Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, August 23, 2019

"Restorative justice must begin with America’s pot POWs"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Peter Maguire.  Here are excerpts: 

Last month, American lawmakers, marijuana policymakers and industry leaders held a hearing on Capitol Hill about the future of marijuana legalization.  While there was clear bipartisan support and even discussion of “restorative justice” for minorities adversely affected by the war on drugs, conspicuously absent was any discussion of sentence relief for those Americans still serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for nonviolent marijuana offenses.

If lawmakers and the leaders of this fledgling industry who hope to profit from legalization do not support retroactive sentence relief for these pot prisoners of war, the legal cannabis industry will have neither integrity nor credibility.  True restorative justice can only begin with clemency for those Americans serving life sentences for marijuana.  There were no allegations of violence in the cases of the white, black and Latino men serving life for marijuana, yet all will likely die in prison.

Leopoldo Hernandez-Miranda, a 78-year-old Cuban fisherman, has served 26 years while Anthony Kelly, 46, has served 20 years (for barely an ounce of pot).  Less than two months ago, wheelchair-bound 62-year-old Michael Pelletier, who served 12 years, was denied compassionate release by the Bureau of Prisons. Kenny Kubinski, 72, a decorated Vietnam veteran with three purple hearts and a bronze star, has served 27 years for marijuana conspiracy and a cocaine charge that he vehemently denies.

Claude DuBoc and Albert Madrid, both over 70 years old, have served over 20 years. Marijuana smuggler John Knock was extradited from France in January 1999 and charged with an unproven conspiracy that was concocted by a U.S. attorney in Florida.  After Knock’s co-conspirators, also facing life sentences, testified against him in exchange for immunity, he was sentenced to two life terms plus 20 years.  DuBoc, Knock’s co-conspirator pleaded guilty on the advice of his lawyer, F. Lee Bailey.  DuBoc cooperated with the government and surrendered approximately $100 million in cash and assets. The smuggler received a life sentence and lawyer Bailey went to prison rather than surrender $20 million of his client’s stock....

On the other hand, co-conspirator Julie Roberts surrendered through a high-profile lawyer, shrewdly negotiated a plea deal, testified against all of her former compatriots and helped the government recover assets.  Although she too was facing a life sentence, Roberts did not spend a single night in prison....

The United States declared a war on drugs in 1973, and it has been fraught with contradictions and crippled by hypocrisy and unrealistic policy objectives.  Forty-plus years and massive expenditure later, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world and a racially imbalanced, two-tiered judicial system under which black teens caught with a handful of crack rocks do hard time in state prisons while the bankers who launder Mexican cocaine cartels’ blood-stained billions simply pay fines.

This month, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for marijuana and hashish smuggling, terminally ill Calvin Robinson was granted a compassionate release from prison.  While this is a step in the right direction, it still falls far short of justice.  Vietnam veteran Kubinski put it best: “Now I am a POW of another war with no clear mission. This time I am the enemy of the country I love and had sacrificed for.”

August 23, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Terrific new Pew issue brief highlights hazy nature of marijuana revenue for states

The fine folks at Pew have this very fine new brief about state marijuana tax revenues titled "Forecasts Hazy for State Marijuana Revenue."  I recommend this 16-page document (which is also available on-line here) for many reasons, and here is its astute conclusion:

Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana expected a new revenue source for states, but market uncertainties continue to challenge revenue forecasters and policymakers.  The difficulty in forecasting revenue is compounded by the fact that states have only recently begun to understand the recreational marijuana market: the level of consumer demand for recreational marijuana products, the types of users and how much they might pay for the drug, and competition with the black market.  States have learned some lessons but continue to grapple with unknowns.

While forecasters and budget staff gain more information, state officials can avoid budget shortfalls and keep program funding stable by being prudent in how they use these new collections.  States should be careful to distinguish between marijuana revenue’s short-term growth and long-term sustainability.  While these new dollars can fill immediate budget needs, they may prove unreliable for ongoing spending demands.  Policymakers should look to other, more familiar sin taxes for lessons on how to manage marijuana tax revenue most effectively.

August 21, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"What America's Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2006–2016"

Download (4)The title of this post is the title of this remarkable new RAND report authored by Gregory Midgette, Steven Davenport, Jonathan Caulkins and Beau Kilmer.  This webpage provides this account of what appears in the nearly 100-page full report:

Substance use and drug policy are clearly in the national spotlight. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that drug overdose deaths in 2018 exceeded 68,000, of which more than 47,000 involved opioids.  Although heroin, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) receive most of the attention, deaths involving methamphetamine and cocaine are both on the rise. In addition, more than 25 percent of the U.S. population lives in states that have passed laws that allow for-profit firms to produce and sell marijuana for nonmedical purposes to adults ages 21 and older.

To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and policies, policymakers need to know what is happening in the markets for these substances.  This report updates and extends estimates of the number of users, retail expenditures, and amount consumed from 2006 to 2016 for cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in the United States, based on a methodology developed by the RAND Corporation for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The report also includes a discussion of what additional types of data would help quantify the scale of these markets in the future, including the new types of information produced by the legalization of marijuana at the state level.

