Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

"The Cannabis Effect on Crime: Time-Series Analysis of Crime in Colorado and Washington State"

Justice_quarterly_front_and_The title of this post is the title of this notable new research by multiple authors just now published in the journal Justice Quarterly.  Here is its abstract and part of its conclusions:

Abstract

Previous studies based on relatively weak analytical designs lacking contextualization and appropriate comparisons have reported that the legalization of marijuana has either increased or decreased crime.  Recognizing the importance for public policy making of more robust research designs in this area during a period of continuing reform of state marijuana laws, this study uses a quasi-experimental, multi-group interrupted time-series design to determine if, and how, UCR crime rates in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize marijuana, were influenced by it.  Our results suggest that marijuana legalization and sales have had minimal to no effect on major crimes in Colorado or Washington.  We observed no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in these states....

Conclusions

Authors of previous studies (Berenson, 2019; NHIDTA, 2016; Smart Approaches to Marijuana. (2018) argue that legalization is associated with an increase in crime.  Our results suggest that cannabis laws more broadly, and the legalization of recreational marijuana more specifically, have had minimal effect on major crime in Colorado or Washington State.  We observed virtually no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational marijuana legalization or retail sales on violent or property crime rates, except for a significant decline of burglary rates in Washington.  There were some immediate increases in crime at the point of legalization, but these did not result in long-term effects.  It is difficult to study trends for less serious crimes, as the UCR only includes arrest data for these offenses and not offenses known.  Though NIBRS data presents an attractive alternative, not all of Washington is NIBRS compliant and many of the agencies that are reporting NIBRS data have not done so for a long enough period of time pre-legalization for time series modeling to be examined.  Still, the results related to serious crime are quite clear: the legalization of marijuana has not resulted in a significant upward trend in crime rates.  Our results are robust in that we examined the first two states to legalize marijuana and compared them to states with no marijuana laws at all.  Moreover, we estimated our models in a variety of manners, including models with different interruption points, single-group interrupted time series analyses, and as a set of pooled cross-sectional models. None of our models revealed long term effects of marijuana legalization on serious crime rates.

In concert with recent research results from Makin et al. (2019), our results from Colorado and Washington suggest that legalization has not had major detrimental effects on public safety.  Having said this we would caution that it would also be premature to suggest that legalization renders substantial increases in public safety, as the rates of most crimes remained steady in this study in the post-legalization period and because crime is not the only measure of public safety.  Additional work is needed to examine the effect of legalization on other public safety outcomes, including public and mental health measures.

October 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Measuring the Criminal Justice System Impacts of Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Using State Data"

Thanks to this posting at Marijuana Moment, I just now saw a study with the same title as the title of this post.   This study, which was authored by Erin Farley and Stan Orchowsky and was supported "using funding from the National Institute of Justice, between the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Justice Research and Statistics Association," sought "to address three research questions: (1) What are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on criminal justice resources in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon?; (2) What are the impacts on criminal justice resources in states that border those that have legalized marijuana? This includes Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas; and (3) What are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on drug trafficking through northern and southwest border states?  This includes Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington."

Notably, the paper highlights that state Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) "were unable to provide the requested information" to answer these questions as a result of the fact that the requested data "did not exist because they were not being tracked or they were being tracked/collected but were not readily available because they were not being reported in any systematic way to a centralized agency." Data limitations notwithstanding and subject to other caveats about analytical challenges, the report ends noting "some general conclusions can be offered based on the analyses of the quantitative and qualitative data presented here."  Here are excerpts from these conclusions:

First, it indeed seems to be the case that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana results in fewer marijuana related arrests and court cases.  Whether we look at arrests or court case filings for possession or distribution, marijuana related offenses seem to have decreased in Oregon and Washington since legalization of recreational use. In most cases, these decreases appear to have started well before legislation was enacted, perhaps reflecting changes in law enforcement policies and practices in anticipation of the coming policy changes.

Interviews with law enforcement officials, though based on the perceptions of only a small number of respondents, provided insight into a number of concerns with regard to legalization of marijuana, including the potency of marijuana products, increased marijuana use among youth, and increases in incidents of drugged driving.  All of these anecdotal “findings” may potentially be verified empirically, provided that law enforcement agencies collect the requisite data and make it available for analysis. It should also be noted that several of the law enforcement officers interviewed indicated that methamphetamine and heroin were much larger problems for their agencies than was marijuana.

Our efforts to address the second question, regarding border states, were limited by the lack of availability of data in these states.  Nevertheless, for the data we examined, we saw no evidence that marijuana legalization had an impact on indicators in border states. Marijuana-related arrests and charges did not increase in either the state as a whole or, in the case of Nebraska, in counties that directly border the state that legalized marijuana, after legalization. It is possible that additional indicators or a longer follow-up time period might reveal impacts in these states and localities.  The few interviews we conducted in one border state (Nebraska) suggested increases in the potency of marijuana and in incidents of driving under the influence of marijuana. Again, these are perceptions that should be verified by future research.

