Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How To Run A Successful Legalization Campaign

 Talk about perfect timing!  Kenneth Leon and Ronald Weitzer's article, Legalizing Recreational Marijuana:  Comparing Ballot Outcomes in Four States, is available through the Social Science Research Network.

 Here's the abstract: 

 Medical marijuana is now available in 23 states, and its growing acceptance has paved the way for the legalization of recreational marijuana. This article examines four recent campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana – two failures and two successes. Using data from newspaper sources, interviews with key players, and other sources, we examine the factors that influence whether a ballot initiative succeeds or fails. We identify similarities and differences between the four measures, the social forces shaping the debate, their claims and counterclaims, and a set of factors that appear to increase the odds that a recreational marijuana ballot measure will be successful.

The factors are based on the successful Colorado and Washington campaigns and the unsuccessful Oregon and California campaigns. I don't want to ruin the suspense created in the abstract by telling you the complete set of factors, but here's one-"age distribution of voters."

October 21, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dynamic Colorado debate over suggestion of near complete ban on marijuana edibles

This new Denver Post article, headlined "Proposed Colorado marijuana edibles ban shows lingering pot discord," documents the enduring challenges and debates over the best regulatory frameworks for states which have moved away from total marijuana prohibition. Here are excerpts:

Colorado's health department proposed an industry-spinning ban on the sales of nearly all forms of edible marijuana at recreational pot shops Monday but then quickly backed away from the plan amid an industry outcry and questions over legality.

After a heated, four-hour hearing, the public policy Tilt-A-Whirl ride ended where it began: with lawmakers, regulators and stakeholders still in disagreement — now more than 10 months after the start of recreational pot sales — on the best way to manage marijuana in Colorado. "This is by far the simplest recommendation," state Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, said of the health department's proposal. "But I don't know if it gets us to where we want to be."

The aim of the state advisory group that met Monday to consider the health department's proposal and several others is to prevent people — mostly kids — from accidentally eating marijuana-infused products. Such accidental ingestions have sent children to the hospital, caused an increase in calls to poison-control hotlines and become one of the key measures lawmakers use in discussing whether legal marijuana sales can fit harmoniously in society.

Sales of infused edibles make up about 45 percent of the legal marijuana marketplace, said Dan Anglin, the chairman of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

The health department's recommendation was one of 11 proposals the group considered Monday. Most suggested the state create clearer labels for marijuana-infused products or require producers to make edible marijuana items in a unique shape or dyed a unique color.

Many of those proposals, though, quickly met with a familiar back-and-forth. One side would offer the suggestion; the other side would bat it down. Stamp a symbol onto edibles denoting the products contain marijuana? Too easily rubbed off, edibles producers said. Improve labeling and require edibles to stay with their packages? Too easily ignored to spread unmarked edibles, groups concerned about marijuana said.

Require producers to dye their products a specific color or airbrush on a symbol? "You can't force a company to use an ingredient they don't want to," said advisory group member Julie Dooley, an owner of Julie & Kate Baked Goods, an edibles producer.

In the debate, there was talk of Sour Patch Kids and marijuana-infused sodas, discussion of the cost of chocolate molds, and these words: "I think soft candy is such a broad category."

Amid this atmosphere, Colorado health department official Jeff Lawrence presented the department's proposed ban on the sales of all edibles except hard candies and tinctures. Lawrence said the disagreement over more-nuanced regulations pushed the department to propose something more sweeping. "If it couldn't be achieved," he said, "we were looking at something that could be achieved."

But the proposal — word of which spread in an Associated Press report before the meeting — quickly met a buzz saw. Industry advocates questioned whether edibles could be banned under Amendment 64, Colorado's marijuana-legalization measure. Singer worried a ban would create a "marijuana Whac-A-Mole situation" where edibles production moved into the black market. Andrew Freedman, the state's marijuana policy coordinator, said the governor's office did not support a ban.

The health department later in the day put out a news release acknowledging that the department did not consider the proposal's constitutionality or ask the governor's office to review it. Instead, the proposal was put forward to generate discussion. "Considering only the public health perspective, however, edibles pose a definite risk to children, and that's why we recommended limiting marijuana-infused products to tinctures and lozenges," Larry Wolk, the executive director of the department, said in a statement.

The discussion seemed mostly over by the end of Monday's meeting, as talk returned to more incremental forms of edibles regulation. Any final proposals from the advisory group will be presented in a report to the legislature next year. The Department of Revenue, which regulates marijuana businesses, must adopt final rules on the topic by 2016.

October 21, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Following the money and the polling surrounding Oregon's legalization initiative, Measure 91

This lengthy local article from Oregon provides a detailed look at the state of political debate in Oregon just a few weeks before final votes are cast concerning Measure 91 to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. The piece is headlined "High stakes in marijuana vote: Legalization measure draws nationwide attention," and here are some excerpts that caught my eye:

The flow of campaign cash from out-of-state donors has shifted south across the Columbia River in support of Measure 91. It has fueled an advertising blitz virtually absent two years ago. Meanwhile, opponents of legal recreational pot are struggling to fill a much smaller campaign war chest.