Key Findings

  • People who use drugs in the United States spent on the order of $150 billion on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in 2016. The marijuana market is roughly the size of the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined, and the size of the retail heroin market is now closer to the size of the marijuana market than it is to the other drugs.
  • After falling precipitously from 2006 to 2010, cocaine consumption's decline slowed by 2015. Results suggest there were 2.4 million individuals who used cocaine on four or more days in the past month in 2015 and 2016. Results also suggest that consumption grew in 2016 among a stable number of users as price per pure gram declined.
  • Heroin consumption increased 10 percent per year between 2010 and 2016. The introduction of fentanyl into heroin markets has increased the risk of using heroin.
  • From 2010 to 2016, the number of individuals who used marijuana in the past month increased nearly 30 percent, from 25 million to 32 million. The authors estimate a 24 percent increase in marijuana spending over the same period, from $42 billion to $52 billion.
  • Methamphetamine estimates are subject to the greatest uncertainty because national data sets do not do a good job of capturing its use. There was a steady increase in the amount of methamphetamine seized within the United States and at the southwest border from 2007 through 2016, and a commensurate increase in use over the 2010–2016 period.

Recommendations

  • For marijuana, household and student surveys could be updated to collect more information about the type and quantity of products consumed. Legalization is producing new types of information through state "seed-to-sale" tracking systems, market surveys, delivery services, loyalty card programs, and other sources. Figuring out how data from these new sources can be mined to develop insights about the markets should be a priority.
  • With respect to the other drugs, bringing back the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program or some version of it would be enormously useful, particularly if it included objective (biological) consumption measures.  For example, it is possible to detect fentanyl in urine specimens even if the user did not know he or she had consumed fentanyl because it appeared as an adulterant in some other drug.
  • Wastewater testing is another approach for estimating consumption that has received much more attention outside of the United States.  Although the utility of this method will depend on the type of substance examined, the science is advancing, is readily scalable, and could provide insights about drug consumption at the local level.

Notably, Chapter 5 is devoted to a discussion of marijuana use.

August 20, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Land of the Free, Home of the (Disgruntled) Brave: The Case for Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana"

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

Approximately 30 percent of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Over half of U.S. veterans struggle with chronic pain, and approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America.  For veterans currently seeking medical treatment through Veteran Affairs (VA), 50 percent of PTSD patients cannot tolerate or do not adequately respond to existing treatments of opioids, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant medications.  While an overwhelming majority of veterans, about 83%, support the use medical marijuana, they remain unable to obtain their preferred course of treatment (or financial assistance for it) through the VA because the federal government prohibits VA health care providers from recommending MMJ.

This paper argues that veterans, especially those with PTSD, should be able to obtain a recommendation, and financial assistance, for medical marijuana from the VA. This is especially true in states with legal medical marijuana programs.  Veterans have recently been calling on lawmakers to help them in their time of need as they battle hosts of ailments such as PTSD, chronic pain, and opioid addiction.   The government's current policy, which has allowed thirty-three states to enact legal medical marijuana programs, yet does not allow veterans to obtain a MMJ recommendation from the VA, nor obtain financial assistance for this medication, is unacceptable.  This paper calls on researchers to continue to enhance our understanding of MMJ's effects on PTSD, and for lawmakers to step up and do the right thing — to give the veterans the medicinal treatment that they want, need, and deserve for laying it all out on the line for our freedoms.

Prior student papers in this series:

August 15, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hemp reforms causing headaches for criminal marijuana enforcement

This local piece from Ohio reports on the interesting criminal justice echoes from hemp reforms playing out this summer in a number of states.  The piece is fully headlined "No, Ohio did not accidentally legalize marijuana. But a new hemp legalization law is causing problems for prosecutors."  Here are excerpts:

Ohio prosecutors are holding off on pursuing marijuana charges or are even throwing them out altogether after Ohio decriminalized hemp.

Hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants; what sets them apart is the amount of THC, an intoxicating compound, each contains. The problem: Crime labs at the local and state level are equipped with technology that measures the presence of THC -- but not the amount.

Hemp, by legal definition, is cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC. Anything more, and it's considered marijuana and illegal outside the confines of Ohio's highly regulated medical marijuana program.  “At least for the next several months, it’s the de facto legalization of marijuana because there’s no way for law enforcement to tell what’s legal and what’s not legal,” said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent prosecutors a letter last week suggesting they hold off on marijuana crime indictments until the cannabis can be tested.  The state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation labs are in the process of buying and setting up testing equipment.  Yost's office suggested several out-of-state labs where law enforcement could send material until Ohio labs could run the test.  The state's three medical marijuana testing labs can perform the test, but need to first notify the Ohio Department of Commerce.  None had done so as of Friday.

Because of the new hemp law, signed last week, Columbus won't prosecute misdemeanor marijuana crimes and are dismissing pending cases.  The law could permanently change how the city handles misdemeanor marijuana crimes due to the cost of new equipment and testing and the city's newly reduced penalties for marijuana misdemeanors.

The holdup doesn't mean Ohioans found with marijuana have a "get out of jail free card."  Columbus city attorney Zach Klein noted that marijuana remains illegal and can still be a legal reason to stop and search someone.  Klein said driving under the influence of marijuana will still be prosecuted....

A wave of states, including Ohio, passed bills decriminalizing hemp this year following federal legalization by the 2018 Farm Bill. Law enforcement in several states are grappling with the same issue as Ohio.

Texas Department of Public Safety officers have been told to cite and release instead of arrest individuals suspected of misdemeanor marijuana crime, The Texas Tribune reported in July. Prosecutors in some parts of the state have dropped marijuana cases citing the inability to test for THC levels.

A prosecutor in Georgia's second largest county dismissed more than 100 marijuana cases this week after reaching a similar conclusion. Florida prosecutors are taking a mixed approach, with some dismissing all marijuana charges and other waiting for lab tests before filing charges in the first place.

