Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, May 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 22, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Even among skeptics, benefits of marijuana reform seem to eclipse drawbacks in Colorado

Colorado.first_.to_.legalize.250-1I am a fairly strong proponent of marijuana reforms in large part because there seem to be a number of tangible immediate benefits from legalizating, regulating and taxing the marijuana marketplace, while significant drawbacks rarely prove to be as dire as predicted by opponents of reform.   Two new stories in major newspapers today discussing developments in Colorado reinforce my views. Here are headlines, links and exceepts:

From USA Today here, "These kids are going to college on pot": 

Colorado pot smokers are helping send 25 students to college, the first scholarships in the U.S. funded with taxes on legal marijuana.  The awards offered by Pueblo County, in southern Colorado, are the latest windfall from legal Colorado marijuana sales that are also helping build schools and aid the homeless — and in one county, providing 8% raises to municipal workers.

Pueblo County is granting $1,000 each to the students, with recipients to be announced later this month.  “It’s incredible,” said Beverly Duran, the executive director of the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, which is overseeing the scholarships.  "Every year we get a nice pool of students … but we can always only award to a small percentage.  This for us expands that to extraordinary lengths.”...

Further south in Colorado, Huerfano County expects to collect an extra $500,000 in cannabis taxes this year. That’s bankrolling an 8% raise for almost all of the county's 96 municipal employees, a big deal in an area where a county road worker earns $12 an hour and most employees haven’t had a raise in more than five years....

In Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, marijuana taxes are helping improve roads, pay off a municipal recreation center, and provide direct services for homeless men and women.  Aurora has nearly 20 pot shops and five grow sites, generating a projected $5.4 million in new taxes this year.

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Governor who called legalization 'reckless' now says Colorado's pot industry is working":

“The predictions of fire and brimstone have failed to materialize,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform pot laws.  “Most Coloradoans, including the governor, recognize that the law is working.”

From the start, [Colorado Gov] Hickenlooper saw the legalization of marijuana as a great national experiment, something utterly new in this country and fraught with potential public health and safety issues.  He fretted about a potential rise in drug use among children and was clearly uncomfortable with an amendment directly conflicting with federal law, which considers pot an illegal drug on par with cocaine.

There were plenty of snags at first.  Marijuana edibles proved especially problematic because few people had experience with them. High-profile overdoses made national news.  Just last week a lawsuit was filed against the maker of a marijuana-laced candy, alleging the product triggered a "psychotic episode" that caused a man to kill his wife in 2014.  Still, none of Hickenlooper’s worst fears were realized.

Colorado is booming.  The state has a 4.2% unemployment rate, one of the best in the country.  High-tech companies are moving in.  Small towns across the state, some once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, have been saved by tax revenues from pot dispensaries.  And the $1-billion-a-year cannabis business will pump $100 million in taxes into state coffers this year.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, said the governor’s views reflect a growing sense of optimism about how the industry is regulated.  “In the short run, there have been a lot fewer public safety and health issues than the governor feared in the beginning,” said Freedman, who is often referred to as the state’s marijuana czar.  “In the beginning, we had problems with edibles and hash oil fires but now, for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before legalization.”

Marijuana consumption has not changed much from pre-legalization levels and there has been no significant increase in public health and safety problems, he said.  As for the $100 million in tax revenue, Freedman noted, that's out of a $27-billion state budget.  Some 70% of the money is earmarked for school construction, public health initiatives and other projects.  The rest goes back into regulating the industry.  

“The governor has called this a grand experiment from the beginning.  He looks at data points as he goes along and I think he’s pleasantly surprised that there were not as many challenges as he thought,” Freedman said. “He would say the jury is still out on this experiment but he’s optimistic.”

Some are less circumspect.  “The state’s image is actually rising.  We were just ranked as the best place to live in America,” Tvert said.  “The idea that businesses would not relocate here or conferences wouldn’t be held here was untrue.  In fact, attendees at conferences are now offered pot tours as day trips.”

May 17, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

  

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

May 14, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Marijuana sales and tax revenues keep going up and up in Colorado ... while tangible new serious problems seem still not to have (yet?) materialized

This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Colorado pot shops have already sold $270 million of marijuana in 2016," reports that "in the first three months of 2016, Colorado's pot shops sold more than $270 million of marijuana and related products." Here is more:

The state’s latest data shows that its marijuana shops sold nearly $90 million of cannabis in March 2016. The licensed stores sold more than $55 million in recreational marijuana and more than $33 million in medical cannabis in March, the latest month for which the department has released tax data for the industry. Totals for retail and medical marijuana dipped slightly in March after a bustling February, which was the state’s fifth most lucrative month for sales since they began in January 2014, according to Cannabist calculations and state data.

March 2016 totals for recreational pot sales are up 30 percent from March 2015, which shows that “marijuana sales remain strong,” said Christian Sederberg, an attorney for the cannabis industry. “As the regulated system continues to work, we’re also on pace to have over $40 million in excise taxes, meaning there could be additional taxes available from the excise tax to be used for something beyond the public school construction fund.”

Among the taxes collected on retail pot sales is the school-funding 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers, which amounted to $3.5 million in March. One of the cornerstones of the campaign that successfully ran Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64 says that the first $40 million raised by that excise tax will go toward school construction projects. That specific tax totaled $13.3 million in 2014 and $35 million in 2015, and industry analysts — Sederberg included — say they are confident it will top $40 million in 2016.

