Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"County-Level Differences in Support for Recreational Cannabis on the Ballot"

Cdxa_47_2.coverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new paper in the journal Contemporary Drug Problems authored by Lindsey Beltz, Clayton Mosher and Jennifer Schwartz.  Here is its abstract:

Cannabis is traversing an extraordinary journey from an illicit substance to a legal one, due in part to an unprecedented wave of bottom-up law reform through successful citizen ballot initiatives.  Yet, even in states that have legalized recreational cannabis, there is substantial geographic variability in support of cannabis legalization. Geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization is impactful (e.g., county moratoriums/bans) yet poorly understood.

This paper demonstrates the consequences of county-level population demographics, sociopolitical factors, and community differences in experience with criminalization of cannabis possession for understanding county-level variation in support of recreational cannabis law reform on (un)successful ballot measures in California (2010), Colorado (2012), Washington (2012), and Oregon (2014). 

OLS regression analyses of nearly 200 counties indicate that differences in racial and ethnic composition (% Black, Hispanic), political affiliation (% Republican), past criminalization, gender composition, and higher education level of residents all predict county-level variation in support for liberalization of cannabis law.  Stronger Republican political leanings and/or higher percentages of Black or Hispanic residents were associated with reduced support, whereas higher education, male sex composition, and greater past criminalization were associated with increased support for cannabis legalization across counties. Religiosity and rurality were inconsequential as predictors of county-level voting patterns favoring recreational cannabis.  The substantial geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization has significant implications for policy implementation and effectiveness.

July 8, 2020 in Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

"Understanding Social Equity"

The title of this post is the title of this significant new digital book put together by Chris Nani now available via SSRN.  I am proud to be able to say Chris is a former student who has been doing amazing work in the cannabis space since his time in law school (including the development of a great tool for judging social equity programs available as "Social Equity Assessment Tool for the Cannabis Industry").   In his new book, Chris has assembled short and effective essays from more than a dozen experts; here is the book's SSRN abstract: 

Understanding Social Equity is a compilation of viewpoints from various authors with diverse backgrounds.  From attorneys, policy analysts, and journalists to advocates, business owners, and social equity applicants, my goal was to provide as many perspectives as possible – some of which may conflict with other authors to provide regulators a wide range of respected opinions about social equity programs.  Together, we believe this compilation can be used as a guide for drafters and regulators when determining minute details about how they would like to create or improve their social equity program.

The goal of this book can further be defined into four objectives:

 ●  Educate regulators on what social equity programs are and their importance.

 ●  Why certain criteria should be used to define social equity applicant eligibility.

 ●  An analysis of prior social equity programs.

 ●  Key factors for social equity programs.

I was quite honored that Chris asked me to author an essay for this book. My contribution is titled simply "Tracking Social Equity," and here is how it begins:

Chris Nani, in the first sentence of his preface to this volume, defines social equity programs as those that “seek to remediate and help individuals, families, and communities harmed by the War on Drugs.”  Behind this crisp definition of social equity programs stands a series of complicated questions about just who should be the focal point for remediation and help and how these programs should be oriented and assessed.  By starting to unpack these questions, we can begin to appreciate just why these programs are so important in principle and so challenging in practice.

July 7, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, 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)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is marijuana reform really a "Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use"?

EJ3gu5eWsAEdEfSThe question in the title of this post is drawn from the headline of this great new Atlantic piece by Edward-Isaac Dovere fully titled "The Marijuana Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use: Legalizing marijuana is extremely popular. So why won’t Joe Biden embrace the idea?".  Here are extended excerpts from an interesting piece worth reading in full:

Democratic political consultants dream of issues like marijuana legalization. Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of it, polls show.  So are independents. A majority of Republicans favor it now too. It motivates progressives, young people, and Black Americans to vote. Put it on the ballot, and it’s proved a sure way to boost turnout for supportive politicians. It’s popular in key presidential-election states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Virginia. There’s no clear political downside — although marijuana legalization motivates its supporters, it doesn’t motivate its opponents. For the Democratic presidential nominee, the upsides of supporting it would include energizing a very committed group of single-issue voters and making a major move toward criminal-justice reform and the Bernie Sanders agenda.

Joe Biden won’t inhale.

Democrats eager for Biden to support legalization have theories about why he won’t.  His aides insist they’re all wrong.  It’s not, they say, because he’s from a generation scared by Reefer Madness. It’s not, they say, because he spent a career in Washington pushing for mandatory minimum sentencing and other changes to drug laws.  It’s definitely not, according to people who have discussed the policy with him, because he’s a teetotaler whose father battled alcoholism and whose son has fought addiction, and who’s had gateway-drug anxieties drilled into him.  With legalization seeming such an obvious political win, all that’s stopping Biden, current and former aides say, is public health.  He’s read the studies, or at least, summaries of the studies (campaign aides pointed me to this one).  He wants to see more.  He’s looking for something definitive to assure him that legalizing won’t lead to serious mental or physical problems, in teens or adults....

If Biden really has his eyes on public health, he should think about how many Black people end up in jail for marijuana sale and possession, argues Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba — a young Black progressive who oversaw local decriminalization in his city in 2018....  Alternatively, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, says Biden should think about how legalization could raise tax revenue in the post-pandemic economy of state budget deficits....

