Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Taxation and Market Power in the Legal Marijuana Industry"

the title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Brett Hollenbeck and Kosuke Uetake. Here is its abstract:

In 2012 the state of Washington created a legal framework for production and retail sales of marijuana.  Eight other states have subsequently followed.  These states hope to generate tax revenue for their state budgets while limiting harms associated with marijuana consumption.  We use a unique dataset containing all transactions in the history of the industry in Washington to evaluate the effectiveness of different tax and regulatory policies under consideration by policymakers and study the role of imperfect competition in determining these results.

We document that overall demand is relatively inelastic, that restrictions on entry result in retailers with significant market power, and that cost shocks are more than fully passed through from retailers to consumers.  We combine these empirical estimates to calculate the relationship between revenue and the tax rate, the dead-weight loss of taxation and the share of the tax burden that falls on consumers and producers, each of which are significantly effect by imperfect competition. 

We find that despite having the nation's highest tax rate, Washington still has significant scope to increase revenues by raising the tax rate on retail marijuana sales.  That is, they are still on the upward sloping portion of the laffer curve.  The amount of revenue generated by a given tax increase is also significantly larger due to retailer market power than it would be under perfect competition.  We also find significant social costs of taxation, roughly 2 dollars are lost to consumers and producers for every dollar of tax revenue generated.

September 23, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

California legislature passes bill to require state to proactively identify marijuana cases eligible for relief under Prop 64

Regular readers know that I regularly spotlight my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," because I am so very eager to encourage states to couple marijuana reform with sustained efforts to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with past criminal convictions.  In that article, I praise  California for standing out among marijuana reform states for its robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  And, as reported in this new NPR piece, headlined "California Measure Would Expunge Many Marijuana-Related Crimes," the California legislature merits some more praise:

California lawmakers have approved a measure requiring prosecutors to expunge convictions or reduce sentences for many marijuana-related convictions dating back decades. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown, according to the Associated Press.

The bill, passed by the state Senate on Wednesday by a 22-8 vote, would require the state's Department of Justice to review cases dating as far back as 1975 until 2016 to determine their eligibility.

Proposition 64, which was approved by California voters in 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, as The Associated Press notes, "When voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adult use of marijuana, they also eliminated several pot-related crimes. The proposition also applied retroactively to pot convictions, but provided no mechanism or guidance on how those eligible could erase their convictions or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors."

If it becomes law, it would put the burden for cleaning up those records on the state. If the bill goes into effect, state DOJ officials will have until July 1, 2019, to determine which cases are eligible for review and turn them over to the district attorney's office, which will have another year to make any objections....

NPR reported in December that more than 4,000 people had already petitioned the courts regarding their marijuana-related crimes. However, there are still many people who are unaware that they are eligible to petition for a review of their conviction. NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon in February on the subject. San Francisco took measures to expunge and reduce the convictions for possession and recreational use going back to 1975 because only 23 people in the city started the process themselves.

"The problem is that if you go through that process, you have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing. It's a very expensive and very cumbersome process," Gascon said in the interview. "[The] reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney," he said....

State law gives Brown 12 days from Wednesday to sign or veto the legislation or it becomes law without his signature.

August 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Catching up with recent state marijuana reform news and research via Marijuana Moment

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Which of these 6 states will be next to legalize marijuana?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Hill piece authored by Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  Here are excerpts from his accouting:

Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have legalized the adult possession and use of marijuana. In the coming months, some or all of these states will likely be joining them.

Michigan

Voters this November will decide the fate of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. If passed, the voter-initiated measure will permit those over the age of 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates, while also licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales....

New Jersey

Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana use and sales in the Garden State — a pledge he reiterated in his 2019 budget address when he stated, “[T]he only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults. … [F]rom the standpoint of social justice, and from the standpoint of protecting our kids and lifting up our communities, I could not arrive at any other conclusion."...

North Dakota

Proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana in North Dakota recently turned in over 19,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to place a measure before voters this November. State officials must certify 13,452 of those signatures in order to qualify the measure for the 2018 electoral ballot.... In 2016, nearly two-thirds of state voters approved a ballot measure regulating medical cannabis access. However, state officials have yet to make the program operational. Activists have acknowledged that regulators' failure to swiftly implement the 2016 measure was the impetus for the 2018 campaign.

New York

Ongoing legislative efforts to reform the Empire State’s marijuana laws received a significant boost this month when a state-commissioned study issued by the New York Department of Health called for the plant’s legalization....

Oklahoma

Sooner State voters in June approved one of the nation’s most liberal medical cannabis access laws, and they may have the opportunity to enact even broader reforms this fall. Days away from an August 8th deadline, local activists are estimated to be just a few thousand signatures shy of meeting statewide requirements to place an adult use legalization measure on the November ballot.

Delaware

Sixty-one percent of Delaware voters believe cannabis ought to be legal for those over the age of 21. And a majority of state representatives agree with them. In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year.

As I see it, full legalization is only likely in Michigan this year, though it is possible the New Jersey legislature will get this done before too long. If New Jersey does enact full legalization, that would increase the odds of neighboring New York and Delaware moving forward with legalization. But the odds still seem long to me for lots more full legalization states until the 2020 cycle. That major election year I expect we could see full legalization votes in at least a half dozen states, including big ones like Arizona, Florida and Ohio

July 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New data from Washington state shows dramatic drop in felony marijuana cases after legalization

Download (18)It should not be surprising to see a significant drop in felony marijuana prosecutions after a jurisdiction legalizes the drug.  But this new local article reporting on data from Washington highlights how dramatic the drop has been in one state.  The article is headlined "After Legalization, A Nearly 90 Percent Drop In Marijuana Felony Convictions," and here are excerpts (with a few sentences emphasized):

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington state in 2012 resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of people sentenced for marijuana-related felonies, according to an analysis conducted for public radio by the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council.

