Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interesting debate in Anchorage over proposed (and now rejected) local marijuana sales ban

Images (5)The Alaska Dispatch News has this new and notable article about a local legislative hearing that took place earlier this week. The extended article is headlined "Assembly kills proposal to ban marijuana sales in Anchorage," and here are excerpts:

An ordinance that would have banned commercial marijuana in Anchorage failed after four hours of public testimony and debate in Assembly chambers Tuesday night.  The Assembly voted 9-2 just after 10 p.m. to kill the measure.  Only members Amy Demboski and Paul Honeman supported the measure.

Demboski introduced the proposal last month, hoping the city would take a “wait and see approach" as state lawmakers craft marijuana regulations.  But several Assembly members expressed concern that a ban would disconnect them from conversations regarding marijuana regulations at the state level.

“I’m fearful the message on ‘opt out’ will send key legislators in Anchorage to the sidelines,” said Assemblyman Bill Starr.  “That will make my work harder.”

Demboski said her goal in bringing the legislation forward was not to stifle pot in Anchorage, but to begin to move the conversation forward on big topics dealing with the substance, including potential issues at the federal level.  She noted it will especially be important to engage with Alaska’s congressional delegation on how to mitigate potential federal impacts. “It’s bringing the conversation forward,” Demboski said.

Bruce Schulte, with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, said he was surprised to see the Assembly kill the measure, noting that co-sponsor Dick Traini ultimately voted against it.  Still, he said, it was good to get the public talking about potential impacts of marijuana legalization. “The most resounding message is that we still have a lot of work ahead,” Schulte said.

In hours of testimony in the Assembly chambers at Z.J. Loussac Public Library, most people spoke in opposition to the ordinance.  Medical marijuana cardholders wept at the struggle of trying to get their medicine illegally.  Many worried about city finances and said the Assembly should not shy away from new revenue in the form of taxable marijuana sales.  Some mentioned distrust of officials for considering circumventing Alaska voters' wishes....

In November, Alaskans by a margin of 53 to 47 percent voted to approve Ballot Measure 2, an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana in the state. Just weeks after the measure passed, Assembly member and mayoral candidate Demboski introduced the ordinance that would allow Anchorage to take advantage of the “opt out” provision of the measure, which allows communities to ban commercial marijuana. Assembly members Traini and Paul Honeman also backed the measure....

Deborah Williams, who served as a spokesperson for the campaign opposing Ballot Measure 2, said in testimony Tuesday that she sensed hypocrisy in proponents of the measure, who emphasized the local option for communities but seemed to back away from it during the ordinance debate.  “There were lots of promises during the campaign,” she said, noting rhetoric about regulation of things like marijuana advertising, edibles and butane hash oil.  “This gives you bargaining power for the Legislature,” she said of the proposed city ban.

Jeff Jessee, who also worked on the campaign, worried that there’s so much unknown with regulations that it makes sense to stop marijuana before it gets going.  “We need to temper expectations that it will be open season for this industry in Anchorage,” Jessee testified.

But June Pittman-Unsworth, one of several medical marijuana patients who ended up in tears while testifying, said she has no legal way to get it and has no ability to grow it herself.  “The state failed me -- don’t let the city fail me,” Pittman-Unsworth said. “This ordinance is premature and open-ended. There’s no date on when to comply.  I want you to think about that.”

Rev. Michael Burke of Common Sense on Marijuana in Alaska, a group of business and faith leaders looking to have a voice in the regulatory process, asked the city to hold off on the ordinance, saying it did not pass the “red face” test and said he worries voters will be cynical of leaders because the ordinance is coming so soon after the initiative was passed.  Burke said his group and others would work to make sure that responsible regulation is enacted, including addressing issues with treatment, safety and keeping businesses small.  “There is a lot at stake here in getting the regulations right,” Burke said.

December 17, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Political deal in works for Congress to deal with DC marijuana legalization issues

The Huffington Post has this notable new report on recent Capitol Hill activity to deal with the District of Columbia's recently-passed marijuana legalization initiative.  The piece is headlined "Congress Looking To Block D.C.'s Marijuana Legalization Initiative," and here are excerpts:

Congress is looking to stifle the District of Columbia's marijuana legalization initiative, multiple sources have told The Huffington Post.

According to those sources, congressional negotiators have struck a deal to interfere with D.C.'s marijuana legalization measure.  That's after nearly 70 percent of voters in the nation's capital approved Initiative 71, which was set to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use while still banning sales.  The deal would allow the District to continue its marijuana decriminalization policy enacted by the D.C. Council, but would ban the city from using funds to enact legalization.

One congressional source said the deal would actually allow the initiative to take effect, while preventing the D.C. Council from passing any new laws to set up a scheme for regulating retail sales of marijuana -- something D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser (D) has said she wanted the council to do before legalization takes effect.   Democrats are rumored to be cutting a deal with Republicans "where they can save face by claiming that they protected D.C.'s marijuana decriminalization law from elimination, even if they failed to protect legalization," according to Drug Policy Alliance.

"Democrats had the opportunity to protect the will of the voters in D.C. and they have decided to cut a deal in an effort to protect decriminalization.  However, 70 percent of voters support this [initiative]. It's incredibly problematic," Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance and vice chairman of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, told The Huffington Post.  "And in light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it is particularly disturbing that Congress would choose to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city. D.C. voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police.  Congress is poised to undermine that."...

