Wednesday, April 26, 2017
National District Attorneys Association releases report on "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective"
In this post a few months ago, I praised the National District Attorneys Association for forming a diverse working group to address modern marijuana laws and polices. As detailed in this local article, though, it does not seem all the diverse perspectives reflected in the working group resulted in a nuanced position paper from the group:
District attorneys from across the nation recently backed a position statement that declares that marijuana legalization has increased access by children and that supports federal enforcement. The perspective – ironically released by the National District Attorneys Association on April 20, the 420 day of marijuana celebration – could help guide policy direction by the Trump administration, which has signaled a possible crackdown.
“Legalization of marijuana for purported medicinal and recreational purposes has increased access by children. For all of these reasons, it is vitally important to do all we can to prevent access to marijuana by youth in America. Their health, safety and welfare demand no less,” the perspective states. It suggests that “marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.” The opinion goes on to say that alcohol is different because “alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn that marijuana does.”
The perspective cites “scientific studies” that show cannabis can be addictive, especially for children, and initial evidence of child hospitalizations due to “unintended exposure to marijuana.” The perspective in many instances draws upon information provided by the anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM.
On federal enforcement, the NDAA white paper states that there should be a consistent application of federal law across the nation “to maintain respect for the rule of law.”
The statement has split Colorado district attorneys, especially on the issue of impacts to children. In Colorado, the experience has been the opposite. The latest Healthy Kids Colorado Survey from 2015 found that teen cannabis use has not increased since legalization. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in February on national television reiterated those statistics. “We didn’t see a spike in teenage use, if anything it’s come down in the last year, and we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers,” Hickenlooper said on “Meet the Press.”
It’s a thorny subject for Colorado prosecutors, where legalization has often left district attorneys in an uncomfortable situation. While cannabis is legal in Colorado, it remains illegal on the federal level and in many states.
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, was one of four people from Colorado on a policy group along with prosecutors from other states with “positions all over the spectrum,” he said. “Nowhere does that document say an individual office or any state organization takes a specific position,” Raynes said. Raynes said he finds the NDAA statements to be “innocuous and general in nature.”
“The only other statement one could make is that federal drug policy should be applied inconsistently across the nation,” Raynes said. “That would be absurd.”
But Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who leans to the left on criminal justice reform and who sat on the NDAA panel, took issue with the perspective of the association. He said the association is “dominated” by conservative prosecutors from the rural South. “They don’t tend to be people on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform,” Garnett said. He added that his participation on the working group was “pretty painful.” Prosecutors wanted to send a letter to Hickenlooper demanding that he close down all legal marijuana businesses in Colorado. The governor would not have even had the authority to make such a move.
“If anything, use is going down by children,” Garnett said, adding that NDAA is a conservative group without a lot of experience in the regulated legalized marijuana industry. There’s a lot of urban myths out there about what’s going on in Colorado from people who don’t really know, and some of that is promulgated by the DEA and the prohibition groups who are funded pretty heavily to continue marijuana prohibition, They tend, on occasion, to distort the reality of what’s going on in Colorado.”
The relatively short report from NDAA is titled "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors’ Perspective," and it can be accessed in full at this link.
April 26, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)
Friday, April 21, 2017
Might a crack down on state reforms by the feds actually increase the pace for national marijuana reform?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Washington Post piece by Paul Waldman headlined "Will Jeff Sessions launch a War on Weed? If so, it could accelerate marijuana legalization." Here are excerpts:
A CBS poll out today shows that 61 percent of Americans favor full legalization, the highest number the poll has recorded, while a Quinnipiac poll puts the number at 60 percent, with an incredible 94 percent saying people ought to be able to get it if their doctors prescribe it (CBS put that figure at 88 percent). Perhaps more important, 71 percent in the CBS poll and 73 percent in the Quinnipiac poll said that the federal government should leave states that have legalized it alone.
But there’s one person who doesn’t agree, and he happens to be the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government. In fact, if there’s a single thing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates more than undocumented immigrants it might just be marijuana, which is why he appears to be planning what amounts to a return to a 1980s-style War on Drugs. We don’t yet know what practical steps Sessions will take, because things are still in the planning stages. But allow me to suggest that in the end, Sessions might actually accelerate the country’s move toward the eventual goal of full legalization....
[T]he big unanswered question is how the attorney general will approach the states that have passed some form of legalization. He could follow the (mostly) hands-off approach that the Obama administration did. Or he could send out federal agents to start shutting down dispensaries across the country. Or he could do something in between. But given his strong views and the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law — which gives him substantial power to go after the burgeoning pot industry in states that have legalized it — it’s hard to believe there isn’t some kind of crackdown coming from the Justice Department.
