Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Yet another study finds link between marijuana reform and a reduction in opioid deaths

Ajph-logoThe evidence suggesting that marijuana reform could and should be a part of the toolbox of responses to the opioid crisis is starting to become overwhelming.  I make that statement as a result of this latest study published in the American Journal of Public Health under the title "Recreational Cannabis Legalization and Opioid-Related Deaths in Colorado, 2000–2015." Here is the article's abstract:

Objectives.

To examine the association between Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis use and opioid-related deaths.

Methods.

We used an interrupted time-series design (2000–2015) to compare changes in level and slope of monthly opioid-related deaths before and after Colorado stores began selling recreational cannabis. We also describe the percent change in opioid-related deaths by comparing the unadjusted model-smoothed number of deaths at the end of follow-up with the number of deaths just prior to legalization.

Results.

Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sales and use resulted in a 0.7 deaths per month (b = −0.68; 95% confidence interval = −1.34, −0.03) reduction in opioid-related deaths. This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado.

Conclusions.

Legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths. As additional data become available, research should replicate these analyses in other states with legal recreational cannabis. 

October 12, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thanks to Prez Trump(?!?), marijuana sales hit new milestone in Colorado

As reported in this local piece, headlined "Colorado’s 2017 marijuana sales reach $1 billion in just eight months," sales of recreational marijuana hit a new benchmark in Colorado. Here are the details:

Legal marijuana is a bona fide billion-dollar industry in Colorado. And it’s hitting the mark faster than ever. In 2017, Colorado eclipsed $1 billion in marijuana sales in eight months; in 2016, it took 10 months.

Colorado’s marijuana retailers logged upward of $1.02 billion in collective medical and recreational sales through August, according to The Cannabist’s extrapolations of state tax data released Wednesday. Year-to-date sales are up 21 percent from the first eight months of 2016, when recreational and medical marijuana sales totaled $846.5 million.

This year’s cumulative sales equate to more than $162 million in taxes and fees for Colorado coffers.

During the month of August, sales of flower, edibles, concentrates and accessories were nearly $137 million — $100.3 million from recreational cannabis sales and $36.5 million from medical marijuana — according to The Cannabist’s calculations....

The special sales tax rate for recreational marijuana increased to 15 percent from 10 percent in July, as the result of a new law that also exempted recreational marijuana products from the 2.9 percent standard state sales tax. Medical marijuana and accessories are still subject to that 2.9 percent sales tax rate. The Cannabist’s calculations for July and August 2017 recreational sales are based on revenue reported for the new 15 percent sales tax.

Economists and state officials have projected that the annual growth rates for Colorado’s cannabis sales will eventually moderate as the local market matures and other states adopt recreational cannabis measures.

Here’s a look at Colorado’s previous cumulative yearly sales totals:

2014: $699,198,805

2015: $996,184,788

2016: $1,313,156,545

As the title of this post suggests, I think the marijuana industry in Colorado can and should in some sense thanks Prez Trump for the ever increasing sales. The Trump Administration has not yet decided to crack down legally on the industry, but it also has hinted in various ways that a crackdown might be coming. That combination likely contributes to a view among consumers that they ought to be sure to purchase marijuana through "legal" channels while they still can.

October 12, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Interesting accounting of allocation of marijuana reform revenues in Oregon

Effective use of marijuana reform revenues, in my view, is essential to both the arguments supporting reform and to the sustainability of those arguments over time. For that reason and others, I always find interesting and important any accounting of reform revenues, and this local article from Oregon provides just that.  The piece is headlined "Oregon pays out $85 million in pot taxes to school fund, cops, other services," and here are excerpts (with a few comments to follow):

The checks are in the mail. That's the message the Oregon Department of Revenue sent Friday when it announced it will pay out $85 million in marijuana taxes for schools, public health, police and local governments by next week.

The payouts represent the first distributions of state marijuana tax revenues since Oregon opened its legal recreational cannabis market. Oregon collected a total of $108.6 million in state and local taxes between Jan. 4, 2016, and Aug. 31, 2017.  The state put $9.56 million toward the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s “start-up costs” for regulating the industry and toward the Department of Revenue's work to collect the taxes.

The rest was divvied up according to a formula spelled out by law: The state school fund gets 40 percent, or $34 million; mental health, alcoholism and drug services get 20 percent, or $17 million; Oregon State Police get 15 percent, or $12.75 million, and the Oregon Health Authority gets 5 percent, which comes to $4.25 million.

Anthony Johnson, the chief petitioner of Measure 91, which legalized recreational cannabis sales in Oregon, said the amount of tax revenue exceeded supporters’ early projections. He hopes the idea of marijuana taxes flowing into schools and public health and safety spur other states to legalize marijuana, he said. “I am glad to hear that the revenue is finally being distributed,” Johnson said. “This is what the voters intended. It shows that legalizing and regulating cannabis can help generate revenue for important governmental services.”

The largest share goes toward schools. The ballot measure said tax revenue would go to the Common School Fund, an endowment or trust fund of sorts for K-12 schools that makes distributions to districts twice a year. Lawmakers this year voted to move marijuana tax revenue to the State School Fund, which flows directly to school districts for costs such as teachers and textbooks. The fund has a budget of $8.2 billion for the biennium, the vast majority of which is made up of general fund and lottery dollars....

Otto Schell, legislative director for Oregon PTA, said while voters often assume marijuana tax revenue is providing major funding for schools, the reality is that it's among the "tiny fixes" the state has come up with to solve a major problem. To put the amount of pot taxes headed to schools in context, Schell said it's important to keep in mind how much it costs to operate the state's K12 system: roughly $30 million a day. "We keep using Band-Aids to fix something that is a systemic problem and challenge," he said.

A spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority said Friday that marijuana tax revenue will replace general fund dollars spent on existing programs, such as outpatient treatment, housing, transportation and detox. About $1 million will be spent on drug and alcohol abuse prevention, the state’s youth marijuana prevention campaign and drug and alcohol use data collection.....