Between June 2008 and December 2009, the analysis showed, there were 1,312 offenses committed that resulted in felony sentences for the manufacture, delivery or possession with the intent to deliver marijuana. By contrast, during an 18 month period following the opening of recreational marijuana stores in 2014, there were just 147 marijuana-related crimes that resulted in felony level sentences--a nearly 90 percent decrease....

The sharp drop in felony-level marijuana sentences in Washington is not a surprise to Tom McBride, the executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. In an email, McBride said a decline in prosecutions was "expected" and "desired" by the public. He added that legalization had also made it more difficult to establish probable cause in delivery to minors or black market marijuana-related cases "because presence, odor, etc of marijuana can be legal or not."

Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, also said the reduction in prosecutions was to be expected. But he added that a de-emphasis on marijuana enforcement, in part because of the rise in heroin and fentanyl cases, was resulting in more black market marijuana grows with ties to organized crime. “We need to direct more resources to the illicit [marijuana] grows that we are seeing across the state,” Strachan said in an email.

Of the 1,312 felony marijuana sentences that stemmed from offenses committed between June 2008 and December 2009, the vast majority, 1,217, were for first-time offenses, 76 were for subsequent offenses, 17 were for marijuana-related felonies in a school zone and two were for delivery or possession in a correctional facility.

By contrast, between December 2014 and June 2016, after marijuana stores opened, the number of marijuana crimes resulting in felony sentences for a first offense dropped to 145, there were no sentences for subsequent offenses or for selling marijuana in a school zone, and just one felony sentence related to marijuana in a correctional facility.

The Caseload Forecast Council, which helps the state plan for growth in entitlements, picked those particular date ranges to account for several factors including: the time lapse between the date of an offense and the date of the sentencing, and the length of time between when I-502 passed and the start of retail sales.

Data showing sentences for misdemeanor level marijuana crimes was not immediately available.

I think it especially notable that this data reveals how many first offenders were being brought into the criminal justice system prior to marijuana reform for felony offenses. But I would love to also see (a) what kinds of sentences felony offenders were getting both before and after legalization, as well as (b) prosecutions and sentences for misdemeanor marijuana offenses both before and after legalization. These felony data provides one snapshot of how marijuana reform impacts the criminal justice footprint of one part of the war on drugs, but a lot more data (and time) is needed to fully take stock of what a difference legalization laws can make.

July 25, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pennsylvania auditor issues report extolling benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana

Press-release-placeholderLate last week the Auditor General of Pennsylvania released this notable report on “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana” that reads a bit more like an advocacy group's document than something that would emerge from a state government office.  But, as this press release about the report reveals, the Auditor General of PA seems real eager to have access to a new revenue source:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said Pennsylvania is missing out on $581 million per year in revenue by not regulating and taxing marijuana — money that could fund critical initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives. “Repeated polls have shown that a majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legalized.  In Pennsylvania, it’s 56 percent,” DePasquale said during a news conference with Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.

“Today, I’m releasing a special report that shows the staggering amount the state could reap in tax revenue if legislators simply did what their constituents want them to do: regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.”

The 14-page special report, “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana,” compiles national research data, which show that an average of 8.38 percent of the commonwealth’s adults (21 and older) currently use marijuana at least monthly — a total of 798,556 adults. In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, adult users spend an average of $2,080 annually.  If Pennsylvania’s 798,556 adult users spent the same amount, they would create a $1.66 billion retail industry.

Assuming Pennsylvania taxed the growth, cultivation and sale of marijuana at 35 percent, the state would collect roughly $581 million in tax revenue annually. If Allegheny and Philadelphia counties were allowed to add 1-2 percent local tax, they could collect an additional $3.8 million and $6.9 million, respectively. “Imagine what that $581 million could mean for Pennsylvanians,” DePasquale said.  “Not only would it help balance the state budget, but it would also mean increases to initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives, such as greater access to opioid treatment and better health care access for veterans and children.”

DePasquale became the first statewide elected official to endorse regulating and taxing marijuana in March 2017. “With our neighboring states all looking at legalizing marijuana, now is the time for Pennsylvania to do the same,” DePasquale continued. “Legislators must act now so that we can be competitive and not lose potential revenue to other states.”

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Michigan press suggesting state has a lot to learn from the Colorado marijuana reform laboratory

MIvotersRec_BEver since Election Night 2012 once it was clear that voters in Colorado and Washington were eager to pioneer a new approach, my thinking about marijuana reform always gravitates back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famous description of the virtues of federalism in terms of a state being able to, "if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."  Part of serving as an effectively "laboratory" in this context, of course, is having result from a "novel social and economic experiments" that other states can seek to learn from.  

The point of this post prelude is to compliment a big new series of articles in the Detroit Free Press a few months before Michigan voters will be asked to decide whether to embrace full marijuana legalization in the state.  The lead article in this series, the first of those linked below, sets up the start of its learn and compare coverage with this note: "With Michigan having nearly double the population of Colorado — 9.9 million to 5.6 million — and an already well-established market of 289,205 medical marijuana cardholders, both supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana wonder (and worry) whether Michigan is on the same path as Colorado."

What Michigan needs to learn from Colorado's legalized marijuana

5 things I found surprising about legal marijuana in Colorado

How Michigan's marijuana proposal differs from Colorado law

Legalize marijuana? Advice for Michigan from Colorado

I recommend all the pieces in this series, but the "5 surprising things" piece has these not-so-surprising questions from a reporter after a Denver visit (click through for the "answers" though I have reprinted the final one)

Where’s the fire?

Where’s the money?

Where’s the advertising?

Where are the baggies?

Where, oh where, is the outrage or the joy?

