Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Big new public health analysis of marijuana legalization proposals in California

Download (2)As reported in this local piece out of California, "Researchers warn legal marijuana could be next Big Tobacco," a pair of public health scholars have produced this interesting new report examining marijuana reform proposals in Califronia from a public health persepctive.  Here is the start of the press account of the report and some reaction thereto:

A ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana would likely launch a new profit-driven industry similar to Big Tobacco that could impede public health efforts, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.  The 66-page analysis, released Tuesday, is the first in-depth look at the state’s main effort to legalize recreational marijuana this year.

Researchers said they began with the premise that legalizing marijuana makes sense because its prohibition has put too many people behind bars and cost taxpayers too much money.  But they concluded the two potential initiatives they examined would replace a crime problem with a public health issue.

The authors, Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz, of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy, said the measure most likely to qualify for the ballot establishes a regulatory system similar to the one used for alcohol.  They said it would have been better to pattern the guidelines after the state’s Tobacco Control Program, which they credited with reducing the health effects and costs related to tobacco.

“Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the report states.

In an interview, Glantz said treating marijuana like cigarettes could drive down its popularity.  “The goal (should be) to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” he said.

He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of money to curry favor with lawmakers.  “I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to stop,” he said, adding, “They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”

A spokesman for the legalization campaign noted the report was written by experts on tobacco, not marijuana, and said it makes broad assumptions unsupported by past research into the issue.  The measure is drafted in a way that takes public health into account, Jason Kinney said.  “This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive public health protections and mandate included in our measure – as well as the child safeguards, the small-business and anti-monopoly provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, education and treatment,” Kinney said.

The leading measure seeks to legitimize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over.  One of the proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician, helped write the California Medical Association’s 2011 policy calling for the legalization of marijuana.

The doctors’ lobby formally endorsed the main legalization measure on Monday, characterizing it as a “comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure.”  For years, some doctors have complained they have become gatekeepers for healthy people seeking weed recommendations via a flawed medical marijuana system.

Lyman, a former state public health official, said the notion that marijuana must be regulated exactly like tobacco “represents an awkward minority opinion not widely shared within the public health community.”  Lyman said it is widely accepted in the scientific community that marijuana has medical benefits, something that isn’t true of tobacco.

This notable new report is titled "A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry," and it is available at this link.

February 3, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

You be the state sentencing judge: how much prison time for former state official guilty of (small-time?) marijuana dealing

R_schmidt-262x272The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local story from Michigan, headlined "Ex-state Rep. Roy Schmidt pleads, sold marijuana as 'source of income,' judge says."  Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):

Former state Rep. Roy Schdmidt pleaded no contest Thursday, Jan. 28, to manufacture of marijuana.  Schmidt initially fought charges as a registered medical marijuana caregiver and disputed the amount of marijuana he possessed.

But a police report, read by Grand Rapids District Judge Michael Distel to establish a basis for Schmidt's guilt, said he told police that he sold marijuana to 10 to 15 people who were not his registered medical marijuana patients.   He told police that "he was operating his business as a source of income," Distel said.

Schmidt was charged last year with manufacture or delivery of marijuana after police raided his home on Seventh Street NW and a house he rented from his son on Myrtle Avenue NW.  Police said Schmidt possessed nearly three pounds of marijuana and 71 marijuana plants.  Caregivers are allowed to possess 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana for each of up to five patients. Schmidt has maintained that his drying marijuana was not considered usable.

He faces up to four years in prison when sentenced on March 22 in Kent County Circuit Court....  Under the plea, Schmidt admits no guilt but the plea is treated as such at sentencing.  He was allowed to plead no contest because he could face civil forfeiture proceedings related to his marijuana operation.

Schmidt is free on bond.  Kent County prosecutors will drop a second charge of manufacturing marijuana.

His arrest followed an ill-fated scheme to switch parties while he served in the House of Representatives.  After being elected as a Democrat in 2008, he lost his seat four years later after a controversial switch to the Republican Party.  He had spent 16 years on a Grand Rapids City Commission on the West Side of town.

I am cross-posting this story on my Sentencing Law & Policy blog because this case raises interesting classic "offender-based" sentencing issues: e.g., (1) should Schmidt's history as a relatively prominent politician be viewed as an aggravating sentencing factor (because it makes him more culpable as someone who was involved in making the state laws he broke) or as a possible mitigating sentencing factor (because he would seem like the type of person unlikely to be a serious recidivist); (2) should the prospect of Schmidt losing his home and/or his son's home through civil forfeiture proceedings significntly influence what criminal sentence he receives?    

But, of course, what really captured my attention in this case is the different ways this defendant's offense might be viewed by a sentencing judge.  His lawyers could perhaps claim, given the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan, that Schmidt's crime is essentially a regulatory violation comparable to a liquor store owner who would often sell to underage college students.  But prosecutors likely will assert that Schmidt should be viewed and sentenced like any other greedy drug dealer.

Thoughts, dear readers?

January 30, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Should Bernie Sanders’ Home State Embrace Socialized Cannabis?"

Vermont Seal TokeoftheTown2013-thumb-200x239-thumb-205x244The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this effective new International Business Times article highlighting some interesting aspects of the the on-going debate over marijuana legalization in Vermont.  I recommend the article in full (especially for students in my marijuana reform seminar), and here are a few excerpts:

As one of Vermont’s approximately 2,500 official medical marijuana patients, Robert Gwynn is excited his state lawmakers are considering legalizing cannabis.  Born with neurofibromatosis type 1, a tumor disorder that has left him with debilitating nerve pain, limited appetite and ongoing fatigue, the 31-year-old has been part of the state’s medical marijuana program for the past two years.  Medical marijuana, he says, has helped him halve his 14-pill-a-day pharmaceutical regimen, which had left him so mentally disconnected from reality he was afraid to drive.  But he thinks a recreational market could encourage the sort of competition, proficiency and price constraints lacking in the state’s current system of four nonprofit dispensaries statewide.  Once a month, Gwynn drives to a dispensary in Brandon, a four-hour round-trip drive from where he lives in Brattleboro, since he says the medicine quality and patient care at the dispensary 10 minutes from his house are so poor, he won’t shop there.

If Vermont legalizes marijuana, Gwynn figures it will look similar to programs up and running in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon, where for-profit businesses produce and sell marijuana.  He hasn’t noticed anyone proposing alternatives.  “I haven’t really heard it come up,” he says.  “When people talk about it, I don’t think it is something that comes to mind.”

Gwynn isn’t the only one who assumes legalized marijuana in Vermont, which could occur in coming months, will resemble cannabis markets elsewhere.  But drug policy experts say the state is perfectly positioned to go in a bold new direction, one that challenges widely held assumptions about the country’s mounting marijuana movement. Among those options could be a state-run system similar to how Vermont controls the sale of hard liquor within its borders.  Alternatives like this could limit the public health impacts of a marijuana market while still generating state revenue — that is, if lawmakers are willing to consider them.  And if Vermont isn’t willing to deviate from the path set by legalization efforts that came before it, does that mean the only realistic U.S. cannabis model moving forward is a free-market free-for-all?

