Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Will Canada's legalization of marijuana impact coming legalization votes in Michigan and North Dakota and elsewhere in US?

319030_87b0d3e2e5596a530b55b4f110aa6dbc440af205.png_facebookThe question in the title of this post is my domestic reaction to the big international marijuana reform news of Canadian marijuana legalization efforts becoming a reality.  This new Politico article, headlined "Members of Congress, businesses push for homegrown weed," reports on some of the US echoes of what has transpired in the country up north this week, and here are excerpts:

Washington just got some major peer pressure to embrace the bong.  Its vast northern neighbor Canada legalizes the retail sale of marijuana nationwide Wednesday.  The Canadian cannabis sector is already estimated to be worth $31 billion and upstart marijuana companies have soared on the New York Stock Exchange.

But America’s patchwork of state laws — and federal ban on marijuana — put American pot companies at a high disadvantage. It's unclear whether the push to liberalize U.S. marijuana laws will get very far: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared war on marijuana, though his efforts have been dampened by a not-so-hostile White House.  Yet Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said last week that the White House plans to address cannabis reform following the midterms.

Rohrabacher's efforts are bolstered by a chorus of congressional and business voices calling on the Trump administration to respond with an “America First” policy on pot. A publicly traded U.S. cannabis company bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday with a message to President Donald Trump: Canada will take over the U.S. marijuana market if we don't legalize soon....

A bipartisan group of American lawmakers fumed last month when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency gave the green light to importing Canadian marijuana for research purposes. The 15 lawmakers, many of them representing states that have legalized recreational cannabis, protested to the DEA and Sessions that dozens of American companies already requested permission to produce marijuana for study.  They wrote that allowing the University of California, San Diego, one of the applicants, to import marijuana capsules from Canada-based Tilray, Inc., was “adding insult to injury.”

Noting that Trump had issued a "Buy American" executive order, the lawmakers urged the administration to ensure that the domestic need for cannabis research be met by American institutions. The concerns are not just limited to medicinal marijuana. Recreational use is gaining a foothold in U.S. states.  Voters in North Dakota and Michigan will vote on ballot initiatives on legalization on Election Day.

Already, nine states and the District of Columbia, have legalized pot, and 31 others allow medical marijuana. “I think it frankly cries out for a federal solution,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), now challenging Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for her Senate seat, told POLITICO.  “And this is tough stuff — this is hard stuff to talk about — because I’m a law-and-order congressman, but it’s impossible to ignore what’s going on. … If the federal government itself doesn’t do something to sort of at least provide the banking system that allows for greater oversight and regulation, I think we’re just setting ourselves up for a bit of a rogue industry rather than a highly regulated one.”

Though this piece is focused on federal US policies, I am especially interested in the reality that the two states voting on full legalization this election cycle both border Canada. I have been thinking that voters in the (bluish) state of Michigan were on a path toward legalization even before these developments in Canada, but I have also been guessing that voters in the (deep red) state of North Dakota were not going to be ready to vote for full legalization. But maybe developments up north could change these dynamics among the voters

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Could Weed Be Federally Legal in 2019?"

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Rolling Stone article that effectively summarizes the lengthy memo circulated yesterday by Representative Earl Blumenauer written to House Democratic Leadership outlining his plan to legalize cannabis in the next Congress.  Here are excerpts from the article:

In honor of Canada’s first day with legal adult-use marijuana, an optimistic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sent a letter to House Democratic leadership Wednesday outlining a plan to advance federal legalization measures with the goal of federally legalizing cannabis by the end of 2019. “Congress is out of step with the American people and the states on cannabis,” he wrote. “There is no question: cannabis prohibition will end. Democrats should lead the way.”

Blumenauer’s plan would begin as early as next January, when he says the key to advancing some of the 37 cannabis bills sitting in Congress is to have the individual issues evaluated by the distinct congressional committees. For example, the House Judiciary Committee could hold a hearing on descheduling marijuana; the House Veterans Affairs Committee could hold a hearing on veterans’ access to medical pot; the House Financial Services Committee could discuss the current barring of cannabis businesses from federally backed banks; and the House Ways and Means Committee could have a hearing on the unequal taxation of pot businesses.

Additionally, Blumenauer writes that these committees should start “marking up bills in their jurisdiction[s] that would responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap — the gap between federal and state marijuana laws,” using examples like the protection of employment, protection of private property from civil asset forfeiture and the removal of barriers to marijuana research. He also includes, most importantly, the need to “address the racial injustices that resulted from the unequal application of federal marijuana laws” — or, in other words, a social-justice element that could begin to correct the racist tide of the 40-year-old War on Drugs.

By August, Blumenauer believes, the House can pass a package of marijuana laws to address these concerns, and the bills can move to the Senate. The Oregon representative hopes that, given the increasing public support for marijuana — he cites a poll that 69 percent of registered voters support legalizing pot — the public will be able to pressure the senior body of Congress into passing the bill....

On a call with reporters, Blumenauer said that he believes key members of the prohibitionist movement — including Texas Rep. Pete Sessions and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan — won’t be returning next session, and with those opponents gone, the cannabis movement will be able to advance. He has been speaking with senior members of the committees, he said, and is confident that some will be able to get these specific areas of cannabis law on the agenda next year. “The outline is ambitious,” Blumenauer admitted. “It’s aspirational, but it’s entirely within our capacity.”

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Canada has plans for mass pardons of low-level marijuana offenders in conjunction with legalization reforms

As my various in-box fill up with stories about the start of marijuana legalization in Canada, this particular piece garnered my attention given my work on the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice reform: "Feds to announce plan to pardon Canadians convicted of simple possession of pot." Here are the basics:

The federal government will announce on Wednesday morning that it intends to proceed with a plan to grant pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges.

Sources have confirmed to CTV News that the government intends to issue pardons, and not record expungements or amnesty, for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, as that will be legal as the new recreational legalization regime comes into force at midnight tonight....

The pardons won't be granted immediately, but ministers are expected to outline options that could be used to facilitate the pardon process, and potential ways to expedite the sometimes protracted endeavor. One option could be an application-based approach, where people would have to fill out a form to qualify.

Asked about pardons on the Hill earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we’re going to be working on that as I’ve said, as soon as the day of legalization comes into force.”

NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession convictions. By his estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians that carry personal possession charges for marijuana.

October 17, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, October 15, 2018

"States’ Rights and Federal Wrongs: The Misguided Attempt to Label Marijuana Legalization Efforts as a 'States’ Rights' Issue"

The title of this post is the title of this short article by Paul Larkin on SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Advocates for liberalization of the federal statutes outlawing cannabis have argued that the issue whether and how to regulate marijuana should be left to the states to decide.  Yet, we do not allow states to decide whether to prohibit other controlled substances, such as heroin, and there is no good reason to put marijuana in a separate category. Since the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act became law in 1938 the nation has authorized the Food and Drug Administration to decide which drugs to approve for therapeutic use.

We do not make those decisions the subject of a referendum because the decision requires the expert scientific judgment of professionals in medicine and biochemistry, not the moral judgment of the populace.  Congress should re-examine how federal law regulates marijuana, but Congress should be guided by the judgment of the FDA as to the costs and benefits of liberalizing marijuana use.

October 15, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Is Trump White House really on verge of proposing federal marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Fox Business piece headlined "White House to unveil federal cannabis reform 'very soon,' says GOP lawmaker." Here are excerpts:

The White House is planning on tackling cannabis reform after the midterm elections, according to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Rohrabacher tells FOX Business that the Trump administration has made a “solid commitment” to fix marijuana regulation.

“I have been talking to people inside the White House who know and inside the president’s entourage... I have talked to them at length. I have been reassured that the president intends on keeping his campaign promise.”...

“I would expect after the election we will sit down and we’ll start hammering out something that is specific and real,” he said.

The California congressman, who is up for re-election this November, is battling to hold onto a seat that national Democrats have identified as part of their strategy to win the House majority this midterm election. Rohrabacher faces Democrat Harley Rouda. RealClearPolitics has listed the seat that Rohrabacher has held for five years as a toss-up – and the polling average has both candidates in a dead heat – with both at 48 percent of voter support.

Recreational marijuana was just recently legalized in California this year – but reforms on the federal level have been stalled for decades. Yet, according to Rohrabacher, that will soon change: “It could be as early as spring of 2019, but definitely in the next legislative session.”

I suspect Rep. Rohrabacher is making these claims as part of an effort to make the case to Californians that he needs to be reelected to help with federal marijuana reforms.

October 12, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Go (mid)west, young activist, go see marijuana reform's destiny in 2018 election cycle

Download (2)The title of this post is my weak attempt to make a play on the phrase "Go West, young man" to capture Manifest Destiny concepts combined now with this new AP article about marijuana reform efforts this election year.  The AP piece is headlined "Marijuana backers look for Midwest breakthrough in November," and here are excerpts:

Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

Meantime, Missouri and Utah will weigh medical marijuana, which is permitted in 31 states after voters in conservative Oklahoma approved such use in June. Even if Utah’s initiative is defeated, a compromise reached last week between advocates and opponents including the Mormon church would have the Legislature legalize medical marijuana.

“We’ve kind of reached a critical mass of acceptance,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan assistant professor of health management and policy. She said the country may be at a “breaking point” where change is inevitable at the federal level because so many states are in conflict with U.S. policy that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin. “Generally, people either find a therapeutic benefit or enjoy the substance and want to do so without the fear of being a criminal for using it,” Haffajee said....

In Michigan, surveys show the public’s receptiveness to marijuana legalization tracks similarly with nationwide polling that finds about 60 percent support, according to Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project was the driving force behind successful legalization initiatives in other states and has given at least $444,000 for the Michigan ballot drive. “The electorate is recognizing that prohibition doesn’t work. There’s also a growing societal acceptance of marijuana use on a personal level,” said Matthew Schweich, the project’s deputy director. “Our culture has already legalized marijuana. Now it’s a question of, ‘How quickly will the laws catch up?’” added Schweich, also the campaign director for the Michigan legalization effort, known as the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Midwest voters have considered recreational legalization just once before, in 2015, when Ohio overwhelmingly rejected it. Supporters said the result was more back lash against allowing only certain private investors to control growing facilities than opposition to marijuana.

Proponents of Michigan’s measure say it would align with a new, strong regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses and add roughly $130 million annually in tax revenue, specifically for road repairs, schools and municipalities. Military veterans and retired police officers are among those backing legalization in online ads that were launched Tuesday.

Critics say the Michigan proposal is out of step and cite provisions allowing a possession limit of 2.5 ounces (71 grams) that is higher than many other states and a 16 percent tax rate that is lower. Opponents include chambers of commerce and law enforcement groups along with doctors, the Catholic Church and organizations fighting substance abuse....

In North Dakota, legalization faces an uphill battle. No significant outside supporters have financed the effort, which comes as the state still is setting up a medical marijuana system voters approved by a wide margin two years ago.

The medical marijuana campaign in predominantly Mormon Utah, which has received $293,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, was jolted last week when Gov. Gary Herbert said he will call lawmakers into a special postelection session to pass a compromise deal into law regardless of how the public vote goes.

Medical marijuana also is on the ballot in Missouri and while the concept has significant support, voters may be confused by its ballot presentation. Supporters gathered enough signatures to place three initiatives before voters. Two would change the state constitution; the third would amend state law. If all three pass, constitutional amendments take precedence over state law, and whichever amendment receives the most votes would overrule the other.

An organizer of one amendment, physician and attorney Brad Bradshaw, said it is unclear if having three initiatives could split supporters so much that some or all of the proposals fail. “A lot of people don’t really even have this on the radar at this point,” he said. “They’re going to walk into the booth to vote and they’re going to see all three of these and say, ‘What the heck?’ You just don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

October 10, 2018 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)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Latest Pew polling data shows continuing increase in support for marijuana legalization

FT_18.10.05_marijuana_US-public-opinion-1969-2018bThis new Pew piece, headlined "About six-in-ten Americans support marijuana legalization," reports on the latest polling numbers on support for marijuana reform. Here are the details:

About six-in-ten Americans (62%) say the use of marijuana should be legalized, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The share of U.S. adults who support marijuana legalization is little changed from about a year ago – when 61% favored it – but it is double what it was in 2000 (31%).