Marijuana has become second nature for Colorado: Everyone seems kind of blasé about the proliferation of pot in the state. No one seems particularly up in arms about the legalization or overjoyed by the success of the business. The state bureaucrats say it’s too early to say whether the presence of legal weed is a nightmare or a boon for the state’s economy and the police say there’s not much difference — and not much of a spike in crashes — between a driver impaired by booze or one high on marijuana. The businesspeople are happy with their still relatively new industry, but plagued by the uncertainty of how marijuana is treated by the federal government.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Could North Dakota(!?!) fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative this year?

Download (16)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent posting at Marijuana Moment titled "How North Dakota Could Fully Legalize Marijuana In November. Here are excerpts:

Under an effort that has so far gone mostly unnoticed by drug policy reform observers across the country, North Dakota voters could have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would fully legalize marijuana and create a pathway to exonerations for those with past cannabis convictions.

Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed a medical marijuana legalization measure with 64 percent support.  But the program’s rollout hasn’t been smooth — leaving prospective patients without access to dispensaries and barred from home cultivation — and so a small team of anti-prohibition organizers at Legalize ND decided to write a new initiative to help patients and adults consume and grow cannabis freely.

The organization hasn’t received financial backing from national advocacy groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance, Eric Owens Sr., who wrote the initiative, told Marijuana Moment in an interview.  Instead, it’s relied on a steady flow of grassroots support and word-of-mouth to collect signatures in support of the measure.  Owens said Legalize ND has collected more than 16,000 signatures so far, but the group is expecting to turn in about 20,000 to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on July 9.

The state requires 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. The signatures must first be verified before the initiative officially qualifies. “We’re thousands over the required amount,” Owens said.  “When people talk about grassroots, this really, legitimately was grassroots. Nobody was there because nobody cared about us in North Dakota.”...

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Legalize ND, which is expecting to face opposition from one of the largest employers in the state, Sanford Health, as well as the highway patrol and the prosecutors association.  That said, internal polling from the organization indicates strong support for the initiative, Owens said.  “We don’t have money to fight them with TV or radio, we’re just going to be common sense and let people know through social media.  The people — plain and simple — they got screwed out of their medical marijuana and they want revenge.”

Though North Dakota might not seem the most likely contender to become one of the next states to fully legalize marijuana, voters elsewhere have already delivered cannabis reform surprises in 2018: Oklahomans approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana [in late June]....

Local political commentator Rob Fort predicted in a column this week that “barring some major problem with the petitions this issue should be on the ballot.”

I still think is was a very big deal that last week voters in deep-red Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a broad medical marijuana ballot initiative (details here and here). But if voters in deep-red North Dakota were to this year approve a recreational marijuana reform initiative, I suspect that even folks like Jeff Sessions and Kevin Sabet would see the political inevitability of nationwide marijuana reforms.

Of course, with limited funding and significant in-state opposition, I would be inclined to predict that a full ballot initiative would fail in North Dakota. Polls generally show roughly a 50/50 split on support for full legalization among more conservative voters, whereas medical marijuana is usually support 3 to 1 in this group. But I have to think a very thoughtful campaign could stress not only the thwarting of the will of the voters on medical marijuana, but also the coming of full legalization regimes in Canada (which is just a couple of hours drive from just about every major ND city). Perhaps a kind of "Blame Canada" campaign could help carry a full legalization initiative in this unique context.

July 2, 2018 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)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer introduces "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act"

220px-Chuck_Schumer_official_photoAs reported in this press release, "Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today formally introduced new legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level."  Here is more from the press release, with its links to the proposed legislation:

Specifically, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively decriminalizing it at the federal level.  The legislation allows states to continue to function as laboratories of democracy and ultimately decide how they will treat marijuana possession.  The legislation, however, does not change federal authorities’ ability to prevent trafficking from states where marijuana is legal to states where is not.  The bill also preserves the federal government’s ability to regulate marijuana advertising -- just as it does tobacco -- so that advertisers cannot target children.  Schumer has long advocated for states’ rights when it comes to medical marijuana.

Leader Schumer’s new legislation also takes steps to help communities that have been disproportionally affected by our current marijuana laws.  The bill includes authorization of grant programs designed to encourage states and local governments to allow individuals to seal or expunge marijuana possession conviction records, and it creates a new funding stream to help ensure that women and minority entrepreneurs have access to the new marijuana industries in their states.  The bill also makes new investments in research to fully understand the effect of THC on both driving and public health – particularly in adolescents.  

Leader Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).... 

A fact sheet on the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. The full text of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. A section-by-section summary of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be found here.

Specifically, Leader Schumer’s new legislation would:

  • Decriminalize Marijuana: The legislation would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by descheduling it, which means removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970;
  • Respect States’ Rights: The legislation would maintain federal law enforcement’s authority to prevent marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not;
  • Level The Economic Playing Field: The legislation would establish dedicated funding streams to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses that would be determinant on a reasonable estimate of the total amount of revenue generated by the marijuana industry;
  • Ensure Public Safety: The legislation would authorize $250 million over five years for targeted investments in highway safety research to ensure federal agencies have the resources they need to assess the pitfalls of driving under the influence of THC and develop technology to reliably measure impairment;
  • Invest In Public Health: The legislation would invest $500 million across five years for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work in close coordination with the Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to better understand the impact of marijuana, including the effects of THC on the human brain and the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for specific ailments;
  • Protect Children: The legislation would maintain the Department of Treasury’s authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does tobacco advertising to ensure the marijuana businesses aren’t allowed to target children in their advertisements. The bill also allows the agency to impose penalties in the case of violations;
  • Incentive sealing and Expungement programs: The legislation authorizes grant programs to encourage state and local governments to administer, adopt, or enhance expungement or sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions. The bill provides $100 million over five years to the DOJ to carry out this purpose. 

This is big news not only because it provides still further evidence that "establishment Democrats" are now fully behind federal marijuana reform, but also because Senator Schumer is positioned to be the House majority leader if Democrats retake control of the Senate in either 2018 or 2020. If that happens, Senator Schumer presumably would be most interesting in having his version of marijuana reform considered first among all the competing bills now floating about.