In November, D.C. voters approved Initiative 71, which would legalize adult marijuana use, possession of up to 2 ounces and home cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for personal use. Under the measure, the sale of marijuana would remain illegal, but the D.C. Council is considering a separate bill that would allow for the regulation and taxation of marijuana sales, similar to laws on the books in Colorado and Washington state.

The ballot measure built on several recent moves to remove restrictions on marijuana in Washington. The District legalized medical marijuana in 2010, and its first medical marijuana dispensary opened last year. Earlier this year, the D.C. Council decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

While supporters praised the measure as a step toward resolving the racial disparity in the District's marijuana arrest rates, some Republicans had been working toward blocking the measure for months. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) has vowed to put a stop to the progression of the bill in Congress....

Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization advocacy group, said it wasn't clear exactly how Congress would go about thwarting the legalization initiative.  Federal lawmakers oversee how the District spends money, but the initiative isn't expected to have a cost.  "The way I read I71 the District doesn't have to spend any money in order to implement it," Capecchi said.

As is true with all legislative issues and is especially true with marijuana reform, a lot of the devil here will be in the details. Especially because the DC Initiative did not directly call for the establishment of a full-scale regulated commercial marijuana industry, it would not be obviously disrespectful for Congress to merely put some limits on whether and how DC can set up a full-scale legal marijuana marketplace. But it would be troublesome if Congress were to somehow require local DC police to persist in making arrests and bringing prosecutions for small-scale marijuana cultivation, possession and use.

December 9, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Notable new reporting about marijuana banking issues and developments in Colorado

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Marijuana Dining Still on Shaky Legal Ground"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new AP article.  Here is how it gets started:

Acclaimed chef Chris Lanter is talking a crowd of eager foodies through a demo on cooking with marijuana. As he prepares steak au poivre, he describes how to deglaze the pan with pot-infused brandy. How to pair marijuana with fine foods. How to make marijuana's skunky tang work for a dish, not ruin it. One catch — there's no actual weed at his demonstration.

Marijuana aficionados paid $250 for a weekend-long celebration of marijuana and food, yet state and city regulations prohibit any "open and public" use of the drug, even at licensed businesses holding private events.

It's a strange dichotomy. The nascent marijuana industry in Colorado is moving well beyond just pot brownies. Dispensaries are doing a booming trade in cookbooks, savory pot foods and frozen takeout dishes that incorporate the drug. But for now, halting attempts at creating a marijuana dining scene have had mixed results.

Colorado may have legalized marijuana, but it still prohibits "on-site consumption," a caveat aimed at preventing Amsterdam-style coffee shops where pot can be purchased and consumed in the same place. Recreational or medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states and Washington, DC. ? though each state prohibits on-site consumption and pot sales in bars or restaurants.

As Colorado's recreational industry nears its first anniversary, authorities increasingly are cracking down on attempts to push the pot-dining envelope. The city of Denver, where the marijuana industry is concentrated, wrote 668 tickets for "open and public consumption" through September, up from 117 the year before, when marijuana was legal, but sales were not. And the county that includes Colorado Springs is trying to crack down on so-called "smoke-easys," or private clubs that allow marijuana use, sometimes paired with refreshments.

Even private events at restaurants aren't safe. Denver authorities are using permit codes and alcohol laws to fine and even press charges against people trying to throw private events at which pot foods are served.

The result has been that chefs interested in infusing foods with pot, or pairing regular dishes with certain strains thought to accent a particular flavor, are unable to try it outside catered events at private homes. Even chefs who will talk publicly about doing "medicated" catered house parties, like Lanter, are skittish about sharing details.

December 3, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

And The Next State(s) To Step Up Is...

 Ever since the election triumphs in Oregon, Alaska and DC,  interested parties have been asking where marijuana legalization will strike next.  Phil Smith editor and writer of the Drug War Chronicle  has just published The March Toward Marijuana Legalization: 2016 And Beyond" an excellent overview  of state wide legalization efforts which I recommend for readers like me who are trying to keep current.

Beginning with California, which he describes as the "big prize", Smith discusses legalization campaigns in Massachusetts, Maine and Missouri and the looking to the future work being done in Michigan.  Smith, who has been reporting on drug policy since 2000,  seems optimistic but he ends the article with two cautions.  First, as Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance points out, there are dangers in a" sense of overconfidence, a feeling that marijuana will legalize itself" and "entrepreneurs trying to push the envelope[who]could push too far." Second, Smith's warning-"don’t forget federal pot prohibition." As he puts it, "if repealing federal pot prohibition is the Holy Grail, reformers still have a ways to go." When does Smith think federal change will happen? "Maybe when we have 24 legal marijuana states, not just four of them. "

 

 

November 30, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Merry Marijuana: Pot Sellers Woo Holiday Shoppers"

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

From new marijuana strains for the holidays to gift sets and pot-and-pumpkin pies, the burgeoning marijuana industry in Colorado is scrambling to get a piece of the holiday shopping dollar.  Dispensaries in many states have been offering holiday specials for medical customers for years — but this first season of open-to-all-adults marijuana sales in some states means pot shops are using more of the tricks used by traditional retailers to attract holiday shoppers....

