Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, July 22, 2016

"Republican support for legal marijuana hits a new high: For the first time Republicans narrowly support legalizing marijuana"

Marijuana1The title of this post is the headline of this summary report by YouGov of the results of its latest polling on marijuana reform opinions. Here is some of the text of the report:

YouGov's latest research shows that most Americans still support legalization of marijuana, and that support for legalization has increased slightly, from 52% in December 2015 to 55% today. Most of this change is a result of changing attitudes among Republicans. In fact, for the first time, Republicans narrowly tend to support legalization, 45% to 42%.

In December 2015, Republicans had opposed marijuana legalization by 50% to 36%. Prior to this Republicans support for legalization was even more limited. In January 2014 60% of Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana and only 28% supported legalization.

Broader attitudes towards marijuana among Republicans are largely unchanged however, indicating that Republican opinion of prohibition is changing not broader attitudes towards marijuana. Notably, while 44% of Republicans viewed marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs in December, this figure is still essentially unchanged at 43% today. In December 55% of Republicans thought government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they were worth, something 54% of Republicans still think.

The full poll results which are the product of questions asked of 1000 respondents from July 17-18, 2016, are available at this link.

July 22, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

New psychology research suggests why we ought to consider encouraging adults to use more marijuana and less alcohol

15As highlighted by this Washington Post piece, headlined "Researchers got people drunk or high, then made a fascinating discovery about how we respond," some notable new research provide yet another reason why society might be better off encouraging marijuana use rather than alcohol use. Here are the basics from the WaPo piece:

[R]esearch on the link between marijuana and aggression has been mixed. Marijuana seems to make most people relaxed, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia, conditions which can occasionally manifest themselves in violent ways....

So a recent study from the Netherlands, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, attempts to put this question to bed using the gold standard of scientific research: a random controlled trial. They recruited a group of 20 heavy alcohol users (three-plus drinks a day for men, two-plus for women), 21 heavy marijuana users who smoked at least three times a week, and 20 controls who didn't use either drug heavily at all.... Then they made all three groups complete a number of tests designed to get people riled up....

The researchers measured aggression, before and after the respondents took the test, by asking them how aggressive they felt on a 100-point scale. For good measure, they had the marijuana and alcohol users go through the whole thing again one week later, this time without getting high or drunk, as a kind of separate control. They found, first of all, that "alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression in the alcohol group." The alcohol users, in other words, acted more aggressive when they were drunk than they did when they were sober. By contrast, the smokers became less aggressive when they were high.

These findings held through both the self-assessments — alcohol users rated themselves as more aggressive when drunk — and through the responses to the tests: The drinkers tried harder to undermine their computer opponents when they were drunk. But the smokers actually acted less aggressive toward their computer opponents when they were high. "The results in the present study support the hypothesis that acute alcohol intoxication increases feelings of aggression and that acute cannabis intoxication reduces feelings of aggression," the researchers conclude.

This is in line with other research. A study in 2014, for instance, found that marijuana use among couples was linked to lower rates of domestic violence. In a fun study from the 1980s, researchers gave undergraduates varying doses of marijuana and then asked them to administer electric shocks to people in another room. The more stoned the undergrads were, the less interested they were in zapping other people.

This multi-author research can be examined at this link and under the title "Subjective aggression during alcohol and cannabis intoxication before and after aggression exposure." And here is how the abstract of the article describes the results anf findings:

Results: Subjective aggression significantly increased following aggression exposure in all groups while being sober. Alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression whereas cannabis decreased the subjective aggression following aggression exposure. Aggressive responses during the PSAP increased following alcohol and decreased following cannabis relative to placebo. Changes in aggressive feeling or response were not correlated to the neuroendocrine response to treatments.

Conclusions: It is concluded that alcohol facilitates feelings of aggression whereas cannabis diminishes aggressive feelings in heavy alcohol and regular cannabis users, respectively.

July 21, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 27, 2016

DC Department of Health issues big new report: "MARIJUANA in the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA"

Cl14w03WYAAlJOCThe District of Columbia is a unique locale with unique laws and practices in many arenas. But, as highilighted by a big new report issued by the DC's Deprtment of Health, the District's relationship with marijuana law, policy and reform has much in common with a number of other jurisdictions.  This big new report, available here, is titled "Marijuana in the District of Columbia," and here is the report's executive summary:

In recent years, marijuana related policies have gone through many transformations throughout the United States, with the District of Columbia being no exception.  This report provides insight through current research and data that outlines the disadvantage, benefits and societal ramifications that accompany decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia.  Factors that have been analyzed include short-term and long-term health consequences, public safety issues like driving while under the influence of the substance, marijuana’s co-use relationship with other drugs, and effects on fetal, infant, and adolescent development.

Highlights

• 53.8% of adults in the District have ever tried marijuana and 17.8% currently use it.

• Marijuana was the second most commonly detected drug in traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities, District of Columbia in 2012.

• Medical marijuana has demonstrated promising results for various ailments, including neuropathic pain, nausea due to chemotherapy, and muscle spasms.