August 12, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

"After the Grand Opening: Assessing Cannabis Supply and Demand in Washington State"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new RAND Research Report authored by Beau Kilmer, Steven Davenport, Rosanna Smart, Jonathan Caulkins and Gregory Midgette.  This 54-page report can be downloaded from this RAND webpage, which also sets out the research questions, an overview, key findings and a recommendation:

Research Questions

What types of cannabis products are produced and sold in Washington State?

What is the size of the cannabis market in Washington State three years after licensing cannabis production and sales for nonmedical purposes?

Overview

This report provides detailed information about state-legal cannabis production and sales in Washington, as well as insights about the total amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) obtained from legal and illegal sources by Washington residents.  Using data from Washington's traceability system, the authors estimate that approximately 26 metric tons (MT) of THC were sold in licensed retail stores in Washington from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.  About 18 MT were from flower, 6 MT from extracts for inhalation, and the remaining 1–2 MT from other products.  This 26 MT is more than double the amount of THC sold in licensed stores in the previous year. Calculating the total amount of THC obtained by residents via legal and illegal sources is difficult with existing data sources, but using additional data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and a survey of cannabis users in Washington, author calculations suggest that in the third year after implementing a regulatory system for cannabis, between 40 percent and 60 percent of THC obtained by state residents was likely purchased in Washington's state-licensed stores.  Learning more about why some residents are still obtaining cannabis products through other channels, what share of legal sales are to nonresidents, and the efficiency of various cannabis products at delivering THC and other cannabinoids would be fruitful areas for future analysis.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 26 MT of THC were sold in licensed retail stores in Washington from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.
  • About 18 MT were from flower, 6 MT from extracts for inhalation, and the remaining 1–2 MT from other products.
  • This 26 MT is more than double the amount of THC sold in licensed stores in the previous year.
  • Calculating the total amount of THC obtained by residents via legal and illegal sources is difficult with existing data sources, but using additional data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and a survey of cannabis users in Washington, author calculations suggest that in the third year after implementing a regulatory system for cannabis, between 40 percent and 60 percent of THC obtained by state residents was likely purchased in Washington's state-licensed stores.

Recommendation

  • Learning more about why some residents are still obtaining cannabis products through other channels, what share of legal sales are to nonresidents, and the efficiency of various cannabis products at delivering THC and other cannabinoids would be fruitful areas for future analysis.

August 11, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 9, 2019

"The Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization and Dispensing on Opioid Mortality"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article recently published in the journal Economic Inquiry authored by Nathan Chan, Jesse Burkhardt and Matthew Flyr. Here is its abstract:

This study documents how the changing legal status of marijuana has impacted mortality in the United States over the past two decades. We use a difference‐in‐difference approach to estimate the effect of medical marijuana laws (MML) and recreational marijuana laws (RML) on fatalities from opioid overdoses, and we find that marijuana access induces sharp reductions in opioid mortality rates.  Our research corroborates prior findings on MMLs and offers the first causal estimates of RML impacts on opioid mortality to date, the latter of which is particularly important given that RMLs are far more expansive in scope and reach than MMLs.

In our preferred econometric specification, we estimate that RMLs reduce annual opioid mortality in the range of 20%–35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids.  In further analysis, we demonstrate how RML impacts vary among demographic groups, shedding light on the distributional consequences of these laws. Our findings are especially important and timely given the scale of the opioid crisis in the United States and simultaneously evolving attitudes and regulations on marijuana use.

August 9, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"The short-run effects of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Jesse Burkhardt and Chris Goemans.  Here is its abstract:

The recent legalization of marijuana in several states has led to increased public interest regarding the effect of legalization on crime.  Yet, there is limited empirical evidence relating the legalization of marijuana use and distribution to criminal activity.  This paper uses a difference-in-differences design to estimate the effect of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime rates in Denver, Colorado. 

We find that the opening of dispensaries actually decreases violent crime rates in above median income neighborhoods, an important finding in light of increased political debate surrounding legalization.  We also find robust evidence that non-marijuana drug-related crimes decrease within a half-mile of new dispensaries but do not simultaneously increase within a half-mile to mile of new dispensaries, with one possible explanation being that legal marijuana sales and hard drug sales are local substitutes.  Finally, in line with previous research, we find that vehicle break-ins increase up to a mile away from new dispensaries.

Cross-posted at SENTENCING LAW AND POLICY.

August 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 5, 2019

"State Of The States Report: An Analysis Of Medical Cannabis Access In The United States"

The title of this post is the title of this huge new version of an annual report produced by Americans for Safe Access. Here is part of the introductory letter from Steph Sherer, the President and Founder of ASA, at the start of the 178-page report:

Each year, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) analyzes, summarizes, and critiques legislation and regulations as they become law and develops this report to assess how these programs are serving the needs of patients.  In 2014, when we first started writing this report, only 22 states were analyzed and graded.  Now, six years later, we are analyzing 47 states in over 50 categories surrounding Patient Rights and Civil Protection from Discrimination, Access to Medicine, Ease of Navigation, Functionality of the Program, and Consumer Safety and Provider Requirements.

Through this report, ASA also recommends how states can improve programs, and we take great pride in knowing that these recommendations are frequently followed and incorporated by regulators and policymakers.  While we are excited to see the number of states with medical cannabis programs increase, we know this patchwork of laws is not working to provide access to everyone who needs this medicine.  Patients can still not travel to other states with their medicine, and some states only offer protections that cover a small subset of patients using a certain type of medicine.  The types of medicine available, method of administration, purchase limits, training requirements for staff, labeling requirements, etc. are different depending on the state that you are lucky, or unlucky, enough to live in.

