Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oregon reports collecting over $25 million in marijuana taxes in first half of 2016

As reported in this local article, "Oregon medical marijuana dispensaries have sold an estimated $102 million in recreational cannabis since January, when the state imposed a 25 percent sales tax on pot" which means it "has collected about $25.5 million in marijuana taxes in the first six months of the year and is on track to meet state economists' projections." Here is more about marijuana tax realities in the Beaver State:

The latest tax figures, released Monday by the Oregon Department of Revenue, include the start of marijuana-infused edibles sales.  The products include a wide variety of snacks, sweets and drinks and were available to anyone 21 and older starting in June....

State economists estimate that the state will collect about $44.4 million in marijuana taxes in 2016, the first year of the tax.

The state expects it will cost $28.7 million to regulate marijuana; of that, taxes will cover $12 million with the rest covered by fees and licensing of marijuana businesses.

What's left will be distributed according to a formula spelled out by law: 40 percent to the state's Common School Fund, 20 percent to mental health, alcoholism and drug services, 15 percent to Oregon State Police, 10 percent for city law enforcement, 10 percent for county law enforcement and 5 percent to the Oregon Health Authority for alcohol and drug abuse prevention, early intervention and treatment services.

Oregon's medical marijuana stores have been allowed to sell a limited amount of cannabis flowers, as well as starter marijuana plants and seeds, to anyone 21 and older since last October. The state's temporary 25 percent tax kicked in on Jan. 1.

That tax eventually will be replaced with one ranging from 17 percent to 20 percent once the Oregon Liquor Control Commission takes over regulation of recreational marijuana sales later this year. The Legislature set the base tax rate at 17 percent, but cities and counties can adopt ordinances that add up to 3 percent more.

August 22, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Highlighting why some (many?) of the marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in 2016 are not certain to pass

Election-2016-Legalization-MeasuresThis new Vice article, headlined "Why Marijuana Legalization Campaigns Could Fail in 2016," reinforces my sense that the results of all the marijuana reform ballot initiatives on so many states this election cycle remain quite uncertain. Here are excerpts:

This was supposed to be the year of Pot-Palooza, when five states are set to hold ballot initiatives that would make marijuana legal for recreational users.  If all passed, it would bring the number of states offering pot for sale to nine, following similar measures that passed in Colorado and Washington in 2012 and in Alaska and Oregon in 2014.

Legalization advocates saw it as another potential leap in their march to slow the decades-long war on drugs: The rest of the country would see that the nine legalized states were awash in tax revenues, and that fears of stoned drivers flooding the roads in search of late-night Mallomars had been overblown.  Other states, they imagined, would quickly follow suit, bringing the country ever-closer to its marijuana tipping point, when the federal government would finally be forced to step in and end pot prohibition once and for all.

But as the legalization movement heads into the 2016 election, with the marijuana issue on the ballot in five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada — the fantasy of a New Green Rush is coming up against unexpected resistance, its momentum slowed by a lack of funding that advocates were not prepared for.   Advocates with the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group helping to spearhead the ballot initiatives, say that fundraising is down 25 percent from what they need to compete on Election Day.  "We are polling well in all of the states we are working in,"said Rob Kampia, the group's executive director. "But we know that without advertising on our side, the level of support is going to drop between now and Election Day. The money reminds people why they support this in the first place."

Kampia cited a bill to pass medical marijuana in Arizona in 2010, which had support from nearly two-thirds of voters in early polls.  Without funding or an active campaign to support the measure, though, the initiative ended up passing with just a hair over 50 percent of the vote, and only after write-in and provisional ballots were counted in the days after the election.

Past legalization campaigns — including the statewide ballot initiatives that passed in 2012 and 2014 — were funded in large part by a handful of wealthy philanthropists,including George Soros, Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, Men's Wearhouse magnate George Zimmer, and John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix.

In recent years, though, both Lewis and Sperling have passed away, Soros has pulled back on his pot-based philanthropy, and Zimmer finds himself with a diminished fortune after being fired from the company he founded in 2013.  And so advocates, who expect campaigns for the five legalization initiatives and four other medical marijuana ballot measures to cost in the $40-50 million range, are counting on the $7 billion legal marijuana industry to fill the fundraising void. But so far, the industry has mostly taken a pass. "There has been a bit of a free rider problem with this thing,"said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which still receives funding from Soros and other wealthy donors.

"People are making a shitload of money on this stuff without them spending any more to get where we are,"Nadelmann told an audience at the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo, a bi-annual trade association event, this May.  "They are using the opportunity of legalization to make a fortune without doing anything to create that opportunity. The marijuana reform movement is spread incredibly thin right now.  And the question for 2016 is whether the industry will be there or not."

And so far, they haven't been. At a recent cannabis industry investor summit sponsored by the ArcView Group, which connects investors with entrepreneurs in the legal marijuana industry, executives boasted that they had helped raise $70 million for marijuana-related start-ups; but the same slide showed that the investor network had contributed less than $1 million for legalization efforts — a discrepancy that activists in the room were quick to point out. "That is 1.4 percent,"Ben Pollara, a Florida political operative, told the assembled investors. "That is just pathetic."

[A]dvocates and political operatives seethe that the businesses and individuals who have directly benefited from their efforts are not contributing to the cause. And in interviews with a dozen marijuana industry leaders about the 2016 legalization campaigns, nearly all of them told VICE that they supported the measures, but had not yet given money to any of the state ballot campaigns. "I support all of these measures morally and emotionally," said Randy Shipley, the CEO of CannaFundr.com. "But most of the people that are doing these campaigns, I am not sure that the money is being spent in the right way. I would like to see more transparency."

Industry leaders gave a variety of other reasons for not donating to legalization efforts: they hadn't budgeted for political spending; that state regulations for legal pot businesses were proving more financially burdensome than expected; they believed the measures were going to pass anyway. Some said that they just didn't want to get involved in politics....

Some industry players seem to prefer the status quo: More states coming on line means more business entering the market; and while most of these are currently smaller startups, large corporations are sure to follow, swallowing those who have been operating in their niche of the market. "People are concerned about what legalization is going to look like for them,"said Michael Bronstein, a consultant for the American Trade Association for Cannabis. "You would think they would say, 'let's get this federal prohibition out of the way.'But they want stability. So many of them have dealt with instability for so long."