The measure would let adults 21 years and older legally use, grow, produce and store marijuana and associated edibles and drinks at home within set limits. It would let adults provide marijuana as well as marijuana edibles and drinks within the limits to another adult, as long as no cash is exchanged. It also would direct the state to regulate the legal recreational marijuana industry, including growers, producers and retailers. And it projects the state would collect millions of dollars in pot tax revenue to be divided among schools, law enforcement and treatment programs.

The two sides of Measure 91 cite statistics that they say show Washington’s and Colorado’s laws are either failed or sound policy, to buttress their own chief arguments....

New Approach Oregon has raised nearly $3.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions, according to online campaign finance filings with the Oregon secretary of state’s office. New Approach Oregon sponsored the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot and is the main committee supporting its passage. The money has fueled a wave of statewide ads.

Out-of-state donors have put in big money. Drug Policy Action, the political arm of Drug Policy Alliance, has contributed $940,000. Billionaire investor George Soros is a major financier of the alliance, which has a stated aim of ending marijuana prohibition. New Approach PAC, a committee The Oregonian reported was formed by family members of the late billionaire insurance executive Peter Lewis, contributed $750,000. Lewis, who died in November, personally contributed $96,000....

In contrast, the No on 91 campaign has raised just $168,337, state data shows, with the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association and another statewide law enforcement association kicking in almost all the cash.

Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, past president of the sheriff’s association, acknowledged the campaign hasn’t raised a lot of money. He noted, however, the coffers for the respective campaigns would be similar if out-of-state money going to the pro-measure side were excluded. Bergin said the lack of money going into the No on 91 campaign isn’t apathy but a sign that Oregonians are still dealing with financial hardships. “We’ve got to keep mowing the yard and hope we keep the weeds out, no pun intended,” he said....

The most recent poll, conducted by Portland-based DHM Research on behalf of Oregon Public Broadcasting and a Portland television station, found 52 percent of likely voters supported Measure 91 and 41 percent opposed it, with a 4.3 percentage point margin of error.

John Horvick, DHM’s research director, said it has conducted four polls since last year either on marijuana legalization or the measure. The results have been close, with the percentage in favor running between 49 and 54 percent. He said the outcome could hinge on the youth vote, which is less likely to cast ballots during mid-term elections. “You just have to get over that hump,” he said.

Horvick said he doubts the outcomes in Colorado and Washington will influence how voters here cast their ballots. Rather, he said, the attitudes of voters and their friends and family members shaped by “real-life experiences” with marijuana will have more impact than two-year-old election results in The Highest and Evergreen states.

October 20, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Can economists provide unassailable (and bias-free) marijuana reform cost-benefit analysis?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable AP piece from Oregon headlined "Economist: Benefits of legal pot outweigh societal costs."  Here are excerpts:

University of Oregon economist said Thursday the best-case estimates for Colorado's legal marijuana tax revenue were overstated because of a faulty model.  Economist Ben Hansen said at the Oregon Economic Forum that misjudgments in Colorado's revenue estimates stemmed from a term familiar to students in Econ 101: Elasticity of demand.

Previous estimates of demand for recreational marijuana only looked at the potential shift from the black market to the legal market.  But with the medical market suctioning off some new consumers, revenue forecasts changed.  With various substitutes available, from synthetic marijuana to medical and black-market pot, Hansen said, guessing at the potential revenue impact in Oregon remains difficult....

Colorado has decided to spend pot taxes in arrears, meaning taxes aren't projected but spent only once collected.  The unusual budgeting maneuver was adopted because the pot market is expected to be highly volatile for the first several years.

Legalizing marijuana increases its supply and drops its price, Hansen said.  That price drop makes additional taxes harder for consumers to notice.  That's important when the tax rate people pay in Colorado and Washington for legal pot is north of 40 percent. In Oregon, the same rate is anticipated to be about 15 percent.

While police agencies will no longer arrest or fine people caught with marijuana if it's legalized, Hansen says taxes function as a kind of fine for marijuana consumption. "With legalization, we can kind of double-dip," Hansen said. "We're no longer paying to arrest and incarcerate people, and we're getting tax revenue from it."

Hansen also says he doesn't anticipate a dramatic impact on the alcohol market, though he says studies have shown heavy drinking and beer sales decline in markets where medical marijuana is approved.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron said Thursday that Colorado's medical marijuana market was already commercialized when marijuana was legalized.  "The medicinal market was so commercial, so visible, that for all practical purposes, it was legal," said Miron.  "Economists consider all that matters are the fundamentals: Can you get access to it, are there barriers to it.

"I just don't think you (in Oregon) will see any kind of dramatic change. You're a long way toward a commercial market already."

