Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"An Overview of Decriminalization Efforts in Regard to Psychedelic Plants in the United States, 2019-2020"

The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Aaron Roberts, a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this paper's abstract:  

This paper examines the recent developments made in psychedelic-related drug policy in the United States.  The paper gives an overview of the decriminalization efforts made at the state and local levels.  The paper also looks at the historical, cultural, political, and public health factors that have shaped psychedelic policy throughout American history and into the current day.  Lastly, the paper shares some concerns about discrimination and unequal access present in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

November 23, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Oregon Narcotics Decriminalization: Example or Outcast?"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Blake Gerstner, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:  

In November 2020, the people of the State of Oregon spoke loudly and clearly by passing Ballot Measure 110, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of narcotics across the board, from cocaine to heroin to methamphetamine.  As a state with a recent, large increase in overdose deaths, Oregon now stands at the forefront of the U.S. decriminalization effort, setting an example for, or becoming an outcast among, its sister states. While only time will tell the long-term implications of this pioneering initiative, such legislation has long been sought by doctors, care specialists, and legal professionals across the United States as a compassion-driven step toward reversing the consequences of a lost war on drugs.  By focusing on ending the cycle of addiction among narcotic users, rather than penalizing and ostracizing those trapped in said cycle, its supporters have high hopes for greatly reducing drug addiction and overdose deaths, ending the mass incarceration of narcotics-addicted individuals, and terminating the illicit drug trade by refocusing attention on those who perpetuate the narcotics black market. From the criminal justice system, to mental health and addiction support, and to broader sociological and political understandings, the effects of Oregon’s initiative will almost certainly be vast and far-reaching, likely changing forever how the U.S. government, its institutions, and its citizens view drug use and addiction.

We can begin to grasp the amplitude of Ballot Measure 110 by looking to Oregon’s specific drug problems and how the measure could solve them.  The purpose of this article is to provide a bird’s-eye view of Oregon’s new model by exploring two interrelated topics.  First, I provide an in-depth explanation of the Measure’s intent and purpose, analyzing its language, original objective, and subsequent developments to comprehend exactly what Oregonians voted for and what can be expected.  Second, I offer a brief presentation of one Oregon-specific problem, methamphetamine addiction, and how the initiative could change meth use, enforcement, and criminalization.  In doing so, I hope to expound upon potential future implications of the Oregon measure as a whole, with the hope of imparting some idea of decriminalization’s future in the Beaver State.

November 23, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"New GOP weed approach: Feds must ‘get out of the way’" ... which is an important historic drug policy theme

9780197582183The first part of the title of this post is the headline of this notable new Politico piece, and the second part draws on this recent short book review that I recently authored for The Federalist Society blog.  I was reviewing Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s majestic Who Decides, in which the judge richly develops and documents why “some matters should not be nationalized” while urging a “renewed appreciation for the virtues of localism.”  In my (too brief) review, I stressed the importance of these localism themes for drug policy throughout US history, and I highlighted this fascinating 1921 Atlantic piece by journalist Louis Graves discussing how alcohol prohibition most effectively gained adherents from a “gradual building up of dry sentiment" at the local level until “Federal interference ... dealt a blow to the cause of real prohibition.”

With Judge Sutton's book and my own affinity for ever-evolving political realities, the long Politico piece by Natalie Fertig and Mona Zhang provides an effective accounting of some structural issues in play in the modern marijuana reform discourse.  I recommend the article in full, and here are excerpts:

Republicans are warming to weed. Nearly half of Republican voters support federally decriminalizing cannabis, and GOP lawmakers are now beginning to reflect their constituents’ view by increasingly supporting broad legalization at the state and federal level.

“We need the federal government just to get out of the way,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who introduced the first Republican bill in Congress to decriminalize marijuana this past week and pointed to more than 70 percent of Americans supporting the idea.

Stronger Republican involvement could hasten a snowball effect on Capitol Hill, where Democrats lead the charge on decriminalization but lack results. It could also chip away at Democrats’ ability to use cannabis legalization to excite progressives and younger voters as the midterms approach.

