Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Monday, July 27, 2015

"Sorting Through the Marijuana Mess in Ohio"

The title of this post is the headline of this new lengthy discussion of some of the notable (and notably distinct) marijuana reform developments in Ohio authored by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel.  Especially for anyone trying to keep track and assess what has been going on in the Buckeye State in recent months, I highly recommend the piece be read in full.  Here are some excerpts mostly from the start and end of the piece:

If anyone would have suggested a year ago that Ohio might be on the verge of legalizing marijuana in 2015, I would have laughed at the idea.

First, Ohio is a conservative Midwestern state that is seldom, if ever, on the cutting edge on social issues.  And second, 2015 is an off-year election, with no statewide or federal elections, meaning the voter turn-out would be lower and the likely voters would be older and less supportive than would be the case if the proposal were on the ballot in 2016, a presidential election year when younger voters turn out in far higher numbers.

But it turns out that Ohio voters may well be voting on marijuana legalization this November.  And the circumstances surrounding this development raise new issues that legalization activists are struggling to deal with.  The proposed constitutional amendment, called the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, sponsored by a group calling itself Responsible Ohio, would legalize both the medical and the recreational use of marijuana....

[W]hat is unique about this effort is that it is being funded by a few rich private investors who, under the terms of the proposed initiative, would then own the 10 specific cultivation centers around the state authorized to cultivate marijuana commercially.  In other words, those investors who provide the funding to gather the required number of signatures, and to run a professional statewide campaign, would be richly rewarded for their investment, assuming the initiative is approved by a majority of the voters....

Some activists have raised objections to the proposal because it would not permit average Ohioans to compete for the commercial cultivation licenses, although ordinary citizens would be entitled to apply for licenses for the more than 1,000 retail dispensaries that would be authorized, claiming it is undemocratic.  Some opponents have even argued it would be worse than the current prohibition — despite the fact that roughly 17,000 marijuana arrests occur each year in Ohio, and those arrests would largely be eliminated if this initiative were to pass....

At NORML, we recognize there are many inequities in the free market system, with an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us.  But NORML is not an organization established to deal with income inequality; we are a lobby for responsible marijuana smokers.   So we will leave other issues, including income inequality, to other organizations who focus on those issues, and we will continue to focus on legalizing marijuana.   

And if the investor driven legalization initiative in Ohio qualifies for the ballot, national NORML will almost certainly support it.  And we hope, so will a majority of the voters in Ohio.

July 27, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Seniors Are Seeking Out States Where Marijuana is Legal"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Reuters article.  Here are excerpts:

When choosing retirement locales, a few factors pop to mind: climate, amenities, proximity to grandchildren, access to quality healthcare. Chris Cooper had something else to consider – marijuana laws.

The investment adviser from Toledo had long struggled with back pain due to a fractured vertebra and crushed disc from a fall. He hated powerful prescription drugs like Vicodin, but one thing did help ease the pain and spasms: marijuana.

So when Cooper, 57, was looking for a place to retire, he ended up in San Diego, since California allows medical marijuana. A growing number of retirees are also factoring in the legalization of pot when choosing where to spend their golden years. “Stores are packed with every type of person you can imagine,” said Cooper who takes marijuana once or twice a week, often orally. “There are old men in wheelchairs, or women whose hair is falling out from chemotherapy. You see literally everybody.”

Cooper, who figures he spends about $150 on the drug each month, is not alone in retiring to a marijuana-friendly state.... Figuring out how many people are retiring to states that let you smoke pot is challenging since retirees do not have to check off a box on a form saying why they chose a particular location to their final years.

But “there is anecdotal evidence that people with health conditions which medical marijuana could help treat, are relocating to states with legalized marijuana,” said Michael Stoll, a professor of public policy at University of California, Los Angeles who studies retiree migration trends.

He cited data from United Van Lines, which show the top U.S. moving destinations in 2014 was Oregon, where marijuana had been expected to be legalized for several years and finally passed a ballot initiative last November. Two-thirds of moves involving Oregon last year were inbound. That is a 5 percent jump over the previous year, as the state “continues to pull away from the pack,” the moving company said in a report.

The Mountain West – including Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and recreational use in 2012 – boasted the highest percentage of people moving there to retire, United Van Lines said. One-third of movers to the region said they were going there specifically to retire....

Many of the health afflictions of older Americans push them to seek out dispensaries for relief. “A lot of the things marijuana is best at are conditions which become more of an issue as you get older,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the Denver-based National Cannabis Industry Association. “Chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia, loss of appetite: All of those things are widespread among seniors.”

Since those in their 60s and 70s presumably have no desire to be skulking around on the criminal market in states where usage is outlawed, it makes sense they would gravitate to states where marijuana is legal. “In Colorado, since legalization, many dispensaries have seen the largest portion of sales going to baby boomers and people of retirement age,” West said.

July 22, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Interesting profile of interesting marijuana entrepenuers in Washington

The Seattle Times has this lengthy interesting profile of people who have been attracted to the marijuana industry in the pacific northwest.  The piece is headlined "Pot of gold: The new legal marijuana business has created once-in-a-lifetime opportunities." It gets started this way:

Welcome to the weird world of legalized marijuana, with a cast of characters as novel and interesting as the product they’re crazy enough to sell.

