Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, September 30, 2013

"Conservatives launching billion-dollar free market in medical marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article via the Canadian Press.  Here is how the article gets started:

The Conservative government is launching a $1.3-billion free market in medical marijuana this Tuesday, eventually providing an expected 450,000 Canadians with quality weed. Health Canada is phasing out an older system on Monday that mostly relied on small-scale, homegrown medical marijuana of varying quality, often diverted illegally to the black market.

In its place, large indoor marijuana farms certified by the RCMP and health inspectors will produce, package and distribute a range of standardized weed, all of it sold for whatever price the market will bear. The first sales are expected in the next few weeks, delivered directly by secure courier.

“We’re fairly confident that we’ll have a healthy commercial industry in time,” Sophie Galarneau, a senior official with the department, said in an interview. “It’s a whole other ball game.”

The sanctioned birth of large-scale, free-market marijuana production comes as the Conservatives pillory Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign to legalize recreational marijuana.

Health Canada is placing no limits on the number of these new capital-intensive facilities, which will have mandatory vaults and security systems. Private-dwelling production will be banned. Imports from places such as the Netherlands will be allowed. Already 156 firms have applied for lucrative producer and distributor status since June, with the first two receiving licences just last week.

The old system fostered only a cottage industry, with 4,200 growers licensed to produce for a maximum of two patients each. The Mounties have complained repeatedly these grow-ops were often a front for criminal organizations.

The next six months are a transition period, as Health Canada phases out the old system by March 31, 2014, while encouraging medical marijuana users to register under the replacement regime and to start buying from the new factory-farms.

There are currently 37,400 medical marijuana users recognized by the department, but officials project that number will swell more than 10-fold, to as many as 450,000 people, by 2024.

The profit potential is enormous. A gram of dried marijuana bud on the street sells for about $10 and Health Canada projects the legal stuff will average about $7.60 next year, as producers set prices without interference from government.

Pretty interesting, eh?

September 30, 2013 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Did Louisiana really give Corey Ladd "20 years hard labor" for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent commentary by Bill Quigley at Dissident Voice headlined "Half Ounce of Pot Gets Louisiana Man Twenty Years in Prison."  I have now seen this story of an extreme sentence for a minor marijuana offense reprinted and repeated in various ways via various news sources and blogs, but I cannot find any materials that provide more information or context about this case other than these details reported via the commentary:

While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.

Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.” 

Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner. A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”...

Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans.  Over 84 percent were for possession only.  While Louisiana’s population is 32 percent black, 60 percent of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide.  In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.

In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to twenty years in prison for the third.  In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years....

Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it. National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana.  Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana.

Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice.  Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”

Defense lawyers are appealing the twenty year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year. This insanity must be stopped.

The Louisiana Supreme Court case referenced in this commentary is Louisiana v. Noble, No. 12-K-1923 (La. April 19, 2013) (available here), and the Noble court did in fact rule that Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law demanded imposition of a mandatory prison term of 13.3 years for a defendant who "was convicted of a fourth offense possession of marijuana and adjudicated as a third felony offender based on two prior guilty pleas to possession of cocaine" and even though "defendant supports seven children, two of whom have significant medical problems, and ... all of the defendant’s offenses have been non-violent ... and all involved the possession of small quantities of narcotics."

The Noble case documents that at least some defendants are, despite claims by supporters of the modern drug war, that nobody really serves long terms of imprisonment merely for possessing marijuana.  But the opinion in Noble does not reveal just how much much marijuana the defendant in that case possessed, and perhaps the possession offense there involved a significant quantity.

This case involving Corey Ladd surely also involves application of Louisiana's Habitual Offender Law because subsection 4(a) of that law provides a mandatory minimum of 20 years for the "fourth or subsequent felony." And I suspect the sentencing court felt obligated to give the 20-year term because the Noble court reversed another sentencing court for trying to go below the applicable mandatory minimum. But I am still gobsmacked that possessing such a small amount of marijuana in the Bayou could be a felony and in turn require the imposition of a 20-year prison term for a habitual offender.

September 29, 2013 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

House Government Operations subcomittee to examine "Federl Response to Marijuana Legislation" ... OR MAYBE NOT

Though sure to be overshadowed (and perhaps precluded) by the prospects of a federal government shutdown, on Wednesday October 2, 2013 at 10am, as noted at this official webpage, there will be Hearing before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee of Government Operations titled "Examining the Federal Response to Marijuana Legislation."

I am inclined to suspect that this hearing will not be quite a pro-reform-oriented as the similar Senate Judiciary Committee hearing which took place earlier this month (discussed here and here and here).  Yet, as this local press report notes, one of the members of this House Subcommittee, Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan, is a co-sponsor of a bill titled "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act" which aspires to prevent the feds from criminally prosecuting persons who act in compliance with state marijuana laws.   Consequently, there could well be a prominent states' rights theme to this hearing.