The Grass Station in Denver is selling an ounce of marijuana for $50 — about a fifth of the cost of the next-cheapest strain at the Colorado dispensary — to the first 16 customers in line Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  That works out to less than $1 a joint for the ambitious early-rising pot shopper.  Owner Ryan Fox says his Black Friday pot is decent quality, and says he's selling below cost to attract attention and pick up some new customers....

Sweets and marijuana seem to go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Many dispensaries this time of year resemble a Starbucks at the mall, with holiday spices and festive music in the air.  One of the state's largest edible-pot makers, Sweet Grass Kitchen, debuted a new miniature pumpkin pie that delivers about as much punch as a medium-sized joint.  The pie joins holiday-spiced teas, minty pot confections and cannabis-infused honey oil for those who want to bake their own pot goodies at home.

Even some edibles makers that specialize in savory foods, not sweets, are putting out some sugary items for the holidays. "It just tastes too good, we had to do it," Better Baked owner Deloise Vaden said of her company's holiday line of cannabis-infused sweet-potato and pumpkin pies....

Colorado Harvest and Evergreen Apothecary timed the release of some top-shelf strains of potent pot for the holiday season. Spokeswoman Ann Dickerson says they're "sort of like the best bourbon or Scotch that will be competing on quality, rather than price."...

For the shopper who wants to give pot but doesn't know how the recipient likes to get high, Colorado's 300 or so recreational dispensaries so far have been able to issue only handwritten gift certificates. That's because banking regulations prohibit major credit cards companies from being able to back marijuana-related gift cards the way they do for other retailers.

Just this month, a Colorado company started offering pot shops a branded gift card they can sell just like other retailers. The cards are in eight Denver dispensaries so far, and coming soon will be loyalty cards similar to grocery-store loyalty cards that track purchases and can be used to suggest sales or new products to frequent shoppers.

November 24, 2014 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Republicans may decide they love liberty and limited government more than they hate pot."

The title of this post is the subheading of this notable commentary by Jacob Sullum at Reason.com.  Here are a few excerpts:

At a press conference last week, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's congressional delegate, urged her colleagues to respect the will of the voters who overwhelmingly approved marijuana legalization in the nation's capital on November 4.  She was joined by three congressmen, including Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who said trying to block legalization in D.C. or in Alaska and Oregon, where voters also said no to marijuana prohibition this month, would flout "fundamental principles" that "Republicans have always talked about," including "individual liberties," "limited government," and "states' rights and the 10th Amendment."...

Initiative 71, which passed by a margin of more than 2 to 1, allows adults 21 or older to possess two ounces or less of marijuana, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults "without remuneration."  It does not authorize commercial production or distribution, although the District of Columbia Council is considering legislation that would.  "I see no reason why we wouldn't follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol," incoming Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference after the election.

In theory, there are a couple of ways that Congress could try to stop all this from happening. It could pass a joint resolution disapproving Initiative 71, or it could bar the District from spending money to implement the measure.  But neither of these approaches looks very promising....

Strictly speaking, "states' rights" do not apply to the District of Columbia, which was created by Congress and is subject to much more extensive federal control than the states are.  But as Obama suggests, the arguments for federalism — in particular, the idea that political decisions should be made at the lowest feasible level to facilitate citizen influence, policy experimentation, and competition among jurisdictions — apply to D.C. as well as the states. Given the president's views on the subject, it seems reasonable to assume that he would take a dim view of attempts to nullify Initiative 71.

November 18, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

California AG suggests marijuana legalization in state has "a certain inevitability about it"

CamilaAs reported in this BuzzFeed piece, which is headlined "California’s Attorney General Thinks Legal Weed Is Inevitable," the top lawyer in California had a a lot of interesting and notable things to say recently about marijuana reform.  Here are the details:

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, says she’s “not opposed” to her state legalizing marijuana.  The state was one of the first to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, but so far hasn’t legalized it for recreational use, like Colorado, Washington, and others.

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana.  I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

Harris is one of the few state-level officials appearing at an event on Wednesday at the Center for American Progress, an influential left-wing think tank seen as a feeder institution for the Obama administration.  Talked up as a contender to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, Harris, who is one of the Democratic Party’s likely prospects for higher office in California, said that even with legalization it’s important that states have systems in place for regulating use of the drug.

“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” Harris said.  “The detail of these things matters.  For example, what’s going on right now in Colorado is they’re figuring out you gotta have a very specific system for the edibles. Maureen Dowd famously did her piece on that…  There are real issues for law enforcement, [such as] how you will measure someone being under the influence in terms of impairment to drive.”

“We have seen in the history of this issue for California and other states, if we don’t figure out the details for how it’s going to be legalized the feds are gonna come in, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest,” Harris said....

“I don’t have any moral opposition to it or anything like that.  Half my family’s from Jamaica,” Harris said with a laugh.

UPDATE:  I just noticed that our Senior Superstar California Correspondent, Alex Kreit, also posted here about AG Harris's comments. His post, titled "Kamala Harris Coming Around on Marijuana Legalization," includes a lot of astute political observations about the importance of what AG Harris is now saying.