Entrepreneurs include a World War II veteran born in 1921 and a University of Washington student born in 1993, plus felons, dreamers and a cupcake queen. Then there’s this bizarre trio: a 79-year-old nationally ranked bird-watcher, a 36-year-old surfer, and former Seahawks star Marcus Trufant, who together own a pot shop in Lacey, one of the state’s more than 150 (and growing) recreational marijuana stores.

It’s always messy to build something from scratch. About half of small businesses fail within five years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and few face as many complications as the marijuana industry.

Taxes are steep. Laws and rules for the strictly regulated business have been in flux since the state’s voters legalized pot in November 2012. Some cities and counties have banned businesses. Many can’t get access to banking. Although unlikely, if the federal government changes its mind on pot, it could shutter businesses and press felony charges.

But those bold enough to launch into this uncertain world see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where others balk at risk.

Les LeMieux, a felon convicted of selling drugs, seeks vindication. Pot nearly took everything away. Now, it could set up his family for good.

Evan Cox and his wife, Charity, both high-school and college dropouts, see pot as a means of upward mobility.

Jody Hall, the founder of Cupcake Royale, wants to reshape pot culture.

They’re all just getting started, but what a long, strange trip it’s already been.

July 17, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"As tribe prepares to legalize marijuana, questions remain"

Images (3)The title of this post is the headline of this extended new article from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader concerning notable marijuana developments in South Dakota. Here are excerpts:

Five months from now, according to the plan, Indians and non-Indians alike will be smoking marijuana on tribal lands in Flandreau.

The U.S. Justice Department told Indian tribes last December that they can grow and sell marijuana as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for Washington, Colorado and other states that have legalized the drug.  For the tribe and Colorado-based Monarch America, hired to design, construct and develop a grow facility on the Flandreau reservation, that has opened the door to a potentially rich new business enterprise — just as the advent of casino gambling did decades ago.

They intend to open by the first week of December, says Monarch America CEO Eric Hagen, who adds, with a smile, "Everyone will have a merry Christmas."

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley isn't as confident of that. While he insists he's having positive talks with Flandreau officials about his concerns as they move forward on their project, Jackley says the future of marijuana on the reservation isn't so black and white. He called the Justice Department's Cole Memorandum — authored in August 2013 by Deputy Attorney General James Cole to address the legalization of marijuana in states like Washington and Colorado — a complex directive that has created confusion on the tribal front.

While Hagen believes that memorandum allows tribal marijuana ventures in any state, Jackley questions whether it was meant to apply only to tribes in states that have legalized marijuana. South Dakota isn't one of those states. That said, he believes anyone with marijuana in their bloodstream or in their physical possession is in violation of state and federal law, including non-Indians on tribal lands and Indians who go off reservation.

"I want to encourage tribal leaders to continue to work with state authorities to better ensure ... that both Indian and non-Indian persons are not put in harm's way by the jurisdiction complexities being created by our federal government," he said.

That's not Hagen's perspective. The feds have said they aren't going to prosecute the growing or selling of marijuana by state or tribal jurisdictions that have legalized it as long as they are doing a strong job of regulating that growth and distribution and addressing infractions, he said.

The Justice Department's bigger concern, outlined in eight priorities in the Cole Memorandum, is to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. They don't want marijuana revenue going to criminal enterprises. They don't want marijuana that is legal in one state diverted to places where it isn't legal.

Hagen insists Flandreau will have stricter regulations than any state with legal marijuana cultivation and consumption statutes on the books now. And because of that, "I think people just need to know that when they come on to tribal lands to partake ... that it's a safe haven for them whether you're a tribal member or not," he said. While he believes anybody in South Dakota with marijuana in their system or in their possession could be arrested, Jackley doesn't envision a situation where law enforcement will simply camp out and wait to arrest people coming out of a tribal lounge.

One of the other big concerns for the Flandreau tribe will be keeping track of its marijuana. Law enforcement in Flandreau say they worry about where the tribal marijuana might end up. Hagen said that shouldn't be an issue, not with the "radio frequency identification (RFID) inventory and tracking system" his company is helping the tribe put in to follow marijuana "from seed to sale, ensuring products do not leave designated areas."

"I personally don't believe it will remain in the building," Flandreau Police Chief Anthony Schrad said. "You can purchase the marijuana in the lounge, but it seems to me it would be very easy to remove the RFID tag from the container you purchase it in, transfer the marijuana to your own personal vial and leave with it."

July 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Bipartisan marijuana banking bill introduced in the Senate"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Politico story.  Here are the details of a notable (but not likely consequential) legislative development in Congress:

Reflecting growing public support for changing the nation’s drug laws, a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced the chamber’s first bill that would legalize banking for recreational marijuana companies.  Introduced by the Senate delegations from Oregon and Colorado, two of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, the bill would prohibit the federal government from penalizing banks that work with marijuana businesses.

Though four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law.  That makes it difficult for businesses operating in those legalized states to access financial services through the banking industry.  Instead, those companies have to run all-cash operations that the senators say invite crime.  The entire legal landscape that legal marijuana currently faces is “insane,” said GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in an interview....

Congress has been extraordinarily hesitant to address the nettlesome issue of marijuana law. Another landmark bill for the Senate from Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would legalize medical marijuana in states that have approved it has run into opposition from the Senate’s old guard.

But the upbeat Gardner noted that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) now supports a bipartisan bill that would exclude cannabidiol, which has more medicinal uses, from the definition of marijuana in federal law.  He said Congress will come along, eventually.  “Now, does it have a chance?  I think there’s a lot of work that has to be done to give it that chance, but I also think that in 10 years most every other state in the country is going to be facing this question,” Gardner said.  “People are coming on board and people are starting to realize we have a policy that’s kind of out of step.”