Amid the criticism that Biden hasn’t taken a definitive stance on legalization, it’s easy to lose track of how far ahead he is of any other major-party presidential nominee in history in terms of changing marijuana policy.  He’d decriminalize use, which would mean fines instead of jail time, and move to expunge records for using.  He’d remove federal enforcement in states that have legalized the drug.  That’s further, by far, than Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, has gone.  Biden would move marijuana off as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same category as heroin, but would not take it off the illegal-drugs schedule entirely, so that federal law would treat it the way it does alcohol or nicotine....

“As science ends up with more conclusive evidence regarding the impact of marijuana, I think he would look at that data. But he’s being asked to make a decision right now. This is where the science guides him,” Stef Feldman, Biden’s policy director, explained to me....  There isn’t some conclusive study about health effects that Biden is ignoring, but one is also not likely to emerge anytime soon.  And though they insist this is all about health, other ripples from legalization are on the minds of institutionalists like Biden and his close advisers: trade deals that require both sides to keep marijuana illegal would have to be rewritten, half a century of American pressure on other countries about their drug policies would be reversed, and hard-line police unions would have to be convinced that he wasn’t just giving in to stoners. 

Realistically, marijuana isn’t a priority right now for the campaign.  Legalization is at once too small an issue for Biden’s tiny team to focus on and too large an issue to take a stand on without fuller vetting.  And it comes with a frustration among people close to Biden, who point out that liberals talk about trusting science on everything from climate change to wearing masks — and, notably, wanted vaping restricted because the health effects were unclear — but are willing to let that standard slide here because they want marijuana to be legal.

Biden’s compromise: going right to the edge of legalization, while appointing a criminal-justice task force for his campaign whose members have each supported at least some approach to legalization.  But that sort of signaling doesn’t get people to the polls.  “Being cute is fine. Being bold is motivating,” Ben Wessel, the director of NextGen America, a group focused on boosting political involvement among younger voters, told me.

“If Biden said he wants to legalize marijuana tomorrow, it would help him get reluctant young voters off the fence and come home to vote for Biden — especially Bernie [Sanders] supporters, especially young people of color who have been screwed by a criminal-justice system that treats them unfairly on marijuana issues,” Wessel told me.  Publicly supporting marijuana legalization would be an easy, attention-grabbing move, and might help many Sanders diehards get past the fact that he’s not where they want him to be on the rest of their candidate’s democratic-socialist agenda. 

In 2018, top Democrats credited a legalization ballot initiative in Michigan with boosting turnout and producing the biggest blue wave in the country — winning races for governor, Senate, attorney general, and secretary of state, along with flipping two congressional seats and multiple state-legislature seats.  A ballot initiative is expected for the fall in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and possibly Montana.  Anyone who believes — hopefully, or out of cynical political calculation — that Biden will announce some big change in his thinking, aides told me, will be disappointed. 

I really like lots of aspects of this commentary, and I generally believe support for marijuana reform is a sound and significant political strategy these days.  But, as this piece highlights, when Biden's opponent is Donald Trump, it will still be easy for Biden to claim to be the most reform-minded candidate.  And while support for full legalization might attract younger voters, it also will attract hard questions about whether Biden would support legalizing other drugs.  By saying he will follow the research and the science, Biden can appear both wise and flexible on an issue that can still generate more heat than light.

Moreover, I think the political calculations can be a bit more nuanced here if one thinks about swing states and swing voters.  A number of potential swing states, ranging from Georgia and North Carolina to Iowa and Ohio and Wisconsin (and Texas?), are not states with a track record of significant voter support for full marijuana legalization.  Perhaps even more importantly, key voting blocks like suburban women and older white men are the populations that have generally been most resistant to marijuana reforms.   Though I still think support for major marijuana reforms would be a political plus for Biden, I do not think it is obviously a "superweapon" being left on the sidelines.

July 6, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Reviewing direct democracy marijuana/drug reform initiatives as we celebrate America's birthday

Download (11)Kyle Jaeger has this helpful and timely piece at Marijuana Moment discussing the state of direct democracy marijuana and drug reform campaigns in the states. The piece is headlined "As Signature Deadlines Approach, Here’s Where Marijuana And Drug Policy Reform Campaigns Stand," and is worth a full read. Here are highlights:

Several drug policy reform campaigns are in the final stretch as deadlines to submit signatures for proposed ballot initiatives loom this week and next.

While the coronavirus pandemic dealt serious blows to marijuana, psychedelics and other drug reform groups in jurisdictions across the country, forcing some to end their campaigns, activists in Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. are still in the game, with some running against the clock to turn in enough valid signatures to qualify and others now waiting for officials to validate petitions they’ve already submitted. That’s in addition to measures that have already qualified for November ballots in states like Mississippi, New Jersey and South Dakota.

The proposed ballot measures would accomplish everything from legalizing cannabis to decriminalizing psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Here’s a status update on where they stand:

Arizona  Deadline: July 2

Smart & Safe Arizona is a campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot, and it seems to be in good shape to qualify....

Idaho  Deadline: TBD

While the original deadline to submit signatures for an initiative to legalize medical marijuana passed on May 1, a federal judge recently ruled that the state must make accommodations for a separate non-cannabis ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response to it. Activists feel the ruling will also apply to the marijuana measure....

Nebraska  Deadline: July 3

Activists behind an initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state turned in 182,000 raw signatures on Thursday — well more than the 121,669 valid submissions needed to qualify for the ballot....

Oregon  Deadline: July 2

A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes already submitted signatures that they feel will qualify them for the ballot....

