalization....

There are undoubtedly plenty of questions for WSIPP as it goes forward. Some of the most important effects of legalization may be subtle or difficult to monetize. Measurement issues will be thorny, as will the attempt to untangle causal effects of legalization from other ongoing trends — challenges WSIPP is well aware of, but could benefit from thoughtful outside perspective on. I encourage interested readers to read the whole report.

September 2, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Legal Marijuana in Arizona Would Generate $72M Yearly in Tax Revenue, New Report Says"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Phoenix New Times article reporting on a notable new policy report emerging in Arizona.  Here are the details (with links from the original article):

Previous marijuana tax-revenue estimates were far too low, states a new report by the nonpartisan Grand Canyon Institute.

Arizona would raise about $72 million in revenue annually beginning in 2019 if voters make recreational marijuana legal in Arizona with an anticipated ballot initiative in 2016, says the report, published on the group's website.

Backers of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced August 19 that their planned ballot measure would raise at least $40 million a year for Arizona schools. The campaign, sponsored in part by the Marijuana Policy Project, claims to have gathered about 65,000 signatures already toward a citizens' initiative expected to appear on the ballot in November 2016.

The institute "finds that the revenue projections were conservative as proponents claimed," the GCI report states. If the program were in effect now, sales of marijuana products would produce about $64 million annually, it says.

"If the initiative were to make the ballot and be passed by voters," the report goes on, "the GCI expects 2019 to be the first year with a full rollout of retailers and at that point, due to inflation and population growth, the expected totals would be $72 million: with almost $29 million each to K-12 education and helping fund all-day Kindergarten, plus $14 million to the Dept. of Health Services."

The report begins by stating that the GCI, which has a 12-member board of directors made up of local leaders on both sides of the political aisle, neither supports nor opposes marijuana legalization. "Our estimate was done conservatively so, if anything, it understates [total] revenue a bit — enough to give some wiggle room for administrative costs," Dave Wells, GCI research director and author of the report, tells New Times.

September 1, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Latest survey data shows marijuana use up, while other drug and alcohol use down, on college campuses

This news release from the University of Michigan, which reports on new data from its Monitoring the Future study, provides some evidence to support the notion that marijuana reform movements and other social factor may be lead college students to use more marijuana while also using less other illicit and licit drugs.  Here is some of the interesting new data via the press release:

Daily marijuana use among the nation's college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014. A series of national surveys of U.S. college students, as part of the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study, shows that marijuana use has been growing slowly on the nation's campuses since 2006.

Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014 — the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete college data were available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007. In other words, one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days....

In sum, quite a number of drugs have been fading in popularity on U.S. college campuses in recent years, and a similar pattern is found among youth who do not attend college. Two of the newer drugs, synthetic marijuana and salvia, have shown steep declines in use. Other drugs are showing more gradual declines, including narcotic drugs other than heroin, sedatives and tranquilizers — all used non-medically — as well as inhalants and hallucinogens....

While 63 percent of college students in 2014 said that they have had an alcoholic beverage at least once in the prior 30 days, that figure is down a bit from 67 percent in 2000 and down considerably from 82 percent in 1981. The proportion of the nation's college students saying they have been drunk in the past 30 days was 43 percent in 2014, down some from 48 percent in 2006.

Occasions of heavy or binge drinking — here defined as having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks — have consistently had a higher prevalence among college students than among their fellow high school classmates who are not in college.

Still, between 1980 and 2014, college students' rates of such drinking declined 9 percentage points from 44 percent to 35 percent, while their non-college peers declined 12 percentage points from 41 percent to 29 percent, and high school seniors' rates declined 22 percentage points from 41 percent to 19 percent....

Cigarette smoking continued to decline among the nation's college students in 2014, when 13 percent said they had smoked one or more cigarettes in the prior 30 days, down from 14 percent in 2013 and from the recent high of 31 percent in 1999—a decline of more than half. As for daily smoking, only 5 percent indicated smoking at that level, compared with 19 percent in 1999 — a drop of nearly three fourths in the number of college students smoking daily.

September 1, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Pioneer Pot States Have Collected More Than $200 Million In Marijuana Taxes"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Huffington Post article.  Here is how it gets started:

The first two states to legalize recreational marijuana have collectively raked in at least $200 million in marijuana tax revenue, according to the latest tax data -- and they're putting those dollars to good use.

In Colorado, after about a year and a half of legal recreational marijuana sales, the state has collected more than $117 million in excise taxes from both the recreational and medical marijuana markets, according to the most recent data from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Washington state got a slower start. Its retail shops didn't begin selling recreational marijuana until July of last year, but they are keeping pace with Colorado's. About $83 million in excise taxes have already been collected in the year since sales first began, according to the most recent tax data from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

And the total haul for both states is several million higher if all additional revenue from marijuana -- such as sales taxes, jurisdictional taxes, fees and licensing costs -- is included.

