Thursday, December 1, 2016
"California backers of legalized marijuana fear possible battle with attorney general pick Jeff Sessions"
Today, The Los Angeles Times reports on how marijuana legalization advocates are preparing for potential political and legal battles with the presumptive next attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). The Times's Patrick McGreevy writes:
Marijuana industry leaders in [California] and around the U.S. have launched an opposition campaign to the Senate confirmation of the Republican senator from Alabama and are appealing to the Trump camp to make sure the president-elect’s policies are consistent with his campaign comments that he favors allowing states to decide how to enforce marijuana laws...
Sessions said at a legislative hearing in April that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” a drug that he said is “dangerous.” He went on to say, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”...
Marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, and industry leaders and some elected officials fear Sessions might repeal a policy directive from the Department of Justice that has prevented enforcement in the states, or take California to court and argue that federal law preempts state legalization measures.
If that happens, there will be a fight, supporters say.
"California voters supported legalization by a historic and overwhelming margin, and their elected leaders are not going to stand aside and allow the senator from Alabama to turn back California’s clock,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading proponent of Proposition 64...
Opponents of Proposition 64 are encouraging Sessions to reverse the federal policy that has allowed states to legalize and regulate recreational use without federal enforcement.
“The issue is really as simple as stating that federal law is, in fact, the law of the land and will be enforced across the entire nation,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the opposition group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
Sabet’s group has urged Sessions to send a letter to the governors of states that have legalized pot use and notify them that issuing licenses for marijuana sales is a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Sabet suggested the states be given six months to roll back their regulations before enforcement begins...
However, supporters of Proposition 64 said they believe the state would be obliged to defend the measure if it is challenged in court.
“We would expect a very, very strong pushback from the state, because the reality is it’s a public safety issue,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn. “They have decriminalized a product, so if you don’t allow any sort of regulation in place for people to access that product, the underground market is only going to grow.”
Bob Hoban, an attorney and marijuana industry consultant, said Trump’s selection of Sessions is “alarming,” but he is hopeful that Trump will keep the federal government’s hands off the states.
A series of court challenges to Colorado’s law have been dismissed, and the Supreme Court in March declined to hear a lawsuit by neighboring states Oklahoma and Nebraska, Hoban said. The two states argued that Colorado’s legalization regulations are unconstitutional and have a negative impact on them because marijuana is flowing across state lines.
Hoban also said it is “a very positive sign” that Trump’s transition team includes PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, whose investment firm has a $75-million stake in the marijuana industry.
Even so, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), a leading legislative proponent of decriminalization, said California officials are “preparing to dig in” to defend the state’s values if there is a federal challenge.
Among its options, the state could mount a defense of its marijuana laws in court if the federal government challenges Propositions 64 and 215, the 1996 medical marijuana initiative, experts say.
California can also wield political clout given that the state has the largest delegation in Congress. That power was exercised when Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Sam Farr (D-Carmel) coauthored a rider to the federal budget that has for the last two years prohibited federal funds from being used to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that are in compliance with state laws...
Sunday, November 27, 2016
The title of this post comes from this BBC.com article, which states in part:
The current domestic black market for marijuana is CA$5bn ($3.7bn; £3bn).
Chris Horlacher is president of Jade Maple, a consulting agency in the cannabis industry and one of the founding members of the Cannabis Growers of Canada (CGC). They represent small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs trying to establish
Canada's "craft cannabis" industry.
He says there is frustration and fear that the federal government will simply allow already established legal medical marijuana suppliers to take over the recreational marketplace.
"The government has created this brand new camp that is trying to gain its share of the market and they don't necessarily understand the product, the culture," Mr Horlacher says.
"We have all these people who are actually newcomers who don't have any experience with the product and now they're saying: 'We're the legitimate ones and you're the evil profiteers.'"
Medical marijuana is legal in Canada but, since 2014, registered patients can only get their cannabis shipped from licensed large-scale suppliers. They have also recently been allowed to grow their own.
There are currently 36 licensed growers in Canada. Many are openly positioning for the eventual legal recreational market.
Canadians, especially its youth, are among the world's biggest pot users.
Ottawa says legal pot under a new "strict regulation" regime will make it easier to keep it away from young people, to pull profits from organised crime, to reduce the burden on police and the justice system, and to improve public health.
A federal legalisation task force is wrapping up its work and is expected to send its recommendations to the government soon.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
As long-time readers know, my modern professional interests in marijuana law policy and reform emerged directly from my professional interests in criminal justice reform general and sentencing reform in particular. For that reason, I will be watching especially closely the application and impact of the criminal justice/sentence provisions that were part of California's marijuana legalization proposition, Prop 64. This new article from the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Green wave: Legalized marijuana setting scores of defendants free," provides an early report:
Chris Phillips, a marijuana entrepreneur and Livermore father of four, faced five felony counts and possible prison time after he was accused of illegally growing pot at his home, which police raided in June. But when California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use Nov. 8, they retroactively erased several small-time pot crimes and reduced the penalties for bigger ones like growing, selling and transporting.
So at 9 a.m. the next day, Phillips sat in a courtroom in Pleasanton. He was first on the docket, and it wasn’t long before his attorney Bill Panzer and Alameda County prosecutors hammered out a deal for the 36-year-old to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor possession charge. “It was literally a sigh of relief,” said Phillips, who runs several pot farms, a medical dispensary in Long Beach and an extract brand — and had been out of jail on a half-million-dollar bond....
California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names.
California does not keep detailed records on pot crimes, but the attorney general’s office said police made 8,866 felony pot arrests in 2015, involving 7,987 adults and 879 juveniles — mainly for possession for sale, cultivation and transportation. Roughly 2,000 jail and prison inmates are affected by Prop. 64, according to estimates from the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group that helped sponsor the initiative.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said Prop. 64 could result in net court savings of tens of millions of dollars per year. Counties that took the hardest line on pot in the past are seeing the biggest shares of sentence reductions and dismissals, lawyers say. “We’re getting calls many times throughout the day,” said Joe Rogoway, an attorney who practices in San Francisco and the North Bay and specializes in cannabis law. “It’s cathartic. I’m elated to be able to go into court and help people.”