With recent encouragement from both a former state attorney general and Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont lawmakers are actively considering becoming the fifth state (not counting Washington, D.C.) to legalize marijuana, building on a medical marijuana law the state passed in 2004 and a dispensary system it launched in 2011.  The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of three weeks of in-depth testimony and statewide public hearings on the issue, with the goal of voting Friday on whether to advance a legalization bill.  “I’m impressed,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who’s based in Vermont.  “I’ve been studying this issue for 20 years, and here you have politicians sitting in rooms, asking the right questions and trying to understand it for the first time in my life.”

If such a bill passes in the near future, Vermont would become the first state in New England, much less the entire Northeast, to legalize marijuana.  While just 626,000 people live in Vermont, the second least populated state in the country, roughly 2.7 million regular marijuana users live within 200 miles of the state, including those in New York City.  That means whatever legalized marijuana system Vermont chooses could have financial and political impacts far beyond its modest borders.

Because Vermont does not have a ballot initiative system like many states, the only way it can legalize marijuana is through the legislative process.  And if it does so this legislative session, it will be the first time marijuana ever has been legalized by lawmakers, not voters.  According to some experts, this means Vermont has the option of considering legalization models not likely to be floated at the polls.  “The initiative process is going to be driven by folks who want something to happen, who want legalization,” says Pat Oglesby, a tax attorney who studies marijuana at the Center for New Revenue in North Carolina.  “The legislative process could result in a more moderate, middle-ground approach.”

It’s why last year a Rand Corp. legalization study commissioned by the state for $20,000 (the rest of the study’s $120,000 price tag was covered by the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures) urged lawmakers to consider “that marijuana policy should not be viewed as a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington.”  Instead, the report’s authors, a who’s who of drug policy authorities nationwide, laid out a series of alternatives, including a nonprofit-only system, a supply chain overseen by a public authority similarly to how the Vermont State Housing Authority manages affordable housing initiatives and a market only open to “benefit corporations,” or b-corporations, that have positive social impact.  But the report focused special attention on one option in particular: a government-run monopoly model where the state controls marijuana production and distribution.

According to experts, a state-run marijuana system could have several benefits.  For starters, government-run cannabis outlets wouldn’t have the same sort of financial incentive to promote excessive marijuana consumption similar to how alcohol companies market to heavy users.  Instead, government marijuana outlets could focus on the sort of social protections that are a top priority for Shumlin.  “You would like a system where nobody has an incentive to encourage overuse of a drug,” says New York University marijuana policy expert Mark Kleiman. “State-monopoly retailing could be a better option if the state officials involved didn’t have any incentive to encourage problematic drug use and even better if they had a responsibility to discourage it.”  Reviews of private versus state-run alcohol systems have found “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption and related harms.”...

But now, as Vermont lawmakers narrow possible legalization, there’s little indication the state will deviate significantly from legalization efforts that came before.  One of two legalization bills being considered by the state judiciary committee (it will likely end up voting on a hybrid bill containing elements of both) would provide licensing preferences to the sort of b-corporations detailed in the Rand report.  But the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. David Zuckerman, says the other alternatives proposed in last year's report are likely political nonstarters.  “I think the extremes on both ends — straight unfettered capitalism and a government-run monopoly — are off the table,” says Zuckerman, adding, he believes the chances of a legalization bill passing this year “are a little better than 50-50.”

Some observers are disappointed. “It’s kind of surprising,” says Dan Rifle, Marijuana Policy Project’s former federal policy director, who left the organization over concerns industry interests were taking over the marijuana movement.  “If there’s any state where this should be happening, it’s Vermont.  They commissioned a report, and no one seems to have read it.”

But others say options like a state-controlled system aren’t being considered because they don’t make sense. Government-run programs such as this are prone to bureaucratic bloat, and, as MPP's Simon points out, anyone who’s seen the billboards just over New Hampshire's state lines advertising the Granite State's tax-free alcohol stores knows government-controlled outlets can still promote heavy use.  Plus, adds Simon, there’s no indication the legalization models already up and running are broken, so why bother fixing them?  “We could spend years discussing hypothetical models, but that would be missing the fact that Vermonters are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the worst possible marijuana model right now,” he says.  “We want to move this from the illicit market, and Colorado and Oregon and Washington have already shown that can be done in a responsible fashion.”...

But likely the biggest reason of all options like a state-run program aren’t getting more attention is that many people worry having state workers sell marijuana would put Vermont on a collision course with the federal government.  “If you are thinking about this from a public-health perspective and are still trying to bring in state revenue, the approach that probably makes the most sense is the government monopoly,” says Beau Kilmer, co-director of Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of the Vermont report.  “However, because of the government prohibition, most states aren’t really talking about this because they don’t want to put their employees at risk of arrest.”...

[B]etween such legal questions and the lack of political will around the issue, it’s easy to understand why a state-run marijuana system and other alternatives aren’t getting more airtime as Vermont moves ever closer to recreational marijuana.  Some experts say that’s too bad, since the state might offer one of the last best chances to take a hard look at what, exactly, legalized marijuana has to look like.  “It could matter enormously if Vermont does something that nobody else does,” says Kleiman.  “But if it doesn’t, and California goes the commercial marijuana route this year, as it probably will, then it might be too late.  When Congress gets around to legalizing cannabis, you won’t be able to consider models that aren’t focused on commercial production because the commercial interests involved will dominate the political process.”

I have suggested before that the big Rand report on Vermont's marijuana reform options (released around this time last year and blogged about here and here) is a must-read for any and all persons seriously considering different possible models for marijuana legalization.  However, I have long thought the report tended to over-emphasize the potential harms of a free-market approach to legalization, and also under-emphasized the potential harms of a government-run system.  In particular, my sense of government-run systems (I am thinking here about schools, prisons and health-care systems) is that they tend to move slowly in response to changing conditions, tend to have relatively high costs for the provision of even limited services, and also tend not to invest effectively in product innovations.  Especially in the marijuana space over the next few years, where legal and market realities keep changing, where elevated costs are likely will keep the black-market running, and where market innovation might be especially important as we move from black-to-grey-to-freer markets, I worry about a government-run system of full legalization potentially being the worst of all possible short-term solutions.

That all said, one key point about this debate in Vermont that is highlighted by this article is the reality that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is impeding the opportunity for state labratories to seriously consider all possible experimental approaches to marijuana reform.  This is one of the many reasons I am hopeful that before too long Congress will have the good sense to recognize that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is already having a significant and likely harmful impact on sensible state development of sound marijuana policies.