UPDATE:  A check on the House Subcommittee website linked above, the morning of October 2, 2013, now shows no record of this previously scheduled hearing.  I am not sure if this hearing was cancelled because of the federal government shutdown or for other reasons, but I am intrigued and deeply disappointed this hearing is apparently no longer going to happen.

September 26, 2013 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Might the medical marijuana industry be a central force in retarding recreational reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable recent lengthy news article from Arizona.  It is headlined "Dispensaries wary of fully legalizing marijuana in Arizona: Medical operators fear being undercut by recreational use," and here is how it gets started:

Medical-marijuana dispensary operators are apprehensive about plans by a powerful marijuana-advocacy group to campaign for full legalization of the drug in Arizona. The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates marijuana legalization and regulation, is a former ally of the dispensary owners, having played a key financial and public-relations role in passage of the state law that created the burgeoning medical-marijuana program.

Bolstered by the Obama administration’s announcement that it will not challenge such laws, the group intends to pursue full legalization in Arizona through a voter initiative in 2016 and in nine other states over the next two election cycles. The initiative will be modeled on a program in Colorado, which has legalized marijuana for recreational use.

But the group may have a tough time selling their plan to the state’s medical-marijuana dispensary operators, who are capitalizing on the growing market, have invested thousands of dollars to get up and running and say they favor the status quo — a system in which doctors must recommend cannabis for medical purposes. The program allows certain businesses and individuals to grow marijuana in large quantities, but home growers are fading away as dispensaries open across the state.

Uneasiness among some dispensary operators highlights the divide between medical-marijuana advocates and recreational proponents — a split that could complicate any effort to further loosen Arizona’s marijuana laws.

“I’m not so sure that, at this stage, we would be for immediate legalization,” Bill Myer, co-owner of Arizona Organix in Glendale, told The Arizona Republic. “We’ve still got some issues to work through with the laws we currently have. The program is still in it’s infancy. “I think Arizona should probably digest what’s going on here before we move forward with what’s going on in Washington and Colorado. Is it going to be a great program, or is it going to be a problem? We don’t know that.”

Myer and some other dispensary operators said they are concerned about their financial investments and question how legalizing recreational use, which could increase the number of dispensaries, would impact their bottom line. Other operators said they favor increased access to marijuana for adults but are remaining neutral on full legalization until they see initiative language from the Marijuana Policy Project. “There’s significant financial investments involved,” Myer said. “Dispensaries may not be able to recoup before other people are made available to do the same things with very little capital investments. It’s absolutely our concern.”

September 25, 2013 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Law, Moral Attitudes, and Behavioral Change"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN and authored by Kenworthey Bilz and Janice Nadler.  Though not focused on marijuana law or moral views of marijuana use, I suspect those who favor and those who disfavor legal reforms will find lots of interest in this article.  Here is the abstract:

The fear of sanction or desire for rewards is the most straightforward way that law influences behavior, but it might not always be the most effective. More indirectly, law can change moral attitudes underlying behaviors, and this mechanism is potentially extremely efficient by being self-enforcing.  Law can influence moral attitudes by recharacterizing behavior previously thought of as harmless, by signaling moral approval for behaviors previously thought of as outside the domain of morality, or by developing a general reputation for doing what justice requires and by providing high quality treatment to citizens.  Laws sometimes affect moral attitudes in the intended ways, but sometimes they do not.

We argue that the success of legal regulation in changing moral attitudes will depend on a number of variables.  We focus specifically on: 1) whether the regulation aims to change attitudes which are important to individuals’ cultural identities; 2) whether there is underlying dissensus about the behavior or attitude; 3) whether the law is attempting to change the underlying meaning of behaviors, rather than trying to change the behaviors itself. We examine the influence of law through various mechanisms, including physical architecture, social meaning, attitude change, and consensus.  Throughout the discussion of these mechanisms, we focus on factors that lead to success, failure, or even perverse effects.

September 21, 2013 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Examining new research on marijuana and "amotivational syndrome"

A couple of my students have noticed a recent report on a new study linking marijuana use and a lack of motivation.  And one of these students earned extra credit by doing the following effective formal write up of the study and some of the questions it prompts:

As we consider the downsides of a potential legalization regime, one of the questions that remains hotly debated is: “what exactly are the health/lifestyle hazards of marijuana use?”  While information (and misinformation) abound, a new study may buttress those who condemn  marijuana usage because they feel it encourages laziness and a lack of motivation in youth. 

