Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, June 27, 2016

DC Department of Health issues big new report: "MARIJUANA in the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA"

Cl14w03WYAAlJOCThe District of Columbia is a unique locale with unique laws and practices in many arenas. But, as highilighted by a big new report issued by the DC's Deprtment of Health, the District's relationship with marijuana law, policy and reform has much in common with a number of other jurisdictions.  This big new report, available here, is titled "Marijuana in the District of Columbia," and here is the report's executive summary:

In recent years, marijuana related policies have gone through many transformations throughout the United States, with the District of Columbia being no exception.  This report provides insight through current research and data that outlines the disadvantage, benefits and societal ramifications that accompany decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia.  Factors that have been analyzed include short-term and long-term health consequences, public safety issues like driving while under the influence of the substance, marijuana’s co-use relationship with other drugs, and effects on fetal, infant, and adolescent development.

Highlights

• 53.8% of adults in the District have ever tried marijuana and 17.8% currently use it.

• Marijuana was the second most commonly detected drug in traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities, District of Columbia in 2012.

• Medical marijuana has demonstrated promising results for various ailments, including neuropathic pain, nausea due to chemotherapy, and muscle spasms.

• Short term marijuana-related effects can include cyclic vomiting, disorientation, impaired body movement, increased heart rate, and difficulty thinking or problem-solving.

• There is some evidence that marijuana use may increase cancer risk.

• Among individuals at risk for mental illness, marijuana use may worsen symptoms.

• 8.9% of marijuana users will transition from casual use to dependence.

• Cigarette use and binge drinking are significantly higher among marijuana users than nonusers.

• Marijuana use among expecting mothers has demonstrated various adverse effects, including low birth weight and pre-term delivery.

• Marijuana use has been associated with a decline in IQ when regularly used among individuals under the age of 18.

• Throughout the U.S., marijuana possession arrests tend to occur significantly more among African Americans than any other race/ ethnicity despite rates of use are fairly similar across all categories.

June 27, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Effective coverage of impact of marijuana reform on migration of poor and homeless to Colorado

Joel Warner has penned these two interesting and important new lengthy pieces about homelessness in Colorado and its intersection with marijuana reform:

Marijuana Legalization In Colorado: How Recreational Weed Is Attracting People, But Spiking The State’s Homeless Rate

Marijuana Legalization: Pot Brings Poor People To Colorado, But What’s Being Done To Help Them?

Here are brief excerpts from both articles (which ought to be read in full):

While much has been made of the tourists, entrepreneurs and investors lured to Colorado’s blossoming marijuana industry, very little attention has been paid to another population drawn to the state’s cannabis experiment: marijuana migrants moving to the state who wind up on the streets. Interviews with people at homeless shelters in Denver and other Colorado cities like Pueblo suggest that since Colorado launched its legalized cannabis system in 2014, the percentage of newcomers to the facilities who are there in part because of the lure of marijuana has swollen to 20 to 30 percent.

All told, several hundred marijuana migrants struggling with poverty appear to be arriving in Colorado each month. Some of them, like Butts, come to use cannabis recreationally or medically without the fear of arrest. Others are hoping to get jobs in the new industry. But many arrive to find homeless services stretched to the breaking point, local housing costs increasingly prohibitive and cannabis use laws that penalize those without private residences....

Homelessness experts point out that there’s no proof that marijuana leads to homelessness, or that cannabis is the main culprit behind the growing numbers. Study after study has concluded that the major factors leading to homelessness are a lack of affordable housing, inability to find work and family crises. “There is very little safety when you are homeless,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter in Aurora, near Denver. “How many people want to trade their safety for access to something like marijuana or any other substance?”

But there is evidence that people who were already struggling to get by in other states are relocating to Colorado in part because of marijuana. So far, however, research on the phenomenon has been limited. A survey of Denver shelter workers by Metropolitan State University in the fall of 2014 found that eight of the 11 shelters said they were seeing client increases due in part to marijuana, said lead researcher Rebecca Trammell, but the study did not examine what, exactly those increases looked like. Plus some shelters actively avoid asking about marijuana use....

