Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

Monday, April 30, 2018

Reviewing the modern tax revenue realities of modern marijuana reform

Marijuana-money-live-trading-newsToday's USA Today has on its front-page this article headlined "Pot taxes across U.S. shore up school budgets, drug-prevention efforts." Here are excerpts:

States with legal pot have collected more than $1.6 billion since the newest sin taxes went into effect in 2014, with the money paying for everything from public schools to mental health services to programs that deter convicts from re-offending....

In an exclusive analysis for the USA TODAY Network, Beau Whitney, a senior economist with Washington, D.C.-based cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data, forecasts collections in California could exceed $2.1 billion through 2020, based on a 15% state excise tax. For perspective, it takes about $1 billion a year to run the city of Sacramento. The New Frontier analysis doesn't count a mishmash of city, county or cultivation taxes....

Analysts say mainstay revenue such as income, property and sales taxes still dwarf marijuana taxes in local and state government budgets. However, "every dollar is important," said Stephen Walsh, a director with the U.S. Public Finance group at Fitch. "It's very difficult for governments to raise taxes." Cannabis taxes represent a welcome infusion of all-new money, he said.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have decided to legalize recreational marijuana. Cannabis consumers are willing to trade high tax rates — from 20% in Oregon to as much as 45% in California — for the freedom to partake in the small network of states.

Were the federal government to OK sales throughout the nation, New Frontier analysts forecast that through 2025, weed could bring in about $100 billion in fresh revenue for the U.S. Treasury Department. That includes a hypothetical 15% federal sales tax, business tax revenues and payroll deductions. But for now, revenue is on the rise in the handful of states that allow sales, though the way state budgets are structured makes it difficult to trace marijuana taxes from the point of sale to the purchase of school textbooks.

Colorado and Washington, which started allowing recreational marijuana sales in 2014, have so far collected nearly $1.48 billion in revenue. Washington has brought in more than $773 million to pay for healthcare services, research from state universities on the effects of short-term and long-term pot use, reducing marijuana use among minors and other efforts. Meanwhile, Colorado has received more than $702 million, with the money going toward grants that help pay schools' capital construction costs, as well as shoring up local and state tax bases. The state collected $247,368,473 last year alone, revenue records show.

In an interview, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, said bringing underground economic activity above-ground, then taxing it reasonably, creates "a more efficient market."... While Colorado's counties and cities can choose whether to allow marijuana businesses, Polis said some less-prosperous parts of the state have seen pot turn into an important revenue producer, letting officials support schools and children's scholarships, along with addressing infrastructural needs.

In Alaska, one of the smallest markets, tax proceeds are split between the state's general fund and efforts to stop convicts from re-offending. Alaska taxes pot growers, and collections have steadily risen from $577,901 when they started in July 2017 and peaking at more than $1 million this January, for a total of about $8.25 million, revenue records show.

The list of states with legal weed is growing, with others that have voted to allow it now including Oregon, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont. After starting tax collections in 2016, Oregon has divvied up about $126.9 million in marijuana taxes between schools, city and county governments, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Health Authority's drug prevention and treatment services.

"These funds will be used in combination with other resources for drug and alcohol prevention for a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to reducing drug misuse and excessive alcohol use," said Jonathan Modie, OHA spokesman. A campaign to prevent minors from using marijuana and data collection on alcohol and drug use are part of the drug prevention and treatment program, he said.

The amount of pot money Oregon allocates annually to school districts is based on a district's weighted daily membership, a metric that takes into account how many full-time students are in a district and other factors, such as the number of students with special needs or experiencing poverty. Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Oregon's second largest school district, is receiving a little more than $2.7 million in marijuana money this year, said Oregon Department of Education spokesman Peter Rudy. That's enough to pay for the equivalent of 27 teachers, considering each costs around $100,000 with salary and benefits combined, according to district spokeswoman Lillian Govus.

In a statement, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said, "We know that Oregonians care about our children’s education and their neighbors' health, and we see that in how they decided to spend cannabis tax revenues. Every dollar counts when supporting those values."

April 30, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Seattle prosecutors now taking proactive steps to expunge past marijuana convictions

Seattle-marijuana-jobsBecause of my work on my new article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I am especially attune to how marijuana reform is now intersecting with criminal justice concerns. So this new USA TOday article, headlined "Seattle seeks to abolish hundreds of pot convictions in light of legal marijuana," caught my eye this morning. Here are excerpts:

Seattle prosecutors are seeking to abolish more than 540 convictions against people caught carrying small amounts of pot in the city. A municipal judge is reviewing the convictions with an eye toward clearing offenders' criminal records, which advocates say have limited their job and housing opportunities.

The 542 people were convicted prior to 2010, when city prosecutors stopped bringing minor possession charges. Washington state legalized minor marijuana possession in 2012, and no one would be convicted in Seattle on minor possession charges today.

“Vacating charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession is a necessary step to correct the injustices of what was a failed war on drugs, which disproportionately affected communities of color in Seattle,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “The war on drugs in large part became a war on people who needed opportunity and treatment. While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we must do our part to give Seattle residents – including immigrants and refugees – a clean slate."