August 5, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Could legalization vote in 2020 help make Florida a tipping point state for marijuana reform nationwide?

Smoking-medical-marijuana-is-now-legal-in-floridaThe question in the title of this post is my first thought in reaction to this local news piece headlined "With Petition Milestone, Recreational Marijuana Is One Step Closer in Florida."  Here are the details:

[W]ith activists pushing to get recreational weed on the 2020 ballot in Florida, the possibility of legalization now seems likelier than ever.  Yesterday the advocacy group Regulate Florida announced its petition to legalize pot has gathered more than 76,632 verified signatures — enough to trigger a review by the Florida Supreme Court.

"We have a long way to go to get it on the ballot, but we will GET IT DONE TOGETHER!!!" the organization wrote in an email newsletter. "TODAY IS THE 1st VICTORY OF MANY TO COME!!!"

Next, the Florida Supreme Court will review the language of the prospective ballot item, which would regulate weed like alcohol in that marijuana would be legal "for limited use and growing" for anyone 21 years or older. Even if the language is approved, Regulate Florida would still need 766,200 signatures to put the amendment before voters.

The Florida Supreme Court review represents a significant milestone, but Regulate Florida still must hit several other targets to get recreational marijuana on the ballot. According to the group's chairman, Michael Minardi, the state has 90 days after the court's certification to complete a financial impact statement on the economic effects of legalizing recreational marijuana.  State statutes also call for the Florida secretary of state to send the proposed amendment to Florida's attorney general, who has 30 days to give an advisory opinion and potentially challenge the validity of the petition....

Last month, a poll by Quinnipiac University showed that 65 percent of Florida voters support "allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use."  However, as the Miami Herald recently pointed out, that support doesn't guarantee the amendment's success on Election Day.

There has been talk of marijuana legalization initiatives in states ranging from Arizona to Arkansas to Montana to North Dakota.  But, for various reasons, Florida would be the most significant state for a legalization vote in 2020.  For starters, it is a big state and a swing state.  In addition, because a 60% vote is needed for approval, a ballot win in the state would reveal just how potent support for full legalization can be.

July 31, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Is hemp really now going to become the number three crop in Ohio and can marijuana stay illegal if it does?

83b51efd-e309-441e-9f11-e3ada1158628-CBD_SeltzerI do not blog all that much about hemp reforms, even though I find them quite interesting and important, largely because I do not know that much about agriculture or about all the different ways the hemp plant might be used.  But this local article concerning Ohio hemp developments prompted both the question in the title of this post and some broader thoughts about the relationship between help developments and marijuana reform.  First, some excerpts from the article:

Gov. Mike DeWine signed Ohio's hemp legalization bill, Senate Bill 57, into law on Tuesday at the Ohio State Fair. The law takes effect immediately, freeing all embargoes on CBD inventory and moving hemp-derived cannabidiol off Ohio’s controlled substances list. It also means Ohio State University and other colleges can grow the state's first hemp this summer....

The law immediately allows hemp-derived CBD to flow into the state, but it will be a while before hemp can be commercially grown or processed in the Buckeye State. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue federal rules for hemp cultivation and processing in the coming weeks. In addition to CBD from hemp flowers, the plant is also harvested for its fiber and seed.

Ohio agriculture officials have six months to draft Ohio’s rules and regulations, which will then be submitted to the feds for approval. The goal: Have everything in place so farmers can get seeds in the ground next spring.... Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda said the agency does not plan to limit the number of licenses issued to cultivate or process hemp.

Pelanda said the agency plans to craft regulations to ensure farmers plant seeds that are certified to be low in THC – hemp is defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC. “We want to make sure that Ohio has the very best hemp program in the nation,” Pelanda told The Enquirer.

Ohio is the 46th state to allow hemp farming. A big part of Ohio’s program will be research, which will begin right away. Ohio State University plans to buy about 2,000 hemp plants in the next week. Gary Pierzynski, associate dean for research and graduate programs at OSU's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said it’s too late to plant with the goal of harvesting. But Pierzynski hopes this first crop at four locations will position them for good research on growing methods, plant diseases, pests and more next year.

Industry analysts predict the U.S. hemp market will grow from about $4.6 billion to more than $26 billion by 2023. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation has said hemp has the potential to be Ohio's No. 3 crop behind corn and soybeans.

The bill leaves the details of Ohio’s hemp program – like who can grow it and how much licenses will cost – to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Those rules will be shaped by experts, lobbyists and public comment periods. Hours after Senate Bill 57 passed, a new hemp industry lobbying group was announced. Backing the group: Ian James and Jimmy Gould, who led the unsuccessful 2015 effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio. Since Issue 3 failed, James and Gould have invested in hemp, in addition to obtaining licenses for medical marijuana businesses here.

Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, who has been tapped to lead the organization, said the association will serve businesses who are involved at several levels of the industry and who have “big ideas.” “Our goal is to make sure those restrictions aren’t prohibitive,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of farmland in Ohio and there has to be opportunities for everyone.”

The group joins others that pushed the bill along including the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which largely represents CBD businesses, and the Ohio Hemp Association, comprised of Ohio businesses and entrepreneurs that want to grow hemp or manufacture hemp products.

Queen City Hemp has been gearing up to put its CBD Seltzer water back on the shelves at local retailers, including Hemptations and Clifton Natural Foods.  A large part of the Cincinnati-based manufacturer’s inventory of CBD-infused seltzer water was confiscated from those retailers and destroyed by the local health department during their crackdown in February, according to president and co-founder Robert Ryan.