Washington, D.C.  Deadline: July 6

Washington, D.C. activists are continuing to collect signatures for a proposed measure to make enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities....

Here’s the status of other drug policy campaigns that have either succeeded or failed so far this year:

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced on Tuesday that a campaign to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand substance misuse treatment has qualified for the ballot.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

Mississippi activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana initiatives—one to legalize the plant for adult use and another stipulating that individuals must be 21 or older to participate — for the November ballot.  The state is currently validating those submissions.

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas will not qualify for the ballot this year, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.

Activists behind an initiative to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand access to treatment services in Washington State said last week that they will no longer be pursuing the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they are seeking to enact the policy change through the legislature during the next session starting January 2021.

An effort to place a psilocybin legalization measure on California’s ballot ended after the coronavirus pandemic presented petitioning difficulties and officials didn’t agree to a request to allow electronic signature gathering.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

North Dakota activists ended their push to place a marijuana legalization measure on the 2020 ballot and will instead seek qualification for 2022.

July 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 3, 2020

Is it growing clearer that marijuana reform is criminal justice reform and racial justice imperitive?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Crime Report piece headlined "Marijuana Laws ‘Central’ to Justice Reform, Advocates Say."  Here is how it starts:

As protests against racism continue to march on across the country, conversations have sparked a new dialogue about policing, criminal and racial justice, and even the War on Drugs. 

Lawmakers and advocates alike say the latter of these dialogues must play “a central part,” seeing that the War on Drugs and policing of marijuana usage has disproportionately targeted Black Americans, and encouraged negative police interactions, Stateline and Brookings report.

In light of these discussions, some states are taking active roles in changing the current narrative.

I would also recommend these linked pieces from Stateline and Brookings:

Long-time readers know that I have long viewed marijuana reform as a criminal justice issues first and foremost, though I fully understand why public health advocates and others see lots of other issues implicated in this arena. But in light of the very, very, very clear evidence that marijuana prohibition's enforcement is racially skewed, I think everyone concerned about racial justice must be thinking hard about how marijuana reform can be part of creating a more fair and just society.

July 3, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Marijuana and Its Movement: Issues with Transporting a Legally Ambiguous Substance"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Joshua Gmerek, a recent graduate 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:

Regardless of whether you are a commercial truck driver performing a job, a patient driving to get her medicine, or a citizen who just recreationally enjoys marijuana, the rules surrounding the transportation of marijuana are important.  California became the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1996, and the prevalence of medical and recreational marijuana legalization has only expanded since then.  At this point, some product or chemical compound from the cannabis plant is virtually everywhere in the United States, yet the transportation of these products has not been comprehensively debated by the public, let alone legislated. 

This article is focused on exploring the unique legal landscape surrounding the transportation of marijuana, hemp, and cannabidiol (CBD) from both a business and individual perspective.  By showcasing examples of how businesses and individuals have been impacted by the unclarity in this area, the goal is to convey that nothing about transporting these products is risk-free and that there is unnecessary conflict between state and federal law.

June 30, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noticing how marijuana reform now intersects with religious leaders

Im-199484The Wall Street Journal had this recent lengthy article exploring the intersection of marijuana reforms and religious leaders.  The piece is headlined "The Word of God in the Age of Legal Marijuana" and this subheadline highlights it themes: "As more believers begin to tolerate legalization, current and former religious leaders find themselves in the middle of a debate over health, race and law enforcement."  Here are excerpts:

When it comes to marijuana legalization ... some faith leaders ... are weighing the damage the drug can do against the number of people, especially people of color, sent to prison because of it, and the benefits it can provide those in physical pain.

Polls suggest that public tolerance of the drug has gone mainstream, even in religious communities.  A September survey by the Pew Research Center found that 67% of the 2,480 Americans asked spoke in favor of legalizing cannabis, up from 31% in 2000.  The survey found a majority in favor among several religious denominations.  Even evangelicals polled slightly in favor, with 50% saying yes and 49% no....

Plenty of absolutists remain among American clergy.  Dr. Russell Moore is an evangelical theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination’s public-policy arm.  He’s also a prominent marijuana critic.

He stands against legalization or decriminalization because he says marijuana is neither medicine nor a harmless recreational drug, and pro-legalization forces are backed by a profit-driven industry.  He calls marijuana legalization “unwise and even disastrous.”  Dr. Moore, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn., says he has counseled people with various addictions, including marijuana.  He says he sees religious leaders on the front lines of fighting marijuana and the harm it does to families, children and young adults.  “Most of the young evangelicals I know seek to minister to friends who have been harmed by marijuana culture,” he says.  “This isn’t theoretical to them at all.”

But other religious leaders find themselves in a position that would have seemed unthinkable in decades past.  Like Dr. Moore, Pastor Jamal Bryant is a clergyman with a large following and a share of critics that comes with that kind of profile.  He leads New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, an Atlanta-area African-American megachurch with 10,000 parishioners and an online viewership of more than 90,000.  It hosted the funeral of Coretta Scott King.

The pastor has created a line of cannabidiol (also known as CBD) oil-based products called Canna Blessed, organized as an LLC in Georgia.  Selling small amounts of the substance can be legal — it contains no THC, an ingredient in marijuana that provides a high.  CBD has been shown to be helpful in treating some conditions, including certain types of epilepsy, according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization.