November 18, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kamala Harris coming around on marijuana legalization

Yesterday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said she was "not opposed to the legalization of marijuana."  

Recall that just a few months ago, Harris laughed off the issue when asked about it.  (Harris also refused to take a position on Prop. 47, a California ballot measure to recude a number of non-violent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors--including drug possession--that passed comfortably earlier this month.)  

Harris's tentative approach to marijuana legalization specifically (and criminal justice reform generally) stands in stark contrast to that of another rising-star politician in the state: Gavin Newsom. Newsom took a strong stance in favor of Prop. 47 and has emerged as a leader in the state on marijuana legalization.   

Many speculate that Newsom and Harris are "on a collision course for running for governor in 2018," so it would not surprise me if Harris's move on this issue is in part the result of a realization that running as the anti-legalization candidate in a Democratic primary against Newsom may not be a good look for her.  (On the other hand, more recent buzz has Harris lining up for a Senate run in 2016, leaving Newsom a clear path to the Governor's office in 2018.) 

Whether related to Newsom or not, Harris's comments are surely a sign that she (and her political advisers) believe opposing legalization (or laughing at the idea without taking a position) is bad politics for her.  As Attorney General she has been incredibly cautious.  And her remarks yesterday are no exception.  Though she says she thinks marijuana legalization is inevitable and that she has no moral objection to the idea, she does not go so far as to say she supports it.  

Specifically, Harris says: “It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop.”

Yes, it would be easier.  But, like too many Democratic politicians, Harris seems to be increasingly allergic to taking clear stands on political issues.

Her remarks seem like a very timid politician's way of saying: "I've come to realize that laughing at or opposing legalization is bad for me politically, so I need to find a way of implying that I probably support it.  But, as Attorney General, I don't want to say that I actually support it and upset the stuck-in-the-1980s law enforcement union lobby in the state.  After all, I'm not really in the habbit of standing up to them, as evidenced by my failures to take a stand on either Prop. 47 or 2012's death penalty repeal ballot measure (even though I'm on record as being opposed to the death penalty.)  So, I'll just try out the line 'I'm not opposed' for now."  

That said, the fact that she decided to go as far as she did in her comments (and to do so this far in advance of 2016) is very telling about where she thinks the conversation and political tone will be in 2016.  It suggests she is setting herself up to support a 2016 marijuana legalization ballot measure (or to remain agnostic on a specific proposal as the "top cop" while perhaps implying support in principle.)    

If California truly is the "make or break" state for legalization, Harris's comments give legalization supporters another reason to be optimistic.

November 18, 2014 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"DC marijuana law gets support from bipartisan lawmakers"

The title of this post is the headline of this local Fox News report about an event on Capitol Hill today.  Here are details:

D.C. voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana but the fate of the city's pot law remains in the hands of Congress. On Thursday, the city is getting support for legalization from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The bi-partisan group vowed to block any attempt to overturn the city's pot law.

Initiative 71 legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use in D.C. -- joining Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska. "The underlying issue legalization and decriminalization of marijuana has caught fire throughout the country," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

She was joined by allies during a press conference on Capitol Hill, including Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) who has led the charge for marijuana reform and Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) whose states have legalized marijuana. They urged Congress to butt out. “I think D.C. voters and their will ought to be respected just like the will of the voters of Colorado's been respected," said Polis.

Maryland Republican Congressman Andy Harris has yet to succeed, but has said he would do whatever he can to stop it. "The last thing you want to do is introduce a drug and encourage its use among youth when youth already have many issues in that jurisdiction," said Harris (R-MD) the day after the initiative passed.

D.C. voters approved the measure by more than a 2 to 1 margin. Antonio Bell voted for it. His even had marijuana leaves on his socks. "They are consenting adults,” said Bell. “I'm sure it will be regulated. It would be less back and forth to the courthouse for petty crimes and they can focus on real crime.”...

Lawmakers in support of D.C. said no one has died of a pot overdose, but they have of alcohol poisoning. "Wake up and see where the American people are," said Rohrbacher.

He says legalization goes hand in hand with GOP principals of individual liberty, states' rights and limited government. He hasn't seen any blowback in his district as a result of his support for marijuana reform and believes other Republicans won't either....

Opponents of legalization argue the drug will encourage more kids to use marijuana and that it is a gateway drug. But in Colorado Rep. Polis said the opposite has happened. "Underage marijuana use has decreased,” said Polis. “It's created additional jobs and helped driven drug dealers out of business." The regulated sale of the drug has also generated millions of dollars in state tax revenue.

Supporters of D.C.'s law believe they deserve a shot too. Holmes Norton isn't encouraging anyone to smoke pot and argues its widespread use has made it defacto legal. "We're talking about local affairs, we're talking about our local money, we're talking about nobody's business but the District's," she said.

If it comes down to a vote over D.C.'s pot law, Rep. Rohrbacher said they have the votes from Republicans and Democrats to defeat it. One prominent Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, has also gone on record saying he doesn't believe the federal government should interfere with the District's decision to legalize marijuana.

November 13, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New York City mayor announces new policy concerning marijuana enforcement

ImagesAs reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Concerns in Criminal Justice System as New York City Eases Marijuana Policy," the NYC's new mayor and old sherrif are bringing a new approach to marijuana enforcement to the Big Apple. Here are the basics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office promising to reform the Police Department and repair relations with black and Latino communities, on Monday unveiled his plan to change the way the police enforce the law on marijuana possession.

Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have had an especially harsh impact on minority communities, and under the change announced on Monday, people found with small amounts of marijuana will typically be given a ticket and cited for a violation instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.

The news, outlined by the mayor and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, at Police Headquarters, marked the most significant criminal justice policy initiative by Mr. de Blasio since he was sworn in as mayor in January. While he stressed that he was not advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. de Blasio said the impact of enforcement on the people arrested and on the Police Department compelled him to rethink how the police handle low-level marijuana arrests.

“When an individual is arrested,” he said, “even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan. It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that, for many, are very difficult to overcome.”

For a Police Department that has devoted enormous resources to tens of thousands of marijuana arrests a year, the shift in strategy should, the mayor said, allow officers to focus on more serious types of crime by freeing up people who would otherwise be occupied by the administrative tasks lashed to minor marijuana arrests.

But the change, detailed in a five-page Police Department “operations order” that is set to go into effect on Nov. 19, immediately raised questions and concerns in many corners of the criminal justice system. It directs officers who encounter people with 25 grams or less of marijuana, in public view, to issue a noncriminal violation in most instances, rather than arrest them for a misdemeanor....

As they headed into a meeting with departmental leaders to hear about the new policy, some police union leaders said the changes seemed to run counter to the “broken windows” strategy of policing, long championed by Mr. Bratton as a way to prevent serious crime by cracking down on low-level offenses. “I just see it as another step in giving the streets back to the criminals,” said Michael J. Palladino, the head of the city’s Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union representing police detectives. “And we keep inching closer and closer to that.”...

At the news conference, Mr. Bratton said officers would still have to use discretion. If marijuana was being burned or smoked, an arrest would be made, he said. If offenders had an “active warrant,” or were wanted, or could not produce proper identification, they would be taken to the station house, he said. Officials said violations would not constitute a criminal record. They said court appearances, within weeks of the violation, could lead to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense....

Critics have said the police and prosecutors have been improperly charging people with possession of marijuana in public view, often after officers ask them to empty their pockets during street stops.

In 2011, Raymond W. Kelly, then the police commissioner, issued an order reminding officers to refrain from such arrest practices. Mr. Bratton said such practices were not now in use and the problem had been fixed. By now, the number of marijuana arrests has decreased, roughly mirroring the drastic reduction in the frequency of police stop, question and frisk encounters.

Of the 394,539 arrests made last year, marijuana arrests totaled slightly more than 28,000, or a little less than 10 percent of all arrests made in the city. That is down from 50,000 a few years ago.

November 11, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Will it only be a few short years before marijuana is fully legal throughout all of west?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new local article headlined "Momentum to legalize marijuana in California is growing." here are excerpts:

After Tuesday’s election, just one piece of the West Coast remained unwelcoming to recreational pot: California. But with voters in Oregon and Alaska legalizing the use and sale of marijuana — joining Washington and Colorado in inviting retail spreads of cannabis-infused teas and brownies and joints — advocates see fresh momentum behind the slow shift in how the public regards the green stuff and those who enjoy it.

California residents rejected legalization in 2010, with a 54 percent vote against it, but supporters of recreational marijuana are growing more confident about reversing that result in the 2016 election.

“I see a parallel — not a perfect parallel, but a parallel — with marriage equality,” said Ben Tulchin, a San Francisco-based pollster who has watched sympathy for both same-sex unions and marijuana climb. “The first battle you may lose, like in California, but you start a conversation and get the dialogue going. … And you eventually see a very big shift.”

California, alongside Arizona and Nevada, have legalization measures in the works for the 2016 election, when the presidential race is expected to deliver younger voters to the polls who tend to be more supportive of pot. Proponents are considering other states as well. “I got to believe that the wins this week, coupled with the wins in 2012, will provide momentum,” Tulchin said....

Backers in California acknowledge that victory won’t come easy. Although polls show a majority now supports the idea, selling voters on a specific plan gets tricky. Concerns about how the drug will be taxed, and who can sell it, helped sink Proposition 19 four years ago. Even leaders in the medical marijuana community decided they didn’t like the details of the rollout and came out against the initiative. A lack of funding for the 2010 campaign was also an obstacle.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a supporter of the 2016 push for legalization, is chairing a task force to study the issue in a bid to head off problems. “A lot of things weren’t thought through with Proposition 19,” said Newsom, who will be termed out of his office in 2018 and doesn’t see support of pot as hindering his political future. “We want to make sure we have the answers to the tough questions.”

Many Californians are waiting for those answers, including Kevin Reed, the founder and president of The Green Cross, a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco’s Excelsior. He said he’s not sure if his customers and his business will benefit from legalization.

November 9, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"What’s next for the marijuana movement" ... is lots of action in the West and Northeast

The title of this post is drawn from the headline and substance of this new Washington Post piece. Here are excerpts:

“The stage is now set for 2016, when measures to regulate marijuana like alcohol are expected to appear on ballots in at least five states,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which was instrumental in passing legalization in Colorado and bankrolled the successful campaign in Alaska. The group contributed about 84 percent of the nearly $900,000 raised by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, which successfully lobbied for passage of the ballot measure in Alaska.