A number of national chain stores are already selling CBD products across the country.  Kroger, the nation's largest grocery retailer, announced in June it would sell hemp-derived CBD creams, balms and other topical products in nearly 1,000 stores in 17 states – but not its home state of Ohio.  That will change with the new law, but a Kroger spokeswoman said it was too early to provide details.

As this article highlights for Ohio, many folks here and throughout the nation with an affinity for marijuana reform are involved with hemp reform and the hemp industry.  If (when?) this crop becomes a huge part of agriculture in Ohio and elsewhere, I suspect these these folks are likely to use their clout and their money to push for reforms regarding other types of cannabis plants.  Similarly, if folks in Ohio and throughout the nation get used to seeing CBD sodas on many store shelves and CBD creams when shopping for soap, it seems ever more likely that they will start to view many forms of cannabis more benignly. 

July 30, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 29, 2019

"Cannabis Has Big Law Seeing Green, but the Am Law 50 Are Skipping the Party"

The title of this post is the title of this notable lengthy American Lawyer article, which has this subheadline: "Law firms are rushing to open cannabis practices as the industry booms, including many among the Am Law 200. Why is the top tier taking a pass?". Because I am a lawyer and law professor who teaching on cannabis law, I am very interested in any and all stories at the intersection of the cannabis industry and the legal industry. Here are excerpts from this one:

Jonathan Robbins starts his day early. By 6 a.m., he’s on his home office computer scanning emails, and then he hits the hot sheets—dozens of newsletters from attorneys, advocacy groups, legislators and associations focused on the cannabis business. And there is a lot to read.

Robbins, who chairs the cannabis practice at Akerman, believes that when he began to collect clients in the industry back in 2013, he was one of the first Big Law attorneys to practice cannabis law in the United States. “Back when I first started practicing, I went to a conference in Vegas called MJBizCon,” he says. “At the time, it was just a bunch of guys selling nice bongs. This year, there were 28,000 people there.”

One thing has remained consistent through that time, however, even as state after state has legalized marijuana in some form, fueling an estimated $10 billion industry: According to the U.S. government, cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic, putting it in the same ­category as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. It is a controlled substance and is illegal on a federal level.

That presents a series of problems for law firms seeking to advise and profit from clients that are involved in a criminal enterprise — at least as far as the federal government is concerned. While more than two dozen Am Law 200 firms have launched formal cannabis practices in the last decade, no Am Law 50 firms are among them. Those that publicly embrace the practice tend to have a clientele consisting largely of midmarket companies — and Wall Street law firms are still conspicuously absent.

Cannabis clients have one concern above all others, Robbins says: “banking and merchant services.” The drug’s complex legal status has created a paradox. It is both driving the growth of cannabis practices within law firms and holding them back from reaching their full potential....

Most major U.S. law firms have done some work in the cannabis space at this point, and according to Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, the stigma around having a cannabis practice is virtually gone—at least for small to medium firms. But the largest firms still don’t advertise it. Searching their websites reveals snippets of work done but nothing that could be considered a formalized practice.

Robbins believes there is still a more conservative bent to larger firms, which have more to lose if a client skirts legality or something goes sideways as a result of regulatory changes. Akerman did a great deal of due diligence on the potential exposure of dealing with plant-touching clients. The firm concluded it was a risk worth taking, he says....

From Robbins’ perspective, it may be a good thing that larger firms aren’t suddenly pushing ahead. “Bigger firms dipping their toes into it without having the regulatory expertise could cause problems both for the firm and the client,” he says.

There are some firms just outside the Am Law 50, like Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, which announced a formalized 70-attorney practice in May, that are actively looking to raise the profile of their cannabis practices. But they are doing it slowly. Sheppard Mullin’s practice head, Whitney Hodges, says that although the firm made the effort to formalize its practice, it isn’t in a position to discuss financial expectations.

Some smaller firms are quite happy with the fees generated by the industry. Joshua Horn, partner and co-chair of the cannabis practice at Fox Rothschild, says that in the three years since his firm formalized its practice after dabbling in the space for years, it has gone from zero cannabis-related revenue to a multimillion-dollar practice that he expects to keep growing.

Seth Goldberg, a partner at Duane Morris and team lead of its cannabis practice, concurs. He expects the practice to expand, bolstered by the constellation of practice areas the industry touches and projections that the market could grow to $50 billion in the next decade. His firm has been pleased with its revenue results since formalizing the practice in January 2017, though he declined to share them.

Zane Gilmer, a partner in the cannabis practice at Stinson, believes the industry will grow, but his firm does not have an accounting system that measures the exact amount of money the practice is bringing in. The firm’s practice, he says, is more about servicing existing clients that have started to do business with entities dealing with cannabis. His own work focuses, in part, on advising financial institutions that are planning on dealing with companies in the cannabis space. It’s a bit of a gray area.

Although Gilmer says he has been doing work that relates to the cannabis industry since his arrival at Stinson in 2014, the firm didn’t formalize its official practice until last year, and he still sees a lot of room for maturity both in the emerging industry and those who service it. But there’s enough business to necessitate its own practice arm.

July 29, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Senate hearing on marijuana industry banking issues reveals continued challenges for federal reforms

Many folks seemed quite excited by the Senate Banking Committee's decision to hold this hearing today, titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to discuss the SAFE Banking Act and related issues concerning the banking problems that face the marijuana industry. But just the headlines of two press reports on the hearing suggest my persistent pessimism about the short-term prospects for federal marijuana reforms remains justified:

From The Hill: "Pot banking bill supporters seek path to passage in skeptical Senate"

From CNBC: "Senate cannabis hearing shows challenges to rewriting pot laws despite growing support in Congress"

Both articles provide a helpful review of the hearing, and here is how the CNBC piece gets started:

A much-hyped congressional hearing on easing cannabis banking restrictions served as a reminder Tuesday that reforming pot laws remains an uphill battle in Congress despite growing bipartisan support among lawmakers.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hosted a hearing titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives.” Lawmakers, industry executives and advocates testified on the challenges cannabis companies face trying to get basic banking services in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. They urged lawmakers to change federal laws to give the budding industry access to traditional financial services.