Marty Otañez, a University of Colorado Denver anthropology professor who’s been studying the state’s marijuana industry, said he’s met multiple cannabis workers who are on their way to becoming homeless. It’s left him convinced that it’s time for people in charge of the industry to address the problem. “The flow of ‘trimmigrants’ and other cannabis workers into Colorado and the added pressure on homeless shelters and social services for unemployed or poorly paid cannabis workers is a symptom of the broader problem of cannabis capitalism gone awry,” said Otañez. “Nominal efforts to fund corporate social responsibility schemes demonstrate the lack of seriousness on the part of cannabis business people to address in any genuine way the social ills associated with green gold.”

With nearly a billion dollars in revenue and more than $135 million in statewide taxes and fees generated by Colorado marijuana sales last year, some shelter managers would like to see a portion of the proceeds devoted to homeless services. “If some of those dollars can go to serving those folks, it could really help people,” said Tom Luehrs, executive director of Denver’s St. Francis Center day shelter. “We are not saying we want to become rich; we just want to help these people because Colorado is doing something good and it’s bringing people here.”

So far, none of Colorado’s marijuana tax revenues have gone to homeless programs. That will soon change. In Aurora, the city council recently voted to earmark $1.5 million of marijuana tax proceeds for homeless services annually for the next three years. According to Nancy Sheffield, project manager for Aurora’s neighborhood services department, the decision wasn’t based on concerns that marijuana was increasing local homeless numbers; it’s simply a matter of allocating resources to high-priority issues.

Whatever the reason, homeless advocates celebrated the move. “It’s a brilliant move by Aurora,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the city's Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter. “It’s not every day that a municipality gets a new funding stream. To reinvest that to meet the needs of struggling families is a good moral imperative stand.”

June 22, 2016 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Colorado's Teen Marijuana Usage Dips after Legalization"

Logo-combined-Rev-05-06-15The title of this post is the headline of this new press report on a new Colorado government report about marijuana usage in the Centennial State.  Here are the details:

Marijuana consumption by Colorado high school students has dipped slightly since the state first permitted recreational cannabis use by adults, a new survey showed on Monday, contrary to concerns that legalization would increase pot use by teens.

The biannual poll by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also showed the percentage of high school students indulging in marijuana in Colorado was smaller than the national average among teens. According to the department, 21.2 percent of Colorado high school students surveyed in 2015 had used marijuana during the preceding 30 days, down from 22 percent in 2011, the year before voters statewide approved recreational cannabis use by adults 21 and older.  The first state-licensed retail outlets for legalized pot actually opened in 2014.

Nationwide, the rate of pot use by teens is slightly higher at 21.7 percent, the study found.  “The survey shows marijuana use has not increased since legalization, with four of five high school students continuing to say they don't use marijuana, even occasionally,” the department said in a statement.

The department conducts the voluntary survey every two years in conjunction with the University of Colorado and a citizens advisory committee.  About 17,000 students responded to the poll....

A pro-legalization advocacy group said the findings show fears of widespread pot use by minors in states with legalized cannabis are unfounded.  "These statistics clearly debunk the theory that making marijuana legal for adults will result in more teen use,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But Diane Carlson, of SMART Colorado, an organization that pushes for tighter regulations to keep cannabis away from children, said data from a 2015 survey by the federal Department of Health and Human Services showed that Colorado ranks first in the nation for marijuana use by youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

Carlson said it was “deeply concerning” that the Colorado survey showed that just 48 percent of the students polled viewed regular marijuana use as a risky behavior.  "Youth marijuana use can have lifelong implications. The risks, which include psychosis, suicide, drug addiction and lower IQs, have been reported based on research on much lower THC potencies than are typically sold on Colorado's commercial market,” she said.

The survey from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and related materials can be accessed at this link, and this news release from the Department is sub-titled "Youth marijuana use unchanged, alcohol, tobacco use down in Colorado." I found especially interesteing this infographic headed "Marijuana Use Among Youth in Colorado."

June 21, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Big-stakes litigation over Michigan legalization initiative gets underway

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d1f1f27a970c-320wiI noted in this prior post a couple of weeks ago the legal battle shaping up over whether the ballot initiative effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan would actually get to the voters.  This new local article, headlined "Marijuana group sues Michigan for ballot access," reports that this legal battle is now officially before a court.  Here are the details:

A Michigan group seeking to put a marijuana legalization question on the November ballot is taking its fight to court. MI Legalize on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the state in the Michigan Court of Claims, challenging a law and policy that effectively invalidated its petition signatures collected outside of a customary 180-day window.

