Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Legalization Lite: The Case for De-scheduling Marijuana

The title of this post is the title suggested by a student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar as a preview of his planned presentation to the class next week.  Here are the resources the student assembled as background on this topic to go with the great title (which leads to show my age by thinking "tastes great/less filling"):

1.  Sam Kamin, Legal Cannabis in the U.S.: Not Whether, But How?, 50 UC Davis L. Rev. 617 (2016).

2.  Jeffrey M. Jones, In U.S., 58% Back Legal Marijuana Use, Gallup (Oct. 21, 2015)

3.  Abigail Geiger, Support for Marijuana Legalization Continues to Rise, Pew Research Center, Oct. 12, 2016

4.  Kevin Loria, 11 Key Findings from One of the Most Comprehensive Reports Ever on the Health Effects of Marijuana, Business Insider, Jan. 12, 2017,

5.  Ryan Stoa, Is Big Marijuana Inevitable?, The New Republic, Aug. 19, 2016

6.  Debra Borchardt, Marijuana Sales Totaled $6.7 Billion in 2016, Forbes, Jan. 3, 2017

7.  Robert Benzie, Recreational Weed Could Be A $22.6 Billion Industry: Study, The Toronto Star, Oct. 27, 2016,

8.  Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard, & Jeffrey Miron, Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations, The Cato Institute, Sep. 16, 2016,

9.  Jeffrey A. Miron & Katherine Waldock, The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition, The Cato Institute (2010)

10.  Beau Kilmer, Trump's Marijuana Options, The Hill (Jan. 17, 2017)

March 23, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Examining marijuana reforms' impact on teachers, students and educational achievement

My Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar students, after a well-deserved Spring Break, are back next week to continue making presentations based on their selected marijuana-related research issue. A student this coming week is looking at issues marijuana reform from an educator's perspective and he will be presenting results from some original survey research. Here are the resources the student assembled as background on this topic:

"Texas Teacher Shouldn’t Be Punished for Marijuana Use in Colorado, Judge Says"

NYT article on an administrative judge ruling that a Texas teacher should not face sanction for smoking marijuana legally in Colorado then testing positive for it in Texas.  Article is tangentially related to my subject, but an interesting case (the judge compares the teacher smoking marijuana in Colorado to a Texas teacher going to another state to gamble at a casino).

"Teen marijuana use in Colorado found lower than national average"

Reuters article summarizing the findings of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s survey of Colorado high school students that found that marijuana consumption among teens actually dipped after legalization in the state. Report also found that the percent of Colorado teens using marijuana was below the national average.

"Will legalization lead to more teens smoking pot?"

This CBS News article summarizes a report by the International Journal of Drug Policy that concluded in 2014 that about 10 percent of high school students that would otherwise be low risk to use marijuana would pick up the habit if it was legal. This hypothesis is based on nationwide survey data from 2007-2011.

"The Academic Opportunity Costs of Substance Use During College"

A study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health that analyzed a 10-year period to conclude that marijuana use contributed to college students skipping more classes, spending less time studying, earning lower grades, dropping out of college, and being unemployed after college. It also concluded that early chronic use can lead to a decrease in IQ.

March 17, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Congressional Research Service report on "The Marijuana Policy Gap and the Path Forward"

The folks at the Congressional Research Service do a terrific job summarizing complicated law and policy issues for members of Congress, and their latest marijuana publication is no exception. This latest CRS report is titled "The Marijuana Policy Gap and the Path Forward," and it covers an amazing amount of marijuana law and policy in under 50 pages. Here are excerpts from its summary:

Most states have deviated from an across-the-board prohibition of marijuana, and it is now more so the rule than the exception that states have laws and policies allowing for some cultivation, sale, distribution, and possession of marijuana — all of which are contrary to the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  As of March 2017, nearly 90% of the states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, allow for the medical use of marijuana in some capacity.  Also, eight states and the District of Columbia now allow for some recreational use of marijuana.  These developments have spurred a number of questions regarding their potential implications for federal law enforcement activities and for the nation’s drug policies as a whole.

Thus far, the federal response to state actions to decriminalize or legalize marijuana largely has been to allow states to implement their own laws on marijuana.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has nonetheless reaffirmed that marijuana growth, possession, and trafficking remain crimes under federal law irrespective of states’ positions on marijuana. Rather than targeting individuals for drug use and possession, federal law enforcement has generally focused its counterdrug efforts on criminal networks involved in the drug trade.