The third question, related to drug trafficking, was particularly challenging to address.  Relatively few individuals were charged with trafficking in the data we examined, and it is difficult to identify other indicators of trafficking in state and local data.  However, in the data we did examine we found no indications of increases in arrests related to transportation/trafficking offenses.  Interview results suggested that drug trafficking had indeed increased in some states, including border states. Again, it is possible that different indicators, examined over a longer period of time, might reveal impacts of marijuana legalization on drug trafficking.

October 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Cannabis Legalization: Dealing with the Black Market"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by William J. Meadows, a recent graduate The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the thirteenth paper in an on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The twelve prior papers in this series are linked below.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:

This paper discusses how states that have legalized the recreational use of cannabis are struggling to subdue the black market.  One of the goals of legalization was to defeat the black market and create a safer legal market for cannabis products.  However, the black market still persists today, and in many states, it is actually dominating the legal market.  This paper analyzes several reasons why consumers choose the black market, and it discusses several advantages black-market producers have over the legal market.  Finally, this paper offers several possible solutions to this problem, such as working with the black market and decreasing barriers to entry in the legal market.

Prior student papers in this series:

October 7, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Tobacco historian makes case for why and how "Marijuana Reform Should Focus On Inequality"

The quoted part of the title of this post is the headline of this new Atlantic commentary authored by Sarah Milov.  The piece caught my eye in part because the piece's author, a history professor at the University of Virginia, is also the author of an interesting sounding new book, The Cigarette: A Political History.  Here are some excerpts from this new Atlantic commentary:

Especially because Americans of color have borne the brunt of the drug war, they deserve to share in the marijuana boom now taking hold across the country.  And if America’s long history with another smokable intoxicant — tobacco — is any guide, government rules will decide who can profit from growing the crop.  At the moment, though, those rules favor well-connected corporate growers rather than independent farmers, much less independent farmers of color....

Making up for the brutal inequalities of the drug war should be a major goal of marijuana reformers — but so far, the reality isn’t working out that way.  state that reforms its marijuana laws must decide how it will allocate production rights.  Right now, states severely restrict the number of licenses awarded to cannabis growers, ensuring corporate domination of the industry.  In New York, where medical marijuana is legal, just 10 companies own licenses to cultivate and dispense marijuana.  Competition is fierce over the licenses, which can sell for tens of millions of dollars — even before an ounce of marijuana is sold.  For this reason, licenses tend to go to well-financed pot conglomerates that own cultivation facilities in multiple states.

That outcome should not come as a surprise.  A federally supported program set rules for tobacco growers from the Great Depression until early this century.  Its history suggests that production regulations, when done right, can be a powerful tool to spread wealth — but also that, when done wrong, they are a highly efficient way of excluding people from an industry....

But for all its flaws, the tobacco program succeeded at what it was meant to do: endowing a designated class of Americans with a way of life that buoyed entire regional economies.  Because of strict production restrictions, tobacco farms were among the smallest for any staple commodity, which forestalled the consolidation of farms and an exodus of residents from rural areas.  And there were many tobacco farmers in the middle stratum of the farm income ladder, and relatively few at the top.  Small tobacco farms could still provide for a decent standard of living because tobacco was a high-value crop.  Growing even a small amount could be lucrative.  In 1980, an acre of cigarette tobacco was worth $2,700, as opposed to $150 for corn or $250 for soybeans.  “There is absolutely nothing on this Earth that can compete with tobacco money,” a USDA economist told The Washington Post in 1980.  Except, he added, “illegal smoking material.”...

Now that “illegal smoking materials” are legal in many states, the licensure system for marijuana cultivation is poised to replicate some of the oligopolistic features of the tobacco program, while thwarting its genuinely redistributive ones.  Instead of charging would-be cannabis growers for the privilege of growing, states should award licenses to a larger number of applicants from communities that have been hit hard by the War on Drugs.  Much as small-scale tobacco farms anchored entire communities across the Southeast, cannabis cultivation on a human scale, rather than a corporate one, can build wealth within communities of color where opportunities to amass property have been denied—  frequently at the hands of the government.

Indeed, the excesses of the drug war aren’t the only reason to enact more inclusive policies for marijuana farming.  U.S. agricultural policy, too, has throughout its history been skewed against African Americans.  When black farmers have availed themselves of government programs, they have frequently found discrimination and, ultimately, dispossession.

But those same tools can be put to work in the opposite direction.  The tobacco program was devised to address the emergency of the Great Depression, and it did so in a way that sustained the livelihoods and communities of a targeted group of Americans.  The effects of the War on Drugs are no less severe for communities of color, and the need for opportunity is no less urgent.