Sessions may already be having a deterrent effect. The Colorado legislature was all set to pass a law regulating marijuana clubs but backed off after the governor warned that doing so could incur Sessions’s wrath. But in other places, the movement toward legalization continues. Just yesterday, West Virginia’s governor signed a law passed by the legislature to create a medical marijuana system in the state.
Which means that if and when he attacks legal marijuana, Sessions will be going after a movement with extraordinary momentum. And it’s not just the opinion polls; it’s also what’s happening at the ballot box. In 2016, marijuana initiatives were on the ballot in nine states and won in eight of them. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota passed medical marijuana initiatives. Only Arizona’s recreational measure was narrowly defeated....
So consider this scenario. Sessions initiates some kind of new War on Weed, one that results in lots of splashy headlines, dramatic video of state-licensed businesses being shut down and thoughtful debates about the proper balance between federal and state power. Then the backlash begins. Even many Republicans express their dismay at the Justice Department’s heavy-handed actions. Pressure builds on President Trump (whose comments on the topic have been mostly vague and noncommittal) to rein Sessions in. The controversy energizes cannabis advocates and the voters who agree with them. More and more candidates come out in favor of legalization, or at least a new federal law that would remove the drug from Schedule 1 (which puts it in the same category as heroin) and leave it up to states to decide how to handle it without any federal interference.
Then in 2020, we see the first major-party nominee who advocates full legalization of marijuana. That last part might not happen three years from now (though some past and future nominees have already sponsored bills to allow medical use). But it will eventually, because politicians inevitably follow where the public has moved.
Most of them do, anyway. But on this issue, Sessions is not such a politician — he’s going to pursue that demon weed no matter what the public thinks. We all know where America is heading on this issue, and Sessions may end up pushing us there just a little faster.
I have been saying throughout the semester in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar that a significant marijuana prohibition enforcement effort by the Justice Department might provide the spark in Congress to move forward more seriously and effectively with a variety of proposed federal legislative reforms in this space. For a bunch of reasons, I do not think federal reforms and national legalization are a certainty no matter what AG Sessions decides to do, but I do think there are a lot of interesting elements to what we will see in the marijuana reform space over the next decade and that what AG Sessions seeks to do in this space will be a very important part of the story with lots of unpredictable ripples.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
This new CBS News item, headlined "Support for marijuana legalization at all-time high," reports on a notable new CBS News poll about marijuana policy and reform. Here are some details:
Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll. Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.
Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.
More generally on the topic of drug abuse, 69 percent think that should be treated as an addiction and mental health problem rather than a criminal offense.
The belief that pot should be legal has reached a new high in CBS News polls. Sixty-one percent of Americans now say the it should be, a five-point increase from a year ago. This sentiment has increased each year we’ve measured it since 2013, with the turning point to majority support coming in 2014. Back in 1979, this poll found just 27 percent saying it should be legal.
Those over 65 are the most opposed to legalization, but most under age 65 support it. And women are now as much in favor of legal marijuana as men are; in previous years they were less so.
Many states have legalized pot in some form, and most Americans don’t think the federal government should try to stop its sale and use in those states. Even among those who think marijuana should be illegal, only half think the federal government should get involved with the states. This sentiment cuts across party lines: Majorities of Republicans (63 percent), Democrats (76 percent), and independents (72 percent) oppose the federal government trying to stop marijuana use in these states.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asserted a connection between marijuana and violent crime, but few Americans see it that way: just 23 percent think legalizing pot increases violent crime, while nearly as many think legal marijuana decreases it.
Generally, most Americans think habitual drug use should be treated as an addiction problem rather than a criminal offense. Even most Americans who oppose legalizing marijuana think so. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all agree. Most Americans view marijuana in particular as safer than alcohol....
Support for legalization has risen among all age groups – particularly those under 55. Americans under 35 show the strongest support. Three in four adults between 18 and 34 support legal marijuana use, as do six in 10 Americans between 35 and 64. Seniors remain the one age group for whom a majority still think marijuana use should be against the law.