Colorado marijuana outlets sold more than $699 million of product in 2014 and more than $996 million in 2015. Year-over-year totals for taxes and license fees grew too, from $76 million in 2014 to $135 million in 2015. There are three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax; a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax; and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. For March, Colorado collected more than $11.3 million in recreational taxes and fees and more than $1.7 million in medical taxes and fees.

Intriguingly, this notable new Atlantic piece, headlined "The Failed Promise of Legal Pot: New laws on marijuana were supposed to boost tax revenues and free up cops to go after “real” criminals. But underground sales — and arrests — are still thriving," details that marijuana legalization in Colorado and other states has not yet completely eliminated the historic black-market realities of marijuana distribution.   Though I find useful this article's reminder that, even after legalization, there can be many persistent black market and prohibition problems, I also think the article highights reasons why we may expect marijuana sales and tax revenues to keep on increasing over time as more and more local marijuana consumers come to prefer engaging with the newer-and-always-innovating legal market over their older-and-surely-less-dynamic black market.

In addition to noting these sales and tax revenue trends, the headline of my post here is meant to flag the reality that we do not seem to have yet seen evidence of increasing serious new problems in Colorado to parallel the evidence of increasing sales and tax revenue.  If there were significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana and having robust retail sales, I think those harm would now start to become very obvious now nearly 45 months since Colorado voters enacted full legalization and 30 months into having retail outlets selling lots of this product.  Moreover, if there were  significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana, not only should they be evident by now, but they should be contining to grow and become even more evidence as legal sales continue to increase.

Critically, it is certainly possible that there are significant long-term harms for Colorado and elsewhere that can be linked directly to marijuana legalization and increasing legal sales, especially with respect to health concerns.  (The parallel here to tobacco should be clear: having lots of people smoke lots of cigarettes does not produce a lot of obvious short-term harms, but the long-term harms we now know are quite significant.)  But if sales and tax revenues keep going up and evidence of major problems are not yet materializing, it is going to be difficult to effectively campaign in other states against marijuana reform when the tangible cost-benefit realities in Colorado so far seem pretty darn good.

May 12, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Highlighting the economic potential of marijuana reform in the California desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

California reformers have collected signatures necessary to bring full legalization up for another state initiatitve vote in 2016

California voters in 2010 missed their chance to make their state the first to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes when the voted down Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, by a vote of 53.5% to 46.5%. Now, six years later, it appears that voters in California will have another chance this November to make marijuana reform history by becoming the last Pacific coast state (save Hawaii) to legalize recreational marijuana.  This Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California voters getting chance to fully legalize marijuana," provides the details:

A measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California appears headed for the Nov. 8 ballot.

A coalition that includes former Facebook President Sean Parker on Tuesday said it has collected 600,000 signatures, more than enough to qualify the initiative. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other supporters of the measure plan to kick off a campaign for voter approval of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act on Wednesday in San Francisco.

The measure would allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes and would allow individuals to grow as many as six plants.

"This November, California voters will finally have the opportunity to pass smart marijuana policy that is built on the best practices of other states, includes the strictest child protections in the nation and pays for itself while raising billions for the state,” Newsom said in a statement.

The coalition, which includes some law enforcement and civil rights leaders, needed to collect 365,880 signatures of registered voters to qualify the initiative, which would also place a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug.

The use of marijuana in public and while driving would remain illegal. Parker, a billionaire who also co-founded the file-sharing service Napster, donated more than $1 million to the campaign to collect signatures and qualify the initiative. If elections officials verify that the signatures turned in Wednesday are sufficient and voters approve the initiative, California would join Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon as states that allow recreational use of marijuana.

Opposition is already organizing behind groups such as Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, which formed to defeat a 2010 legalization initiative that was rejected by 53% of voters. "Marijuana is a very dangerous drug," said Scott Chipman, a San Diego businessman who is the Southern California chairman of the group. "The state has not proven it has the capacity or the will to properly regulate marijuana and so they won't."

The measure is also opposed by the California Police Chiefs Assn., in part, because of problems that have arisen in Colorado. Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, president of the association, said extremely potent marijuana is being sold in Colorado that he fears will lead to high addiction rates and high incidents of psychosis. “This is bad for our communities. This is bad for our youth and it’s a broad commercialization [of drugs], a for-profit, money-making model,” Corney said.

More than 55% of California voters allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 1996 when they approved Proposition 215. Despite the defeat of a 2010 legalization initiative, a poll last year by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 55% of likely voters in California favor full legalization.

“I’m excited to be a part of one of the largest coalitions of cannabis and non-cannabis organizations to come together to push this initiative forward,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn. Bradley, who backed the failed 2010 initiative, said voters have since "seen how well [legalizing recreational use] has worked in other states."

Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, formed a blue ribbon commission on marijuana policy that made recommendations, many of which were incorporated into the initiative. The measure is supported by the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, California Cannabis Industry Assn., California Medical Assn. California NAACP, and the national Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The medical association said in a statement that it supports the measure because "the most effective way to protect the public health is to tightly control, track and regulate marijuana and to comprehensively research and educate the public on its health impacts, not through ineffective prohibition."