Tensions between the burgeoning cannabis industry and legalization advocates are not new. In 2015, for example, an industry-backed legalization measure in Ohio was defeated, after many political activists backed away from supporting it, arguing that the measure unfairly favored a few connected players at the expense of consumers. "I love psychoanalyzing the marijuana industry,"said Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project.  "In one bucket you have people who say they are too poor to donate. In another bucket you have people who just hope someone is going to save them from themselves.  But any business that budgets zero dollars for political change is being silly because marijuana is actually illegal."...

If a handful of measures go down to defeat this November, it could also embolden the federal government to end its hands-off approach to marijuana businesses in the four states that have legalized the drug. Since federal law trumps state law, any president at any time could shut down the farms, dispensaries and thousands of businesses that have cropped up in the wake of legalization. "Think about what would happen if Oregon and Alaska went down in 2014 because there wasn't enough money in these campaigns,"Nadelmann of DPA, told the conference and cannabis entrepreneurs. "All of the momentum, all of the ways in which people are thinking legalization is inevitable and the way of the future, imagine what would have happened if we had lost. Colorado and Washington would be seen as flukes. The net value of this industry would be fifty percent of what it is today." "And if California, goes down,"he added. "It sets us back a decade. I don't want to say you are fucked, but..."

August 19, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Poll suggests California marijuana legalization initiative on path to win pretty big

Prop64This press release from the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, which is titled "IGS Poll Finds Support for Gun Control, Marijuana Legalization," suggests that the ballot initiative in California to legalize marijuana could pass by a substantial margin.  Here are some of the particulars:

California voters overwhelmingly support a sweeping gun control measure on the November ballot, including strong majorities of both parties and independent voters, according to a new poll released today by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. On another hot-button social issue that will be on the ballot in the fall, voters also strongly support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, the survey found.

The poll used online English-language questionnaires to survey 3,020 respondents from June 29 to July 18. All respondents were registered California voters, and the responses were then weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the California population by gender, race/ethnicity, education and age....

Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana use, with regulation by specified government agencies.  Almost two in three respondents (63.8 percent) supported that idea, a level of support extremely similar to last year, when the IGS Poll asked the identical question.  Support included 73.8 percent of Democrats and 62.2 percent of independents.  Republicans opposed legalization, 53 percent to 47 percent, but this was less GOP opposition than was registered by the same question last year.  Last year Republicans opposed legalization by 61.6 percent to 38.4 percent.

Support for legalization was highest among African-Americans (71.9 percent) and Latinos (69.3 percent) and lowest among Asian-Americans (57.7 percent).  Support for legalization was also highest among 18- to 24-year-olds, and lowest among those over 65.

The reported movement in these poll numbers for Republicans is an interesting and possibly very important development, and I also found interesting from the reported results that there was not a significant gender gap in support for legalization. If these poll numbers hold up and California's legalization initiative win by a huge margin, I think that fact will just further add evidence that the winds of public opinion aregrowing ever more strongly for the repeal of blanket marijuana prohibition throughout the United States.

August 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"The Biggest Legislative Marijuana Policy Reforms Of 2016"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Huffington Post commentary authored by Rob Kampia, who is the co-founder and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. Here are excerpts:

On July 29, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed a bill removing the threat of arrest for small amounts of marijuana, capping a record year of legislative and administrative marijuana policy reforms throughout the country.

Two states, Pennsylvania and Ohio, enacted effective medical marijuana laws via their legislatures, making them the 24th and 25th states to do so, respectively.  As a result, more than half of the U.S. population now lives in states that have opted to legalize medical marijuana.

This year has also seen improvements to several existing medical marijuana programs. Colorado adopted “Jack’s Law,” which provides protections for medical marijuana patients who attend public schools.  Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont expanded the lists of medical conditions for which patients can qualify to use medical marijuana.  Vermont also enacted a law that reduces the required time for a patient-provider relationship from six to three months, allows marijuana to be transferred to research institutions, and requires labeling and child-resistant packaging for edibles sold at dispensaries.  Oregon increased access to medical marijuana for veterans who receive assistance from the VA program.  In Illinois, Gov. Rauner signed a bill to extend and expand the state’s pilot medical marijuana program, and in Maryland, lawmakers enacted a law allowing nurse practitioners, dentists, podiatrists, and nurse midwives to recommend medical marijuana to qualifying patients....

In addition to Illinois, a number of other states enacted laws to reduce marijuana possession penalties. Kansas lowered the maximum jail sentence for first-time possession and reduced second offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Louisiana and Maryland removed criminal penalties for possession of paraphernalia, with the Maryland Legislature overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto.  Oklahoma cut the penalties for second marijuana possession offenses in half, and Tennessee reduced a third possession offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, making the maximum penalty less than a year in jail.  At the local level, New Orleans and a number of Florida counties passed ordinances that give police the option to issue summons or citations instead of arresting people for low-level possession.

In states where marijuana is legal for adults, legislators and regulators made notable improvements and progress toward full implementation.  In Colorado, lawmakers passed a bill to allow out-of-state ownership of marijuana businesses and increased the amount of marijuana that non-residents may purchase at retail establishments. Colorado also increased local control of testing laboratories and created a new business category for businesses that transport marijuana.  And in Washington State, a number of bills were passed to streamline practices in the marijuana industry and make it easier to apply for research licenses.

Alaska regulators began licensing marijuana cultivators and expect to begin issuing retail licenses soon.  Oregon is in the process of licensing adult-use marijuana retailers while currently allowing any adult to purchase marijuana from existing medical dispensaries; Oregon also passed comprehensive regulations that, among many other things, increase cooperation between the medical and adult retail programs, exempt patients from being taxed, allow out-of-state investment in marijuana businesses, and protect financial institutions from prosecution under state law for doing business with the marijuana industry.