I think especially interesting and notable are the breakdown in these numbers by party affiliation detailed here. Specifically, I find it quite interesting that, according to this poll, Republicans disfavor marijuana legalization by a slight margin (49% to 46%), they still overwhelming support medical marijuana access (87% to 11%) and significantly oppose the federal government taking action to stop marijuana sales in legalization states (63% to 33%). These numbers suggest that any strong Trump Administration push against state legalization efforts will likely engender some backlash among supporters as well as opponents of the President.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article from the May 2017 issue of Inc Magazine. Here is an excerpt:
There's some evidence that women are finding it easier to break into cannabis than other sectors of corporate America. One 2015 survey of 630 marijuana professionals found that women held leadership roles in 36 percent of those businesses, compared with 22 percent of U.S. companies generally, according to the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily, an Inc. 500 company that was co-founded by two women -- Cassandra Farrington and Anne Holland. "I hit that glass ceiling at 100 miles an hour," Farrington, a former Citigroup employee, says. "There's no question this is a huge area for entrepreneurship, and there are so many women fed up with the corporate arena" who find marijuana more appealing.
Like Farrington, many of the women already running marijuana-focused businesses have extensive -- and seemingly boring -- résumés at banks, hedge funds, law firms, consultancies, insurance giants, and other traditional, highly regulated corporations. They not only know how to cut through the red tape -- they welcome it. "I just got up one morning and read all the Colorado rules," shrugs Peggy Moore, who spent 33 years working for United Health Group before becoming the CEO of Denver-based pot bakery Love's Oven. "After dealing with all of the insurance industry's regulations, it wasn't that complicated."
Another lengthier article in the same issue is titled "How the Queen of Legal Weed Is Targeting the Chardonnay Crowd." Here is how it starts:
Nancy Whiteman still mourns those candied, spice-dusted almonds. "They were so good. They were so stinking good," she sighs longingly. And so stinking hard to make -- legally. Because Whiteman, the unlikely co-founder and co-owner of the most successful specialized candy business in Colorado, didn't stop with the curry powder and sugar and salt. She also dredged those almonds through syrup infused with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
After all, that's what her seven-year-old company, Wana Brands, makes: treats that can get you really, really high. The Boulder-based business, which Whiteman runs with her ex-husband, ended last year as the best-selling purveyor of marijuana-infused edibles in its home state of Colorado, according to industry data firm BDS Analytics.
Whiteman may have begun her legal-pot career rummaging through weed-extraction videos on YouTube and testing recipes in a kitchen that was "one step up from an Easy-Bake oven," but Walter White she is not. Nor is she even Mary-Louise Parker's Nancy Botwin, the housewife-dealer of Weeds. A 58-year-old mother of two, Whiteman presents as more sales rep than drug lord: russet hair in a sensible bob, a sly sense of humor tucked beneath a Northeastern reserve, and the professionally tidy business casual of someone who started her career in suits. "Whatever your stereotype might be of somebody in the marijuana business, I'm probably not it," Whiteman, a former insurance marketing executive, wryly acknowledges. "I think a lot of times people are just surprised."
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
As reported in this NBC News article, the head of the Department of Homeland Security made a few notable statements about federal marijuana policy and practice in a speech today. Here are the details:
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly Tuesday called marijuana a "gateway drug" and vowed his agency will uphold federal laws against its possession, a sterner message than he delivered on the topic just last week.
"Let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs," Kelly said during a speech about his agency's mission at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "Its use and possession is against federal law and until the law is changed by the United States Congress, we in DHS, along with the rest of the federal government, are sworn to uphold all the laws that are on the books," he added.
Kelly made headlines on Sunday when he told NBC News' Chuck Todd that "marijuana is not a factor in the drug war" during an interview on "Meet The Press."
That was a noticeably softer tone than other members of President Donald Trump's administration have taken, especially Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an open opponent of legal weed. And Kelly seemed to go out of his way Tuesday to say marijuana is not something the administration takes lightly.
"When marijuana is found at aviation checkpoints and baggage screening, TSA personnel will also take appropriate action," Kelly said. "Finally, ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation, removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens."
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
West Virginia seemingly poised to become latest medical marijuana state (and first new one in the Trump era)
This new local article, headlined "Medical marijuana bill passes WV House; Senate likely to concur," reports on some interesting and notable marijuana reform news out of the Mountain State. Here are the basic details:
A bill that would permit the use of medical marijuana in West Virginia was approved by the House of Delegates on Tuesday.
The bill (SB 386), which would have created a West Virginia Cannabis Commission charged with overseeing medical marijuana regulation in the state, passed the Senate last week.On Monday, the House of Delegates amended the bill so that instead of a commission, it would create an advisory board within the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health. They also made several other changes.