The five states where MPP has established committees to push similar ballot measures in 2016 are Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.  An independent Democratic activist in Mississippi is also pursuing a ballot measure there.  The measures there will likely mimic the Colorado model, as the measures in Oregon and Alaska did.  (The measure passed by voters in Washington in 2012 is typically viewed by advocates as more restrictive than Colorado’s.)

But the group also plans to work to help shepherd legalization through a state legislature for the first time, with a particular focus on Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, Hawaii, and Maryland. New Hampshire’s state House in January became the first legislative body in the country to approve legalization, though the effort ultimately reached a dead end. That state, Rhode Island and Vermont may see action soonest among that group.

The upcoming push to legalize in those nearly dozen states will no doubt draw heavily on lessons learned during the successful campaigns so far, which fall roughly into two categories, Tvert said. Advocates in Alaska and Colorado felt they needed to focus on disarming fears about the harm of marijuana early by drawing the comparison to alcohol, while Oregon and Washington played it safer by arguing that legalization is safer than prohibition....

In Oregon, the campaign tended to focus on the ills of prohibition, offering legalization as a safer alternative. What worked? Peter Zuckerman, communications director of the successful Yes on 91 campaign, said legalization advocates were smart to avoid marijuana leaf imagery, wear suits when appearing on TV, and pursue endorsements from unusual or unexpected individuals and groups. His group aired ads featuring Washington’s King County Sheriff John Urquhart, local mothers, and a former top state official in charge of mental health and addiction services. Support from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the social media-savvy group of moms backing the measure helped, too, he said. The campaign might have seen more success by starting earlier and encouraging supporters to quote news sources in voter pamphlet statements, he added.

There are lessons to learn from failure, too. While all the legalization measures were approved on Election Day, a measure to allow medical marijuana in Florida failed to gain the 60 percent share of the vote necessary for passage, though it did earn majority support. The campaign there could have promoted the patients who would have benefitted more and been less reactive, said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

“They spent a lot of time trying to undercut the opposition’s arguments about the so-called loopholes in Amendment 2 and from what I saw they really didn’t do enough of a job of telling the story of the patients who are going to be helped by this,” Angell said.

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lawyers already gearing up for more marijuana reform and regulation work

As reported in this new Legal Times piece, headlined "After Referendums, Where There's Smoke There's Business," lawyers are continue to see the professional potential presented by the parting of pot prohibition in a few more jurisdictions:

After residents of two Western states and the District of Columbia voted Tuesday to allow wider legal use of marijuana, law firms are again sizing up potential business related to the drug.

Wiley Rein lawyers hedged on Wednesday that—at least in the District of Columbia—cannabis providers and other companies in the industry could soon seek the services of regulatory attorneys. "It’s something we’re keeping a close eye on," Jim Czaban, head of the firm's food and drug law practice, said....

"There’s a clear trend on a big level where this is going," Claire Frezza, a former pharmacist and Wiley associate working with Czaban, said Wednesday. "What’s unclear is how the federal government can respond."

Lawyers now may advise cannabis-related companies on how to keep labeling, product potency and forms of the drug in line with new state rules. At the same time, federal regulatory lawyers could advise companies in the states on how to still comply with the strict U.S. law that prohibits the drug, according to Czaban and Frezza.

Wiley Rein hasn't yet gone as far as other firms in the marijuana arena. This year, a handful of corporate firms with Florida or California presences announced medical marijuana practice groups or attempted to build ties with potential clients in the industry. The Florida firms anticipated a billion-dollar industry that state law would allow to bloom in their state.

Attorneys at Akerman, Berger Singerman and GrayRobinson zeroed in on Florida prior to the election and specialized in the cannabis industry. Berger Singerman associate David Black said Wednesday that cannabis-related businesses are still engaging his firm on other more-restricted legal opportunities in Florida. In the medical marijuana practice area, Black's expectations are still high. "In light of the strong support shown in yesterday’s vote, many believe that its passage has been merely delayed," he added in an email.

Business opportunities for corporate law also could grow with Oregon and Alaska's approvals of recreational sales. But the cannabis industry remains in economic infancy, with medical marijuana allowed in about half of U.S. states. "There’s a lot of interest out there, but on a business and monetary basis, it’s still fairly small," Czaban said. "We’d be wiling to take on clients in that space, but it depends on what the actual project involves."

November 5, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Analyzing how Alaska made 2014 a clean sweep for marijuana legalization initiatives

Images (5)I think the biggest news, as well as arguably the biggest surprise, for marijuana reform on Election Day 2014 was the passage of a marijuana legalization inititiative by a fairly confortable margin in red-state Alaska.  This lengthy analysis of the outcome from the Alaska Dispatch News highlights some reasons why I think this outcome is a big deal in the broader national marijuana reform story: 

After years of debate -- and decades of semi-legal status -- Alaskans will finally be able to light up legally. On Tuesday, voters approved Ballot Measure 2, an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana in Alaska, by about 52 percent in favor to 48 percent opposed, with 100 percent of the state's precincts reporting.

With the vote, Alaska joins Washington, Colorado and Oregon -- the latter of which also approved a similar initiative Tuesday -- as the first states in the country to legalize pot. Washington and Colorado approved their own initiatives in 2012.