July 10, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ohio marijuana reform story getting even more dynamic and constitutionally complex

Ohio_constitution-592x394Regular readers know that I have been flagging Ohio as a state to watch closely in for the distinctive and dynamic marijuana reform discussions and debates taking place in the Buckeye State.   This new report from Time with the latest news on the latest developments highlights why I now have a front-row seat for watching novel issues unfold in the months ahead.   The headline of the piece is "Ohio Legislature Strikes Back Against Marijuana Legalization Bid," and here are excerpts:

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio took a step closer to making November’s ballot Tuesday, after its promoters turned in more than twice the required number of signatures.

But the measure will face competition at the polls.  Ohio legislators also approved their own ballot measure on Tuesday to undermine the pot plan, which lawmakers worried would amount to a “marijuana monopoly” because of its provision that only 10 growers would control the wholesale pot market.  The lawmakers’ measure would block other measures that benefit select economic interest groups.

The marijuana ballot measure campaign, dubbed Responsible Ohio, is just one of many ballot measures in recent history that are designed to benefit their backers.  The companies funding the Responsible Ohio campaign would control — and likely profit from — the marijuana growth sites should the measure pass.

As detailed by the Center for Public Integrity, the campaign’s director, Democratic activist Ian James, came up with the idea and is planning to pay his own firm $5.6 million to push the ballot initiative.

Ohio Rep. Mike Curtin, a Democrat, said he sponsored the anti-monopoly measure because he opposes the way Responsible Ohio is using the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, not because he opposes pot legalization.  “Are we going to allow a small group of investors, who have literally no background in drug policy… to carve themselves a special niche in our state’s founding document?” he said.  “To me it’s galling. It’s nauseating.”

But James said voters should have the right to decide the issue.  “Some statehouse politicians believe the voters are smart enough to elect them, but they aren’t smart enough to decide ballot issues like marijuana legalization,” he said in an earlier statement....

If voters approve both of the conflicting measures, Ohio law says whichever gets the most votes would win.  But Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, recently said that if both passed, the legislatively referred anti-monopoly measure would block Responsible Ohio’s plan because citizen-initiated measures take 30 days to go into effect.

The issue could end up before a judge.  If both pass, “we have a very interesting court fight on our hands,” Curtin said.

Some prior related posts:

July 1, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

New and distinct marijuana reforms become effective today in Minnesota and Oregon

As reported in local pieces linked below, two notably different northern states have two notably different marijuana reforms becoming effective today:

Unsurprisingly, the events in Oregon are a bigger deal from a national marijuana reform perspective, as this story from the national news outlet Reuters highlights.  It is headlined "Crowds count down to legalization of marijuana in Oregon, then light up," and starts this way:

Crowds counted down the minutes to midnight then lit up joints as smoking marijuana became legal in Oregon on Wednesday, part of a growing legalization movement spreading down the United States' west coast.

Hundreds gathered on the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland and smoked under the glow of a neon city sign, marking the moment that the law allowing recreational use, backed by voters in November, came into effect.

The legislation opens the way for shops to sell marijuana by next year - though some lawmakers say they will still try to block retail outlets.

Similar legislation is already in force in Alaska and Washington State, reflecting a shifting legal landscape for a drug that remains illegal under federal law.

July 1, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Noticing significant tax revenues now flowing from marijuana legalization

How-colorado-allocates-marijuana-taxes_largeThe Motley Fool folks have been keeping an eye on the modern marijuana industry, and this recent article highlights why these folks reasonably think the industry is likely to continue to grow. The article is headlined "These 3 Charts Show Why More States Will Soon Legalize Marijuana," and here are excerpts (along with a reprinting of one of the referenced charts):

Want to know why states are legalizing recreational marijuana? Let me give you a hint: It has something to do with the color green. Not the color of the plant, but the color of money.

Because recreational marijuana has now been legal in Colorado and Washington for 18 months and 11 months, respectively, we're finally starting to see just how lucrative the recreational-marijuana business is.... In March alone, consumers in Washington purchased $21.9 million worth of recreational cannabis through legal channels. That was more than twice the amount of the $8.3 million spent on medical marijuana that month.

The rapid ascent of recreational-marijuana sales is nothing short of extraordinary. In July 2014 -- i.e., the inaugural month of recreational sales in Washington -- the handful of stores open at the time sold a mere $2.8 million worth of weed. Over the next eight months, this figure climbed by a factor of 10....

The upshot for the state is a rapidly expanding tax roll. If you add together the taxes that Washington receives from both recreational- and medical-marijuana sales, it's creeping up on $4 million a month. And for the record, it may have eclipsed that mark already, given that the latest available data covers just the month of March.

Colorado is experiencing a similar windfall, as it generates even more tax revenue from legal marijuana sales than Washington does. Last month, taxes from the industry came in at $9.6 million. And if you include the $1.1 million in revenue it received from licensing and other types of fees, you get more than $10.6 million....

In short, say what you will about the legalization of marijuana, particularly for recreational sales, but one thing seems certain: As sales and taxes from the industry continue their sharp ascent, it's going to be hard for other states to stand by idly and watch their neighbors get rich.