August 10, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Reviewing all the states where voters will weigh in on marijuana reform during Election 2016

With now only three months to Election Day 2016, I thought it useful to reprint the start of this new International Business Times article headlined "Where Will Pot Be Legal Next? Recreational Marijuana On The Ballot In 5 States On Election Day 2016":

Despite Americans' statistical lack of enthusiasm for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Green Party still has little chance of getting nominee Jill Stein into the White House. But another kind of green is poised to have a big election day this year: recreational marijuana.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington might soon have some company in the ranks of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.  Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — will vote on recreationally legalizing pot on ballot measures this year on election day in November.  The states would determine individually what the parameters of legalization would be — California has signaled that recreational pot would be legal for adults over 21 and subject to a 15 percent sales tax.

In addition to those states, four other states — Arkansas, Florida, Montana and Missouri — will have ballot measures this year to make marijuana legal for medical use.  The eight ballot measures will be the largest swath of voters weighing in on the issue of marijuana legalization in history.  "This is really a watershed year for marijuana legalization, so I'm hoping that we'll see some big changes in November," F. Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told CNN.

By my count, five recreational initiatives and four medical initiatives adds up to NINE ballot issues. Perhaps even more significant if we are counting heads is that around 25% of the entire national population will be voting on marijuana reform issues, making the 2016 election year arguably the closest possible thing to a national referendum on blanket marijuana prohibition. If the majority of these ballot initiatives pass, and especially if the initiaitive pass big in the really big/significant states of California and Florida, I do it will be all but certain that federal marijuana prohibition is reformed in some significant way before the end of the decade.

August 4, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Marijuana Agriculture Law: Regulation at the Root of an Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable forthcoming paper authored by Ryan Boudin Stoa available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Marijuana legalization is sweeping the nation.  As many as thirty marijuana legalization initiatives may appear on election ballots in 2016, legalizing the recreational or medicinal use of marijuana in as many as 17 states and adding to the growing number of states that have already legalized marijuana.  Many of these legalization initiatives propose to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, and many titles are variations of “the regulate marijuana like alcohol act.”  For political and public health reasons the analogy makes sense, but it also reveals a regulatory blind spot.  States may be using alcohol as a model for regulating the distribution, retail, and consumption of marijuana, but marijuana is much more than a retail product. It is also an agricultural product, and by some measures, the largest cash crop in the United States.  Since marijuana prohibition laws were passed long before any regulations for cultivation were developed, states are facing an unprecedented challenge: regulate, for the first time ever, one of the country’s largest agricultural industries.

There are major regulatory challenges ahead, and how states respond to those challenges will shape the course of the marijuana industry.  At present there is a gap in understanding the regulatory challenges presented by marijuana agriculture, and the options states have to address them.  This Article identifies those challenges and the regulatory approaches most capable of addressing them.  The study begins by describing the existing state of marijuana agriculture regulations.  States are likely to find that the marijuana industry’s unique characteristics justify a tailored regulatory approach; relying on existing agricultural policies may be ineffectual or lead to perverse outcomes.  

Next, fundamental questions about the “marijuana fragmentation spectrum” are explored.  Will the industry come to be dominated by agricultural conglomerates mass-producing a marijuana commodity, as many have feared?   Or will governments and the industry adopt the appellation model favored by the wine industry, to protect local farmers and differentiate between products?  The major environmental impacts of marijuana agriculture are analyzed as well, including regulations that address water allocation, water quality, energy, organic certification, and crop insurance.  Finally, the study addresses power distribution trade-offs within marijuana agriculture regulation frameworks, including local vs. state, and consolidated vs. fragmented, regulatory authority dilemmas.  The findings suggest that responsible and sustainable marijuana agriculture can be fostered at the state level, but only if regulations are responsive to the unique and unprecedented challenges that marijuana agriculture presents.

August 3, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Democrats formally approve platform calling for "pathway" to marijuana legalization

I continue to not know just how much import and impact official party platforms have. Nevertheless, I still think this press piece about formal events at the DNC, headlined "Democrats become first major party to back pathway to legalizing pot," is reporting on events that are a pretty big deal for marijuana reform advocates now and in the years ahead. Here is the official language from the party platform embraced by Dems:

“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African-Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”

Here is more from the press piece with reactions to these developments from leading marijuana reform advocates:

Legalization backers applauded the vote and said it reflected polls that found a majority of Americans wanted to legalize the drug.  “The fact that one of the country’s two major parties has officially endorsed a pathway to legalization is the clearest sign we’ve seen yet that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “A clear and growing majority of voters want to end prohibition.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, does not back across-the-board legalization at the federal level. The platform includes her often-used language that marijuana legalization should be left to the states, allowing them to be “laboratories of democracy.”  That’s good news for Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, which that have already approved recreational marijuana, along with the District of Columbia....

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said a growing number of state Democratic parties had already backed legalization in their platforms this year.  That includes California, which will vote on recreational marijuana in November.  “It’s not particularly surprising that the platform calls for rolling back the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, seeing as the vast majority of Democrats – and a majority of Americans – support making marijuana legal for adults,” he said. 

Despite the support, Tvert said he wouldn’t be surprised if the issue didn’t get much attention from speakers at the Democratic convention this week.  “The platform typically reflects the positions of most party members, but it does not necessarily reflect the political or policy priorities of candidates and party leaders,” he said.

July 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Recognizing how California's coming vote on full legalization of marijuana could be a game changer

AumalogoNROne of many reasons I focused a lot last year on the failed (and at times foolish) campaign to fully legalize marijuana in Ohio was because I believe that a vote in favor of full legalization in 2015 in a bellwhether state like Ohio would be a "game changer" in the marijuana reform movement nationwide. But even though Ohio voters soundly rejected a flawed full legalization initiative last year, marijuana reform in Ohio and nationwide continues apace. And, as this new Rolling Stone article highlights, California's full legalization initiative now on the ballot is surely the most obvious "game-changer" circa 2016. The Rolling Stone piece is headlined "The Pot Law That Could Be 'Deal-Breaker for the Drug War': California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act could have ramifications far beyond the state's borders," and here are excerpts:

Last week California's pot legalization initiative, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, qualified for the ballot in November, setting the stage for a vote that will have ramifications far beyond California's borders.

There are several reasons why if the AUMA passes, it will make California the heaviest domino to fall in the nationwide effort to legalize marijuana, the most obvious being the state's size and the sheer number of people who would have access to legal weed. One in 10 Americans lives in California, while the Los Angeles basin alone is home to more people than Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska — the four states that have so far legalized adult use marijuana — combined. California also has the sixth largest economy in the world, allowing the rest of the country to draw solid conclusions about the financial impact of legalization.