“When the culture becomes more accepting of something, even the most resistant groups get tugged along,” said Dan Judy, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, which focuses on Republican politics. “I don't want to directly conflate marijuana legalization with something like gay marriage, but I think there's a similar dynamic at play.”

Earlier this year, North Dakota’s GOP-dominated House passed a marijuana legalization bill introduced by two Republican lawmakers — the first adult-use legalization bill to pass in a Republican-dominated chamber. And Mace's bill marks the first time a Republican has proposed federal legislation to decriminalize cannabis, expunge certain cannabis convictions and tax and regulate the industry.

As Republicans wade into the weed group chat, they are bringing their principles, constituents and special interest groups. When Mace introduced her bill on a freezing day on the House triangle, she was surrounded at the podium not by Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but by veterans groups, medical marijuana parents, cannabis industry lobbyists and Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity.

Many GOP proposals include lower taxes and a less regulatory approach than Democratic-led bills, while often maintaining elements popular among most voters, like the expungement of nonviolent cannabis convictions. “I tried to be very thoughtful about what I put in the bill that would appeal to Democrats and Republicans,” Mace said in an interview on Monday. “Which is why criminal justice reform is part of it. It's why the excise tax is low.”

The motivations bringing Republicans to the table are also changing. Former Capitol Hill cannabis advocates like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) advocated primarily for their state legalization programs, but Mace comes from South Carolina — a state with no medical or recreational cannabis program. She joins other GOP lawmakers who are pushing for federal policy to move beyond their own states — they include Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida, where only medical marijuana is legal, and libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which does not yet have a medical program....

Six in 10 younger GOP voters — what Pew described as the “Ambivalent Right” in a recent report — believe marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, but older, educated Republicans and Christian conservatives do not feel the same way....

Republicans who support legalization are viewing the issue through the prism of states' rights, personal freedom, job creation and tax revenue. Many libertarian-leaning Republicans are early supporters of cannabis policy reform, arguing that arresting people for using cannabis is a violation of personal liberties.

Some Republicans also cite the racial disparities in marijuana arrests as a reason to fix federal law — though Democrats focus more strongly on criminal justice reform on the whole. And, as is the case for Democrats, the shift is often generational: Texas Young Republicans announced they support marijuana decriminalization back in 2015.

The shift within the GOP at times is less about lawmakers’ own beliefs about marijuana and more about how much the public has shifted on the subject. Bill sponsors in North Dakota, for example, said they were personally opposed to marijuana, but introduced the bill anyways to head off the possibility of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana through the constitution — especially after South Dakota voters approved legalization in 2020.

November 21, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Highlighting the persistent Democratic divide over federal marijuana reform

Those who follow happenings inside the Beltway know that the primary roadblock to federal marijuana reform right now is the debate over whether to make smaller reforms (like the SAFE Banking bill) or to go for a more comprehensive approach to reform.  This lengthy new Washington Post piece, headlined "Democratic divide puts congressional action on marijuana in doubt," effectively review the state of this debate as of mid-November 2021.  I recommend the full piece, and here is how it gets started:

A split on Capitol Hill over marijuana policy has lawmakers confronting the possibility that they could again fail to pass any meaningful changes to the federal prohibition of cannabis this Congress, even as polls show vast majorities of Americans support at least partial legalization of the drug.

The clash, on one level, follows familiar contours for Washington policymaking: A narrower measure with significant bipartisan support — one that would make it easier for banks to do business with legitimate cannabis firms in states where marijuana is legal — is in limbo while a smaller group of lawmakers pushes for a much broader bill.

But it has also become infused with questions of racial equity and political competence that have pitted key Democrats against each other as they seek a way to roll back federal marijuana laws that have gone largely unchanged since the height of the War on Drugs in the 1980s and 1990s.