January 24, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Significant legislative (and initiative) developments now swirling around marijuana reform in Ohio

Vote_ohio_mmj_ballotI was supportive of the failed (and very far from ideal) marijuana reform initiative campaign in Ohio in 2015 in part because the Ohio General Assembly had never before shown any serious interest in even considering any serious marijuana reform in the Buckeye State.  But, as this local article highlights, the legislative times they are a-changing in 2016 already in Ohio.   And the article, headlined "Strange Bedfellows Are Part Of New Medical Marijuana Task Force," reports that some folks involved in the failed 2015 initiative are being included in the new year developments:

Ohio lawmakers who have been signaling they want to consider medical marijuana legalization have taken an unexpected step.  Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger stood in front of an interesting group of people when he announced there will be a task force to study medical marijuana in Ohio.  “There’s a lot of groups that are going to have interest in this topic and what we have tried to do is put together a group of interested parties that can represent a broad swath of different interest groups throughout the state with different aspects and different varieties with an open mind to hear out this issue and talk about this issue before us in medical marijuana.”

That diverse group on this task force includes representatives from the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.  And there are two somewhat surprising members: Chris Stock and Jimmy Gould, former leaders of ResponsibleOhio, the group that brought forward the pot plan that voters overwhelmingly rejected last fall.  Gould says he's glad to be working with the groups that had fought against Issue 3 last fall.

“Ohio needs medical marijuana, first and foremost and needs it for everything….for chronic pain, for conditions, but it needs to be regulated properly.  It needs to be done the right way.  We went from probably zero to 250 miles an hour in a state that it is a little difficult to go from zero to 100.  I’m prepared to accept 100 right now and that is to pass a legislative action for medical marijuana.”

Gould says he’s agreed to put any effort to legalize marijuana on hold for now.  And he says the Fresh Start plan, the initiative that would allow people with past non-violent marijuana offenses to clear their records, is dead for now. “You can’t expunge without having legalization.  The voters knew that.  They knew exactly what they were doing when they voted the way they voted.  I had to hear them.  We spent $25 million, we got defeated.  And when you lose, you get back up on your feet and you take the best path that is available to you.  When we were approached by several people and I approached several people, you know we want a victory out of this thing and the victory we want is what is good for Ohio and we have always wanted that.”

Just last month, Ian James, the man who headed up the failed ResponsibleOhio campaign, said investors of it wanted to go back to the ballot this fall with another legalization plan.  The ResponsibleOhio campaign had been renamed Free Market Ohio and James said it was full speed ahead to collect petition signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this fall.  But Gould says moving forward with that right now is not the answer. “We didn’t just lose 51 to 49.  We got beat.  And I come from a competitive sports family and world and we got beat. And when you get beat that way, you come back and figure out, ok, what’s the next best way? FreeMarket Ohio was not the answer."

Republican State Representative Kirk Shuring will head up the task force. And he says while it will meet several times between now and the end of March, there is no promise of specific legislation. He says this task force is an opportunity for different groups of people with different ideas on the subject of marijuana to get together to try to find some common ground. “We have a time out and we are going to have a conversation and we are optimistic that it will lead to something we can point to at the end of March.”

Meanwhile, Ohio Senators plan to approach the issue of medical marijuana differently.  Republican Senate Caucus Communications Director John Fortney says Republican Senator David Burke and Democratic Senator Kenny Yuko plan to hold a series of town hall meetings on medical marijuana in public forums throughout the state.  “The people of Ohio are not interested in seeing the pill mill equivalent of medical marijuana on every street corner in the state of Ohio.  That said, we understand that there is some support for what it can do for people who are suffering from chronic illness and I think that’s going to be part of the conversation from these public forums.”

I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.

Notably, though, as this other local article details, the emergence of a medicial marijuana reform task force in Ohio is unlikely to completely quash interest and efforts for initiative-based reforms in the Buckeye state in the months ahead. The article is headlined "Ohio marijuana legalization supporters still push for 2016 ballot issues," and here are excerpts:

ResponsibleOhio won't be back with another marijuana legalization amendment this year, but marijuana advocates said Friday they will push forward with ballot measures for November as well as work with state lawmakers studying medical marijuana legalization.

Legalize Ohio 2016, also known as Ohioans to End Prohibition, plans to continue to try to collect the 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters necessary by July 6 to qualify its issue for the November ballot.  Its proposed constitutional amendment would legalize recreational and medical marijuana, as well as allow farmers to grow hemp.

Legalize Ohio 2016 President Sri Kavuru said his group will encourage its supporters to be involved in discussions at the Statehouse on the medical marijuana issue.... Kavuru said his group will encourage advocates to testify at the task force meetings and in town hall meetings state Senators plan to hold across the state.

Kavuru said he's hopeful the legislature will enact good legislation that establishes an industry and serves many types of patients. "At the end of the day, we do want reform for patients first," Kavuru said. "If they pass the right medical marijuana law, then it's not worth going through a ballot initiative.  If they don't or we hear they're passing something we don't like, we'll continue with the initiative.  The citizens' initiative process is there in case the government doesn't do what you want."

The group has collected about 80,000 signatures, Kavuru said, but many petition books are still in the field. Kavuru said the group, which has relied on volunteers thus far, will have the money to hire paid signature collectors. Legalize Ohio 2016 is the only recreational marijuana measure in motion....

Ohio Rights Group, which had been collecting signatures for a medical-only measure until it backed Issue 3, could still qualify for the November ballot.  ORG President Mary Jane Borden said the group does not have the money to pay signature collectors or run a campaign and instead will focus on educating lawmakers about the benefits of medical cannabis....

A new, medical-only measure was filed Thursday with the Ohio attorney general. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, backed by longtime marijuana advocates Tonya Davis and Carlis McDerment, would allow people with a qualifying condition such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis to purchase and use marijuana.  If the proposed summary is cleared by the attorney general, the group will have to collect 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the measure on the ballot.

Disconcertingly, while the folks involved with Legalize Ohio 2016 pushed for a no vote on full legalization proposed by ResponsibleOhio in 2015 with promises that they would bring much better reform to voters in 2016, it now sounds as though the Legalize Ohio 2016 folks are suggesting they would be content now with just medical marijuana reform. Moreover, with the challenges posed by collecting hundred of thousands of signatures and a new Ohio constitutional restriction on ballot access for initiative, my deep fear that the Legalize Ohio folks would face an uphill battle to give voters another chance to consider full legalization seem to be coming to fruition.

January 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Is opposing maijuana reform more important to conservatives than restricting federal power?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Forbes commentary by Jacob Sullum headlined "Legalization Lawsuit Shows Conservative Constitutionalists Have Marijuana-Related Memory Loss."  Here is how it starts and ends (with links from the original):

Last week, two days before Mexican authorities recaptured Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt pointed to another drug lord, this one hiding in plain sight: John Hickenlooper, a.k.a. the governor of Colorado.  “The State of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects, and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing, and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 States in 2014,” Pruitt writes in a Supreme Court brief joined by Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson.  “If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”

Hickenlooper actually was a drug dealer of sorts before he got into politics, having cofounded Wynkoop Brewing Company, a Denver brewpub, in 1988.  But he ended up running the drug trafficking organization described in Pruitt’s brief by accident.  He was elected governor two years before Colorado voters decided, against his advice, to legalize marijuana.  Pruitt and Peterson are trying to overturn that result, claiming that it hurt Oklahoma and Nebraska by encouraging an influx of Colorado cannabis.  Their argument shows how readily some conservative Republicans let their anti-pot prejudices override their federalist principles....