• Short term marijuana-related effects can include cyclic vomiting, disorientation, impaired body movement, increased heart rate, and difficulty thinking or problem-solving.

• There is some evidence that marijuana use may increase cancer risk.

• Among individuals at risk for mental illness, marijuana use may worsen symptoms.

• 8.9% of marijuana users will transition from casual use to dependence.

• Cigarette use and binge drinking are significantly higher among marijuana users than nonusers.

• Marijuana use among expecting mothers has demonstrated various adverse effects, including low birth weight and pre-term delivery.

• Marijuana use has been associated with a decline in IQ when regularly used among individuals under the age of 18.

• Throughout the U.S., marijuana possession arrests tend to occur significantly more among African Americans than any other race/ ethnicity despite rates of use are fairly similar across all categories.

June 27, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Effective coverage of impact of marijuana reform on migration of poor and homeless to Colorado

Joel Warner has penned these two interesting and important new lengthy pieces about homelessness in Colorado and its intersection with marijuana reform:

Marijuana Legalization In Colorado: How Recreational Weed Is Attracting People, But Spiking The State’s Homeless Rate

Marijuana Legalization: Pot Brings Poor People To Colorado, But What’s Being Done To Help Them?

Here are brief excerpts from both articles (which ought to be read in full):

While much has been made of the tourists, entrepreneurs and investors lured to Colorado’s blossoming marijuana industry, very little attention has been paid to another population drawn to the state’s cannabis experiment: marijuana migrants moving to the state who wind up on the streets. Interviews with people at homeless shelters in Denver and other Colorado cities like Pueblo suggest that since Colorado launched its legalized cannabis system in 2014, the percentage of newcomers to the facilities who are there in part because of the lure of marijuana has swollen to 20 to 30 percent.

All told, several hundred marijuana migrants struggling with poverty appear to be arriving in Colorado each month. Some of them, like Butts, come to use cannabis recreationally or medically without the fear of arrest. Others are hoping to get jobs in the new industry. But many arrive to find homeless services stretched to the breaking point, local housing costs increasingly prohibitive and cannabis use laws that penalize those without private residences....

Homelessness experts point out that there’s no proof that marijuana leads to homelessness, or that cannabis is the main culprit behind the growing numbers. Study after study has concluded that the major factors leading to homelessness are a lack of affordable housing, inability to find work and family crises. “There is very little safety when you are homeless,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter in Aurora, near Denver. “How many people want to trade their safety for access to something like marijuana or any other substance?”

But there is evidence that people who were already struggling to get by in other states are relocating to Colorado in part because of marijuana. So far, however, research on the phenomenon has been limited. A survey of Denver shelter workers by Metropolitan State University in the fall of 2014 found that eight of the 11 shelters said they were seeing client increases due in part to marijuana, said lead researcher Rebecca Trammell, but the study did not examine what, exactly those increases looked like. Plus some shelters actively avoid asking about marijuana use....

Marty Otañez, a University of Colorado Denver anthropology professor who’s been studying the state’s marijuana industry, said he’s met multiple cannabis workers who are on their way to becoming homeless. It’s left him convinced that it’s time for people in charge of the industry to address the problem. “The flow of ‘trimmigrants’ and other cannabis workers into Colorado and the added pressure on homeless shelters and social services for unemployed or poorly paid cannabis workers is a symptom of the broader problem of cannabis capitalism gone awry,” said Otañez. “Nominal efforts to fund corporate social responsibility schemes demonstrate the lack of seriousness on the part of cannabis business people to address in any genuine way the social ills associated with green gold.”

With nearly a billion dollars in revenue and more than $135 million in statewide taxes and fees generated by Colorado marijuana sales last year, some shelter managers would like to see a portion of the proceeds devoted to homeless services. “If some of those dollars can go to serving those folks, it could really help people,” said Tom Luehrs, executive director of Denver’s St. Francis Center day shelter. “We are not saying we want to become rich; we just want to help these people because Colorado is doing something good and it’s bringing people here.”

So far, none of Colorado’s marijuana tax revenues have gone to homeless programs. That will soon change. In Aurora, the city council recently voted to earmark $1.5 million of marijuana tax proceeds for homeless services annually for the next three years. According to Nancy Sheffield, project manager for Aurora’s neighborhood services department, the decision wasn’t based on concerns that marijuana was increasing local homeless numbers; it’s simply a matter of allocating resources to high-priority issues.

Whatever the reason, homeless advocates celebrated the move. “It’s a brilliant move by Aurora,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the city's Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter. “It’s not every day that a municipality gets a new funding stream. To reinvest that to meet the needs of struggling families is a good moral imperative stand.”

June 22, 2016 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Colorado's Teen Marijuana Usage Dips after Legalization"

Logo-combined-Rev-05-06-15The title of this post is the headline of this new press report on a new Colorado government report about marijuana usage in the Centennial State.  Here are the details:

Marijuana consumption by Colorado high school students has dipped slightly since the state first permitted recreational cannabis use by adults, a new survey showed on Monday, contrary to concerns that legalization would increase pot use by teens.