One piece of legislation, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, would allow banks, credit unions and other financial institutions to work with the cannabis industry. Some think it could pass because it’s narrowly focused on banking and not other sticky issues like decriminalizing or legalizing pot.

But Tuesday’s hearing showed just how hard getting the bill through the Senate would be. Aside from committee chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, none of the Republican committee members attended the hearing.

July 23, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act envisions creating a Cannabis Justice Office

Download (5)I was pleased to hear reports about, and then see an email describing, a notable new federal marijuana reform bill being proposed by notable federal officials.   The email from the House Judiciary Democratic Press was titled "Nadler & Harris Introduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation."  Here are excerpts:

Today, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)  introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted,” said Chairman Nadler. “Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color. It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior. I’m proud to sponsor the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. I want to acknowledge the partnership in developing this legislation with my colleagues, Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well as the contributions of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Nydia Velazquez.”

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. I am thrilled to work with Chairman Nadler on this timely and important step toward racial and economic justice.”

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions.  This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life.  Immigrants will also benefit from the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, as they will no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.  
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

Along with Nadler and Harris, co-sponsors of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act include U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); in the U.S. House of Representatives, cosponsors Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), were particularly instrumental in developing this bill.  Other House cosponsors include Matt Gaetz (R-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Debra A. Haaland (D-NM), Ro Khanna (D-CA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, 4thMVMT, ACLU, California Minority Alliance, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The full text of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act is available at this link, and I especially what to note that Section 5 of the bill includes a provision for establishing within the federal "Office of Justice Programs a Cannabis Justice Office." In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.  Though this proposed Cannabis Justice Office is not exactly what I had in mind, I am really excited to see any major reform bill focus on creating a justice infrastructure for continued emphasis on justice and equity issues.

July 23, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Two notable new stories of marijuana's still notable criminal justice footprint

Throughout most of the Unites States, millions of Americans are able to "legally" buy and sell marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.  (Of course, I put "legally" in quotes because all these activities are violations of federal law, but the laws and practices of states and localities define enforcement realities.)  Given all the "legal" marijuana activity, it can be dangerously easy to forget that the criminalization of marijuana is still a significant criminal justice reality for a significant number of individuals.  But these two new stories about arrests in two states provides an important reminder of this reality:

From the Washington Post, "Marijuana arrests in Va. reach highest level in at least 20 years, spurring calls for reform."  An excerpt: 

Nearly 29,000 arrests were made for marijuana offenses in Virginia last year, a number that has tripled since 1999, according to an annual crime report compiled by the Virginia State Police. Marijuana busts account for nearly 60 percent of drug arrests across Virginia and more than half of them were among people who were under 24, according to the data. The vast majority of cases involved simple possession of marijuana....

The Virginia Crime Commission found that 46 percent of those arrested for a first offense for possession of marijuana between 2007 and 2016 were African Americans, who represent about only 20 percent of Virginia’s population....

In Virginia, a first conviction for possessing marijuana is a misdemeanor that can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Subsequent arrests can result in up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. A defendant’s driver’s license is also revoked for six months for a drug conviction. The Virginia Crime Commission study found that only 31 people were in jail in July 2017 solely for a conviction of possessing marijuana in the state. The libertarian Cato Institute estimated Virginia spent $81 million on marijuana enforcement in 2016.

From Wisconsin Watch, "Blacks arrested for pot possession at four times the rate of whites in Wisconsin." An excerpt:

Almost 15,000 adults in Wisconsin were arrested in 2018 for marijuana possession, a 3% increase from 2017, according to data from the state Department of Justice.  Prison admissions in Wisconsin for marijuana also were higher in 2016 for black individuals than for whites, according to the state Department of Corrections. Some experts believe this disparity can be attributed to policing practices in low-income neighborhoods that tend to have more residents of color....

Under state law, possession of marijuana of any amount for a first-time offense can lead to up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Any offense after that is classified as a felony and can result in a sentence of three and a half years in prison with a maximum fine of $10,000. 

I want to believe that recently increases in marijuana arrests are mostly a product of increased marijuana activity and not an extra focus on marijuana enforcement. But whatever the reason, I sincerely wonder if anyone sincerely believes that all of the time, money and energy expended for all these marijuana arrests serves to enhance justice or safety in these jurisdictions.

Cross-posed at SENTENCING LAW AND POLICY.

July 20, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spotlighting the key congressional gatekeepers controlling path for federal marijuana reform

With new marijuana-related hearings taking place this summer in both the House and Senate and with new bills being proposed and reform talk afoot, it might seem like significant federal marijuana reform could occur any day now.  But, usefully, this new Rolling Stone article provides an oft-needed reminder of who really decides whether and when any legislative proposals will advance.  The piece is headlined "Three Republicans Stand in the Way of Federal Weed Legalization: There’s finally bipartisan support for cannabis legislation — but unless it can get past a small group of Republican senators, the bills will continue to fizzle," and here are excerpts:

Democrat lobbyist... Saphira Galoob was [at lunch] to talk about cannabis legalization with Republican lobbyist Don Murphy. Over sweet potato fries, Murphy — a former GOP state representative in Maryland who has been working in marijuana policy for over 15 years — and Galoob traded war stories about advocating for cannabis on Capitol Hill, where, as Murphy explains, public opinion only goes so far....  [P]ublic and bipartisan support are not enough for full marijuana legalization, says Galoob. “We are still in a situation where the temperature within the Republican Party conference — within the leadership — is not yet signaling that it’s OK.”