The study, conducted by researchers at three London-based universities, focused on cannabis users who had had “psychotic-like experiences” while using cannabis and found that heavier users (“HU”)* and younger users (i.e. users in their adolescence, or “YU”) had decreased levels of dopamine compared to peers.   The lowest levels were found in younger heavy users (“YHU”).  This result surprised the researchers, who were expecting the opposite because psychosis has been tied to increased levels of dopamine.  

While the research took a different turn, the researchers tied this finding to another theory: the lower dopamine levels may explain the “lack of motivation” that many attribute to heavy users of marijuana.  The limited parameters of the study does not provide any hard science on users who have not experienced psychotic episodes, but Dr. Michael Bloomfield, who led the study, believes that “the findings would apply to cannabis users in general, since we didn’t see a stronger effect in the subjects who have more psychotic-like symptoms.” However, he believes that this would need more testing.  

It is worth noting that a recent study by researchers at Columbia University, concentrating on users who averaged 517±465 puffs per month (“ppm”), had similar results with regard to the YHU population, but overall found that compared to other addictions, such as alcoholism and cocaine and heroin dependence, mild or moderate cannabis addiction was not associated with decreased dopamine levels.

While this data and debate is certainly intriguing, how does it relate back to our analysis of the perils of a legalization regime?  Several questions are unanswered: (1) How does this data compare to alcohol use?  (2) What about YHUs of alcohol? (3) Can a regulatory system deal with these problems effectively by mitigating the YHU numbers? (4) Has our current regulatory regime had an impact with regard to YHUs and alcohol? 

September 20, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Minnesota sheriff asserts "approximately 54 percent of males arrested for violent crime test positive for marijuana in Hennepin County." Really?

SherifffinalIn this post last week, I wondered aloud whether "anyone has yet tried (or if it really would even be feasible) to develop effective and sophisticated empirical studies to explore if there have been any statistically significant changes in violent crime rates or unemployement rates in states that have legalized medical marijuana."  With that query still in mind, I was especially struck by one statistical claim made by Hennepin County sheriff Rich Stanek in this recent op-ed headlined "Lax marijuana enforcement is bad."   Here are excerpts from the commentary with the data claim of special interest in bold:

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that it does not intend to challenge policies in Colorado and Washington state that legalized the sale and recreational use of marijuana to adults — despite the fact that these state laws are in opposition to federal law.

As president of the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, I have joined a broad coalition of law enforcement officers from across the country to express our extreme disappointment with this unprecedented decision.

As law enforcement officials with decades of experience, we know that keeping neighborhoods safe will become more difficult for our men and women on the front lines because of the DOJ’s decision.....

Marijuana is an addictive gateway drug that harms Minnesota’s children and public safety in every community in our state. As sheriff of Hennepin County, I am concerned that legalization of marijuana in other states and reduced federal prosecution will increase the availability of marijuana in Minnesota.

I have seen firsthand in Hennepin County that there is a direct connection between marijuana and violent crime. Drug task forces here have linked marijuana to assaults and homicides. In the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center, marijuana is the most commonly detected drug among the 36,000 inmates who are booked into the facility each year.  According to our most recent data, approximately 54 percent of males arrested for violent crime test positive for marijuana in Hennepin County.

The student who sent me the link to this claim by Hennepin County sheriff Rich Stanek remarked that this number seems very high.   I share this reaction, in part because I think advocates against modern marijuana reforms would be frequently stressing a link between marijuana and violent crime if it was common to find in more than a few justidictions that over half of all males arrested for violent crimes tested positive for marijuana. (Of course, we all know that correlation does not prove causation and that prohibition rather than legalization might be the reason marijuana users turn to crime, but such a statistic still struck me as potentially quite valuable for the anti-reform forces in the broader debate.)

Intrigued by the data claim made here by Sheriff Stanek, I have now written via e-mail directly to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office seeking more information about the basis for these claims linking marijuana use and violent crime.  (I quickly got this automated response to the e-inquiry: "Emails are answered when staff is available to view them and respond. It may take several days before your email is viewed. Thank you for your patience.")

While patiently waiting for more information concerning these violent crime data claims from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, I did a little digging about drug testing of arrestees and found that the Office of National Drug Control Policy released this 2012 Annual Report on arrestee drug abuse.   With a focus on five major US cities (none in Minnesota), this report found that in 2012, "the proportion of [big city] arrestees testing positive for marijuana ranged from 37 percent in Atlanta to 58 percent in Chicago," but it also reported that only "17 percent (Atlanta) to 27 percent (Chicago) of [these] arrestees in 2012 had a violent crime as one of the charges recorded for the current arrest."