October 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Noticing how some major cannabis players are responding to vaping crisis

I have notices a number of new stories and reports about a number of marijuana reform groups and marijuana industry players responding to the recent worrisome vaping illnesses and deaths.  Here is a partial round-up:

From Americans For Safe Access, "ASA Creates Patient-Focused Recommendations in Light of the Vaping Crisis"

From Marijuana Policy Project, "Nation’s Largest Marijuana Policy Reform Group Releases Report on Cannabis Vaping Regulations"

From Marijuana Moment, "Hundreds Of Companies Sign Letter Calling For Marijuana Descheduling To Prevent Vaping Injuries"

October 3, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

"100 Years Since Prohibition: Legacy for the War on Drugs"

The title of this post is the title of a talk by Harvard University Professor Lisa McGirr being hosted tomorrow by the The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. Here is the event description:

In her latest book, The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr revises our understanding of the Prohibition years.  The 1920s were not just about gin joints and Jazz; McGirr emphasizes, instead, the serious and long-lasting legacies of the ban on alcohol.  McGirr charts how the ban built the edifice of the federal penal state, fueled the Ku Klux Klan’s power, reshaped politics, and served as a dress rehearsal for the much larger and longer-lasting war on drugs.

For those in the central Ohio area, it is not too late to register for this event at this link.

October 3, 2019 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

"Contribution of Marijuana Legalization to the U.S. Opioid Mortality Epidemic: Individual and Combined Experience of 27 States and District of Columbia"

The title of this post is the title of this new forthcoming research article authored by Archie Bleyer and Brian Barnes.  Here is its abstract:

Background

Prior studies of U.S. states as of 2013 and one state as of 2015 suggested that marijuana availability reduces opioid mortality (marijuana protection hypothesis).  This investigation tested the hypothesis with opioid mortality trends updated to 2017 and by evaluating all states and the District of Columbia (D.C.).

Methods

Opioid mortality data obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were used to compare opioid death rate trends in each marijuana-legalizing state and D.C. before and after medicinal and recreational legalization implementation and their individual and cumulative aggregate trends with concomitant trends in non-legalizing states.  The Joinpoint Regression Program identified statistically-significant mortality trends and when they occurred.

Results

Of 23 individually evaluable legalizing jurisdictions, 78% had evidence for a statistically-significant acceleration of opioid death rates after medicinal or recreational legalization implementation at greater rates than their pre-legalization rate or the concurrent composite rate in non-legalizing states.  All four jurisdictions evaluable for recreational legalization had evidence (p <0.05) for subsequent opioid death rate increases, one had a distinct acceleration, and one a reversal of prior decline.  Since 2009-2012, when the cumulative-aggregate opioid death rate in the legalizing jurisdictions was the same as in the non-legalizing group, the legalizing group′s rate accelerated increasingly faster (p=0.009).  By 2017 it was 67% greater than in the non-legalizing group (p<0.05).

Conclusions

The marijuana protection hypothesis is not supported by recent U.S. data on opioid mortality trends.  Instead, legalizing marijuana appears to have contributed to the nation′s opioid mortality epidemic.

October 1, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

US House of passes SAFE Banking Act by a vote of 321-103, but Senate vote still seems unlikely

Safe-banking-horizontal-1-800x419As reported in this MarketWatch piece, headlined "House passes cannabis-banking bill, but getting Senate’s OK still looks tricky," one piece of significant federal marijuana reform moved a step forward today.  Here are the details:

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives late Wednesday voted to pass a bill protecting banks that work with the marijuana industry, but some analysts are warning that the measure isn’t likely to become law in 2019 as it faces a tough road in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The chances of enactment this year for the bill — known as the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act — have risen to 1 in 3, up from 1 in 5, reckons Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners. Those still aren’t great odds, however.  “We remain skeptical for now,” Katz said in a note before the House vote, though he added that the chances could get better “if we see meaningful signals from the Senate in the next few weeks.”

The bill aims to give clarification to banks and credit unions that serve cannabis companies with, for instance, business accounts for bill paying. Currently, financial institutions face legal problems because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, even as more states legalize it.  Lobbyists have emphasized that many cannabis businesses end up “unbanked” and operating largely in cash, and that makes them targets for robberies and other crimes.

Influential Republican Sen. Mike Crapo gave some hope to the SAFE Banking Act’s supporters earlier this month, as the Senate Banking Committee chairman told Politico that he wanted to hold a committee vote before the year’s end on a cannabis banking bill. There are no additional details on the potential timing for such a vote, said a spokeswoman for the Idaho lawmaker on Monday.  Crapo had sounded noncommittal on the issue at a July hearing.

The SAFE Banking Act “has been sweetened for Republicans,” Katz said. One provision would prevent the return of Operation Choke Point, an Obama-era program that Crapo mentioned at the July hearing and that involved investigating banks for doing business with payday lenders and firearms dealers. Another new provision aims to protect financial firms that serve the hemp industry, which is a force in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But McConnell continues to look like he could serve as a big roadblock to the bill. He described marijuana last year as hemp’s “illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace.” “There’s a line of thinking that McConnell could go along with a pot banking bill to help Republicans in the 2020 elections,” Katz said.  “The tough re-election prospects of Republican Sen. Cory Gardner [a co-sponsor of the bill] of marijuana-friendly Colorado are often cited.  But the benefit to Republicans, especially in the West and South, of supporting a bill that’s at least superficially pro-marijuana, is debatable.”