The circle of people on Capitol Hill who will decide if cannabis legislation passes is actually pretty small.  There are three names that are continually listed — by lobbyists, advocates, and lawmakers — as the gatekeepers to any federal cannabis legislation: Republican Senators Mike Crapo (ID), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY).  They make decisions about which cannabis bills — if any — the Senate in Congress will have opportunity to vote on this session.

“I used to think that in civics, in government, you need 50 percent plus one to pass legislation,” Murphy says.  “Not exactly. You need one, plus 50 percent.”  That one, says Murphy, is a committee chairman. In order to get a bill to the floor for a full Senate vote, it must first pass the House, then get seen by a Senate committee.  However, there are absolutely no guarantees that a committee will ever hear a bill.  That’s completely up to the committee chairman.

Senators Crapo and Graham are chairmen of the Senate Banking and Senate Judiciary committees, respectively — the two committees that have the highest chance of seeing standalone cannabis legislation in this congress.

Take, for example, the SAFE Banking Act, which is expected to pass the House by a strong margin.  But because the bill deals with banking, it will have to pass through the Senate Banking Committee, which has been led by Crapo since 2016....  Until very recently, the chairman and his office avoided taking a hard stance on the SAFE Banking Act by arguing that cannabis’ Schedule I status on the Controlled Substances Act should be dealt with first. But on July 16th, a hearing popped up on the Banking Committee calendar titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to be held in late July. Sen. Crapo’s Senate Banking committee, turns out, has scheduled a hearing on the SAFE Banking Act, officially pulling it into the Senate sphere of influence before it has even formally passed through the House of Representatives.

While that is good news for pro-SAFE Banking advocates and a big step forward for the bill itself, the story is far from over.  The bill still needs a vote — called a “markup” — scheduled, it needs to pass that committee vote, and then it moves on, most likely, to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The situation in the Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Lindsey Graham is chairman, is similar to banking.  Most cannabis bills — not just the banking bill — would have to pass his committee before being considered in the full Senate, because they involve the Controlled Substances Act, which is overseen by the Department of Justice.

Sen. Graham’s track record on marijuana is mostly cold.  He co-sponsored the medical marijuana-focused CARERS Act of 2015, which would have re-scheduled marijuana and given added protections to states that legalized marijuana.  But since then, Graham has voted against other bills such as the SAFE Banking Amendment — which have been tacked onto different appropriations bills multiple times over the years.  Graham told Roll Call in April that he is “not very excited about” the SAFE Banking Act, and in 2016 told POLITICO Magazine he rejects recreational marijuana.  His scorecard on marijuana advocacy group NORML’s website gives him a “C” grade.

What he would do if cannabis legislation is sent to his committee is unclear.  Most advocates don’t think Graham is motivated to hear standalone marijuana legislation unless there was additional pressure on him from GOP leadership....  Even if a cannabis bill passes a Senate committee in this congress, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will make it to a vote. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds the keys to the Senate chamber, and he only brings bills to the floor that he personally wants passed.  Though he worked hard last year to legalize hemp – Kentucky has a long history of farming industrial hemp, and McConnell was looking for a way to help the state’s economy — he’s said he will not consider descheduling cannabis.... 

Some advocates believe that the majority leader could be swayed if a cannabis bill could also help the hemp industry.  Right now, some hemp farmers are still having issues opening bank accounts or accessing other programs that should be legal for them, because to the untrained eye, full-spectrum cannabis and hemp look incredibly similar.  The difference between legality and classification as a Schedule I drug is in how much CBD and THC the plant possesses, and banks don’t want to be held liable if a hemp company grows a crop with too much CBD or any THC.  So many banks and credit card companies are avoid working with the hemp industry entirely.  At a tour of a Kentucky hemp facility earlier this month, McConnel himself acknowledged the service gap, saying the banks “need to be convinced, and we hope to explain it to them.”

If the SAFE Banking Act was passed, it would arguably give hemp – which Sen. McConnell worked hard to make legal for his state – some breathing room.  Republican Cory Gardner, one of the more influential GOP members on this topic, is optimistic. “I think we’re making more progress than we’ve ever had,” he says.

When asked about the chances for cannabis legislation in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said he believes the SAFE Banking Act — and potentially other cannabis legislation — has the votes to pass. “It would help a lot to have the support of leadership in this chamber,” he says. “If there’s no obstruction, if we have a free chance to have a debate on the floor, I think we can get the sixty votes and pass it.”

If no cannabis legislation is passed by the time a new congress arrives in January of 2021, the whole process — introducing bills, committee hearings and votes, House votes, Senate votes, etc — will have to start over at square one.

July 18, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Is Cannabis a Gateway Drug? Key Findings and Literature Review"

The title of this post is the title of this lengthy report published in November 2018 produced by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress in conjunction with the National Institute of Justice.  For some reason, I missed this notable report when it was first released and tripped across it just this past week.  Here are the three lead findings of the full report:

1. The existing statistical research and analysis show mixed results and do not clearly demonstrate scientific support for cannabis use leading to harder illicit drug use.  As a result, FRD has determined that no causal link between cannabis use and the use of other illicit drugs can be claimed at this time.