While the majority of the American public supports marijuana legalization, some have voiced apprehension over possible negative implications.  Opponents’ concerns include, but are not limited to, the potential impact of legalization on (1) marijuana use, particularly among youth; (2) road incidents involving marijuana-impaired drivers; (3) marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized it into neighboring states that have not; and (4) U.S. compliance with international treaties.  Proponents of legalization have been encouraged by potential outcomes that could result from marijuana legalization, including a new source of tax revenue for states and a decrease in marijuana-related arrests.  Many of these potential implications are yet to be fully measured.

Given the current marijuana policy gap between the federal government and many of the states, there are a number of issues that Congress may address.  These include, but are not limited to, issues surrounding availability of financial services for marijuana businesses, federal tax treatment, oversight of federal law enforcement, allowance of states to implement medical marijuana laws and involvement of federal health care workers, and consideration of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the CSA. The marijuana policy gap has widened each year for some time.

March 16, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

More notable comments about marijuana and federal enforcement from AG Sessions in new speech and Q&A

Jeff-sessions-attorney-general-630x354Over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog, I have this new post highlights various aspects of  this extended speech delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions today in Richmond, Virginia.  Though covering various topics, these passages from the speech are sure to intrigue those following marijuana law, policy and reform:  

Our nation is in the throes of a heroin and opioid epidemic. Overdose deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014. According to the CDC, about 140 Americans on average now die from a drug overdose each day. That means every three weeks, we are losing as many American lives to drug overdoses as we lost in the 9/11 attacks. Illegal drugs are flooding across our southern border and into cities across our country, bringing violence, addiction, and misery. We have also seen an increase in the trafficking of new, low-cost heroin by Mexican drug cartels working with local street gangs. As the market for this heroin expands, gangs fight for territory and new customers and neighborhoods are caught in the crossfire.

There are three main ways to fight the scourge of drugs: criminal enforcement, treatment and prevention. Criminal enforcement is essential to stop both the transnational cartels that ship drugs into our country, and the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their product. One of the President’s executive orders directed the Justice Department to dismantle these organizations and gangs — and we will do just that.

Treatment programs are also vital.  But treatment often comes too late to save people from addiction or death. So we need to focus on the third way we can fight drug use: preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place.

I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable.  I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

In the ’80s and ’90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction.  We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.

In addition to these prepared remarks, AG Sessions also apparently had some interesting things to say during a Q&A after his speech.  Tom Angell, in this new MassRoots posting, provides this report:

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is indicating that he might keep Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidelines in place, perhaps with some modifications. "The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama's Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid," he said in a question-and-answer session with reporters following a speech in Richmond, Virginia.

That memo, adopted in 2013, lays out guidelines for how states can avoid federal interference with their marijuana laws.

Sessions added that he "may have some different ideas myself in addition to that" but indicated that the federal government would not be able to enforce its remaining marijuana prohibition across the board in states with legalization. "Essentially we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades," he said.

The attorney general also addressed medical cannabis, suggesting that it "has been hyped, maybe too much."

"It's possible that some dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial," he said. "But if you ever just smoke marijuana for example where you have no idea how much THC you're getting it's probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So, forgive me if I'm a bit dubious about that."

March 15, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why it Matters"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new report issued by National Families in Action. The report can be downloaded at this link, and this press release about the report provides a summary of its themes and core contents:

A new report by National Families in Action (NFIA) uncovers and documents how three billionaires, who favor legal recreational marijuana, manipulated the ballot initiative process in 16 U.S. states for more than a decade, convincing voters to legalize medical marijuana.  NFIA is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1977, that has been helping parents prevent children from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.  NFIA researched and issued the paper to mark its 40th anniversary.

The NFIA study, Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters, exposes, for the first time, the money trail behind the marijuana legalization effort during a 13-year period.  The report lays bare the strategy to use medical marijuana as a runway to legalized recreational pot, describing how financier George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, and for-profit education baron John Sperling (and groups they and their families fund) systematically chipped away at resistance to marijuana while denying that full legalization was their goal.  The report documents state-by-state financial data, identifying the groups and the amount of money used either to fund or oppose ballot initiatives legalizing medical or recreational marijuana in 16 states.  The paper unearths how legalizers fleeced voters and outspent — sometimes by hundreds of times — the people who opposed marijuana.

Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters illustrates that legalizers lied about the health benefits of marijuana, preyed on the hopes of sick people, flouted scientific evidence and advice from the medical community and gutted consumer protections against unsafe, ineffective drugs.  And, it proves that once the billionaires achieved their goal of legalizing recreational marijuana (in Colorado and Washington in 2012), they virtually stopped financing medical pot ballot initiatives and switched to financing recreational pot.  In 2014 and 2016, they donated $44 million to legalize recreational pot in Alaska, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. Only Arizona defeated the onslaught (for recreational marijuana).

March 15, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Terrific summary of terrific Pacific McGeorge School of Law symposium on "Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad"

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As detailed on this webpage, the University of the Pacific Law Review and Global Center held a symposium last week on "Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad."  The panels and panelists for the event were are terrific and timely, and the video of the event is available via the website.  In addition, Professor Michael Vitiello was instrumental in arranging for two terrific students to provide a detailed multi-page summary of the symposium. This summary is much too long (and much too thoughtful) to really fit in this space, so I have linked it before and I recommend it to all. Here is how the terrific summary gets started to whet appetites from the whole product:

The University of the Pacific Law Review and Global Center Annual Symposium: Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad

Friday, March 3rd, 2017 – McGeorge School of Law, Sacramento, CA

Summary by: Kendall Fisher and Rosemary Deck

The University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law hosted the “Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad Symposium” on Friday, March 3rd in Sacramento. Several notable speakers gave remarks regarding the progressing trend toward legalization. While the individual states are developing piecemeal legalization under our federalist framework, the national legalization of marijuana remains in conflict with UN drug control treaties.

Michael Vitiello, Distinguished Professor of Law at McGeorge, delivered the opening remarks. He set the stage for discussions to follow by outlining a brief history of marijuana prohibition and decriminalization, focusing particularly on changing attitudes towards marijuana – he noted that today’s younger voters grew up with movies and television shows like Pineapple Express and Workaholics that present marijuana use as socially acceptable. Professor Vitiello predicts that this generation’s more lenient attitude towards marijuana will continue the trend towards national legalization, which has already begun with eight states permitting recreational use and twenty-eight allowing some form of medical use. In addition to demographic changes in attitude, he pointed to the capital that investors are now pouring into the industry as a reason to believe a national solution is in the offing. Professor Vitiello also pointed out that, despite comments from members of the Trump Administration, namely White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s recent insinuation that the federal government may crack down on state-legal recreational use, some of these legalized states have already expressed a willingness to push back against any such federal enforcement.

Download Regulating at Home and Abroad

March 9, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Series on "Marijuana in the age of Trump" via The Cannabist

The Cannabist has a series of new article under the heading "Marijuana in the age of Trump." Here are the headlines and subheadlines of the three pieces with links thereto:

Part 1: ‘Something’s going to have to give’: An untenable conflict between feds, legalized states: Cannabis businesses, legalization forces prepare to fight as ground shifts beneath their feet

Part 2: Federal marijuana law enforcement: What you need to know: The Cannabist talks with drug policy and legal experts about what could take shape, from selective raids and the threat of asset seizures on cannabis businesses to how cases could be handled in federal court

Part 3: What is the Supremacy Clause and what does it mean for states’ rights to legalize marijuana?: If preemption of state law happens and federal prohibition stands, "That's shooting themselves in the foot," says Robert Mikos, an expert on federalism and drug law

March 8, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pennsylvania's Auditor General suggests marijuana legalization could help state close budget deficit

Regulating Marijuana FINALA notable bean-counter is making a notable case for marijuana reform in the Keystone State. This official press release, headlined "Auditor General DePasquale Recommends Regulating, Taxing Marijuana as Right Move to Help Deal with Critical Issues: Result would bring in revenue, create jobs, reduce corrections costs," explains:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said today Pennsylvania should strongly consider regulating and taxing marijuana to benefit from a booming industry expected to be worth $20 billion and employ more than 280,000 in the next decade. “The regulation and taxation of the marijuana train has rumbled out of the station, and it is time to add a stop in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said during a news conference at the state capitol.

“I make this recommendation because it is a more sane policy to deal with a critical issue facing the state. Other states are already taking advantage of the opportunity for massive job creation and savings from reduced arrests and criminal prosecutions. In addition, it would generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year that could help tackle Pennsylvania’s budget problems.”...