In other words, though there appears to be extant (and seemingly rigorous) data from the ONDCP report to support a claim that a majority of total arrestees in some urban areas may test positive for marijuana, there is still reason to suspect that nonviolent drug arrestee (particularly those arrested for marijuana offenses) will be disproportionately among those testing positive for marijuana, as opposed to those who are arrested for violent crimes.   (And there are other interaction and intersectionality concerns with the data here too, as a significant percentage of arrestees in the ONDCP groups tested positive for multiple drugs in their system and reported alcohol and prescription drug abuse, too.)

Interestingly, two of the five cities that are the focus of the ONDCP report are in medicial marijuana states (Denver and Sacremento), while the three others are in prohibition states (Atlanta, Chicago and New York). It might be interesting (though surely challenging) for a sophisticated empiricist to use the ONDCP data to explore whether big-city arrestee drug use data is potentially impacted by marijuana laws in a particular state.

September 19, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (3)

Can we rank the "best" and "worst" medical marijuana states? By what metrics?

Map-of-State-Marijuana-LawsAs I continue to think about pros and cons of various possible state regulatory regimes for the legalization of marijuana, I continue to notice the significant differences between the rules and regulations that control medical use of marijuana in the 20+ jurisdictions that have legalized this use.  (This list of state Medical Marijuana Laws assembled by NCSL provides an effective summary of these realities.)  And especially because there are so many rankings of various states on so many different kinds of metrics --- on topics ranging from business climate to freedom to happiness to inovation to government mismanagement --- I am not wondering whether it would be a good idea to try to develop a ranking of the "best" and "worst" medical marijuana states.

I was unable to find such a ranking and this is surely understandable given the views of partisan advocacy groups focused on marijuana law and policy: advocates for marijuana reform are, in most respects, happy and eager to praise any and every state to have any kind of medical marijuana law; while advocates against marijuana reform are, in most respects, unhappy and eager to criticize any and every state that moves away from blanket marijuana prohibition.  But, of course, voters and their elected representatives (not to mention academic researchers) are not partisan advocates, and it would likely be a significant contribution to the reform discourse to have some kind of ranking(s) of those states that have already adopted various medicial marijuana regulatory regimes.

Of course, as the title of this post highlights, any such ranking of medical marijuana states would need to develop some metrics for deciding what are the "best" and "worst" regulatory regimes, and this in turn would require a bunch of contestable normative judgments about what makes for good and bad impacts from medical marijuana laws.  But that very challenge --- i.e., deciding whether and how to measure and consider in a cumulative ranking factors like ease of access for ill patients, a state's collected tax revenues, drugged driving statistics, teen marijuana use and abuse --- would both help illuminate what might be considered most important in reform debates and might allow deeper and more informative analysis of state-level impacts from diverse regulatory regimes.

Recent related posts:

September 19, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Marijuana Legalization: The Republican Argument For Doing It"

Pauline_SabinThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new commentary by journalist Ryan Schuette. Here is how it gets started:

“Children are growing up with a total lack of respect for the Constitution and for the law," Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee, said in regard to prohibition in 1932. "The young see the law broken at home and upon the street," she added. "Can we expect them to be lawful?”

Sabin was the founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform that helped legalize the sale of alcohol. She graced the cover of Time magazine in 1932 for inspiring the movement to overturn the disastrous eighteenth amendment that helped finance Depression-era lawlessness.

Republicans could take a page from her playbook on the issue of marijuana prohibition today. With non-violent arrests occurring every 36 seconds, overcrowding our prisons, and depleting billions of dollars from our federal and state coffers every year, we — all Americans — should consider prohibition repeal as critical to the state of our nation as debt reduction and healthcare reform.

Doubt me? If I can change my mind, so can you. In 2009, I helped manage a Republican primary campaign in my congressional district to oust Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), my congressman. One newsletter that I signed as campaign director called weed a “troubling substance” and any measure to normalize it a “blatant disregard” for our district’s values.

My position was pretty standard. Bush speechwriter David Frum, notable for styling himself right-of-center on issues like gun violence, recently echoed the same rhetoric in an op-ed for CNN, warning of the rise of “Big Marijuana” and calling any medicinal use a “laughable fiction.”

Here's the thing: Sabin was right, Frum is wrong, and I was once as wrong as my pro-temperance great-grandmother. We need Big Marijuana. Republicans owe it to their party as much as our Constitution and nation to help decriminalize, legalize, tax, and regulate it as soon as possible.

The benefits far outweigh fears about gateway addiction and moral decline as dated as those of the Temperance Movement.