The changes are profound. For example, illegally growing a single marijuana plant used to be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Today, it’s no longer a crime. About a dozen other crimes were either deleted or downgraded. Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, an office spokeswoman, said local judges were sending felony pot cases to misdemeanor court, though she didn’t have the exact number of cases. “We’re absolutely following the law,” she said.
Sacramento County prosecutors say they have about 75 affected cases. San Mateo officials report approximately 100 pending cases, mostly felonies for alleged cultivation, while San Francisco prosecutors report about 200 affected cases, mostly involving small-time sales. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said defendants being held in county jails because they could not post bail are being released if they’ve already served more time than they would if convicted of what’s now a misdemeanor. “That will be common,” he said. “There’ll be plenty of those.”
Wagstaffe, who is also president of the California District Attorneys Association, expects Prop. 64 to cause police officers to arrest and cite fewer people for remaining pot crimes that are now misdemeanors, because the effort is “not worth” the paperwork and police time....
Because young, low-income people of color have felt the brunt of drug enforcement, they stand to gain the most from the law’s changes, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “That’s certainly what we’re hoping,” he said. Now, citizens who potentially faced years in jail are sometimes facing days. Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol attorney specializing in cannabis, said one of his clients was looking at up to nearly five years in prison for felony transporting of pot and possession for sale, as well as a related probation violation. After Prop. 64, Figueroa said Sonoma County prosecutors agreed to an infraction charge, with no jail and no probation.
In Los Angeles, attorney Allison Margolin spoke of a client with a 3-year-old warrant alleging hash possession. The defendant never surrendered, and now he doesn’t have to. “Possession of hash is no longer a crime at all,” she said. “We can take away his warrant.”
Beyond those in jail, or awaiting trial on pending cases, an estimated tens of thousands of Californians on probation or parole have begun petitioning to reduce or end supervision, which would give them full rights to travel, refuse a search and use marijuana medically. Many crimes that once yielded three, five or seven years of probation now have a maximum term of one year under Prop. 64.
Margolin noted that Prop. 64 builds on Proposition 47, which reduced drug possession and low-level theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors when California voters approved it in 2014. While Prop. 47 diverted most drug users out of the felony court system, she said, Prop. 64 diverts pot growers, sellers, transporters and all juveniles, as well. “It’s really awesome for a lot of people, of course,” Margolin said. “A young person who sold weed in college and gets caught and then has it affect their whole life — there’s probably more than 100,000 people in those situations.”
The biggest group touched by Prop. 64 — those who have already been punished for past pot convictions — may number in the hundreds of thousands. Many are now eligible to clean up their records, which could improve their job prospects or give them the right to possess a gun. “I cannot overstate the significance of this,” said Rogoway. “It really is a paradigm shift.”
The California Judicial Council posted forms online last week for any pot convict or defendant — adult or juvenile — to petition for a resentencing, for reduced charges, or to expunge and seal their record. Those who are awaiting trial or are behind bars don’t need a form. They can petition for a Prop. 64 sentence reduction orally at their next court date.
Margolin plans to hold a Prop. 64 legal clinic Dec. 3 while offering to help people address past convictions for $1,000. She said such expungements may not totally clear people’s records in all databases, but they will no longer have to check employment application boxes saying they were convicted of a felony.
For those aiming to make a living in the marijuana business, Prop. 64 may be even more pivotal. Felons who felt locked out of the industry “now have a reason to strive forward,” said Phillips, the Livermore entrepreneur, who announced with pride that he had become Puerto Rico’s first medical marijuana licensee. “You can make your new life happen.”
Ironically, Phillips had spent a year opposing Prop. 64, believing the law would lead to a corporate takeover of cannabis that would undermine medical patients. But just two weeks before the election, Phillips said he sat down with his lawyer, read the 62-page initiative and realized it would set him free. “How stupid I was for a whole year talking about this,” he said.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
The Brookings Institution's John Hudak discussed with The New York Times:
• How worried should California’s emerging marijuana industry be about Mr. Sessions?
As attorney general, Sessions would have the ability to rescind two Justice Department directives — known as the Cole and Ogden memos — that called for stepping back from marijuana prosecutions. He could also use federal law enforcement power against operators and sue state regulators to block state systems. The only person who can stop the attorney general is the president, and it is unclear whether Trump will direct or delegate drug policy — the latter option being what should worry California the most.
• What’s your read on Mr. Trump’s posture toward states with legal marijuana?
Trump has made statements that seem supportive of states’ rights around marijuana and made others that are unclear. It is also unclear whether this is a policy he will direct from the White House or just let his attorney general steer this ship. It all means, pot policy in the U.S. is up in the air.
• What might a marijuana crackdown in California look like?
First, the Justice Department would likely sue the state to prevent the enforcing of Prop 64. They could use other law enforcement entities — outside of the Drug Enforcement Administration — to begin physical crackdowns on existing operators. The law enforcement efforts would be expensive. The litigation approach might be cheaper and easier — if less effective.
• What does all this mean for the individual consumer?
It would be nearly impossible for federal officials to arrest every marijuana consumer in California (or elsewhere), but if the Trump administration strikes at the heart of the industry — shutting down the supply chain — it would drive producers underground and consumers back to the black market.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Californians may have approved recreational marijuana use last Tuesday, but that doesn't mean they can expect weed shops to be as ubiquitous as 7/11s any time soon. Even before it passed, many municipalities had taken advantage of Prop. 64's provision leaving to local communities the authority to restrict the commercial cultivation, distribution and retail sale of the drug (these communities, however, can't restrict possession or private consumption). Indeed, in some large suburban communities east of Los Angeles and Orange Counties that make up the Inland Empire, legalized weed may be no more accessible than it was before Prop. 64 passed. This local article explains:
With its great commercial capacity and relatively cheap land prices, the vast and logistics-savvy Inland Empire might seem like a good place to set up various seed-to-store marijuana-related businesses now that California voters have approved the legalization of recreational marijuana.