In a 51-48 vote, delegates approved an amendment by Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer and House Judiciary chairman, that would prohibit smoking, ban people from growing their own plants, and charge $100,000 annual fees for growers and processors. That fee was cut in half during a late-night floor session.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said this afternoon that the Senate plans to concur with the House’s changes. Jacque Bland, spokeswoman for the Senate, said that likely won’t occur until Wednesday. “That’s our expectation, unless we find something that is just totally out of bounds in this bill,” Carmichael said. “We trust the House of Delegates and Chairman Shott’s work on this piece of legislation.”
If it occurs, the governor would still need to sign the bill for it to become law, and no patient identification cards would be issued until July of 2019....
The bill defines serious health conditions as cancer, HIV or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, sickle cell anemia, severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proven ineffective, or having a medical prognosis of one year or less.
The bureau would regulate medical cannabis in the state, review physician applications, issue permits to growers, dispensaries and processors, maintain an electronic database to include “activities and information relating to medical cannabis organizations certifications and identification cards issued, practitioner registration and electronic tracking of all medical cannabis,” and maintain a directory of patients and caregivers to whom it has issued ID cards.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Governors of first four legalization states write to AG Sessions and Secretary Mnuchin in support of Cole Memo
As reported in this Huffington Post piece, "Governors from four states where recreational marijuana is legal for adult use sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday urging them to respect state cannabis laws." The full relatively brief letter is available at this link, and here are some key passages:
As governors of states that have legalized marijuana in some form, we ask the Trump Administration to engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems. The balance struck by the 2013 Department of Justice Cole Memorandum (Cole Memo) has been indispensable – providing the necessary framework for state regulatory programs centered on public safety and health protections.
We understand you and others in the administration have some concerns regarding marijuana. We sympathize, as many of us expressed apprehensions before our states adopted current laws. As governors, we have committed to implementing the will of our citizens and have worked cooperatively with our legislatures to establish robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety, reduce inequitable incarceration and expand our economies.
The Cole Memo and the related Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance provide the foundation for state regulatory systems and are vital to maintaining control over marijuana in our states. Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states. Likewise, without the FinCEN guidance, financial institutions will be less willing to provide services to marijuana-related businesses. This would force industry participants to be even more cash reliant, posing safety risks both to the public and to state regulators conducting enforcement activity. The Cole Memo and FinCEN guidance strike a reasonable balance between allowing the states to enact reasonable regulations and the federal government’s interest in controlling some of the collateral consequences of legalization.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Should anyone get excited about the new "Path to Marijuana Reform" bills just introduced in Congress?
The question in the title of this post was my first reaction to this big new Cannabist story headlined "Bipartisan 'Path to Marijuana Reform' bills introduced to decriminalize, protect, regulate cannabis industry." The piece has the subheadline "Three marijuana-related bills address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation," and here are the basics:
U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of marijuana reform bills aimed at protecting and preserving existing state-based programs while laying framework for the federal regulation of cannabis. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, announced the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a bipartisan package of three marijuana-related bills that address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation. Included in the package is the reintroduction of legislation from Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, to regulate marijuana like alcohol.
“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Wyden said in a statement, referencing the legalization efforts in his home state and those made elsewhere. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”
The Path to Marijuana Reform includes the following bills, according to the announcement from Wyman and Blumenauer:
The Small Business Tax Equity Act — Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden’s Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.
Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act — Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; prohibits residents of marijuana-legal states to be required to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and easing barriers for medical marijuana research.
Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) — Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Rep. Polis is sponsoring a portion of this legislation in the House.
I am pleased to see additional federal legislative action in this space, but I have little reason to be hopeful that these reform bills will have any more chance of moving forward than a host of other like marijuana reform bill that have previously been put forward in recent years. I am certain that the pro-reform results of so many 2016 ballot initiatives helps keep the marijuana reform momentum moving, but I do not think this momentum has yet built to the point that anyone should get excited about these new bill becoming law anytime very soon.
March 30, 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 (1)
Monday, March 27, 2017
As readers know from recent posts, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar students deep into their class presentations. And a student this coming week is "analyzing and comparing the risks, restrictions, and barriers providers face for providing recommendations." Here are the materials this student has prepared for background on this topic:
March 27, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, March 23, 2017
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)
Friday, March 17, 2017
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
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
Over 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."
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"
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.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
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
Monday, March 6, 2017
Pennsylvania's Auditor General suggests marijuana legalization could help state close budget deficit
A 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
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:
- White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states
- AG Sessions comments negatively on state marijuana reform
- "Confusion mounts over Trump administration’s stance on marijuana"
- Aggregating evidence on marijuana's role in curbing opioid abuse after AG Sessions expresses skepticism
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.
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.