The Golden State is also known as a trendsetter with the power to break down stereotypes. Having pioneered medical marijuana in 1996, California is a leading exporter of cannabis policy and culture. If California legalizes, the way it goes about doing so will set a standard going forward for other local and national governments to follow.

"It really is the state that wags the tail of the nation, so if California's 55 senators and representatives in Congress were to be in favor of legalization, then it would be a total dynamic change," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. Other states like Colorado and Washington give us models of how legalization can look, he continues, "but none of them has enough national sway so as to be the template for the rest of the country where possible."

California influences other states, as well the federal government. "We see California as a tipping point to end federal prohibition," says Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.  If legalization passes, overnight a plurality of the United States population will reside within cannabis-legal states, and the federal government will be forced to reckon with the "marijuana question," she says. Moreover, California can make the biggest difference in regard to international drug cartels, especially in Mexico. "Colorado has begun to undermine the marijuana cartels, but I think [legalization] in California might cut their legs out from under them," Lyman adds.

California will become the new "gold standard" for legalization, she says. Other states can look to California for guidance on cannabis revenue allocation, community assessment, environmental protection, anti-monopoly provisions, drug education for juvenile possession of cannabis, expunging marijuana convictions and banning regulators from denying licenses to those with prior drug felonies.

First and foremost, the AUMA would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. In doing so, it would also herald a new economic program to offset the effects of prohibition and the Drug War. If passed, the measure would impose a 15 percent retail tax on cannabis, projected to generate up to $1 billion in revenue, as well as $100 million annual savings, to fund public university research on legalization ($10 million), DUI protocols ($3 million), medical cannabis research ($2 million) and support for communities most devastated by the Drug War ($50 million over five years). Everything left over would go to environmental cleanup from illegal grows (20 percent), law enforcement (20 percent) and youth drug prevention, treatment and education (60 percent)....

Additionally, people with prior marijuana convictions could petition to reduce or expunge them from their records — no matter whether they are still in jail, on probation or parole, or have already finished their sentences. "We see 2016 in some ways as potentially the last year where social justice drug policy reforms are leading the marijuana legalization battle, as this becomes a full-fledged industry," says Lyman. Capitalist motives could take charge, pushing socially conscious policy to the sidelines. If the AUMA fails, however, activists worry it could have a depressing effect on other legalization efforts and extend the end of prohibition. "Having California lose would be a tremendous setback," says Lyman. "We cannot afford to lose."...

Legalization in California opens up a conversation at national and international levels, says Chris Conrad, a court-qualified expert witness on marijuana, author and activist influential in shaping California's medical marijuana laws. Even if the AUMA isn't perfect, it's a starting point from which California and the nation can continue to see progress. "The initiative allows for more changes and improvements. Look at all this progress we made with marijuana illegal. Just think of what we can do when it's legal," he says.

Conrad points out that if California legalizes, the entire American West Coast from Alaska through Baja will have legal marijuana. (Canada will likely legalize in 2017, too.) "That's a huge chunk of the country, and it sends a message to the rest of the world that it's OK to do this," says Conrad. "Once California legalizes marijuana, people will say it's done. Remember we came from zero tolerance, and now we're talking about how much marijuana should a person be able to carry around legally. I think it's time to cash in some chips. It's a deal-breaker for the Drug War."

July 6, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Big-stakes litigation over Michigan legalization initiative gets underway

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d1f1f27a970c-320wiI noted in this prior post a couple of weeks ago the legal battle shaping up over whether the ballot initiative effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan would actually get to the voters.  This new local article, headlined "Marijuana group sues Michigan for ballot access," reports that this legal battle is now officially before a court.  Here are the details:

A Michigan group seeking to put a marijuana legalization question on the November ballot is taking its fight to court. MI Legalize on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the state in the Michigan Court of Claims, challenging a law and policy that effectively invalidated its petition signatures collected outside of a customary 180-day window.

Attorneys Jeff Hank, Thomas Lavigne and Matthew Abel, members of the MI Legalize board, argue the law and policy are inconsistent with the Michigan Constitution, which allows for initiated petitions but does not specify a time limit for signature collection. The six-count complaint also contends rejecting older signatures denies voters their free speech and political expression rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“We’re just asking for our petitions to be treated like all the others so that anyone who signed as a registered voter has their voice heard,” Hank told The Detroit News. “The state doesn’t really have an argument for why they wouldn’t count someone’s signature if it’s legitimate.”

The suit has broad implications for MI Legalize and other ballot proposal committees in Michigan, where successful “citizen-initiated” petition drives typically rely on the financial and organizational backing of interest groups. “It’s going to be a historic Michigan elections law case that effects not just us but everybody else,” Hank said. “If we’re successful in this, other campaigns will have a longer time to petition. This isn’t just a marijuana issue anymore, it’s a voting rights and ballot access issue.”

MI Legalize, an activist-led group that used a combination of volunteer and paid petition circulators, submitted an estimated 354,000 signatures to the state on June 1, topping the 252,523 needed to qualify for the ballot. But 146,413 of the signatures were collected within 180 days of the filing, according to an initial Bureau of Elections staff review, prompting the Board of State Canvassers to vote against certifying the proposal for the November ballot.

MI Legalize is asking for expedited review by the Court of Claims, including a restraining order against the 180-day collection law and an order for the Bureau of Elections to move forward with a full canvass of the group’s submitted petitions....

Gov. Rick Snyder last week signed a new law strengthening the 180-day window requirement for petition drives to initiate legislation or amend the state constitution. The law had allowed petitioners to “rebut” the presumption that older signatures were “stale and void,” but the process for proving their validity was laborious and had never been successfully completed. The 1986 Board of State Canvassers policy required petitioners to secure affidavits from local elections clerks across the state confirming that signers were still registered to vote in their respective counties.