June 21, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Oregon agency effectively encourages citizens to "Educate Before You Recreate"

ImagesAs reported in this local article, headlined "Oregon launches campaign saying what's legal with marijuana," an important public service campaign has gotten underway in Oregon roughly seven months after Oregoinians voted to legalize marijuana in the state. Here are the details:

As Oregonians prepare to enter the new world of legal marijuana, the state wants folks to know a few things.

With the slogan, "Educate Before You Recreate," The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has launched a public education campaign to put across the message that although it will be legal for anyone over the age of 21 to possess and use marijuana starting July 1, it is not yet legal for anyone but medical marijuana patients to buy it — including bringing it back from across the border in Washington state, where recreational marijuana is already legal. The $350,000 campaign includes paid ads, an official website with a PowerPoint presentation, and posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Under Measure 91, starting July 1, anyone over 21 in Oregon can possess up to 8 ounces of usable marijuana, such as dried buds at home and up to one ounce outside the home. You can consume marijuana at home or on private property. You can grow up to four plants per residence at home out of public view. You can make brownies and other edible products at home and receive them as gifts. And you can give away marijuana and receive it as a gift.

It is illegal to buy or sell recreational marijuana and to transport it across state lines. That includes buying some from a legal retail outlet in Washington state and bringing it home to Oregon. It is illegal to smoke marijuana in public or to drive while stoned. Measure 91 will not protect you if your employer prohibits drug use, especially if there is a federal connection, because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And if your landlord prohibits smoking in your apartment, you can be evicted for smoking marijuana, but not for eating it...

The OLCC does not expect to have the chain of retail recreational marijuana growers, processors, wholesalers and sales outlets permitted and operating until late in 2016. There has been talk in the Legislature about jumpstarting that by allowing recreational marijuana sales through medical marijuana dispensaries as early as October, but that remains up in the air....

John Bishop, executive director of the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association, says anyone buying or selling marijuana without a license is still subject to arrest. But he adds that authorities will continue to focus on large amounts of marijuana.

June 18, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use Among Marijuana Growers"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing NPR piece, which somewhat reinforces my belief that the modern marijuana reform movement is going to have to work through a number of notable environmental issues in the years ahead. Here are excerpts:

The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem. Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But the plant's legal status is unresolved....

As any farmer will likely say, damage to the crop equals damage to the bottom line. [Colorado grow ownwer Nick] Dice's employees used to spray the crop with mild chemicals. They would switch between multiple pesticides and mildew treatments, treating anywhere from every three to four days. Dice says he's seen other operations crumble as their cannabis succumbs to mildew or bugs. Pest controls ensure a good yield. And when it comes to cannabis, yields really matter.

Dice estimates the grow room is worth as much as $180,000. Protecting that yield is hard work. That's why many growers in states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use chemicals. But it's the federal government that tells farmers which pesticides are safe to use. And so far, the feds wants nothing to do with legalized marijuana. Colorado State University entomologist Whitney Cranshaw says that's left growers to experiment with little oversight. "In the absence of any direction the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to just whatever people think is working or they think is appropriate," he says.

Tobacco farmers, for example, have a stable of pesticides the government says are safe to use. But Cranshaw says marijuana growers have none. "Sometimes they've used some things that are inappropriate, sometimes unsafe," he says.

Brett Eaton is a plant expert with American Cannabis Company, a Denver-based consulting group. He's concerned about what the pesticides are doing to the product as well as the consumer. "Anybody can get their hands on harmful chemicals, and they can just spray away all the way up until the last day of harvest," he says.

Safety concerns led Denver officials to place a hold on tens of thousands of marijuana plants earlier this year, pending an investigation. Colorado doesn't require growers to test the crop for traces of pesticides before being sold. But state agriculture officials did recently release a list of pesticides deemed appropriate for use on cannabis. Washington state, Nevada and Illinois have similar lists. Eaton says regulators are only playing catch up. "Other agricultural industries already have policy in place for the safe use of spraying certain pesticides and fungicides," he says. "This being a new industry, it hasn't been addressed yet."

And with more states turning marijuana into a legal commodity crop, it'll take a mix of policy, science and industry self-regulation to figure out what's appropriate, and what's not.

June 17, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What can and should we conclude about new survey data on adult marijuana use in Colorado?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting new report showing the results of a statewide study funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. As this AP article, reports these basics (with my emphasis added):

Results from the 2014 survey were announced Monday.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says that 13.6 percent of adults currently use pot. Of those, more than a third said they use pot every day.   Almost half, 48.9 percent, said they’ve ever used pot.  Adults with higher incomes and more education were more likely than others to have used marijuana.

To begin any analysis of this data, I think we must start by whether the data conclusively shows whether marijuana use truly has increased in Colorado recently as a result of legalization or whether just more current and former marijuana users feel more comfortable admitting in a government survey that they are marijuana users. In addition, there is reason to suspect a not-insignificant number of marijuana users moved into Colorado in the wake of its 2012 vote to legalize the drug, and such migration to a relatively low-population state could also move the numbers a bit here.

More important that unpacking the basics of this data is to integrating it with other critical public health data. Even if marijuana use has increased in Colorado significantly, I would be eager to know if there has been any corresponding significant change in illegal drug use patters, and well as in patterns of alcohol and tobacco use and abuse. Without such data (and lots more), I think it is nearly impossible to draw any definitive public health and safety conclusions from use survey data in the short term.