Pastor Bryant wants to sell Canna Blessed in church bookstores.  If THC products became legal in Georgia, he would be open to selling them, too.  “I’m not telling you God said for you to take it,” he says. But if it helps someone in the choir manage a health condition, he says the church should provide it.

Pastor Jamal Bryant says that by entering the cannabis industry he can model generational wealth for his church, congregation and community.  He insists he won’t be “getting zooted on the roof of the church” or giving out cannabis as communion.  Instead he says he wants to raise awareness about holistic medicine and entrepreneurial opportunities he intends to model for his church community. “That would really begin a larger conversation that we really need to have,” he says. “And I don’t think it can happen until it’s in our faces.”

Rev. Alexander Sharp, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy in Chicago, views the question in more political terms.  He supports adult recreational use and criminal-justice reform.  And since the drug can relieve pain, he argues that legalization is an act of compassion and mercy — one that follows the example of Jesus Christ.  “The only thing that made Jesus really angry were the Pharisees that were hypocrites,” he says.  “And there are pharisaical attitudes in those who oppose drug use.”

Rev. Sharp hopes to witness an end to the war on drugs.  He believes regulation and education are the best responses to human vices, but also says the most compelling argument is for social justice.  “You can pick your numbers according to your state, but African-Americans and Latinos are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses,” he says.

June 30, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"What’s the best minimum legal age for cannabis?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this effective new Leafly article, which builds off the research noted in this prior post about the "right" minimum age for legal access to recreational cannabis.  Here are excerpts:

When it comes to legal cannabis, the random collection of ages across North America is curious. Every US state that allows recreational cannabis sales requires customers to be at least 21 years old. In Canada the minimum age is 19, except in Alberta (where it’s 18) and Québec (which started at 18 but raised it to 21 earlier this year).

In most jurisdictions, medical marijuana is legal for people age 18 and older, with a doctor’s recommendation.

What difference does it really make if someone is 18, 19 or 21? A research team at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, recently investigated the question. Instead of looking at the immediate health and safety of young adults, they assessed later life outcomes — namely educational attainment, lifetime cigarette smoking habits, and general physical and mental health. In their study, the Memorial University team concluded that the ideal minimum legal age for cannabis was 19....

Health experts cite THC exposure in adolescents causes changes to the brain’s folding patterns, decreased neural connectivity, thinning of the cortex and lower white matter, among other symptoms. However, one recent study suggests any changes to brain structure caused by cannabis use in adolescence cleared up by the time subjects were in their 30s.

Another ongoing study in the Saguenay region of Quebec took MRI scans of over 1,000 adolescent brains in 2002, and the same subjects are currently being re-evaluated as adults — results pending.

If the serious nature of brain health is such a risk, why not just make cannabis illegal until a person’s mid-20s? In the real world, policymakers have to weigh human nature’s penchant for the forbidden with appropriate rules and consequences. In an ideal world, sure — and in this ideal world underage kids never go looking for cannabis from illicit sources, either. In the real world, though, policymakers have to weigh human nature’s penchant for the forbidden with appropriate rules and consequences. In an ideal world, alcohol would also be outlawed for health reasons, but we all know how Prohibition worked out.

Prior to the Oct. 2018 opening of legal cannabis sales in Canada, a government task force took a hard look at the best-legal-age question. That group found that the higher the minimum legal age, the more likely adolescents will seek out unregulated sources, risking both consumption of potentially more dangerous products and also incarceration.

Prior related post:

June 30, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2020

"California cities begin embracing cannabis in desperate search for cash"

The title of this post is the title of this recent notable Politico article. Here are excerpts:

California local governments scrambling to find tax revenues during the coronavirus pandemic are turning toward an industry they had considered taboo until now: cannabis.

It has been almost four years since voters legalized recreational marijuana in California, and nearly 70 percent of cities and counties have yet to embrace pot businesses because they see regulatory problems or have concerns about public safety and negative publicity.

But some, facing insurmountable budget gaps as unemployment rises to its worst level since the Great Depression, would now rather open their doors to cannabis than lay off more workers or cut services.  So far, a handful of cities have begun developing cannabis tax measures for the November ballot since voter approval is required to add local taxes.  It's a trend many in the industry expect to continue over the next month absent approval of a federal bailout for state and local governments....

San Bruno, a Bay Area city that two years ago banned marijuana businesses, is among the governments with a change of heart.  Last week, city council members voted unanimously to fund a tax measure and public education campaign, while voicing support for the idea of exploring an ordinance that would allow a dispensary or delivery service to open sometime next year.

According to projections from city officials, an operational cannabis shop could reduce San Bruno’s projected $8.2 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year by around $300,000. “It's not gonna solve our problems, but it's going to keep $300,000 that we desperately need to hire whomever it is to make our city better,” Councilmember Marty Medina said at the meeting.

The city of Montclair in San Bernardino County is facing a similar budget crunch as sales tax revenue has cratered following the temporary closure of its mall. There, city officials are considering proposals to repeal a marijuana ban and create regulations for commercial activity.  The plan could raise up to $2 million annually, according to City Manager Edward Starr.

While both San Bruno and Montclair are left-leaning cities where a majority of residents voted to approve the Prop. 64 legalization initiative in 2016, Republican-led jurisdictions where voters rejected the statewide measure are also starting to consider cannabis — to the surprise of industry observers.  Last month, councilmembers in Yucaipa asked city staff to begin looking into alternative revenue streams, including marijuana businesses, amid a 15 percent decline in sales tax revenue and increasing public safety costs. Republicans hold a 20-point registration advantage over Democrats in the San Bernardino County jurisdiction, where a majority voted against Prop. 64....