October 18, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In debate, Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper call his state's legalization of marijuana "reckless"

As reported in this local article from Colorado, headlined "Candidates: Marijuana legalization ‘reckless’: Both oppose cannabis; differ on corrections, education," the current Governor of Colorado continues to criticize a law that a significant majority of his state voters supported back in 2012. Here are the basics:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday during a gubernatorial debate with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez that Colorado voters were “reckless” to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. The Democratic governor’s opposition to marijuana legalization has hardly been a secret. But the statement is his clearest admonishment for 55 percent of the electorate that backed the initiative.

“To a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I’m not saying it was reckless because I get quoted everywhere. But if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done it. I opposed it from the very beginning. What the hell. I’ll say it was reckless,” Hickenlooper said....

Some thought Hickenlooper might be warming to the cannabis industry after attending a fundraiser in August hosted by some of the biggest marijuana businesses in Colorado. But he made it clear on Monday that he remains committed to presenting a tough hand. “We’re not only the first state to do this, we’re the first country,” Hickenlooper said. “There are serious challenges when you build something from scratch.”

There are few differences between Hickenlooper and Beauprez on the subject of marijuana. Beauprez also strongly opposed legalization. “We have to regulate as tight as the law allows,” Beauprez said.

Also notable were these two comments to the article by readers appearing right after the piece:

Art Jaquez: "This is what is wrong with the two party system, no one represents the people."

Jordan Maynard: "Funny that a Republican is touting the 'tightest allowable regulation' regarding something the people voted in, but when they run for office they proclaim less regulation is best. The Hypocrisy of Politicians never ceases. They hate the laws the people vote for, and suddenly it's good to have heavy handed regulation. If we could have government without politicians things might actually work."

October 7, 2014 in Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 6, 2014

New York Times advocates for passage of all 3 marijuana legalization initiative on 2014 ballot

The New York Times has this new editorial headlined "Yes to Marijuana Ballot Measures: Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia Should Legalize Pot."  Here is how it begins:

The decision by California voters in 1996 to legalize medical marijuana produced a wave of similar initiatives around the country.  Less than two decades later, over half the states allow at least limited medical use.  Now it looks as though recreational use of the drug may follow the same path.

In 2012, Washington State and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.  This November, voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia will decide whether to do the same — effectively disregarding the misguided federal ban on a drug that is far less dangerous than alcohol.  Decades of arresting people for buying, selling and using marijuana have hurt more than helped society, and minority communities have been disproportionately affected by the harsh criminal penalties of prohibition.

Since Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia already allow medical marijuana, taking the next step makes good sense.  There are some differences in their proposed initiatives, but they are all worthy of passage.

October 6, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Intriguing new research on criminal justice impact of distinct marijuana reforms

Marijuana_comparison_Max.286.0The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has produced this interesting new research report titled "Reforming Marijuana Laws: Which Approach Best Reduces The Harms Of Criminalization? A Five-State Analysis." Here is what the report's Introduction:

The War on Marijuana is losing steam. Policymakers, researchers, and law enforcement are beginning to recognize that arresting and incarcerating people for marijuana possession wastes billions of dollars, does not reduce the abuse of marijuana or other drugs, and results in grossly disproportionate harms to communities of color.  Marijuana reforms are now gaining traction across the nation, generating debates over which strategies best reduce the harms of prohibition.

Should marijuana be decriminalized or legalized? Should it be restricted to people 21 and older?  Advocates of the latter strategy often argue their efforts are intended to protect youth.  However, if the consequences of arrest for marijuana possession — including fines, jail time, community service, a criminal record, loss of student loans, and court costs — are more harmful than use of the drug (Marijuana Arrest Research Project, 2012), it is difficult to see how continued criminalization of marijuana use by persons under 21 protects the young.  Currently, people under 21 make up less than one-third of marijuana users, yet half of all marijuana possession arrests (ACLU, 2013; Males, 2009).

This analysis compares five states that implemented major marijuana reforms over the last five years, evaluating their effectiveness in reducing marijuana arrests and their impact on various health and safety outcomes.  Two types of reforms are evaluated: all-ages decriminalization (California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts), and 21-and-older legalization (Colorado and Washington).  The chief conclusions are:

• All five states experienced substantial declines in marijuana possession arrests.  The four states with available data also showed unexpected drops in marijuana felony arrests.

• All-ages decriminalization more effectively reduced marijuana arrests and associated harms for people of all ages, particularly for young people.

• Marijuana decriminalization in California has not resulted in harmful consequences for teenagers, such as increased crime, drug overdose, driving under the influence, or school dropout.  In fact, California teenagers showed improvements in all risk areas after reform.

• Staggering racial disparities remain— and in some cases are exacerbated — following marijuana reforms.  African Americans are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses after reform than all other races and ethnicities were before reform.