Local governments may get marijuana tax revenue in two ways: Many levy their own sales tax or they are home to marijuana businesses, making them eligible for a slice of the revenue from the 17 percent state tax on pot sales. Ninety-five Oregon local governments impose a local sales tax of up to 3 percent; the Department of Revenue collects those taxes on behalf of 71 local communities, including Portland.

In the first quarter of this year, the state collected $1.2 million in local sales taxes. Scott Winkels, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, said pot tax dollars are welcome but dwarfed by revenue generated by local liquor sales. “It’s helpful, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But we aren’t going to smoke our way to fiscal bliss.”

As this final quote highlights, even though many millions are being raised through marijuana reform, the amounts are still relatively small for a lot of "big ticket" items in the state budget like schools or municipal funding needs. That reality means, for good of for bad, the revenue from marijuana reform with have different impacts and different meaning to different recipients. I think advocates and opponents of reform will be well-advised to take a very close look at how these revenues are being utilized in order to have a refined understanding of some critical echo effects of modern reforms.

October 9, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Making the case for marijuana as a "driving engine of the American economy"

1Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, has this new commentary detailing positive elements of economic development that can be linked to marijuana reforms.  The full headline of the piece serves as a kind of summary: "Making the case for Marijuana Is Now a Driving Engine of the American Economy: From increased tax revenue to rising home prices, legalization is stimulating economic growth." And here are excerpts, highlighting more what has not to been previously highlighting on this blog:

The legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes is having a positive impact on states’ economies in ways that go well beyond tax revenue. From job creation to increased tourism, marijuana legalization is driving economic markets. Here’s how.

TAX REVENUE...

JOB CREATION

The legal cannabis industry is responsible for the creation of nearly 150,000 new full-time jobs, according to data compiled by the online content provider Leafly.com. Their September 12 analysis identified 149,304 jobs in the marijuana sector – a 22 percent increase over the number of jobs that existed one year ago. States reporting the largest number of cannabis-related jobs were California (47,711) Colorado (26,891), and Washington (26,556).

TOURISM

The state of Colorado has experienced an unprecedented increase in tourism following the passage of marijuana legalization. According to data released last year by the Colorado Tourism Office, a record-setting 77.7 million people visited the state in 2015, spending over $19 billion. It is the fifth year in a row that tourism has set records in the state, which is experiencing a rapid growth in tourism that is nearly double the national average. And while not all of Colorado’s visitors are coming there for legal weed, many of them are. Among vacationers surveyed by the state’s Tourism Office in 2016, 49 percent responded that marijuana’s legal status positively influenced their decision to visit the state, and 22 percent of Colorado vacationers said that marijuana’s legal status was “extremely influential” in shaping their decision.

WORKPLACE PARTICIPATION AND WAGES

Lifting cannabis criminalization is linked with greater participation in the workforce and an increase in weekly income. A 2016 University of California at Irvine study reported that ending marijuana possession arrests is associated with an increased probability of employment, particularly among young African American males, and an average increase of 4.5 percent in weekly earnings. According to separate data published last year in the journal Health Economics, medical cannabis regulatory laws are associated with fewer workplace absences. Data published by the National Bureau of Economic research similarly reports that medicalization is associated with a "9.4 percent increase in the probability of employment and a 4.6 percent to 4.9 percent increase in hours worked per week” among those over 50 years of age. “Medical marijuana law implementation leads to increases in labor supply among older adult men and women,” researchers concluded.

HOME VALUES

The growth in the number of cannabis retail facilities is associated with an increase in nearby home values. That’s according to a just published economic analysis by researchers at the University of Georgia at Athens, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and California State University Sacramento. They reported that single family residences within 0.1 miles of a retail marijuana establishment saw an increase in value of approximately 8.4 percent compared to those located slightly further – between 0.1 miles and 0.25 miles – from the site. That increase in property value was estimated to be almost $27,000 for an average house in the area.

October 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 29, 2017

"Nevada has massive first month of marijuana sales"

Nevada-marijuana-billThe title of this post is the headline of this local article reporting that "Nevada dispensaries raked in more than $27 million during the first month of recreational marijuana sales, generating more than $3.6 million in taxes, according to figures released Thursday by the Nevada Department of Taxation."  Here is more:

How does that stack up against the other states with legal marijuana?  It’s nearly double. Colorado and Oregon each sold about $14 million in marijuana during their respective first months of sales.  Washington sold $3.8 million in its first month.

“We came out of the gate like a shotgun,” said Matt Morgan, CEO of Reef Dispensaries.  Morgan said that, even three months into recreational sales, Reef’s dispensary located behind the Fashion Show Mall has a line inside the store at nearly all times and outside about 40 percent of the time.

Nevada’s market will only grow, he said. “I still don’t think everyone understands that it’s recreational in Nevada yet,” Morgan said.

For Nevada, $2.7 million in tax revenue came from the 10 percent special excise tax on recreational marijuana, all of which is destined for the state’s rainy day fund.  That falls right in line with Nevada’s marijuana sales estimates even though there were no state projections for July because of uncertainty about when stores would begin sales. State officials have projected that special sales tax will generate $63.5 million over the first two years of sales....

Tax Department spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein said the state expects that excise tax to grow over the next two years as more cultivators get licensed and begin to operate.  The state has also pulled in $6.5 million for marijuana license and application fees.  Those revenues will be used to cover the administrative costs to regulate the industry for the Tax Department and local governments, and all remaining funds go to the state’s public education fund.

Recreational sales started on July 1, and the state has issued 250 recreational marijuana licenses thus far, 53 of those to dispensaries.

September 29, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Cannabis use among patients at a comprehensive cancer center in a state with legalized medicinal and recreational use"

CoverThe title of this post is the title of this intriguing new research paper in the journal Cancer.  Here is the paper's abstract (with key points emphasized):

BACKGROUND

Cannabis is purported to alleviate symptoms related to cancer treatment, although the patterns of use among cancer patients are not well known.  This study was designed to determine the prevalence and methods of use among cancer patients, the perceived benefits, and the sources of information in a state with legalized cannabis.