MI Legalize had asked the state to update by the policy by allowing registration verification through the Qualified Voter File database, but the Board of State Canvassers did not approve a Bureau of Elections recommendation. The Michigan Supreme Court in 1986 upheld the 180-day signature window for petitions to amend the state constitution, but the MI Legalize complaint focuses on petition drives for initiated legislation. The lawsuit filed Thursday challenges the old law as well as the new version signed this month by Snyder that eliminated the signature rehabilitation option, requesting a declaration that both are unconstitutional.

MI Legalize is also seeking monetary damages of up to $1.1 million plus other costs and punitive relief if its signatures are not fully canvassed. The group had reported raising $849,000 through April 20.

June 17, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Interesting legal battle already emerging in Michigan about whether legalization initiative will get to voters in November 2016

Download (17)As reported in this local article, headlined "Petitions to legalize marijuana to face likely fight," the submission of hundreds of thousands of signatures in Michigan is likely to kick off even more uncertainty about whether voters in the state will get a chance this fall to vote on full legalization of marijuana. Here are just some of the intricacies of what should be an interesting story to follow:

Leaders of a statewide group who want recreational marijuana legalized in Michigan turned in 354,000 signatures Wednesday on petitions aimed at putting a question before voters on November ballots.  As with nearly every step in the controversial, year-long effort of fund-raising and petition passing, the next stage in the battle to be on the ballot is fraught with unknowns.  There likely will be lawsuits, administrative roadblocks in Lansing and even lawmakers' challenges that could derail the effort.

The key issue? Although a state formula required the group to gather 252,523 signatures to qualify for ballots and the petitioners turned in far more, a majority of signatures likely will be deemed invalid. That's because state law says that any signature gathered more than 180 days before being filed with the state is presumed to be “stale and void,” unless the petitioner can prove otherwise. Leaders of the drive said they’ve offered ample proof and they’re prepared to make it stick — in court, if necessary.

Opposing the ballot proposal and the legalization of marijuana in Michigan have been virtually all law enforcement officials and police groups, as well as many educators and youth drug-abuse prevention groups such as the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, which used a federal grant to launch Mobilizing Michigan — a kit of education materials to tell young people about the dangers of marijuana.  The kit has been sent to scores of high schools across Michigan, according to the group’s website....

But the prospect of a lawsuits or other roadblocks wasn't dimming the hopes of Debra Young of Oak Park, who was one of what she said “had to be thousands” of volunteers working in every county of Michigan on behalf of having Michigan join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing marijuana.  “I’ve been gathering signatures since day one. I probably got 3,000 myself, personally,” said Young, a longtime user of medical marijuana to treat her glaucoma. She’s a board member of the campaign, called the Committee for MILegalize.

“Finally, we can de-stress,” she said Thursday. “We had fund-raisers.  We had outreach. We were at every major event — ball games, concerts at DTE Energy (Music Theatre), festivals. I’ve been working on this literally every minute possible for a year,” Young said.

Because the 180-day limit for gathering signatures is a vague and untested area in state law, seen by many as unenforceable, a majority of state legislators passed a bill last month making it explicit law. But the bill wasn't presented to Gov. Rick Snyder until Wednesday — the very day that MiLegalize petitions were turned in, according to the Cannabis Law Blog of the Dykema Gossett law firm in Detroit.

Snyder had yet to sign the bill, but even if he does, “We don’t see how it would apply retroactively to us,” said Jeff Hank, a Lansing lawyer who chaired the MILegalize campaign.  He readily admitted that MILegalize has circulated petitions “for about 11 months,” about five months longer than the 180-day window cited in state law, he said. Still, the same law allows a committee to prove that a stale signature is valid — that is, it still refers to a registered voter at the address listed at the moment the signature is submitted to state officials.

“We used the state’s own records to validate most of our signatures. We’re confident that we have the 253,000 or so that we need,” Hank said. Moreover, the dispute is about more than marijuana, Hank said.  "It’s about the average citizen's ability to directly participate in our form of government,” he said.  Gathering signatures to put a question on election ballots “was meant to be used by the citizens when the system isn’t responding to them, and we all know that state government has absolutely not been responsive to Michigan voters on some key issues,” he said....

A spokesman for the state Bureau of Elections confirmed Thursday that MILegalize submitted “an estimated 354,000 signatures” on Wednesday.  Now comes a waiting game for both those who favor and those who oppose legalizing cannabis in Michigan.  “The review and verification process will take at least two months before a report is made to the Board of State Canvassers," Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.  Sometime after that, with no scheduled date, "the board will vote on whether enough valid signatures were filed," Woodhams said Thursday.

Although leaders of the petition campaign said that the two-month wait seems excessive, that much time is needed for state officials to verify the signatures, Woodhams said. The two months "also includes a time period for challenges to be filed against the signatures by members of the public,” he said. 

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Is The Cannabis Movement Overextended?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting new International Business Times article discussing the state and possible fate of the significant number of marijuana reform initiatives to be appearing on state ballots this fall.  Here is how it gets started and additional excerpts from the middle and end of the lengthy piece:

In early May, the national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project sent out a panicked email titled “Alone, beaten down and incredulous in Boston.” MPP had been working to land a marijuana legalization measure on Massachusetts’ ballot this November, but a recent fundraising event in Boston had drawn just a single attendee. “What’s worrisome isn’t this one bad event, but that it mirrors the contributions and involvement across Massachusetts since the initiative launch,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia wrote in the message. “Simply put, the campaign is broke,” he noted. The organization might not have the money to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in one of the most liberal states in the U.S.

A lack of fundraising dollars in Massachusetts isn’t the only reason marijuana advocates are beginning to feel nervous. 2016 is a pivotal year for the cannabis movement, with an unprecedented 10 states potentially voting on recreational or medical marijuana reforms in November. Planned are medical marijuana initiatives in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Montana, as well as recreational cannabis measures in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and California, the last of which would launch a legal cannabis industry in what is the world’s eighth-largest economy. But, according to campaign finance records, the 10 campaigns altogether to date have raised less than $11 million, just slightly more than marijuana advocates amassed in 2014 midterm elections to pass legalization measures in two states, Alaska and Oregon.