• Further reforms are needed in all five states to move toward full legalization and to address racial disparities

October 2, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Marijuana legalization campaigns for 2016 in Arizona and California start heating up

As two recent articles highlight, advocates of marijuana of legalization in two states are not waiting to see how the 2014 election goes before getting a running start on 2016 campaigns.  Here are headlines and starting paragraphs reporting these developments:

"Marijuana advocates kick off 2016 initiative": "Supporters of an effort to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016 have filed paperwork with state elections officials, allowing them to raise money to campaign for the citizens initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project of Arizona initiative almost certainly will be modeled after the voter-approved marijuana program in Colorado."

"Marijuana legalization effort begins in California": "A U.S. marijuana advocacy group took steps Wednesday to begin raising money for a campaign to legalize recreational pot use in California in 2016, a move with potential to add a dose of extra excitement to the presidential election year."

September 25, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 22, 2014

With some on-air choice words, local Alaska TV reporter quits to work on marijuana legalization

This local article from Alaska, headlined "KTVA reporter quits on-air, reveals herself as owner of Alaska Cannabis Club," reports on how one TV personality decided to use her time on air to provide a marijuana-business-driven decision to tell her bosses to "take this job and shove it." Here are the details:

Reporter Charlo Greene quit on-air during KTVA-TV's 10 p.m. newscast Sunday, revealing herself as the owner of the medical marijuana business Alaska Cannabis Club and telling viewers that she would be using all of her energy to fight for legalizing marijuana in Alaska.

Greene had reported on the Alaska Cannabis Club during Sunday night’s broadcast, without revealing her connection to it. At the end of the report, during a live shot, she announced that she was the club's owner and would be quitting.

“Now everything you've heard is why I, the actual owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, will be dedicating all of my energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska," she said. "And as for this job, well, not that I have a choice but, fuck it, I quit.” And with that, she walked off camera....

Reached later, Greene said KTVA had no idea she was going to quit, or that she was connected to the Alaska Cannabis Club. Asked why she quit in such a dramatic way, she said, "Because I wanted to draw attention to this issue. And the issue is medical marijuana. Ballot Measure 2 is a way to make medical marijuana real ... most patients didn’t know the state didn’t set up the framework to get patients their medicine."

"If I offended anyone, I apologize, but I’m not sorry for the choice that I made," she said. In a statement posted on KTVA's Facebook page Sunday night, news director Bert Rudman said, "We sincerely apologize for the inappropriate language used by a KTVA reporter during her live presentation on the air tonight. The employee has been terminated."

Started in April, the Alaska Cannabis Club connects medical marijuana cardholders with other cardholders who are growing cannabis. Growers are offered "donations" as reimbursement for the costs of growing marijuana, the club said in an interview with Alaska Dispatch News in August. The club said it hopes to increase access to medical marijuana patients, despite operating in a legal gray area within Alaska's murky medical marijuana laws. Video clips of the broadcast were quickly uploaded to YouTube and shared on Reddit Sunday night.

September 22, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Local Officials Have Their Marijuana Boots On The Ground

 Thought this article  from American City and County on a conference call facilitated by the International City/County Managers Association  would make a good complement to Rob's work on the local option for marijuana.

 The topic of the conference call was "the cultural and logistical issues facing local governments that legalize the use of marijuana." Darin Atteberry, city manager for Fort Collins, Colo.; Jane Brautigam, city manger for Boulder, Colo.; David Timmons city manager for Port Townsend, Wash.; and Bill Kirchhoff, a municipal advisor from Coronado, California commented on their experiences implementing recreational and medical marijuana laws.

Here are some article snippets on the challenges of implementation:

One particular way the balancing act is playing out is with local law enforcement. “It’s a cultural change,” Timmons[from Port Townsend] said. “For many, many years you’ve had this culture, particularly in law enforcement, that this is an illegal activity and an illegal drug. We kind of have to change that whole culture within the police agencies as to how they respond, how they react, how they manage and handle the issues that arise from their interaction with this in the community.”

On the internal side of the equation, local governments must also consider how legalization will affect their employment policies. Federally, marijuana is still considered a schedule one controlled substance, which allows public employers to prohibit employees from using marijuana, regardless of its local legality, said Kirchhoff. However, he predicts this prohibition is on the way out.

If the legal status changes at the federal level, which Kirchhoff said is “right around the corner,” this will be the first time in history where cities and counties will have to shift “almost overnight from treating marijuana as a criminal issue and event to supporting it as a medical opportunity or option for employees in their workforce.” 



And to put the discussion in context [from another article which appeared in the McClatchey Tribune,] a comment from the panel's moderator, Ron Carlee, city manager of Charlotte, North Carolina.

This is all totally fascinating to me, sitting in North Carolina, where our hot issue in Mecklenburg County is banning tobacco use in public places,” he said. “It will be a long time before we have to wrestle with the marijuana issues _ possibly. But who knows?”



September 19, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

DC marijuana "legalization" ballot measure polling at 65%

From Marijuana Business Daily, a new poll shows 65% of registered voters in support of Washington D.C.'s Initiative 71, a quasi-legalization measure on the ballot this November.  