June 27, 2018 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)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lots of big marijuana reform news emerging from the Big Apple

DownloadThis local article sums up some developing marijuana reform news from New York that seems likely to have national ripples:

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill are expected to announce a new plan Tuesday on how police deal with people caught with marijuana. Sources tell CBS2 that police will soon issue a summons instead of making an arrest. It applies to people smoking or in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported.

“The goals are to reduce unnecessary arrests, which is something we’ve been doing overall — 100,000 fewer arrests overall in 2017 than 2013, crime going down consistently in that time frame. We want to build on that,” de Blasio said on NY1. But sources say there will exceptions, which include if the person is on parole or probation or behind the wheel and an arrest would be at the discretion of the officer.

The announcement comes as the New York State Health Department is also set to issue a recommendation to legalize marijuana state-wide, six months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the department to study the effects of legalizing marijuana. “We have neighboring states that have legal marijuana. When those facts change, we need to look at things differently,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. “That’s the decision, at this point, to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults.”

While the report has not yet been finalized, Zucker said its authors reached their conclusion after a thorough review of the legal, medical and social implications of legalization. “We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons,” Zucker said. “When we were done we realized that the pros outweighed the cons.”

Though a new NYC arrest policy could have a real impact real quickly, I see the forthcoming report by the New York State Health Department to be especially notable and perhaps quite consequential.  I would be inclined to expect a state health department to be concerned about the public health consequences of legalization and to see potential health "cons" to generally outweigh other "pros."  I think that if the New York State Health Department articulates the pros and cons of full legalization in a powerful way that really speaking to public health and safety issues, this forthcoming report could become a template for marijuana reform advocacy in a lot of areas beyond New York.

June 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"High on Crime? Exploring the Effects of Marijuana Dispensary Laws on Crime in California Counties"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research now available via SSRN authored by Priscillia Hunt, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula and Gabriel Weinberger. Here is its abstract:

Regulated marijuana markets are more common today than outright prohibitions across the U.S. states.  Advocates for policies that would legalize marijuana recreational markets frequently argue that such laws will eliminate crime associated with the black markets, which many argue is the only link between marijuana use and crime.  Law enforcement, however, has consistently argued that marijuana medical dispensaries (regulated retail sale and a common method of medical marijuana distribution), create crime in neighborhoods with these store-fronts.

This study offers new insight into the question by exploiting newly collected longitudinal data on local marijuana ordinances within California and thoroughly examining the extent to which counties that permit dispensaries experience changes in violent, property and marijuana use crimes using difference-in-difference methods.  The results suggest no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime.  We find a negative and significant relationship between dispensary allowances and property crime rates, although event studies indicate these effects may be a result of pre-existing trends.  These results are consistent with some recent studies suggesting that dispensaries help reduce crime by reducing vacant buildings and putting more security in these areas.  We also find a positive association between dispensary allowances and DUI arrests, suggesting marijuana use increases in conjunction with impaired driving in counties that adopt these ordinances, but these results are also not corroborated by an event study analysis.

June 16, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Detailing the growth (and growing pains) of Alaska's recreational marijuana regime in its largest city

Marijuana_retail_sales_taxesThis local article, headlined "Anchorage considers increasing marijuana sales tax as consumers clamor for cannabis," provides an effective report on the continued development of the marijuana regime in the biggest city of the only deep-red state that has legalized recreational marijuana use.  Here are excerpts:

The Municipality of Anchorage is looking to bump up its marijuana sales tax, citing a "tremendous" amount of resources it has spent working with the city's fledgling cannabis industry.  Meanwhile, consumers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars on legal weed in Anchorage since stores opened in December 2016.

Alaska's largest city has a 5 percent cannabis sales tax in place.  An ordinance introduced at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday evening would increase that to 7 percent.  At its current rate, Anchorage's sales tax is expected to bring in $3.5 million this year.  If the 2 percent tax increase passes, an additional $1.4 million in revenue is expected each calendar year, according to the municipality.

A gram of legal marijuana averages around $18 in Anchorage, according to the municipality.

Chris Schutte, director of Anchorage's Office of Economic and Community Development, said the city is requesting the tax increase for two reasons: City departments are spending more money working with the industry than anticipated, and the city has a limited time frame in which to raise taxes.

Schutte said various departments were spending "tremendous resources" to work with marijuana business applicants, some of whom are "brand-new entrepreneurs in a brand-new industry."

"We didn't realize that there would be a lot of (pre-application work) done with the industry … nor did we fully think through all of the things that have to occur after that's done," Schutte said.  More money from taxes would help recoup those costs, Schutte said. He said there are 22 pot shops paying taxes to the city.

The second factor is that the deadline to tweak the tax is July 1, Schutte said.  After that, the city would need to wait two years to seek an increase in taxes.

Anchorage's first marijuana shop opened in late December 2016. In the next 14 months — from January 2017 to March 2018 — consumers spent $36.8 million at Anchorage pot shops, according to municipality data.  The city collected $1.8 million in sales taxes for the same time frame.  In March, the most recent month for which data is available, the municipality collected $216,715 in sales taxes from roughly $4.3 million worth of marijuana products.

Since legal marijuana sales began in Alaska in Oct. 2016, consumers have spent upwards of $100 million at pot shops statewide, according to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office....

The state of Alaska has a flat-rate excise tax of $50 per ounce of bud or flower, and $15 per ounce of trim (parts of the plant like leaves or stems).  Growers pay the state tax.

Some local municipalities — like Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage — have put an additional sales tax on top, which is levied on the retail side.  Anchorage is allowed to increase its tax rate every two years by up to 2 percent.  The tax rate is capped at 12 percent.