Calls for jurisdictions to dive into the legal market have even come from some of the highest levels of state leadership, with Treasurer Fiona Ma calling the tax revenues a potential “game changer” during a virtual round table last month....

Among the other jurisdictions that have already begun developing cannabis tax measures or have shown interest in doing so are Sonoma, Signal Hill, Wildomar, Lemon Grove and Yountville.  As in Yucaipa, one of the prevailing themes in council meetings elsewhere has been that their residents are sending tax dollars to neighboring jurisdictions by purchasing marijuana products from other cities with licensed stores or from the state’s robust illicit market.

Industry research firms BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research estimate that unlicensed operations brought in $8.7 billion in untaxed revenue in 2019, compared to the legal market's $3.1 billion.

According to Jackie McGowan, founder of Green Street Consulting, local leaders are also looking at nearby jurisdictions that have developed their cannabis markets and don’t want to be left behind.  Among those that have already allowed marijuana businesses, Monterey County is counting on $10.2 million in projected cannabis tax revenues to cover general fund shortfalls and avoid layoffs in the upcoming fiscal year and Santa Barbara County leaders believe $10.6 million in marijuana revenue will help offset coronavirus losses.

June 29, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Notable new research and commentary on marijuana reforms and traffic fatalities

Download (2)The JAMA Internal Medicine journal has this week published online notable new original research and commentary on roadway fatalities in some states that have legalized marijuana use by all adults (called RCL in the works).  Here is the main piece and its main results and conclusions from its abstract:

"Association of Recreational Cannabis Laws in Colorado and Washington State With Changes in Traffic Fatalities, 2005-2017":

Results

Implementation of RCLs was associated with increases in traffic fatalities in Colorado but not in Washington State.  The difference between Colorado and its synthetic control in the post-RCL period was 1.46 deaths per 1 billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per year (an estimated equivalent of 75 excess fatalities per year; probability = 0.047).  The difference between Washington State and its synthetic control was 0.08 deaths per 1 billion VMT per year (probability = 0.674).  Results were robust in most sensitivity analyses.  The difference between Colorado and synthetic Colorado was 1.84 fatalities per 1 billion VMT per year (94 excess deaths per year; probability = 0.055) after excluding neighboring states and 2.16 fatalities per 1 billion VMT per year (111 excess deaths per year; probability = 0.063) after excluding states without MCLs.  The effect was smaller when using the enactment date (24 excess deaths per year; probability = 0.116).

Conclusions and Relevance

This study found evidence of an increase in traffic fatalities after the implementation of RCLs in Colorado but not in Washington State.  Differences in how RCLs were implemented (eg, density of recreational cannabis stores), out-of-state cannabis tourism, and local factors may explain the different results.  These findings highlight the importance of RCLs as a factor that may increase traffic fatalities and call for the identification of policies and enforcement strategies that can help prevent unintended consequences of cannabis legalization.

And here are two follow-up pieces published with this main piece:

Invited Commentary: "Reducing Impaired Driving Fatalities: Data Need to Drive Testing, Enforcement, and Policy"

Research Letter: "Change in Traffic Fatality Rates in the First 4 States to Legalize Recreational Marijuana"

June 23, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Retroactive Legality: Marijuana Convictions and Restorative Justice in an Era of Criminal Justice Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this recent article authored by Deborah Ahrens on one of my favorite topics. Here is its abstract:

The last decade has seen the beginning of a new era in United States criminal justice policy, one characterized by a waning commitment to over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and a punitive War on Drugs as well as a growing regret for the consequences of our prior policies.  One of the central questions raised by this shifting paradigm is what to do about the millions of individuals punished, marked, and shunned as a result of policies we now regret.  This issue is particularly pointed for marijuana convictions, as the coexistence of strict regimes of collateral consequences for drug convictions and the active government promotion of a new cannabis economy present a stark and deeply racialized contrast.

This Article argues that, in states where marijuana has been legalized, our policy-making apparatus should acknowledge and move to redress both the failings of our prior system of drug regulation and the social and economic disparities in current law by embracing a concept of “retroactive legality.”  Retroactive legality is a framework in which we seek to restore those convicted of marijuana crimes to the rights and civic status they would have had if their conduct had never been illegal.  Such an approach would build upon the piecemeal expungement and pardon policies adopted or proposed in some of these jurisdictions but would reach substantially further, by incorporating those convicted of more serious offenses, putting the onus on the state to identify and clear such convictions, and declining to impose additional requirements and costs on those seeking to have their convictions retroactively legalized.

June 17, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Struggling Through the Pandemic: Cannabis Social Equity During Covid-19"

Thumbnail_COVID-19_Social Equity During COVID-19_for-socialThe title of this post is the title of this new report that the team at Ohio State's Drug Enforcement & Policy Center has just gotten online via SSRN.  I was pleased to be play a part in this work, and here is the report's abstract:

In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 national emergency, states across the United States began issuing shelter-in-place orders curtailing operations of individual businesses based on “essential” and “non-essential” classification.  Virtually all states with legalized medical cannabis, and the majority of adult-use states, allowed cannabis establishments to remain open albeit often with significant restrictions on their operations.  Yet, the cannabis industry, and small, minority-owned or social equity designated businesses in particular, are not insulated from the broader economic shockwaves spreading through the country. 