In 2012, Colorado voters approved legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. Last year, Colorado – which has less than half the population of Pennsylvania – brought in $129 million in tax revenue on $1 billion in marijuana sales from the new industry that had already created an estimated 18,000 jobs. “The revenue that could be generated would help address Pennsylvania’s revenue and spending issue. But there is more to this than simply tax dollars and jobs,” DePasquale said. “There is also social impact, specifically related to arrests, and the personal, emotional, and financial devastation that may result from such arrests.”

In Colorado’s experience, after regulation and taxation of marijuana, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by nearly half between 2012 and 2014, from nearly 13,000 arrests to 7,000 arrests. Marijuana possession arrests, which make up the majority of all marijuana arrests, were nearly cut in half, down 47 percent, and marijuana sales arrests decreased by 24 percent. “All told, this decrease in arrest numbers represent thousands of people who would otherwise have blemished records that could prevent them from obtaining future employment or even housing,” DePasquale said. “Decriminalization also generates millions in savings from fewer arrests and prosecutions.”

DePasquale said Pennsylvania has already benefited by some cities decriminalizing marijuana. In Philadelphia, marijuana arrests went from 2,843 in 2014 to 969 in 2016. Based on a recent study, the RAND Corporation estimated the cost for each marijuana arrest and prosecution is approximately $2,200. Using those figures, that’s a savings of more than $4.1 million in one Pennsylvania city. Last year, York, Dauphin, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties each had more arrests for small amounts of marijuana than Philadelphia. Those counties had between 800 and 1,400 arrests in 2015.

“Obviously, regulation and taxation of marijuana is not something that should be entered into lightly,” DePasquale said. “Should Pennsylvania join the growing number of states benefiting financially and socially from the taxation and regulation of marijuana; there are many things to consider, including details about age limits, regulatory oversight, licensing, grow policies, sale and use locations, and possession limitations.

“As I said earlier, the train has indeed left the station on the regulation and taxation of marijuana,” DePasquale said. “It is time for this commonwealth to seriously consider this opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.”

March 6, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, 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)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eleven Senators write to AG Sessions to urge "that the Cole Memorandum remain in place"

As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:

The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.

But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."

In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...

In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.

The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:

We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.   It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum.  In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.  We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.

Some recent prior related posts:

March 2, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Aggregating evidence on marijuana's role in curbing opioid abuse after AG Sessions expresses skepticism

Attorney General Sessions today took more shots at marijuana reform, which included criticism of the suggestion marijuana could help curb the nation's opioid problems.  In response, Christopher Ingraham has this lengthy Washington Post piece assembling all the recent research supporting the notion that marijuana could help curb the nation's opioid problems. The piece is headlined "Attorney General Sessions wants to know the science on marijuana and opioids. Here it is." Here is the start of the article and its main bold headings that set up discussions of recent research (readers should click through for a bunch of links):

Speaking this morning before the National Association of Attorneys General, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed doubt that marijuana could help mitigate the opioid abuse epidemic.

“I see a line in The Washington Post today that I remember from the '80s,” Sessions said. "'Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse.' Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that's been made out there to just — almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that's true. Maybe science will prove I'm wrong.”

The stakes are pretty high here. After all, opioids killed 33,000 people in 2015, up from around 8,000 in 1999. As the head of the Department of Justice, Attorney General Sessions oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration, which just last year reaffirmed its belief that marijuana has no medical value and hence should remain illegal (which makes it substantially more difficult for researchers to conduct studies).

Here's a run-down of where the evidence on marijuana and opiates stands.

Marijuana is great at treating chronic pain....

States with medical marijuana laws see fewer opiate deaths....

Medical marijuana is associated with fewer opiate-induced car crashes....

Painkiller prescriptions fall sharply after medical marijuana laws are introduced....

Among chronic pain patients, marijuana use is associated with less opiate use....

The scientific evidence available so far indicates marijuana holds great promise for mitigating the effects of the opiate epidemic. Researchers desperately want to know more, but as long as the Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, they'll have a hard time getting more answers.

February 28, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Confusion mounts over Trump administration’s stance on marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this new article in The Hill.  Here are excerpts:

The Trump administration is signaling a crackdown on federal drug laws, leaving apprehensive top officials in states that have legalized recreational marijuana searching for answers.