June 13, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

New York City Bar Association issues report supporting proposed New York marijuana legalization law

Logo-nyc-blueThe New York City Bar Association's Committee on Drugs and the Law released this notable 11-page report today (also available here), which starts and ends this way:

The New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Drugs and the Law (“the Committee”) respectfully submits this report examining and approving the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana for adult non-medical use in New York State and providing support for A.3506-B/S.3040-B (“the Legislation”), which would create a system for the production, distribution, and adult non-medical use of marijuana.  We also recommend, if feasible, minor revisions to the Legislation, as noted herein.  The Committee also takes this opportunity to express its support for the policy of ending criminalization of marijuana, and for taxing and responsible regulation of marijuana...

The Committee on Drugs and the Law supports this Legislation to create a legal, regulated market for adult non–medical use of marijuana in New York State.  New York was the first state to turn away from alcohol Prohibition in 1923, and the Committee hopes the state will show similar leadership on this analogous issue, whether through this Legislation or another vehicle.  Marijuana prohibition is a costly and ineffective policy that has not succeeded in eliminating marijuana use. The failed policy has devastated families and communities, eroded respect for the law, and strained police-citizen relations.  Accordingly, the Committee applauds this Legislation and urges its adoption. Further, regardless of the vehicle, the Committee supports state and federal legislative and policy changes that reduce or eliminate criminalization of marijuana and that permit, tax, and regulate the production, distribution, and adult use of marijuana.

I think it somewhat amusing (and I suppose a bit depressing) that the conclusion of this document notes that New York "turn[ed] away from alcohol Prohibition" only three years after federal Prohibition became effective in January 1920. We are now 48 years since the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 gave marijuana the prohibition treatment and New York has still not yet gotten around to turning away.

June 11, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

President Donald Trump suggests he supports new STATES Act effort to reform federal marijuana prohibition

Tom Angell has this notable breaking news in a new Marijuana Moment posting:

President Trump said on Friday that he “really” supports new marijuana legislation filed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” he said when asked about the bill by reporters during an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn as he prepared to board Marine One to head to G-7 summit in Canada.

“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” he said. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

The bill, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from its provisions. It would also protect banks that work with legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.

Critically, there is a very big difference between "end[ing] up supporting" a piece of proposed legislation and actively championing it. Especially with various leaders in Congress seemingly actively opposed to any major (or even minor) federal marijuana reforms, I am not optimistic about the prospects of this bill unless and until it has Prez Trump actively campaigning for it. But, for political reasons, maybe he ultimately will.

Prior related post:

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

June 8, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

Ccc_SQUAREAs reported in this press release, titled "Gardner, Warren, Joyce and Blumenauer Unveil Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies," today has brought a big interesting new federal marijuana reform proposal. Here are the details via the press release (with links from the original):

U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) today introduced the bicameral, bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) to ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.  The bill also extends these protections to Washington D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely. 

Forty-six states currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing marijuana or marijuana-based products - and Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and a number of tribes have similar laws.  As states developed their own approaches to marijuana enforcement, the Department of Justice issued guidance to safeguard these state actions and ensure practical use of limited law enforcement resources. However, this guidance was withdrawn earlier this year, creating legal uncertainty, threatening public health and safety, and undermining state regulatory regimes....

Ignoring the ability of states, territories, and tribes to determine for themselves what type of marijuana regulation works best comes with real costs. Legitimate businesses that comply with state laws are blocked from access to basic banking services.  Illicit markets often spring up and local law enforcement must divert resources needed elsewhere.  Thousands of people are prosecuted and locked up in our criminal justice system. Qualified scientists and state public health departments struggle to conduct basic and epidemiological research or spur medical advances, and the fundamental nature of state and tribal sovereignty is violated.  As more states, territories, and tribes thoughtfully consider updates to marijuana regulations, often through voter-initiated referendums, it is critical that Congress take immediate steps to safeguard their right to do so by passing the STATES Act.

 The legislation has been endorsed by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Safe Access, Americans for Tax Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign for Liberty, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cooperative Credit Union Association, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Liberty, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Massachusetts Bankers Association, the Maine Credit Union League, the Mountain West Credit Union Association, the National Cannabis Bar Association, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the New Federalism Fund,NORML, the Northwest Credit Union Association, R Street, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

 The STATES Act:

  • Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that - as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections - its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to marijuana activities.
  • Clearly states that compliant transactions are not trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction.
  • Removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under the CSA.
  • The following federal criminal provisions under the CSA continue to apply:
    • Prohibits endangering human life while manufacturing marijuana.
    • Prohibits employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations.
  • Prohibits the distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.
  • Prohibits the distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

A fact sheet about the legislation is available here, and the full bill text is available here.

June 7, 2018 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 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 18, 2018

US Attorney for Oregon issues detail memorandum to detail federal marijuana enforcement priorities in the state

Download (12)As reported in this new pres article, there is interesting news out of Oregon concerning federal marijuana enforcement.  Here are the details (with my emphasis added):

Federal prosecutors will target the illicit marijuana market, organized crime, outlaw grows and operations that "pose a substantial risk of violence" under new guidelines for cannabis enforcement in Oregon made public Friday.

Billy Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, issued the guidelines in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision earlier this year to scrap an Obama-era policy that largely tolerated marijuana in states where the drug is legal. The memo represents the first marijuana policy announcement by a U.S. attorney in a state that's home to a legal market since the Sessions' move.

Williams' enforcement priorities in some ways represent a continuation of the approach under President Obama, such an emphasis on overproduction and trafficking, protecting minors and going after organized crime.

After hearing from property owners across the state upset about the cannabis industry's drain on natural resources, Williams also singled out pesticide use on illegal growing operations and consumption of large amounts of water without "proper authorization" as additional priorities. Gov. Kate Brown has pressed Williams to pledge he won't go after legal marijuana businesses, but he said, "I will not make broad proclamations of blanket immunity from prosecution to those who violate federal law."