While local cities may be bursting with industrial property and easy access to highway and even an airport, a number of them also may be sporting an equal amount of distaste for marijuana. Already, many have already enacted laws banning the commercial cultivation, distribution and retail sale of recreational pot, even though Proposition 64 doesn’t allow for the issuance of business licenses until 2018...
Inland Empire city leaders who have banned marijuana cultivation, distribution and sale — for either medicinal or recreational purposes — cite concern over family values and public safety.
“With prospective sales, it brings about an unwanted criminal element,” [Fontana Mayor Acquanetta] Warren said. “It’s a really touchy situation because I’ve had a chance to really study how medical marijuana (helps some), but we just have a responsibility to keeping our citizens and commercial businesses safe.”...
[Community development director for Chino Hills, Joann ]Lombardo said Chino Hills is a family community and when leaders looked at the appropriate use of medical marijuana establishments in the city, they determined “it is not in keeping with that family atmosphere that is typical of Chino Hills.”
Meanwhile in the city of San Bernardino, voters on Election Day passed Measure O, which replaces a citywide ban with a regulatory plan.
The new marijuana law in San Bernardino could bring $19-24 million in new revenue to the city, according to the research firm Whitney Economics.
Experts say the emerging industry may take foothold first in the Inland Empire farther east, in the less populated desert communities, such as in Adelanto and Desert Hot Springs, where city leaders have already approved medical marijuana cultivation.
The initiative that legalized recreational use of marijuana in California found its strongest support among those who voted for Hillary Clinton for president, African Americans and voters ages 18 to 29, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times post-election poll.
Proposition 64 passed with 56% of the overall vote, but was supported by 68% of Clinton supporters and Democratic voters while it was opposed by 59% of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to the poll conducted by SurveyMonkey.
A breakdown of the vote by race found the ballot measure drew support from 64% of African American voters, 58% of whites and 56% of Latino voters.
Though marijuana legalization was supported by 66% of voters ages 18 to 29, backing from those ages 50 to 64 was weaker at 49%.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Enough results are in, and I am eager to call it a night on this blog, so I am going to rely on the votes as of now in Arizona, California and Nevada to conclude that marijuana will be legal for recreational use in California and Nevada, but not in Arizona. Thus, as I call it a night, it looks like marijuana reform has won in at least seven and perhaps in eight of the nine states in which it was on the ballot, and seemed to win fairly big in the the big states of California, Florida and Massachusetts.
I have been watching the marijuana legalization results on Politico from Maine and Massachusetts, and the results are clear enough in Massachusetts, currently 53.5% for reform and 46.5% against, for everyone to be declaring victory for marijuana legalization in the state. In Maine, where the vote is currently 50.5% for reform and to 49.5% against, the race is too close to call. But it looks like there may be two New England states on the fast path to full marijuana legalization, and I suspect a number of other states nearby are going to be seriously considering following their lead before too long.
Monday, November 7, 2016
The question in the title of this post comes from this Forbes article examining how passage of Proposition 64 -- California's marijuana legalization initiative -- on Tuesday could change marijuana policy nationwide. The article begins:
California’s Proposition 64 to legalize recreational marijuana is going to have a big influence on the rest of the United States.
It is highly likely the measure will pass Tuesday. On Oct, 16, a SurveyUSA poll showed 51% in favor and 40% against. More recently, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed 58% for and 34% against the ballot measure.
Jessica Rabe, research associate Convergex, a global brokerage company based in New York, said that the great size of the California economy — sixth largest in the world if it were a standalone country, with GDP of $2.5 trillion in 2015 — will “put pressure on the government to reclassify or deschedule the drug to help ‘cannabusinesses’ better conduct their operations with more access to banking services.”
According to cannabis investment company MedMen, passage of Proposition 64 could add $8.38 billion in annual sales to an already robust medical market worth an estimated $2.83 billion. CEO Adam Bierman said that the California vote is one of the major milestones in the institutionalization of the marijuana industry. “I have a meeting on Tuesday in San Francisco with half a dozen of what some people would refer to as the illuminati of Silicon Valley,” said Bierman. “That meeting doesn’t happen six months ago. That meeting doesn’t happen two months ago. It’s happening now.”
Sarah Trumble of Third Way, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., sounds a cautionary note. “I’ve heard that saying, if California goes then this inevitable that all states will go, but that’s not necessarily true,” she said. “California didn’t do a very good job with its medical marijuana industry and its lack of regulation. If they screw up recreational, it will hurt the overall effort.”
Trumble believes that if the analysts are right in their sales estimates and the industry becomes a multi-billion dollar one, then the big banks will reluctantly begin working with these customers. She noted that the amounts of money are so large that it wouldn’t be feasible to work only in cash and the smaller banks and credit unions could be overwhelmed. It could be the tipping point for major financial institutions.
“The exponential increase in mainstream venture capital interest will attract talent from the established industries that the state has long supported from tech to aerospace and agriculture, which will be a boon for innovation and job creation across the diverse spectrum of cannabis companies,” said Mike Bologna, Chief Executive Officer of Green Lion Partners. “The potential economic impact of Prop 64 cannot be understated, and we hope that a victory in California will inspire other state governments to reconsider their archaic and destructive stance on cannabis.”...
In addition to the financial and cultural aspects, there is also the feeling it will benefit the medical community. Rob Hunt, President of Teewinot Life Sciences said, “California is the epicenter of biotechnology and there are many scientists that are desperate to study the efficacious nature of cannabinoids,” He went on to say, “Legalizing cannabis provides a great deal of insulation to these people and provides them comfort in conducting trials that will ultimately lead to breakthroughs in medicine. It is ironic that the passage of adult use may drive cannabinoid based science far more than a medicinal law ever did.”...