June 16, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Among Prez candidates, "Marijuana Federalism Beats Prohibitionist Meddling"

The quoted portion of this post comes from the headline of this recent Reason piece by Jacob Sullum, which canvasses at length the comments made by 2016 presidential candidates about whether they would respect state effort to reform their marijuana regimes in the shadow of federal prohibition.  Here is how the piece starts and ends:

Last week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reiterated his intention to crack down on marijuana in states that have legalized it if he is elected president.  In an interview on Face the Nation, Christie answered "yes" when asked whether he would "return the federal prosecutions in these states," "yes" when asked if he would "go after" marijuana, and "correct" when asked if legalization would be "turned off."

If he were president, Christie could make a lot of trouble for state-licensed growers and retailers, but he would not actually have the power to make Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon recriminalize marijuana.  Furthermore, any attempt to override the decisions made by voters in those states would arouse strong objections — and not just from supporters of legalization. Illustrating that point, another Republican presidential contender, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, disagreed with Christie.  "Colorado voters made a choice," she said in a Fox News interview last Tuesday. "I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."

As I noted in March, that stance is pretty common among Republicans seeking their party's presidential nomination, and it seems politically smart, since even voters who hate marijuana do not necessarily think the federal government should force prohibition on states that do not want it.  A recent Pew Research Center survey found that three-fifths of Americans think the feds should not "enforce federal marijuana laws" in states that have legalized pot.  Even more striking: A 2012 CBS News survey found that 65 percent of Republicans thought "laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal or not should be…left to each individual state government to decide," even though only 27 percent supported Colorado-style legalization....

In short, Chris Christie's determination to stamp out marijuana legalization puts him in the minority among presidential candidates, among Republicans, and among the general public. "I don't believe that people want to be told just what they want to hear," he said on Face the Nation. "I believe they want to be told the truth as the person who is running sees it." There's a startling proposition: In 2015, it seems, promising to keep marijuana illegal counts as courage.

June 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Colorado Supreme Court affirms statutory interpretation permitting dismissal of medical marijuana user

As reported in this local article, a long awaited Colorado Supreme Court ruling concerning application of the state's employment laws for marijuana user finally was handed today.  Here are the basics:

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday affirmed lower courts' rulings that businesses can fire employees for the use of medical marijuana — even if it's off-duty. The 6-0 decision comes nine months after the state's highest court heard oral arguments in Brandon Coats' case against Dish Network. Coats, who had a medical marijuana card and consumed pot off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010 after failing a random drug test.

Coats challenged Dish's zero-tolerance drug policy, claiming that his use was legal under state law. The firing was upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals. When the case went to the state Supreme Court, legal observers said the case could have significant implications for employers across Colorado. They also noted that the ruling could be precedent-setting as Colorado and other states wrangle with adapting laws to a nascent industry that is illegal under federal law.

As such, the question at hand is whether the use of medical marijuana — which is in compliance with Colorado's Medical Marijuana Amendment — is "lawful" under the state's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. That term, the justices said, refers to activities lawful under both state and federal law.

"Therefore, employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute," Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the opinion. The justices said the court will not make a new law. Current Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use.

Coats' attorney Michael Evans, of Centennial-based The Evans Group, called the decision "devastating."

"For people like Brandon Coats, there really isn't a 'choice,' as MMJ is the only substance both he and his (Colorado-licensed) physicians know of to control his seizures due to his quadriplegia," Evans said. "He has to have it. " A silver lining of the decision, Evans said, is that it provides clarity in a "scary, gray area" of state law.

"Today's decision means that until someone in the House or Senate champions the cause, most employees who work in a state with the world's most powerful MMJ laws will have to choose between using MMJ and work," Evans said in a statement....

Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, said the justices' decision comes as no surprise. "It's easy to make too much of this decision," he said. "It really comes down to interpreting this one word in this one statute." As a matter of statutory interpretation, the court got it right, he said.

But for Coats and medical marijuana advocates, this is a blow, Kamin said. Coats was a "dream plaintiff" in that marijuana served as medicine, he said. Coats was rendered a quadriplegic by a car accident and used marijuana to control leg spasms.

The cause likely would land in the hands of the state legislature, Kamin said. "I think (Coats') case is very sympathetic, and I think his case would be quite compelling before the legislature," Kamin said.

The full ruling in this notable state Supreme Court can be accessed at this link, and the only thing I find surprising is why it took the Colorado justices a full nine months to resolve this matter.

In addition, though I fully understand the disappointment felt by Coats and his lawyer, I share Sam Kamin's view that this ruling is not that big a deal. This ruling does not mean state employers must dismiss marijuana users, only that they are not required by statute to keep such users who comply with state law employed. Ultimately, this case only would have been a very big deal if it had come out the other way. And, especially as more and more state legalize medical marijuana, I suspect more and more employers will become more eager to make accomodations for medical marijuana patients.

June 15, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting the many unique business challenges facing the modern marijuana industry

This new USA Today article, headlined "Patchwork of pot rules hampers marijuana business expansion," highlights why the succeeding in the marijuana industry is not quite as easy as it migth seem. Here is how the article gets started:

Marijuana entrepreneurs rushing into the booming market are running headlong into a patchwork of state-by-state regulations that make it hard to transfer their expertise, brands and staff— and even their profits.

Because the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana have developed widely divergent rules governing their semi-legal marketplaces.