Here are the bolded headings that follow thiscommentary's introduction and provide a summary of the substantive points that follow: 

1. Pot would create jobs and help prevent Detroit-style bankruptcies

2. We could unplug overcrowded prisons and save tax dollars

3. Legalization could help starve violent cartels at home and abroad

4. We could ease suffering for those who live with chronic illnesses

September 18, 2013 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Will Big Pharma, and "the Impact of Marijuana Pharmaceuticals," determine the future of marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new paper available via SSRN. The short piece is by John Robert Alfino and it is titled "The Impact of Marijuana Pharmaceuticals." Here is the abstract:

The FDA will soon approve Sativex, the first marijuana-based pharmaceutical. Sativex is a tipping point in the marijuana law and the politics of strict prohibition. The reclassification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act is in the financial interests of the American pharmaceutical industry. The availability of marijuana-based, or synthetic cannabinoid-based, pharmaceuticals will change the politics of marijuana prohibition.

September 15, 2013 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Set your DVR for 60 Minutes tonight for (another) broadcast on medical marijuana in Colorado

60 minAs detailed at this link, the renowned CBS news program 60 Minutes is planning to broadcast this evening a feature on the medical marijuana industry in Colorado.  I am pretty sure this is just a re-broadcast of a piece that 60 Minutes ran last year before the state's recreational marijuana voter initiative passed, but I expect that the piece will be updated to reflect all the significant legal developments in Colorado and elsewhere throughout 2013.  Here is how the this 60 Minutes webite sets up what we can expect to see:

Preview: Rocky Mountain High

Of all the states that have legalized the growing and selling of medical marijuana, none has more at stake than Colorado where a thriving industry has created jobs and revenue but, as Steve Kroft reports, it's still against federal law. Watch Kroft's report Sunday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT.

In addition, one can already see via think link some of the additional materials produced in conjunction with this segment in a "60 Minutes Overtime" video with this set up:

Marijuana like you've never seen it before

What's next for medical marijuana? Hint: it doesn't involve a match, pipe or rolling papers. Some of it doesn't even get you high.

September 15, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Do any studies explore increased (or decreased) violent crime or unemployment (or other undisputed social ills) in medicial marijuana states?

Perhaps to the chagrin and annoyance to students in my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar, I keep pushing our class discussion to try to figure out and precisely specify what could be considered undisputed and undisputable harms from any drug legalization regime --- especially if one views simply increased drug use alone, even by young people, to be a social good or at least not clearly a social harm.  (This prior post raised some of these issues and ideas.)  The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by our most recent class discussion, where a rough consensus emerged that increases in violent crime and/or unemployment might be undisputed metrics of a failed social policy.

Thus the question in the title of this post, which also builds a bit off a prior post which asked "Two decades into experimentation, what is really known about medical marijuana practices?".  Specifically, I am wondering if anyone has yet tried (or if it really would even be feasable) to develop effective and sophisticated empirical studies to explore if there have been any statistically significant changes in violent crime rates or unemployement rates in states that have legalized medical marijuana.  

As a relative agnostic (with libertarian leanings) on lots of marijuana reform issues, I believe I would be moved significantly by serious data showing (or even just suggesting) causal links between medical marijuana legalization and violent crime rates or unemployment rates.  Of course, like research on incarceration and crime rates, the results of any such empirical study linking medical marijuana to an increase or decrease in social ills could be disputable and would be disputed by partisan advocates in the reform policy debate.  But for those without a predetermined perspective on various marijuana law, policy and reform issues (which likely describes a majority of Americans), even tentative or partial data showing the positive or negative impact of medicial marijuana and violent crime or other undisputed social harms could and would likely "move the needle" considerably.

This post is intended not only to inquire as to whether anyone is aware of any modern studies exploring these issues in states with medical marijuana laws, but also to ponder whether there are other clear empirical metrics of undisputed social ills that ought to be a central part of the medicial marijuana reform discussion and debate.

Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg

Recent related posts:

September 13, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Pot bridges partisan divide as lawmakers, lobbyists come together to push for tax deductions"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new report from the Daily Caller, which gets started this way:

There is nothing like pot to promote bipartisanship.  An unusual coalition of liberal Oregon Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer, conservative California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, and Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, came together outside the Capitol on a sweltering Thursday afternoon to talk about marijuana.

Once upon a time, as Blumenauer tells it, “a drug dealer, creatively, was trying to deduct the cost of a yacht” on his tax returns. The result of the ensuing outrage was 280E, a provision in the federal tax code that prohibits people who sell controlled substances, like pot, to take tax deductions or credits for that business.

When the provision was written in 1982, it applied mostly to people dealing drugs illegally. But now, with Washington state and Colorado legalizing recreational marijuana, and several other states legalizing the use of the drug for medical purposes, it’s having detrimental effects on legitimate operations. “This is not about a drug dealer and a yacht,” Blumenauer said. “This is about legal businesses.”