May 4, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Vermont House kills legislative proposal to legalize marijuana in favor of a special study commission

As reported in this local NPR article, headlined "House Snuffs Marijuana Legalization, Issue Dead For 2016 Session," the only state legislature that seemed to be seriously consider legalizing recreational marijuana via traditional legislation is not going that route. Here are the basic details:

Marijuana legalization is dead for the 2016 session. The Vermont House Tuesday rejected an amendment that would have decriminalized the growing of two plants by a vote of 77 to 70. Lawmakers earlier defeated a Senate plan for commercial marijuana sales.

But the House did approve language calling for a special commission to examine issues surrounding the full legalization of marijuana. The commission is to report its findings in December.

The first issue facing the House was to vote on the Senate's plan to legalize marijuana beginning in January of 2018. The plan also would have created a state regulatory structure to grow, sell and tax marijuana. House Judiciary chairperson Maxine Grad expressed strong concerns about the Senate's approach and said: "It is not the Vermont way." "My vote is a vote against creating a large-scale commercial market that does not allow for small scale growing for personal use," she said, "or does not further the role of small growers and community supported agriculture."

The House rejected the Senate plan by a vote of 121 to 28.

House Minority Leader Don Turner then proposed holding a statewide nonbinding referendum on Primary Election Day in August to allow voters to express their opinion on the question of legalizing marijuana. "You guys want to know if Vermont wants to legalize?" Turner asked the chamber. "Put your money where your mouth is. Vote for my amendment."

Many Democrats argued that August was a terrible time to hold a referendum vote because few Vermonters vote in the primary election. Woodstock Rep. Alison Clarkson said the plan was an abdication of legislative responsibility. "We are elected to represent our constituents we are elected to make tough decisions. That's our responsibility," she said.

The House defeated the nonbinding referendum plan by a vote of 97 to 51.

That vote set the stage for debate over a compromise plan drafted by House Democratic leaders over the past few days. It called for the decriminalization of growing up to two plants, it included additional prevention and education programs for young people, and it called for the creation of a special commission to research many of the issues surrounding the legalization of marijuana.

In the end, the only piece that survived was the creation of a special commission to study legalization. Newbury Rep. Chip Conquest said the panel was needed to closely study the experience of Colorado and Washington, two states that have developed a retail market for marijuana.

"The data is not really reliable," Conquest said. "I don't think — at least from my part — I didn't feel like I could count on it to really give me a good indication of what was happening."

Conquest noted that Vermont has already decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. He says it's time to take the same approach with the cultivation of two plants so that people can get their marijuana from a legal source....

Because of procedural issues at the end of the legislative session, if the House passes any part of its proposal, Senate leaders will not be able to amend the House plan and instead will have to accept or reject it as-is.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who publicly pressured lawmakers to legalize marijuana this year, condemned the House's decision. "The War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition has failed," he said. "I want to thank those House members who recognize that and worked to move this issue forward. It is incredibly disappointing, however, that a majority of the House has shown a remarkable disregard for the sentiment of most Vermonters who understand that we must pursue a smarter policy when it comes to marijuana in this state."

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Maine now officially back on the list of states likely to vote on marijuana legalization this November

As reported in this new AP piece, the "referendum proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Maine has met the threshold to appear on the November ballot, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday."  Here is more about what happens now and why this was not a certainty just a few months ago:

The announcement means the citizen initiative will be forwarded Friday to state lawmakers, who can either enact it now or put it before voters in the fall.

David Boyer from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said he looks forward to educating Maine voters as to why ending marijuana prohibition makes sense.  "We think that regulation and controlling marijuana and putting it behind the counter is a far better approach than giving drug dealers a monopoly," Boyer said.

Scott Gagnon, who opposes marijuana legalization, said the effort would make Maine "the weed basket of the East" and bring along with it a variety of societal ills.  "We are confident that when Mainers see the full story of marijuana and what it would mean to have pot dispensaries in their community, they will rise up to reject the marijuana industry agenda, to protect the health of their communities and the futures of their children," he said.

The measure would legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 and older, allowing them to possess up to an ounce. It also would regulate and tax marijuana. Maine already legalized marijuana for medical use in 1999....

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol originally submitted 99,229 signatures on Feb. 1, but only 51,543 of the signatures were deemed to be valid. A review was ordered after a judge set aside Dunlap's decision to reject thousands of signatures because the notary's signature didn't match the signature on file in Augusta.... Dunlap said Wednesday that seven circulators whose petitions containing 11,305 signatures were originally invalidated have sworn under oath that they signed their petitions in front of notary Stavros Mendros.

Maine will be one of several states considering marijuana legalization proposals. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., already have made recreational use of marijuana legal for adults.

April 27, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Exploring how to impact the hearts and minds of bellwether Buckeye voters concerning marijuana reform

Perhaps fittingly, the final student presentation planned for my Ohio State College of Law marijuana reform seminar is focused on "efforts to change the hearts and minds of Ohio voters when it comes to marijuana reform."  Here is how the students have described their project and the materials they have assembled to this end:

Our project is focused on connecting with the average Ohioan who does not and has not used marijuana, in order to dispel any myths or prejudices that he or she might hold.  The goal is to inform the populace about the virtues of marijuana reform before they vote on another bill/initiative so that they are primed to vote yes on the merits. The articles include what the polls say about Ohio's desire for legal marijuana, a Vice video about moms returning to marijuana consumption after years rebuking it, and some materials concerning compelling organizational tactics for reformers including strategies used for legalization initiatives:

"Ohio voters support marijuana legalization, poll finds"

"Stoned Moms"

"How marijuana legalizers are winning the battle for hearts and minds"

"The Key To Rebranding Cannabis Is More Soccer Mom And Less Bob Marley"

"The inside story of how marijuana became legal in Colorado"

Summer 2014 Prospectus by The Strategy Network describing ResponsibleOhio's plans for "2015 Ohio Marijuana Legalization and Regulation"

April 20, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Public Policy Institute of California releases new report: "Regulating Marijuana in California"

Logo (1)The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), which describes itself as a "nonpartisan think tank ... dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research," has released this notable new report titled "Regulating Marijuana in California." Here is the heart of the report's summary:

This report does not consider the wisdom of marijuana legalization. Instead, it takes the view that, if recreational marijuana use becomes legally sanctioned, then the debate must turn to how to design regulations that reconcile important, but differing policy goals. These include, among others, limiting the impact of the illegal marijuana market, reducing harm to public health and safety, and raising revenue for the state.

The report explores the approach Washington and Colorado have taken to regulating recreational marijuana markets. These two states have histories of legal recreational marijuana that, though brief, are the longest in the nation.

What lessons can be gleaned from these experiments? Both states have designed mechanisms to track legal cultivation and production, thereby reducing the diversion of marijuana to the illegal market. They also tax marijuana transactions, collecting tens of millions of dollars in revenue. And it appears that neither overall use nor use by young people has risen dramatically. However, as in California, levels of use were already higher in those states than in the rest of the country.

To limit the impact on public safety, both Washington and Colorado established legal definitions of drugged driving. Since then, in both states, greater numbers of people have been charged with driving under the influence. Nonetheless, it is impossible to determine whether those increases mean drugged driving has become more prevalent or that law enforcement is more vigorous. In addition, the change in marijuana’s legal status challenges drug abuse prevention specialists to develop effective messages.

The short experience with legal recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington and the lack of data on California’s marijuana market make it difficult to derive policy recommendations. However, from a governance perspective, it is possible to draw some general lessons for California. Three in particular stand out: (1) Both Colorado and Washington significantly adjusted marijuana regulation shortly after legalization. We suggest that California approach legalization with an eye toward flexibility. The regulatory process should be designed to facilitate needed changes. (2) Such an adaptable regulatory model will require a mechanism for collecting data on the marijuana market and evaluating the consequences of use. A strong and transparent reporting system will help ensure that future changes are based on solid research and analysis. (3) Finally, this is a venture into uncharted territory, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law. These considerations suggest that California should err on the side of caution and adopt a relatively restrictive regulatory model for both the recreational and medical markets. A tight, single market will make marijuana laws easier to enforce and to reduce diversion to other states and underage users. To be sure, a highly regulated legal market will undoubtedly be accompanied by a robust illegal market. From a political perspective though, it will be easier to loosen a tight market than to tighten a loose one.

April 8, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Senators Grassley and Feinstein convening hearing on whether DOJ is "Adequately Protecting the Public" from state marijuana reforms

This recent press release from US Senate's Caucus on International Narcotics Control details that this caucus has a hearing scheduled to explore how the federal government is keeping an eye on state-level marijuana reforms. (Exactly what this has to do with international control is unclear, but big-government drug warriors on both sides of the political aisle like Senators Grassley and Feinstein have never really been too keen to worry about limiting government growth in this arena.)  Here are the basic details on what is prompting this hearing:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Co-chairman of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, will hold a hearing entitled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?”

In August 2013, the Obama Administration decided to effectively suspend enforcement of federal law on marijuana in states that legalized it for recreational use. But to disguise its policy as prosecutorial discretion, the Administration also announced federal priorities that it claimed would guide its enforcement going forward. These priorities include preventing marijuana from being distributed to minors, stopping the diversion of marijuana into states that haven’t legalized it, and preventing adverse public health effects from marijuana use. At the time, the Justice Department warned that if state efforts weren’t enough to protect the public, then the federal government might step up its enforcement or even challenge the state laws themselves. This put the responsibility on the Department of Justice to monitor developments in these states, develop metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of its policy, and change course if developments warranted.

But a report from the Government Accountability Office that Grassley and Feinstein requested found that the Administration doesn’t have a documented plan to monitor the effects of state legalization on any of these priorities. Moreover, according to the report, officials at the Department could not even say how they make use of any information they receive related to these priorities. Grassley and Feinstein are convening this hearing to explore this problem.

What I find most notable and disconcerting about this hearing is that it claims to be exploring whether the big federal government bureaucrats inside the Beltway at DOJ who are very far removed from direct public accountability are "protecting the public" from state reforms in Alaska and Colorado and Oregon and Washington which were enacted directly by the public through voter initiatives.

April 4, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Is Vermont about to "change the marijuana legalization game"?

The question in the title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new Washington Post piece headlined "How Vermont could change the marijuana legalization game," and which serves as a fitting as a fitting follow-up to my student's recent class presentation, Looking closely at how Vermont legislature is looking closely at marijuana legalization.  Here are excerpts from the Post piece:

Over the past four years, marijuana legalization has come to the United States at a relatively fast pace, thanks to overwhelming support for it among young adults.  But up until now, change has mostly come from the voters -- sometimes in spite of lawmakers' wishes.