As in the past, there are wide generational and partisan differences in views of marijuana legalization. Majorities of Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%) and Baby Boomers (54%) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Members of the Silent Generation continue to be the least supportive of legalization (39%), but they have become more supportive in the past year.

Nearly seven-in-ten Democrats (69%) say marijuana use should be legal, as do 75% of independents who lean toward the Democratic Party. Republicans are divided, with 45% in favor of legalizing marijuana and 51% opposed. Still, the share of Republicans saying marijuana should be legal has increased from 39% in 2015. Independents who lean toward the Republican Party are far more likely than Republicans to favor marijuana legalization (59% vs. 45%)....

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than half the states (31) – plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico – have legalized it for medical purposes. Marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

The list of states that have legalized marijuana could expand this November.  Voters in Michigan and North Dakota will decide whether to allow recreational use, while those in Missouri and Utah will decide on medical use.  In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert announced this month that he would call a special session in November to debate a different medical marijuana proposal, regardless of how the ballot measure turns out.

October 9, 2018 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Notable discussions of a fully state-run medical marijuana program in Utah

Download (23)Though some may tire of  the talk of "laboratories of democracy" in the context of marijuana reform, I never tire noticing all the different ways state-level reform efforts are producing different approaches to marijuana laws and policies.  And, as explained in this new local piece, headlined "Utah could become the guinea pig for state distribution of medical marijuana," a notable state out west is working toward a novel social and economic experimental approach to marijuana reform.   Here are the details:

The medical marijuana agreement that has brought together warring factions in the Proposition 2 debate could make Utah a national test case — the state itself would distribute the cannabis.  Sure, other governments have mulled such a system, but they’ve generally shied away from direct involvement in dispensing a substance illegal under federal law, said Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project....

Gov. Gary Herbert, legislative leaders and advocates unveiled the proposed legislation Thursday that Utah lawmakers are expected to take up during a November special session.  Herbert described it as a step toward establishing a medical marijuana program that Prop 2 opponents, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could stomach and pledged to put it before lawmakers next month whether or not the ballot initiative passes.

The consensus plan would create a centralized state pharmacy that would package individual medical cannabis orders and ship them to a local health department for pickup by patients who qualify.  Up to five private “medical cannabis pharmacies” would also be allowed under the legislation, but the state-run system would act as an alternative for rural residents who live far from these locations, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said.  “Is it unique? Yeah, it’s definitely a unique model,” he said, “and that’s why it could very well become the role model ... for the rest of the country."...

Vickers, who is a pharmacist by profession and helped broker the cannabis accord, said he was comfortable that the state wouldn’t run afoul of federal law by getting involved in the distribution of a Schedule 1 drug.  He said he vetted the idea with the Drug Enforcement Administration but wouldn’t disclose who he’d communicated with, saying the conversations were sensitive.

O’Keefe said the Marijuana Policy Project isn’t sure a state-run model will fly in Utah.  The closest comparison for it is in Louisiana, where the state designated two public institutions, Louisiana State University and Southern University, as the only legal growers of marijuana plants.  The Louisiana program isn’t running yet, she said.  But her advocacy group — which has dumped more than $210,000 into the campaign supporting Prop 2 — is satisfied that if Utah’s centralized system fails, the private cannabis pharmacies will keep patients supplied....

Connor Boyack, founder of the libertarian Libertas Institute, said the state-run system was a hotly debated element in the medical cannabis plan.  His group was unwilling to rely on the central fill pharmacy alone and insisted the bill allow private pharmacies as a backup.  “We don’t have high hopes for [the state-run system]," he said, “but to be fair and in good faith, we’re saying, go for it.”

October 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

"Marijuana skeptics fear 'de facto legalization' in states"

Download (22)The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Politico article discussing the politics and practicalities surrounding the relationships between medical marijuana reform and marijuana industry developments.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

With nine states, and the District of Columbia, now allowing the recreational use of cannabis — and more in the pipeline — advocates on both sides of the issue say that medical cannabis programs are increasingly functioning as a Trojan horse for de facto legalization in the 40 states where the politics of legalization aren’t quite ripe yet. And that’s rapidly changing the political and policy dynamics surrounding the emerging industry....

Medicinal marijuana has, indeed, been a driving force for legalization in other states. California’s decision 20 years ago to become the first state to approve the sale of legal medicinal marijuana paved the way for the Golden State to become, as of this year, the world’s largest legal recreational cannabis market. Now, with polls showing public support for medical cannabis in the U.S. at around 90 percent, medical marijuana proponents have shifted their gaze to more conservative states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisiana, or towards enlarging existing medical marijuana programs in places like New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

And while medicinal advocates insist their efforts are simply meant to help patients, opponents say that’s laughable. “There’s a marijuana industry making all sorts of medical claims that, if they were pharma companies, they’d probably be jailed,” said Kevin Sabet, the president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes recreational use policies. “It’s not this bright line between medical and recreational. And there should be a bright line.”...

“This doesn’t have anything to do with cancer patients, or folks with epilepsy, this is about the expansion of the marijuana industry,” he said. “The worst kept secret about most medical marijuana programs is that they often act as de facto legalization. With the expansion of programs in New Jersey or other states, this is often tied to the marijuana industry’s interest to expand the user pool and make money.”

Marijuana proponents don’t necessarily disagree. The growing acceptance of medical cannabis has helped eliminate the stigma around recreational use, multiple sources told POLITICO. We’re far from the days of “Reefer Madness.” “When you have a situation in a state like California, where there are cannabis stores in your neighborhood; when you can see what that looks like, and how much it’s different from the unregulated criminal market; when you can see the effects of businesses moving into storefronts that generate jobs and tax revenue,” then it’s far easier to change the minds of fearful or skeptical consumers — and political leaders — about legalization, says Tom Angell, publisher of Marijuana Moment, one of the nation’s leading trackers of developments and news in the cannabis industry....

California, which legalized the sale of recreational marijuana this past Jan. 1, essentially wrote the blueprint for moving from medicinal marijuana to full-scale legalization. The state’s cannabis market is expected to reach $5.1 billion in the next year — and $25 billion by 2026. That booming business potential on both the medical and recreational side has made it an attractive investment for Canadian companies like CannaRoyalty Corporation, which this year acquired a crowd of California-based cannabis firms that include FloraCal Farms, an “ultra-premium cannabis producer,” Oakland-based Alta Supply, a medical cannabis firm; Kaya Management, a vaporizer manufacturer, as well as RVR, a “large-scale distributor” of both medical and recreational cannabis....