Last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott showed what a more consistent federalism looks like.  Abbott proposed nine constitutional amendments aimed at restoring the balance of power between the states and the federal government.  Number one on his list was an amendment that would “prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State,” in line with the original understanding of the Commerce Clause.  In a position paper that draws on the work of libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, who represented the plaintiffs in Raich, Abbott argues that the power to regulate interstate commerce is limited to activities that are both interstate and commerce (meaning the trade or exchange of goods).  He criticizes Raich at length, asking, “What constitutional provision conceivably could allow federal agents to raid a home and destroy plants that were planted, grown, and consumed inside the borders of one State and in accordance with that State’s law?”

Although Abbott does not say so explicitly, the implication of his argument is that federal prohibition — not just of marijuana but of cocaine, heroin, LSD, lawn darts, “assault weapons,” or “partial birth” abortion — is unconstitutional insofar as it extends to purely intrastate activity.  In other words, even if Oklahoma and Nebraska were right that Colorado’s regulation of the marijuana industry violates the CSA, it should not matter, because the CSA itself is unconstitutional.  When it comes to the Constitution, not all conservatives suffer from marijuana-related memory loss.

January 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gearing up for historic 2016 in the arena of marijuana law, policy and reform

Images (13)There are many reasons I have been telling colleagues and students that 2016 is likely to be a HUGE year in the marijuana law, policy and reform space, and I am obviously not alone in looking toward this new year as defining a dynamic and likely historic year in this arena.  To that end, here are links to (and brief excerpts from the start and headings of) two notable recent articles sounding these themes:

From Rob Kampia, executive director, Marijuana Policy Project at The Huffington Post, "2016 Will Be the Biggest Year Yet for Marijuana Policy Reform":

I don't often use superlatives, but it's easy to say that 2016 will be the most significant year yet in the battle to repeal marijuana prohibition in the United States. Up until now, the two biggest years were 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older.

2016 will likely comprise a cornucopia of cannabis policy advances, which I'll enumerate in the form of predictions.

Federal Policies ...

State Ballot Initiatives ...

State Legislation ...

On-site Consumption ...

From Sean Williams at The Motley Fool, "Here's Why 2016 Could Be Marijuana's Most Important Year Yet":

Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, many aspects of how marijuana is treated have changed dramatically over the past two decades.

In 1995, there wasn't a single state that allowed marijuana to be prescribed by doctors, support for marijuana's legalization stood at around 25% in Gallup's national poll, politicians avoided the topic like the plague, and the idea of recreational marijuana amounted to nothing more than a joke.

Yet, here we stand 21 years later with 23 states having legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, more than half of all respondents in Gallup's national poll sharing a favorable view of marijuana, politicians freely taking a stance on marijuana, and four states -- Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska -- all legalizing the recreational use of marijuana since 2012.  To opine that marijuana is gaining steam might be an understatement.

For marijuana supporters, access to new treatment pathways and the potential to use the drug recreationally without the fear of federal prosecution are the ultimate goals. For the states, it's all about the money. Tax revenue generated from the retail sale of marijuana can be critical to funding education, law enforcement, and even securing jobs within a state. Colorado's Proposition BB, which passed in a landslide in the November elections, secured $40 million in marijuana retail tax revenue for schools within the state.

But as exciting as marijuana's last two decades have been, the coming year could be its most important yet. The way I see it, there are three events in 2016 that could shape the future of the drug and marijuana businesses.

1.  The 2016 elections ...

2.  A look back at Oregon's first year of sales ...

3.  Can Epidiolex deliver? ...

January 2, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

More reform in Native lands: "Warm Springs tribes approve marijuana sales in historic vote"

Download (5)The title of this post is the headline of this recent article concerning a marijuana vote among a Native American tribal community in Oregon.  Here are the details:

Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs said yes to growing, processing and selling marijuana on the recreational market in a historic vote Thursday that drew record turnout, tribal officials said.

The referendum passed with 86 percent approval, said Don Sampson, CEO of Warm Springs Ventures, the tribes' economic development corporation, the group behind the proposal. Sampson said Friday that the election drew about 1,400 voters who "turned out even in a winter storm." Voter turnout among younger tribal members was especially strong.

Sampson called the vote "democracy in action" and said the tribes' marijuana enterprise will being "much needed jobs and revenue to the Warm Springs people." "Tribal citizens demonstrated the power of their vote," he said.

He said the tribe will develop a "model" of regulated cannabis for other tribes to follow nationwide.

Warm Springs is the latest Native American tribe to enter the regulated marijuana market. Legal experts estimate that no more than a dozen tribes nationwide have started up marijuana enterprises. The Warm Springs proposal calls for production and processing at a facility on the reservation with marijuana sales at three tribal run stores off the reservation. Marijuana possession, while legal in Oregon, remains illegal on the warm springs reservation.

Thursday's vote is the first step in the process of entering the market. The tribe will meet with officials in Gov. Kate Brown's office to hash out the conditions under which the enterprise will operate. Two tribes in Washington recently brokered historic agreements with the state to sell marijuana on the state's recreational market.

Regular readers know that I have given particular attention to marijuana reform efforts among Native American communities, in large part because I think these communities, if they become active in the legalized marijuana industry, are likely to further advance the need for the federal government to give up on marijuana prohibition sooner rather than later.

December 19, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mixed outcomes for marijuana reform efforts in latest omnibus spending bill from Congress

Though there are a number of federal marijuana reform bills kicking around Congress, it seems very unlikely any of these bills will be moving forward anytime soon. In the meantime, though, marijuana reform issues and proposals keep coming up in debates over government spending bills.  And, in the wee hours last night, Congress passed a big new spending bill that included (and failed to include) some notable marijuana reform provisions.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, a supporter of federal marijuana reforms, issued today this press release summarizing what appears and does not appear in the omnibus bill.  Here is part of the text of this release:

Representative Blumenauer is pleased to see the inclusion of the following provisions in the omnibus package:

  • The policy championed by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering in the ability of states to implement legal medical marijuana laws (Division B, Title V, Section 542)
  • Language that supports industrial hemp research allowed under Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill (Division B, Title V, Section 543 and Division A, Title VII, Section 763)

Representative Blumenauer is disappointed, however, that the bill falls short by not including provisions that:

  • Make it easier for banks to do business with state-legal marijuana businesses
  • Allow Veterans Health Administration providers to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in accordance with state law, a provision he championed in the House

Representative Blumenauer is also disappointed to see the continuation of a rider that interferes with Washington, DC's ability to pass laws dealing with the sale of marijuana for adult use.