That balance could be shifting toward legislators, at least in one state: Vermont.  In the next few weeks, Vermont could become the first state legislature to legalize marijuana. At Gov. Peter Shumlin's (D) urging, a bill to make Vermont the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana passed the state Senate in February and is currently being debated in the state House.

Its passage is not a given, but marijuana advocates are optimistic, both about the bill's chances and Vermont's ability to inject the marijuana legalization debate into even more state legislatures. For some marijuana advocates, the statehouse is yet one more path to legalization....

In 2004, Vermont was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana through its state legislature.  Since then, another one-fifth of the country has followed suit....

If Shumlin signs the bill this summer, Vermont residents won't be able to buy marijuana legally until January 2018.  For the first few years, the state will also limit the number of marijuana licenses for selling and growing marijuana.  In addition, public schools in Vermont would receive state-mandated drug education programs about marijuana a full semester before it's legal.

The slow, methodical approach to legalization is the main difference between Vermont and other states that legalized it via ballot initiatives, said Matt Simon, the New England head of the Marijuana Policy Project, which is lobbying for the bill's passage.  Lawmakers will give themselves and state agencies plenty of time to prepare, train staff and come up with new regulations.

There are a few other ways Vermont's bill stands out: After watching Colorado struggle with how to regulate edibles, Vermont won't be legalizing those at all. Lawmakers also resisted marijuana advocates' lobbying to allow people to grow marijuana plants in their own homes.  And if you want to invest in one of Vermont's marijuana stores, you'll have to move to the state and become a resident; no out-of-state funding is allowed.

Overall, Simon's group is happy with the bill and just as happy that Vermont is the first serious attempt to legalize marijuana via lawmakers and not voters.  (At least one other state, Rhode Island, is considering a bill to legalize marijuana, but it's too early to tell whether that bill has a shot.  New Hampshire's state House became the first chamber of any state legislature to vote on legalization when it narrowly passed a bill in 2014 but it died in the state Senate. Advocates tried again this February; it was defeated.)...

Ballot initiatives are the go-to method for marijuana legalization advocates for a reason.  For one thing, advocates can shape the policy they want instead of trying to lobby lawmakers.  And they've been pretty successful when it comes to marijuana.  Outside of the outlier of Ohio, advocates' only notable defeat by ballot was in Oregon in 2012 -- and voters there legalized marijuana two years later.

There is also the simple fact that lawmakers with jobs on the line are less apt to get ahead of social change.  Should the nascent recreational marijuana experiment go sideways, lawmakers would rather not have that vote on their records.  Take same-sex marriage, for example.  Most of the state legislatures that approved same-sex marriage didn't do so until around 2013, when polls showed more than half the country supported it....

Putting legalization to a vote is especially popular in a presidential year, when advocates can piggyback on the higher turnout and more intense media coverage.  This year, Arizona, California, Nevada, Ohio, Maine and Massachusetts are all expected to have some kind of legalization question on their ballot, whether medical or recreational. 

But ... researchers have argued that ballot initiatives risk glossing over boring-but-important details, which so happen to be the very same information lawmakers spend countless hours chewing over.   "Ballot initiatives are a terrible way to make policy changes when the technical details matter," wrote drug policy expert Mark Kleiman in 2014.  Kleiman ran Washington's regulation team after voters there legalized it in 2012.  Without lawmakers' input at both the state and federal level, Kleiman envisioned a not-too-distant future where the cannabis industry has an undue amount of power to shape legalization.  And that, he says, is reason for even reluctant lawmakers to get off the sidelines on legalization....

Opponents to legalization argue the cannabis industry already has too much influence, no matter who legalizes marijuana.  "My biggest concern is creating Big Marijuana -- sort of like Big Tobacco," Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy official with the Obama administration and president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, told Vox in March . SAM argues the same players that are active in ballot initiatives are funneling resources to shape Vermont's debate, so there's no real substantial difference in what Vermont lawmakers are considering to what Colorado or Washington voters decided.  "It's a distinction without a difference," said Jeffrey Zinsmeister with SAM.

March 30, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"District of Cannabis: Evaluating the Cannabis Legalization Regime in the Nation's Capital"

The title of this post is the title my student developed for his coming in-class discussion of the status of marijuana reform in Washington DC.  And here are the reading the student has assembled:
  • Ballot Initiative 71: The referendum that overwhelmingly passed after a vote by D.C. residents on On November 14, 2014, making it legal to posses up to two ounces of marijuana for medical use, to grow up to six cannabis plants, and to sell paraphernalia for drug use, but not to transfer marijuana for money.

  • DC's Marijuana Law: Explained: A brief video by the Washington Post that explains what "you need to know to smoke pot in DC" released after BI-71 became effective.

  • DC Council Warned Not to Regulate Marijuana: Detailing a letter from the District's AG to the DC Council warning that holding a hearing on regulating marijuana would be in violation of Congress' mandate that the Council not use any of its budget to regulate marijuana--an example of the tense cannabis standoff between Congress and D.C.'s self-governing body.

  • Weed is Legal in DC, so Why is No One Acting Like It?: New York Magazine article detailing the complex realities of marijuana laws in Washington, D.C. and their on-the-ground impact.

  • Marijuana Arrests Down 85% After One Year: According to data from the Metropolitan Police Department, "[o]verall, marijuana arrests [in D.C.] decreased by 85% from 2014 to 2015. Marijuana possession arrests fell from 1,840 in 2014 to just 32 in 2015."