The title of this post is the title of this recent report produced by the Marijuana Policy Group, which describes itself as a "non-affiliated entity dedicated to new market policy and analysis [seeking] to apply research methods rooted in economic theory and statistical applications to inform regulatory policy decisions in the rapidly growing legal medical and recreational marijuana markets." Here is part of the report's synopsis:
The Marijuana Policy Group (MPG) has constructed a new model that accurately integrates the legal marijuana industry into Colorado’s overall economy. It is called the “Marijuana Impact Model.”
Using this model, the MPG finds that legal marijuana activities generated $2.39 billion in state output, and created 18,005 new FullTime-Equivalent (FTE) positions in 2015. Because the industry is wholly confined within Colorado, spending on marijuana creates more output and employment per dollar spent than 90 percent of Colorado industries....
Legal marijuana demand is projected to grow by 11.3 percent per year through 2020. This growth is driven by a demand shift away from the black market and by cannabis-specific visitor demand. By 2020, the regulated market in Colorado will become saturated. Total sales value will peak near $1.52 billion dollars, and state demand will be 215.7 metric tons of flower equivalents by 2020. Market values are diminished somewhat by declining prices and “low-cost, high-THC” products.
In 2015, marijuana was the second largest excise revenue source, with $121 million in combined sales and excise tax revenues. Marijuana tax revenues were three times larger than alcohol, and 14 percent larger than casino revenues. The MPG projects marijuana tax revenues will eclipse cigarette revenues by 2020, as cigarette sales continue to decline. Marijuana tax revenues will likely continue increasing as more consumer demand shifts into the taxed adult-use market.
As a first-mover in legal marijuana, the Front Range has witnessed significant business formation and industry agglomeration in marijuana technology (cultivation, sales, manufacturing, and testing). This has inspired a moniker for Colorado’s Front Range as the “Silicon Valley of Cannabis.” Secondary marijuana industry activities quantified for the first time in this report include: warehousing, cash-management, security, testing, legal services, and climate engineering for indoor cultivations.
November 7, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, November 3, 2016
"Opponents of marijuana legalization say licensing requirements laid out in ballot measure are inadequate"
With the election just days away, California is poised to legalize recreational marijuana use for persons 21 years old or older. Most likely voters support the state's legalization initiative; and, with both The O.C. Register and The San Diego Union-Tribune recently endorsing the initiative, most of the state's largest newspapers agree with them. But legalization opponents still have a few days to convince enough legalization supporters that continued prohibition is better than the alternative. This week, opponents hope to achieve this in part by arguing that the initiative's licensing requirements unjustifiably exempt websites that provide guides to and reviews of industry participants, as detailed by this The Los Angeles Times article by Patrick McGreevy, in which he writes:
Opponents of an initiative to allow recreational marijuana use in California said Wednesday that its extensive licensing requirements would not include websites, including Weedmaps, that provide guides to cannabis stores, varieties and doctors without handling the product.
A spokesman for the Proposition 64 campaign called the complaint “silly and desperate” and noted that existing laws regulate such websites.
The issue was looked at by the Office of Legislative Counsel, the nonpartisan public agency that prepares legal opinions, at the request of state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), an outspoken opponent of Proposition 64.
Proposition 64 requires state licenses for businesses that grow, transport, process and sell marijuana.
“Because the technology platform would not sell or deliver marijuana products within the meaning of Proposition 64, it follows that it would not require licensure as a distributor or retailer,” wrote Richard Mafrica, deputy legislative counsel. “Therefore, it is our opinion that the technology platform would not be required to obtain a license under Proposition 64.”
That also would mean that the website would not be subject to Proposition 64’s restrictions on advertising, Mafrica wrote.
The opposition campaign noted that Weedmaps, an Irvine company, has contributed close to $1 million to the campaign for Proposition 64.
“This is a blatant and egregious example of a special interest writing regulations that maximize profit at the expense of public health that do not even apply to the largest advertising platforms in the pot industry,” said Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Assn.
Federal law considers marijuana to be an illegal drug, which cannot be advertised on federally regulated television and radio stations.
Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Proposition 64 campaign, said the opponents are “brazenly attempting to mislead voters.”
He said under Proposition 64, advertising by licensed marijuana businesses on any platform will be subject to restrictions in the measure “and any future restrictions set forth by state regulators or the Legislature. Moreover, as the Legislative Counsel clearly points out, any technology platform will be further subject to all existing state advertising and marketing restrictions.”
The title of this post comes from this recent Boston Globe article discussing whether (and to what extent) marijuana use should be relevant to child welfare determinations. Although stemming from a specific provision in Massachusetts's marijuana legalization initiative, the broader policy question raised in the article extends far beyond the state. The article begins:
Massachusetts child welfare officials are warning that a provision buried deep in the ballot measure to legalize marijuana could effectively tie the hands of social workers entrusted with protecting the state’s most vulnerable children.
The little-noticed provision states that parents’ marijuana use, possession, and cultivation can’t be the primary basis for taking away custody — or other parental rights like visitation — unless there is “clear, convincing and articulable evidence that the person’s actions related to marijuana have created an unreasonable danger to the safety” of a child. It would become law on Dec. 15 if voters greenlight Question 4.
Similar language is included in legalization measures in three of the four other states voting on such referendums next month, proponents say. It’s meant to protect parents’ legal use of marijuana just like their legal use of alcohol, they say. People who smoke a joint to relax instead of drinking a glass of wine shouldn’t fear they’ll get stung by a judge in a custody dispute, or risk having their children put into foster care, they argue.
But in a statement, the Department of Children and Families said it “believes every case is unique and our social workers need the ability to consider every factor when making critically important decisions about a child’s well-being.