August 27, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Marijuana Producers Gobble Up Warehouse Space in Denver Area"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Wall Street Journal article that highlights some of the economic development impacts of the marijuana legalization in Colorado.  Here are excerpts:

Since voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of the drug in 2012, growers and distributors have gobbled up most of the available warehouse space in the Denver area, a major logistics hub for companies moving goods between the Midwest and the West Coast.

The marijuana industry is poised to expand quickly. Legal sales in Colorado of medical and recreational cannabis totaled about $700 million in 2014, the first full year for which statistics are available, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Colorado tax data. The number of active licenses to grow the plant for retail consumption shot up to 397 from 204, according to Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

The problem for Denver business owners: marijuana producers require lots of space to grow, package and store their products. In all, growers and distributors took up a third of all the warehouse space leased in Colorado over the past 18 months, according to Cresa Partners, a brokerage.

The warehouse crunch means many small businesses are struggling to find the space they need. Mr. Badgley, chief executive of Colorado Specialties Corp., a building-supply business, said his 7,500-square-foot warehouse and showroom is so crammed with bathroom fixtures and other materials that it is difficult to navigate. He would like to move to a building with triple the space, but can’t find anything affordable. “It’s all just getting snatched up by these marijuana people,” he said....

. Rents in the Colorado warehouse market rose 10% last year, to $5 a square foot, according to CBRE Inc., a real-estate services firm. The cost to buy warehouse space has doubled to $80 a square foot since the beginning of last year.

“It seems like every warehouse from 8,000 to 20,000 square feet is being turned into an indoor marijuana farm,” said Tom Glaspern, managing director in Denver for SEKO Logistics, a logistics-services provider. “We had opportunities [with customers] last year that we just had to turn down because we didn’t have the space.”...

Mr. Glaspern says the squeeze is especially tight in Denver because Colorado has relatively little industrial space outside the area. What’s more, because Colorado doesn’t border a state that has legalized recreational marijuana use, there isn’t much transport in or out — it is grown, processed and consumed right there....

Most growers use warehouse space as a combination indoor farm, packaging facility, storage space and distribution center. Employees clip buds from plants, cure them and ready them for shipment.

“It’s a factory that grows plants,” says Tim Cullen, owner of Colorado Harvest Co., a retailer that produced 3,600 pounds of pot last year and expects to produce 10,000 pounds this year. “It does not look like your friend’s basement in college.” Colorado Harvest owns 55,000 square feet of warehouse space to supply its five retail locations and is looking to lease 12,000 square feet more. Last year, after seeing warehouse rental prices increase, Mr. Cullen decided to build his own 35,000-square-foot facility in West Denver.

Growers are most interested in warehouses smaller than 80,000 square feet. Such spaces typically are used by modest manufacturing businesses. Converting them into cannabis-growing facilities often requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades to lighting, electrical and ventilation systems....

Mark Bowen, vice president in the Denver office of DCT Industrial Trust Inc., a real-estate investment trust that owns warehouses, said demand from marijuana growers has driven up the cost of warehouse space for users from the natural gas and tech industries by 60% or more, and increased lease renewal rates by 25% for DCT’s clients worried that if they don’t re-sign they will lose their space to the pot industry. “We’re happy about it,” Mr. Bowen said. Marijuana growers “are taking some of the space…that startups would maybe go to, and some of those businesses are having to come to buildings like ours.”

Over at Reason.com, Scott Shackford makes these interesting additional ponits in this follow-up post about this WSJ piece:

[I]f Colorado sees a clear boom in related logistics-focused commercial and industrial developments, then that’s going to be some great ammunition for other states pushing for legalization. Municipal governments absolutely love the logistics market, particularly in places where manufacturing is no longer (or never was) the source for blue-collar jobs. And of course, real estate professionals and developers have always been able to bend the ears of elected officials. Once the "right" people are also making money off legal marijuana, some resistance is likely to go up in smoke.

Among other thoughts, these pieces make me think it might be a real smart financial play to start buying up under-used wharehouse space in states like Arizona and California and Ohio and Michigan and Massachusetts and any other states likely be be voting on serious legalization initiatives in the next few years.  

August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Extended examination on how marijuana reform might (or might not) be impacting black markets

This lengthy new Vice article, headlined "How America's Legal Weed Is Changing the Black Market and Influencing Mexican Cartels," provides an effective (though necessarily incomplete) account of how legal reform developments in the United States are impacting all sort of marijuana markets. The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

And these are mostly happy days for the legal weed industry, whose sales revenues grew from an estimated $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion last year; one projection has them hitting $35 billion by 2020. All across Oregon, which legalized medical marijuana in 1998, people are attempting to carve out niches, hawking a dizzying array of weed sodas, candies, extracts, and other products. Oregonians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative last year that sanctioned pot sales to recreational users, making the state the next frontier of the so-called "green rush" that began in Colorado and Washington in 2012....