  • Kush Gods Pleads Guilty: One of the first entrepreneurs to openly sell marijuana in the BI-71 created "gray market" pleads guilty on March 21, 2016 to two counts of selling marijuana to an undercover police officer.

March 22, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 21, 2016

SCOTUS rejects original lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado over marijuana reform

Legal gurus closely following state-level marijuana reforms have been also closely following the lawsuit brought directly to the Supreme Court way back in December 2014 by Nebraska and Oklahoma complaining about how Colorado reformed its state marijuana laws.  Today, via this order list, the Supreme Court finally officially denied the "motion for leave to file a bill of complaint" by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado.  This is huge news for state marijuana reform efforts, but not really all that surprising.  (It would have been bigger news and surprising if the motion was granted.)

Notably, Justice Thomas authored an extended dissent to this denial, which was joined by Justice Alito.  Here is how this dissent stats and ends:

Federal law does not, on its face, give this Court discretion to decline to decide cases within its original jurisdiction. Yet the Court has long exercised such discretion, and does so again today in denying, without explanation, Nebraska and Oklahoma’s motion for leave to file a complaint against Colorado.  I would not dispose of the complaint so hastily. Because our discretionary approach to exercising our original jurisdiction is questionable, and because the plaintiff States have made a reasonable case that this dispute falls within our original and exclusive jurisdiction, I would grant the plaintiff States leave to file their complaint....

Federal law generally prohibits the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, and possession of marijuana.  See Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 84 Stat. 1242, as amended, 21 U. S. C. §§812(c), Schedule I(c)(10), 841–846 (2012 ed. and Supp. II).  Emphasizing the breadth of the CSA, this Court has stated that the statute establishes “a comprehensive regime to combat the international and interstate traffic in illicit drugs.”  Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 12 (2005).  Despite the CSA’s broad prohibitions, in 2012 the State of Colorado adopted Amendment 64, which amends the State Constitution to legalize, regulate, and facilitate the recreational use of marijuana.  See Colo. Const., Art. XVIII, §16.  Amendment 64 exempts from Colorado’s criminal prohibitions certain uses of marijuana. §§16(3)(a), (c), (d); see Colo. Rev. Stat. §18–18–433 (2015).  Amendment 64 directs the Colorado Department of Revenue to promulgate licensing procedures for marijuana establishments. Art. XVIII, §16(5)(a).  And the amendment requires the Colorado General Assembly to enact an excise tax for sales of marijuana from cultivation facilities to manufacturing facilities and retail stores. §16(5)(d).

In December 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed in this Court a motion seeking leave to file a complaint against Colorado.  The plaintiff States — which share borders with Colorado — allege that Amendment 64 affirmatively facilitates the violation and frustration of federal drug laws.  See Complaint ¶¶54–65.  They claim that Amendment 64 has “increased trafficking and transportation of Coloradosourced marijuana” into their territories, requiring them to expend significant “law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources” to combat the increased trafficking and transportation of marijuana.  Id., ¶58; Brief [for Nebraska and Oklahoma] in Support of Motion for Leave to File Complaint 11–16.  The plaintiff States seek a declaratory judgment that the CSA pre-empts certain of Amendment 64’s licensing, regulation, and taxation provisions and an injunction barring their implementation. Complaint 28–29.

The complaint, on its face, presents a “controvers[y] between two or more States” that this Court alone has authority to adjudicate. 28 U. S. C. §1251(a).  The plaintiff States have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State.  Whatever the merit of the plaintiff States’ claims, we should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform.

March 21, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Oregon tax coffers already getting extra stuffed one month into recreational marijuana sales

Oregon-potAs reported in this local article, headlined "Oregon collects three times expected amount of recreational marijuana taxes in first month," Oregon voters' decision to embrace full marijuana legalization is already producing much-more-than-expected tax revenues for the state. Here are the details:

Oregon brought in more than three times the expected amount of recreational marijuana tax money in the first month it was collected from dispensaries, ­potentially moving up when the state distributes revenue to ­cities and counties. Officials estimated that January might bring in about $1 million in taxes, said Derrick ­Gasperini, communications manager for the state Department of ­Revenue. Figures released Wednesday by the department showed that the state collected $3.48 million in taxes for recreational marijuana sales in January. “It does exceed ­projections,” he said.

As part of a startup year for a recreational marijuana industry in Oregon, dispensaries selling medical marijuana that registered with the department were allowed to sell to recreational buyers. The state requires those dispensaries to charge a 25 percent tax on recreational sales. Medical marijuana sales in Oregon remain untaxed.

That could mean that the tax figures indicate that ­dispensaries around Oregon sold nearly $14 million worth of recreational marijuana in the first month of taxed sales, but Gasperini ­cautioned that the estimation could be incorrect. “The Department of Revenue is not going to make any statements on sales until we have some (tax) returns,” he said. The returns will be submitted by dispensaries later this year.

Dispensaries around the state that sell recreational marijuana collected the taxes in January and gave them into the state between Feb. 1 and March 4, according to the Department of Revenue. The department received 253 tax payments from the 309 registered to sell ­recreational marijuana that month in Oregon. Gasperini explained that not all those registered turned in tax payments because “they may not have made any (recreational) sales,” he said....