Initiative 71 is a bit different from previous marijuana ballot measures.  Though the campaign appears to be promoting the measure as a vote for legalization, it would really enact something that is much closer to decriminalization.  Legalization really refers to some sort of legal and regulated marketplace.  All I-71 would make legal is possession, home cultivation (of up to 6 plants) and transfer without payment between adults.  Removing criminal penalties for use is usually referred to as decriminalization, not legalization.  And I think permitting home cultivation and non=profit transfers also fit best in the same category since the reforms are really targeted at removing criminal penalties for users (who grow for themselves or share with friends).  

My sense has always been that "decriminalization" polls better than "legalization," so it is curious that I-71 is using the legalization language.  Since it seems to be comfortably ahead, perhaps the backers are confident of the outcome and want to be able to promote it as a win for "legalization" and so are using that language in the campaign.  

Opponents of the initiative launched their campaign this week, so it will be interesting to see if the current numbers hold.

September 19, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In new ad campaign, "Marijuana Industry Battling Stoner Stereotypes"

Crprintad_sep2014bThe title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable new AP article.  Here are excerpts:

Tired of Cheech & Chong pot jokes and ominous anti-drug campaigns, the marijuana industry and activists are starting an ad blitz in Colorado aimed at promoting moderation and the safe consumption of pot. To get their message across, they are skewering some of the old Drug War-era ads that focused on the fears of marijuana, including the famous "This is your brain on drugs" fried-egg ad from the 1980s.

They are planning posters, brochures, billboards and magazine ads to caution consumers to use the drug responsibly and warn tourists and first-timers about the potential to get sick from accidentally eating too much medical-grade pot. "So far, every campaign designed to educate the public about marijuana has relied on fear-mongering and insulting marijuana users," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's biggest pot-policy advocacy group.

The MPP plans to unveil a billboard on Wednesday on a west Denver street where many pot shops are located that shows a woman slumped in a hotel room with the tagline: "Don't let a candy bar ruin your vacation." It's an allusion to Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist who got sick from eating one on a visit to write about pot.

The campaign is a direct response to the state's post-legalization marijuana-education efforts. One of them is intended to prevent stoned driving and shows men zoning out while trying to play basketball, light a grill or hang a television. Many in the industry said the ads showed stereotypical stoners instead of average adults.

Even more concerning to activists is a youth-education campaign that relies on a human-sized cage and the message, "Don't Be a Lab Rat," along with warnings about pot and developing brains. The cage in Denver has been repeatedly vandalized. At least one school district rejected the traveling exhibit, saying it was well-intentioned but inappropriate.

"To me, that's not really any different than Nancy Reagan saying 'Just Say No,'" said Tim Cullen, co-owner of four marijuana dispensaries and a critic of the "lab rat" campaign, referring to the former first lady's effort to combat drug use....

The advocacy ads tackle anti-drug messaging from year past. Inside pictures of old TV sets are images from historic ads. Along with the fried-egg one is an image from one ad of a father finding his son's drug stash and demanding to know who taught him to use it. The kid answers: "You, all right! I learned it by watching you!"

The print ad concludes, "Decades of fear-mongering and condescending anti-marijuana ads have not taught us anything about the substance or made anyone safer." It then directs viewers to consumeresposibly.org, which is patterned after the alcohol industry's "Drink Responsibly" campaign.

September 17, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Are cities being racially discriminatory in banning legal marijuana?"

Marijuana-map-620x410The title of this post is the headline of this very intriguing piece from the Seattle Times, which spotlights a very interesting new lawsuit filed in Washington concerning a local ban on marijuana sales.   Here are the details:

The growing number of cities and counties in Washington opting out of Washington’s marijuana legalization experiment is eating away at the foundation of Initiative 502, as a Seattle Times editorial in Thursday’s paper suggested. The lack of stores in widening swaths of the state perpetuates the black market and maintains underground access of youth.

A new lawsuit filed in Benton County Superior Court against Kennewick’s ban takes the argument further: Bans are also racially discriminatory. The suit, filed on behalf of a would-be marijuana company, suggests that Kennewick’s ban (as well as similar prohibitions in all three Tri-Cities and Franklin County) push the underground marijuana trade to poorer neighborhoods. Since marijuana is a cash cow for gangs, they’ll continue to battle for turf.

The lawsuit makes some broad assumptions, including that white marijuana users primarily buy from “friends,” and most transactions occur in private homes.... “Minorities and minority children, who reside in racially segregated, high poverty rate neighborhoods in Kennewick, where black market transactions do not occur in private between friends, but instead on the public streets, are therefore disproportionately subjected to violence as a product of the black market trade as compared to whites.”

Attorney Liz Hallock, who filed the suit on behalf of American Weed LLC, summed it up: “This is white people who don’t see the effect of a ban on their street corners.”

The case is scheduled for a hearing next week. Whether it is successful or not, the legality of these municipal bans is likely headed to the state Supreme Court, as another lawsuit, against Fife, is being directly appealed to the high court. These cases will hinge on a lack of specific authority in I-502 for cities and counties to opt out. Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a non-binding opinion in January that they have an implied right under the state Constitution, which spurred jurisdictions queasy about marijuana to drop the curtain on I-502.