METHODS

A cross-sectional, anonymous survey of adult cancer patients was performed at a National Cancer Institute–designated cancer center in Washington State. Random urine samples for tetrahydrocannabinol provided survey validation.

RESULTS

Nine hundred twenty-six of 2737 eligible patients (34%) completed the survey, and the median age was 58 years (interquartile range [IQR], 46-66 years).   Most had a strong interest in learning about cannabis during treatment (6 on a 1-10 scale; IQR, 3-10) and wanted information from cancer providers (677 of 911 [74%]).  Previous use was common (607 of 926 [66%]); 24% (222 of 926) used cannabis in the last year, and 21% (192 of 926) used cannabis in the last month.  Random urine samples found similar percentages of users who reported weekly use (27 of 193 [14%] vs 164 of 926 [18%]).  Active users inhaled (153 of 220 [70%]) or consumed edibles (154 of 220 [70%]); 89 (40%) used both modalities.  Cannabis was used primarily for physical (165 of 219 [75%]) and neuropsychiatric symptoms (139 of 219 [63%]).  Legalization significantly increased the likelihood of use in more than half of the respondents.

CONCLUSIONS

This study of cancer patients in a state with legalized cannabis found high rates of active use across broad subgroups, and legalization was reported to be important in patients' decision to use. Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information about cannabis use during their treatment from oncology providers.

September 25, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 15, 2017

In preparation for coming reforms, UMass to study marijuana use in Bay State before start of recreational sales

ThNF1SK14RAs reported in this press release, as "Massachusetts prepares to begin sales of recreational marijuana in 2018, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS), in collaboration with the UMass Donahue Institute and staff at the state Department of Public Health (DPH), have begun a one-year baseline study to assess the level of marijuana use before legal, recreational sales go into effect." Here is more:

The investigation will be funded by a $275,000 contract from DPH as part of the DPH Marijuana Baseline Health Study to provide public health officials, legislators and others with information to assess baseline rates and patterns of marijuana use, related risk behaviors such as use in combination with alcohol, prescription drugs and impaired driving. They will also look at outcomes such as marijuana-related visits to emergency departments or urgent care facilities. Public health professors Rosa Rodríguez-Monguió and Jennifer Whitehill will lead the research at SPHHS.

David Buchanan, SPHHS chair of health promotion and policy, helped to organize two forums last year for Massachusetts lawmakers to hear about impacts of legalization in Colorado and Washington State. He says that agency directors in both states strongly recommend pre/post studies to evaluate the impact. After the forums, the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana unanimously recommended that a baseline study be conducted in Massachusetts, and it was later mandated as part of legislation passed in December 2016 that tweaked the ballot question passed by the voters.

As part of the baseline study, Whitehill and Rodríguez-Monguió have designed a statewide survey plus other studies that will complement the efforts of investigators from DPH, John Snow, Inc., Mathematica Policy Research, and the UMass Donahue Institute. Findings from the various lines of investigation will be presented to a legislative committee in July 2018.

Rodríguez-Monguió says one question to be addressed with the collection of new survey data is whether increased marijuana availability leads to increased use of other substances, particularly alcohol and prescription drugs, or whether marijuana use might serve as a substitute for prescription drugs and other substances. The UMass Amherst team will also analyze several existing national and state databases to explore associations between recreational marijuana, alcohol and prescription drug use, and involvement in fatal car crashes and calls to poison control.

September 15, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"The Effects of Marijuana Liberalizations: Evidence from Monitoring the Future"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research authored by Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard and Jeffrey Miron. Here is its abstract:

By the end of 2016, 28 states had liberalized their marijuana laws: by decriminalizing possession, by legalizing for medical purposes, or by legalizing more broadly.  More states are considering such policy changes even while supporters and opponents continue to debate their impacts.  Yet evidence on these liberalizations remains scarce, in part due to data limitations.

We use data from Monitoring the Future’s annual surveys of high school seniors to evaluate the impact of marijuana liberalizations on marijuana use, other substance use, alcohol consumption, attitudes surrounding substance use, youth health outcomes, crime rates, and traffic accidents.  These data have several advantages over those used in prior analyses.

We find that marijuana liberalizations have had minimal impact on the examined outcomes.  Notably, many of the outcomes predicted by critics of liberalizations, such as increases in youth drug use and youth criminal behavior, have failed to materialize in the wake of marijuana liberalizations.

September 12, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Spotlighting concerns over increases in heavy marijuana use

In this recent post, I noted that last week the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released here some key data from its 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).  The SAMSHA data showing decreases in teen marijuana use garnered considerable attention, and rightly so because so many are concerned about when marijuana reforms might mean for marijuana activity by those with still developing brains.  

The SAMSHA data covers a lot more than teen usage, and Christopher Ingraham has this new Washington Post piece about a trend in the data concerning adult marijuana use.  His piece is headlined "Here’s one marijuana trend you should actually be worried about," and here are excerpts:

[NSDUH has data on] the number of people who are getting high all the time — heavy users who smoke on a daily or near-daily basis. The federal data shows that those numbers are increasingly precipitously.

In 2016, nearly 19 percent of people who used marijuana that year used it at least 300 days out of the year.  That figure's up by roughly 50 percent from 2002, when 12 percent of marijuana users consumed the drug daily or near-daily.

Again, this on its own is not necessarily cause for concern. It's possible to smoke marijuana moderately on a daily basis — half a joint to wind down after a day of work, akin to the ubiquitous glass of wine with dinner, for instance. But the comparison with alcohol is instructive here. According to the federal survey data, marijuana users are far more likely to use daily than drinkers are to drink daily.... In a given year, lots of people drink — but relatively few of them drink every day. That's not true for marijuana. Marijuana users are nearly three times as likely as drinkers to consume their drug of choice daily.