In April 2020, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center conducted a survey asking patients/consumers and cannabis industry professionals about the challenges they were experiencing and government responses.  Hoping to fill a gap in early discussions of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, we were especially interested in the impact on cannabis industry participants designated as social equity businesses.  The results indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has both introduced tremendous new challenges for the cannabis industry and exacerbated long-standing difficulties for businesses in this arena.  If small, minority-owned and social equity businesses are to survive, they need to be treated by the system like any other regular small business venture.  While regulations and safeguards are necessary, these businesses need to be able to operate as a true business, rather than a semi-legal venture with no access to loans, banking, insurance, tax relief, and flexible deliverable modes.

June 16, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Timely reminders that marijuana reform is criminal justice reform ... especially when Black Lives Matter

Long-time readers know that I have long viewed marijuana reform as a form of criminal justice reform. And, at a time when we are all rightly concerned about police encounters with people of color and systemic racism in our criminal justice systems, it is more than fitting that some legislators and commentators are highlighting how we might improve our criminal justice system by reforming our marijuana laws. Here are three pieces and brief excerpts:

"Bernie Sanders And Cory Booker Talk Racial Injustices Of Marijuana Criminalization At Virtual Town Hall" by Kyle Jaeger:

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussed the role of marijuana criminalization and the broader drug war in perpetuating racial injustices during an online town hall on Wednesday. The former 2020 presidential candidates touched on a variety of drug-related policy issues.  For example, Booker brought up an ongoing ban on access to coronavirus relief programs for business owners with prior drug convictions and said it’s an example of why the two senators “talk about marijuana justice all the time.”

"Criminalization that never should have been: Cannabis" by Justin Strekal:

In short, the prohibition and criminalization of cannabis were, and still is, a racially motivated public policy response to personal behavior that is, at worst, a public health matter. But this should have never been a pretext for expanding police powers to search, incarcerate and arrest millions of American citizens.  Annually, over 650,000 Americans are arrested for violating marijuana laws. According to an analysis of these arrests released earlier this year by the ACLU, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”

"Racist cannabis arrests put Black Americans at higher risk of Covid-19" by Jenni Avins:

Even as cannabis reform sweeps the nation, offering Americans access to state-regulated cannabis-infused gummies and designer vape pens — and entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell them — poor people are still behind bars for possessing or selling the plant.  Statistically speaking, there’s a very good chance those people are Black.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports cannabis arrests still make up some 43% of all drug-related arrests, the vast majority of which are for possession, as opposed to more serious charges such as distribution or sale.  A 2017 study by the National Registry of Exonerations found that Blacks were five times as likely as whites to go to prison for drug possession — despite that surveys show whites use drugs as much or more than Blacks in the US.  In some places the statistics are markedly worse.  In 2018, Blacks and Latinos accounted for nearly 90% of arrests  for cannabis possession in New York City, despite being just 51% of the city’s population.  And in every single state, Blacks were likelier than whites to be arrested for cannabis possession. (Florida and Washington, DC did not provide data.)

June 15, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2020

Nevada Gov announces plan to secure pardons for "tens of thousands of Nevadans previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana"

As reported by this tweet, the Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, has placed "a resolution on the Board of Pardons Commissioners agenda next week to provide relief to tens of thousands of Nevadans previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is no longer a crime in the State."   This Marijuana Moment article by Kyle Jaeger provides some context for this action and other notable recent gubernatorial activity in this arena:

Last year, the governor signed a bill providing people with cannabis convictions a means to petition the court for expungements, but this resolution would offer proactive pardons for anyone convicted of possession up to an ounce of marijuana.  

“The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime,” Sisolak said, referencing the state’s 2016 vote to legalize cannabis for adult use. “If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized.”

The board is set to meet on Wednesday, June 17. The agenda designates time for “a discussion that may include but not limited to the resolution regarding pardons for persons convicted of minor marijuana possession.”  While pardons don’t void convictions, they can restore rights such as the right to vote, own a firearm or serve on a jury.

The governors of Washington State and Illinois have both issued pardons for cannabis offenses since their states legalized the plant.

Meanwhile, other top state officials have recently made arguments that marijuana reform is a necessary civil rights issue that’s particularly important to pursue as a means of addressing racial inequities.  California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said last week that legalization was “about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.” 

The governor of Virginia said on Tuesday that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans.

June 12, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

"A Road Map to Recreational Marijuana Taxation"

TF_FF713_fig_7The title of this post is the title of this great new 39-page report from the Tax Foundation authored by Ulrik Boesen.  Here are the "Key Points" that are set forth at the start of the document:

• Legal recreational marijuana sales are ongoing in nine states, covering 27 percent of the U.S. population.  In 2018, 10.5 percent of adult Americans had used marijuana products in the last 30 days.

• States have designed different excise tax systems for recreational marijuana.  While most tax based on price, states also tax marijuana based on weight or THC content.

• An excise tax on recreational marijuana should target the externality and raise sufficient revenue to fund marijuana-related spending while simultaneously outcompeting illicit operators.  Excise taxes should not be implemented in an effort to raise general fund revenue.

• Changes to federal law would have implications for the tax revenue in states with legalized marijuana.  If businesses had better access to banking, federal tax deductions, or interstate trading, prices would most likely fall.