The ACLU’s Alison Holcomb, the architect of the initiative, believes the question about the bans falls to the Legislature: “Are we going to allow opt-out (from I-502), and under what circumstances?” State liquor laws, for example, require an alcohol ban to be put to voters. If state law now treats marijuana like liquor, shouldn’t voters get a say on pot bans?

The Legislative debate is likely to center on whether cities and counties get some of the 25 percent marijuana excise taxes in exchange for accepting state-licensed I-502 businesses. Holcomb said municipalities should have to justify their costs, because legalization, in theory at least, would lower criminal justice costs. “Cities and counties need to make the case and tie the request to the needs,” she said.

Until the Legislature, or the court, acts, the bans are here to stay.

September 13, 2014 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Legal pot, murky jobs: Marijuana laws put workers in tough spot"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new USA Today article, which gets started this way:

Every time he goes to work, Harvard-trained lawyer Andrew Freedman faces federal prosecution thanks to the source of his paycheck: Colorado's burgeoning marijuana industry.

Freedman, the governor's chief marijuana adviser, faces prison time if federal prosecutors decide to step in.  That's because federal law still considers marijuana as dangerous as heroin or cocaine, and prosecutors could easily bring drug-trafficking charges if they choose. Freedman's salary is paid by the taxes collected on legal marijuana sales.  "I'm in murky territory every day," Freedman said.

He's not alone.  Tens of thousands of marijuana growers, bud tenders, edibles makers, store owners and couriers working in Colorado and Washington and any of the other 21 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana face the same penalties.

The risk is even greater for dozens of former cops and soldiers working as armed guards in the marijuana industry because federal drug-trafficking laws prescribe far stiffer penalties for anyone using a firearm while handling drugs and money.  Several of the guards interviewed by USA TODAY say they chose to work for Blue Line acknowledged the legal risks they're taking, but said it was safer than being shot at by insurgents or dealing with violent criminals daily.

So far federal prosecutors have held off bringing charges against security firms protecting and servicing the marijuana industry, even though they're aware of the flagrant violations.  USA TODAY in July published numerous photos of a Colorado-based security-firm workers carrying pot, cash and weapons -- photos federal agents and prosecutors confirm they saw.

The situation highlights the tenuous balance federal prosecutors strike as they monitor the sale of legalized marijuana.  Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, even though voters in Colorado and Washington have allowed adults to possess and consume it for fun.  Federal officials say they're trying to balance state law while keeping pot out of the hands of kids and profits away from drug cartels.

Marijuana-industry workers acknowledge the risks they're taking, but say they're assuming federal prosecutors will leave them alone as long as they keep to the strictest interpretation of the state law.  "If you touch the product, then you're at risk for federal prosecution," said Michael Jerome, a spokesman for Blue Line Protection Group, which provides armed guards to transport marijuana and cash for pot-shop owners. "That's why we're trying to make it safe and legitimate and responsible, so we can respect the wishes of the voters of the state of Colorado and keep the federal government out of it."

September 4, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Campaign over marijuana legalization heating up in Alaska

Images (2)This lengthy new local article, headlined "Alaska marijuana legalization initiative: Supporters, opponents rally," provides an effective review of the state of debate concerning marijuana reform in The Last Frontier:

With two months left to sway Alaska voters, the dueling groups in support and opposition of a ballot measure to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana in Alaska are ramping up their campaigns, and Friday they offered glimpses of what’s to come in the weeks leading to the general election.

The group backing the initiative -- the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska -- gave insight into an upcoming advertising campaign and a new website to be unveiled in early September.

Meanwhile, opposition group “Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2” said new constituency groups were in the formation stages, and touted recent endorsements by businesses and organizations.

The campaigns are setting their sights on Nov. 4, the day Alaskans will cast their votes on Ballot Measure 2. The initiative would legalize recreational use of marijuana for adults aged 21 and older and levy a tax of $50 per ounce of pot. Should it pass, the eight-page initiative would leave much of the regulation-making process in the hands of the state. The state would have nine months to craft these regulations, including labeling and health and safety guidelines and security requirements for marijuana businesses.

Summer polling shows Alaskans split on whether to legalize. Public Policy Polling data released in early August showed that of 673 voters polled, 44 percent were in favor of the initiative, 49 percent opposed and 8 percent unsure. Those numbers show a slight decrease in support since May, when PPP showed 48 percent in favor, 45 percent opposed, and 7 percent unsure.

Deborah Williams, deputy treasurer of Vote No on 2, said the August poll was evidence that public support for the initiative is wavering. Campaign to Regulate spokesperson Taylor Bickford disagreed. “We aren’t concerned at all. Our internal polling tells a different story,” he said....