In Colorado, for instance, retailers until recently had been required to grow the majority of the marijuana they sell to customers. But Washington state bans retailers from growing their own cannabis, forcing them to buy from state-licensed farms.

New York and Minnesota ban the sale of smokeable medical marijuana but their systems will permit very sick people to consume cannabis oil and other extracts, while the District of Columbia allows residents to possess up to two ounces of smoking marijuana for recreational use.

Some states require marijuana growers and sellers to be legal residents of the state they're operating in, which means companies seeking to franchise their brands can't just send in managers from existing operations elsewhere.

Colorado requires a clean criminal record to get a marijuana-growing or retail license, while in Washington a conviction doesn't necessarily disqualify them.

"If you're trying to open a bagel shop in New York and a bagel shop in St. Louis, they're going to end up basically the same," said Kris Krane, the co-founder and managing partner of marijuana consulting firm 4Front Ventures. "The only difference is that the bagels might taste better in New York. (With marijuana), every state we go into we have to tailor the operating model. It's a real challenge."

June 15, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nevada as interesting marijuana reform state to watch now and through 2016

Even since California legalized medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago, and especially since Arizona, Oregon and Washington moved forward with various significant marijuana reforms, the far west has been the US region to watch most closely for those interested in both the legal and practical dynamics of marijuana reform.  And now, as this Las Vegas Sun article highlights,  Nevada seems finally poised to join its western neighbors as a state to watch closely in this dynamic arena.  The article is headlined "New rules aim to stimulate Nevada’s nascent medical marijuana market," and here are excerpts: 

It's been two years since the Legislature approved a new law establishing a system of dispensaries and growing facilities to make medical marijuana more accessible to patients, but so far not a single bud has been sold.

That could change in the coming weeks with the planned opening of the Euphoria Wellness dispensary in Las Vegas, but there's no denying there have been growing pains as the industry struggles to launch.

Many of the issues stem from unintended consequences arising from the way the 2013 law was written, and Sen. Tick Segerblom, a leading marijuana advocate, made it a priority during the recently ended legislative session to fix as many problems as possible. "When you grow (an industry) from scratch, there's all kinds of issues you never thought about," Segerblom said. "Basically all these things we're dealing with are things we've learned over the last two years."...

Senate Bill 276 is intended to give medical marijuana entrepreneurs more flexibility with their businesses, allowing investors to sell or transfer their interest in a dispensary, lab, production or growing facility to another party, something that wasn't allowed under the previous law. The change will allow medical marijuana businesses to bring on new investors to raise capital or to cash out shareholders who no longer wish to be in the medical marijuana business. The law also allows marijuana establishments to change locations, so long as they stay in the same jurisdiction for which they're licensed and receive local government approval.

A different bill, Senate Bill 447, made various tweaks to criminal statutes surrounding marijuana and medical marijuana that deal with things like counterfeit patient registration cards and the production of cannabis concentrates. The bill also deals with noncriminal matters, most importantly allowing the use of certain pesticides in cannabis growing operations, something that's common in states like Colorado and California but wasn't allowed in Nevada.

Assembly Bill 70 also started out with a narrow focus — this time dealing with taxes on medical marijuana — but was expanded to help out businesses by allowing third party vendors to be used in operations. Previously, any nonpatient stepping foot into a dispensary or growing facility had to be an employee or volunteer of the establishment and register with the state. The new law will allow third party contractors to be hired by multiple businesses at a time, so long as the contractor is registered with the state....

The goal, Segerblom said, is to get the businesses up and running in advance of the 2016 election, when Nevada voters will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. "We want the voters to see what it's like," he said, "so we need to get these things out there so folks can see these are not bad operations."

With states like Colorado and Washington already bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars through their recently launched recreational marijuana markets, Segerblom said expanding access in Nevada would be a major revenue generator for the state. "We are perfectly situated to take advantage of this for all kinds of reasons. For us not to have marijuana tourism when Colorado and Washington have it just makes no sense," he said. "The reality is they're already (smoking) it, we're just not getting any tax revenue."

June 11, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"As States Become More Pot-Friendly, Feds Warn Employees Not To Light Up"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable International Business Times article, which gets started this way:

Marijuana might be legal in the country’s capital, but not for employees of the U.S. government.  The sobering reminder came in the form of a new guidance issued Wednesday by the Office of Personnel Management.  It stated that federal workers, even those living in states where marijuana is legal, are subject to federal, not local, law – and all the penalties that come with it.

“Heads of agencies are expected to advise their workforce that legislative changes by some states and the District of Columbia do not alter federal law, existing suitability criteria or Executive Branch policies regarding marijuana,” Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said in a statement posted on the agency’s website.  The guidance doesn’t change existing laws barring federal employees from participating in activities the government considers illegal.  It simply underscores a point that may have gotten lost in the shuffle, or that some government employees might rather forget.

 Twenty-three states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. Three states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – along with D.C. allow pot to be consumed for medical and recreational purposes.  The drug remains illegal at the federal level, despite the Department of Justice having promised not to challenge states that decide to legalize it.

The U.S. government employs roughly 4.1 million Americans.  About half a million of them live in the District of Columbia, which legalized recreational pot in February. 

May 27, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Oregon's big marijuana harvests: How do you bring all that pot into the legal market?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local article noting that Oregon already had a robust marijuana production market before it legalized the product via voter initiative last year.  Here is how it gets started:

More than any state that has legalized marijuana, Oregon is a champion when it comes to producing the drug. Seth Crawford, a marijuana policy researcher at Oregon State University, estimates the state grows three to five times the 150,000 pounds or so consumed by Oregon pot users -- a crop potentially worth more than any other single agricultural commodity in the state.