The conflict has come to a head in recent weeks after a push by Democratic and Republican lawmakers to attach the narrower banking legislation to the must-pass annual defense policy bill, which would ensure its passage in the coming months.  The bill’s advocates say it would offer a substantial step toward legitimizing and rationalizing the cannabis industry in the 47 states that have moved to at least partially legalize marijuana — allowing businesses to move away from risky cash-only operations.

That push has hit a roadblock in the Senate, however, where Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has sided with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-N.J.), who are seeking to assemble a comprehensive bill that would federally decriminalize the drug, tax it and potentially expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of having bought or sold it.  Passing the narrower bill, they argue, would make passing their broader bill more difficult....

November 18, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How State Reforms Have Mellowed Federal Enforcement of Marijuana Prohibition"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay that I had the pleasure of co-authoring with my colleague Alex Fraga. The forthcoming publication in now up on SSRN, and here is part of its abstract:

Modern state medical marijuana laws date back to 1996, when Californians approved the first statewide medical marijuana legalization law via ballot measure; Colorado and Washington voters passed the first ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana for adult use in 2012.  By summer 2021, a total of 36 states and 4 U.S. territories had legalized the medical use of marijuana and 18 states, two territories and the District of Columbia had legalized adult use of marijuana.

Over this quarter century of state reforms, blanket federal marijuana prohibition has remained the law of the land. Indeed, though federal marijuana policies have long been criticized, federal prohibition has now been in place and unchanged for the last half century.  But while federal marijuana law has remained static amidst state-level reforms, federal marijuana prohibition enforcement has actually changed dramatically.  In fact, data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) reveals quite remarkable changes in federal enforcement patterns since certain states began fully legalizing marijuana in 2012.

This essay seeks to document and examine critically the remarkable decline in the number of federal marijuana sentences imposed over the last decade.  While noting that federal sentences imposed for marijuana offenses are down 83% from 2012 to 2020, this essay will also explore how the racial composition of persons sentenced in federal court and has evolved as the caseload has declined....  The data suggest that whites are benefiting relatively more from fewer federal prosecutions.

Reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration indicate that marijuana seizures at the southern US border have dwindled as states have legalized adult use and medicinal use of marijuana, and the reduced trafficking over the southern border likely largely explain the vastly reduced number of federal prosecutions of marijuana offenses.  Nonetheless, though still shrinking in relative size, there were still more than one thousand people (and mostly people of color) sentenced in federal court for marijuana trafficking in fiscal year 2020 and over 100 million dollars was committed to the incarceration of these defendants for activities not dissimilar from corporate activity in states in which marijuana has been legalized for various purposes. 

November 18, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 15, 2021

Some early coverage of big new federal GOP bill, the States Reform Act, to legalize marijuana

Congress-legalization-billsToday, Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC) unveiled a new GOP-led bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.  The States Reform Act (available here), which runs 131 pages, is cosponsored by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Brian Mast (R-FL) and Peter Meijer (R-MI).

My initial sense is that this bill does not have a great chance of passage anytime soon, but it still ought to be considered a big moment in the broad modern story of marijuana reform.  And it is understandably getting a lot of press.  Here is a sample:

From the AP, "GOP Rep. Mace’s bill would federally decriminalize marijuana"

From Forbes, "Representative Nancy Mace Introduces Bill To End Federal Cannabis Prohibition"

From Insider, "Rep. Nancy Mace says her GOP-led cannabis legalization bill would be 'a real win-win' for bipartisan marijuana reform in the US"

From Marijuana Moment, "Republican Lawmakers File Bill To Tax And Regulate Marijuana As Alternative To Democratic Proposals"

From MJBizDaily, "South Carolina Republican reveals marijuana legalization bill she’ll introduce in Congress"

From Reason, "Frequently asked questions about the States Reform Act, a proposed marijuana bill"

November 15, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 12, 2021

"Maximizing Social Equity as a Pillar of Public Administration: An Examination of Dispensary Licensing in Pennsylvania"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new preprint authored by Lee Hannah, Daniel Mallinson and Lauren Azevedo. (Note: This research received supported from the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, which I help direct.)   Here is the paper's abstract:

Public administration upholds four key pillars for administrative practice: economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and social equity.  The question arises, however, how do administrators balance these often-competing priorities when implementing policy?  Can the values which contributed to administrative decisions be measured? 