While it’s still relatively early in the 2016 campaign calendar, a lot more cash will be needed before November. Representatives of the national advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) estimated at a recent webinar that it would likely cost between $40 million and $50 million to win in all 10 states. “There is a little bit of concern among people I have talked to that the movement might be trying to do too much too soon,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Majority, who recently wrote about the issue for Marijuana.com. “There are only so many dollars that can be raised to purchase advertising time and put together get-out-the-vote operations.” It doesn’t help that so far the growing marijuana industry has been reluctant to shoulder much of these campaigns’ costs or that anti-marijuana efforts are gaining traction. This confluence of factors has led some observers to posit that 2016 may not be the watershed year for cannabis legalization that many have predicted. Instead, it could be the year the ascendant cannabis crusade finally faces defeat.

“The marijuana movement is stretched so thin in 2016,” DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said during a presentation last month at Marijuana Business Daily’s Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida. “I think what could happen in 2016 could be a harsh wake-up call.”...

As in years past, the two largest marijuana advocacy groups, DPA and MPP, are dividing their efforts between different reform campaigns. For example, DPA is playing a large role in the big California legalization effort, while MPP is highly involved in recreational marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada (MPP suspended a medical marijuana effort in Ohio last week after legislators passed a medical cannabis law).

While MPP may be working on more concurrent state campaigns than it ever has before, Mason Tvert, the organization’s communications director, insisted it isn’t stretched too thin. “We only get involved in campaigns when we are confident we will be able to run an effective campaign and win,” he said. Still, he added that weighing in on the financial fitness of various political efforts can be a dicey prospect in the middle of campaign season. “If you say you have no money, people aren’t going to donate because they don’t think you have a chance,” he said. “If you say you have money coming out of your ears, they aren’t going to donate either.”...

Meanwhile, marijuana advocates are facing increasingly well-organized and well-funded opposition. In Massachusetts, the anti-marijuana campaign has garnered the support of Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speaker Rovert DeLeo. In California, opponents of legalization are gathering donations from police associations, prison guard groups and the Teamsters union. In Arizona, a conservative fundraising firm announced an anonymous donor had pledged $500,000 as a matching gift for all donations the anti-legalization campaign received during the month of May. In Florida, real estate mogul Mel Sembler has pledged to raise at least $10 million to fight the state’s medical marijuana initiative, $2.5 million more than he raised to defeat a similar effort in 2014. And Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or Project SAM, the most prominent anti-marijuana group nationwide, just announced it has raised $300,000 and formed new state partnerships to fight the various 2016 marijuana initiatives....

As the marijuana industry has flourished, Project SAM founder Kevin Sabet thinks the cannabis movement has been exposed to new lines of attack, such as that legalization is becoming all about the business bottom lines and not about social justice. “They have written these initiatives as corporate free-for-alls,” said Sabet. “The old-school pot legalizers who are not really in this for the money, a lot of them are pretty stunned and not sure what to do this year.”

But Troy Dayton, CEO of cannabis investment network the ArcView Group, disagrees. He said the marijuana industry isn’t very involved in the reform initiatives — and he thinks that’s a problem. “Our opposition likes to say this is ‘Big Marijuana’ trying to pass laws,” he said. “I wish that was the case. At least so far, that hasn’t really happened.” Dayton is concerned that there’s a false sense of security in the marijuana movement. “The media has done a very good job of suggesting the marijuana industry is making money hand over fist, so a lot of philanthropists who otherwise might be backing these issues are thinking, ‘Hey, there is an industry now, they will take this the rest of the way,’” he said. “But that is not really happening to enough of a degree to fundamentally move the needle.” For example, while ArcView’s members have together invested more than $70 million in various marijuana companies since 2010, the investor network has only contributed roughly a million dollars to various legalization initiatives in that same period.

According to Dayton, marijuana businesses are struggling with various industry headaches — such as sky-high tax rates and a lack of banking services — that make it unlikely they have loads of excess funds they can donate to political campaigns. But at this point, Dayton thinks that is no excuse. He believes marijuana activists and industry stakeholders alike need to realize that 2016 is the make-or-break year for cannabis reform. “I am out there pounding the pulpit, telling people, ‘Come on, folks, whether you are on the business side or the social justice side or both, now is the time. Whatever you would normally give, give three times that,’” he said. “If we win most of these initiatives, it’s really lights out on marijuana prohibition. But if we lose a significant portion of them, that could mean a much longer fight to ultimately end this disastrous policy.”

June 1, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Detailing the big and small positives of marijuana tax revenues for big and small towns in Colorado

Images (14)This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Marijuana sales tax revenue huge boon for Colorado cities," highlights some notable community benefits in those Colorado towns allowing regulated and taxed marijuana sales. Here are excerpts:

From small towns that barely dot the map to the state’s largest urban areas, revenue from retail marijuana sales is helping communities address homelessness, send children to college, patch potholes, secure water rights and fund an array of projects.

Aurora is using $1.5 million of its revenue from pot sales and fees to address its homeless issue. Money also is going to road improvements and a new recreation center. Adams County has earmarked more than $500,000 for scholarships for low-income students. Wheat Ridge keeps its revenue in the city’s general fund, and it’s used in a variety of areas. The same goes for Northglenn, where five marijuana stores generated $730,000 in 2015. The money will go toward water purchases and capital improvements to infrastructure and city facilities.

Although many cities stash the cash in their general funds, Aurora City Councilman Bob Roth, who led a committee that drafted retail marijuana regulations, said it was important to show residents exactly how the money is being spent — especially those who opposed marijuana legalization. “One thing I felt very strongly about was that it not just to go the general fund but kept in a separate bucket so we could show the community what specifically we were doing with it,” Roth said. T

here are 62 cities and 22 counties in Colorado that allow retail marijuana sales, according to the state. Marijuana sales this year are expected to reach $1 billion in Colorado, and local government entities are cashing in. “A lot of communities have struggled to have enough revenue to fill potholes and to keep the street lights on,” said Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “What we’ve seen out of Aurora is that money going to address homelessness. It’s a great use for the money.”

Henny Lasley, project director for Smart Colorado, a group that advocates for protections for children from marijuana, noted that about 70 percent of communities in the state have opted out of retail marijuana. Lasley said pot proceeds should go toward marijuana education and other efforts to enlighten the public on pot. “We believe that if you are going to collect money from marijuana, let’s do something with marijuana from those taxes,” she said.