A better financial picture of marijuana sales in the state should come after the end of the quarter, the first three months of the year, when he said the department will have more precise figures. For now, he also did not have a breakdown of how much in recreational pot tax money was collected by each county....

Eventually, tax money brought in from recreational marijuana sales will be divided among a variety of accounts: 40 percent for the common school fund, 20 percent for mental health, 15 percent for state police, 10 percent for cities, 10 percent for counties, and 5 percent for the state Health Authority. But that is only after the cost of running the state recreational marijuana program is taken out of the tax revenue. Before even reaching the point of distributing the tax money, the Department of Revenue and the ­Oregon Liquor Control Commission first must recoup their costs of starting up the program Gasperini said....

More taxes coming in than expected could accelerate the state’s move to dolling out the money. Department officials had expected the first distributions to come in July 2017. Gasperini said now they very likely will come sooner.

The current tax model for recreational pot is only set to be in effect this year in Oregon. At the start of next year, retail outlets selling solely recreational marijuana can open. The state plans to tax them at 17 percent, with local governments able to add another 3 percent in taxes.

March 18, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Massachusetts special Senate Committee issues big report about marijuana legalization in Bay State

As reported in this local article, a special state Senate Committee in Massachusetts released today a big new report on what the state need to think about if (when?) voters this fall enact marijuana legalization by initiative.   The full report is available at this link, and it runs 100+ pages.  The local press article, headlined "7 takeaways from the special report on marijuana legalization in Massachusetts," provides these useful highlights:

A special state Senate committee, whose members recently traveled to Colorado to see the legal cannabis industry up close, issued its official report on Tuesday, sounding a skeptical note on legalization and hoping to promote a cautious approach.

Here are some takeaways from the report:

  • The report recommends heavily taxing marijuana if it's legalized. The report calls for an excise tax of between 5 percent to 15 percent collected from growers, a marijuana-specific sales tax of 10 percent to 20 percent, and a local option sales tax of up to 5 percent.  That's just to start.
  • The committee's report wants "strict" limits on the marketing, advertising and promotion, including a prohibition of restriction on marijuana advertising on television, radio, print, billboards and other forms of media.  Health risks would have to be put on advertising and marketing, free samples and coupons would be banned.
  • No celebrity endorsements: The report wants a ban on those and brand sponsorships "that may increase appeal to youth."
  • The report wants a ban on "home growing" or at least a temporary prohibition, and also recommends aggregate limits on how much marijuana could be grown in the state each year.
  • The report estimates 885,000 Massachusetts residents used marijuana in the last year -- almost half of them youth and young adults under 25 years old -- consuming a total of 85 metric tons (or 3 million ounces) of marijuana.  That's compared to 3.1 billion servings of beer, wine and spirits in 2012, the report says.
  • One in four high schoolers used marijuana in the last year. One in five Massachusetts marijuana users smoke it daily.
  • Addiction hits one in nine users, the report claims.  The report calls marijuana overdoses "rare" and says it does not lead to death, qualifying it with it potentially leading to "psychotic events."  The report adds: "Pregnant women who use marijuana increase the risk of damage to the fetal brain."

If recreational marijuana is legalized by Massachusetts voters, "it will be critical to dedicate sufficient time, expertise, and resources to ensure as smooth an implementation as possible, which nevertheless is likely to be challenging," the report says.

State officials struggled to implement a medical marijuana program after Massachusetts voters approved it in 2012, the same year Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.  Four years after the approval of medical marijuana, there are six dispensaries are open across Massachusetts, as patient demand for products has surged.

March 8, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Looking closely at how Vermont legislature is looking closely at marijuana legalization

As I mentioned in this prior post, the students in my semester-long OSU Moritz College of Law seminar on marijuana laws and reform are now starting to assemble readings on particular topics in preparation for an in-class presentation/discussion. This week, one of my students is taking a deep dive into Vermont Bill 241, the bill that sets out a framework for "personal possession and cultivation of cannabis and the regulation of commercial cannabis establishments." I have uploaded the full 40+ page text of Vermont Bill 241 below, and I thought it interest and notable that the bill begins this way:

The General Assembly finds that Vermont lawmakers recognize legitimate federal concerns about cannabis reform and seek through this legislation to provide better control of access and distribution of cannabis in a manner that prevents:

(1) distribution of cannabis to persons under 21 years of age;

(2) revenue from the sale of cannabis going to criminal enterprises;

(3) diversion of cannabis to states that do not permit possession of cannabis;

(4) State-authorized cannabis activity from being used as a cover or pretext for trafficking of other illegal drugs or activity;

(5) violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of cannabis;

(6) drugged driving and the exacerbation of any other adverse public health consequences of cannabis use;

(7) growing of cannabis on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by cannabis production on public lands; and

(8) possession or use of cannabis on federal property.

Download VERMONT legalization bill S-0241 As Introduced

March 7, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Looks like Maine may no longer be a state to watch on the marijuana legalization initiative front in 2016

This local article, headlined "Maine marijuana legalization bid fails to qualify for ballot," reports that the folks seeking to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot in the Pine Tree state seemed to have come up short in their efforts. Here is why and some context:

An effort to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Maine did not qualify for the November ballot, accoridng to state election officials. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said in a statement that the proposal did not have enough valid signatures of Maine voters. The campaign needed 61,123 signatures. According to Dunlap’s office, the campaign only provided 51,543 valid signatures.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol now has 10 days to appeal the decision. An appeal would be reviewed in Maine Superior Court. Campaign leader David Boyer said they were “very disappointed” with the Secretary of State office’s determination that 17,000 signatures apparently from a single notary did not match the signatures on file. “We will be exploring all legal avenues that are available to appeal this decision and sincerely hope that more than 17,000 Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised because of a handwriting technicality,” Boyer said.