At the other end of the political spectrum, the bill had faced opposition ahead of Wednesday’s House vote from several progressive groups, such as the Center for American Progress, the American Civil Liberties Union and others.  In a letter to top House Democrats, the groups criticized the efforts to advance a bill that just addresses banking issues, but does not help “communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition,” yet have been “shut out” of the growing industry.  Their concerns didn’t end up stopping the House from passing the measure.

Wednesday’s vote happened under a suspension of House rules that limited debate and meant that two-thirds of the lawmakers present and voting needed to back the measure.  The vote tally was announced as 321 in favor vs. 103 against....

Many players in the cannabis industry say banking-related legislation will become law at some point in the next few years, even if 2019 doesn’t bring the action that they hope to see.  “I’m fairly confident that either the SAFE Act or STATES Act will be passed,” said Rob DiPisa, co-chair of law firm Cole Schotz’s Cannabis Law Group. “I think the industry has come too far.  The cat’s out of the bag, and it’s not going to disappear, so banking needs to happen.”

September 25, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

More notable coverage of marijuana enforcement challenges thanks to hemp legalization

Mitch-mcon-weedIn prior posts here and here I have highlighted ways in which hemp and other cannabis reforms have made marijuana enforcement ever more challenging for law enforcement. Politico has this new lengthy article covering these realities with a spotlight on Senator Mitch McConnell's central role in hemp reform under the headline "Marijuana Mitch? How McConnell’s hemp push has made pot busts harder." Here are excerpts:

Mitch McConnell’s big victory for his home state hemp industry may have made it easier for people busted for marijuana to get off the hook.

Last year, McConnell pushed to get a provision legalizing hemp into the farm bill.  His goal was to spur hemp farming across the country and boost farmers in his home state of Kentucky who have been battered by a loss in federal tobacco subsidies.

But here’s the catch: Hemp and marijuana products both come from the same plant, cannabis, which makes it nearly impossible for the average cop to tell the difference.  As states rushed to change their hemp laws to capitalize on the federal changes, many municipalities are giving up on small-time pot busts because of a lack of reliable testing.  Under federal and most state laws, hemp can’t be more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that triggers a high.  Before hemp was legal, police only had tests that could detect the presence of THC, not how much.

Now that cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC is legal, a growing number of prosecutors are requiring lab tests to bring charges. The mere presence of THC is no longer enough.

For example, in Texas, prosecutors were shocked by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s embrace of a hemp bill in June, said Paul Fortenberry, the narcotics division chief in the Harris County district attorney’s office.  The new law led to several district attorney’s offices to set policies requiring lab testing in marijuana cases.  Hundreds of people across the state happily had their cases dismissed.

Prosecutors in Florida, Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere have announced similar policies following hemp legalization laws. Five states legalized hemp this year and others expanded existing hemp programs because of the farm bill.

In Ohio, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein’s office announced in August that it would stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases entirely after Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the state’s hemp legalization bill.  “I was not opposed to the law because of what it meant for Ohio farmers,” Klein said.  “Our farmers have been particularly hit by President [Donald] Trump’s trade war with China so it’s a positive thing for our state … but it still doesn’t mean there aren’t unintended consequences of this law.”

The localities where changes have already been made are likely just the first of many.  “It is a national issue.  This is not anything that is limited to just a few states,” said Duffie Stone, a South Carolina prosecutor and president of the National District Attorneys Association.

Hemp backers including McConnell, especially in conservative-leaning states, frame the hemp legalization issue as an agricultural one.  The crop cannot be consumed as an intoxicating drug, and it can help otherwise struggling farmers access a booming global market worth $3.7 billion in 2018.

But the issue of hemp cuts across several issues.  It’s exactly this focus on agriculture that caught prosecutors off guard in the first place — the hemp bill in Texas went through the agriculture committee.  “Typically when we have a criminal justice bill, it will come through the criminal justice committee,” Fortenberry said.  “Legislatures are seeing that other states have hemp programs worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and they don’t want farmers in their state to get left behind,” he said.  “But in the process of doing that, I don’t think that they foresaw this unintended consequence.”

Earlier this year, South Dakota’s legislature passed a hemp legalization bill that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem promptly vetoed, arguing that it would undermine marijuana enforcement.  While lawmakers fell a few votes short of overriding her veto, they have vowed to try again in 2020.

“I find hard to believe [McConnell] would have moved [hemp legalization] in the same way had he been thinking about all these different implications,” said Melissa Moore, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that aims to reduce criminalization in drug policies.  McConnell has previously opposed efforts to liberalize marijuana laws and didn’t return requests for comment for this report.