"I am not going to advise clients to shutter their businesses and I frankly don't think this will change anyone's view on investment," said Dave Kopilak, a Portland lawyer who advises cannabis businesses. "I don't think this will have a chilling effect on the investment side of things. It could have been worse," he added. "It could have been better, but this is definitely down the middle of the road and a continuation of what we have done for years."

Williams makes clear that he remains frustrated with the state's failure to contain production. He called for state regulators to collect "comprehensive and accurate data" on the scope of marijuana production and distribution and chided officials for not devoting enough resources to oversee and enforce their own regulations.

A state audit earlier this year found that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the agency charged with regulating legal marijuana, lacks "robust" monitoring and enforcement controls to track the $480 million industry, making illegal sales difficult to detect. An analysis done last year concluded that the state remains a top source for black market marijuana. That report, which the Oregon State Police and the governor later discredited as outdated, also found marijuana production in Oregon far outpaces demand.

Williams said he has pressed state officials ever since about the status of that report. "I have asked repeatedly, 'Will we see a final report?' and I have never gotten an answer," he said. "I had been told a year ago that there were multiple drafts of that report and then I just stopped hearing about it."

On Friday, State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton told The Oregonian/OregonLive that his agency does not plan to issue any analysis of marijuana data or trends. He said he expects that work to be completed by the federally funded regional High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. Williams said he also has told the governor's senior policy adviser on marijuana, Jeff Rhoades, that he'd like to see limits on licenses for marijuana producers and retailers. He said Rhoades has told him that officials want to encourage black market operators to enter the legal arena. "I don't understand that thinking," Williams said, "because that is not occurring."

Williams called the flood of cannabis out of state a top priority, saying large amounts of Oregon-grown marijuana have been seized in 30 states. "There can be no doubt that there is significant overproduction of marijuana in Oregon," Williams said in his memo. "As a result, a thriving black market is exporting marijuana across the country, including to states that have not legalized marijuana under their state laws." Williams said in addition to criminal prosecution, his office will use asset forfeiture, civil litigation and administrative enforcement to carry out his priorities.

The full four-page memo from US Attorney Williams is available at this link, and I share the view that this is a "down the middle of the road" approach being adopted for prosecution priorities that largely echoes many aspects of the now-repealed Cole Memo.  What I find especially notable and interesting is the seeming disinterest of some in Oregon concerning possible  tighter regulation of its legalized marijuana industry.  In some respects, it seems action by US Attorney Williams may be more a reaction to local concerns about local failing than a reflection of any particular policy direction coming from the Justice Department in DC.

Prior related posts:

May 18, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting report on new study of state of marijuana in state of California

Images (11)This new Forbes article, headlined "New Study Highlights The Social Impacts Of Cannabis Legalization In California," details some highlights from an interesting new survey of Californians in the wake of the state's vote to legalize marijuana. Here are excerpts:

A recent study by BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry market trend and research group, suggests the impact of legalization has shifted Californians’ attitudes, opinions, motivations and actions in regards to cannabis. It also reveals an abundance of details about those who consume, accept and reject the plant, not only illustrating a shift in social culture, but also indicating — at least in the Golden State — cannabis’ archaic stigma is en route to extinction.

The survey assessed 1,001 California residents over 21-years-old in the first quarter of 2017, benchmarking public opinions and behaviors toward legal cannabis. Another group of 1,008 people was then evaluated in quarter one of 2018, examining the public's views toward cannabis laws, efficacy, and testing.

The survey yielded three clear groups. The "consumers,” whose average age is 39-years-old, and have used marijuana or products containing cannabinoids in the past six months. “Acceptors,” whose median age is 49-years-old, and haven’t used cannabis in the past six months, but would consider using it in the future. Lastly, “rejecters,” whose average age is 56-years-old, and haven’t consumed cannabis in the last six months and are not likely to consider future use.

According to the report, there’s been a significant increase in cannabis consumption among Californians' over the past year. Consumers currently account for 29 percent of adults in California, which is up from 23 percent in 2017. The number of acceptors, on the other hand, declined from 38 percent in 2017 to 33 percent in 2018, suggesting more people are currently using cannabis than they were a year ago. Additionally, the number of rejecters decreased from 40 percent in 2017 to 38 percent in 2018, implying the tolerance and acceptance of cannabis is becoming more common.

The reason acceptors and rejecters choose not to use cannabis, the study notes, is because they don't like how it makes them feel. Moreover, 25 percent of rejecters say pot makes them feel dysfunctional. Over a third of non-consumers say they'd be more inclined to use marijuana for the health benefits if they didn't have to endure its effects. In regards to compassionate-use, however, nearly 50 percent of rejecters say they'd want an ill loved-one to use cannabis if it eased their pain....

In 2017, BDS' data showed 63 percent of consumers lived in cities. According to Gilbert, that's where dispensaries have traditionally been located, making it easier for people to access and consume cannabis. Although 2018's survey results still show that most consumers live in cities, that number's dropped to 45 percent. In 2017, 31 percent of consumers lived in the suburbs, while only 4 percent of consumers lived in small towns. Those numbers jumped considerably in 2018. Now, 40 percent of consumers live in suburbs while 10 percent live in small towns....

The report also shows that next to the 68 percent of consumers who are Caucasian/white, nearly 45 percent of consumers are Hispanic-- quadrupling the percentage of consumers of other ethnicities. "This is one of the areas showing that cannabis use is becoming more aligned with how California looks generally," Gilbert says. "California is more likely to be Hispanic than anything else."

The data also found that only 32 percent of consumers are married, whereas 44 percent of both acceptors and rejecters are married. Interestingly, 58 percent of consumers have children. 44 percent of consumers have children over the age of 10 at home, while 28 percent of consumers have children under 10-years-old at home. In general, the stigma is deteriorating (in California). But it clings with fervor to specific groups of people, particularly parents—and even more so with mothers. Parents who use cannabis are often seen as irresponsible and incompetent caretakers. Thus, many often remain in the "green closet" and hide their use. But no judgment is passed for drinking wine....