“Restrictions that could limit a social worker’s ability to consider any substances, including marijuana, as a factor for child custody are troubling, especially given the unprecedented spike in DCF cases fueled by the opioid epidemic,” the statement, from spokeswoman Andrea Grossman, said.
DCF is overseen by Governor Charlie Baker, who opposes legalization.
Some outside specialists say the provision could make it harder to support an allegation of abuse or neglect when the parent has been using marijuana, as compared with alcohol. That’s because there is no comparable language in state law about alcohol.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
The title of this post is the punny, but spot-on, headline of this local article from Maine. Here are excerpts:
The difficulty of testing for marijuana intoxication and the complexity of Maine’s drug-testing laws are creating uncertainty among state officials and employers about the workplace impacts of a legal marijuana market. “It’s uncharted territory to a great extent,” said Julie Rabinowitz, director of policy, operations and communications for the Maine Department of Labor.
As Maine residents prepare to vote on marijuana legalization Nov. 8, state labor officials are meeting with their counterparts in Colorado and preparing to answer questions from employers about how passage of Question 1 would affect their drug-testing policies and efforts to maintain a drug-free workplace. State labor officials plan to offer courses on how to spot impairment in the workplace, and they say it’s unclear whether employers will be able to continue screening prospective workers for marijuana use.
However, backers of the legalization measure say the proposed law leaves in place protections for employers, who would still be able to implement drug-screening requirements, maintain drug-free workplace policies and fire employees who show up for work intoxicated.
No state east of the Rockies has legalized marijuana, but Maine and Massachusetts – as well as Arizona, California and Nevada – will vote Nov. 8 on proposals to establish recreational cannabis markets. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have all legalized marijuana for adult use. While Maine already has higher marijuana use rates than most other states and is home to a burgeoning medical marijuana program, the potential increase in access to the drug raises questions for employers about how it would affect workplaces.
Although Maine employers will still have the right to prohibit employees from working while impaired – whether it’s by alcohol, marijuana or other drugs – there is no agreed-upon testing standard for marijuana impairment. Unlike a positive test for alcohol in the bloodstream, a positive test for marijuana doesn’t prove impairment because it could be the result of cannabis use weeks before the test.
And the referendum raises doubts about whether employers will continue to be able to reject job applicants who test positive for marijuana use that is no longer against the law, according to the Department of Labor. The department has sought guidance from Colorado about how a recreational market could affect employers that drug-test employees or maintain drug-free workplace policies, and labor officials are still sorting through the Maine initiative and how it interacts with existing state law related to drug testing. Employers, meanwhile, say they are taking a wait-and-see approach as they look for guidance from state officials on how to deal with employees who show up for work stoned....
The ballot initiative does not require employers to allow the use of marijuana in the workplace or prohibit them from disciplining employees who are under the influence, said Alysia Melnick, policy director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
“Question 1 doesn’t change Maine employers’ rights to keep and maintain a drug-free workplace,” Melnick said. “Maine is and will continue to be an at-will state, meaning employers can terminate employees for just about any reason. If an employer had concerns about an employee’s performance or an employee was impaired on the job, they would continue to be within their rights to terminate that employee.”
Melnick said the initiative says that employers cannot discriminate against employees who use marijuana, but that doesn’t mean they have to hire them if they can’t pass a drug test. “If someone is not performing their job well or seems impaired or is doing anything else that would cause an employer to fire them, they’d still be allowed to let them go,” she said. “What they can’t do is fire someone solely on their use of marijuana outside of the workplace.”
Even if passage of the referendum would not prohibit pre-employment drug screening, employers may find themselves walking a fine line between respecting employees’ rights to do what they want on their own time and a desire to maintain a work environment free of people using marijuana, according to labor experts. That could leave employers in the uncomfortable position of trying to decide between tightening policies on positive test results to keep users out of the workplace or loosening them to avoid losing qualified employees.
That becomes tricky, according to labor officials and employers, because it can be more difficult to assess impairment from marijuana use than from the use of other substances, such as alcohol or opiates. A positive marijuana test indicates only that someone has consumed in recent weeks, not whether he or she is actually impaired in the workplace.
With alcohol, a breath test can be used to determine if someone is above the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content that is considered the threshold for impairment. But there is no agreed-upon blood-content level for tetrahydrocannabinol – or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – that would determine impairment. THC can stay in a person’s system for weeks after consumption, and regular marijuana users could have high THC levels but not be impaired.
Given that state law now prohibits recreational marijuana use, some employers have considered any positive test a reason not to hire a job candidate. But if recreational marijuana use becomes legal, drug screening gets complicated. “Human resources officials are still in two modes: catch-up and reaction,” said Jim Reidy, a New Hampshire attorney who specializes in labor and employment law and is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management. “We’re in an interesting time when there’s a culture clash between individual rights and the rights of an employer to govern its rules of conduct and its expectation with regards to employees. We’re in a culture war between individual rights and the rights of the employers.”...
Maine labor laws allow employers to drug-test employees with approval from the state Department of Labor, but the regulations around testing are complex and exclude most Maine employers from implementing random testing policies. The number of Maine companies that drug-test employees is surprisingly low, even though the numbers have increased over the past decade, Rabinowitz said.
Of the state’s roughly 40,000 employers, about 500 do some form of drug testing, including pre- and post-hiring tests. There are fewer than 200 companies that do random drug tests of employees. That number is especially low because companies with fewer than 50 employees are not allowed to randomly test employees. Some companies – particularly those that employ commercial truck drivers or federal contractors – are required by federal law to drug-test employees.
In 2015, the state recorded the highest percentage of positive drug tests since regulated testing began in 1989. Last year, a total of 26,258 tests were administered, with 5 percent – or 1,308 tests – coming back positive. A total of 1,093 of those tests, or 84.1 percent, were positive for cannabinoids, according to the Department of Labor. While more than 500 companies do some form of drug testing, that doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to determining if an employee is impaired by marijuana while on the job, Rabinowitz said. “If you are smoking marijuana and test positive, but you smoked it recreationally on the weekend, how do I differentiate that from someone who smoked that morning and came to work high? It becomes a critical issue if marijuana is legalized recreationally,” Rabinowitz said. “It becomes a real difficult standard for an employer to enforce.”...