The farm bill essentially legalized hemp by removing it from the definition of marijuana under federal drug laws. Regulatory agencies haven’t finalized rules for the newly legal industry, however, leaving the nearly $2 billion industry built on the hemp derivative CBD in a regulatory limbo. CBD is a trendy cannabis compound used for relieving anxiety, pain, inflammation and more, though research on its efficacy is slim.  Hemp cultivars generally contain higher amounts of CBD and trace amounts of THC.  Its industrial applications abound: Hemp is gaining attention for its environmental friendliness and can be used in textiles, construction, biofuels, and more....

CBD-rich hemp flowers often look and smell the same as marijuana flowers that are high in THC. “Testing before didn’t distinguish the quantity of THC,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot.  Without some sort of lab results showing that the substance had more than the legal limit of THC, “it just didn’t make any sense to accept the case.”

Texas lawmakers were so dismayed by marijuana cases being tossed out that they wrote a letter to local prosecutors arguing that lab tests aren’t required in every case.  “Criminal cases may be prosecuted with lab tests or with the tried and true use of circumstantial evidence,” read the letter signed by the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, and state attorney general.

Some smaller DA offices in the state agree. A spokesperson for the El Paso DA’s office sent a statement pointing to a provision of the Texas Health and Safety Code for its decision to continue prosecuting marijuana cases without lab results. But prosecutors in the state’s more populous counties have a different view. “In this day and age, when you have the actual ability to determine whether something is a certain substance, juries expect you to bring you that evidence,” Fortenberry said.

But the lack of testing equipment to differentiate between hemp and marijuana has overwhelmed state crime labs and using private labs can be pricey for local authorities.  Some local police departments are exploring a roadside test from Switzerland, where cannabis under 1 percent THC is legal.  In Florida, more sophisticated testing is coming soon to law enforcement agencies in the Sunshine State: An agriculture official told the Industrial Hemp Advisory Council that a new THC field test will cost $6.50 per test.

Stone said local prosecutors in South Carolina are sending samples to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which hired additional chemists and bought additional mass spectrometry machines that each cost about $100,000.

Like Texas, South Carolina hemp laws followed last year’s farm bill. But unlike other states that have seen prosecutions move away from marijuana cases, South Carolina prosecutors can still move forward with the cases because there is no statute of limitations for any criminal offense in the state.  In Texas, the statute of limitations for marijuana offenses is two years. That’s why prosecutors’ offices are tossing cases, said Creuzot, the Dallas County district attorney.  There’s such a “tremendous backlog” at state crime labs that the suspected marijuana samples can’t be tested before the statute of limitations runs up.

Ohio bought equipment that isn’t yet online, said Klein, but it will eventually allow the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to test suspected marijuana samples.  When testing becomes available, prosecutors in the state also will have a two-year statute of limitations to contend with....

Proponents of marijuana legalization, however, caution that a lack of enforcement does not solve the issues that legalization and regulation would address.  “Certain individuals will avoid prosecution, but the only way to truly end the arrest of adults for marijuana is to fully legalize it at the state level,” said Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, an organization that advocates for marijuana legalization.

Creuzot said police officers often file marijuana cases anyways, despite knowing that his office won’t pursue the charges. “They arrest the person [and] take them to jail....  I don’t have any control over that if that’s what they want to do,” he said.  “An arrest in and of itself, even if the case is dismissed, can still have life-altering effects for somebody,” said Moore, of the Drug Policy Alliance, listing the potential consequences: barriers to employment opportunities, loans for higher education, affordable housing, and family law and immigration implications.

Recent related posts:

September 25, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"Achieving Diversity in the Marijuana Industry: Should States Implement Social Equity into Their Regimes?"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Jared Kriwinsky, a recent graduate The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the twelveth in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The eleven prior papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

As states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, in medical or recreational form, a new legal market is forming. As more and more companies begin to profit off the legalization of marijuana it begs the question: who is reaping the economic benefits of legalization?  Following decades of the War of Drugs, minority communities have been particularly devastated.  Consequently, states who have legalized marijuana both recreationally and medically have a duty to ensure equal access for the minority communities who were disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. 

This paper examines social equity regimes throughout the country and how states have attempted to induce minority participation in the marijuana industry.  It analyzes the arguments for and against social equity regimes.  The primary goal of this article is to address the arguments against social equity regimes in the marijuana industry, and induce states to implement common sense, economical regimes that give equal and just opportunities to those in the minority community.

Prior student papers in this series:

September 24, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases sixth annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States." The Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform in Colorado, and it has produced regular annual reports around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact." Volume six of that report, which runs around 70 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here are excerpts from the report's executive summary highlighting some of coverage:

Section I: Traffic Fatalities & Impaired Driving

  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 109 percent while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 31 percent.
  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 115 people killed in 2018....

Section II: Marijuana Use

Since recreational marijuana was legalized:

  • Past month marijuana use for ages 12 and older increased 58 percent and is 78 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • Adult marijuana use increased 94 percent and is 96 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • College age marijuana use increased 18 percent and is 48 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.
  • Youth marijuana use decreased 14 percent and is 40 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.

Section III: Public Health

  • The yearly number of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 54 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).
  • The yearly number of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 101 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).