The study also found, despite the lazy-stoner-stereotype, 53 percent of consumers work full-time jobs and have an average annual income of nearly $70,000. Only 44 percent of acceptors have full-time jobs, and 33 percent of rejecters work full-time. Although consumers are educated, only 10 percent of them have a master’s degree or higher. 21 percent of rejecters and 15 percent of acceptors have higher education degrees....

Although most of the report's findings provide evidence disproving the stigma, the study disclosed one confusing (read: alarming) revelation. According to the survey, consumers, who mostly identify as liberal, are less likely to believe it's important to vote in every election. Only 57 percent of consumers in 2018 think it’s important to vote, which is down from 71 percent in 2017. Rejecters, at 72 percent, and acceptors, at 67 percent, express a greater interest in social activism.

May 18, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Driving While Stoned: Issues and Policy Options"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Tyler Jones, Celeste Miller and Ross Halperin. Here is its abstract:

THC is the intoxicant most commonly detected in US drivers, with approximately 13% of drivers testing positive for marijuana use, compared to the 8% that show a measurable amount of alcohol (NHTSA, 2015). (The two figures are not strictly comparable because cannabis remains detectable for much longer than alcohol, and also for long after the driver is no longer impaired; therefore, the difference in rates does not show that stoned driving is more common than drunk driving.)  Cannabis intoxication has been shown to impair reaction time and visual-spatial judgment.

Many states, including those where cannabis sales are now permitted by state law, have laws against cannabis-impaired driving based on the drunk-driving model, defining criminally intoxicated driving as driving with more than a threshold amount of intoxicant in one’s bloodstream — a per se standard — as opposed to actual impairment.  That approach neglects crucial differences between alcohol and cannabis in their detectability, their pharmacokinetics, and their impact on highway safety.

Cannabis intoxication is more difficult to reliably detect chemically than alcohol intoxication.  A breath alcohol test is (1) cheap and reliable; (2) sufficiently simple and non-invasive to administer at the roadside; and (3) a good proxy for alcohol in the brain, which in turn is (4) a good proxy for subjective intoxication and for measurable driving impairment.  In addition, (5) the dose-effect curve linking blood alcohol to fatality risk is well-established and steep.

None of those things is true for cannabis.  A breath test remains to be developed.  Oral-fluid testing can demonstrate recent use but not the level of impairment.  A blood test requires a trained phlebotomist and therefore a trip to a medical facility, and blood THC levels drop very sharply over time-periods measured in minutes.  Blood THC is not a good proxy either for recency of use or for impairment, and the dose-effect curve for fatality risk remains a matter of sharp controversy.  The maximum risk for cannabis intoxication alone, unmixed with alcohol or other drugs, appears to be more comparable to risks such as talking on a hands-free cellphone (legal in all states) than to driving with a BAC above 0.08, let alone the rapidly-rising risks at higher BACs.  Moreover, the lipid-solubility of THC means that a frequent cannabis user will always have measurable THC in his or her blood, even when that person has not used recently and is neither subjectively intoxicated nor objectively impaired.  That suggests criminalizing only combination use, while treating driving under the influence of cannabis (however this is to be proven) as a traffic offense, like speeding.

May 10, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 7, 2018

"Can the Mass. marijuana industry help heal communities devastated by the War on Drugs?"

Massachusetts-marijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Boston Globe article.   (At the risk of getting redundant, I will again note ow this press piece is related in theme to my most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices.")  Here are excerpts from the Globe piece:

Last month, Massachusetts rolled out the country’s first statewide marijuana industry “equity” program, giving preferential treatment to people who are typically marginalized by the business world.

One key to the effort: giving a head start in the rush for cannabis licenses to companies that are led by or employ minorities, to people with past marijuana convictions, or to residents of low-income neighborhoods with high arrest rates for drug crimes. All other companies that grow, process, or sell pot, meanwhile, are required to help those communities, and are limited in the size of their operations. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will also launch a training program for inexperienced pot entrepreneurs.

The provisions spring from a simple premise: People of color were disproportionately prosecuted and jailed amid the nation’s “war on drugs,” even though whites had similar rates for using or selling marijuana. It would be unfair, proponents argued, to allow the windfall of a now-legal cannabis industry to flow only to the already privileged, while those who suffered the most under pot prohibition remain frozen out. “We’re going to use this moment to try to rebalance the scales — or, at the very least, to stop creating new unbalanced scales,’’ said state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who helped to write the so-called equity provisions into state law.

While it may seem radical to give previously incarcerated people the right to sell a product that was illegal until recently, the equity provisions so far haven’t been particularly controversial. Even Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, a fierce critic of legal marijuana, is on board. “It’s going to open the door for people who just wouldn’t otherwise have the ability and financial background to break in,” Carmichael said. “We have to give them a chance.”

As the commission developed its regulations this year, county prosecutors asked the agency to bar people convicted of trafficking certain still-illegal drugs such as heroin or fentanyl from even working at a cannabis company. “This is not an area for permissiveness,” the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association warned in a letter. The cannabis commission partially acquiesced, restricting such people to administrative positions that don’t involving handling marijuana products.

For owners of cannabis businesses, the bar is higher than for their employees. People convicted of serious crimes, including nonmarijuana drug felonies, firearm violations, and sex offenses, cannot own licensed pot companies. However, businesses can hire people with records for possessing opioids, for example, and receive preferential treatment if they employ enough people with criminal records. People convicted of large-scale marijuana trafficking may qualify under the rules, though some might have related convictions that would automatically disqualify them anyway. The commission also has discretion to reject any applicant.

Marijuana equity programs elsewhere operate only on the local level, and have a limited track record. Oakland, Calif., for example, this year adopted a policy that reserves more than half of the city’s licenses for equity applicants, and most of the rest for large companies that agree to host and mentor them. The system has indeed helped people of color break into the business — but it’s also drawn sharp backlash from smaller companies that do not qualify.