Already, the immediate challenges of transitioning from legal medical to recreational markets have resulted in a flood of legislation aimed at addressing concerns and regulations in the U.S. Angell says that his publication, Marijuana Moment, tracked a whopping 863 bills in Congress related to cannabis this year alone. And along with that legislation has come a parade of “stakeholders invested in keeping legalization in effect — and eroding prohibition on the state and federal level.” That includes lobbyists, industry representatives, attorneys and innovators. What their growing numbers show is that “it will be increasingly hard for opponents to push back on the green wave,” he said.

With tens of thousands of Americans now employed in both the medical and recreational segments of the industry, and billions of dollars being generated in tax dollars for local and state governments, it’s no wonder that “so many ambitious politicians jumping in front of this issue,’’ Angell said. They’re not going back, he predicts: “There are too many people invested in legalization now.”

October 6, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Could the feds really be gearing up for a criminal crackdown on Colorado's state-compliant marijuana businesses?

Bob-troyer-dojThe question in the title of this post is the one I have been thinking about since, Bob Troyer, the US attorney for the District of Colorado, authored this Denver Post commentary under the headline "It’s high time we took a breath from marijuana commercialization." Here are some key excerpts from the piece, with a few lines emphasized:

In 2012 we were told Colorado would lead the nation on a grand experiment in commercialized marijuana. Six years later — with two major industry reports just released and the state legislature and Denver City Council about to consider more expansion measures — it’s a perfect time to pause and assess some results of that experiment.

Where has our breathless sprint into full-scale marijuana commercialization led Colorado?  Well, recent reports from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, from Denver Health, from Energy Associates, from the Colorado Department of Revenue and from the City of Denver should be enough to give everyone in this race pause.

Now Colorado’s youth use marijuana at a rate 85 percent higher than the national average.  Now marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up by 151 percent.  Now 70 percent of 400 licensed pot shops surveyed recommend that pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness.  Now an indoor marijuana grow consumes 17 times more power per square foot than an average residence.  Now each of the approximately one million adult marijuana plants grown by licensed growers in Colorado consumes over 2.2 liters of water — per day.  Now Colorado has issued over 40 little-publicized recalls of retail marijuana laced with pesticides and mold.

And now Colorado has a booming black market exploiting our permissive regulatory system — including Mexican cartel growers for that black market who use nerve-agent pesticides that are contaminating Colorado’s soil, waters, and wildlife....

As the U.S. attorney leading other U.S. attorneys on marijuana issues, I have traveled the country and heard what people are saying about Colorado. Do they tout Colorado’s tax revenue from commercialized marijuana? No, because there’s been no net gain: marijuana tax revenue adds less than one percent to Colorado’s coffers, which is more than washed out by the public health, public safety, and regulatory costs of commercialization.

Do they highlight commercialization’s elimination of a marijuana black market? No, because Colorado’s black market has actually exploded after commercialization: we have become a source-state, a theater of operation for sophisticated international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations from Cuba, China, Mexico, and elsewhere.

Do they promote our success in controlling production or containing marijuana within our borders? No, because last year alone the regulated industry produced 6.4 metric tons of unaccounted-for marijuana, and over 80,000 black market plants were found on Colorado’s federal lands.

Does the industry trumpet its promised decrease in alcohol use? No, because Colorado’s alcohol consumption has steadily climbed since marijuana commercialization. How about the industry’s claim that marijuana will cure opioid addiction? No, a Lancet study found that heavy marijuana users end up with more pain and are more likely to abuse opioids....

I’m not sure the 55 percent of Coloradans who voted for commercialization in 2012 thought they were voting for all this.

These impacts are why you may start seeing U.S. attorneys shift toward criminally charging licensed marijuana businesses and their investors.  After all, a U.S. attorney is responsible for public safety.

My office has always looked at marijuana solely through that lens, and that approach has not changed. But the public safety impacts of marijuana in Colorado have.  Now that federal enforcement has shot down marijuana grows on federal lands, the crosshairs may appropriately shift to the public harms caused by licensed businesses and their investors, particularly those who are not complying with state law or trying to use purported state compliance as a shield.

We should pause and catch our breath before racing off again at the industry’s urging. Let’s call it “just say know.” Let’s educate ourselves about the impacts of commercialization. Let’s reclaim our right as citizens to have a say in Colorado’s health, safety, and environment. Unfettered commercialization is not inevitable. You have a say.

I read this commentary as a warning of sorts, particularly to undercut the notion that some businesses may have that simply possessing a license from the state insulates them from federal prosecution.  In many ways, even when the Cole Memo was in place, that was not true.  But I sense from this piece that there is a growing concern about the way some in the licensed industry are operating, and this idea is made even clearer in this Westword piece with a Q&A with Mr. Troyer and this AP piece with additional quotes.

Were I involved in a Colorado marijuana business now, I would give particular attention to this statement from the AP piece: "'You can do plenty of harm to the community and still be in compliance with state law because those laws have a lot of loopholes and they're very permissive,' Troyer said." Specifically, if I was running a Colorado marijuana business, I would be spending a lot more time trying to document how my business was helping, rather than harming, the community (as well as, of course, documenting compliance with state laws).

October 4, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Prediction of hundreds of millions in tax revenues for Michigan if citizens vote for marijuana legalization

Infographic Individual ChartsThis local article, headlined "Estimated tax haul from marijuana sales would grow to $134 million per year," reports on a report on tax revenues being predicted if Michigan were this fall to become the 10th in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana. Here are some details:

By the time Michigan’s recreational marijuana market is fully fleshed out, $134.5 million in tax revenues will be flowing into the state’s coffers annually. But there’s a big caveat: Michigan voters will first have to pass a ballot proposal on Nov. 6 to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

The figures for state tax revenues — from the 6-percent sales tax and a 10-percent excise tax — come from VS Strategies, a Colorado-based cannabis consulting firm hired by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is spearheading the campaign to legalize pot in Michigan. “We’re estimating $520 million in taxes from 2020-24,” said Andrew Livingston, a policy analyst with VS Strategies. “By 2023, Michigan will reach maturity with sales of just under $1.5 billion (for both medical and recreational marijuana).”