As I have noted before, the these RMHIDTA "Impact" reports are clearly exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado while deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts. This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization. Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report highlights only what a small portion of the overall state tax revenue is represented by marijuana taxes.

But, as I have also said before, despite these reporting biases, this report still usefully assembles lots of data and usefully represents the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment.  Serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying, while also keeping in mind what data is not here assembled.

September 18, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advocacy groups urge House leaders not to move forward with banking bill that "does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition"

As noted in this prior post, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is reportedly planning to put a marijuana banking bill on the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote in the  coming weeks.  But yesterday a set of advocacy groups sent this short and significant letter to House leaders urging a postponement of the floor vote because the SAFE Banking Act fails to address any criminal justice reform issues.  Here are excerpts from the letter:  

The Congress has a unique opportunity to address the myriad injustices created by this nation’s marijuana laws. For decades, people of color have suffered under harsh and racially-biased marijuana laws. Although marijuana use is equal between whites and Blacks, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses. Despite many states legalizing marijuana, arrests have increased, with one arrest every 48 seconds.  Against this backdrop, we urge Congress to address the issue of marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively, with timely Committee and Floor consideration of H.R.3884 – the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.  Marijuana legislation must first address the equity and criminal justice reform consequences of prohibition.

The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.  To be clear, we recognize the challenges facing marijuana businesses that lack access to financial services.  However, we believe it is a mistake to move this issue forward while many of the other consequences of marijuana prohibition remain unresolved.  The banking bill does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition – namely, that many people of color have been saddled with criminal records for a substance that is now legal in many states, and that communities have been shut out of the emerging and booming marijuana industry....

Since the start of the 116th Congress, we have expressed concern to House Leadership, the House Financial Services Committee, and member offices, that if the banking bill moved to the Floor before broader reform, it would jeopardize comprehensive marijuana reform.  Therefore, we have pushed for a conversation among advocates, Committee leadership, and House Leadership to formulate a plan for moving marijuana legislation in a way that is comprehensive and does not result in carve-outs for the industry and leave behind impacted communities.

We ask that you delay any vote on the banking bill until agreement has been reached around broader marijuana reform.

September 18, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Keeping up with the times: how national public health and governmental organizations communicate about cannabis on Twitter"

The title of this post is the title of this new "Short Report" authored by Jenna van Draanen, Tanvi Krishna, Christie Tsang and Sam Liu for the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy.  Recognizing the partial M.C. Escher-like quality of blogging (and automatically tweeting) this piece, here is its abstract:

Background

Public health and governmental organizations are expected to provide guidance to the public on emerging health issues in accessible formats.  It is, therefore, important to examine how such organizations are discussing cannabis online and the information that is being provided to the public about this increasingly legal and available substance.

Methods

This paper presents a concise thematic analysis of both the volume and content of cannabis-related health information from selected (n = 13) national-level public health and governmental organizations in Canada and the U.S. on Twitter.

Results

There were eight themes identified in Tweets including 1) health-related topics; 2) legalization and legislation; 3) research on cannabis; 4) special populations; 5) driving and cannabis; 6) population issues; 7) medical cannabis, and 8) public health issues.  The majority of cannabis-related Tweets from the organizations studied came from relatively few organizations and there were substantial differences between the topics covered by U.S. and Canadian organizations.  The organizations studied provided limited information regarding how to use cannabis in ways that will minimize health-related harms.

Conclusions

Authoritative organizations that deal with public health may consider designing timely social media communications with emerging cannabis-related information, to benefit a general public otherwise exposed to primarily pro-cannabis content on Twitter.

September 18, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Web/Tech, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Exploring the intersection of police work and marijuana (and marijuana reform)

This past week bought two notable news pieces on the ever-important and ever-dynamic intersection of policing and marijuana.  Here are headlines, links and small excerpts:

From the AP, "In era of legal pot, can police search cars based on odor?":

Sniff and search is no longer the default for police in some of the 33 states that have legalized marijuana.  Traditionally, an officer could use the merest whiff of weed to justify a warrantless vehicle search, and whatever turned up — pot, other kinds of illegal drugs, something else the motorist wasn’t allowed to have — could be used as evidence in court.

That’s still true in the minority of states where marijuana remains verboten.  But the legal analysis is more complicated in places where pot has been approved for medical or adult use, and courts are beginning to weigh in.  The result is that, in some states, a police officer who sniffs out pot isn’t necessarily allowed to go through someone’s automobile — because the odor by itself is no longer considered evidence of a crime.

From the New York Times, "Officers Said They Smelled Pot. The Judge Called Them Liars.":

Police officers can often justify a search with six words: “I smelled an odor of marijuana.” Courts in New York have long ruled if a car smells like marijuana smoke, the police can search it — and, according to some judges, even the occupants — without a warrant.

But in late July, a judge in the Bronx said in a scathing opinion that officers claim to smell marijuana so often that it strains credulity, and she called on judges across the state to stop letting police officers get away with lying about it. “The time has come to reject the canard of marijuana emanating from nearly every vehicle subject to a traffic stop,” Judge April Newbauer wrote in a decision in a case involving a gun the police discovered in car they had searched after claiming to have smelled marijuana.