Massachusetts has taken a less restrictive approach. The primary initiative underway provides expedited review to applications from companies that meet certain criteria — those owned by people from places with high rates of poverty and drug arrests, for example, or that employ mostly people with drug-related convictions. It’s an important benefit, as many Massachusetts communities limit the number and locations of pot businesses, giving a big advantage to the first stores.

Later this year, the commission will work with community groups to develop a crash course in business planning and fund-raising for entrepreneurs who were arrested or live in so-called communities of disproportionate impact. Those entrepreneurs will also be exempt from many state fees and will be allowed to open pot-delivery services and lounges ahead of other companies if the commission decides to issue those licenses....

Entrepreneurs who do not have drug convictions or arrests can still qualify if they show their business will benefit poorer communities with high arrest rates. For example, Dishon Laing dreams of opening an alternative health center in his native Dorchester that would offer yoga, vegan food, and cannabis. He, too, wants to hire people with criminal records, and also plans to run drug education programs for teenagers. “Everything we do is connected to giving back,” said Laing, a city public health worker. “I know my partners and I will face stigma based on being people of color and the industry we’re in, but we want to show that we’re actually improving our communities.”

Another requirement is intended to recruit marijuana companies that don’t qualify for the equity program to the cause: All applicants must show how their businesses will benefit communities hurt by the drug war. For example, Sira Naturals, a larger medical marijuana operator that’s seeking recreational licenses, plans to host an incubator for equity applicants at its growing facility in Milford. Licensed marijuana businesses must also write and adhere to a diversity plan that promotes gender equity and the employment of veterans, LGBT people, and people with disabilities.

The commission also offers incentives: Companies that provide money and mentoring to entrepreneurs from “areas of disproportionate impact” can get the cannabis equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval: a “social justice leader” label affixed to their product packaging. State officials also have moved to protect smaller equity businesses by banning larger companies from holding more than three licenses of any type and capping each company’s cultivation area at 100,000 square feet.

All these advantages, however, may not help applicants overcome the biggest hurdle: winning approval from local officials for the location and opening of their businesses. Somerville and other municipalities are considering local versions of the equity program, but none have been adopted yet. Advocates are worried established companies — such as existing medical dispensaries, which are nearly all white-owned — can outbid smaller players by offering communities generous financial packages.

“Cities and towns need to step up, or in a few years we’ll see we had this opportunity to put diversity into action and we failed,” said Ross Bradshaw, who hopes to open a pot business in a Worcester neighborhood designated as an area of disproportionate impact. “There are going to be municipalities that only allow three licenses, and two are going to medical marijuana companies. That’s less opportunity for people of color.”

Cannabis commissioner Shaleen Title, who championed the equity initiatives, acknowledged they are hardly a cure-all. But Title is heartened by the early numbers: 68 applicants have cleared a first hurdle in the process for licensing, and more than 100 more under review. Those people would have their applications reviewed ahead of others. “We’ll never be able to repair the damage caused by drug prohibition, but these programs at least begin to help provide a fair shot,” Title said. “Think about having a conviction that was based on unfair enforcement, and how that holds you back in so many different ways — we want to make that right.”

May 7, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Maine legislature final enacts framework for regulating marijuana sales 18 months after initiative vote for legalization

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As reported in this local article, on Wednesday the Maine legislature "overturned a veto by Gov. Paul LePage that would have again stalled the legal sale of recreational marijuana, moving Maine a major step closer to launching a legal retail market for the drug." Here is more:

The House voted 109-39 and the Senate 28-6 to override LePage’s veto of cannabis legalization legislation, setting the state on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved legalization at the ballot box in November 2016. However, it will likely be the spring of 2019 before the first retail shops can open for business.

Now that the bill has passed, the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services must hire a consultant to help the state write more regulatory rules, including inspection and licensing of wholesale commercial growing facilities, licensing of retail sellers and collection of sales taxes. The rules will have to be approved by the next Legislature, which convenes in January.

The Republican governor, a steadfast opponent of legalization, had vetoed the Legislature’s first attempt at drafting a law to launch the retail market for cannabis in November. It’s not clear how quickly the state will move to hire workers to administer and enforce the new law, and seek bids to design a seed-to-sale tracking system that will be used to regulate the marijuana market.

Wednesday’s vote provoked mixed reactions, even among those who campaigned successfully to gather voter signatures and get the legalization question on the 2016 ballot. David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the bill includes provisions that the organization supports and others that it dislikes. “Ultimately, we’re glad that the Legislature is moving towards a regulated marketplace,” he said. “We are approaching two years since Maine voters passed this and adults in Maine deserve a place to purchase marijuana legally.”

Scott Gagnon, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposed the referendum, was pleased that the bill had been amended to ban social clubs and reduce the number of plants that can be grown for personal use from six to three. “This is an improvement” over previous proposals, he said. “It’s going in the right direction.” He said Smart Approaches to Marijuana now will focus on things such as helping communities that don’t want shops selling marijuana in their towns, making sure that shops don’t get concentrated in particular neighborhoods, trying to offset “normalization” of pot use and counteracting problems that arise....

The adult-use bill is more conservative than the bill approved by referendum voters in November 2016. It doesn’t allow for social clubs, which means adults who buy their cannabis here will have to consume it on private property, with the permission of the property owner. And lawmakers cut the number of plants that can be grown for personal use on their own property – or someone else’s with permission – from six to three in an effort to reduce black market sales.

The bill doesn’t cap the number of business licenses, or the amount of recreational cannabis that can be grown in Maine, which some entrepreneurs complain will drive down prices so far that small growers won’t be able to survive, leaving only those with out-of-state money behind them standing in the end. To allay those concerns, lawmakers voted to give the first three years of business licenses to those who have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least four years.

May 3, 2018 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)