A major component of the new campaign is a new website, TalkItUpAlaska.org. That website will provide supporters with a comprehensive resource database. It’s set to go live in early September, he said. The website will host an online phone bank pulled from the campaign’s database, allowing volunteers to call voters directly. Another section will compile information on canvassing, public and private events, and general volunteer opportunities. Downloadable fliers, campaign merchandise, and online fundraising tools will also be available, among other resources....

Vote No on 2 has criticized the group’s influx of money from the Marijuana Policy Project, saying that outsiders are pushing marijuana commercialization on the state. Bickford said Friday that such criticism was simply a distraction. Meanwhile, Vote No on 2 had filed $40,487 in contributions as of Friday, according to APOC. The largest donation, $25,000, came from Chenega Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation....

Deputy treasurer for Vote No on 2, Deborah Williams, said Friday “tremendous momentum” was building to defeat the ballot measure. Constituency groups working within Vote No on 2 are “in the formation stage,” Williams said. Those include “Attorneys Against Ballot Measure 2,” “Physicians Against Ballot Measure 2,” and “Athletes Against Ballot Measure 2,” the latter being spearheaded by Alaska Olympian Rosey Fletcher.

Karen Compton, a stay-at-home mother of two, is heading “Mothers Against Ballot Measure 2.” So far the group is comprised of a handful of “influential moms,” Compton said. The group isn’t trying to raise money, but would be using social media to get its message out and talking with various organizations about its position. As part of Vote No on 2, Compton said the group’s role is to help mothers identify with the campaign. “I think people identify (with a group) when they see people like them or people they know who have taken a stand,” she said.

Meanwhile, numerous organizations continue to come out against the initiative. The Alaska Republican Party passed a resolution in May opposing the ballot measure. The Alaska Chamber of Commerce issued a resolution in opposition in late August. The Alaska Conference of Mayors, Doyon Ltd., and Alaska Asthma Coalition are among the other groups that have come out in opposition of the measure.

Bickford said the Campaign to Regulate wasn’t surprised, or concerned, by the endorsements. “Ultimately, it won’t be politicians and business groups and organizations deciding this issue,” he said. He noted the ballot measure endorsements from the Alaska Libertarian Party and the Alaska Democratic nominee for U.S. House of Representatives, Forrest Dunbar, among others.

In the weeks ahead, Vote No on 2 will be “getting the word out through community forums, through one-on-one conversations, (and) through the debates that are coming up,” Williams said. Eight public hearings on the initiative will be held in the month of September, in Nome, Barrow, Juneau, Ketchikan, Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Bethel and Fairbanks. The complete schedule is available on the lieutenant governor’s website.

September 1, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Does an increase in marijuana seizures in Colorado mail mean more Coloradan's are mailing marijuana? Not necessarily.

There's a new law enforcement report out saying postal inspectors saw a big spike in marijuana seizures from Colorado mail headed to other states between 2010 and 2013. 

The amount of Colorado marijuana being seized en route to other states through the U.S. mail has more than quadrupled since 2010 and was destined for more states than before, according to a new report by a federally funded drug task force.

 

Postal inspectors seized more than 493 pounds of pot from packages in 2013, up from 57 pounds in 2010, the year after medical marijuana dispensaries proliferated in Colorado, according to the figures released this month by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

 

Just 15 packages were bound for 10 states in 2010, compared to the 207 parcels destined for 33 states in 2013. Top destinations were Florida, Maryland and Illinois, the report states.

Does this news mean Coloradans are actually sending more marijuana to other states than they used to?  No, not necessarily.  

The increase in seizures could just as easily be the result of more vigilant enforcement as the result of more Coloradans mailing marijuana to friends.  Perhaps inspectors have started to look more closely at Colorado packages in response to the state's marijuana reforms.  Similarly, it is not incoceivable that legalization opponents are pushing to up enforcement to try and boost numbers to give legalization a black eye (certainly, it seems like this HIDTA report was released with that in mind.)

On this point, it is worth recalling that marijuana arrests more than doubled between 1990 and 2002. Did marijuana use double during that same period?  Not at all.  The numbers were the result of increased law enforcement attention to small marijuana cases (broken windows, stop and frisk style enforcement, etc.).  

To be sure, the numbers could reflect a real increase in Coloradans sending marijuana out of state.  (Or, it could be a mixture of both causes.)

But the only thing this data tells us is that more marijuana is being seized, not what caused the jump in seizures.  

August 28, 2014 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The local option for marijuana, Part II: the theory of local control

In my last two posts, I’ve highlighted the emerging struggle between state and local governments for control of marijuana policy. My latest article tries to provide some guidance on whether states should give local governments the option of banning marijuana sales.

This Part of the article discusses the theory of local control. It illuminates the competing considerations that help determine whether local control over marijuana (or any other issue) is normatively desirable. (I’ve eliminated the footnotes for this post, but they’ll be available once I post the completed draft on SSRN.)