2. The current state of research on this topic is very limited and existing studies suffer from difficulties in gathering information and applying the findings to a larger population.

3. While many of the studies reviewed in this report did find statistically significant associations between cannabis use and one’s later use of other illicit drugs, there is not yet conclusive evidence to assert that cannabis is a gateway drug. Moreover, the practical significance of these findings was limited.

July 16, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Recapping big congressional hearing on marijuana reform and wondering what is next

Yesterday was an interesting and perhaps historic day inside the Beltway as the  Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary of US House of Representatives conducted a hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."  The full two-hour+ hearing, along with the written testimony submitted by the official witnesses, can all be found at this official webpage.   If one is looking for a summary, this High Times piece provides recap under the headline "What Was Said at Today’s Congressional Hearing on Federal Marijuana Law Reform."  And the headline of this Marijuana Moment recap, headlined "Lawmakers And Witnesses Clash On Strategy During Congressional Hearing On Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition," highlights that there was considerable consensus on the problems with blanket federal marijuana prohibition, but considerable dissensus concerning how reform might best move forward.

I have been fairly pessimistic about federal marijuana reforms before 2020 primarily because, as I noted in this MJBiz Daily piece, I do not think Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has any interest in moving  any significant reforms forward these days (especially after he got hemp reforms passed late last year).  But this congressional hearing provides yet another reminder of why federal marijuana reform is likely to remain so very challenging in the months and years ahead.  Even when there is broad agreement as to the need for reform, we still seem to be a very long way from agreement as to the best form of reform.  And experiences over the last year in New Jersey and New York highlight that even a strong political will for reform among key official can still be thwarted by squabbles over which of various forms reform could take.

For this reason, as I wonder about what is next in Congress on this front, I remain inclined to say "probably nothing."  

A few related recent prior posts:

July 11, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Tribal Cannabis: Balancing Tribal Sovereignty and Cooperative Enforcement"

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

The cannabis industry remains a difficult space to navigate for Native Americans both because of the continued federal ban on cannabis and the extra layer of laws and regulations on tribal land, as well as the potential for continued stigma arising from their involvement in an industry that was until recently considered illegal at all levels of government.  Because of the complex jurisdictional circumstances which arise within tribal land, tribes are left with pioneering strategies on implementing a successful cannabis business alone – whether that be growing, wholesaling, selling on tribal land, or all three.  At the same time, Native American tribes have many competitive advantages – they have water rights and access to power, they own land, and they have a historical and cultural tie to cannabis and natural healing. 

This article discusses several short term and long term steps that Native American tribes should undertake once a state in which a tribe is located legalizes medical marijuana in order to ready themselves to take advantage of an economic opportunity in the form of a cannabis industry should it arise including gaining community support and amending tribal codes, establishing a compact and setting up protections from outside investors, and seek long term legislative fixes such as opt-out provisions in the CSA.

Prior student papers in this series:

July 11, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

On eve of congressional marijuana reform hearing, major policy groups form new Marijuana Justice Coalition

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiAs reported in this Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "ACLU And Other Groups Form Coalition To Push Justice-Focused Marijuana Legalization Model," a notable new alliance has come together to press for federal marijuana reform.  Here are the basics:

Ten leading civil rights and criminal justice reform groups announced on Tuesday the formation of a coalition to advocate that marijuana legalization legislation must be comprehensive and include wide-ranging social equity provisions.

Members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC) include the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Noting that the congressional conversation around cannabis has shifted from whether to legalize to how to legalize, MJC said in its announcement that any reform effort should include a series of measures that focus on investing in communities disproportionately harmed by prohibition, encouraging participation in the industry by impacted individuals, expunging the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and ensuring that work in a legal market doesn’t impact citizenship applications.

“Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws,” MJC wrote. “As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive.”

That comprehensive approach should involve descheduling cannabis and advancing criminal justice reform provisions such as expungements and resentencing, MJC said. The group also called for “eliminating barriers to access to public benefits (e.g. nutrition assistance, public housing, etc.) and other collateral consequences related to an individual’s marijuana use or previous arrest or conviction” and “eliminating unnecessarily discriminatory elements for marijuana use, arrests and convictions, including drug testing for public benefits or marijuana use as a reason for separating children from their biological families in the child welfare system.”

Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs office, said the coalition was formed “with the goal of reforming federal marijuana laws, but doing so in a way that gives back to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs.”...

“Since the scheduling of marijuana as a Controlled Substance in 1970, over 20 million Americans have been unjustly arrested or incarcerated,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Entire communities have lost generations of citizens to cyclical poverty and incarceration that resulted from the collateral consequences of having a cannabis-related conviction on their record.”...

Tuesday’s announcement from MJC and its influential members is especially timely. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on marijuana reform that’s expected to explore many of the social equity and racial justice issues identified in MJC’s priority list. While the panel may well consider the bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act among other bills, it seems unlikely MJC will be inclined to offer its support for that specific legislation because it lacks social equity provisions.

The full "Statement of Principles on Federal Marijuana Reform" from this coalition can be found at this link. Here are a few paragraphs from that two-page statement before it turns to specifics:

Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws.

As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive. The provisions set forth below are agreed upon by the undersigned criminal justice, drug policy, civil rights, and anti-poverty groups as principles that should be considered as a part of any moving marijuana reform efforts in Congress.

Relatedly, Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment also has this lengthy preview of today's congressional hearing on marijuana reform headlined "The Debate Over How, Not Whether, Congress Should Legalize Marijuana Is Heating Up."

Related prior post:

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

July 10, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)