The biannual poll by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also showed the percentage of high school students indulging in marijuana in Colorado was smaller than the national average among teens. According to the department, 21.2 percent of Colorado high school students surveyed in 2015 had used marijuana during the preceding 30 days, down from 22 percent in 2011, the year before voters statewide approved recreational cannabis use by adults 21 and older.  The first state-licensed retail outlets for legalized pot actually opened in 2014.

Nationwide, the rate of pot use by teens is slightly higher at 21.7 percent, the study found.  “The survey shows marijuana use has not increased since legalization, with four of five high school students continuing to say they don't use marijuana, even occasionally,” the department said in a statement.

The department conducts the voluntary survey every two years in conjunction with the University of Colorado and a citizens advisory committee.  About 17,000 students responded to the poll....

A pro-legalization advocacy group said the findings show fears of widespread pot use by minors in states with legalized cannabis are unfounded.  "These statistics clearly debunk the theory that making marijuana legal for adults will result in more teen use,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But Diane Carlson, of SMART Colorado, an organization that pushes for tighter regulations to keep cannabis away from children, said data from a 2015 survey by the federal Department of Health and Human Services showed that Colorado ranks first in the nation for marijuana use by youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

Carlson said it was “deeply concerning” that the Colorado survey showed that just 48 percent of the students polled viewed regular marijuana use as a risky behavior.  "Youth marijuana use can have lifelong implications. The risks, which include psychosis, suicide, drug addiction and lower IQs, have been reported based on research on much lower THC potencies than are typically sold on Colorado's commercial market,” she said.

The survey from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and related materials can be accessed at this link, and this news release from the Department is sub-titled "Youth marijuana use unchanged, alcohol, tobacco use down in Colorado." I found especially interesteing this infographic headed "Marijuana Use Among Youth in Colorado."

June 21, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Notable CDC survey data showing no changes in youth marijuana use despite massive state changes in marijuana law and policy

Via Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority, I just saw this interesting data report from the Center For Desease Control under the heading "Trends in the Prevalence of Marijuana, Cocaine, and Other Illegal Drug Use, National YRBS: 1991—2015." For those who do not know, the YRBS refers to the nation Youth Risk Behavior Survey which "monitors priority health risk behaviors and "is conducted every two years during the spring semester and provides data representative of 9th through 12th grade students in public and private schools throughout the United States."

The first three lines of data from this link will be of greatest interest to marijuana reform advocate, as it reports from the last 25 years the survey results on the issues of how many high-schoolers have "Ever used marijuana (one or more times during their life)" and have "Tried marijuana before age 13 years (for the first time)" and "Currently used marijuana (one or more times during the 30 days before the survey)."  Though I am simplifying the particulars, for all these survey questions, it appears that teen use of marijuana as reported via these surveys generally increased some in the 1990s and generally decreased over the last 15 years. And, of particular note, the CDC report that from 2013 to 2015, these was essentially and statistically speaking "No change." (Also, encouragingly, it appears that use of harder drugs by teens is also either not changing or even "decreasing" in recent years.)

Long story short, while adult use of marijuana is being legalize recreationally in a few states and medically in many more, it appears that so far we are seeing no obvious impact on teen use of marijuana.   I am not confident that these trends will persist over a long period of time if marijuana is legalized for recreational use by adults nationwide, but for now there is preliminary data to contradict assertions by opponents that marijuana reform that reform will be leading to significant increases in use by underage populations.

June 9, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline: Fewer adolescents also report using marijuana"

Journal-american-academy-childThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Science Daily release that reports on this notable newly published research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that surely should be getting lots and lots of attention from marijuana reform advocates.  Here are the basics via the Science Daily:

A survey of more than 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states indicates the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining. Similarly, the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined data on drug use collected from young people, ages 12 to 17, over a 12-year span. They found that the number of adolescents who had problems related to marijuana -- such as becoming dependent on the drug or having trouble in school and in relationships -- declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

Over the same period, kids, when asked whether they had used pot in the previous 12 months, reported fewer instances of marijuana use in 2013 than their peers had reported in 2002. In all, the rate fell by 10 percent. Those drops were accompanied by reductions in behavioral problems, including fighting, property crimes and selling drugs. The researchers found that the two trends are connected. As kids became less likely to engage in problem behaviors, they also became less likely to have problems with marijuana.

The study's first author, Richard A. Grucza, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry, explained that those behavioral problems often are signs of childhood psychiatric disorders. "We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse," he said. "We don't know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization."

The new study is published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The data was gathered as part of a confidential, computerized study called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It surveys young people from different racial, ethnic and income groups in all 50 states about their drug use, abuse and dependence.

In 2002, just over 16 percent of those 12 to 17 reported using marijuana during the previous year. That number fell to below 14 percent by 2013. Meanwhile, the percentage of young people with marijuana-use disorders declined from around 4 percent to about 3 percent.