Blumenauer and Rohrbacher are pushing for Congress to get rid of 280E. “It’s goofy,” Blumenauer said, calling the provision “perhaps the most insane” of some of the tax laws on the books “because it doesn’t allow legal businesses to operate like other legal businesses.” Blumenauer said he thought this issue could help spur Congress along toward comprehensive tax reform.

Recent related post:

UPDATE:  I just saw, thanks to a blog post via MPP, that Americans for Tax Reform has produced a little"white-paper" on this big tax issue.  This four-page paper is titled "Legal Cannabis Dispensary Taxation: A Textbook Case of Punishing Law-Abiding Businesses Through the Tax Code." Here is the abstract from the paper:

Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) creates a gross receipts tax situation for legal cannabis dispensary small businesses. This is due to an accident of history and a perversion of Congressional intent. ATR supports fixing this mistake. H.R. 2240, the “Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2013” does so. ATR urges all Congressmen to support this common-sense legislation.

September 12, 2013 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (1)

Two decades into experimentation, what is really known about medical marijuana practices?

Weed medSoon it will be a full twenty years since voters in California passed Proposition 215 to make that state the first to allow the medical use of marijuana. As of Fall 2013, a total of 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws.  (Here is a very helpful NCSC list with links to all the legal basics.)  And yet, even now that nearly half of all US jurisdictions have legalized medical marijuana, I am struck by how little is really known about about medical marijuana practices.

The website ProCon.org has via this web portal with lots and lots of helpful information and links on the topic of medical marijuana, and the site lives up to its claim of presenting "facts, studies, and pro and con statements on questions related to whether or not marijuana should be a medical option." But notably absent from this site (or really any others I could find) was any serious and balanced "on the ground" research concerning the practical realities of "medical" marijuana use and abuse in any particular jurisdiction or across the United States.

This ProCon.org webpage, titled "How Many People in the United States Use Medical Marijuana?," has a very interesting state-by-state accounting of "the actual number of patients holding identification cards in the states (and District of Columbia) with mandatory registration" which reports that there are over 1 million registered medical marijuana patients.  But this data, of course, does not tell us anything about who are these registered patients and for what purposes and how often they use marijuana as medicine.

Similarly, a lot of pro-reform organizations like Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have lots of information about medical marijuana laws and lots of resources and arguments for would-be advocates.  But hard data on medical marijuana patients and their practices do not leap off the page at these locales.

As noted in this prior post, a prominent opponent of modern marijuana reforms called medical marijuana "a laughable fiction" noting that in California, a the typical user is a 32-year-old white man with no life-threatening illness but a long record of substance abuse; in Colorado, 94% of medical marijuana patients just pain as the justification for their pot prescription; and in Oregon, only 10 practitioners write the majority of all marijuana prescriptions in the state.  And yet, many prominent doctors have come to acknowledge, as stated by the reknown Dr. Sanjay Gupta in this pro-pot CNN piece, that there are many "legitimate patients who depend on marijuana as a medicine, oftentimes as their only good option."

Because the medical and scientific communities are still vigorously debating the potential health benefits and harms of marijuana and its chemical compounds, and especially because all marijuana distribution and use remains illegal under federal law, I suppose I should not be too surprised that it is hard to find much "on the ground" research concerning the practical realities of "medical" marijuana use and abuse in any particular jurisdiction or across the United States.  But I find this reality disappointing, and I know that I would sure like to know a whole lot more about medical marijuana patients and their practices.  (And, in class today in my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar, I hope to steer our discussion of medical marijuana to the question of what students think the average likely voter would want to know about the practical realities of "medical" marijuana before supporting any reform to the legal status quo.)

September 12, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

Two notable new CNN commentaries on marijuana policy and reform

CNN-576x260This week, CNN has run two notable commentary pieces about marijuana reform.  This first one was penned by David Frum and appears under the headline "Be afraid of Big Marijuana."  It starts this way:

"We're on the brink of creating Big Marijuana." That warning comes from my friend Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser on drug control policy under President Barack Obama. Sabet now heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group on whose board I sit.

At the end of August, the administration that Sabet served announced a retreat on marijuana policy. It will allow the states of Washington and Colorado to proceed with the legal retailing of marijuana. And it will get out of the way of the approximately 20 states that allow so-called medical marijuana.

With a referendum on marijuana scheduled in 2014 in Alaska and action likely in coming years in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon, half the states in the union may soon allow the sale of marijuana to almost anybody determined to buy it.

To understand where the marijuana debate is going, it's important to appreciate that "medical marijuana" is a laughable fiction. In California, the typical user of so-called medical marijuana is a 32-year-old white man with no life-threatening illness but a long record of substance abuse.