Colorado’s experience with marijuana in the workplace appears to indicate Maine has little reason for concern. After Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 and commercial sales began in 2014, nothing changed in terms of employer rights with drug testing, said Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for the state. Employers can still drug-test employees and put in place drug-free workplace policies.
In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that businesses can fire employees for the use of marijuana, even if it’s while they’re off duty. Freedman said he is not aware of any widespread concerns about drug testing in Colorado. He said about 13 percent of adults use marijuana, which is roughly the same as before legalization, suggesting there is no greater risk of workers being high while on the job. At the same time, however, he also has heard comments from employers that it is now harder to hire people around the age of 25 because they can’t pass a drug test....
Maine labor officials said they have looked to Colorado’s experience and contacted officials there for advice. But, they said, there are important differences between labor and employment laws in the two states and that Maine could run into problems not experienced out West. Colorado doesn’t have the same limitations around drug testing that exist in Maine, for example, and it does not require employers to report to the state if they drug-test employees or job applicants.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
As reported in this AP article, headlined "Alaska's First Pot Shop Opens to a Long Line of Customers," the first retail store opened almost exactly two years after voters in the Last Frontier legalized marijuana for all adults. Here are the details:
Alaska's first marijuana retail outlet opened to a throng of customers Saturday, two years after voters approved allowing people 21 and older to recreationally use pot.
More than 250 people lined up outside Herbal Outfitters in Valdez, store owner Richard Ballow said. Customers came from as far away as Anchorage and Fairbanks, more than 350 miles to the north.
The opening Saturday at "high noon" marks the first time it's legal to buy pot under a voter initiative approved in November 2014. Voter approval made it legal under state law to possess up to an ounce of marijuana outside of a home....
The state's first testing lab, CannTest, opened in Anchorage Monday after clearing regulatory hurdles. It will test cannabis flowers, edibles and concentrates.
Herbal Outfitters' general manager, Derek Morris, said the store will initially carry only dried cannabis flowers. He said manufacturers of edibles and concentrates are still in various stages of the permitting process.
In Fairbanks, two marijuana retail stores are planning to open next week after final inspections are completed, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. A third Fairbanks store plans to open in about one month.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Reports last week revealed that several New Jersey state lawmakers planned to introduce marijuana legalization legislation as soon as anti-legalization Gov. Chris Christie’s current term ends. They even travelled to Colorado to see how legalization has worked out there. But, aside from the support of several sanguine lawmakers, what would it actually take for the Garden State to embrace legalized recreational marijuana? NJ.com’s Susan Livio takes a look:
Introduce a new legalization bill that borrows from Colorado's best ideas and learns from its mistakes.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) said he is redrafting his earlier bill based on what he learned from his two visits this year and his conversations with business leaders and activists. He said he hasn't decided how home-grown cannabis should be regulated, and how the mass-produced crop ought to be sold.
Enlist more public support.
A Rutgers University-Eagleton Institute poll in June 2015 said 58 percent of New Jerseyans favor legalization. That helps, but in order to change the law, community leaders must campaign for it — or at least not work against it. Supporters cite a social justice rationale: black people and Latinos are just as likely as white people to be arrested, but minorities are more likely to get convicted on marijuana offenses. Individual law enforcement officers have expressed both scorn and support for the idea. With Gov. Chris Christie so vehemently opposed, objectors have not needed to make waves. But there is no telling if there will be an organized effort against legalization once its prospects for passage become more real.
Recruit support from the top leaders in the legislature.
Sweeney is all in. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) did not go on the trip, and his previous comments suggest he is willing to learn more but is not ready to endorse legalization.
Elect a new governor.
Christie could not be any clearer than he already has: He will not legalize marijuana. He will not decriminalize marijuana possession. He is even leery of attempts to expand the medical marijuana program, calling it "a front for legalization." He leaves office in January 2018.
Hope the President and U.S. Justice Department do not interfere.
President Barack Obama did not intervene when Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana. It remains a "schedule 1" drug, which means in the eyes of federal law enforcement, marijuana is dangerous, holds no medicinal value and is illegal. There are bills pending in Congress to reschedule marijuana, which would change the entire conversation, but Obama has not signaled this is a priority before he leaves office.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has said she supports states that legalize, and looks favorably upon rescheduling the drug so more research could be done. Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, said he, too, agrees states should decide for themselves whether to legalize weed.
The new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll shows likely voters in California continue to support Proposition 64, the state’s ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use for persons 21-years-old or older. PPIC summarizes its findings this way:
55 percent favor Proposition 64. A majority of likely voters would vote yes on this measure to legalize marijuana use under state law by adults 21 and older and tax sales and cultivation (38% no, 6% undecided). Most Democratic (66%) and independent (56%) likely voters support the proposition, but a majority of Republicans (60%) would vote no. Majorities in all regions would vote yes. Just under half of Latino likely voters (47%) would vote yes, while majorities of other racial/ethnic groups (65%) and whites (55%) would do so. Across age groups, support is highest among those 18 to 34 (78%). About half of likely voters (51%) say the out come of Proposition 64 is very important. Opponents are more likely than proponents to hold this view (60% to 50%). Responses to our tracking question indicate that support for Proposition (55%) is similar to the level of general support for legalizing the use of marijuana (57%).