The revenues from recreational use will grow from $53.7 million in the first year to $134 million by the time the market matures, he said. When you add in the 6 percent sales tax and 3 percent excise tax on medical marijuana sales, the tax revenues jump another $40 million, according to the VS estimates.

The numbers are based on estimates of nearly 1 million Michiganders who have said that they’ve used marijuana in the past month and who could be expected to buy marijuana on a regular basis. Another 3.5 million people in Michigan have said they have used marijuana in their lifetime. The total number of marijuana users includes 300,000 people who are registered as medical marijuana users, Livingston said. Michigan’s tax rate is far lower than many of the other nine states that have legalized pot for recreational use... Michigan’s proposed rate is lower than other states in order to be more competitive and to attract more people to the state’s budding marijuana market, coalition spokesman Josh Hovey said.

The first $20 million in tax revenues for each of the first two years would go to research into the effects of marijuana use on different health ailments, including PTSD in veterans. Of the remainder, 35 percent would go toward roads, 35 percent to schools and 30 percent to the counties and communities that allowed marijuana businesses in their towns.

But the projected tax revenues, even when the market is fully established, fall well below the taxes generated in Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, which collected $247.3 million in taxes in 2017.

Livingston said the Western states have higher numbers of users and he doesn’t expect Michigan to exceed those numbers. According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health done for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2016, about 14.4 percent of Colorado’s population, or 727,000 people, used marijuana in the past month while 8.9 percent of Michigan’s population, or 886,000 people, used marijuana in the past month. “Mountain states have always led the rates of past-month consumption,” he said.

Michiganders shouldn’t just look at the tax revenues coming in from marijuana legalization, said Scott Greenlee, director of Healthy and Productive Michigan, a group opposing the ballot proposal. “What impact would it have in Michigan with a $57-billion budget? It’s just not that significant,” he said. “And then we have to deal with the unintended consequences of fighting increased addiction. I wonder if there would be anything left for Michigan other than a bad policy that will affect the state for decades to come.”

He said the 35 percent of tax revenues that would go toward improving Michigan’s roads would be a drop in the bucket for the state’s 120,000 miles of roads. “According to MDOT, the cost to improve roads is about $1 million per lane,” Greenlee said. “In their best case scenario, 35 miles of one lane of roads would be improved thanks to this new tax.”

Hovey said the coalition never promised that the marijuana tax revenues would be a cure-all for Michigan’s budget woes. “This will help fund the state’s most important needs. And we’ll be saving millions in wasted costs of continuing to enforce the prohibition of marijuana laws,” he said. “And I think the majority of the state’s residents would agree that our roads need more revenue.”

October 3, 2018 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 1, 2018

California officially makes expungement automatic for past marijuana offenses

ImagesAs reported in this USA Today piece, headlined "Landmark California marijuana legislation gives residents chance to 'reclaim their lives'," last night finalized some exciting news for those eager to see marijuana reform greatly impact criminal justice reform. Here are details:

Hailed by advocates as a chance for people to “reclaim their lives,” a new California law will soon make it easier for people with past marijuana convictions to get their records expunged completely, or their sentences significantly reduced.  Assembly Bill 1793 – passed by overwhelming majority in the California state Legislature and signed into law Sunday night by Gov. Jerry Brown – will streamline a previously tedious process that made it difficult for residents with a prior cannabis-related conviction to clear their names.

“This is transformative,” said Rodney Holcombe of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based national organization that advocates for human rights-driven drug policies. “This creates an opportunity for people to reclaim their lives."

California is not the first state to retroactively allow those with cannabis convictions a chance to reduce or completely remove their past; that distinction goes to Oregon, which legalized recreational weed in 2014.  Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, plus the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego, have laws similar to Oregon’s, where individuals convicted of some marijuana-related crimes – like possession, cultivation or manufacturing – can work to get their records sealed or expunged.

But California is the first state to automate the system, which lawmakers and bill supporters hope will be a game-changer for thousands of residents who have limited access to student loans, housing and jobs because of their criminal records.  The Judicial Council of California estimates at least 218,000 residents would benefit from the new law.  “The failed war on drugs has, in so many ways, wreaked havoc, damage, pain and anguish on so many Californians,” said Assemblymember Ron Bonta, D-Oakland, who proposed the measure. “This is where government can step in and make it better.”

Pot convictions disproportionately affect communities of color, according to a 2016 study from the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance.  That study found that while white people consume marijuana at similar rates to black people – and more than Latinos – communities of color are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for low-level marijuana possession infractions.  In 2010, for example, black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people nationwide.

The measure is California's latest effort to help those with marijuana charges move on with their lives.  Two years ago, Californians passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over and allowed for those with criminal convictions to request to have their records erased.  But the process was lengthy and convoluted, requiring people to petition the courts to reduce their sentence for prior convictions, back when cannabis was illegal.  It could also be an expensive process, with costs spanning court fees, hiring a lawyer (to walk people through paragraphs of confusing legal jargon) and time spent away from work and home....

The Drug Policy Alliance tries to educate the public on what it calls “collateral consequences,” the side effects that stem from a sometimes decades-old conviction, Holcombe said.  Those collateral consequences can include not being able to acquire student loans, find meaningful employment or access good housing, among other issues.

Under the new law, the state will do the work to clean up people's records – even if they didn’t know they were eligible.  Some individuals will be able to completely clear their record, while others will see their crimes significantly reduced.  Possession with the intent to sell, for example, will now be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Here's how it will work: Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of Justice has seven months to review all marijuana cases and send potential petitions to county district attorneys.  DAs will have one year to challenge or grant the petition to change residents' marijuana-related convictions.  Priority will be given to those currently serving time.  “Prop. 64 provided redemption and rehab and a chance to rebuild those lives – these expungement and reductions are a big part of that,” Bonta said.  “I wanted to make sure that the promise in Prop. 64 was kept.”...

Holcombe and the DPA are hopeful that if California's landmark law is successful, other states could adopt similar measures.  “Popular opinion has changed so much,” Holcombe said. “Lots of support has already been generated around the folks who have been convicted and are still burdened by these collateral consequences – and there’s growing interest in remedying that.”