In Aurora, the money earmarked to help the homeless will be used to purchase two vans for local nonprofit outreach groups to use to transport people to shelters and for other needs, said Nancy Sheffield, project manager for Aurora’s neighborhood service department. Two outreach workers will be funded with the money for the Comitis Crisis Center and the Aurora Mental Health program. “Our City Council has been very wise in how they’re allocating the revenue,” Sheffield said.

By the end of this year, Aurora expects to see $8.1 million in sales taxes and fees since the first pot shop opened in Aurora in October 2014, city spokeswoman Julie Patterson said. Aside from the $1.5 million for the homeless, about $3.8 million is earmarked for improvements to the East Alameda Avenue and Interstate 225 intersection. Another $2.8 million will go toward bonds for a new recreation center in the growing southeast part of Aurora. And $680,000 will be put in reserve to help outreach programs that work with the city’s needy. Because the number of pot shops is capped at 24 in Aurora, revenue is expected to stabilize going forward, with about $6.4 million in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Even Pueblo West, which isn’t a town or city but a special district west of Pueblo, is seeing marijuana revenue. Pueblo West received about $200,000 from the county, and it plans to use that to fill pot holes and fix roads. For a district of roughly 28,000 residents that is funded primarily through property taxes, it has a limited revenue source. The money from marijuana sales is a “big deal,” district officials said. Wheat Ridge has five locations that sell recreational marijuana, and four of them also sell medical pot, said city spokeswoman Maureen Harper. She said the city saw a total of $530,105 in sales taxes and fees associated with marijuana sales last year.

That revenue goes directly into Wheat Ridge’s general fund and is not earmarked for any one program. “We treat revenue generated by marijuana like we treat other general fund revenue, and it helps support city operations,” Wheat Ridge Mayor Joyce Jay said. “At this point, I don’t see the number of establishments increasing here in Wheat Ridge.”

In Denver, which has the state’s most extensive recreational and medical marijuana markets, the city took in $29 million last year from all sales by taxes and licensing fees. That money goes into the general fund, and Denver devotes some to ramped-up regulation, enforcement, public health and education efforts — budgeted at $9.1 million this year. It also has dipped into pot taxes to cover higher costs on a recreation center project.

In Northglenn, five recreational marijuana stores generated $730,000 in 2015, spokeswoman Margo Aldrich said. The city also has medical marijuana shops. Northglenn has seen about $3.6 million in total revenue since 2009. The money is used for capital projects, and some is used for purchasing water rights, she said. Elliott said part of the money cities and counties receive is used to properly regulate and license the industry — and that makes communities safer. “There’s a lot of money left over to address safety issues that come up or really take on projects that these local communities do not necessarily have the funds to deal with,” he said. “For some communities, this tax revenue has made a huge difference.”

No matter the size of the community, retail marijuana has been, well, a big hit. For Mountain View, a 12-block enclave nestled among Wheat Ridge, Lakeside and Denver, the extra revenue has been a godsend. Known more for funding its budget through speeding tickets, which Mayor Jeff Kiddie said is not true, the influx of cash is much needed.

The town has two pot shops that both sell recreational and medical marijuana. It uses that revenue to take care of streets, alleys and other improvements. “We have such as small tax base,” said Kiddie, who opposed allowing pot stores in Mountain View. “Medical and retail marijuana have definitely helped the town’s bottom line. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.”

May 27, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Could Michigan be among the states voting on legalizing marijuana for recreational use in November 2016?

Download (17)In looking at this fall's election as a huge one for the future of marijuana law, I have had my eye on five states in which it seemed very likely voters would be considering recreational reforms via ballot initiative: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. But this local article, headlined "Marijuana advocates rally at Michigan Capitol in final push for petition signatures," suggests that there is a  chance Michigan voters also might get an opportunity to speak directly on this issue come November.  Here are the basic details:

Supporters of a ballot drive to legalize recreational marijuana use in Michigan lined the Capitol lawn Friday afternoon in a final effort to round up signatures and denounce recent legislative efforts to change state signature gathering law. Jeffrey Hank chairs MILegalize, the group behind the ballot drive. Prior to the rally, he said the group had collected a total 315,000 signatures, which had not yet been vetted.

The purpose of the rally was to bring in any outstanding petition sheets and make one final push for signatures before the June 1 deadline in the same place the drive began last June, Hank added. The group needs at least 252,523 valid signatures to get on the November 2016 statewide ballot, which would put the question of whether recreational use, purchase and possession of marijuana for people over 21 in Michigan should be legal before voters.

One notable speaker at the rally was Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who recently introduced legislation that would decriminalize marijuana in Michigan and has long advocated for reforms to marijuana law. He told rally attendees that in all of his experience gathering signatures for various ballot issues, he's never worked on an issue like marijuana legalization, because most people know exactly how they feel about the issue one way or the other. "Most people are grabbing it out of your hands — they want to sign, they want to move this issue forward," Irwin said. "It strikes right to the heart of how people feel about government and what they want their government doing."

Irwin said, to cheers from the crowd, that he would prefer the government paved roads and adequately funded schools instead of wasting time and money prosecuting Michigan citizens for cannabis....

Addressing rally attendees, Hank said this is the closest a statewide recreational legalization attempt has come to succeeding in Michigan. He said the legislature's efforts to change the law [about signature gathering] at this stage merely showed lawmakers were scared of how far they'd come. "If we get this close and we fail, we will have missed a historic opportunity," Hank told the crowd.

I know that in Ohio it is not uncommon for at least 25% and sometimes as many as 50% of collected signatures in support of a ballot initiative to eventually be deemed invalid. So this article's reporting on the signature gathering leads me to think it is still not likely a recreational reform initiative will make it to Michigan voters this year. Still, especially given that Michigan was the first rust-belt state to enact significant medical marijuana reforms via ballot initiative, this state is still one worth wathcing closely in the months (and years) ahead.