December 16, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Interesting recreational marijuana regulatory rules emerging in Alaska's laboratory

Download (1)Because Alaska is a "red state" and distinctive in various other ways, I have long been saying that The Last Frontier should be an especially interesting jurisdiction to watch as it develops rules for its recreational marijuana industry.   This local article reporting on the work of Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board as it is finalizing the state's commercial marijuana regulations confirms my thinking on this front. Here are highlights from the article:

At the end of an all-day meeting Friday to craft Alaska's first regulations over the cannabis industry, the state Marijuana Control Board adopted new rules that could blow the door wide open to Outside investment. Marijuana businesses must be 100 percent Alaskan owned, but the definition of what makes an Alaskan was changed from matching what is needed to receive a Permanent Fund dividend to matching voter registration requirements, which is far easier to achieve. Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milks called it a “sea change” that could “upend the whole program.”

Qualifying for a PFD requires documents such as employment and school records or vehicle registration, and a certain number of days spent physically in the state. By contrast, for Alaska voter registration requirements, all that is needed is a physical address and no other voter registration elsewhere....

Board member Mark Springer said he proposed the amendment because there had been concerns that the requirement would limit opportunity for some Alaskans to be able to invest. “There are people in this state who travel out of state long enough not to get a dividend, but they live here, so I was looking at it as providing the opportunity,” Springer said. He said he’d consider it a “major failure” if non-Alaskans flew up, rented an apartment and claimed residency. He noted that the amendment still had to withstand the Department of Law's review.

Earlier in the day, the board had voted down two separate amendments that would have allowed for 25 percent Outside investment, but the final changes, some said, were actually far more inclusive for Outsiders. “When you have 75 percent ownership then you give immediate value to Alaska residents. Now, right now …. an Alaska resident is not needed to have a place in this market,” marijuana industry attorney Jana Weltzin said. “They don’t need us anymore,” Weltzin added....

With Tuesday’s deadline approaching, the board had met in downtown Anchorage on Friday with hopes of ironing out remaining questions and concerns surrounding Alaska’s marijuana regulations. Aspects small and large – from licensing fees to retail store hours to packaging requirements -- have been considered by the board in crafting its 133 pages of regulations. Forty-two pages of amendments were posted on the board’s website Friday morning.

Another big change Friday was allowing for marijuana retail licenses to have an area for on-site consumption of marijuana. An adult 21-years or older would purchase marijuana and consume it in a designated area on the store’s premises, similar to a bar. Details on the on-site consumption were not figured out Friday; they will be defined at a later date, Alcoholic Beverage Control and Marijuana Control Board director Cynthia Franklin said.

The vote passed 3-2; the audience, a room composed mostly of marijuana industry advocates, clapped after the vote. “Common sense finally prevailed on one issue,” Weltzin said later.

Other changes made Friday:

• The board voted to remove a cap on THC limits for marijuana concentrates. A prior draft version had capped THC at 76 percent, a calculation derived from the limit placed on spirits; board member Bruce Schulte argued that the cap was taking the idea of regulating marijuana like alcohol too literally.

• Marijuana can be packaged in such a way as to allow consumers to see the product before they purchase it in a retail store, the board voted Friday. A previous version of the regulations had specified that marijuana must be packaged in opaque plastic.

• A broker cultivation license was removed from proposed regulations. Under a previous draft version of the regulations, a license would have allowed for brokers to procure marijuana from small growers and then sell the marijuana to retailers. The license was seen as a way to help small black-market growers transition to the legal market, but the board decided that the broker did not fall under the auspices of a cultivation license.

November 22, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 20, 2015

"After federal raids, U.S. tribes cautioned about marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP article providing an effective review of the state of tribal affairs concerning marijuana reform roughly a year since the US Department of Justice issued notable guidance concerning federal law enforcement priorities in this arena.  Here are excerpts (with links from the source):

Tribes across the U.S. are finding marijuana is a is risky business nearly a year after a Justice Department policy indicated they could grow and sell pot under the same guidelines as states.

Federal raids on tribal cannabis operations in California followed by a South Dakota tribe's move this month to burn its crop amid fears it could be next have raised questions over whether there's more to complying with DOJ standards than a department memo suggested last December.

The uncertainty — blamed partly on thin DOJ guidelines, the fact that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal laws, and a complex tangle of state, federal and tribal law enforcement oversight on reservations — has led attorneys to urge tribal leaders to weigh the risks involved before moving forward with legalizing and growing pot.

"Everybody who is smart is pausing to look at the feasibility and risks of growing hemp and marijuana," said Lance Gumbs, a former chairman of the Shinnecock Tribe in New York and regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. "But are we giving up on it? Absolutely not."

At a conference on tribal economic development held in Santa Fe, tribal leaders and attorneys said Wednesday that the raids have shown there may be more red tape for tribes to negotiate when it comes to legalizing cannabis than states have faced.  That's especially the case for tribes that are within states where marijuana is not legal....

"Industrial hemp, medical marijuana and maybe recreational marijuana present a lot of opportunity. But for now, the best advice is to proceed with caution," said Michael Reif, an attorney for the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, where tribal leaders filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday after federal agents recently seized thousands of hemp plants grown for research.  "We're seeing the ramifications of things being unclear in a way states didn't."

The Flandreau Santee Sioux in South Dakota — a state where marijuana isn't legal — was the first to approve recreational pot under tribal law with a vote in June, and was one of the most aggressive about entering the industry, with plans to open the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation north of Sioux Falls.

But after weeks of discussions with authorities who signaled a raid was possible, the tribe announced last week it had burned all of its marijuana plants.  Anthony Reider, the tribe's president, told The Associated Press the main holdup centered on whether the tribe could sell marijuana to non-Indians, along with issues over where the seed used for planting originated.  He suggested that by burning the crops, the tribe could have a clean slate to relaunch a grow operation in consultation with authorities.

In California, the Alturas and Pit River Indian rancherias launched tribally run marijuana operations that were raided by federal authorities, with agents seizing 12,000 marijuana plants in July.  The regional U.S. attorney's office said in a statement that the two neighboring tribes planned to distribute the pot off tribal lands and the large-scale operations may have been financed by a foreign third-party foreign.   It's not clear if the two tribes have plans for a new marijuana venture, and calls from the AP were not immediately returned.

The California and South Dakota tribes are three of just six so far this year that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana on their reservations.  The Squaxin Island Tribe in Washington state is another, and just opened a store last week for retail sales of the drug. But most expect the tribe to face fewer legal challenges because Washington allows for recreational marijuana use and the tribe entered into a compact with the state that sets guidelines for taxing pot sales.

"The tribes are not going to be immune to what the local attitudes toward marijuana are going to be," Trueblood said.  "If there's one 30,000-feet takeaway from this year, it's that you're not going to be successful if you don't work with you local governments or U.S. attorneys."

Prior related posts:

November 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

GOP firebrand Sarah Palin suggests Republicans ought not be fighting against marijuana reform

Faith_PalinThough I somewhat doubt that Sarah Palin is still a significant voice in conservative circles, I do not doubt that it is still somewhat significant that the former GOP Vice-President candidate is saying pretty clearly that politicians ought not be too concerned about bringing an end to blanket marijuana prohibition. This Huffington Post article, headlined "Sarah Palin: Legalizing Weed Is 'No Big Deal'," highlights Palin's latest comments on this topic:

Supporters of marijuana legalization may have an unlikely ally: Sarah Palin. Breaking with many members of her party who oppose legalizing marijuana, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee on Thursday said it is "no big deal" and argued that it should not be a controversial issue.