A report from a Seattle venture capital firm specializing in pot says the state's legally allowed producers – those who grow for medical marijuana patients – harvest enough to meet the needs not only of patients in Oregon but in Washington, Colorado and Arizona as well.

"We've got plenty of supply," says Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and a member of the committee overseeing implementation of the pot legalization initiative. He wholeheartedly endorsed the common quip that Oregon is the "Saudi Arabia of marijuana."

As a result, the legislative debate over how to implement the November initiative that legalized recreational marijuana has revolved around how to turn this thriving – if often illegal -- industry into an economic and societal success story. The abundance of the state's marijuana crop is driving some of the biggest decisions that legislators face, from how strictly to regulate medical marijuana growers to whether to put a sales tax on pot despite the state's historic hostility to such taxes.

A growing number of legislators on the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 say they want to start retail sales as early as possible to entice growers into the legal market. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which Measure 91 charged with regulating the recreational marijuana market, says it probably won't be ready to allow retail outlets to open until fall of 2016.

But key lawmakers on the marijuana committee say they are seriously looking at allowing the sale of at least smokable pot starting Oct. 1 at existing medical marijuana dispensaries. "There are already well-established black-market channels," says Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland and the co-chair of the Measure 91 committee, "and we need to make this (legal) market as appealing to people as possible."

Burdick has been a particularly strong champion of legislation putting stricter limits on the size of medical marijuana growing operations, saying she wants to channel larger and more commercially minded producers into the recreational market.

Oregon has nearly 35,000 registered grow sites, according to the latest Oregon Health Authority records, but three-quarters serve just one or two patients, each of whom can have up to six plants grown for them. Nearly 400 sites grow for at least 10 patients and account for much of Oregon's marijuana crop.

The heart of the industry is in southern Oregon, where growers have plenty of sun and rural isolation. "You can't compete with the quantity and quality produced in southern Oregon," says Crawford, the OSU expert who has extensively researched the area's marijuana culture. He says many growers have been producing pot for decades, perfecting their strains and earning a supplemental income for their family.

May 24, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Latest polling data in Colorado and Washington continue to show strong support for legalization

As reported in this new Huffington Post piece, headlined "Pioneer Pot States Did The Right Thing, Polls Show," recent polling in the two states to lead the modern marijuana legalization movement indicates that three years of experience with legalization has not diminished support for these reforms.  Here are the basic details:

Support for legalized marijuana seems to be growing in Colorado and Washington state, which became the first U.S. states to regulate the weed for recreational use two years ago.

A survey released Wednesday from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that 56 percent of voters in Washington state approve of their state's recreational marijuana laws, while 37 percent are opposed. The opposition is lower than that in the 2012 vote to approve legalization, in which 56 percent supported the measure, and 44 percent disapproved. Moreover, a majority of Washington voters -- 77 percent -- say the marijuana laws have either had a positive effect or no effect on their lives, according to the poll.

A Qunnipiac poll last month tells a similar story in Colorado. Sixty-two percent of Colorado voters support reformed marijuana laws, the poll shows. That's an increase of 7 percentage points over the margin of support when voters approved Colorado's legalization in 2012....

Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, quickly followed by Washington. The first retail shops opened in 2014. By the end of last year, voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved recreational marijuana legalization measures. By 2016, as many as 10 additional states are likely to consider reforming marijuana laws.

May 21, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"How D.C. pot legalization has become ‘the dealer-protection act of 2015’"

The title of this post is the headline of this fascinating recent Washington Post article.  Here are excerpts:

Not long ago, a man who had covertly dealt pot in the nation’s capital for three decades approached a young political operative at a birthday party in a downtown Washington steakhouse. He was about to test a fresh marketing strategy to take advantage of the District’s peculiar new marijuana law, which allows people to possess and privately consume the drug but provides them no way to legally buy it for recreational use. Those contradictions have created a surge in demand and new opportunities for illicit pot purveyors.

“Do you like cannabis?” asked the dealer. “Yes,” answered the man, who had recently left his job as a Republican Senate staffer.

So, the dealer recalled, he handed his new acquaintance a tiny plastic bag that contained half a gram of “Blue Dream,” a sweet and fruity strain of marijuana. With the bag he also presented a business card and an offer: If you like what you try, call me. Within days, the man — now a lobbyist — picked up the phone.

The dealer — who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because what they do remains illegal — said he has used that same in-plain-sight sales pitch at similarly upscale D.C. settings, collecting three new buyers and a pair of new suppliers. The new business is all thanks to the quirks of the District’s legalization, which has boosted the appetite for marijuana as more people become comfortable acquiring it through the black market. “It’s the dealer-protection act of 2015,” he said. “This was a license for me to print money.”

Who is responsible for this unintended consequence depends on whom you ask. In November, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that made it legal to possess and grow marijuana, but the following month, Congress enacted a spending prohibition that barred the city from creating a system through which pot could be lawfully bought, sold and taxed.

That means there are only three ways for people in the District to legally obtain marijuana. Someone can give it to them, though the donors, of course, must find their own original source. Residents can each grow as many as three plants to maturity at one time, though that process is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. And with a doctor’s approval, people can get medical-marijuana cards, though supply remains dismal.