Attorneys Jeff Hank, Thomas Lavigne and Matthew Abel, members of the MI Legalize board, argue the law and policy are inconsistent with the Michigan Constitution, which allows for initiated petitions but does not specify a time limit for signature collection. The six-count complaint also contends rejecting older signatures denies voters their free speech and political expression rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“We’re just asking for our petitions to be treated like all the others so that anyone who signed as a registered voter has their voice heard,” Hank told The Detroit News. “The state doesn’t really have an argument for why they wouldn’t count someone’s signature if it’s legitimate.”

The suit has broad implications for MI Legalize and other ballot proposal committees in Michigan, where successful “citizen-initiated” petition drives typically rely on the financial and organizational backing of interest groups. “It’s going to be a historic Michigan elections law case that effects not just us but everybody else,” Hank said. “If we’re successful in this, other campaigns will have a longer time to petition. This isn’t just a marijuana issue anymore, it’s a voting rights and ballot access issue.”

MI Legalize, an activist-led group that used a combination of volunteer and paid petition circulators, submitted an estimated 354,000 signatures to the state on June 1, topping the 252,523 needed to qualify for the ballot. But 146,413 of the signatures were collected within 180 days of the filing, according to an initial Bureau of Elections staff review, prompting the Board of State Canvassers to vote against certifying the proposal for the November ballot.

MI Legalize is asking for expedited review by the Court of Claims, including a restraining order against the 180-day collection law and an order for the Bureau of Elections to move forward with a full canvass of the group’s submitted petitions....

Gov. Rick Snyder last week signed a new law strengthening the 180-day window requirement for petition drives to initiate legislation or amend the state constitution. The law had allowed petitioners to “rebut” the presumption that older signatures were “stale and void,” but the process for proving their validity was laborious and had never been successfully completed. The 1986 Board of State Canvassers policy required petitioners to secure affidavits from local elections clerks across the state confirming that signers were still registered to vote in their respective counties.

MI Legalize had asked the state to update by the policy by allowing registration verification through the Qualified Voter File database, but the Board of State Canvassers did not approve a Bureau of Elections recommendation. The Michigan Supreme Court in 1986 upheld the 180-day signature window for petitions to amend the state constitution, but the MI Legalize complaint focuses on petition drives for initiated legislation. The lawsuit filed Thursday challenges the old law as well as the new version signed this month by Snyder that eliminated the signature rehabilitation option, requesting a declaration that both are unconstitutional.

MI Legalize is also seeking monetary damages of up to $1.1 million plus other costs and punitive relief if its signatures are not fully canvassed. The group had reported raising $849,000 through April 20.

June 17, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Interesting legal battle already emerging in Michigan about whether legalization initiative will get to voters in November 2016

Download (17)As reported in this local article, headlined "Petitions to legalize marijuana to face likely fight," the submission of hundreds of thousands of signatures in Michigan is likely to kick off even more uncertainty about whether voters in the state will get a chance this fall to vote on full legalization of marijuana. Here are just some of the intricacies of what should be an interesting story to follow:

Leaders of a statewide group who want recreational marijuana legalized in Michigan turned in 354,000 signatures Wednesday on petitions aimed at putting a question before voters on November ballots.  As with nearly every step in the controversial, year-long effort of fund-raising and petition passing, the next stage in the battle to be on the ballot is fraught with unknowns.  There likely will be lawsuits, administrative roadblocks in Lansing and even lawmakers' challenges that could derail the effort.

The key issue? Although a state formula required the group to gather 252,523 signatures to qualify for ballots and the petitioners turned in far more, a majority of signatures likely will be deemed invalid. That's because state law says that any signature gathered more than 180 days before being filed with the state is presumed to be “stale and void,” unless the petitioner can prove otherwise. Leaders of the drive said they’ve offered ample proof and they’re prepared to make it stick — in court, if necessary.

Opposing the ballot proposal and the legalization of marijuana in Michigan have been virtually all law enforcement officials and police groups, as well as many educators and youth drug-abuse prevention groups such as the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, which used a federal grant to launch Mobilizing Michigan — a kit of education materials to tell young people about the dangers of marijuana.  The kit has been sent to scores of high schools across Michigan, according to the group’s website....