Some of that daily marijuana use is probably inherently moderate and nothing to be concerned about. But public health researchers worry that much of it is a result of problematic use — drug dependency. "While alcohol is more dangerous in terms of acute overdose risk, and also in terms of promoting violence and chronic organ failure, marijuana — at least as now used in the United States — creates higher rates of behavioral problems, including dependence, among all its users," as Carnegie Mellon University researcher Jonathan Caulkins wrote for the magazine National Affairs earlier this year.

The question, then, becomes how best to address the risks of chronic, heavy marijuana use. Keeping pot illegal is not likely to solve things — after all, the charts above show that daily marijuana use was rising well before the first states legalized the drug in 2014. Legalization advocates say that bringing the drug out in the open and regulating it is the best way to go. They point to tobacco as an example: Tobacco use, including heavy use, has fallen precipitously in the past two decades as a result of public health campaigns and greater stigma around use of the drug — all of which was accomplished without throwing people in jail for using it.

Public-health experts, meanwhile, are increasingly calling for a balance between the extremes of prohibition and commercialization — "grudging toleration," as New York University professor Mark Kleiman puts it. As a Rand Corp. report outlined last year, there are a whole host of options for dealing with the marijuana market, from allowing people to grow marijuana but not sell it, to giving the government a monopoly in marijuana sales, to more esoteric options like allowing nonprofit co-ops to control the supply of the drug.

The good news is that as laws relax around marijuana use, we're running real-world experiments in how some of those options actually work. In the United States, we have a handful of fully commercial markets, like the ones in Colorado and Washington. We also have noncommercial legalization for homegrown marijuana in the District. In Canada, meanwhile, it appears that the province of Ontario will experiment with implementing a government monopoly on the drug starting in July of next year.

September 11, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"A Safer Way To Legalize Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable extended commentary appearing at the Heath Affairs Blog authored by Rebecca Haffajee, Alex Liber, and Kenneth Warner. Here are excerpts:

Those crafting marijuana laws can draw upon lessons learned about the harms of combusted tobacco and the smoking control policies that followed. Given what we already know about the health hazards of combusted marijuana and the difficulty of controlling the sale of commercially established products, policy makers should capitalize on this opportunity to create a legal marijuana market that mitigates potentially significant harms associated with inhaling combusted marijuana while still facilitating desired benefits of recreational marijuana....

Combustible marijuana likely poses similar risks to those of combustible tobacco, while vaporizing or eating marijuana products offers a “cleaner” delivery mechanism. Why repeat the devastating public health harms of smoking tobacco when policy makers can reasonably mitigate similar consequences of smoking marijuana?...

In a recent comprehensive review of the scientific literature, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that “smoked marijuana…is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances.” The report and other reviews found strong evidence linking combusted marijuana to increased risk for chronic bronchitis....

Edible and vaporized marijuana products offer the potential to deliver therapeutic and euphoric benefits of marijuana while avoiding cardiopulmonary-related harms of combustion. Although precise estimates of the decreased risks associated with this substitution are not available, by analogy the health risks for smokeless and vaporized tobacco products are estimated to be roughly 90 percent less than those of combusted tobacco.

Valid concerns have been raised about the potential health harms from commercially marketed edibles, especially their attractiveness to, accessibility by, and increasing exposure and overdoses among children. We strongly support prohibitions on the sale of marijuana products — including edibles — to minors, clearly labeling product THC content and requiring child-proof packaging. Additionally, if marijuana is only legally available for sale in forms that do not resemble cigarettes, children may be less likely to cross over between products....

Policy makers in jurisdictions considering legalization are not bound by custom to make available all forms of marijuana for recreational use. Little prior interstate commerce of legal marijuana products exists, and most states have yet to legalize recreational use. The environment is ripe to experiment with different types of markets, and entrepreneurial policy makers could embark on implementing a safer legal marijuana market that omits combustibles, based on our current and developing knowledge.

While uncertainty still exists regarding the relative harms of different marijuana products and robust research is warranted, waiting for perfect scientific consensus about the scope and nature of harms related to marijuana combustion is unwise. The evidence base around marijuana combustion harms is already strong, and growing. Arriving at total consensus will take decades — as it took to link cigarettes to lung cancer — and waiting to embark on an alternative, very likely safer policy regime has real costs, measured in disease and death. Permitting the sale of THC extracts for consumption in edible or vaporized form will neither compromise therapeutic nor euphoric benefits of recreational marijuana use. In addition, creating variation in recreational marijuana policy regimes — between those already enacted that permit marijuana combustion and those enacted in the future that don’t — would create natural experiments ripe to study the differential effects and quantify harms versus benefits. Policy makers in favor of legalization should seize the opportunity to design a new market that permits recreational sale of marijuana only in edible or vaporized form, to minimize the potential for the kind of disease burden associated with smoked tobacco.

September 10, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

WSIPP report suggests not too much has changed with marijuana legalization in Washington state

LcbThe Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), which serves as a chief research arm for Washington’s legislature in Olympia, has been been tasked with assessing the costs and benefits of marijuana legalization in the state.  It is required to produce reports in 2015, 2017, 2022, and 2032.  The first 2015 WSIPP report, blogged about here, largely said it was too early to start reaching any conclusions about the impact of legalization. This second 2017 WSIPP report, released this past week, is similarly cautious about reaching firm conclusions about the impact of the state's initiative providing for marijuana legalization, the the report does have this useful summary of findings:

Our outcome analyses were designed to identify causal effects of I-502. However, I-502 is a multi-faceted law that may affect outcomes through a variety of mechanisms including changes to criminal prohibitions; the creation of a regulated cannabis supply system; and investments in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and research. The findings we present in this report are only one portion of a larger body of work designed to address multiple aspects of the law.

In these initial investigations, we found no evidence that I-502 enactment, on the whole, affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions. Further, within Washington State, we found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions.

The bulk of outcome analyses in this report used the within-state approach to focus on identifying effects of the amount of legal cannabis sales. We found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected youth substance use or attitudes about cannabis or drug-related criminal convictions.