Senior Trump administration members have hinted in recent days that they plan to more strictly enforce drug laws, a reversal from the Obama administration, which largely tolerated legal marijuana industries in states where voters had given the go-ahead.

“I’m dubious about marijuana. I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana sold at every corner grocery store,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told state attorneys general on Tuesday.... White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week he believed the administration would push “greater enforcement” of federal drug laws, under which marijuana is still a banned substance.

Neither Sessions nor Spicer addressed the Cole Memo, the Obama-era legal guidance that de-prioritized marijuana enforcement in states where the drug is legal. Since establishing their recreational marijuana regimes, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have followed that federal guidance.

“In an imperfect system, the Cole Memo has worked. States that have legalized marijuana I think have worked hard to adhere to the Cole Memo,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D)....

Along with the four states that have implemented legalized marijuana, four more — Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and California — are setting up their own regulatory regimes, after voters passed legalization efforts in November.

Most elected officials opposed legalization efforts in their states. But once voters have spoken, those elected officials don’t want federal officials cracking down on a product that is legal under state law, though still illegal at the federal level. And the marijuana industry is a boon for state economies, with legal marijuana sales over $1 billion in Colorado last year.

“I took an oath to support the constitution of Colorado,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said in an interview. Hickenlooper questioned whether the Trump administration “really want[s] to come down and be heavy-handed on entrepreneurs.”

“I don’t know what direction the Justice Department is going to go, but it is going to raise some legal issues,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said. Both Hickenlooper and Sandoval opposed their state’s legalization initiatives.

State and federal officials from legalization states have asked the Justice Department for guidance but have received no clear answers. No Justice Department officials showed up at the National Governors Association’s annual winter meeting this weekend in Washington. Hickenlooper, Sandoval and a spokesman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said they had not been able to speak with Trump administration officials about their predicaments.

Inslee and Ferguson wrote Sessions last week to ask for a meeting to discuss state pot laws, though they have received no reply. Hickenlooper said he too will request a meeting. “I’ll have to probably come back and talk to [Sessions]," Hickenlooper said. “I want to make sure that we have a discussion about it. I’ll come back, we’ll try to set a meeting up.”

But many officials, like Sandoval, predict legal clashes ahead if the federal government changes its approach. “States like Washington have legal tools to resist such an effort, in the same way we have legal tools to resist the executive travel ban,” said Ferguson, who led the lawsuit against the Trump administration’s executive order on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations.

February 28, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Heritage Foundation expert provides road map for big government feds to crack down on marijuana enterprises

Stimson_Cully_0This webpage discussing the mission of the Heritage Foundation states at its outset that "free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom" are among the principles that that the group "fights for every single day." But when it comes to marijuana law and policy, it seems these principles become much less important given this new Daily Signal commentary authored by Charles “Cully” Stimson of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.  The piece is headlined "How Trump’s DOJ Can Start Enforcing Federal Marijuana Law," and in it Stimson provides a detailed road map for how the large federal government can try to crush free enterprise and individual freedom in marijuana legalization states. Here are the essentials of the piece (with links from the original):

Thorough scientific reviews by President Barack Obama’s Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration — as well as drug classification reviews by federal judges — have affirmed that marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 drug. Such drugs are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As I have written here and here, the predictable consequences of marijuana legalization are beginning to emerge in states like Colorado and Washington.  Annual reports from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and the Colorado Department of Public Safety have analyzed the negative impact that marijuana legalization has had on health and public safety in Colorado.

 With such research finally emerging, the Trump administration and the Department of Justice are in a strong position to enforce federal law and take appropriate and aggressive action in crafting a commonsense drug enforcement policy for marijuana. The Trump administration should consider the following actions:

  • Reaffirm support for the law....
  • Coordinate with lower-level officials....
  • Reassert America’s drug position on the world stage....
  • Up the profile of key drug enforcement personnel....
  • Rescind and replace the August 2013 memorandum from then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole—i.e. the “Cole Memo.”...
  • Select marijuana businesses to prosecute....
  • Rescind the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s guidance for banks and oppose efforts to expand banking services to the marijuana industry....
  • Support state attorneys general in nonlegalized states....
  • Prosecute those dealing in marijuana—which is illegal under federal law—using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)....
  • Prosecute those who provide financing for marijuana operations....
  • Empower the FDA to take action to regulate marijuana in order to protect patients and the public....
None of these recommendations advocate criminal prosecution for simple possession of marijuana. Enforcing federal marijuana laws should not be about putting people in jail....