This study leverages the expansion of medical cannabis programs in the states to interrogate these questions.  Focusing on the awarding of dispensary licenses in Pennsylvania affords the ability to determine the effect of social equity scoring on license award decision, relative to criteria that represent the other pillars of public administration.  The results show that safety and business acumen were the most important determining factors in the awarding of licenses, both effectiveness and efficiency concerns. Social equity does not emerge as a significant determinant.

November 12, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Another Veterans Day with veterans still not getting support when it comes to medical marijuana access

Weed-canvasBecause the US Department of Veterans Affairs prohibits its doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients, current federal law essentially puts veterans last, not first, when it comes to access to medical marijuana.  I have regularly blogged about a range of issues relating to veterans and their access to marijuana (many posts on this topic are linked below), and this week brings more discussion of these depressingly evergreen issues:

From Politico, "VA rejects cannabis research as veterans plead for medical pot."  An excerpt:

The recent withdrawal from Afghanistan has exacerbated the demand for more understanding of using cannabis for treatment. Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line, which is operated by the VA, increased by six percent in the weeks immediately following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and veterans of America’s longest war use cannabis at the highest rates among veterans to self-medicate their ailments.

Advocates, Hill aides and former VA staff told POLITICO the VA defers on this issue to the Justice Department, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. A Schedule I drug by definition has no medicinal value, which in turn prevents the VA from treating patients with cannabis.

For veterans receiving VA health care, cannabis still occupies a gray area.  Official guidance states that veterans can talk to their VA doctor about their cannabis use without repercussions, but many vets say they fear mentioning it because it is still federally illegal.  VA doctors, meanwhile, still cannot prescribe cannabis or issue medical marijuana cards in any of the 36 states that have legalized medical marijuana.  

An average of 18 veterans a day committed suicide in 2018, according to data from the VA....  According to the VA, a number of studies have indicated that both PTSD and battlefield trauma contribute to a higher rate of suicidal ideation — and exposure to suicide, such as a friend or family member, can in turn contribute to PTSD. Many veterans and their advocates point to anecdotal evidence that cannabis successfully reduces the effects of PTSD — as well as insomnia, which can worsen PTSD symptoms — but there is yet no clinical evidence.

From Marijuana Moment, "This Veterans Day, Think About Cannabis And Veterans Healthcare (Op-Ed)." An excerpt:

Medical cannabis use would likely be even more prevalent among veterans if not for the oppositional stance that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken. According to national survey data compiled by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 75 percent of respondents “would be interested in using cannabis or cannabinoid products as a treatment option if it were available.” Further, many veterans feel that they have been deterred from seeking medical cannabis due to the VA’s policy of “clinical relevance to patient care,” but “providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering veterans for participation in state-approved [medical cannabis] program[s].”

For those veterans that do acknowledge using medical cannabis, they most often report using it to mitigate their post traumatic stress, anxiety and chronic pain. Some veterans also report using it as a substitute for alcohol or other illicit drugs. Many chronic pain patients who begin using medical cannabis greatly decrease or even eliminate their use of opioids and other prescription drugs.

I feel a genuine and deep debt to anyone and everyone who serves this nation through the armed forces, and I feel strongly that veterans should be able to have safe and legal access to any and every form of medicine that they and their doctors reasonably believe could help them with any ailments or conditions.  Even though there are many issues that divide this nation, I would hope we could all come together to support treating veterans at least as well as other Americans when it comes to access to the medicine of their choice.