We did find evidence that higher levels of retail cannabis sales affected adult cannabis use in certain subgroups of the population. BRFSS respondents 21 and older who lived in counties with higher levels of retail cannabis sales were more likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days and heavy use of cannabis in the past 30 days. We also found two effects that are difficult to interpret. Among the portion of the population aged 18 to 21, BRFSS respondents living in counties with higher sales were less likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days, in some analyses. It may be that legal cannabis sales have made cannabis more difficult to access by persons below the legal age, for instance, by reducing black market supply through competition.

We also found that in the portion of the BRFSS sample who smoked cigarettes, respondents living in counties with higher levels of legal cannabis sales were less likely to report past-month cannabis use. It is particularly difficult to explain why increased sales would lead to lower cannabis use among cigarette smokers.

We look forward to updating these results with additional data to see if these effects persist.

Though not mentioned in this summary, the report reveals a notable decline in marijuana-specific criminal charges in the wake of the legalization vote in Washington. And, not to be overlooked, Washington now has a significant job sector and tax revenue stream as a result of legalization. It seems this WSIPP report was much more focused on changes in marijuana use than in other impacts, which strikes me as the reason why this report creates the impression that there is not much to report.

September 10, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Competing takes on the latest SAMHSA data concerning marijuana use

Earlier this week, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released here some key data from its 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Like many careful and important data reports, this report has a number of intricacies that should defy simple spins and encourage thoughtful and reflective review. But, as these headlines and press release titles review, folks concerned about marijuana reform were quick to provide their points of emphasis ASAP: 

  • From SAM here, "New National Report Shows Rise in Prevalence and Intensity of Marijuana Use"

  • From Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog of The Washington Post here, "Teen marijuana use falls to 20-year low, defying legalization opponents’ predictions"

September 8, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"How Extensive is Inter-State Diversion of Recreational Marijuana?"

The title of this post is the title of this timely new paper available via SSRN (for a price) and authored by Benjamin Hansen, Keaton Miller and Caroline Weber.  Here is the abstract:

Despite federal prohibition, recreational marijuana is available to 21% of the United States population.  A chief concern among policy makers across multiple levels of government and political parties is inter-state diversion of marijuana from states with legal markets to others.  We measure this diversion with a natural experiment. Oregon opened a recreational market on October 1, 2015 next to an existing market in Washington, which opened on July 8, 2014.

Using comprehensive administrative data on the universe of Washington sales, we find Washington retailers along the Oregon border experienced a 41% decline in sales immediately following Oregon's market opening. Retailers along Washington's borders with Idaho and Canada experienced no such decline.  The decline occurred equally across weekdays and weekends, and was largest among the largest transaction sizes, suggesting diversion, not drug tourism, was to blame.  Our estimates suggest that 11.9% of the marijuana sold in Washington was diverted out of the state before Oregon legalized and 7.5% remains diverted today.

September 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"How legalization caused the price of marijuana to collapse: Pot has never been so cheap."

The title of this post is the headline of this new Wonkblog analysis authored by Keith Humphreys at The Washington Post.  Here is how it starts and ends:

All the diverse effects of legalizing recreational marijuana may not be clear for a number of years, but one consequence has become evident almost immediately: Pot has never been so cheap.  Steven Davenport of the Pardee Rand Graduate School has analyzed marijuana retail prices in Washington state since legal recreational markets opened in July 2014.  Remarkably, prices have fallen every single quarter since....

The ongoing decline in marijuana’s price after legalization has an important implication for drug policy more generally.  The experience of Washington and other marijuana legalization states demonstrates how enormously effective prohibition of production and sale is at raising drug prices.  For example heroin’s price took a decade to fall by 16 percent, which the legalization of marijuana accomplished in just eight months.  Notably, even high taxes on legal marijuana don’t keep the legal price anywhere near what it was when the drug was more broadly illegal.

Prohibition imposes huge costs on drug producing industries that are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.  These higher prices are one of the principal reasons (the others being stigma and fear of punishment) that illegal drugs are used so much less frequently than legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.  Marijuana is a rare example where we can see the impact of legalizing a drug in real time, which shows that were the production and sale of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine also legalized, those drugs would also become dramatically cheaper to consume.

September 5, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Buzz Kill for Pot Farmers: Lower Prices"

BF-AT618_POTFAR_16U_20170830162105The title of this post is the headline of this Wall Street Journal article reporting on the modern economic realities of the marijuana marketplace moving from black to gray. Here are excerpts:

From Washington to Colorado, wholesale cannabis prices have tumbled as dozens of states legalized the drug for recreational and medicinal uses, seeding a boom in marijuana production. The market is still tiny compared with the U.S. tobacco industry’s $119 billion in annual retail sales, but the nascent cannabis business has grown to more than $6 billion a year at retail, according to data from Euromonitor International Ltd. and Cowen & Co..

For marijuana smokers, the price drop is sweet news. Recreational users and those prescribed cannabis for health reasons have seen prices decline as wholesale prices have fallen, though some retailers have pocketed part of the difference, according to New Leaf Data Services LLC, which researches the U.S. cannabis market....

But for growers—ranging from high-tech warehouse operations to back-country pot farmers gone legit—the price drop has been painful. Since peaking in September 2015 at about $2,133 a pound, average U.S. wholesale cannabis prices fell to $1,614 in July, according to New Leaf. That is the sort of market decline that hit Midwestern corn and soybean growers in recent years after a string of record-breaking crops. “There is an increasing recognition, on the part of the industry and those that grow and dispense, that this market is a commodity,” said Jonathan Rubin, New Leaf’s chief executive.

In response, some producers are taking a page from the food industry, where farmers and food companies increasingly appeal to health- and environment-conscious consumers. Growth in organic food products for years has outpaced conventional grocery sales, and products made without genetically modified crops, gluten and artificial flavorings can command premium pricing and shelf space....