"I look on the national scene and think, wow, of all things to be fighting over and battling over, especially when it comes to medical marijuana. I think, hmm, this is just not my baby," Palin told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

When Hewitt expressed disbelief that Palin's home state legalized recreational marijuana last year, she said the vote "didn't surprise me."

"We've got that libertarian streak in us," she said, explaining that Alaska, the most conservative state to legalize marijuana so far, already had lax marijuana laws, so it was a less divisive issue than in other states. "I grew up in Alaska when pot was legal anyway. It was absolutely no big deal. I mean you didn't smoke it because your parents would strangle you. And if you were a jock and you were, you know, a Christian going to youth group, you just didn't do it, right?" Palin recalled. "And I still believe that. But when it comes to picking our battles, for many of us in Alaska, legalization of marijuana just was never really a bright blip on the radar screen."

November 20, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Advocates for marijuana reform in Vermont highlight economic development

Vt_magnet_allI have long thought advocates for marijuana reform could and should focus on the economic development benefits that seem to flow from permitting a legal market in cannabis.  I now see from this local article in Vermont, headlined "Marijuana pitched for young VT entrepreneurs," that some folks in the Green Mountain State are making a pitch in this way. Here is how the article gets started:

Entrepreneurs are pitching marijuana as a cash crop that would keep college graduates in Vermont and create thousands of jobs. The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative says in a new report that if Vermont lawmakers bring “order to the chaos” of the underground illegal marijuana market, business opportunities would abound.

“This provides a whole new industry for our young millennials coming out of college and trying to find what to do in Vermont to jump in and become the next Steve Jobs, to become the next Ben and Jerry’s, to become the next Seventh Generation,” Alan Newman, a founder of Seventh Generation and Magic Hat Brewing Company, said Wednesday.

Newman spoke during a news conference in Burlington one day after legalization opponents rallied at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Newman and other members of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative group have been working for months on recommendations for a legal marijuana industry in the state.

The resulting report, titled “What Cannabis Can Do for Vermont,” suggests that any large-scale marijuana-growing operation should be at least 51 percent owned by Vermonters and certified as a benefit corporation, meaning the business would consider social and environmental values in addition to profit. The proposed Vermont marijuana economy also would include home growers with six or fewer plants, and artisanal craft growers with seven to 99 plants.

The idea is to create a market unlike the kind that Ohio voters recently rejected, which would have allowed just 10 commercial growers. “We think we have a chance here to grow an economy based on Vermont values, based on Vermont tradition, and one that embraces the already-existing infrastructure that can really help keep young people here and make Vermont an attractive place to live,” said Bill Lofy, former chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Lofy’s former boss is publicly coy on whether he will push a legalization bill during his final year as governor. Shumlin, a Democrat, favors legalization and last year accepted thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from the groups that are calling for legalization, but he has hesitated to set a date.

The governor promised this week to make up his mind by January. “I gotta be candid with you,” Shumlin said Monday. “I’m focusing on a lot of other things, like the budget, creating jobs. We will get to that, but I haven’t made a decision.”

Creating jobs is among the goals of the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative, which argues that legalization would create as many as 4,000 positions, because the industry would need growers, architects, lawyers, marketing experts, security experts and more. The group used a custom economic model to estimate the total market at about $250 million, assuming 50,000 pounds of marijuana would be consumed annually.

The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative has a lot of reform resources collected at this web page, and its recent report, titled "What Cannabis can do for Vermont: How to grow a thriving, community-based, legal cannabis economy," is available at this link.

November 19, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Effective general overview of the state of US marijuana reforms as of Fall 2015

I am giving a lecture this afternoon to a local bar association about the state of marijana reform in Ohio and throughout the United States as of Fall 2015.  Helpfully, this recent article from BloombergBNA provides a useful national overview with a number of state-level specifics.  The piece is titled "Marijuana in America, 2015: A Survey of Federal And States' Responses to Marijuana Legalization and Taxation," and I recommend it for those looking to get up to speed on a lot of the legal and tax basics ASAP.

November 18, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Jersey legislature to hold (historic?) hearing on full marijuana legalization

Images (5)As reported in this local story, headlined "Legalize recreational marijuana in N.J.? Supporters to pitch for it at hearing," the Garden State is due to have a legislative hearing this afternoon that explores the pssibility of allowing gardens to grow an especially notable weed.  Here are the details:

Eighteen months after proposing a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey [text of bill here], state Sen. Nicholas Scutari will preside over a hearing Monday that allows only supporters to testify. "I am going to start positive, then open up the floor to the people are against it," said Scutari (D-Union). Opponents will get their turn at a future hearing, he said.

With a governor who firmly opposes legalizing recreational marijuana use, there is plenty of time to give everybody who wants to speak out a chance to do so, he said. He admits he thinks opponents offer "shallow arguments" to make their point.

"A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first," said Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the hearing. "The first step was introducing the bill and this is the natural next step — to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had."...

Under the bill, local elected officials could impose an ordinance barring a dispensary or any pot-related business from opening, and dictate how many would be allowed, hours of operation and licensing fees and regulations. Sales tax and application fee revenue would be dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund, drug enforcement and prevention efforts, and women's health programs, which Christie has cut since taking office in 2010....

The invited speakers are:

  • Richard Smith, President, NAACP-NJ
  • Udi Ofer, executive director, ACLU-NJ
  • Lazaro Cardenas, Latino Action Network
  • J.H. Barr, Clark prosecutor and president of the NJ Municipal Prosecutors Association
  • Lt. Nick Bucci, retired, N.J. State Police
  • Annette DePalma, Maplewood prosecutor and incoming president of the Municipal Prosecutors Association;
  • Dr. David Nathan, director of Continuing Medical Education for Princeton HealthCare System and clinical associate professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
  • Rev. James A. Dunkins, Shiloh Baptist Church, Vineland
  • Rev. Craig Hirshberg, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry
  • Evan Nison, director of the New Jersey chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
  • Ken Wolski, executive director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey
  • Bill Caruso, attorney with Archer & Greiner, member of NJ United for Marijuana Reform

As the title of this post hints, I think this hearing itself is historic for being the first significant state legislative hearing enabling a full and robust discussion of the pros and cons of full marijuana legalization. I am hopeful that, among other developments, this hearing will result in considerable discussion (and perhaps detailed written testimony) with detailed data on the impact of marijuana legalization in states like Colorado and Washington.

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

New California legalization effort starts with big mo (money and momentum)

Download (2)As reported in this local article, headlined "Sean Parker initiative ignites California marijuana legalization," there appears now to be a leading proposal for bringing a marijuana legalization initiative to California voters. Here are the details:

Billionaire technology and music industry disruptor Sean Parker upended another sector this afternoon, with the release of a new initiative to legalize marijuana in California in 2016.