Some of many prior related posts:

November 11, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 8, 2021

Full Policy Brief version of "New Market Entrants and Uncertain Drug Policy in the United States"

Regular readers are familiar with my regular posts highlighting papers from the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  I am excited to now be able to highlight another version of one of these papers resulting from DEPC's partnership with the Reason Foundation to turn student work into extended policy briefs.  Nathaniel Wilson, a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law,  has this new full policy brief completed under the full title "New Market Entrants and Uncertain Drug Policy in the United States:  Kratom and Delta-8 THC Illustrate Tradeoffs."   Here is part of the brief's introduction:

This brief focuses on two substances that ... are each regularly sold to consumers across the country and are gaining in popularity, especially among younger demographics. Delta-8 THC is a relatively new phenomenon that has been introduced into consumer markets across the country, though it has been a known derivative of the cannabis plant for decades.  The brief will discuss the legality of delta-8 THC, including the significant role of the 2018 Farm Bill, in this analysis.  Additionally, it examines whether or not delta-8 THC is truly legal at the federal level today and provides a forward-looking analysis as to any potential changes that are likely to come in the future.  This brief then explores concerns that a business has to contend with if it wants to manufacture and sell delta-8 products, as well as the policy considerations for regulators who want to focus their sights on these particular products.  After discussing delta-8, this brief turns to kratom, a substance similarly besieged by incoherent government policy as it gets regularly sold to consumers across the country.  Kratom, which is marketed as an herbal supplement, is another substance that has been around for a long time but has seen a recent rise in interest for its potential recreational and therapeutic applications.  As with delta-8, this brief discusses the legal environment surrounding kratom, as well as the policy considerations that must factor into an effective regulatory scheme for this particular substance. The concluding discussion forges the overall approach that should be taken when dealing with new market entrants in these “underground” markets.

November 8, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 6, 2021

"A First Amendment Right to Burning Bush: Empowering the Free Exercise Clause to Protect Religious use of Psychedelic Drugs"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Michael McDonald, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:  

If the right to freely exercise one’s religion only exists within the confines of all other enacted law, then it is hardly a right at all.  This article argues that strict scrutiny should be the test for adjudicating free exercise claims, which would then allow for the religious use of psychedelic drugs.  First, this article explores developments in Free Exercise Clause jurisprudence during the twentieth century by analyzing how the Supreme Court gradually weakened the free exercise right, particularly in cases relating to Native American religions, and culminating in Employment Division v. Smith.

This article lays out reasons for overturning Smith and returning to the pre-Smith strict scrutiny test for free exercise claims.  Finally, this article contends that, under strict scrutiny, no court could reasonably find a compelling government interest to justify a prohibition of religious psychedelic drug use.  This argument is substantiated with support from modern RFRA cases, as well as prevailing research regarding the positive impact psychedelics have on mental health, which would undermine a state’s purported compelling interest in forbidding its use.

November 6, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 5, 2021

"Cannabis Crossroads: What’s in Store for Marijuana Reform in Ohio?"

156cdb0c-41e6-4e54-8007-d123898cef30The title of this post is the title of this exciting event taking place online two weeks from today that I have the honor of moderating.  As detailed at this registration page, the event will take place on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 from Noon - 1:30pm.  Here are the basics with the list of confirmed speakers:

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and Natural Therapies Education Foundation for a virtual discussion featuring panelists representing current Ohio cannabis reform endeavors.  The event will provide attendees with knowledge about pending initiatives and legislation, as well as a vision of what the future may hold for cannabis in Ohio.

Panelists

Mary Jane Borden, co-founder and secretary of the board, Natural Therapies Education Foundation

Thomas Haren, partner, Frantz Ward

Shaleen Title, distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, The Ohio State University

Rep. Casey Weinstein, Ohio House of Representatives

Moderator

Douglas A. Berman, Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law, executive director, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

November 5, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Latest Gallup poll indicates that over two-thirds of Americans still support making marijuana legal

Jtiyq89cqucedlbn0lhb5gThis new release from Gallup, headlined "Support for Legal Marijuana Holds at Record High of 68%," reports on the latest result of its polling on marijuana reform. Here are the details:

More than two in three Americans (68%) support legalizing marijuana, maintaining the record-high level reached last year.