The move is the latest in a series of steps Seattle has taken to reduce or eliminate penalties for pot possession. In 2003, city voters mandated that marijuana possession be made the lowest law-enforcement priority possible, and in 2010, City Attorney Pete Holmes announced he would stop prosecuting simple possession cases, no matter how many tickets the police department wrote....

A few months later after legal sales began, an angry Holmes threw out nearly 90 marijuana tickets written by a single officer who appeared upset at legalization and began targeting homeless and minority men with public consumption and possession tickets. At the time, Holmes called the officer's actions "abhorrent."

The move also makes Seattle the latest large, liberally minded city to overturn marijuana convictions. San Francisco in January announced it would begin vacating thousands of minor marijuana convictions, and prosecutors are also reviewing an additional 4,000 felony cases for potential reductions. San Diego is following a similar process.

Prior related post:

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

April 28, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Michigan proposal for full legalization of marijuana officially approved for Nov 2018 vote

Images (1)As reported in this local article, headlined "Michigan approves marijuana legalization vote for November," the Wolverine State is now positioned to be the latest political battleground for the debate over recreational marijuana reform. Here are the details:

The battle to free the weed officially started Thursday when the State Board of Canvassers ruled that a group pushing a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use got enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. The 4-0 decision by the board was met with cheers by advocates for the proposal.

"The people of Michigan deserve this. They earned it," said Rick Thompson, a board member of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. "We've faced many trials and tribulations. We've had so many stop and go signs from the federal government. That's why states have to take the reins on the issue and really be the crucibles of democracy that they've always been intended to be."

It was the second time that the coalition had turned in enough signatures to get on the ballot. The last time, however, it didn't get the signatures in a state-mandated 180-day window and the petition was thrown out. But the coalition didn't have the same problem this time around. "We expected this," said John Truscott, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Now we'll be out and about talking to people and educating them about the issues."

Scott Greenlee, executive director of the Healthy and Productive Michigan political action committee, which opposes the ballot proposal, urged the Board of Canvassers to keep the issue off the ballot because marijuana is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government. "By putting this on the ballot, you're disregarding federal law," he said. "I recognize that other states have done it, but like my mom always told me, 'Just because your friends jump off a bridge, doesn't mean you have to do the same thing.'"...

The Michigan marijuana ballot proposal would:

  • Legalize the possession and sale of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal, recreational use.
  • Impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales at the retail level as well as a 6% sales tax. The estimated revenues from the taxes are at least $100 million.
  • Split those revenues with 35% going to K-12 education, 35% to roads, 15% to the communities that allow marijuana businesses in their communities and 15% to counties where marijuana business are located.
  • Allow communities to decide whether they’ll permit marijuana businesses.
  • Restrict purchases of marijuana for recreational purposes to 2.5 ounces but an individual could keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home.
  • Allow the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and not the politically appointed licensing board that will regulate the medical marijuana side of the market, to regulate and license marijuana businesses, ranging from growers, transporters, testers and dispensaries.
  • Set up three classes of marijuana growers: up to 100, 500 and 2,000 plants.

Michigan voters have already weighed in on marijuana once, approving cannabis for medical use in 2008 by a 63%-37% margin. As of March, 1, 277,752 people are medical marijuana cardholders and 43,131 people are caregivers who can grow up to 72 plants for up to five cardholders. The state is in the process of vetting applications of people who want to get into the medial marijuana business, which is expected to generate at least $700 million in sales. That financial prediction is estimated to grow to more than $1 billion a year if voters pass the ballot proposal and Michigan becomes the ninth state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use....

But getting the ballot proposal passed is not a foregone conclusion, despite recent polls showing more than 60% support for legalizing marijuana. Healthy and Productive Michigan has $215,286 for the battle ahead, primarily from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based organization that supports cannabis for medical, but not recreational uses.

"We'll continue to press forward with education and explain to the public the problems that recreational marijuana will cause in our state," Greenlee said. "And once it's certified for the ballot, we'll have a number of people from Michigan who will come in and support us."

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol has raised more than $1 million, but spent the vast majority on paying the firm that collected petition signatures. According to campaign finance reports filed this week with the Secretary of State, the coalition has only $17,326 in available cash for the upcoming campaign.

April 26, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable accounting of how hard it is to account for all the new marijuana data in legalization states

MarijuanadrugtestingfactsThe AP has this interesting new article about data collection and analysis in the marijuana space. The piece is headlined "Oregon Marijuana: Lots of Data, Few to Analyze and Check It: Oregon is awash in data on its marijuana industry but has few workers to monitor and check what its legal businesses are doing." Here is an excerpt:

Oregon's experience is reflective of one of the significant challenges in the expanding legal U.S. marijuana industry: the ability of governments to keep track of their own markets.

Washington, which with Colorado became the first state to broadly legalize marijuana in 2012, recently switched tracking contractors after it outgrew the first system, and quickly ran into major technical problems. Colorado has reported no significant technical issues but has only five people on the data analysis staff to help with investigations and look for potential violators.