Regular readers likely know of my affinity for this kind of reform based on my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

October 1, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top court in South Africa rules that privacy rights protects adult use of marijuana in private places

ImagesAs reported in this BBC article, "South Africa's highest court has legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places." Here is more about a major ruling for marijuana reform:

In a unanimous ruling, judges also legalised the growing of marijuana for private consumption.

South Africa's government had opposed its legalisation, arguing the drug was "harmful" to people's health. It has not yet commented on the ruling, which is binding.

Three cannabis users who had faced prosecution for using the drug brought the case, saying the ban "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres".

In his judgement, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: "It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption." It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it....

This judgement is a reminder that South Africa's hard-won constitution is among the most liberal in the world, backing individual rights, and in this case the right to grow and smoke your own marijuana in private, against the government's concerns about public health and public order.

The Constitutional Court's ruling focuses on the issue of privacy, and a person's right to do as they please in their own home. The potential implications of the binding judgment are enormous, and unpredictable - particularly in terms of the criminal justice system, which routinely locks up thousands of overwhelmingly poor South Africans for using or dealing in small amounts of cannabis.

It is possible that the ruling, by allowing users to grow their own marijuana at home, could undermine the stranglehold of powerful drug gangs that blight so many communities. But the police, who argued against this change, will worry that the ruling will create more ambiguity and send the wrong signal to criminals.

The court has not approved - in any form - the trade in marijuana, meaning the government will not be able to profit from taxing a legalised industry.

In political terms, the landmark ruling emphasises the primacy of South Africa's constitution, which brushed aside the united opposition of numerous government ministries at a time when the authority and credibility of many of this young democracy's other institutions have been eroded by corruption and poor governance.

The court gave parliament 24 months to change the law to reflect its ruling. Adults who used marijuana in private would be protected by the ruling until the law was amended.

The court did not specify the quantity of cannabis a person can grow or use in private. Parliament would have to decide on this, it said.

The full opinion in this case, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Gareth Prince, is available at this link, and here is a key paragraph from its introduction:

It is declared that, with effect from the date of the handing down of this judgment, the provisions of section 5(b) of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 read with Part III of Schedule 2 of that Act and with the definition of the phrase “deal in” in section 1 of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 are inconsistent with the right to privacy entrenched in section 14 of the Constitution and, are, therefore, constitutionally invalid to the extent that they prohibit the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private

September 18, 2018 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Marijuana, mandatory minimums and jury nullification, oh my: split Ninth Circuit affirms panel federal convictions, though remands to address DOJ spending rider

A big, long and split decision by a panel of the Ninth Circuit yesterday in US v. Lynch, No. 10-50219 (9th Cir, Sept. 13, 2018) (available here), prompted the weak "Wizard of Oz" reference in the title of this post.  There is so much of interest in Lynch for sentencing fans and others, I cannot cover it all in this post. The majority's introduction provides a sense of the case's coverage:

Charles Lynch ran a marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California, in violation of federal law.  He was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture, possess, and distribute marijuana, as well as other charges related to his ownership of the dispensary.  In this appeal, Lynch contends that the district court made various errors regarding Lynch’s defense of entrapment by estoppel, improperly warned jurors against nullification, and allowed the prosecutors to introduce various evidence tying Lynch to the dispensary’s activities, while excluding allegedly exculpatory evidence offered by Lynch.  However, Lynch suffered no wrongful impairment of his entrapment by estoppel defense, the anti-nullification warning was not coercive, and the district court’s evidentiary rulings were correct in light of the purposes for which the evidence was tendered.  A remand for resentencing is required, though, on the government’s cross-appeal of the district court’s refusal to apply a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, which unavoidably applies to Lynch.

Following the filing of this appeal and after the submission of the government’s brief, the United States Congress enacted an appropriations provision, which this court has interpreted to prohibit the federal prosecution of persons for activities compliant with state medical marijuana laws. Lynch contends that this provision therefore prohibits the United States from continuing to defend Lynch’s conviction.  We need not reach the question of whether the provision operates to annul a properly obtained conviction, however, because a genuine dispute exists as to whether Lynch’s activities were actually legal under California state law. Remand will permit the district court to make findings regarding whether Lynch complied with state law.

Judge Watford dissented from the panel majority in Lynch, and his dissent starts this way:

I would reverse and remand for a new trial. In my view, the district court went too far in trying to dissuade the jury from engaging in nullification.  The court’s actions violated Charles Lynch’s constitutional right to trial by jury, and the government can’t show that this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

By its very nature, a case of this sort touches a sensitive nerve from a federalism standpoint.  At the time of Lynch’s trial in 2008, the citizens of California had legalized the sale and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes; the federal government nonetheless sought to prosecute a California citizen for conduct that arguably was authorized under state law. Because federal law takes precedence under the Supremacy Clause, the government could certainly bring such a prosecution, notwithstanding the resulting intrusion upon state sovereignty interests.  See Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 29 (2005).  But the Framers of the Constitution included two provisions that act as a check on the national government’s exercise of power in this realm: one stating that “[t]he Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury”; the other requiring that “such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.” U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2, cl. 3.  The Sixth Amendment further mandates that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to trial “by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”  Thus, to send Lynch to prison, the government had to persuade a jury composed of his fellow Californians to convict.

One of the fundamental attributes of trial by jury in our legal system is the power of the jury to engage in nullification — to return a verdict of not guilty “in the teeth of both law and facts.” Horning v. District of Columbia, 254 U.S. 135, 138 (1920).  The jury’s power to nullify has ancient roots, dating back to pre-colonial England.  See Thomas Andrew Green, Verdict According to Conscience: Perspectives on the English Criminal Trial Jury, 1200–1800, at 236–49 (1985) (discussing Bushell’s Case, 124 Eng. Rep. 1006 (C.P. 1670)).  It became a well-established fixture of jury trials in colonial America, perhaps most famously in the case of John Peter Zenger, a publisher in New York acquitted of charges of seditious libel.  See Albert W. Alschuler & Andrew G. Deiss, A Brief History of the Criminal Jury in the United States, 61 U. Chi. L. Rev. 867, 871–74 (1994).  From ratification of the Constitution to the present, the right to trial by jury has been regarded as “essential for preventing miscarriages of justice,” Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 158 (1968), in part because the jury’s power to nullify allows it to act as “the conscience of the community,” Jeffrey Abramson, We, the Jury: The Jury System and the Ideal of Democracy 87 (1994).