In September, PPIC found that 60% of likely voters planned to vote ‘yes’ on Prop. 64, compared to just 36% committed to voting ‘no’—a margin of 24%. The most recent numbers show the margin of support for Prop. 64 at a slightly narrower 17%. Still, the poll offers little hope for a dramatic shift away from support for Prop. 64 before Election Day. California love for legalized weed is quite steady. PPIC’s poll in May showed 60% of likely voters supported legalized marijuana in general, compared to 57% now; and, very few people generally supportive of legalization are willing to pass on Prop. 64. As noted above by PPIC, the difference between general support for marijuana legalization and support for Prop. 64 is negligible. Thus, in the final weeks, opponents must find a way to convince Californians generally supportive of legalization that Prop. 64 is an inappropriate way of achieving that end--a task they've struggled with so far.
The poll of 1,704 Californians was conducted from October 14-23 and has a margin of error of ±3.4.
Monday, October 24, 2016
While The New York Times's editorial board maintains its current silence on marijuana policy reform, its reporters continue give its readers necessary information and perspectives on the marijuana reform movement from across the country. In today's Times, Thomas Fuller reports on the legalization debate in California. The article begins:
To the red-and-blue map of American politics, it may be time to add green. The movement to legalize marijuana, the country’s most popular illicit drug, will take a giant leap on Election Day if California and four other states vote to allow recreational cannabis, as polls suggest they may.
The map of where pot is legal could include the entire West Coast of the United States and a string of states reaching from the Pacific Ocean to Colorado, raising a stronger challenge to the federal government’s ban on the drug.
In addition to California, Massachusetts and Maine both have legalization initiatives on the ballot next month that seem likely to pass. Arizona and Nevada are also voting on recreational marijuana, with polls showing Nevada voters evenly split.
The passage of recreational marijuana laws in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington over the last four years partly unlocked the door toward eventual federal legalization. But a yes vote in California, which has an economy the size of a large industrial country’s, could blow the door open, experts say.
“If we’re successful, it’s the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California and a former mayor of San Francisco. “If California moves, it will put more pressure on Mexico and Latin America writ large to reignite a debate on legalization there.”
The market for both recreational and medicinal marijuana is projected to grow to $22 billion in four years from $7 billion this year if California says yes, according to projections by the Arcview Group, a company that links investors with cannabis companies.
“This is the vote heard round the world,” said Arcview’s chief executive, Troy Dayton. “What we’ve seen before has been tiny compared to what we are going to see in California.”
And yet scholars who have studied these legalization measures say that to a large extent they are very much a shot in the dark, a vast public health experiment that could involve states that hold 23 percent of the United States population — and generate a quarter of the country’s economic output — carried out with relatively little scientific research on the risks. In addition, there are 25 states that already permit medical marijuana.
Friday, October 21, 2016
With just over two weeks until Election Day, Arizonans are poised to approve the state's ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use for anyone 21 years old or older. According to the most recent poll by The Arizona Republic et al., 50 percent of registered voters continue to support the legalization measure. The Republic reports:
Despite a barrage of TV ads warning Arizona voters of the potential consequences of legalizing marijuana, about half of those surveyed in a new poll support creation of a system to tax and regulate sales of the drug.
The Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll found 50 percent of the registered voters surveyed favor Proposition 205, which would legalize the drug for adults. Nearly 42 percent oppose it. And another 8 percent were undecided. The statewide telephone poll surveyed 779 registered voters between Oct. 10 and Oct. 15. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.
With early voting underway, public attitudes about the measure remain largely unchanged since the organizations' August poll. This despite millions of dollars in spending by both sides. The August survey found 50 percent of registered voters favored legalization, 40 percent opposed it, and 10 percent were undecided...
Public opinion pollster Mike O'Neil, who reviewed the poll, said the survey offers "substantial evidence" Prop 205 will pass.
"It seems that they've dug in on this one," O'Neil said of voters. "People have had time to think about it, they've had time to digest it, they've gotten the (campaign) messages they're going to get and the campaigns have made their best shots with advertising messages.
"This suggests to me a strong probability that people have tended to make up their minds on this," he added. "For the 8 percent who say they don’t know — a lot of those won’t vote and a lot of them that do may pass on this question."
The question in the title of this post comes from this local article reporting that state lawmakers in New Jersey plan to push to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2018. Current Gov. Chris Chris Christie has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, but term limits prevent him from retaining the office. Preparing for a more marijuana-friendly environment in Trenton after Christie's gone, several state lawmakers to a trip to Colorado to see how legalization has been working out; and, according to the article, they were impressed:
Legalized marijuana could be "a game-changer" for New Jersey's economy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Thursday, declaring his intent to help change the law as soon as the next governor takes office in 2018.
Fresh off their trip to Colorado to see how the legal marijuana industry works, Sweeney and a group of state lawmakers told reporters Thursday they were impressed with how regulated, safe and profitable this new cash crop has been for the Rocky Mountain state.
The law won't change while Gov. Chris Christie remains in office. The Republican governor has vowed to veto a legalization bill, and has said he suspects that medical marijuana, legal since the day before he took office in 2010, is a back-door path to recreational pot. Christie's term expires in January 2018.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who led the delegation to Denver and Boulder from Saturday to Wednesday, said recreational marijuana has created nearly 29,000 jobs, revitalized the economy of some struggling blue-collar towns and reduced the number of drug possession arrests by about 80 percent.
Colorado state officials have reported that $135 million in tax revenue was generated by the medical and recreational marijuana programs combined in 2015...
"And, the sky hasn't fallen," added Scutari, the sponsor of a bill legalizing cannabis sales and possession. "These are neighborhoods you would be proud to say you represented or lived in."
Sweeney, (D-Gloucester) may have been even more enthused about the trip, which included meetings with public health officials and lawmakers business owners, and visits to dispensaries and manufacturers.
"I was on board before we went, but I am absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated. It's safe, it's well managed. Colorado has done an amazing job," Sweeney said.
"This is a game changer for the state," he continued. "I'm committed to it. We are going to have a new governor in January 2018. As soon as the governor gets situated we are all here and we intend to move quickly on it."
Phil Murphy, the only Democrat who has announced he is running for governor next year, has publicly said he support marijuana legalization.