At the same time, the number of kids in the study who reported having serious behavior problems -- such as getting into fights, shoplifting, bringing weapons to school or selling drugs -- also declined over the 12-year study period. "Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on," Grucza said. "So it's likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems -- and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too."

May 24, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana Legalization & Taxation: Positive Revenue Implications for New Jersey"

AOiGwZE3The title of this post is the title of this new report produced by Gargen State public policy groups. This ACLU of New Jersey press release, which is subtitled "NJ Policy Perspective & NJ United for Marijuana Reform analysis projects $300 million in annual sales tax revenue to come with legalization for adults," provides this context and highlights:

New Jersey would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue by legalizing marijuana, a new report released by New Jersey Policy Perspective and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform has found. Legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana for use by adults aged 21 and older would ultimately add an estimated $300 million in sales tax to state coffers rather than divert consumers to the illegal market, the two policy-focused groups said at a Trenton press conference.

"The lessons from around the country are loud and clear: marijuana legalization makes fiscal sense, and it makes practical sense," said New Jersey Policy Perspective Policy Analyst Brandon McKoy, a co-author of the report. "Expanding economic opportunities and addressing our persistent budget deficit aren't the only reasons to legalize and regulate marijuana, but they are extremely persuasive ones."

The report estimates that New Jersey would bring in at least $300 million annually if marijuana legalization were fully implemented, using graduated tax increases over a three-year period, going from 5 percent, to 15 percent, to the final rate of 25 percent. The first-of-its-kind report in New Jersey relies on conservative estimates, predicting the tax revenue only from marijuana sales. The report's projections are based on the experiences of other states, current information on marijuana users in New Jersey and the surrounding area, current pricing, and the tax structure of other states as they relate to New Jersey's interests.

Including a small percentage of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians from counties neighboring New Jersey who are expected to participate in the legal, regulated market, the state could take in approximately $305.4 million once the sales tax is fully scaled to 25 percent, the report said. The report estimates that approximately 343,100 New Jerseyans would participate in a legal marketplace, spending $1.2 billion each year. Currently, New Jerseyans spend more than $850 million on marijuana each year. The calculation of tax revenue was based on a price of $350 per ounce, similar to the current estimated price of $343 per ounce in New Jersey.

Legalization would bring other economic benefits not covered in the report, such as job creation, growth in business, research and development, and boosts in property, agricultural, business, and income taxes. In addition, it would increase public safety, protect young people, save resources, advance racial justice, bolster public health, and reduce the strain on the police, corrections, and the criminal justice system, the report argues. New Jersey arrests more people for marijuana possession each year than for any other crime. A June 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that 58 percent of New Jerseyans support legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana for use by adults aged 21 and older.

May 24, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Even among skeptics, benefits of marijuana reform seem to eclipse drawbacks in Colorado

Colorado.first_.to_.legalize.250-1I am a fairly strong proponent of marijuana reforms in large part because there seem to be a number of tangible immediate benefits from legalizating, regulating and taxing the marijuana marketplace, while significant drawbacks rarely prove to be as dire as predicted by opponents of reform.   Two new stories in major newspapers today discussing developments in Colorado reinforce my views. Here are headlines, links and exceepts:

From USA Today here, "These kids are going to college on pot": 

Colorado pot smokers are helping send 25 students to college, the first scholarships in the U.S. funded with taxes on legal marijuana.  The awards offered by Pueblo County, in southern Colorado, are the latest windfall from legal Colorado marijuana sales that are also helping build schools and aid the homeless — and in one county, providing 8% raises to municipal workers.

Pueblo County is granting $1,000 each to the students, with recipients to be announced later this month.  “It’s incredible,” said Beverly Duran, the executive director of the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, which is overseeing the scholarships.  "Every year we get a nice pool of students … but we can always only award to a small percentage.  This for us expands that to extraordinary lengths.”...

Further south in Colorado, Huerfano County expects to collect an extra $500,000 in cannabis taxes this year. That’s bankrolling an 8% raise for almost all of the county's 96 municipal employees, a big deal in an area where a county road worker earns $12 an hour and most employees haven’t had a raise in more than five years....

In Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, marijuana taxes are helping improve roads, pay off a municipal recreation center, and provide direct services for homeless men and women.  Aurora has nearly 20 pot shops and five grow sites, generating a projected $5.4 million in new taxes this year.

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Governor who called legalization 'reckless' now says Colorado's pot industry is working":

“The predictions of fire and brimstone have failed to materialize,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform pot laws.  “Most Coloradoans, including the governor, recognize that the law is working.”

From the start, [Colorado Gov] Hickenlooper saw the legalization of marijuana as a great national experiment, something utterly new in this country and fraught with potential public health and safety issues.  He fretted about a potential rise in drug use among children and was clearly uncomfortable with an amendment directly conflicting with federal law, which considers pot an illegal drug on par with cocaine.

There were plenty of snags at first.  Marijuana edibles proved especially problematic because few people had experience with them. High-profile overdoses made national news.  Just last week a lawsuit was filed against the maker of a marijuana-laced candy, alleging the product triggered a "psychotic episode" that caused a man to kill his wife in 2014.  Still, none of Hickenlooper’s worst fears were realized.