Gallup has documented increasing support for legalizing marijuana over more than five decades, with particularly sharp increases occurring in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2013, a majority of Americans, for the first time, supported legalization.

As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana.

Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion. While most Democrats (83%) and political independents (71%) support legalization, Republicans are nearly evenly split on the question (50% in favor; 49% opposed). Weekly and semiregular attendees of religious services are split on the issue as well, while those who attend infrequently or never are broadly supportive of legalizing marijuana.

November 4, 2021 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Notable new CRS report on ways a President could legalize or decriminalize marijuana at the federal level

I was intrigued to see this notable new five-page Congressional Research Service report titled "Does the President Have the Power to Legalize Marijuana?". Here is how it gets started:

The legal status of marijuana has been a topic of recurring interest in recent years, as states, federal legislators, and federal executive agencies consider how to regulate cannabis and its derivatives.  What role can the President play in determining the legal status of a controlled substance such as marijuana?  That question came to the forefront during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with multiple candidates supporting legalization of marijuana and several pledging to legalize the substance nationwide if elected, either indirectly through administrative proceedings or directly by executive order.  More recently, some commentators have called on President Biden to end criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use or grant clemency to federal marijuana offenders.  Although the President cannot directly remove marijuana from control under federal controlled substances law, he might order executive agencies to consider either altering the scheduling of marijuana or changing their enforcement approach.

This Sidebar outlines the laws that apply to controlled substances like marijuana, then analyzes several approaches a president might take to change controlled substances law as written or as enforced.  The Sidebar closes with a discussion of key considerations for Congress related to presidential power over controlled substances regulation.

November 3, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2021

"The Impact of Medical Marijuana Legalization on Opioid Prescriptions"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Hayoung Cheon, Tong Guo, Puneet Manchanda and S. Sriram.  Here is its abstract:

Since the late 1990s, opioids have been increasingly prescribed for pain treatment in the U.S as a result of aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.  This has resulted in more than 450,000 opioid overdose deaths since then.  In the same time period, several U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana, a drug that can also be used for pain relief.  As a result, medical marijuana can be used as a substitute for opioids, leading to a reduction in opioid prescriptions.  On the other hand, marijuana use can lead to increased substance abuse, leading to a potential increase in opioid prescriptions.  The lack of scientific and medical knowledge along with the uncertain regulatory environment vis-a-vis medical marijuana use also makes it possible that its legalization has no impact on opioid prescriptions. 

With claims data from a large health insurance company in the U.S. between 2006 and 2016, we study the effect of medical marijuana legalization on opioid prescriptions, leveraging the temporal variation in state-wise legalization.  We find that, on average, opioid prescriptions decreased after medical marijuana legalization for all three outcome metrics that we consider (number of prescriptions, total days of supply, and total dosage in MME).  We also find that the role of physicians in reducing opioid prescriptions after legalization is more prominent than their corresponding role in increasing opioid prescriptions. 

October 25, 2021 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Full policy brief version of "Blowing Smoke at the Second Amendment"

Regular readers are familiar with my regular posts highlighting papers from the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  I am excited to now be able to highlight a partnership with the Reason Foundation to turn some of these DEPC student papers into extended policy briefs.   Ohio State College of Law‬⁩ alum Helen Sudhoff has this first full policy brief completed under the title "Blowing Smoke at the Second Amendment," which highlights constitutional problems with federal law prohibiting medical marijuana users from possessing firearms.  Here is the brief's introduction:

The federal government prohibits users of Schedule I drugs from purchasing or possessing a firearm.  Despite that most states have enacted legal medical marijuana programs, marijuana is still federally illegal and designated as a Schedule I substance with no medical value.  Individuals who use medical marijuana in accordance with their state’s licensed programs are nevertheless prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm under federal law.  As such, the onus is placed on medical marijuana patients to either disclose their marijuana use, which disqualifies themselves from purchasing a firearm and requires they relinquish possession of all firearms, or misrepresent their status as a marijuana user, risking fines or imprisonment.  The following discussion will address the problems inherent in the federal government’s current regulatory framework for the right to keep and bear arms in the context of medical marijuana use, circumstances that implicate the privilege against self-incrimination, and how to revise the regulatory framework in accordance with the guarantees of the Constitution.