Because cannabis remains illegal under federal law, growers can’t get their crops certified as organic, a label that can only be bestowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cannabis farmers instead have turned to alternative labels such as SunGrown Certified, which requires that growers use sunlight and water-conservation practices. They hope such labels will entice smokers and secure shelf space in the 29 states where marijuana is legal in some form....

That push to differentiate is splitting pot farmers into rival camps. Indoor-grown cannabis, where climate controls and high-powered lights allow several crops per year, typically is of a more consistent quality, industry officials say. Its dense, often bright-green buds catch consumers’ eyes, often fetch a higher price and can be costlier to produce.

Proponents of marijuana grown outdoors and in greenhouses say indoor facilities rely on synthetic fertilizers and heavily consume electricity. They point to a 2012 paper by University of California Senior Scientist Evan Mills, which estimated that indoor cannabis production accounted for 1% of national electricity use, though some growers have been adopting LED lights, which consume less electricity.

Jeremy Moberg, owner of Riverside, Wash.-based CannaSol Farms and head of the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association, says marijuana smokers will come to care about the environmental cost of their high. “The socially conscious, premium customer is going to want us because we’re sustainable,” he said. “It only takes me 30 seconds to convert somebody wearing Patagonia and driving a Prius that they should never smoke indoor weed again.”

At Hashtag Cannabis in Seattle, Ms. Pillert said customers occasionally ask for pesticide-free or sun-grown varieties. Smokers’ main fixation, she said, is the potency rating for the key active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC: “They want to make sure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck.”

Many in the emergent industry expect marijuana to eventually resemble the beer business, where pricier craft brews have built followings in the shadow of cheaper mass-market beers like Budweiser and Busch. While high-quality strains and specialty brands may secure premium prices, more low-quality marijuana will be processed into oil used in vaporizer cartridges or adult-oriented baked goods like brownies and cookies, growers and retailers said.

August 31, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

New SAM report, asserting legalization states "​have ​not ​fulfilled ​the ​requirements ​of ​the ​Cole Memo," urges federal law enforcement to target big players in marijuana industry

Download (4)Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the leading public policy group advocating against most state-level marijuana reforms, has released today this new  report titled "The​ ​Cole​ ​Memo:​ ​4​ ​Years​ ​Later: Status Report on State Compliance of Federal Marijuana Enforcement Policy." Here are parts of this SAM report's introduction and conclusion:

On ​August ​29, ​2013, ​the ​U.S. ​Department ​of ​Justice ​(DOJ) ​issued ​guidelines ​to ​Federal prosecutors ​and ​law ​enforcement ​officials ​regarding ​where ​to ​focus ​their ​drug ​enforcement efforts ​in ​states ​that ​have ​passed ​laws ​legalizing ​the ​retail ​sales ​of ​marijuana. ​The ​so-called “Cole ​Memo” ​directs ​enforcement ​officials ​to ​focus ​resources, ​including ​prosecutions, ​“on persons ​and ​organizations ​whose ​conduct ​interferes ​with ​any ​one ​or ​more ​of ​[eight] ​priorities, regardless ​of ​state ​law.”...

According ​to ​the ​Department ​of ​Justice, ​the ​Federal ​“hands-off” ​approach ​to ​marijuana enforcement ​enumerated ​in ​the ​Cole ​Memo ​is ​contingent ​on ​its ​expectation ​that ​“states ​and local ​governments ​that ​have ​enacted ​laws ​authorizing ​marijuana-related ​conduct ​will ​implement strong ​and ​effective ​regulatory ​and ​enforcement ​systems ​that ​will ​address ​the ​threat ​those state ​laws ​could ​pose ​to ​public ​safety, ​public ​health, ​and ​other ​law ​enforcement ​interests. ​A system ​adequate ​to ​that ​task ​must ​not ​only ​contain ​robust ​controls ​and ​procedures ​on ​paper, ​it must ​also ​be ​effective ​in ​practice.”

Unfortunately, ​since ​Colorado ​and ​Washington ​became ​the ​first ​states ​to ​legalize ​the recreational ​sale ​of ​marijuana ​in ​2012, ​evidence ​has ​emerged ​that ​regulations ​intended ​to control ​the ​sale ​and ​use ​of ​marijuana ​have ​failed ​to ​meet ​the ​promises ​made ​by ​advocates ​for legalization. ​For ​example, ​states ​with ​legal ​marijuana ​are ​seeing ​an ​increase ​in drugged ​driving crashes ​and youth ​marijuana ​use. ​States ​that ​have ​legalized ​marijuana ​are ​also failing ​to ​shore up ​state ​budget ​shortfalls ​with ​marijuana ​taxes, ​continuing ​to ​see ​a ​thriving ​illegal black ​market, and ​are ​experiencing ​an unabated ​sales ​of ​alcohol, ​despite ​campaign ​promises ​from ​advocates promising ​that ​marijuana ​would ​be ​used ​as ​a ​“safer” ​alternative ​instead.

Moreover, ​state ​regulatory ​frameworks ​established ​post-legalization ​have ​failed ​to ​meet ​each ​of the ​specific ​DOJ ​requirements ​on ​controlling ​recreational ​marijuana ​production, ​distribution, ​and use. ​While ​long-term ​studies ​and ​research ​on ​the ​public ​health ​and ​safety ​impacts ​of ​marijuana legalization ​are ​ongoing, ​this ​report ​provides ​a ​partial ​census ​of ​readily ​available ​information that ​demonstrates ​how ​Colorado, ​Oregon, ​and ​Washington ​State ​- ​the ​jurisdictions ​with ​the most ​mature ​regulatory ​markets ​and ​schemes ​- ​have ​not ​fulfilled ​the ​requirements ​of ​the ​Cole Memo....