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.

September 14, 2018 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Medical marijuana users are being shut out of public housing"

Section8-2The title of this post is the title of this new Vice News piece telling yet another tale at the intersection of state marijuana reforms and federal prohibitions.  Here are excerpts:

Cancer patients and other people with debilitating conditions are being forced to choose between medical marijuana and federal public housing assistance. Even though some of the most conservative states are passing laws legalizing medical weed, marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance on a federal level, along with heroin and ecstasy, which can make users ineligible for programs like rental assistance or public housing....

“From a civil rights perspective, you’re denying a whole class of people housing that have already been denied other aspects of living their life to the fullest potential because of the federal prohibition on cannabis,” said David Mangone, director of governmental affairs and counsel for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. “No one should have to choose between staying off opioids and a roof over their head”

The majority of states now allow some form of medicinal marijuana. Americans overwhelmingly favor legalizing the drug for medical use. And in New York State — which hosts North America’s largest public housing population — medical marijuana is permitted to treat debilitating conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a memorandum in 2011 saying new admission applications revealing legal marijuana use would be denied, no matter the circumstance. However, the memorandum gave local landlords and public housing authorities the right to determine whether they should evict existing residents for medical marijuana use.

It’s not clear how many public housing authorities have sided with tenants on the local level, nor how many applicants have been rejected due to federal marijuana laws. But as more states normalize marijuana locally, it can make users ineligible for federal programs, like housing assistance.

When the 2011 memorandum was issued, 14 states had legalized medical marijuana. Now, 31 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, and the drug is becoming a viable alternative for patients that don’t want to use opioid drugs, many of whom are elderly or disabled. “There’s a much larger population now that’s affected by this guidance,” Mangone said....

A spokesman for HUD noted that their policies haven’t changed since the 2011 memorandum; they’re unable to reconsider their policy until federal laws regarding marijuana change. As long as marijuana remains a controlled substance, the rules “still apply, even where state law allows for its use,” Brian Sullivan, HUD spokesman, said in an email.

In June, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting Democrat representing the District of Columbia, introduced legislation that would allow residents in federally subsidized housing to use legal medical or recreational marijuana in their homes. “Individuals who live in states where medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal, but live in federally-assisted housing, should have the same access to treatment as their neighbors,” Norton said at the time.

September 11, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 7, 2018

Elon Musk demonstrates how smoking marijuana and drinking whiskey still prompt different reactions

Elon Musk often generates a lot of media attention, especially from news outlets like CNBC.  But this CNBC article, headlined "Elon Musk smokes weed, sips whiskey on Joe Rogan's podcast," reports on the reasons he is making a lot of news today:

Billionaire Elon Musk took viewers by surprise late Thursday when he smoked marijuana and drank whiskey during a live interview. The Tesla chief executive was speaking with comedian Joe Rogan, an advocate of legalizing weed, on his live internet show when he was handed the joint....

"Is that a joint? Or is it a cigar?" Musk asked Rogan before being told it was a cigarette containing marijuana, which is legal in California, and tobacco. Asked whether he had tried it before, the entrepreneur said: "Yeah, I think I tried one once."

"You probably can't because of stockholders," Rogan said, to which Musk retorted: "I mean it's legal, right?"....

Musk insisted he was not on weed at the time during an extensive interview with The New York Times. The executive shocked investors when he said he was considering taking the firm off the stock market at $420-a-share — 420 being a popular code term for cannabis.

"It seemed like better karma at $420 than at $419," he told the Times. "But I was not on weed, to be clear. Weed is not helpful for productivity. There's a reason for the word 'stoned.' You just sit there like a stone on weed."

Traders are concerned the company may still need a capital injection to help with its cash burn problems. Tesla shares were down 1.2 percent Friday in premarket trade.

These subsequent CNBC stories suggest that Musk will continue to garner attention for his marijuana use (but not his whisky drinking):

Elon Musk may have violated Tesla's business conduct policy by smoking weed

Air Force is looking into Elon Musk's pot smoking: Source

Chris Talyor at is already troubled by where this is going, as evidence by this new Mashable piece headlined "OK, everybody: Stop pot-shaming Elon Musk"

September 7, 2018 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A shorter pitch for using marijuana revenues to create "Commission on Justice Restoration"

Download (19)Though regular readers might be a bit tired of my eagerness to reference my recent extended article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I am not at all tired of the idea that marijuana reform should always focus on criminal justice concerns and that new revenues emerging from the new marijuana industry out to be committed to criminal justice needed.  So I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to develop this Issue Brief through the Scholars Strategy Network  to stress key parts of my longer work under the headlined "How States Can Ensure That Today's Marijuana Reforms Also Ameliorate Harms Inflicted On Past Offenders."  Here is an excerpt from this short commentary:

A new criminal justice institution could be funded by the taxes, fees, and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and assigned the mission of developing policies and practices to minimize the economic and social burdens that persist for those previously convicted of marijuana offenses.

Ex-offenders are often saddled with collateral sanctions at the local, state, and federal levels and have to deal with the widespread availability of their criminal records. These challenges justify the establishment of a permanent restorative institution in every jurisdiction, funded by fractions of the new resources generated by the legal marijuana industry and associated taxes.

A new Commission on Justice Restoration could be a public agency mandated to address the cumulative undue harms of prior convictions.  The Commission could provide a much-needed clearinghouse and site for analyzing hard-to-collect data about the collateral consequences of convictions, and provide a centralized and impartial forum for statewide policymaking to redress these collateral consequences, to conduct and disseminate research on the fiscal and social costs of these collateral consequences, and to advocate for steps that can be taken to reduce long- term harms.

September 2, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

BuzzFeed reporting Trump Administration effort to assemble "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" and "threats" posed by marijuana reforms

Avatars-000114258398-2fkvx7-t500x500BuzzFeed News has this important scoop on an important effort by the Trump Administration to develop data and arguments against marijuana reform.   The full title of the article provides a basic summary: "Inside The Trump Administration’s Secret War On Weed: The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee wants to counteract positive marijuana messages and identify problems with state legalization initiatives, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News."  The whole piece is today's must-read, and here are highlights:

The White House has secretly amassed a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for marijuana and cast state legalization measures in a negative light, while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat, according to interviews with agency staff and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.