But the prospect of a lawsuits or other roadblocks wasn't dimming the hopes of Debra Young of Oak Park, who was one of what she said “had to be thousands” of volunteers working in every county of Michigan on behalf of having Michigan join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing marijuana.  “I’ve been gathering signatures since day one. I probably got 3,000 myself, personally,” said Young, a longtime user of medical marijuana to treat her glaucoma. She’s a board member of the campaign, called the Committee for MILegalize.

“Finally, we can de-stress,” she said Thursday. “We had fund-raisers.  We had outreach. We were at every major event — ball games, concerts at DTE Energy (Music Theatre), festivals. I’ve been working on this literally every minute possible for a year,” Young said.

Because the 180-day limit for gathering signatures is a vague and untested area in state law, seen by many as unenforceable, a majority of state legislators passed a bill last month making it explicit law. But the bill wasn't presented to Gov. Rick Snyder until Wednesday — the very day that MiLegalize petitions were turned in, according to the Cannabis Law Blog of the Dykema Gossett law firm in Detroit.

Snyder had yet to sign the bill, but even if he does, “We don’t see how it would apply retroactively to us,” said Jeff Hank, a Lansing lawyer who chaired the MILegalize campaign.  He readily admitted that MILegalize has circulated petitions “for about 11 months,” about five months longer than the 180-day window cited in state law, he said. Still, the same law allows a committee to prove that a stale signature is valid — that is, it still refers to a registered voter at the address listed at the moment the signature is submitted to state officials.

“We used the state’s own records to validate most of our signatures. We’re confident that we have the 253,000 or so that we need,” Hank said. Moreover, the dispute is about more than marijuana, Hank said.  "It’s about the average citizen's ability to directly participate in our form of government,” he said.  Gathering signatures to put a question on election ballots “was meant to be used by the citizens when the system isn’t responding to them, and we all know that state government has absolutely not been responsive to Michigan voters on some key issues,” he said....

A spokesman for the state Bureau of Elections confirmed Thursday that MILegalize submitted “an estimated 354,000 signatures” on Wednesday.  Now comes a waiting game for both those who favor and those who oppose legalizing cannabis in Michigan.  “The review and verification process will take at least two months before a report is made to the Board of State Canvassers," Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.  Sometime after that, with no scheduled date, "the board will vote on whether enough valid signatures were filed," Woodhams said Thursday.

Although leaders of the petition campaign said that the two-month wait seems excessive, that much time is needed for state officials to verify the signatures, Woodhams said. The two months "also includes a time period for challenges to be filed against the signatures by members of the public,” he said. 

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Is The Cannabis Movement Overextended?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting new International Business Times article discussing the state and possible fate of the significant number of marijuana reform initiatives to be appearing on state ballots this fall.  Here is how it gets started and additional excerpts from the middle and end of the lengthy piece:

In early May, the national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project sent out a panicked email titled “Alone, beaten down and incredulous in Boston.” MPP had been working to land a marijuana legalization measure on Massachusetts’ ballot this November, but a recent fundraising event in Boston had drawn just a single attendee. “What’s worrisome isn’t this one bad event, but that it mirrors the contributions and involvement across Massachusetts since the initiative launch,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia wrote in the message. “Simply put, the campaign is broke,” he noted. The organization might not have the money to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in one of the most liberal states in the U.S.

A lack of fundraising dollars in Massachusetts isn’t the only reason marijuana advocates are beginning to feel nervous. 2016 is a pivotal year for the cannabis movement, with an unprecedented 10 states potentially voting on recreational or medical marijuana reforms in November. Planned are medical marijuana initiatives in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Montana, as well as recreational cannabis measures in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and California, the last of which would launch a legal cannabis industry in what is the world’s eighth-largest economy. But, according to campaign finance records, the 10 campaigns altogether to date have raised less than $11 million, just slightly more than marijuana advocates amassed in 2014 midterm elections to pass legalization measures in two states, Alaska and Oregon.