The initiative will not become law until 90 days after the election is certified, which is expected to be in late November. Per the law, the state can then create a marijuana control board -- expected to be housed under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. That group will then have nine months to craft regulations dealing with how marijuana businesses will operate.

The initiative was years in the making. Alaska voters considered similar measures in 2000 and 2004. Both failed, though each indicated a measure of support for legalization. Measure 5 in 2000 took 40.9 percent of the vote; Ballot Measure 2 in 2004 gained a few more points, with 44 percent of the electorate voting in favor of it....

"Now that the campaign is over, it’s time to establish a robust regulatory system that sets an example for other states," Bickford said in a prepared statement. "A regulated marijuana market will generate millions of dollars in tax revenue and create good jobs for Alaskans. Law enforcement will be able to spend their time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."

What had seemed like an easy win earlier in the year appeared to slip in the weeks leading up to the election. Polls showed support for the measure at over 50 percent earlier in the year, but that appeared to decline over the summer and into fall. Dueling polls commissioned by both sides of the campaign showed striking differences between the two, making it anyone’s guess which side would ultimately come out ahead in the vote....

The No campaign expressed frustration with the results Tuesday night. "We're disappointed in the numbers right now,” said No campaign deputy treasurer Deborah Williams, but added, “We're very proud of the campaign we ran."

“The campaign pointed out a lot of needed areas for amendments and improvements ... the people in this campaign are committed to doing what is best for Alaska,” she said.... [T]he pro-legalization side [aided by outside moneies was able] to outspend their opponents nearly 9-1.... What they lacked in spending they made up in notable public support. As the opposition rallied supporters -- from Alaska Native organizations, public safety officials, Alaska mayors, local communities and political leaders on both sides of the aisle -- supporters of legalization struggled against what they perceived as a long-standing stigma against marijuana.

That stigma didn’t play out as much behind the voting curtain, with many Alaskans coming out in favor of the measure. Results showed supporters ahead from the start, with a lead they never relinquished as returns continued to stream in....

Earlier in the day, one thing was clear: When it came to voting on Ballot Measure 2, party affiliation meant zilch. In other states, marijuana legalization generally falls along party lines. Democrats tend to favor it, with Republicans opposed. But in Alaska, affiliation didn’t seem to matter. Politicians on both sides of the aisle publicly opposed the measure, while supporters actively targeted conservative voters leading up to the election.

That targeting may have worked. Husband and wife Larry and Lauren Larsen of Fairview both described themselves as conservative voters and both voted in favor of legalizing marijuana. Lauren Larsen thought police did a good job of dealing with violent crime, but didn’t do so well when it came to property crimes. She attributes that to being overworked, and thought if marijuana was legalized it would at least free up some police resources. Larry Larsen said the couple, who do not use marijuana, know people in Barrow who use pot.

“It’s everywhere, it’s no problem for people to get it,” he said outside of his polling place at Anchorage’s Central Lutheran Church. “If (marijuana enforcement) isn’t working, then the hell with it.”...

Fairview resident Davy Mousseaux voted for conservative candidates straight down the ticket, but voted yes to legalize marijuana. He said while he doesn’t use it now, he has used it in the past and thought that legalization could help communities. “Maybe if they legalize it there won’t be so many problems,” he said. “It’s not like heroin or cocaine.”

It is obviously significant and notable that the Alaskan legalization initiative this time around seemed to have resonated with a number of conservative voters. But, perhaps even more important as these stories inevitable get processed inside the Beltway, the Alaska outcome should allow and enable even more GOP members of Congress to feel politically comfortable voting to let states structure local marijuana policy without significant federal interference. Especially when it comes to Senate consideration of federal drug policies and possible reform, I think it will be quite important and significant that the two GOP members of the Senate from Alaska will have especially strong local reasons to limit federal interference in local control of marijuana policy.

November 5, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some first thougts on the 2014 election results

Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia just voted to legalize recreational marijuana. In a sense, they broke no new ground -- Colorado and Washington already legalized recreational marijuana two years ago. But the passage of these measures is extraordinary in another sense: marijuana legalization no longer surprises anyone. Even the federal government, which continues to ban marijuana, seems unlikely to raise a fuss. Indeed, following similar votes in Colorado and Washington in 2012, the Department of Justice announced that it would refrain from prosecuting marijuana users and dealers who comply with state law, so long as they do not implicate a distinct federal interest (like stopping inter-state shipments of the drug).  As control of the Congress shifts to the Republican Party, it seems unlikely that the federal government will do anything but continue to sit on the sidelines for the next two years.

The votes on Tuesday are interesting for two other reasons as well. First, these votes arguably foretell how marijuana laws will evolve in the states over time. The four states and DC that were the first to legalize recreational marijuana were also among the first to legalize medical marijuana: Alaska, Oregon, and Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998, Colorado did so in 2000, and DC first tried in 1999. This suggests that voters might be more comfortable taking the plunge (i.e., legalizing recreational marijuana) after dipping their toes in the pool first (i.e., legalizing medical marijuana). It also suggests that the next states to legalize recreational marijuana are likely to be ones with more mature medical marijuana programs, such as California (1996) and Maine (1999).