October 19, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Drug Policy Alliance's federal marijuana reform recommendations

Download (12)Earlier this month, I received an email with links to the helpful work completed by the Drug Policy Alliance setting forth a vision for federal marijuana reforms.  Here is the text and links from the email:

Today, the Drug Policy Alliance released new federal cannabis recommendations, that provide a framework for Congress to ensure that reparative justice, social and health equity, and community reinvestment are the central goals of federal regulation.  Over the last year, as federal legalization has become more of a reality, we have seen the industry jockeying to regulate themselves, and there is a very real concern that — if not done right — legalization could end up replicating many of the same harms of prohibition, especially for communities of color.

These recommendations are the product of months of discussion and work from a working group we convened of cannabis state regulators, public health professionals, criminal justice reform advocates, civil rights attorneys, people working with directly impacted communities, re-entry advocates, academics and an expert involved in Canada’s cannabis regulation.

You can see a quick one-page explainer of what the recommendations are here, and a more detailed document that explains all of the recommendations in depth here.

October 19, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

"Smoke and Fears: The Effects of Marijuana Prohibition on Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new working paper authored by Scott Callahan, David M. Bruner and Chris Giguere. Here is its abstract:

U.S. drug policy presumes prohibition reduces crime.  Recently states have enacted medical marijuana laws creating a natural experiment to test this hypothesis but is impeded by severe measurement error with available data.  We develop a novel imputation procedure to reduce measurement error bias and estimate significant reductions in violent and property crime rates, with heterogeneous effects across and within states and types of crime, contradicting drug prohibition policy.  We demonstrate uncorrected measurement error or assuming homogeneous policy effects leads to underestimation of crime reduction from ending marijuana prohibition.

And here is a key paragraph from the paper's introduction:

Our results indicate that MMLs result in significant reductions in both violent and property crime rates, with larger effects in Mexican border states.  While these results for violent crime rates are consistent with previously reported evidence (Gavrilova et al., 2017), we are the first paper to report such an effect on property crime as well.  Moreover, the estimated effects of MMLs on property crime rates are substantially larger, which is not surprising given property crimes are more prevalent.  We also find novel evidence consistent with our hypothesis that MMLs reduce violent crime rates more in urban counties compared to rural counties, contrary to previous estimates (Chu and Townsend, 2019).  We attribute this result to greater conflict between producers in urban counties under prohibition.  Overall, our results are consistent with the need for market participants to create de facto property rights under prohibition, often through the use of violence.  Our results are also consistent with prohibition causing a diversion of scarce policing resources, which when reallocated have the greatest impact on more pervasive types of crime and in locations where crime rates are higher.  These findings demonstrate both the importance of accounting for heterogeneous policy effects on crime and the necessity to correct for measurement error in crime data when conducting policy analysis.

October 17, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is marijuana legalization likely to be a staple of all major Democratic campaigns in 2022?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Hill piece headlined "Crist says as Florida governor he would legalize marijuana, expunge criminal records."  Here are excerpts:

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) on Thursday said that he would expunge criminal records of those facing certain marijuana-related charges and legalize the drug if he is elected the governor of Florida.  “Let me be clear: If I’m elected governor, I will legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State,” Crist said in a video posted on his Twitter on Thursday. “This is the first part of the Crist contract with Florida.”

Crist, who is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 2022, discussed different elements of his gubernatorial platform focused on racial equity in the state, including expunging criminal records for those who have received marijuana-related charges, specifically third-degree felonies and misdemeanors, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The former Florida governor and Senate hopeful also said that he was in favor of decentralizing the marijuana industry, allowing people to personally grow marijuana plants.  He noted that money made through marijuana sales would fund things such as drug treatment programs and police agencies, according to the news outlet.