In an ironic twist, the committee complained in one memo that the narrative around marijuana is unfairly biased in favor of the drug. But rather than seek objective information, the committee’s records show it is asking officials only to portray marijuana in a negative light, regardless of what the data show.

“The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate,” says a summary of a July 27 meeting of the White House and nine departments. In a follow-up memo, which provided guidance for responses from federal agencies, White House officials told department officials, “Departments should provide … the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends.”

As several states have approved laws allowing adults to use and purchase cannabis, critics have contended lax attitudes will promote drug abuse, particularly among youth, and they have pressed for a federal crackdown. The White House at one point said more pot enforcement would be forthcoming, though President Donald Trump has never said he was onboard with that agenda and he announced in June that he "really" supports new bipartisan legislation in Congress that would let state marijuana legalization thrive.

However, the committee’s hardline agenda and deep bench suggest an extraordinarily far-reaching effort to reverse public attitudes and scrutinize those states. Its reports are to be used in a briefing for Trump “on marijuana threats.”

“Staff believe that if the administration is to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use there is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security,” says the meeting summary....

Coordinated by White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the committee met on July 27 with many of the largest agencies in the federal government, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and State. An unclassified summary of the meeting, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says the memo is “predecisional and requires a close hold.” And it says the notes were not to be distributed externally.

The White House followed up the next week by sending agencies and other departments — including the departments of Defense, Education, Transportation and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency — instructions to submit two-page, bulleted fact sheets that identify marijuana threats and issues with the initiatives by Aug. 10....

Departments were told to “identify marijuana threats; issues created by state marijuana initiatives; and consequences of use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security.” The agencies should also provide an example of a “story, relating an incident or picture, that illustrates one or more the key areas of concern related to use, production, and trafficking of marijuana,” the White House guidance says. The agencies were asked to describe how the drug poses threats to their department and the consequences of marijuana “on national health and security.”...

None of the 14 agencies BuzzFeed News contacted for this story, the DEA, or the White House denied the marijuana committee’s existence.

John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, blasted the committee’s slanted approach to the facts and the “alienating effort on behalf of the president. ” “This is a terrible political move by the administration,” he told BuzzFeed, saying that the committee’s agenda betrays Trump’s pledges to protect states from federal intervention — a position with overwhelming public support.  Hudak added it would be “policy malpractice” to only collect one-sided data.  “The coordination of propaganda around an issue that the president ostensibly supported is fairly unprecedented.”

“This is a president who is not serious about states rights and regulatory reform in areas like drug policy, and is not serious about telling the truth to the American people or members of Congress from his own party," Hudak said, pointing to Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, who authored legislation that would protect states rights on marijuana and has praised Trump on the issue.

I share John Hudak's concerns about the one-sided approach to collecting data that is apparently afoot inside the Trump Administration. But I am more generally inclined to complain about the last three administrations for their collective failure to take seriously and consider studying all the state policy initiatives that have developed in this space.  State-authorized medical marijuana use has been going on now for more than two decades, and the array of state legal and policy developments in the marijuana space are too great to even take in completely.  The feds for years should have been trying to study and assess the import and impact of state innovations, and I suppose I am a bit pleased to see someone is finally really trying to pay attention.  I sure wish the folks inside the Beltway could pay attention without minds already made up, but I suppose there is a limit to what one can hope to get from our tax dollars at work.

August 29, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 24, 2018

California legislature passes bill to require state to proactively identify marijuana cases eligible for relief under Prop 64

Regular readers know that I regularly spotlight my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," because I am so very eager to encourage states to couple marijuana reform with sustained efforts to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with past criminal convictions.  In that article, I praise  California for standing out among marijuana reform states for its robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  And, as reported in this new NPR piece, headlined "California Measure Would Expunge Many Marijuana-Related Crimes," the California legislature merits some more praise:

California lawmakers have approved a measure requiring prosecutors to expunge convictions or reduce sentences for many marijuana-related convictions dating back decades. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown, according to the Associated Press.

The bill, passed by the state Senate on Wednesday by a 22-8 vote, would require the state's Department of Justice to review cases dating as far back as 1975 until 2016 to determine their eligibility.

Proposition 64, which was approved by California voters in 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, as The Associated Press notes, "When voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adult use of marijuana, they also eliminated several pot-related crimes. The proposition also applied retroactively to pot convictions, but provided no mechanism or guidance on how those eligible could erase their convictions or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors."

If it becomes law, it would put the burden for cleaning up those records on the state. If the bill goes into effect, state DOJ officials will have until July 1, 2019, to determine which cases are eligible for review and turn them over to the district attorney's office, which will have another year to make any objections....

NPR reported in December that more than 4,000 people had already petitioned the courts regarding their marijuana-related crimes. However, there are still many people who are unaware that they are eligible to petition for a review of their conviction. NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon in February on the subject. San Francisco took measures to expunge and reduce the convictions for possession and recreational use going back to 1975 because only 23 people in the city started the process themselves.

"The problem is that if you go through that process, you have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing. It's a very expensive and very cumbersome process," Gascon said in the interview. "[The] reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney," he said....

State law gives Brown 12 days from Wednesday to sign or veto the legislation or it becomes law without his signature.

August 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Up in Smoke: Removing Marijuana From Schedule I"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by David Katner now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

With over 600,000 marijuana arrests nationwide, and more Americans being incarcerated than for any other crime in the nation's history, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 should be amended to eliminate the inclusion of cannabis or marijuana from Schedule I.   Americans spent nearly $6 billion on "legal" cannabis last year alone, and the trend among states has been to legalize the use of cannabis for both medicinal purposes and recreational purposes.   The initial prohibition, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937  was largely influenced by racially charged propaganda and a lack of any scientific studies of the substance.  By removing the substance altogether from federal regulatory control, states would be allowed to determine for themselves how to regulate the use and dissemination of the substance.  The adoption of state laws recognizing the various medical benefits of the marijuana plant will not have full force until the federal regulatory scheme has been altered.

August 23, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)