Scutari said when he introduces the marijuana legalization bill, he will look to merge the regulation of the recreation and existing medicinal program, which serves about 9,500 people, according to the state Health Department.
He would eliminate the sales tax on medicinal sales, noting that no other medicine is taxed. Scutari predicted once recreational marijuana is available, the exorbitant cost of an ounce of cannabis – about $500 – would drop. An ounce in Denver cost about $250, the lawmakers said.
Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada have legalization initiatives on the ballot this November, and polls show each of those initiatives is likely to pass. If that happens, more than a quarter of the country will live where it is legal to use marijuana recreationally, which experts expect will increase the pressure on the federal government to end marijuana prohibition. Still, after California, New Jersey would be the second most populous state to legalize recreational marijuana use, which would be a nice feather in the cap for legalization advocates at a time when interest in marijuana policy and politics is peaking nationally.
On November 8, five states will consider legalizing recreational marijuana use--Arizona, California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. While polls show majorities favor legalization in each state, the opposition has perhaps had the most success in a surprising place--Massachusetts. Joel Warner examines the battle over legalization there in this lengthy piece in The Boston Globe, writing in part:
Massachusetts may have seemed like a legalization shoo-in, but that’s not how things have been working out. After several early 2016 polls showed the pro side with a considerable lead, polls in May and July suggested a majority of voters opposed legalization and, until recently, online betting markets gave Question 4 less chance of winning than nearly all marijuana measures being tracked nationwide. While surveys over the past two months have given Question 4 a better shot at victory, don’t count out the opposition just yet. Massachusetts-born casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a staunch marijuana opponent, recently donated $1 million to fight passage of Question 4...
Around the United States, dozens of efforts to pass pro-marijuana initiatives have faced opposition from elected officials. But only in Massachusetts has a group of a state’s top brass joined together, across party lines, to formally oppose a legalization campaign.
The broadside began in March, when Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Attorney General Maura Healey co-authored a joint Boston Globe op-ed opposing legalization. A month later, Baker and Walsh launched their anti-Question 4 Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts. Eventually, Healey and more than 120 elected officials and 15 statewide organizations joined with the group.
The legalization campaign, which had until then enjoyed a year of favorable polling, took a big hit almost immediately. In April, one poll had voters supporting legalization by a 57 to 35 percent margin. But a month later, a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll reported respondents opposing it 46 to 43 percent. Two months later, the opposition’s lead grew even wider: 51 to 41 percent.
Question 4’s sizable and unprecedented opposition could be in part happenstance, says Kris Krane, president of the Boston cannabis consulting and operations firm 4Front Ventures. “You have a governor who has very strong ties to the treatment community from his ties to health care,” he says. “And you have the mayor of Boston who is a recovering alcoholic and very anti-drug.” (4Front Ventures donates office space to the Yes on 4 campaign and has given it more than $35,000.)
Then there’s the state’s opioid crisis, which claimed more than 1,500 lives in 2015. Baker pledged to make combating addiction a top priority, working closely with Walsh and Healey last year to craft an opioid-control law — with a coalition in place to stop one kind of drug, the three then also opposed the legalization of another. “As we are addressing the opiate crisis, now is not the time to introduce an entirely new drug market,” says Corey Welford, spokesman for the campaign...
The Yes on 4 campaign argues that marijuana reform could actually help address the opioid epidemic. They point to studies that suggest that physicians prescribe fewer pain pills in states with legalized medical marijuana and that opioid overdose deaths are 25 percent lower in those locales. But when the state’s top officials and health experts link marijuana and opiate deaths, folks are bound to listen.
The legalization movement’s first response to its formidable opposition didn’t help. In Colorado, marijuana advocates made hay from the fact that Governor John Hickenlooper had once cofounded a brewery. The day after Walsh and Baker launched their campaign, the MPP-backed Yes on 4 team tried a similar approach, unveiling a sign depicting the two officials — who had supported additional Boston liquor licenses and longer bar operating hours — saying, “Our health policy: Drink more alcohol!” In the face of widespread criticism, particularly in light of Walsh’s status as a recovering alcoholic, Luzier and Borghesani quickly apologized and scrapped the sign.
It was a hint that the MPP’s top-down approach to legalization campaigns might not work amid the deeply personal politics of Massachusetts...
Along the way, Massachusetts legalizers might have lost their ability to fully leverage one of their big arguments: that cannabis should be treated like booze. Originally, their initiative was titled the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, as similar MPP-backed efforts are called in Maine, Nevada, and Arizona. But by August, the Massachusetts campaign was known simply as Yes on 4.
Daunting adversaries aren’t the legalization campaign’s only problem. There’s also the lack of unified support from those who are supposedly on its side...
Even medical-marijuana advocates are struggling with Question 4. The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which supports the 36,000-plus medical-marijuana patients statewide, is remaining neutral. That’s partly because the organization doesn’t want to jeopardize its relationships with public health officials, says the Alliance’s executive director Nichole Snow. But it’s also because in other states recreational marijuana has had a way of eclipsing patient needs. “The marijuana industry has great potential for crowding out advocacy groups,” Snow says. “Business interests are going to outnumber the patients. I have already seen it happen.”
Earlier this year, Washington state shut down nearly all its roughly 1,500 medical dispensaries, forcing most medical marijuana patients to buy their cannabis, at a slightly discounted price, from recreational shops. Even if Massachusetts didn’t go the same route after legalization, market forces could have the same effect. Legalization “slows the growth of medical markets,” a recent analysis by a cannabis investor network concluded. But though that’s bad for medical marijuana investors, it can be good for consumers, who benefit from falling prices and broader selection amid the competition.
Despite these obstacles to legalization, the likelihood that Bay Staters will be free to legally light up in the near future is good. Recent polls show a majority of likely voters support legalization in the state; according to one poll, support for legalization has grown from 50 percent in September to 55 percent this month, increasing the polling advantage for the question's supporters from 5 to 15 percent.