“The black market is the obvious choice,” said a 24-year-old government contractor who deals part time. “It’s awesome.”

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who has led Congress’s charge to thwart the legalization, blamed city leaders, insisting that they should have forbidden possession when he and other lawmakers prevented Washington from creating a controlled marketplace. “There’s no question that demand will go up, and there’s no legal source of supply,” he said. “Clearly, this was not thought out rationally by the city government, which chose to go forward with legalization without regulation.”

John Falcicchio, chief of staff for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), sharply countered that assertion. “In D.C., it shouldn’t be called the black market. It should be called the Harris market,” he said. “If there’s any uptick in the black market, it’s thanks to Harris.”...

That boost in demand, supporters of legalization say, helps explain why lawful use in the District must be paired with lawful sales.   “If you’re going to legalize marijuana, you also have to legalize the supply because you want to get rid of the black market or at least limit the black market,” said Keith Stroup, founder of NORML.  “Right now, they’ve done the exact opposite.”

Delroy Burton, chairman of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police, said a regulated market would have “pulled the teeth out of the illegal drug trade” and eventually wiped out the violence associated with it.

Jeffrey Miron, an economics teacher at Harvard University, compared marijuana’s potential evolution to that of alcohol after prohibition ended in 1933.   “People seem to prefer going to a legal supplier rather than making beer in their basement,” said Miron, director of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, which supports the legalization of all drugs.

He and others who have studied the topic don’t suggest that illicit sales would disappear overnight, but after several years — even a decade — they argue that the black market could not compete with a controlled market.

Rep. Andy Harris rejected those arguments.  “I think there’s value in keeping the supply chain illegal at this point,” he said, maintaining that it provides “a check on the system.”

The longtime District dealer who now markets his product at chic D.C. gatherings has already considered what he would do if the city regulated pot sales.  He and his friends, he said, would open their own dispensary.  They’d go legit.

May 19, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

More on the "ag-tech revolution" being spurred by legalized cannabis crops

In this post from a few weeks ago, I was promped by an article about the Tesla battery and marijuana cultivation to ask this question is a post title: "Could/will the marijuana industry become a boon for green energy innovation?".  Continuing with the theme of innovations for ganja growing is this fascinating new article via the International Business Times headlined "Legal Marijuana Cultivation Is Driving A Technology 'Revolution' In Industrial Agriculture." Here are excerpts:

[A] growing number of companies in North America [are] designing new products and systems specifically for the cultivation of cannabis, a finicky crop that needs a precise balance of light, moisture and water to thrive. Although these cannabis ventures aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel -- greenhouse technologies have existed for decades -- they are injecting the kinds of capital and brainpower into the field of industrial agriculture that simply wasn’t there a decade ago.

They’re also adding a new level of urgency. As more countries and U.S. states soften their policies on both medical and recreational marijuana, companies are racing to become the industry leaders in data-mining software, ultraefficient lamps and water-sipping irrigation systems. These tools will benefit more than marijuana growers alone: Industrial food producers and tree growers could adapt the same technologies to cut energy costs and boost their crops. Operators of large buildings could use the systems to lower their electricity use.

“Cannabis is spurring on an ag-tech revolution,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of ArcView Group, a cannabis-industry research firm in Oakland, California. “This is a boom born entirely out of ending repressive laws. The market is already there, it’s just moving from the shadows into the light. That’s why you’re seeing this incredible growth and why so many people see it as a once-in-a-lifetime [business] opportunity.”

That market is rapidly expanding in the U.S., where 23 states have already legalized medical marijuana, and three states -- Alaska, Colorado and Washington -- allow recreational-marijuana sales. Voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure last fall that allows for personal pot use and limited cultivation. The policy takes effect July 1. In Texas, Ohio, Nebraska and a number of other states, voters and policymakers are considering similar initiatives. (In Canada, medical-marijuana use was legalized in 2001, and recent policy changes are enabling a rise in industrial growing operations.)....

Companies such as Heliostat are moving into the cannabis space for three key reasons -- first and foremost, cash. Unlike tomato and pepper producers, cannabis growers boast wide profit margins, giving them a bigger budget for top-of-the-line technologies and a greater appetite for research and experimentation....

Second, young technology whizzes and expert plant biologists are both bringing their skills to the burgeoning sector. “For the newer generation that’s just getting out of college or new to the workplace, cannabis is a more interesting project than say a real-estate project, or a lettuce project,” said Michael Mayes, CEO of Quantum 9 Inc., a Chicago consulting firm for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing. “The cool factor can drive innovation.”

Third, there is plenty of demand among growers. As they build new greenhouses and indoor facilities, they’re interested in shaving off as much electricity and water consumption as possible to reduce operating expenses and protect profit margins as more players enter the market.

Dayton of ArcView Group said the cannabis industry is still in the earliest stages of its technology “renaissance,” and that the only thing holding it back are prohibitive marijuana policies in certain states.

Even so, the gradual easing of cannabis laws is already drawing interest from mainstream businesses, including a subsidiary of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. The company’s Hawthorne Gardening Co. in April purchased General Hydroponics Inc. and Bio-Organic Solutions Inc., which make liquid nutrients for indoor marijuana cultivation. Terms were not disclosed, but the acquisition should make Scotts, with its $2.97 billion in annual revenue, a formidable player in the marijuana market.

Prior related post:

Could/will the marijuana industry become a boon for green energy innovation?

May 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)