Colorado is booming.  The state has a 4.2% unemployment rate, one of the best in the country.  High-tech companies are moving in.  Small towns across the state, some once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, have been saved by tax revenues from pot dispensaries.  And the $1-billion-a-year cannabis business will pump $100 million in taxes into state coffers this year.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, said the governor’s views reflect a growing sense of optimism about how the industry is regulated.  “In the short run, there have been a lot fewer public safety and health issues than the governor feared in the beginning,” said Freedman, who is often referred to as the state’s marijuana czar.  “In the beginning, we had problems with edibles and hash oil fires but now, for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before legalization.”

Marijuana consumption has not changed much from pre-legalization levels and there has been no significant increase in public health and safety problems, he said.  As for the $100 million in tax revenue, Freedman noted, that's out of a $27-billion state budget.  Some 70% of the money is earmarked for school construction, public health initiatives and other projects.  The rest goes back into regulating the industry.  

“The governor has called this a grand experiment from the beginning.  He looks at data points as he goes along and I think he’s pleasantly surprised that there were not as many challenges as he thought,” Freedman said. “He would say the jury is still out on this experiment but he’s optimistic.”

Some are less circumspect.  “The state’s image is actually rising.  We were just ranked as the best place to live in America,” Tvert said.  “The idea that businesses would not relocate here or conferences wouldn’t be held here was untrue.  In fact, attendees at conferences are now offered pot tours as day trips.”

May 17, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Marijuana sales and tax revenues keep going up and up in Colorado ... while tangible new serious problems seem still not to have (yet?) materialized

This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Colorado pot shops have already sold $270 million of marijuana in 2016," reports that "in the first three months of 2016, Colorado's pot shops sold more than $270 million of marijuana and related products." Here is more:

The state’s latest data shows that its marijuana shops sold nearly $90 million of cannabis in March 2016. The licensed stores sold more than $55 million in recreational marijuana and more than $33 million in medical cannabis in March, the latest month for which the department has released tax data for the industry. Totals for retail and medical marijuana dipped slightly in March after a bustling February, which was the state’s fifth most lucrative month for sales since they began in January 2014, according to Cannabist calculations and state data.

March 2016 totals for recreational pot sales are up 30 percent from March 2015, which shows that “marijuana sales remain strong,” said Christian Sederberg, an attorney for the cannabis industry. “As the regulated system continues to work, we’re also on pace to have over $40 million in excise taxes, meaning there could be additional taxes available from the excise tax to be used for something beyond the public school construction fund.”

Among the taxes collected on retail pot sales is the school-funding 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers, which amounted to $3.5 million in March. One of the cornerstones of the campaign that successfully ran Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64 says that the first $40 million raised by that excise tax will go toward school construction projects. That specific tax totaled $13.3 million in 2014 and $35 million in 2015, and industry analysts — Sederberg included — say they are confident it will top $40 million in 2016.

Colorado marijuana outlets sold more than $699 million of product in 2014 and more than $996 million in 2015. Year-over-year totals for taxes and license fees grew too, from $76 million in 2014 to $135 million in 2015. There are three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax; a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax; and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. For March, Colorado collected more than $11.3 million in recreational taxes and fees and more than $1.7 million in medical taxes and fees.

Intriguingly, this notable new Atlantic piece, headlined "The Failed Promise of Legal Pot: New laws on marijuana were supposed to boost tax revenues and free up cops to go after “real” criminals. But underground sales — and arrests — are still thriving," details that marijuana legalization in Colorado and other states has not yet completely eliminated the historic black-market realities of marijuana distribution.   Though I find useful this article's reminder that, even after legalization, there can be many persistent black market and prohibition problems, I also think the article highights reasons why we may expect marijuana sales and tax revenues to keep on increasing over time as more and more local marijuana consumers come to prefer engaging with the newer-and-always-innovating legal market over their older-and-surely-less-dynamic black market.

In addition to noting these sales and tax revenue trends, the headline of my post here is meant to flag the reality that we do not seem to have yet seen evidence of increasing serious new problems in Colorado to parallel the evidence of increasing sales and tax revenue.  If there were significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana and having robust retail sales, I think those harm would now start to become very obvious now nearly 45 months since Colorado voters enacted full legalization and 30 months into having retail outlets selling lots of this product.  Moreover, if there were  significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana, not only should they be evident by now, but they should be contining to grow and become even more evidence as legal sales continue to increase.

Critically, it is certainly possible that there are significant long-term harms for Colorado and elsewhere that can be linked directly to marijuana legalization and increasing legal sales, especially with respect to health concerns.  (The parallel here to tobacco should be clear: having lots of people smoke lots of cigarettes does not produce a lot of obvious short-term harms, but the long-term harms we now know are quite significant.)  But if sales and tax revenues keep going up and evidence of major problems are not yet materializing, it is going to be difficult to effectively campaign in other states against marijuana reform when the tangible cost-benefit realities in Colorado so far seem pretty darn good.