Thus, it has not been the case and should not be the case that people are criminally prosecuted and jailed for simple possession of small quantities of marijuana. However, the recommendations listed above provide a targeted approach to marijuana enforcement that focuses on protection, not punishment. These recommendations should be part of any commonsense approach that is consistent with an interest in public health and safety.

Recent comments by the White House press secretary (covered here) and also by the Attorney General (covered here) has me starting to think that the Trump Administration might be quite seriously considering many of Stimson's big government suggestions for the future of federal marijuana policies and practices.

A few prior related posts:

February 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

AG Sessions comments negatively on state marijuana reform

As detailed in this new AP article, headlined "Sessions: More violence around marijuana than ‘one would think’," the US Attorney General had a few not-so-nice things to say about state marijuana reforms today. Here are the details:

The Justice Department will try to adopt “responsible policies” for enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday, adding that he believes violence surrounds sales and use of the drug in the U.S.

In a meeting with reporters, Sessions said the department was reviewing an Obama administration Justice Department memo that gave states flexibility in passing marijuana laws. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions said....

Sessions stopped short of saying what he would do, but said he doesn’t think America will be a better place with “more people smoking pot.”

“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”...

Studies have found no correlation between legalization of marijuana and violent crime rates. But law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado say drug traffickers have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much higher.

Pot advocates say the officials have exaggerated the problem. “You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” Sessions said.

Sessions said he met with Nebraska’s attorney general, who sued Colorado for allegedly not keeping marijuana within its borders. That lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but neighboring states continue to gripe that Colorado and other pot-legal states have not done enough to keep the drug from crossing their borders.

February 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Notable new poll numbers on support for marijuana reform in new Quinnipiac poll

This webpage provides the basics on the latest Quinnipiac University national poll looking at a range of political issues, including marijuana legalization. Here are the marijuana poll highlights:

Legalized Marijuana

Marijuana should be made legal in the U.S., voters say 59 - 36 percent.

Republicans are opposed 61 - 35 percent and voters over 65 years old are opposed 51 - 42 percent.  Every other party, gender, education, age and racial group listed supports legalized marijuana.

Voters support 93 - 6 percent legalized marijuana for medical purposes if prescribed by a doctor.

The government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use, voters say 71 - 23 percent.  Voters in every listed group support this position.

Especially interesting, particularly in light of yesterday's comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer, is that only about 1/3 of all Republications in this poll voice support for "the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana."

February 24, 2017 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

As reported in this Politico article, "White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that he expects states to see 'greater enforcement' of the federal law against marijuana use, a move that would be at odds with a growing number of states’ decisions to legalize it." Here is more:

Spicer, taking questions from reporters at the daily briefing, differentiated between the administration’s positions on medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. President Donald Trump “understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them,” he said, also noting previous action by Congress not to fund the Justice Department “go[ing] after those folks.”

As for “recreational marijuana, that’s a very, very different subject,” Spicer said.

Spicer suggested that the administration is opposed to encouraging recreational marijuana use and connected it with the crisis with opioid addiction in some areas. “When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” he said.

The Department of Justice, Spicer said, will be “further looking into” the marijuana enforcement question, he said, punting questions about the specifics to the department. “I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it,” he said.

February 23, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New poll shows strong and growing support for marijuana reform in the Lone Star State

TT-UT_polls_001_jpeg_800x1000_q100As reported in this local article, "opposition to legal marijuana is dropping in Texas, with fewer than one in five respondents to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll saying they are against legalization in any form."  Here is more on these poll results:

“We’ve seen this movie before on a couple of social issues,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. He thinks the changes in Texas have more to do with shifting attitudes than with news of legalization in other states. “There’s a little bit of normalization. I don’t think this is a states-as-laboratories issue. Voters don’t care about that kind of stuff.”

Overall, 83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use; 53 percent would go beyond legal medical marijuana to allow possession for any use, the poll found. Two years ago, 24 percent of Texans said no amount of marijuana should be legal for any use and another 34 percent said it should be allowed only for medical use.