That new day hasn't dawned entirely. The hodgepodge of pot laws nationwide — 23 states plus Washington, DC now allow some form of medical marijuana — has created a situation ripe for exploitation. One of the great promises of marijuana legalization has been the concurrent elimination of the black market for weed, putting local dealers out of business and sticking it to Mexican cartels by cutting into their bottom line.

But while that may happen eventually, the black market in the United States is still thriving. Growers, consumers, dealers, and others in the industry told VICE News about operators that undercut prices at state pot shops, and several sources described illicit operations that ship large quantities of weed across the country from states that have legalized pot to states that haven't. Mexican organized crime experts told us that cartels are still smuggling bricks of bud across the border, and are perhaps even improving the quality of their product to cater to the rising expectations of American stoners.

"You're not going to eliminate the black market overnight," Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, told VICE News. "It's going to take some time, because essentially when you look at prices in the black market, whether it's marijuana or meth or cocaine, you're compensating drug dealers and everyone in the supply chain for the risk of arrest and incarceration. That goes away with legalization."

Most experts agree with Kilmer, saying that in time, as more states repeal pot prohibition, the dynamics of the marijuana black market will begin to resemble those of America's tobacco and alcohol black markets. There are still people selling untaxed loose cigarettes and running moonshine even though the vast majority of consumers prefer going to the store to buy smokes and alcohol legally. Right now, it's extremely tempting for growers in legal states to export their product to prohibition states, where prices are far higher.

Sam Chapman, cofounder of New Economy Consulting, a firm that specializes in the marijuana industry, told VICE News it's widely known that a significant portion of the weed grown in Oregon and northern California gets exported to the East Coast. "We've been seeing that product end up in Florida, end up in New York — places that don't have cannabis decriminalization and have very harsh punishments," he said. "When you have prohibition in other states, it drives the price up [there] because it's not regulated… I'd guess 80 percent of all product in Oregon is, unfortunately, leaving the state."

August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Is Marijuana Causing More Car Crashes in Washington?"

The question in the title of this post is the question which necessarily emerges from some recent public safety data released this week in Washington state, and it is also the headline of Jacob Sullum's new Reason column examining this data.  Here are excerpts from Sullum's analysis (with key links preserved):

Data released by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) this week indicate that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes with active THC in their blood jumped from 38 in 2013 to 75 last year....

Contrary to comments by Staci Hoff, the WTSC's director of data and research, the presence of active THC does not necessarily indicate that a driver was impaired by marijuana at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana caused the accident. Noting that 85 percent of "cannabis-positive" drivers involved in fatal accidents had active THC (as opposed to an inactive THC metabolite) in their blood last year, Hoff concludes that "most of them were high." That is not a safe conclusion to draw, because (as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out) there is no reliable way to relate THC blood levels to impairment....

The picture is further complicated by the presence of other drugs.  The Times notes that "half the drivers with active THC in their blood also were under the influence of alcohol, and the majority of those were legally intoxicated."  Alcohol has a much more dramatic impact on driving ability than marijuana does, and the two together have a greater effect than either alone.  The Times adds that the WTSC's analysis "doesn't account for prescription drugs in the marijuana-positive drivers."

 Although marijuana's contribution to traffic accidents is hard to pin down, it is possible than an increase in cannabis consumption following legalization would lead to more stoned drivers on the road, resulting in more crashes.  Alternatively, if more pot smoking is accompanied by less drinking, the net result could be fewer crashes, since alcohol impairs drivers a lot more than marijuana does.  It is not clear yet whether either of those scenarios is materializing in Washington.

WTSC data show the total number of traffic fatalities rose by 6 percent last year (from 436 to 462) after falling the previous six years (including 2013, the first full year in which recreational use was legal, although state-licensed pot stores were not open yet). The number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver tested positive for marijuana (which does not necessarily mean he was impaired by marijuana) rose by 55 percent (from 64 to 99).  Meanwhile, the number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver was deemed to be impaired by alcohol fell by 13 percent (from 127 to 111). That number had declined or remained steady in the previous six years, except for a 14 percent increase in 2009.

The 6 percent increase in total fatalities is consistent with the idea that legalization raises the number of dangerously impaired drivers.   But that increase occurred entirely in the first half of 2014, before the pot shops started to open, which is a bit of a puzzle. By comparison, Colorado, where state-licensed marijuana merchants were open for business throughout 2014, saw only a 1.5 percent increase in total traffic fatalities that year.   To get a better idea of what is happening, we will need more years of data, plus comparisons to trends in other states that have not legalized marijuana.

UPDATE: Based on data from a local article about marijuana's impact in Washington, I did an additional post on this topic over at my sentencing law blog: "Could marijuana reform be making Washington roadways safer even if more drivers test positive for THC?"

August 21, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)