Parker’s proposal — called the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act — calls for ending cannabis prohibition in California, and allowing folks to possess up to one ounce of bud and grow up to six plants. Cities would have wide latitude on cannabis commerce, but couldn’t ban small, secure personal indoor gardens.

The proposal upends the 2016 playing field for California reformers. Parker’s wealth is the first substantial amount of funds to be moved into play in the 2016 race. Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project are reportedly backing the Parker proposal. That leaves other camps far out of the running for lack of funds — including the post-Prop 19 coalition ReformCA, as well as group behind the MCLR.

The full measure also received enthusiastic support from respected social-justice and industry organizations. “This initiative provides a model for the country,” stated Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It breaks new ground not just with its pragmatic regulatory provisions but also in directing tax revenue to prevention and treatment for young people, environmental protections and job creation in underserved communities.”

“California voters are ready to end marijuana prohibition in 2016 and replace it with a more sensible system,” stated Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “That is exactly what this initiative will do, and that is why MPP is proud to support it. We look forward to working with the proponents and doing whatever we can to help pass this measure and make history in California next year.”

About a half-dozen groups have filed ballot language, which costs $200 and signifies little. Millions of dollars must be spent to gather several hundred thousand valid signatures by a state deadline, then run a potentially polarizing campaign against a united conservative right, and a fractured, bickering far left. About 53 percent of Californians support legalization in theory. The details could drag those numbers down....

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who chaired a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, supported the measure, which was filed today by official proponents, Dr. Donald O. Lyman, MD, and Michael Sutton — a doctor and an environmentalist: “I am pleased that this thoughtful measure is aligned with the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations, and presents California its best opportunity to improve the status quo by making marijuana difficult for kids to access. It is backed by the broadest coalition of supporters to date and I believe that Californians will rally behind this consensus measure, which also serves to strengthen law enforcement, respect local preferences, protect public health and public safety, and restore the environment.”...

A number of groups have signed onto the initiative with letters of support, including: The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, California Council of Land Trusts, California Native Plant Society, California State Parks Foundation, California Trout, California Urban Stream Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Habitats League, Pacific Forest Trust, Trout Unlimited and Trust for Public Land. 

November 2, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

All marijuana reform eyes on Ohio as state prepares to vote on controversial legalization initiative

As regular readers of this blog know well, and as lots of other folks are surprised to discover, one of the biggest elections concerning marijuana reform is taking place this week in the great state of Ohio.  Here are links to some of the most recent press stories, both local and national, talking about what is afoot in the Buckeye State:

November 2, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Highlighting how Ohio initiative has deeply split traditional marijuana reform groups

Jacob Sullum has this notable new Forbes article about the notable rift created by the unique marijuana reform proposal going to voters in Ohio next week.  The article is headlined "Why Antiprohibitionists Are Ambivalent About Ohio's Marijuana Legalization Initiative," and here is how the piece starts and ends:

Next Tuesday voters in Ohio will decide whether to legalize marijuana. If Issue 3 passes and if another constitutional amendment aimed at overriding it does not, Ohio will be the first state to leap from complete pot prohibition to legalization for both medical and recreational use.  It will also be the most populous state and the first state east of the Great Plains to legalize marijuana.  A legalization victory in Ohio, a bellwether in presidential elections, could have a big impact on politicians’ willingness to deviate from prohibitionist orthodoxy and on voters’ willingness to support next year’s crop of marijuana initiatives in other states.

Despite its potential significance, Issue 3 does not merit a mention in a message about marijuana legalization that I received yesterday from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). In the fundraising letter, DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann recalls last year’s successful initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., and he looks forward to next year’s contests, when “more people than ever before will have the opportunity to vote on marijuana legalization.”  But he says nothing about next week’s election. There is no discussion of Issue 3 on DPA’s website either, although a few posts mention Ohio as one of the states where marijuana might be legalized.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), another leading reform group, has a paragraph about Issue 3 on its website but is not calling attention to the initiative as the vote nears. Nor is its description an endorsement.  “We encourage residents to carefully consider the measure and be sure to vote this November!” it says.

DPA and MPP, which had prominent roles in legalization campaigns last year and will again next year, are not involved in the Ohio initiative, so maybe it’s not surprising that they are not promoting it.  But that lack of involvement reflects strategic and philosophical differences within the drug policy reform movement that have made many opponents of pot prohibition ambivalent about Issue 3.  It’s an ambivalence I share. Although I’d like to see Issue 3 pass, I’m not exactly rooting for it.

Some of the objections to Issue 3 have to do with timing. MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia thinks it’s risky to put a marijuana initiative on the ballot in a year when people are not electing a president, since turnout is lower then, especially among the younger voters who are most likely to favor legalization.  He worries that a defeat in Ohio could be portrayed as a reversal of the legalization movement’s momentum. “That failure will be the only failure in the country,” he says, “and then the media will feed on that: ‘Oh, my God, legalization is backsliding.’…If they lose, which is not guaranteed, it might change the national narrative for one year.”

Although Kampia has a point, my main problem with Issue 3 is the cannabis cultivation cartel it would create: Commercial production would be limited to 10 pre-selected sites owned by the initiative’s financial backers, who are investing in the gains to be made from the economic privileges they are trying to award themselves.  This approach has the advantage of quickly raising a lot of money — money that can be used to pay marijuana mascots and produce ads featuring sympathetic beneficiaries of legalization (such as the mother who moved from Ohio to Colorado so she could treat her daughter’s epilepsy with cannabis oil).  The downside is that the crony capitalism embodied in Issue 3 disgusts a lot of people who otherwise support legalization.

That reaction is not limited to libertarians like me. “Damn,” DPA’s Nadelmann said while discussing the initiative in San Francisco last February.  “This thing sticks in my craw. Ten business interests are going to dominate this thing?”  Despite objections from the Yes on 3 campaign, a.k.a. Responsible Ohio, the ballot description highlights that aspect of the initiative, which unites progressives and libertarians in revulsion almost as much as prohibition itself....

Russ Belville, a longtime marijuana reform activist and talk radio host, faults leading antiprohibitionists for doing little or nothing to help push Issue 3 over the top.  “Why isn’t every drug law reform group making their get-out-the-vote push and shouting it from the rooftops?” he asked in an October 12 Marijuana Politics post.  Belville noted that Issue 3 is in some respects superior to I-502, the 2012 Washington initiative, which got much more enthusiastic support from groups such as DPA, MPP, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  Unlike I-502, for instance, Issue 3 allows home cultivation (although only with a state-issued license), and it does not create an arbitrary definition of drugged driving based on THC blood levels.

NORML, unlike DPA and MPP, has endorsed Issue 3, albeit under the headline “Investor-Driven Legalization: A Bitter Pill to Swallow.”  In that September 14 post, NORML founder Keith Stroup, now the group’s general counsel, noted that the board vote in favor of the initiative was “less than unanimous.”  He explained that “a couple of board members abstained, and one flatly opposed the endorsement, to register their displeasure with the self-enrichment aspects of the Ohio proposal.”  Stroup added that “this specific version of legalization ― in which the investors alone would control and profit from the 10 commercial cultivation and extraction centers (where marijuana-infused products would be produced) permitted under the proposal — is a perversion of the voter initiative process available in 24 states.”