While it’s still relatively early in the 2016 campaign calendar, a lot more cash will be needed before November. Representatives of the national advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) estimated at a recent webinar that it would likely cost between $40 million and $50 million to win in all 10 states. “There is a little bit of concern among people I have talked to that the movement might be trying to do too much too soon,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Majority, who recently wrote about the issue for Marijuana.com. “There are only so many dollars that can be raised to purchase advertising time and put together get-out-the-vote operations.” It doesn’t help that so far the growing marijuana industry has been reluctant to shoulder much of these campaigns’ costs or that anti-marijuana efforts are gaining traction. This confluence of factors has led some observers to posit that 2016 may not be the watershed year for cannabis legalization that many have predicted. Instead, it could be the year the ascendant cannabis crusade finally faces defeat.

“The marijuana movement is stretched so thin in 2016,” DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said during a presentation last month at Marijuana Business Daily’s Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida. “I think what could happen in 2016 could be a harsh wake-up call.”...

As in years past, the two largest marijuana advocacy groups, DPA and MPP, are dividing their efforts between different reform campaigns. For example, DPA is playing a large role in the big California legalization effort, while MPP is highly involved in recreational marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada (MPP suspended a medical marijuana effort in Ohio last week after legislators passed a medical cannabis law).

While MPP may be working on more concurrent state campaigns than it ever has before, Mason Tvert, the organization’s communications director, insisted it isn’t stretched too thin. “We only get involved in campaigns when we are confident we will be able to run an effective campaign and win,” he said. Still, he added that weighing in on the financial fitness of various political efforts can be a dicey prospect in the middle of campaign season. “If you say you have no money, people aren’t going to donate because they don’t think you have a chance,” he said. “If you say you have money coming out of your ears, they aren’t going to donate either.”...

Meanwhile, marijuana advocates are facing increasingly well-organized and well-funded opposition. In Massachusetts, the anti-marijuana campaign has garnered the support of Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speaker Rovert DeLeo. In California, opponents of legalization are gathering donations from police associations, prison guard groups and the Teamsters union. In Arizona, a conservative fundraising firm announced an anonymous donor had pledged $500,000 as a matching gift for all donations the anti-legalization campaign received during the month of May. In Florida, real estate mogul Mel Sembler has pledged to raise at least $10 million to fight the state’s medical marijuana initiative, $2.5 million more than he raised to defeat a similar effort in 2014. And Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or Project SAM, the most prominent anti-marijuana group nationwide, just announced it has raised $300,000 and formed new state partnerships to fight the various 2016 marijuana initiatives....

As the marijuana industry has flourished, Project SAM founder Kevin Sabet thinks the cannabis movement has been exposed to new lines of attack, such as that legalization is becoming all about the business bottom lines and not about social justice. “They have written these initiatives as corporate free-for-alls,” said Sabet. “The old-school pot legalizers who are not really in this for the money, a lot of them are pretty stunned and not sure what to do this year.”

But Troy Dayton, CEO of cannabis investment network the ArcView Group, disagrees. He said the marijuana industry isn’t very involved in the reform initiatives — and he thinks that’s a problem. “Our opposition likes to say this is ‘Big Marijuana’ trying to pass laws,” he said. “I wish that was the case. At least so far, that hasn’t really happened.” Dayton is concerned that there’s a false sense of security in the marijuana movement. “The media has done a very good job of suggesting the marijuana industry is making money hand over fist, so a lot of philanthropists who otherwise might be backing these issues are thinking, ‘Hey, there is an industry now, they will take this the rest of the way,’” he said. “But that is not really happening to enough of a degree to fundamentally move the needle.” For example, while ArcView’s members have together invested more than $70 million in various marijuana companies since 2010, the investor network has only contributed roughly a million dollars to various legalization initiatives in that same period.

According to Dayton, marijuana businesses are struggling with various industry headaches — such as sky-high tax rates and a lack of banking services — that make it unlikely they have loads of excess funds they can donate to political campaigns. But at this point, Dayton thinks that is no excuse. He believes marijuana activists and industry stakeholders alike need to realize that 2016 is the make-or-break year for cannabis reform. “I am out there pounding the pulpit, telling people, ‘Come on, folks, whether you are on the business side or the social justice side or both, now is the time. Whatever you would normally give, give three times that,’” he said. “If we win most of these initiatives, it’s really lights out on marijuana prohibition. But if we lose a significant portion of them, that could mean a much longer fight to ultimately end this disastrous policy.”

June 1, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Highlighting the economic potential of marijuana reform in the California desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

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

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

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

"Ohio voters support marijuana legalization, poll finds"

"Stoned Moms"

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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