Legal pot is more popular with Democrats than Republicans, with men than with women, and with younger Texans more than older ones. All of those subgroups support legalization of marijuana for medical or nonmedical use. Among Democrats, 62 percent would legalize pot in some amount for nonmedical use, while only 41 percent of Republicans agreed. Sixty percent of men would support legalization of non-medical marijuana, compared with 48 percent of women. Among 18-44 year olds, 55 percent would approve of non-medical marijuana and 51 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds agreed. But only 38 percent of Texans 65 and older agreed.

“The number of people who want to keep marijuana completely illegal decreased by seven points,” said poll co-director Jim Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “The commensurate shift is in Republicans saying small amounts should be legal, and those who said any amount should be legal increased by six points."

February 21, 2017 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nevada lawmakers seemingly moving quickly to make recreational marijuana reform operational

Nevada-marijuana-billIn Massachusetts and Maine and even in California there have been various moves made by various state officials and politicians to slow the process and progress of implementing 2016 ballot initiatives that legalized recreational marijuana in those states.  But the state-level implementation story seems quite different in Nevada according to this new local article headlined "Nevada officials fast track plan to regulate recreational marijuana." Here are the details:

State officials plan to move quickly with a task force for regulating recreational marijuana, the Nevada Senate Judiciary Committee heard Wednesday. The first steps will be putting temporary regulations in place by July to allow medical marijuana establishments to sell recreational marijuana. By the end of the year, permanent regulations are to be in place.

In the world of state government, that is a fast-tracked process for completing regulations. It can take a year or so for that to happen. “The idea is that we would get going pretty quickly,” said Deonne Contine, executive director of the Nevada Department of Taxation.

In November, Nevada voters approved Question 2, which legalized recreational marijuana and tasked the state’s Department of Taxation with developing regulations to guide the new industry. Recreational marijuana has a strong place in the budget plans of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has proposed a 10 percent tax on the retail recreational marijuana sales to generate an estimated $70 million for public education.

The state is piggybacking on its medical marijuana program, which started in 2014. The temporary program will allow licensed medical marijuana establishments to sell recreational marijuana. Those licenses will be good until Dec. 31, or 30 days after permanent regulations are in place, whichever is first. To get temporary regulations in place, the state will have a public workshop in mid-March followed by an adoption hearing on May 8 at the Nevada Tax Commission meeting. The state would start accepting applications for temporary licenses in May and begin issuing them on July 1.

During that time, the legwork for the permanent regulations will be underway. Sandoval issued an executive order this week for a 16-member statewide task force to develop regulations, with input from local government, public safety and public health officials. That task force will meet monthly between February and April and issue a report in May. The goal is to send a draft of permanent regulations to the Legislative Counsel Bureau for review in July. That will be followed by a public workshop in the fall and adoption by December.

February 9, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Jeff Sessions confirmed as Attorney General ... now what for federal marijuana policy?

Jeff_Sessions_official_portraitAs Fox News reports here, "Sen. Jeff Sessions won confirmation Wednesday evening to become the next attorney general of the United States," and here's more of the basic backstory:

The Senate narrowly approved the Alabama Republican’s nomination on a 52-47 vote, the latest in a series of confirmation votes that have been dragged out amid Democratic protests. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Sessions. Sessions himself voted present.

In his farewell address Wednesday evening, Sessions urged his erstwhile colleagues to get along better following days of bruising debate. "We need latitude in our relationships," Sessions said. "Denigrating people who disagree with us is not a healthy trend for our body."...

Wednesday’s vote came after a rowdy overnight session during which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was formally chastised for allegedly impugning Sessions’ integrity on the floor. Warren had read a letter authored in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, who was against Sessions’ nomination at the time to the federal bench, arguing he used the power of his office to “chill” black voting rights. Warren also quoted the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who originally had entered King’s letter into the record, describing Sessions as “disgraceful.”

GOP Senate leaders said Warren had violated Senate rules and should lose her speaking privileges. In a remarkable scene, the Senate then voted 49-43 to suspend Warren’s speaking privileges for the rest of the nomination process – the first time the Senate has imposed such a punishment in decades.

Democrats had repeatedly contended that Sessions is too close to Trump, too harsh on immigrants, and weak on civil rights for minorities, immigrants, gay people and women. Sessions was a prominent early backer of Trump, a supporter of his hard line on illegal immigration and joined Trump's advocacy of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border....

Republicans argued Sessions has demonstrated over a long career in public service, including two decades in the Senate, that he possesses integrity, honesty, and is committed to justice and the rule of law.