Federal ​resources ​should ​target ​the ​big ​players ​in ​the ​marijuana ​industry. ​Individual ​marijuana users ​should ​not ​be ​targeted ​or ​arrested, ​but ​large-scale ​marijuana ​businesses, ​several ​of ​which now ​boast ​of ​having ​raised ​over ​$100 ​million ​in ​capital, ​and ​their ​financial ​backers, ​should ​be ​a priority. ​These ​large ​businesses ​are ​pocketing ​millions ​by ​flouting ​federal ​law, ​deceiving Americans ​about ​the ​risks ​of ​their ​products, ​and ​targeting ​the ​most ​vulnerable. ​They ​should ​not have ​access ​to ​banks, ​where ​their ​financial ​prowess ​would ​be ​expanded ​significantly, ​nor should ​they ​be ​able ​to ​advertise ​or ​commercialize ​marijuana....

These ​large ​marijuana ​operations, ​which ​combine ​the ​tactics ​of ​Big ​Tobacco ​with ​black marketeering, ​should ​form ​the ​focus ​of ​federal ​law ​enforcement, ​not ​individual ​users. ​At ​the same ​time, ​the ​federal ​government ​along ​with ​non-government ​partners ​should ​implement ​a strong, ​evidence-based ​marijuana ​information ​campaign, ​similar ​to ​the truth® ​campaign ​for tobacco, ​which ​alerts ​all ​Americans ​about ​the ​harms ​of ​marijuana ​and ​the ​deceitful ​practices ​of the ​marijuana ​industry.

August 30, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

"Traffic fatalities linked to marijuana are up sharply in Colorado. Is legalization to blame?"

Cd0827potdriving3-_-v2-1The title of this post is the headline of this big long article Denver Post article exploring marijuana reform's impact on roadway safety.  Here are excerpts:

The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show.  A Denver Post analysis of the data and coroner reports provides the most comprehensive look yet into whether roads in the state have become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization.

Increasingly potent levels of marijuana were found in positive-testing drivers who died in crashes in Front Range counties, according to coroner data since 2013 compiled by The Denver Post.  Nearly a dozen in 2016 had levels five times the amount allowed by law, and one was at 22 times the limit.  Levels were not as elevated in earlier years.

Last year, all of the drivers who survived and tested positive for marijuana use had the drug at levels that indicated use within a few hours of being tested, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which compiles information for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The trends coincide with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado that began with adult use in late 2012, followed by sales in 2014.  Colorado transportation and public safety officials, however, say the rising number of pot-related traffic fatalities cannot be definitively linked to legalized marijuana.  Positive test results reflected in the NHTSA data do not indicate whether a driver was high at the time of the crash since traces of marijuana use from weeks earlier also can appear as a positive result.

But police, victims’ families and safety advocates say the numbers of drivers testing positive for marijuana use — which have grown at a quicker rate than the increase in pot usage in Colorado since 2013 — are rising too quickly to ignore and highlight the potential dangers of mixing pot with driving....

Estimates vary for how much marijuana use has increased in Colorado since legalization.  Surveys by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that use within 30 days rose from about 12 percent of Colorado adults in 2013 to 17 percent in 2015, a 42 percent increase.  But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment published a survey last year putting adult use at 13 percent in 2015, indicating a slower rate of growth.

The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes testing positive for marijuana rose 88 percent from 2013 to 2015, FARS data show.  The numbers are not strictly comparable as the usage estimates would take into account Colorado’s population growth rate of roughly 1.8 percent a year....

Law enforcement officials, prosecutors and public policy makers concede there’s still too little information about marijuana and how it’s detected to understand just how much the drug is affecting traffic fatalities.  Even coroners who occasionally test for the drug bicker over whether to include pot on a driver’s death certificate.  “No one’s really sure of the broad impact because not all the drivers are tested, yet people are dying,” said Montrose County Coroner Dr. Thomas Canfield.  “It’s this false science that marijuana is harmless, … but it’s not, particularly when you know what it does to your time and depth perception, and the ability to understand and be attentive to what’s around you.”...

The trends in the state appear nearly identical in Washington state, where recreational marijuana was legalized at about the same time.  Officials there have been tracking the drug’s impact on driving much more carefully and for a longer period, statistics show. What Washingtonians have been seeing is starting to be revealed here: “Drug-impaired driving is now eclipsing alcohol, and that’s frustrating,” said Darrin Grondel, director of Washington’s Traffic Safety Commission, which is gathering and studying the data.

However, Colorado’s understanding is due to deepen.  The legislature last session passed House Bill 1315, which mandates a vigorous analysis of traffic fatalities statewide and the extent to which marijuana and other drugs are involved and prosecuted.  As part of that project, state police have re-analyzed about a third of blood samples taken from suspected drunk drivers in 2015 and, according to a person familiar with that project, found that more than three in five also tested positive for active THC.

Coroners and police say they have no idea just how many drivers – dead or alive – have active THC in their system because so few of them are tested for it in the first place.  Colorado’s Department of Public Safety in March 2016 said barely half of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were tested for drugs – and 81 percent of the ones tested were dead.  That has remained relatively unchanged since 2012, when 45 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes were tested.  That’s because Colorado’s DUI laws are such that a positive reading for alcohol impairment quickly results in a suspended license.  Not so for marijuana....

Transportation officials are concerned not only with pot-related fatalities but with the overall rise in traffic deaths.  While CDOT doesn’t see the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes as “a reliable measurement,” preferring metrics such as the number of actual crashes and fatalities, it does note that those are also on the rise. The reason, said CDOT’s Cole, is probably due in part to an increase in motorcycle fatalities, pedestrian deaths, cellphone use — and marijuana.

August 26, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Colorado sends its forceful response to letter from AG Sessions about marijuana reform concerns

As noted in this prior post, last month US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the leaders of states with recreational marijuana laws detailing troublesome data that, in the words of these letters, raised "serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures'."  And, as reported in this prior post, last week Washington set a forceful response to AG Sessions.  This week, as reported here by HuffPost, Colorado sent its response in the form of this detailed five-page missive.  (Alaska and Oregon have also responded forcefully to the Sessions latter, but Colorado and Washington seem to me the most important states to watch because they have the most mature marijuana industries and the longest-in-place regulatory regimes.)  Here is part of the HuffPost summary of the letter:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) mounted a vigorous defense of their state’s legalized and regulated marijuana program Thursday, replying to a critical letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that was directed at states that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Hickenlooper and Coffman, in a response letter dated Thursday, tell Sessions that their state’s numerous marijuana laws and regulations are “effective.” They said the regulations work smoothly to prevent diversion of the drug outside of the state, block marijuana use by minors and protect the public’s safety and health. The pair also encourage the federal government to work with the state to “fortify” the robust program that it has already built....