May 22, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, 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)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Two great new reports on marijuana reform and taxes from The Tax Foundation

The Tax Foundation describes itself as the "nation’s leading independent tax policy research organization," and it claims that "since 1937, [its] principled research, insightful analysis, and engaged experts have informed smarter tax policy at the federal, state, and local levels." Helpfully, it has recently turned its attention to marijuana reform via these two new publications:

Here are the "Key Findings" from these two reader-friendly reports (which overlap a bit):

  • Marijuana tax collections in Colorado and Washington have exceeded initial estimates.
  • A mature marijuana industry could generate up to $28 billion in tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments, including $7 billion in federal revenue: $5.5 billion from business taxes and $1.5 billion from income and payroll taxes.
  • A federal tax of $23 per pound of product, similar to the federal tax on tobacco, could generate $500 million per year. Alternatively, a 10 percent sales surtax could generate $5.3 billion per year, with higher tax rates collecting proportionately more.
  • The reduction of societal risk in being engaged in the marijuana trade, as well as the inclusion of taxes, will combine to reduce profits (and tax collections) somewhat from an initial level after national legalization.
  • Society pays all the costs regardless of legality but tax revenues help offset those costs.

  

  • Marijuana tax collections in Colorado and Washington have exceeded initial estimates, and a nationwide legalization-and-tax regime could see states raise billions of dollars per year in marijuana tax revenue.
  • Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all taken steps to reduce their marijuana tax rates, with Alaska considering it, after initial rates of 30 percent or more did not reduce the black market sufficiently. More recent ballot initiative proposals across the country propose rates between 10 and 25 percent.
  • Tax rates on final retail sales have proven the most workable form of taxation. Other forms of taxation that have been proposed, such as taxing marijuana flowers at a certain dollar amount, taxing at the processor or producer level rather than the retail level, or taxing products by their level of THC, have faced practical implementation difficulties.
  • Medical marijuana is usually more loosely regulated and less taxed than recreational marijuana. In Washington, moving non-medical sales to the retail market has proven difficult given the enormous differentials in tax rates and regulatory structure, and officials there wish the two systems had been tackled simultaneously.
  • While the revenue can be in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, it takes a lead time to develop. Revenues started out slowly in Colorado and Washington, as consumers became familiar with the new system and after state and local authorities spent time and money setting up new frameworks and regulatory infrastructure.
  • Significant attention must be given to health, agricultural, zoning, local enforcement, and criminal penalty issues. These important issues have generally been unaddressed in ballot initiatives and left for resolution in the implementation process.

May 14, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | 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)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Highlighting the economic potential of marijuana reform in the California desert

Images (1)Regularly readers know that I view the potential economic development benefits of marijuana reform to be one of the most important, and yet least discussed, transformative aspects of the nationwide reform movement.   Consequently, I was pleased to see this lengthy new article in the Los Angeles Times headlined "This California desert town is experiencing a marijuana boom." Here are excerpts:

As the first city in Southern California to legalize large-scale medical marijuana cultivation, Desert Hot Springs has been inundated by marijuana growers and developers.  They are buying up dusty desert land — some with no utilities or roads — in hopes of cashing in as California's marijuana growers come into the open under new state regulations.

"It's pretty chaotic," said Coachella Valley real estate broker Marc Robinson. "I'm getting tons of calls from all over the world, all over the United States.  My newest clients flew over from Germany."

Despite a sizable need for new infrastructure to support the indoor growing projects, the rush has officials in this downtrodden town dreaming of new income.  "I can only imagine what we can do with the tax revenue," Mayor Scott Matas said. "We're in need of parks, our roads are dilapidated. All around — our sidewalks, curbs, gutters."

The city is pushing hard to help developers get their projects up and running as it increasingly faces competition from a number of desert cities also eager to bring growers to town.

Desert Hot Springs' foray into marijuana stemmed from financial need, officials said. The city has long tried to position itself as a Coachella Valley tourist destination alongside its resort-town neighbors south of Interstate 10, but it's never managed to attract the same level of development. Median household income here is $33,500 — far below the state median.

The town's destinations simply aren't enough "for it to become a vibrant and viable city instead of just a dusty little town north of the I-10," said Heather Coladonato, president of the Desert Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, which is working closely with growers.

In 2014, after the city declared a fiscal emergency, the council voted to legalize dispensaries and cultivation. Zones where growing was permitted were established, including on a stretch of barren desert dotted with a couple of churches and auto repair shops. Since the ordinance passed, officials have approved applications for at least 11 businesses with plans for more than 1.7 million square feet of cultivation operations.

Each year, the city will tax growers $25 per square foot of cultivation space for the first 3,000 square feet and $10 per square foot after that. At least eight other projects are in the approval process....

No cultivators are up and running yet, though a small number could be growing by this summer, officials said. Growers, many of whom have been quietly practicing their trade in garages and other underground spaces for years, are eager to "come out of the shadows," said Jason Elsasser, who is planning a 2-acre project in town.

The rush to set up shop in cities that permit cultivation was pushed forward by state legislation signed into law late last year. Growers will be able to apply for state licenses by 2018, but they will have to show they have local licensing before they can get a state permit, said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The crush of developers in Desert Hot Springs led to a tripling of land prices in the area, real estate brokers said.

But there are signs that the projects — which require intensive lighting and air conditioning — could face long infrastructure delays. In recent weeks, owners learned it could take years just to get sufficient electricity to some of the businesses. Southern California Edison spokesman Robert Laffoon-Villegas said the utility expects that some growers' power needs could be so large that "it would be like adding a small city to the system."...

In nearby Cathedral City, officials recently began accepting applications from growers and dispensaries. So far, they have received about 20, said Community Development Director Pat Milos.

In San Bernardino County, Adelanto began accepting applications from growers late last year. That city, which has been on the brink of insolvency in recent years, has asked applicants to sign a statement acknowledging its financial hardship and agreeing to "support, and not oppose, any initiative that the city or the voters of the city initiate to raise business taxes and business license fees." So far, it has approved at least 30 applicants who have proposed operating more than 1.2 million square feet of cultivation space. Some, like in Desert Hot Springs, would be in now-vacant desert plots.

The city of Coachella, meanwhile, has opened an area to growers previously zoned for auto wreckage yards. Mayor Steven Hernandez said he expected the businesses to bring better-paying jobs to the city's low-income residents, particularly migrant farmworkers. "I've got a lot of people working in the fields every day," he said. "If I can get those guys into the middle income … they can buy themselves a nice house in Coachella and maybe not have to work so much."

May 10, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)