This week Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) joined NORML in supporting Issue 3, without mentioning the perversion that troubles Stroup.  Instead LEAP emphasized the benefits of eliminating arrests for marijuana possession and moving the industry out of the black market.  The statement quoted Howard Rahtz, a retired Cincinnati police captain: “Legalization will take money away from the cartels, provide funding for public safety and health services, and reduce the violence associated with the illegal drug market.”

Belville urges antiprohibitionists to focus on the main issue: the government’s power “to abrogate my rights because the drug I choose to use is contraband.”  The Issue 3 campaign is a battle in a war, he says, and “the way the war is won is by taking from the authorities, state by state, the ability to fuck with adults who use marijuana.”  After that is accomplished, “we fight for cultivation rights,” and “we fight to make the business model more equitable,” but “we’ve got to get it legal first.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Ohioans will indisputably have more freedom if Issue 3 passes than if it doesn’t, and that victory can only accelerate the continuing collapse of marijuana prohibition across the country.  If we must choose between cartels, the one Issue 3 creates is clearly preferable to the ones Capt. Rahtz wants to push out of the marijuana business.

October 29, 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)

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Marijuana Politics and Policy: As Goes Ohio, so Goes the Nation...?"

The title of this post is the title of an exciting event that I have been helping some of my Ohio State University Moritz College of Law have been organizing for early afternoon next Friday, October 30, 2015. Folks can (and should) pre-register for this (free) event at this link, which is also where you can find this summary description:

National leaders in Marijuana Politics and Policy will gather at Moritz to discuss what we have learned from reform movements in states like Colorado, Washington and others, and how these movements relate to the impending Ohio Election. In addition to discussing the impact of marijuana reform on a variety of broader criminal justice and social reform movements, the event will include a discussion of what effects reform in Ohio would have both within the state and nationally.

Participants will include Professor Douglas Berman, John Hudak from the Brookings Institute, Philip Wallach from the Brookings Institute and local researchers and advocates.

October 19, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First poll on Ohio ballot issues suggests marijuana legalization (and litigation) likely

635803254591155258-marijuana3-copyAs reported in this Ohio local news piece, headlined "POLL: How Ohio voters really feel about legalizing marijuana," the first ballot-issue-specific polling of Ohio voters indicates fairly significant support for an issue that would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. Here are the basic details:

Kent State's Survey Research Lab and experts from the Department of Sociology and Department of Political Science in Kent State's College of Arts and Sciences fielded a survey of 500 registered voters in Ohio....

The WKYC/Kent State Poll also asked respondents how they plan to vote after providing them with a bit of information about Issue 2 and Issue 3 using summaries of actual ballot wording from the Ohio Secretary of State website.

54 percent of Ohioans plan to vote yes on Issue 2 (plus or minus 4 percent). 26 percent said they did not know how they would vote....

On Issue 3, 56 percent of Ohioans said they plan to vote yes (plus or minus 4 percent) and only 10 percent said they did not know how they would vote.

That means that, if the election were held today and nearly all registered voters participated, both Issue 2 and Issue 3 would likely pass, leading to a constitutional crisis, since Issue 2 contains a provision that is designed to nullify Issue 3....

Issue 2 would ban amendments that create marijuana monopolies and embed them in Ohio's Constitution. Issue 3 is ResponsibleOhio's plan to legalize recreational and medical marijuana for Ohioans ages 21 and older. It would create 10 growth sites owned by the campaign's investors that would be the exclusive source of commercial marijuana. But if both Issue 2 and 3 pass, there's a good chance the question of which takes precedence could wind up in court....

For Issue 2, partisanship matters relatively little. 57 percent of self-identified Republicans, 53 percent of self-identified Democrats, and 56 percent of self-identified Independents say they will vote yes on Issue 2.

However, for Issue 3, the party divide is wider. 45 percent of self-identified Republicans, 67 percent of self-identified Democrats, and 50 percent of self-identified Independents say they will vote yes on Issue 3.

In the WKYC/Kent State Poll sample of registered voters, about 30 percent are Republicans and 40 percent are Democrats. If turnout is higher among Republicans, it will pull the number of "yes" votes down from the 56 percent that said they would vote "yes" in the WKYC/Kent State Poll.

Age is also only slightly associated with voting on Issue 2. However, age is another important factor in voting on Issue 3. Here the WKYC/Kent State Poll estimates support for Issue 3 goes down about 6 percent for about every 10 years of age. Again, if turnout is low among young people -- and it will be compared to among older registered voters -- it will pull the number of yes votes down from the 56 percent that said they would vote yes in our survey.

In terms of other groups, women, blacks, and Hispanics are less supportive of both Issue 2 and Issue 3 than men and non-Hispanic whites, but the differences are only statistically significant for Issue 2.

October 14, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

If you legalize it, they will come (and buy even more than expected), Oregon edition

DownloadThis local article, headlined "Oregon's first week of recreational pot sales tops $11 million," spotlights the notable reality that individuals given legal permission to purchase marijuana seem eager to do so in large numbers. Here are the details:

After just one week of recreational marijuana sales, Oregon dispensaries have raked in an estimated $11 million. That figure could mean the state's estimate is shockingly low for how much money it'll make when pot taxes kick in this January.

At Nectar on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 33rd Avenue, they're restocking the shelves a lot this week. "We're seeing about 500 people a day," said Nectar owner Jeff Johnson. Dispensary owners and customers are reporting Oregon's first week has gone very well....

The Oregon Retail Cannabis Association told KGW after tallying up sales from its members statewide and factoring in projections, they estimated there were $3.5 million in sales on the first day, October 1.

One week in, Oregon is already far ahead of dollars spent on pot compared to Colorado's first week of legal recreational sales, at $5 million. Washington took a month to sell its first $2 million, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

When Oregon voters approved recreational marijuana, the state set an estimate of $9 million in net tax revenue for the first full year of 2017. But the Oregon Retail Cannabis Association believes it'll bring in three to four times that much.

"It's just person after person after person," said Rachel Clerk, employee at Fresh Buds in Southeast Portland. For her store, these hundreds of new customers came at a crucial time. They were trying to stay afloat with only 15 medical customers a day.

"There for awhile, towards the end we were thinking we might have to close the doors because we weren't getting any kind of steady business," said Clerk. In this past week, they're back in the black, averaging 10 times as much foot traffic.

And dispensaries are seeing the customer base vary as much as the strains they're buying. "Obviously we're seeing a young crowd but we're also seeing people in their 50s and 60s that would never have bought the product if it wasn't legal," said Johnson.

Oregon recreational marijuana sales are all tax-free until January. Once that 25 percent tax gets added on, it'll go to help fund schools, mental health programs, state police and the cities and counties that are allowing recreational sales.

October 11, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)