The campaign turned in 99,229 signatures on Feb. 1. According to Maine election officials, over 31,000 signatures were deemed invalid because signatures on petitions swearing that the circulator witnessed signature collection did not match his or her signature on file. One circulator was listed as the public notary on 5,099 petitions containing 26,779 signatures. Other irregularities included 13,525 signatures that were invalid because they did not belong to a registered voter in the municipality where they were submitted.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol backed the initiative, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. The push for legalization began with two competing measures, including one backed by a group called Legalize Maine. But the campaigns united behind one proposal in October, after advocates became concerned that having two similar proposals on the ballot would create confusion among voters and split the vote.

The campaign faced opposition from a group formed to prevent legalization, and from parts of the medical marijuana community in Maine. When campaign supporters delivered petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office in Augusta in February, they were met by protesters who said that local medical marijuana growers and patients could be hurt if the referendum passed....

Maine has allowed medical marijuana since 1999 and the program has become increasingly popular in recent years. Last year, Mainers spent $23.6 million on medical marijuana from the state’s eight dispensaries, a 46 percent jump from the previous year. Those numbers don’t include sales to patients from the more than 2,200 caregivers licensed to grow and sell marijuana to patients.

The state cannot provide an exact number of patients because it does not keep a registry, but doctors have printed more than 35,000 certificates required under state regulations to certify patients. That number could include duplicates and replacement certificates and is likely higher than the actual number of patients, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical marijuana program.

March 2, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is there really a chance Louisiana (!?!?!) is really considering marijuana legalization for economic reasons?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Daily Beast piece headlined "Will Louisiana Be the First Southern State to Legalize Weed?".  Here are excerpts:

One of the harshest states on pot offenders is reportedly exploring the idea of a recreational marijuana program. Saddled with $850 million in state debts, experts say Louisiana’s move is less motivated by safety as it is by money.

The idea to offset a colossal deficit with legal pot was allegedly born out of concern from lawmakers backing two bills that may cause budget cuts.  Combined with the news that Colorado raked in $900 million from its marijuana program in 2015, it may be enough to get conservative pot prohibitionists to change their tune.

“I think they’re looking at it strictly as a profit-driven, tax-based incentive,” Kevin Caldwell, executive director of Commonsense NOLA, a nonpartisan organization fighting for legalization, says of the rumblings about legalizing. Caldwell is excited about the legalization talk, and says New Orleans, which decriminalized it in 2010, has been paving the way.

But even Caldwell, who has devoted his life to the cause, isn’t getting his hopes up yet.  “I think it is more likely next session, once the politicians get the real blowback from the budget cuts,” he says. “Once the state sees cuts to things like social services and universities…I think that will reawaken some of the populism from our past, which, in this case, is a good thing.”

If the state does decide to move forward with the creation of a recreational marijuana program, it will be the most unlikely legalization story thus far.  In the four states where marijuana is legal recreationally — Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon — police had generally been turning a blind eye to marijuana for decades.

But Louisiana is a different story.  With the state’s exceptionally strict sentencing laws and a powerful anti-legalization sheriff’s association, it is one of the toughest places to get caught with pot.  Notorious for putting nonviolent marijuana offenders behind bars — it’s a war that Louisiana sheriffs wage primarily with minorities.

According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, in 2010, African Americans made up 64 percent of marijuana possession arrests in Louisiana — despite making up just 32 percent of the state population. By these numbers, blacks in the state are three times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites, despite studies showing they use at the same rates (or less).

A subsequent ACLU report on the harshness of sentencing found Louisiana to have the highest number of prisoners (429) serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes — many of them for minor marijuana offenses. Ninety-one percent of the 429 are black, and the vast majority of them are housed at the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary, which Caldwell calls “America’s last plantation.” One is a previously homeless man who was caught dealing less than $20 worth of marijuana.

The lengths at which Louisiana goes to enforce marijuana prohibition go beyond laws.  Enforcing marijuana possession (combining police, judicial, and correctional fees) costs the state $46.4 million per year.  “All these draconian measures we put on people and we’re still one of the most violent states in the country,” Caldwell says of the marijuana arrests.  “Obviously the way we’re doing things doesn’t work.  Obviously it’s time to change our paradigm.”

While the concept of legalizing marijuana to save the state’s budget seems to have been met with relatively mild responses, suggestions of the same — when framed as a safety issue — invoke panic and rage. After activists floated the idea of legalization to a local sheriff whose officers had just fatally shot a marijuana dealer, he reportedly went into a “fit of rage.”

Long-time readers and all my students likely know that I view the potential short-term and long-term economic and tax benefits can be a power argument in favor of marijuana reform, and it would not surprise me if we start seeing a number of legislators in a number of states start rethinking whether blanket pot prohibition is a "game worth the candle."  But, in light of the historically tough approach to marijuana crimes in Louisiana, this story's suggestion that Louisiana could become the first full legalization state in the south strikes me as just very wishful thinking right now.

March 2, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)