Second, the defeat of a medical marijuana initiative in Florida is as unsurprising as the passage of legalization elsewhere. The south has been resistant to marijuana reforms; it remains the only region of the country without a legalization state. To some extent, southern resistance might be due to public attitudes toward marijuana; but it also might stem from lawmaking procedures used in many southern (and some other states) that impede the adoption even of popular reforms. After all, over half (58%) of Florida voters actually supported legalization of medical marijuana; but that figure just was not enough to change state law – the constitutional initiative process requires 60% support, higher than the simple majority needed in many other states, like California. A vote to legalize marijuana elsewhere in the country might not be surprising anymore, but when it happens in the south it will be noteworthy.

November 5, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Current Affairs, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Oregon voters create a third state to fully legalize recreational marijuana

Though all the votes in Oregon have not been fully counted, it seems that enough votes are in to call the outcome in the Beaver State on Measure 91 to legalize marijuana.  And, by a margin of 54% to 46%, Oregon has joined Colorado and Washington as states that will have a fully legalized and regulated recreational marijuana marketplace.

November 4, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Early marijuana initiative votes have DC favoring legalization and Florida supporting but not passing medical marijuana

Alex does a wonderful job in this post linking to websites for marijuana initiative voting outcomes, and the early results from DC and Florida have already set up an interesting set of political and legal stories to follow in the months and years ahead.  

In DC, it appears that Initiative 71 legalizing marijuana has garnered nearly 70% of votes, and in Florida it appears that Amendment 2 legalizing medical marijuana has garnered 58% of votes.   But, under Florida's laws, an initiative needs 60% support for passage, so medical marijuana will not be happening in the Sunshine State yet.  And, in the weird federal enclave that is Washington DC, it is quite unclear whether and how the federal government can or will allow the local DC vote to change drug war policies or practices.  

Just some more on-going, ever-evolving marijuana reform stories for this blog to follow.

November 4, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Where to follow marijuana ballot measure results?

Election night is upon us.  I'm a little late in getting this posted as east coast results are already steadily coming in, but better late than never.  

Here are some resources for following the returns for marijuana related ballot measures.  This is not an exhaustive list and there may be better sources than the ones I've found.  This is just one quick attempt at a list of where to track relevant results.

Alaska -- Ballot Measure 2: Marijuana Legalization -- Alaska Division of Elections (scroll to measure 2)

DC -- Amendment 71: Marijuana Legalization -- DC Board of Elections page

Florida -- Amendment 2: Medical Marijuana -- Miami Herald's statewide returns page  

Oregon -- Measure 91: Marijuana Legalization -- Oregon Live

Other resources: 

Americans for Safe Access's twitter feed

Marijuana Majority's twitter feed

Kevin Sabet's twitter feed 

Smart Approaches to Marijuana's live blog

Some (not all) of the local ballot measures:

California: (h/t to ASA's Don Duncan) Medical marijuana related measures in Butte County, Encinitas, La Mesa, Santa Ana, Santa Cruz, and Shasta County (there are a couple of others I do not have links for) 

Colorado:  Local measures on whether to ban or allow marijuana stores in Lakewood (Adams County) and a number of towns in El Paso County (search for marijuana to see the relevant measures), as well as others I do not have links for.

Maine: Lewiston and Portland decriminalization of possession (search on the page for marijuana)

Michigan:  No links for results pages, but here is a list of the measures  

November 4, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Election 2014 Buzz: will second time be the charm for legalization in Oregon?

Images (2)As some may recall (and some may not), in 2012 Oregon had marijuana legalization on its ballot along with Colorado and Washington.  But, unlike in those other states, serious people seriously interested in marijuana reform were not serious backing the reform efforts in the Beaver state back in 2012.  But this election season, lots of serious folks are seriously invested in Oregon's revised initiative to follow Colorado and Washington into the legalization experiment.  And, as highlighted by this article, headlined "This State Will Legalize Marijuana Tuesday — If Young People Show Up to Vote," whether Oregon follows its neighbors will depend a lot of who gets around to voting:

Two opposing polls out of Oregon are making one thing very clear: If young people get out and vote on Election Day, the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state will pass.

The more recent survey, conducted by the Oregonian and KGW, found that 46% of respondents opposed Measure 91 — which would allow adults to grow, hold and, for licensed individuals, sell weed — giving them a small lead over supporters, who clocked in at 44%. Support is strongest among younger voters — 56% of voters aged 18 to 34 express support for legalization, compared with 39% of those aged 65 and over. The result will depend on whether those younger voters actually show up to the polls....

"Support goes down as age goes up," said Stuart Elway, the pollster who found just 44% in favor of legalization. DHM Research pollster John Horvick, who set the model for the first survey, agrees, pointing to the initiative's overwhelming support with younger voters.

"For example, 18- to 34-year-olds, 70% plan to vote for Measure 91 for legalization," he told Oregon Public Broadcasting. "Sixty-eight percent of independents plan to. Now those are all groups who are the least likely to show up come Election Day. So if the marijuana campaign is able to get those voters out, it looks like it could pass, it'll be close, a squeaker."

Two polls, one very similar story. If Oregon is going to legalize marijuana, it will need dedicated young voters to turn out and bring their friends with them.

November 3, 2014 in Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)