• High taxes may limit adoption by minors and non-users but could hurt the competitiveness of the legal market.  Low taxes may allow easy conversion from the illicit market but could increase consumption among non-users and minors.  Taxing by price may not be stable, taxing by weight could encourage use of high potency products, and taxing by potency could complicate tax collection and add significant costs to both tax collectors and industry.

• A potency- and weight-based tax defined by THC levels may be the best short-term solution for lawmakers assuming that THC is an appropriate proxy for the externalities associated with consuming marijuana

June 9, 2020 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2020

"Why Marijuana Legalization Funds The Police"

The title of this post is the headline of this timely new Forbes piece worth reading in full.  Here are excerpts:

Bribing the cops is illegal, but not in politics.  Without paying off the cops, California might not have legalized recreational cannabis.

But now, four years later, with the legal industry struggling and police unable to protect legal merchants from either the illicit market or organized thieves, there’s serious doubt whether devoting tax revenue from marijuana sales to police budgets was smart politics.  And in light of calls to defund or cut police spending throughout the country, California’s experience is a warning for legalization efforts in other states.  Should police get a cut before education, healthcare, or disadvantaged communities shut out of the legal market?  And does law enforcement have any business making money off of legalization at all?

Eager to sell regulating and taxing cannabis to uneasy suburban and conservative voters, the authors of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, offered the state’s powerful law-enforcement lobbies a gift.  Twenty percent of the promised $1 billion in annual tax revenue legalization would create was earmarked for “public safety.” Legalization advocates heard an earful from growers and merchants eager to go legal — why reward the crews that had spent decades trying to arrest them? — but it was sold as necessary and practical electoral strategy. And from a public-safety standpoint, the gambit worked — sort of.  Though the cop lobbies opposed the measure anyway, they also didn’t run a massive scare campaign. On Election Day 2016, AUMA won more than 57 percent of the vote....

Similar tactics have been employed elsewhere.  California’s generosity was notable only in its size. Marijuana legalization has meant money for American police everywhere the social experiment’s been tried....  In Nevada, pot taxes help pay the police to “enforce” the measure (along with, one assumes, other laws).  In Colorado, cannabis taxes fund diversion and addiction-recovery programs, which are administered by the police.  In Portland, Oregon, most of a special 3 percent city tax on cannabis, part of which was meant to help jump-start minority entrepreneurs, somehow ended up in the police budget, infuriating local lawmakers who thought the cash would go to minority entrepreneurs....

Either Arizona, New Jersey, or maybe New Mexico or New York will be the next state to legalize cannabis for adults.  All need money, badly.  And in all states, elected officials and policymakers have suggested cannabis could provide that money.  This is the ATM argument for legalization.  But anyone running those campaigns will now have a harder sell promising cash to cops — at all, and not just up front.

As for California, lawmakers are now in a bind.  “I can think of a lot of betters uses of those funds,” said Matt Kumin, a San Francisco-based lawyer who advocated for Prop. 64’s passage.  In the coronavirus pandemic, with millions of Americans going untested for COVID-19 symptoms and millions more out of work, he’s not the only one.

Redirecting legalization money away from police budgets will require modifying the voter-approved legalization law.  This can probably be done by the state Legislature, but not without a fight. “The cops use blackmail, threaten, and practice low enforcement activity if pols threaten their budgets,” Kumin added.  Hints of this were underway before the pandemic and the protests.  In December, an effort to cut local weed taxes in Oakland, where Goldsberry and other merchants paid a 10 percent local tax on top of state taxes, in order to stimulate the industry was opposed — by the local police union.

Defunding the police will be a lengthy and divisive political project.  Whether legalization should fund the police in the first place may be a question settled much sooner.

June 8, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

New research on racial disparities in traffic stops and searches highlights how marijuana reform reduces searches (but not racial disparities)

2The events of the last week with its focus on police practices make all the more notably this already notable recent study, titled " A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States," published by the journal Nature Human Behavior.   Here is the article's abstract, with one line highlighted:

We assessed racial disparities in policing in the United States by compiling and analysing a dataset detailing nearly 100 million traffic stops conducted across the country. We found that black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset, when a ‘veil of darkness’ masks one’s race, suggesting bias in stop decisions.  Furthermore, by examining the rate at which stopped drivers were searched and the likelihood that searches turned up contraband, we found evidence that the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was lower than that for searching white drivers.  Finally, we found that legalization of recreational marijuana reduced the number of searches of white, black and Hispanic drivers — but the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was still lower than that for white drivers post-legalization.  Our results indicate that police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias and point to the value of policy interventions to mitigate these disparities. 

Here is more from the text of the article in the section titled "The effects of legalization of marijuana on stop outcomes":

In line with expectations, we find that the proportion of stops [in Colorado and Washington] that resulted in either a drug-related infraction or misdemeanour fell substantially in both states after marijuana was legalized at the end of 2012....

[Also] we found that after the legalization of marijuana the number of searches fell substantially in Colorado and Washington (Fig. 4), ostensibly because the policy change removed a common reason for conducting searches.

Because black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be searched before legalization, the policy change reduced the absolute gap in search rates between race groups; however, the relative gap persisted, with black and Hispanic drivers still more likely to be searched than white drivers post-legalization.  We further note that marijuana legalization had secondary impacts for law-abiding drivers, because fewer searches overall also meant fewer searches of those without contraband.  In the year after legalization in Colorado and Washington, about one-third fewer drivers were searched with no contraband found than in the year before legalization.