September 16, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Serious talk of marijuana banking bill moving forward in Congress

This new Politico piece, headlined "Hoyer plans cannabis banking vote this month," reports that there is new momentum behind a small but very important federal marijuana reform bill.  Here are the details:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer intends to put cannabis banking legislation on the floor this month, a historic step toward legitimizing the marijuana industry nationwide.

A Hoyer spokesperson said the Maryland Democrat was discussing the matter with members but hasn't scheduled the vote just yet. He shared his plans at a whip meeting yesterday.  Other House Democratic aides said they expected the bill to be on the floor during the week of Sept. 23.

The bipartisan legislation would shield banks from federal penalties if they serve cannabis-related businesses in states where the drug has been legalized. Banks have been lobbying for the bill because cannabis remains banned at the federal level.

The new movement in the House comes as the legislation appears to be getting unexpected traction in the Senate, where Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is planning to hold a vote on a cannabis banking bill this year.

This piece at Marijuana Moment, headlined "Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month," provides more context and quotes concerning these developments. It also has this account why matters are now moving forward:

While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.

I have generally been pessimistic about the prospects for any form of federal marijuana reform primarily because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has seemed disinclined to allow any reforms to get to the Senate floor.  I fear that this remains a reality that will thwart passage of even a modest reform bill that might have considerable support on both sides of the aisle. But, as proved true with the sentencing reform legislation last year, it seems possible that Senator McConnell would be willing to move the bill if President Trump and a significant number of GOP Senators expressed support for it. Stay tuned.

September 16, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

"Fatal crashes in the 5 years after recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington"

The title of this post is the title of this new research by multiple authors published in the November 2019 issue of the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention.  Here is its abstract:

Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, but the effects of legalization on motor vehicle crashes remains unknown. Using Fatality Analysis Reporting System data, we performed difference-in-differences (DD) analyses comparing changes in fatal crash rates in Washington, Colorado and nine control states with stable anti-marijuana laws or medical marijuana laws over the five years before and after recreational marijuana legalization.  In separate analyses, we evaluated fatal crash rates before and after commercial marijuana dispensaries began operating in 2014.

In the five years after legalization, fatal crash rates increased more in Colorado and Washington than would be expected had they continued to parallel crash rates in the control states (+1.2 crashes/billion vehicle miles traveled, CI: -0.6 to 2.1, p = 0.087), but not significantly so.  The effect was more pronounced and statistically significant after the opening of commercial dispensaries (+1.8 crashes/billion vehicle miles traveled, CI: +0.4 to +3.7, p = 0.020).  These data provide evidence of the need for policy strategies to mitigate increasing crash risks as more states legalize recreational marijuana.

September 15, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 13, 2019

"Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice"

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

Psychedelics are powerful psychoactive substances which alter consciousness and brain function.  Like cannabis, psychedelics have long been considered prohibited Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.   However, via the powerful psychological experiences they induce, psychedelics are now being shown to be viable therapeutic alternatives in treating depression, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses, and even to enhance the well-being of healthy individuals.

In May 2019, Denver, Colorado became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) — a potential major shift in the War on Drugs. Ballot initiatives for the decriminalization of psilocybin and similar substances are now reaching voters in other cities and states.  What principles might justify this decriminalization — eliminating criminal penalties for, at a minimum, the use and possession — of psilocybin and other psychedelics?

This Article provides background on psychedelics and a historic overview of the laws surrounding them.  It then considers several potential justifications for decriminalizing psychedelics: (1) medical value; (2) religious freedom; (3) cognitive liberty; and (4) identity politics.  Lastly, the Article proposes a reframed justification rooted in principles of social justice. 

September 13, 2019 in Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 9, 2019

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Why IRC § 280E Is Not the Industry Killer It Is Portrayed to Be"

The title of this post is the title of  this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Patrick Cleary, a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the eleventh in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The ten prior papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

Taxes implicate nearly every area of business.  The recent marijuana boom has thrust one tax code provision into the spotlight. IRC § 280E prohibits tax deductions and credits for expenses paid or incurred in the trafficking of Schedule I or II controlled substances.  This increases tax liability for marijuana businesses who commonly refer to the provision as an “industry killer.”  This paper intentionally goes against the grain to show how IRC § 280E is not the “industry killer” it is portrayed to be and explores ways in which slow growth may be marijuana’s best path forward. 

The argument in favor of IRC § 280E is made by explaining the provisions’ development and legal framework before applying it to the marijuana industry . Next, IRC § 280E must be contextualized within the marijuana industry’s rapid growth and the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  Lastly, the Oregon example is used to exemplify how IRC § 280E is helping the industry by providing a check on cash flow and preventing prices from being driven down further through saturation.