May 12, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Marijuana Arrests Down In Colorado For White Teens, Up For Black And Latino Teens"

Enhanced-mid-11604-1462934362-1The title of this post is the headline of this BuzzFeed report.  Here are excerpts:

Black and Latino adolescents in Colorado are being arrested for marijuana offenses at more disproportionate rates than they were before the state legalized recreational use of the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

The report, released in March, found a striking racial disparity in how adolescents aged 10–17 are being arrested: White juvenile marijuana arrests decreased by 8% between 2012 and 2014, while black juvenile arrests increased by 58% and Latino juvenile arrests increased 29%.

Colorado voters passed an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use in 2012 — the year is used in the report to represent pre-legalization. The first full year that the state’s 21-and-older recreational marijuana market was operational was 2014.

Between 2012 and 2014, Colorado elementary and secondary schools saw a 34% increase in marijuana arrests, the overwhelming majority of which were for possession. These arrests were often done by “school resource officers” — local police officers who have increasingly been stationed on campuses in recent years. Although most of these juvenile arrests do not involve jail time, the student must pay a fine and, in order to get the arrest expunged from their permanent record, pay to participate in a drug education class....

According to a 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County has the highest rates of teen marijuana use in the state — 32.1% of high schoolers — but only five adolescents were arrested for marijuana-related crimes there in 2014. Compare that to Arapahoe County, which has about average rates of teen marijuana use (20.6% of high schoolers) when compared to the rest of the state (19.7%), but where nearly 400 students were arrested for marijuana in 2014.

Tustin Amole, the director of communications at Cherry Creek Schools in Arapahoe County, said that while her district decides how to handle marijuana offenses on a case-by-case basis, she felt the students who are being arrested accurately reflect which students are smoking pot. “We don’t really have zero tolerance policies, because there are so many variations and circumstances. You have to take them all into account,” Amole told BuzzFeed News. “All I can say is while it may seem disproportionate, those are the students we’re catching with the drugs.”

The state also found that while marijuana arrests among adults have nearly been cut in half since legalization, the racial disparities among those still being arrested grew slightly worse. In 2014, black people were arrested and cited for marijuana-related offenses at almost triple the rate of white people. Back in 2012, black people in Colorado were being arrested for pot crimes at a little less than double the rate of whites.

While national data has shown that adults and juveniles of all races use and sell marijuana at very similar rates, the 2013 survey done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that a slightly bigger percentage of black (25.9%) and Latino (23.6%) high schoolers had used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to white students (17%). But even if the disparity in that sample was representative for the entire state, the marijuana arrest numbers for black juveniles would still be wildly disproportionate. Other states and cities that have decriminalized or legalized recreational marijuana use — including Massachusetts, Chicago, and Washington state — have seen a similar trend: a drop in overall arrests but persistent or increased racial disparities among those still being arrested.

May 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

AAA study properly highlights challenge of assessing marijuana impairment for highway safety laws

As reported in this press piece, headlined "Legal limits for driving on pot not backed by science, study shows," the folks at AAA have released a valuable new report on marijuana impairment and driving. Here are the basics via the press report:

Legal blood limits for marijuana are not an accurate way to measure whether someone was driving while impaired, and can lead to unsafe drivers going free while others are wrongfully convicted, according to a new study.

The study released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers can have a low level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their blood and be unsafe behind the wheel, while others with relatively high levels may not be a hazard.

Marijuana is not metabolized in the system in the same way as alcohol. So while a person with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher is considered too drunk to drive, it's not possible to say the same thing absent other evidence about a person testing at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood of THC — the level used to find impairment by Colorado, Montana and Washington, the study found.

The difference matters, because Illinois and 11 other states have laws that forbid any level of marijuana in the system while driving. A pot decriminalization bill being considered in the Illinois legislature would raise the level to 5 ng/ml. The bill faces opposition from law enforcement and anti-pot advocates.

Efforts to legally measure marijuana impairment have become a major concern for lawmakers as more states move to legalize cannabis, either for medical use or adult recreational use. Four states have legalized pot for recreational use by adults, and 24 states — including Illinois, plus Washington, D.C. — allow medical use, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a D.C.-based advocacy group.

"It's an attempt to try to do an apples-to-apples comparison with blood alcohol concentration," said Chris Lindsey, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. He noted that the AAA findings echo earlier research. "They found out that these things can't really be compared."

Another problem is that high THC levels may drop before a test is administered, because the average time to collect blood from a suspect driver is often two hours, the AAA study found. Frequent pot users can exhibit high levels of the drug long after use, while levels can decline rapidly among occasional users, so it is difficult to develop fair guidelines, the study found.

Because of the problem in measuring whether someone is impaired with a blood test, AAA urged states to also look at behavioral and physiological evidence through field sobriety tests, such as seeing whether a driver has bloodshot eyes or is able to stand on one leg. "That kind of testing has proved effective in court," said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.