“The State of Colorado has worked diligently to implement the will of our citizens and build a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health,” the Colorado letter reads. “When abuses and unintended consequences materialize, the state has acted quickly to address any resulting harms. While our system has proven to be effective, we are constantly evaluating and seeking to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement.”

The Colorado officials detailed statistics that the state provided to the Department of Justice in a report in July, a document HuffPost obtained and previously reported on earlier this month, to back up their argument that state-level legalization of marijuana is effective.

Prior related posts:

August 25, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 18, 2017

NHTSA releases "Marijuana-Impaired Driving A Report to Congress"

Download (1)Though dated July 2017, I believe the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has only just this week released this lengthy report titled "Marijuana-Impaired Driving A Report to Congress." The report's introduction explains that it "has been prepared in response to a requirement in Section 4008 (Marijuana-Impaired Driving) of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act)," and it highlights the limited research on marijuana-impaired driving and continued challenges:

Unlike alcohol, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. A much smaller number of studies have looked at the impairing effects of marijuana use on driving-related skills.  Less is known about these effects due in part to the typical differences in research methods, tasks, subjects and dosing that are used. A clearer understanding of the effects of marijuana use will take additional time as more research is conducted.  The extra precautions associated with conducting research on a Schedule I drug may contribute to this relative lack of research. For example, these include the need for a government license to obtain, store and use marijuana, the security requirements for storage, and documentation requirements and disposal requirements.

While fewer studies have examined the relationship between THC blood levels and degree of impairment, in those studies that have been conducted the consistent finding is that the level of THC in the blood and the degree of impairment do not appear to be closely related.  Peak impairment does not occur when THC concentration in the blood is at or near peak levels.  Peak THC level can occur when low impairment is measured, and high impairment can be measured when THC level is low.  Thus, in contrast to the situation with alcohol, someone can show little or no impairment at a THC level at which someone else may show a greater degree of impairment....

There is a need to improve data collection regarding the prevalence and effects of marijuana-impaired driving.  NHTSA has collected some data on the prevalence of marijuana use by drivers on a national basis, though NHTSA has been prohibited from continuing to collect this information.  In contrast, there is little State level data about the prevalence of use of marijuana by drivers being collected.  As States continue to change their laws regarding marijuana use in general and as it relates to driving, this lack of State level data prevents evaluation of the effect of policy changes on driver behavior, including willingness to drive while under the influence of marijuana, as well as the effect of marijuana on crashes, deaths and injuries.

August 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Washington Gov and state AG respond forcefully to letter from AG Sessions about marijuana reform concerns

As noted in this prior post, a few weeks ago US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the leaders of states with recreational marijuana laws detailing troublesome data that, in the words of these letters, raised "serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures'."  An example of one such letter can be found here, addressed to Washington's Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Now, as detailed in this local article, headlined "Gov. and AG to Sessions: You are blowing smoke on our marijuana law," there has now been at least one forceful official response to these letters.  Here are the basics:

Allegations by Sessions, in a recent letter on Washington's marijuana policy, "are outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information," the two state leaders wrote to Sessions. "We have twice requested an in-person meeting with you because we believe it will lead to better understanding than exchanging letters," Inslee and Ferguson wrote to the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday.

"If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us. " Inslee and Ferguson called for both a sit-down with Sessions, and "further appropriate meetings" between state and Dept of Justice officials....

Sessions, in his letter, stressed a 2016 Northwest Drug Trafficking Area report asserting that Washington marijuana has been diverted to "43 other states" and cites 17 explosions at THC extraction laboratories.

Inslee and Ferguson bluntly told Sessions he was blowing smoke. "Your letter fails to clearly acknowledge that this (43 state) statistic covers several years before our recreational sales even began, and reveals nothing about whether the sources of the marijuana were legal or illegal," they wrote. "Again, your intent is for our state-regulated marijuana market to displace and destroy illegal marijuana activity. "

Sessions made charges that Washington's medical marijuana market is "considered 'grey' due to lack of regulation and oversight." Inslee and Ferguson acknowledged that medical marijuana "was not well regulated or supervised" in Washington. Shortly before the 2016 report came out, however, the Legislature passed reform legislation.

"We realigned medical marijuana to bring it within the state's far more stringent recreational system," wrote the Governor and AG. In fact, they told Sessions, a subsequent 2017 report by the feds made clear that "as of July 1, 2016, the long-standing illegally operating dispensaries were shut down or became licensed retailers; sales are now subject to taxation and medical marijuana products now must pass strict packaging and testing requirements before being sold to patients." "Your letter, relying on the old . . . report, ignores this important development."...

"We encourage you to keep in mind why we are having this conversation," Inslee and Ferguson told Sessions. "State and federal prohibition of marijuana failed to prevent its widespread use, which was generating huge profits for violent criminal organizations. "The people of Washington State chose by popular vote to try a different path. Under Washington's system, responsible adults are allowed access to a highly regulated product that returns substantial tax revenues to the government even as it displaces illegal activity."

The full letter from Gov Inslee and state AG Ferguson can be found at this link, and I like that the letter included a request to discuss additional matters with federal officials including:

  • Whether DOJ will support reasonable federal policies allowing financial institutions to provide service to licensed marijuana businesses, in order to avoid the public safety risks and transparency problems associated with all-cash businesses. 

  • How state-regulated marijuana should be treated by the federal government following the President’s declaration that the opioid crisis constitutes a national emergency, and whether the federal government will support objective, independent research into the effects of marijuana law reform on opioid use and abuse.

August 16, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)