Under Colorado's now-superseded medical marijuana regime, only 2% of those prescribed marijuana suffered from cancer, and only 1% from HIV/AIDS. Some 94% cited unspecified "pain" as the justification for their pot prescription. False patients find unscrupulous doctors: in Oregon, only 10 practitioners write the majority of all marijuana prescriptions in the state. When a TV crew visited a marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles last year, they met for five minutes with a man who turned out to be licensed as an acupuncturist and were then handed a prescription signed by a doctor they never met.

In response comes this piece penned by David Nathan appearing under the headline "Fighting marijuana ... or reality?."  It starts this way:

David Frum's recent op-ed on CNN.com exemplifies why Americans are becoming deaf to the critics of pot legalization.  Their hyperbolic claims about the dangers of pot -- along with the realistic ones -- are being dismissed by a justifiably cynical public. Anti-marijuana propaganda isn't stopping the march toward national legalization, but the opposition is losing its voice as it screams about the falling sky.

A majority of Americans favor full legalization, and they understand that recreational cannabis is not now and will never be legal for minors. They know better than to believe Frum's prediction that "half the states may soon allow the sale of marijuana to almost anybody determined to buy it" -- an assertion so broad as to imply that even children would be permitted to buy pot legally. This is simply not so.

Americans are also informed enough to realize that medical marijuana is not a "laughable fiction."  This week, I saw a longstanding patient with a rare, ultimately fatal neurological disorder that causes chronic, painful muscle spasms.  For years, this patient has smoked marijuana to counteract this terrible symptom, and it works.

With medicinal marijuana now legal in New Jersey, this patient is not convinced that she will be safe from federal prosecution if she goes through the state's one operational dispensary, so she continues to purchase illegal, untaxed and potentially adulterated cannabis. While she is technically a criminal, she is neither laughable nor fictional.

Those opposed to marijuana do raise important concerns that are often neglected in the movement toward legalization.

Cannabis is indeed associated with low motivation and poor performance in minors. It may have subtle but long-term negative effects on young users and worsen the condition of some individuals vulnerable to psychosis.  Smoking marijuana may be harmful to users' lungs, although vaporizers have long been available as a safer alternative.

Cannabis is habit forming in a small percentage of users. Marijuana intoxication impairs driving, though the risk is similar to that of drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which is well below the federally mandated legal limit of 0.08%.

So why can't the opposition discuss these problems realistically?

It's simple: Because the only rational conclusion is that the dangers of pot are not sufficient to warrant its prohibition. Yet those who have an ideological opposition to legalization appear immune to reason.

September 12, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Headline highights of Senate hearing on federal pot policies

I am going to let headline writers and links to a bunch of press stories serve as a means to summarize yesterday's hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws”:
  • From ABC News here, "Feds in Talks With Banks Over Dealing With Marijuana Business"

  • From AFP here, "US will continue to jail pot dealers 'in all states'"

  • From the Detroit Free Press here, "U.S. needs smarter approach to marijuana policy, Sen. Patrick Leahy says"

  • From the Kansas City Star here, "Congress asked to provide fix for cash-only pot stores"

  • From the Los Angeles Times here, "Senators examine federal marijuana laws as states' rules evolve"

  • From the New York Times here, Answers Sought for When Marijuana Laws Collide"

  • From the Seattle Times here, " King County sheriff promises crackdown on public, underage pot smoking"

September 11, 2013 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A few notable thoughts/moments during Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.”

Sheriff-Urquhart-Dress-PortraitThough starting a few minutes late, this afternoon, on September 10, 2013, as detailed at this official webpage, there is a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.”  All the written testimony is now posted on line, including the opening statement by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.   I hope to find time to read and comment on these written statements in the near future.

What has now prompted me to start "live-blogging" here for a little while is the openning statment by Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).   [It appears that StoptheDrugWar is doing some live-blogging of the hearing, too, at this link.]

Perhaps not too surprisingly, Senator Grassley's opening statement suggests he is none too pleased by the prospect of marijuana reforms, and he rattled off some statistics about what he claims were the failings of states with medical marijuana regimes.   But somewhat surprising, at least by my lights, was Senator Grassley's decision at the outset of his statement to make much of international laws against marijuana.   I was a bit surprised because I had recalled that Senator Grassley, as confirmed here on his website, was critical of Elana Kagan's suggestion should "would look to international law for 'good ideas' when interpreting the U.S. Constitution."

Also notable, getting now to the discussion between the few Judiciary Committee members present and Deputy AG James Cole, is that the first set of questions concern whether and how persons involved in state-legalized marijuana business might have access to banking services and other important commercial services subject to heavy federal regulation.