Prior student papers in this series:

September 9, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Politico rides with the high times with new cannabis newsletter

Main_1547760102-Cheech-Marin-Tommy-Chong-Signed-High-Times-Magazine-Cover-16x20-Photo-Beckett-COA-PristineAuction.comOld folks like me remember when one had to track down a hard copy of an issue of High Times in order to read about marijuana and policy reform.  But times sure have changed, and the latest media marker of modern high times may be the new newsletter that was rolled out today by Politico,  a highly respected inside-the-beltway media outlet covering politics and policy.  This newsletter is described this way:

This newsletter launches at a historic moment for marijuana and cannabis policy.  Marijuana is legal on some level in 33 states but illegal at the federal level, creating a bewildering and complex web of legal, regulatory and business questions that even the most expert policy makers and lawyers struggle to answer.

This newsletter offers a sneak preview of what we will do for our Pro subscribers starting next month.  Our mission for Pro readers is to cover these policy issues with passion and expertise, to deliver exclusive news and analysis, and to report on cannabis from a neutral, unbiased point of view.  We come to this issue with no pre-cooked narrative about what should happen on cannabis policy.  Our stories will focus on what POLITICO Pro does best: explaining policy issues and the politics behind them and delivering the news in an easy to digest format so that you can use our content to make business decisions.

And here are two new stories from the Politico team about happenings inside and outside the Beltway:

"Why the most pro-marijuana Congress ever won’t deal with weed":

This could be a big moment for marijuana and Congress. But Democrats are fighting Democrats over whether to focus on social justice issues or industry priorities like banking. Marijuana advocates are divided among themselves over whether to push for full legalization or settle for less far-reaching legislation.  And many Republicans — some of whom are seeing the benefits of cannabis legalization in their home states — are still decidedly against any legalization on the national level, even for medicinal uses.

At the same time that Congress is in gridlock, there is growing national support for cannabis, which is illegal at the federal level but at least partially legal in 33 states.  In addition, public opinion is shifting rapidly, with nearly two-thirds of Americans supporting legalization according to Gallup — double the level of support two decades ago.  That’s led to a steadily growing number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who represent states with legal cannabis markets, making them more sympathetic toward legislation aimed at helping the burgeoning industry — which brought in roughly $10 billion in sales last year.

These conflicts between state and federal law have created a rash of problems for cannabis companies, including lack of access to banking services, sky-high federal tax rates and bewildering questions about exactly what business practices are legal.

"How marijuana is poised for a North American takeover":

The United States is feeling some North American peer pressure to get in on the cannabis boom.  Producers in Canada, where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational uses, are already planning for a future where pot is a globally traded commodity, and some are setting themselves up to profit if it is legalized in the U.S.

In Mexico cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes, and the landscape could shift further: The country's new president, whose party controls a majority in the national legislature, sent a proposal to the Mexican Senate late last year to legalize recreational use.

September 9, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Hemp legalization is slippery slope, and that’s OK"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Columbus Dispatch commentary authored by Benton Bodamer, who is a member of the law firm Dickinson Wright and teaches a Cannabiz course here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Regulators and law enforcement have a wildly impractical task in attempting to regulate companies, plants and products using a distinguishing factor (hemp vs. marijuana) that is both arbitrary and mutable.  There are no federal guidelines on how dry cannabis must be to test for THC, nor guidelines for the stage of cultivation or processing at which testing should occur.  As cannabis dries, the THC content increases and that process can continue after harvest and testing.  This means that temperature changes during transportation could turn “hemp” into “marijuana” unless we have a federally standardized testing and transportation procedure and methodology, which we do not.

CBD and THC can be extracted from both federally noncompliant marijuana and federally legal hemp.  If it is the exact same substance at the molecular level, should we really care?

In the face of federal illegality, draconian tax burdens, Wild West banking and competition from black market illegal operations, the state-compliant cannabis industry in America has managed to build a base of sophisticated investors, informed customers, medical professionals and even Republican supporters (gasp!), cultivating a promising industry that has generated millions of tax dollars and thousands of jobs. This industry persists in 33 states (and growing) because the vast majority of the country knows that the federal law is wrong and largely unenforced....

When laws are irrational we lose faith in civil institutions.  The cannabis industry is filled with “efficient illegality,” meaning noncompliance meets with little risk of federal enforcement against state-compliant businesses. F ederal prosecutorial dollars for action against state-compliant cannabis businesses are throttled through federal legislative restraints and 33 states have now decided that they would rather generate tax dollars from cannabis than spend tax revenue persecuting its nonthreatening uses.  Continuing the charade of federal illegality is doing far more harm to public perception in the value of laws and law enforcement than full-scale legalization with sensible federal, state, and local regulation would do.

There’s a simple answer to the confusion over “hemp” and “marijuana,” and it’s one that happens to reflect popular opinion.  It’s time to fully legalize the cannabis plant and the cannabinoids extracted from it and build a data-driven industry from the existing state-sanctioned marketplaces.  The sooner we stop pretending that century-old uninformed hysteria constitutes a sound public health policy, the sooner we can heal and grow (cannabis) together.

September 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)