As further evidence that the observed drop in search rates in Colorado and Washington was due to marijuana legalization, we note that in the 12 states where marijuana was not legalized — and for which we have the necessary data — search rates did not exhibit sharp drops at the end of 2012 (Fig. 5).

Despite the legalization of marijuana decreasing search rates across race groups, Fig. 4 shows that the relative disparity between whites and minorities remained.  We applied the threshold test to assess the extent to which this disparity in search rates may reflect bias.  Examining the inferred thresholds (shown in Supplementary Fig. 3), we found that white drivers faced consistently higher search thresholds than minority drivers, both before and after marijuana legalization.  The data thus suggest that, although overall search rates dropped in Washington and Colorado, black and Hispanic drivers still faced discrimination in search decisions.

June 2, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"The heterogeneous effect of marijuana decriminalization policy on arrest rates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2009–2018"

X03768716The title of this post is the title of this new research to appear in the July 2020 issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.  Here is the article's abstract:

Background

Marijuana decriminalization holds potential to reduce health inequities.  However, limited attention has focused on assessing the impact of decriminalization policies across different populations.  This study aims to determine the differential effect of a marijuana decriminalization policy change in Philadelphia, PA on marijuana arrests by demographic characteristics.

Methods

Using a comparative interrupted time series design, we assessed whether the onset of marijuana decriminalization in Philadelphia County was associated with reduction in arrests rates from 2009 to 2018 compared to Dauphin County.  Stratified models were used to describe the differential impact of decriminalization across different demographic populations.

Results

Compared to Dauphin, the mean arrest rate for all marijuana-related crimes in Philadelphia declined by 19.9 per 100,000 residents (34.9% reduction), 17.1 per 100,000 residents (43.1% reduction) for possession, and 2.8 per 100,000 resident (15.9% reduction) for sales/manufacturing.  Arrest rates also differed by demographic characteristics post-decriminalization.  Notably, African Americans had a greater absolute/relative reduction in possession-based arrests than Whites. However, relative reductions for sales/manufacturing-based arrests was nearly 3 times lower for African Americans.  Males had greater absolute/relative reduction for possession-based arrests, but lower relative reduction for sales/manufacturing-based arrests compared to females.  There were no substantial absolute differences by age; however, youths (vs. adults) experienced higher relative reduction in arrest rates.

Conclusions

Findings suggest an absolute/relative reduction for possession-based arrests post-decriminalization; however, relative disparities in sales/manufacturing-based arrests, specifically for African Americans, increased.  More consideration towards the heterogeneous effect of marijuana decriminalization are needed given the unintended harmful effects of arrest on already vulnerable populations.

May 27, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general urge Congress to include banking access for marijuana businesses in COVID relief bills

As reported in this press release from earlier this week from the Colorado Attorney General, "a bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territorial Attorneys General [on Tuesday urged]  Congress to pass as part of upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (H.R. 1595) or similar measures that would give legal marijuana-related businesses access to the federal banking system."  Here is more from the press release:

Under existing law, federal regulators prohibit financial institutions from providing services to marijuana businesses in states where medical or retail marijuana sales are legal. Forcing legal businesses to operate as cash-only operations poses serious safety threats, creating targets for violent and white-collar crime. The SAFE Banking Act permits marijuana-related businesses in states and territories with existing regulatory structures to access the federal banking system.

The SAFE Banking Act has widespread, bipartisan support with 206 cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House passed the bill in September 2019. The HEROES Act relief legislation, which the House approved last week, also included the language of the SAFE Banking Act.

In their letter, the Attorneys General note that the COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on problems that the SAFE Banking Act is intended to remediate, including health and safety concerns stemming from frequent and large cash exchanges.

The full text of the letter can be read here.

Also released with this letter ws this effective report from the Attorney General Alliance Cannabis Project titled "Solving An Untenable Situation: The Public Health and Safety Rationale Behind The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act."

May 21, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lots of notable public health analyses of marijuana reforms in June 2020 issue of World Psychiatry

A number of notable new papers are now available online from the June 2020 issue of World Psychiatry. Here are titles and links to all the pieces (most of which are just a few pages and all of which seem worth checking out):

Assessing the public health impacts of legalizing recreational cannabis use: the US experience by Wayne Hall and Michael Lynskey

Considering the health and social welfare impacts of non‐medical cannabis legalization by Benedikt Fischer, Chris Bullen, Hinemoa Elder and Thiago M. Fidalgo

To legalize or not to legalize cannabis, that is the question! by Marta Di Forti

Mapping and mitigating the health risks of legalizing recreational cannabis use: a call for synergy between research and policy by Eva Hoch and Valentina Lorenzetti

Recreational cannabis legalization presents an opportunity to reduce the harms of the US medical cannabis industry by Keith Humphreys and Chelsea L. Shover

Cannabis and public health: a global experiment without control by Jürgen Rehm and Jakob Manthey

Being thoughtful about cannabis legalization and social equity by Beau Kilmer and Erin Kilmer Neel

The effects of recreational cannabis legalization might depend upon the policy model by Rosario Queirolo

Legalizing recreational cannabis use: a promising journey into the unknown by Jan C. van Ours

Assessing the public health effects of cannabis use: can legalization improve the evidence base? by Matthew Hickman, Lindsey A. Hines and Suzie H. Gage

May 20, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)