Everyone in the marijuana reform community as well as all those working in the marijuana industry must now continue to wonder what an Attorney General Sessions will mean for the policy and practice of blanket federal marijuana prohibition.

In part because I think AG Sessions will have other top priorities and because a crackdown on state-legal marijuana businesses will likely be costly and unpopular, I am not expecting to see a radical shift in the short term.  But I could be wrong, and I am fairly sure that over time AG Sessions (and others in the Trump Administration) will still feel some significant obligation (and perhaps have some significant desire) to ramp up enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition to some extent unless and until Congress moves forward with some kind of statutory reforms.

Uncertain and interesting times ahead, for sure, in this space.

February 8, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Notable commentators making notable arguments against marijuana legalization

2014_0128_hudson_headshots_2356The Weekly Standard has this notable new commentary authored by John Walters (pictured here), David Murray and Brian Blake under the headline "The Risky Business of Commercial Marijuana."  The authors are notable because they all served in the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the George W. Bush administration, and because there is some talk of Walters serving as the "Drug Czar" in the Trump Administration.  The commentary is notable for a few curious arguments made against marijuana reform, although the piece is styled as a warning to those who might be inclined to invest in the marijuana industry.  Here are the excerpts that I found curious:

[L]egalization advocates have pointed to surging support for legal, recreational marijuana as found in public polling—reaching 60 percent positive, according to recent opinion results.

Beyond concerns over the reliability of polling projections, positive opinion polls on marijuana are of recent vintage, occurring in the midst of an eight-year period where our nation was led by an Administration that downplayed marijuana's threat, tacitly approved of its state-level legalization, and made no effort to enforce federal law.

Greater acceptance of legal marijuana has also been sustained, if not propelled, by irresponsible cheerleading in the press. Most importantly, this support has been built on assertions that are clearly not true....

As the key arguments for legal marijuana collapse, the public will increasingly confront a much darker reality as escalating reports of harms become inescapable.

There is already evidence that support for legal marijuana is much softer than the advocates assert. Candidates in the last election cycle expecting political support from libertarian conservatives or hoped-for hordes of pro-marijuana college youth, found that they failed to materialize in sufficient numbers to prevent defeat, a lesson that proved costly for the Democratic party....

Investors seeking hot prospects may be better served by ignoring the flashy market assessments issued by investment firms, who really should know better. The position is worsening as more bad news comes in from legalizer states....

All of the dangers have been known for some time — visible to anyone who ignored the hype and paid attention to the drug-dealing facts. Certainly adding to these concerns is the new uncertainty regarding marijuana enforcement in the sharply altered political landscape created by the most recent election. Investors beware.

Elsewhere in the commentary, these authors make reasonable (though debatable) arguments that marijuana legalization does not really address mass incarceration or eliminate the black market to prevent youth access as reformers promise. But the notion of a "darker reality [with] escalating reports of harm" as "more bad news comes in" seems more than a bit too dystopian in light of lots of positive reports emerging from Colorado and Washington. And pointing to the last election cycle to claim that "support for legal marijuana is much softer than the advocates assert" whistles past the critical reality that recreational marijuana prevailed in four out of five state in November 2016 (including California and Massachusetts) and that medical marijuana won big in four red states.

That all said, if the authors of this commentary have a central role in deciding federal policy in the new Administration, the final two sentences quoted above are very significant and the final word say it all: "beware."

February 7, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2017

"State Legalization of Marijuana and Our American System of Federalism: A Historio-Constitutional Primer"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Brian Blumenfeld now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Federal law, pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act, maintains a strict criminal prohibition on marijuana use of any kind.  In states that have legalized marijuana, and in states proposing to do so, a fundamental conflict arises between federal powers and state sovereignty.  This conflict implicates some of the most vital aspects of the structural constitution: the Commerce Power, the Necessary and Proper Clause, the anti-commandeering doctrine, and Supremacy Clause preemption.

In recent years a healthy scholarship has emerged to wrestle with the subject, providing insightful commentary and argument, but missing in the literature is an unabbreviated account of the major features of federalism that frame the legalization controversy.  Also missing is a historical background situating the CSA's marijuana prohibition within the American political-legal tradition.

This article provides the reader with an extensive constitutional and historical foundation for understanding what is now recognized as "the most pressing and complex federalism issue of our time."

February 6, 2017 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)