He pointed to a 2015 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found no big crash risk associated with people driving with marijuana in their system but says more study is needed. Alcohol remains the biggest drug problem on the highways, he said. "We know that almost one-third of all traffic deaths are caused by alcohol," Griffin said.

AAA released a second study Tuesday that showed fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana had doubled in Washington after that state legalized the drug in December 2012 — the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had used marijuana jumped to 17 percent from 8 percent between 2013 and 2014. Most drivers who had THC in their systems also had alcohol or other drugs in their blood at the time of the crash, the study found. The study noted that the drivers who had THC in their blood were not necessarily impaired nor were they necessarily at fault in the crashes.

Much of the work by AAA in this space can be found at this link.

May 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Colorado Department of Public Safety releases "Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings"

This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Fewer Coloradans seek treatment for pot use, but heavier use seen," reports on this notable new official state government report from Colorado (which I believe was just released today, but bears a cover date of March 2016). Here is a basic summary via the Denver Post piece:

Colorado's treatment centers have seen a trend toward heavier marijuana use among patients in the years after the state legalized the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.  The 143-page report released Monday is the state's first comprehensive attempt at measuring and tracking the consequences of legalization.

In 2014, more than a third of patients in treatment reported near-daily use of marijuana, according to the report. In 2007, less than a quarter of patients reported such frequency of use.  Overall, though, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana has dropped since Colorado voters made it legal to use and possess small amounts of marijuana.  The decrease is likely due to fewer people being court ordered to undergo treatment as part of a conviction for a marijuana-related crime.

The finding is among a growing body of evidence that marijuana legalization has led to a shift in use patterns for at least some marijuana consumers. And that is just one insight from the new report, which looks at everything from tax revenue to impacts on public health to effects on youth.  Among its findings is a steady increase in marijuana use in Colorado since 2006, well before the late-2000s boom in medical marijuana dispensaries.  The report documents a sharp rise in emergency room visits related to marijuana. It notes a dramatic decline in arrests or citations for marijuana-related crimes, though there remains a racial disparity in arrest rates.

But the report, which was written by statistical analyst Jack Reed, also isn't meant as a final statement on legalization's impact. Because Colorado's data-tracking efforts have been so haphazard in the past, the report is more of a starting point.  "[I]t is too early to draw any conclusions about the potential effects of marijuana legalization or commercialization on public safety, public health, or youth outcomes," Reed writes, "and this may always be difficult due to the lack of historical data."

It's not just the lack of data from past years that complicates the report.  Reed also notes that legalization may have changed people's willingness to admit to marijuana use — leading to what appear to be jumps in use or hospital visits that are really just increases in truth-telling.  State and local agencies are also still struggling to standardize their marijuana data-collection systems.  For instance, Reed's original report noted an explosive increase in marijuana arrests and citations in Denver, up 404 percent from 2012 to 2014.  That increase, however, was due to inconsistent data reporting by Denver in the official numbers given to the state.

Intriguingly, though this lengthy report comes from the Colorado Department of Public Safety, not very much of the report discusses general crimes rates at much length. But what is reported in this report is generally encouraging:

  • Colorado’s property crime rate decreased 3%, from 2,580 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 2,503 in 2014.

  • Colorado’s violent crime rate decreased 6%, from 327 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 306 in 2014. 

April 18, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Senators Grassley and Feinstein convening hearing on whether DOJ is "Adequately Protecting the Public" from state marijuana reforms

This recent press release from US Senate's Caucus on International Narcotics Control details that this caucus has a hearing scheduled to explore how the federal government is keeping an eye on state-level marijuana reforms. (Exactly what this has to do with international control is unclear, but big-government drug warriors on both sides of the political aisle like Senators Grassley and Feinstein have never really been too keen to worry about limiting government growth in this arena.)  Here are the basic details on what is prompting this hearing:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Co-chairman of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, will hold a hearing entitled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?”

In August 2013, the Obama Administration decided to effectively suspend enforcement of federal law on marijuana in states that legalized it for recreational use. But to disguise its policy as prosecutorial discretion, the Administration also announced federal priorities that it claimed would guide its enforcement going forward. These priorities include preventing marijuana from being distributed to minors, stopping the diversion of marijuana into states that haven’t legalized it, and preventing adverse public health effects from marijuana use. At the time, the Justice Department warned that if state efforts weren’t enough to protect the public, then the federal government might step up its enforcement or even challenge the state laws themselves. This put the responsibility on the Department of Justice to monitor developments in these states, develop metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of its policy, and change course if developments warranted.

But a report from the Government Accountability Office that Grassley and Feinstein requested found that the Administration doesn’t have a documented plan to monitor the effects of state legalization on any of these priorities. Moreover, according to the report, officials at the Department could not even say how they make use of any information they receive related to these priorities. Grassley and Feinstein are convening this hearing to explore this problem.

What I find most notable and disconcerting about this hearing is that it claims to be exploring whether the big federal government bureaucrats inside the Beltway at DOJ who are very far removed from direct public accountability are "protecting the public" from state reforms in Alaska and Colorado and Oregon and Washington which were enacted directly by the public through voter initiatives.