A. The case for local control

Local control is supposed to promote economic efficiency. In particular, empowering local governments to tackle divisive issues is supposed to enable more people to get the policy they desire. The reason is that minorities in statewide contests sometimes comprise majorities in local communities; there are, after all, more than 3,000 counties and 15,000 municipalities sprinkled throughout the 50 states. These residents would be happier if they were allowed to pursue the policy they prefer through these local communities, rather than live under the policy the state as a whole would choose. Mobility of the population arguably enhances the efficiency of local control. The idea is that residents who are dissatisfied with the policy espoused by one local government can relocate to a community with a more appealing policy. To be sure, residents could also relocate from one state to another, but the comparatively large number of local governments increases the chances that dissatisfied residents will find more appealing matches and it also lowers the cost of relocation.

Continue reading

August 26, 2014 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Washington's Marijuana Legalization Grows Knowledge, Not Just Pot"

The title of this post is the title of this terrific new Brookings research paper which takes a close look at Washington state’s early experience in legalization of recreational marijuana. Here is how the report is summarized on the Brookings website:

Voters in Washington state decided in November 2012 to legalize marijuana in their state, inspired by a campaign that emphasized minimizing the drug’s social costs and tightly controlling the legal recreational market. Joined to this drug policy experiment is a second innovative experiment that emphasizes knowledge: the state will fund and develop tools necessary to understand the impact of legalization on Washington’s law enforcement officials, communities, and public health.

This second reform, though less heralded than the attention-grabbing fact of legalization, is in many ways just as bold. Washington’s government is taking its role as a laboratory of democracy very seriously, tuning up its laboratory equipment and devoting resources to tracking its experiment in an unusually meticulous way, with lessons that extend well beyond drug policy.

Brookings’ Philip Wallach interviewed advocates, researchers, and government policymakers in Washington to learn about the state’s novel approach. In this report, he highlights several noteworthy features:

  • Building a funding source for research directly into the law: a portion of the excise tax revenues from marijuana sales will fund research on the reform’s effects and on how its social costs can be effectively mitigated.
  • Bringing to bear many perspectives on legalization by coordinating research efforts across multiple state agencies, including the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Health, and the Liquor Control Board.
  • Mandating a cost-benefit analysis by the state’s in-house think tank, which will be nearly unprecedented in its scope and duration.

Wallach makes a number of suggestions to ensure that Washington’s knowledge experiment can be made to work, including:

  • Ensure political independence for researchers, both by pressuring politicians to allow them to do their work and by encouraging the researchers themselves to refrain from making political recommendations
  • Gather and translate research into forms usable by policymakers
  • Counter misinformation with claims of confident uncertainty
  • Have realistic expectations about the timeline for empirical learning, which means cultivating patience over the next few years
  • Specify which reliable metrics would indicate success or failure of legalization

August 26, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 22, 2014

"Come on vacation, leave on probation" says Idaho lawyer about state's pot policy

The quote in the title of this post is drawn from this new Businessweek article headlined "Marijuana Law Mayhem Splits U.S. as Travelers Get Busted."  Here is how the lengthy article gets started:

America is two nations when it comes to marijuana: in one it’s legal, in the other it’s not. The result is that people like B.J. Patel are going to jail.  The 34-year-old Arizona man may face a decade in prison and deportation following an arrest in 2012.  On a trip in a rented U-Haul to move his uncle from California to Ohio, he brought along some marijuana, which is legal for medicinal use in his home state.

Headed eastbound on I-44 through Oklahoma, Patel was stopped for failing to signal by Rogers County Deputy Quint Tucker, just outside Tulsa.  He was about to get off with a warning when Tucker spotted a medical marijuana card in his open wallet. “‘I see you have this card. Where’s the marijuana?’”  Patel recalled Tucker asking him. “I very politely and truthfully told him, ‘I’ll show you where it is.’”  That’s where things started to go bad for Patel.  He now faces trial next month on a felony charge.

Possessing pot for recreational use is legal in Washington and Colorado, and allowed for medicinal purposes in 23 states.  The other half of the country, which includes Oklahoma, largely prohibits any amount for any purpose.

While challenges may land the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, what exists now is a legal checkerboard where unwitting motorists can change from law-abiding citizens to criminals as fast as they pass a state welcome sign.  The difference is especially clear in states like Idaho.  Surrounded on three sides by pot-friendly Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Montana, Idaho State Police seized three times as much marijuana this year as in all of 2011.

“The manner in which a person acquires the drug is not relevant,” Teresa Baker, an Idaho police spokeswoman, said.  “This is important to know for those who may purchase it legally elsewhere, believing that it will be overlooked.”  

James Siebe, a lawyer in Coeur d’Alene, put it another way: “Come on vacation, leave on probation.”

August 22, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Oregon legalization campaign will run at least $2.3 million in TV ads

The Oregonian reported Monday that proponents of ballot measure 91 will spend at least $2.3 million on television advertising this election cycle.  

Here's their current ad:

 

To my knowledge, there is not yet a formal opposition group to the measure  (and there does not appear to be a Project SAM affiliate in the state.)  

August 20, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)