Last year, Nevada switched tracking companies after its first system crashed. California became the world's largest legal marijuana market on Jan. 1 without the promised vast computer system for tracking. It won't be available for months.

The Oregon tracking system was created by Franwell, a Florida-based technology company that has contracts in a handful of states, including California. Licensees log entries into the system as seeds sprout into plants, the plants are harvested, processed, sent to stores and then sold. The flood of data is checked by the single full-time marijuana data analyst, with occasional help. Five more will be hired soon, but they'll have their hands full as an estimated 2,000 medical marijuana growers start entering the tracking system on July 1. According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, a recent inventory of adult-use marijuana in the state stood at more than 1 million pounds (0.45 million kilograms). That's roughly 4 ounces (113 grams) for each of the state's 4.1 million residents.

Avitas general manager Joe Bergen said the pot businesses are inputting a "ridiculous" amount of information to the tracking system. He said 10 percent of Avitas' staff at the Salem facility is dedicated to rules compliance: tagging plants and finished products, tracking the inventory and filling out official shipping manifests. "It's important to do it, but it's burdensome for a small business," Bergen said.

The data has been useful in confirming wrongdoing in roughly 50 investigations, though less than half of them were triggered by the data, commission spokesman Rob Pettinger said.

On a recent morning, Cecilia Espinoza sat at a table inside Avitas' production facility, staring at a desktop computer. A small wheel spun on the screen for a couple of minutes as she waited for the web application to open so she could update information about the hundreds of plants growing in the 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-meter) building. "We call it the 'spinning wheel of death,'" Espinoza said with a laugh. "It's tedious."...

Cannabis producers and regulators compare the tracking system to filing income taxes: They operate to a large extent on good faith, but when an auditor or inspector comes there better be evidence to back the numbers. However, the chances of a "compliance inspector" showing up at a site is low. The Oregon commission only employs 19, with four more to be added soon.

They don't have time to randomly check grow sites and compare amounts of marijuana they see with the data. Instead, inspectors are largely tied up investigating complaints, for example on someone carrying out a function beyond the scope of a license, or harvesters lacking the required permit, commission officials said.

Companies that have gone the legal route - paying for licenses, security and other systems to meet the requirements - say regulators should focus on those who remain outside the legal system. They note the illegal producers are unfair competition, without the large overhead. "Really, there is no incentive for us to do anything but stay in the recreational market," said Bergen, whose company invested millions in the Salem facility. "Why would we have gone to all this trouble, just to lose our license from doing something stupid like selling on the black market?"

April 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"'High' Standards: The Wave of Marijuana Legalization Sweeping America Conveniently Ignores the Hidden Risks"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Steve Calandrillo and Katelyn J. Fulton recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

As a tide of marijuana legalization sweeps across the United States, there is a surprising lack of scrutiny as to whether the benefits of recreational marijuana outweigh the risks.  Notably, marijuana edibles present special risks to the population that are not present in smoked marijuana.  States that have legalized recreational marijuana are seeing an increase in edible-related calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms.  These negative reactions are especially prevalent in vulnerable populations such as children, persons with underlying preexisting conditions, and out-of-state marijuana novices.

Unfortunately, research on edible marijuana is scant and state regulatory regimes are not adequately accounting for the special risks that edibles pose.  Edibles are metabolized differently than smoked marijuana, resulting in late-onset, longer-lasting, and unpredictable intoxication.  Novices are particularly vulnerable because of inaccurate dosing and delayed highs.  Children are also at risk because edibles are often packaged as chocolate and other forms of candy to which unsuspecting kids are attracted.  To minimize these risks and maximize the social utility received from marijuana edibles, further study of their effects is required and tighter regulations are necessary.  Conducting research studies and enforcing new regulations takes time, and in the interim a state-implemented ban on marijuana edibles may be necessary to halt the increase of edible-related harms and hospitalizations.

April 24, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper I have written for a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter which is now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

States reforming marijuana laws should be particularly concerned with remedying the past inequities and burdens of mass criminalization.  State marijuana reforms should not only offer robust retroactive ameliorative relief opportunities for prior marijuana offenses, but also dedicate resources generated by marijuana reform to create and fund new institutions to assess and serve the needs of a broad array of offenders looking to remedy the collateral consequences of prior involvement in the criminal justice system.  So far, California stands out among reform states for coupling repeal of marijuana prohibition with robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  In addition to encouraging marijuana reform states to follow California’s lead in enacting broad ameliorative legislation, this essay urges policy makers and reform advocates to see the value of linking and leveraging the commitments and spirit of modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.

Part II begins with a brief review of the history of marijuana prohibition giving particular attention to social and racial dynamics integral to prohibition, its enforcement and now its reform.  Part III turns to recent reform activities focused on mitigating the punitive collateral consequences of a criminal conviction with a focus on the (mostly limited) efforts of marijuana reform states to foster the erasure of marijuana convictions.  Part IV sketches a novel proposal for connecting modern marijuana reform and expungement movements.   This part suggest a new criminal justice institution, a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with criminal convictions.

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

April 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)