April 4, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Assembling disconcerting data showing crime spikes after marijuana reform

At-logoAs regular readers of my Sentencing Law and Policy blog should know, careful and responsible researchers and advocates should be careful and cautious about making any bold assertion about which kinds of laws and legal reforms may or may not impact crime rates.  Just about every pundit who ever asserts boldly that this reform or that reform certainly will (or certainly won't) reduce or increase crime is proven wrong at some point in some way.  For that reason, I am generally disinclined to put too much stock in any assertions that marijuana reform definitely will or definitely won't lead to a change in serious crime rates in a jurisdiction.

That all said, I think it is very important to keep an eye on any notable corrections between reported crime rates is jurisdictions that have reformed its marijuana laws. And, I just came across a few recent postings by Sierra Rayne at the American Thinker website that present data showing significant crime spikes in key marijuana reform jurisdictions.  Going through the author's posting archive, I found this array of posts  that ought to be of interest to everyone following the impact of marijuana reforms:

As these post headlines perhaps reveal, the author of all these pieces seems quite interested in making the case that there is a causal link between marijuana reform and increases in crime. But even if these posts involve an effort to spin crime data to serve a particular agenda, the data assembled in these posts are disconcerting (and perhaps help explain why we are not hearing from marijuana reform advocates the claim that reform contributes to a decrease in crime).

Critically, lots of crime rates were up in lots of urban and suburban US regions throughout the end of 2014 and through all of 2015; spikes in crime rates in marijuana reform cities might ultimately reflect some broader national trends that have no direct link to marijuana laws and related practicalities.  In addition, especially because marijuana reformers reasonably assert that legalization enables law enforcement to refocus energies on more serious crimes, I wonder if any crime spikes in reform cities might reflect, at least in part, the ability for cops on the beat to discover a greater percentage of serious crimes that we already happening but were going unreported before marijuana reform.

I am hopeful (though not all that optimistic) that over time we will see more and more careful analyses of patterns of crime in the wake of local, state and national marijuana reforms.  In the meantime, though, I want to complement Sierra Rayne for keeping an eye on this important issue, and I robustly encourage everyone else interested in marijuana reform to look closely at all the emerging data in this space.

March 20, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Oregon tax coffers already getting extra stuffed one month into recreational marijuana sales

Oregon-potAs reported in this local article, headlined "Oregon collects three times expected amount of recreational marijuana taxes in first month," Oregon voters' decision to embrace full marijuana legalization is already producing much-more-than-expected tax revenues for the state. Here are the details:

Oregon brought in more than three times the expected amount of recreational marijuana tax money in the first month it was collected from dispensaries, ­potentially moving up when the state distributes revenue to ­cities and counties. Officials estimated that January might bring in about $1 million in taxes, said Derrick ­Gasperini, communications manager for the state Department of ­Revenue. Figures released Wednesday by the department showed that the state collected $3.48 million in taxes for recreational marijuana sales in January. “It does exceed ­projections,” he said.

As part of a startup year for a recreational marijuana industry in Oregon, dispensaries selling medical marijuana that registered with the department were allowed to sell to recreational buyers. The state requires those dispensaries to charge a 25 percent tax on recreational sales. Medical marijuana sales in Oregon remain untaxed.

That could mean that the tax figures indicate that ­dispensaries around Oregon sold nearly $14 million worth of recreational marijuana in the first month of taxed sales, but Gasperini ­cautioned that the estimation could be incorrect. “The Department of Revenue is not going to make any statements on sales until we have some (tax) returns,” he said. The returns will be submitted by dispensaries later this year.

Dispensaries around the state that sell recreational marijuana collected the taxes in January and gave them into the state between Feb. 1 and March 4, according to the Department of Revenue. The department received 253 tax payments from the 309 registered to sell ­recreational marijuana that month in Oregon. Gasperini explained that not all those registered turned in tax payments because “they may not have made any (recreational) sales,” he said....

A better financial picture of marijuana sales in the state should come after the end of the quarter, the first three months of the year, when he said the department will have more precise figures. For now, he also did not have a breakdown of how much in recreational pot tax money was collected by each county....

Eventually, tax money brought in from recreational marijuana sales will be divided among a variety of accounts: 40 percent for the common school fund, 20 percent for mental health, 15 percent for state police, 10 percent for cities, 10 percent for counties, and 5 percent for the state Health Authority. But that is only after the cost of running the state recreational marijuana program is taken out of the tax revenue. Before even reaching the point of distributing the tax money, the Department of Revenue and the ­Oregon Liquor Control Commission first must recoup their costs of starting up the program Gasperini said....

More taxes coming in than expected could accelerate the state’s move to dolling out the money. Department officials had expected the first distributions to come in July 2017. Gasperini said now they very likely will come sooner.

The current tax model for recreational pot is only set to be in effect this year in Oregon. At the start of next year, retail outlets selling solely recreational marijuana can open. The state plans to tax them at 17 percent, with local governments able to add another 3 percent in taxes.

March 18, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)