Crist, who was a Republican while he was in the governor's mansion from 2007 to 2011, acknowledged that his stance, among others, had changed on marijuana use.  As governor, he had signed harsh anti-marijuana legislation, which included targeting growing the plant.

His comments were criticized over Twitter by Democratic opponent Nikki Fried, who is also running to take on DeSantis. The state Agriculture commissioner, who has been previously supportive of legalizing marijuana and was a former marijuana lobbyist, according to Tallahassee Reports, accused him of imitating her political stance.

“Imitation is flattery, but records are records. People went to jail because Republicans like @CharlieCrist supported and enforced racist marijuana crime bills. Glad he's changed his mind, but none of those people get those years back. Legalize marijuana. #SomethingNew,” Fried tweeted.

Crist last year voted to end marijuana from being prohibited and criminalized federally. “We know that people across racial and income levels use marijuana at the same rate.  And yet, for decades, it's been poor, Black, and/or Hispanic folks targeted for prison on marijuana charges,” Crist said in a statement in December.  “That tells me that marijuana has been legal now for a while if you had the right skin tone or the right paycheck.”

I surmise that all major Democratic candidates have finally figured out that marijuana reform is a popular position. It will be interesting to watch if this issue could become significant debate topic is red-leaning swing states like Florida and Ohio that have big 2022 elections. I am inclined to believe this topic still is more fringe than fundamental in broader political discourse, but even topics that only move the electorate a little bit could prove consequential sometimes.

October 17, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Menthols and Racial Capitalism: A History of Tobacco Profiteering in Black Urban Spaces"

Download (11)The title of this post is the title of an exciting event sponsored by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  Here is a description of the event from this registration page:

Long seen by the tobacco industry as a consumer segment of consumers ripe for exploitation, urban communities of color have endured vicious decades of deceit and disregard for their health as the targets of menthol cigarette advertising.  Menthols comprise some 30 percent of a shrinking tobacco market in the United States.

As the industry and its supporters in public office move to protect their profits from a federal ban, Dr. Wailoo offers a detailed account of how advertising firms explicitly capitalized on poverty, alienation, and drug use to carve a menthol market out of urban space.   This effort, which started in the 1950s and lasted decades, followed the tobacco industry’s false framing of menthol cigarettes as a safer, even healthful alternative for smokers beginning in the 1920s. 

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center for a moderated discussion with Professor Keith Wailoo, author of Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette, Dr. Amy Fairchild, dean of The Ohio State University College of Public Health, and DEPC Visiting Assistant Professor Sarah Brady Siff.

Again, registration for this event is available at this link.

October 11, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 8, 2021

Senators Booker and Warren call upon DOJ to "decriminalize cannabis using its existing authority"

As reported here, two notable US senators "are urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to decriminalize marijuana on his own" by "asking Garland and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to use powers granted them under the Controlled Substances Act to deschedule — or decriminalize — marijuana at the federal level." The letter to this effect from the desk of Senator Elizabeth Warren and joined by Senator Cory Booker is available at this link, and it starts this way:

We write to urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to decriminalize cannabis using its existing authority to remove the drug from the Federal controlled substances list. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the Attorney General can remove a substance from the CSA’s list, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level via this descheduling process would allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws, and facilitate valuable medical research.  While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis.

The letter goes on to explains the DOJ descheduling process this way:

The executive branch has the authority to initiate the process of cannabis descheduling.  The CSA empowers the Attorney General to initiate proceedings to reschedule or deschedule a drug, either individually or at the request of the HHS Secretary or another interested party.  The Attorney General then seeks a scientific and medical evaluation from the HHS Secretary, including the Secretary’s recommendations as to the appropriate scheduling for the drug or whether the drug should be descheduled.  If the Secretary recommends descheduling a drug, that recommendation is binding on the Attorney General.  However, if the Secretary recommends retaining a drug in the same schedule or moving it to a different schedule, that recommendation is not binding and the Attorney General may still choose to initiate a rulemaking procedure to deschedule or reschedule the drug.

October 8, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)