In Senator Grassley's questions for Deputy AG James Cole, the Senator raises the interesting idea of DOJ developing some metrics for measuring key federal priorities in the operation/impact of state marijuana regulatory schemes.  Every the nerdy academic, I love the idea of metrics here, but I am not holding my breathe that DOJ will be developing these kind of mertics for public discussion anytime soon.

The testimony by King County, Washington Sheriff John Urquhart, who is in full dress uniform (as pictured here), includes a potent assertion that his state is not "the Wild Wild West" and includes the plea to let state's try this regulatory approach free of undue federal imposition of complications.

September 10, 2013 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 9, 2013

What questions should be central to Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on "Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws"?

Though perhaps overshadowed by foreign policy issues these days, on Tuesday September 10, 2013 at 2:30pm, as detailed at this official webpage, there will be Hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.”  Here is the official agenda/hearing list:

Panel I

  • The Honorable James Cole, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

Panel II

  • The Honorable John Urquhart, Sheriff, King County [Washington] Sheriff’s Office
  • Jack Finlaw, Chief Legal Counsel Office of [Colorado] Governor John W. Hickenlooper
  • Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D., Co-founder and Director, Project SAM Director, Drug Policy Institute, University of Florida

I am expecting and hoping that there will be written testimony from some or all of these witnesses posted via the Senate website within the next 24 hours, and I am planning to watch the webcast of the hearing (and perhaps even live-blog some of it here at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform). 

Here at The Weed Blog one can see a whole bunch of very hard questions that might be asked of DAG James Cole concerning federal policies and practices, which were set forth in a letter sent by the pro-reform group California NORML to Senator Dianne Feinstein.  I doubt many of these questions will be asked verbatim, but they provide an effective pro-reform perspective on various ways in which state and federal marijuana laws, policies and practices operate at cross-purposes.

As the title of this post suggests, I am eager for readers of this blog to indicate what kinds of questions they might be most eager to see addressed in tomorrow's scheduled Senate hearing.

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

September 9, 2013 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Are there undisputed benefits from prohibition regimes and/or undisputed harms from legalization/regulation regimes?

The question in the title of this post is a variation of the topic that consumed discussions today in my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar.  Though I am not sure I did a great job steering the discussion, I am sure that students had a number of interesting and thoughtful reactions to the first part of this question.  

One of my goals in these questions is to explore whether, if we take as an empirical given that prohibition regimes do tend to reduce use of a prohibited product, folks would accept or resist the contention that reduced use is an undisputed benefit of prohibition regimes.  (We have been considering the history of alcohol Prohibition in the US at the start of the course, and some research suggests that the enactment of the 18th Amendment and related laws drove down alcohol consumption to 30% of pre-Prohibition usage, although over the period of Prohibition alcohol use rose to reach about 60 to 70% of pre-Prohibition usage levels.)  Of course, to say reduced use of a product is an undisputed benefit indicates a belief that any and all use is an undisputed harm.   I suspect many folks would now resist the claim that any and all use of alcohol is an undisputed harm, and I explored with students whether they thought more of society was coming to resist the claim that any and all use of marijuana is an undisputed harm.

At the end of the class, we only briefly got to the question of what undisputed harms might be said to flow, at least in part, from legalization/regulation regimes for a drug like alcohol.  I started this part of the discussion with my concerns about significant harms that result from drunk driving, and other students raised issues related to crimes and physical violence and related to poor allocation of societal resources.  How much of these harms could and should be attributed to our current legalization/regulation regime for alcohol is, of course, a contestable question, but in this setting the issue seems to be not whether these matters count as harms, but rather whether a legalization/regulation regime increased or increases these harms.

September 5, 2013 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

For marijuana reform advocates, is the IRS more important than DOJ?

IrsThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new commentary at Forbes headlined "New DOJ Marijuana Policy Won't Fly With IRS." Here are excerpts:

The feds and the marijuana industry haven’t had an easy relationship....

Given the documented medical use of marijuana and state laws, you might think the feds would respect state law and states’ rights. You might also assume that the sizable federal and state taxes to be collected from the industry would be a prize. Oddly enough, though, the tax law discriminates so badly against the industry that it has had to virtually go underground.

The feds view has been that federal law controls.  Medical need or not, state legality or not, marijuana is a controlled substance and illegal under federal law.  Add to that the fact that many banks are reluctant to allow even legal marijuana businesses to open accounts in their institutions.

But now — one might say finally — the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued this response suggesting for the first time that it will lay off the raids and prosecutions. But there is a big condition. The feds will lay off only if the states create “a tightly regulated market” with rules that address federal “enforcement priorities” such as preventing interstate smuggling, diversion to minors, and “adverse public health consequences.” hose may be key phrases, but they seem imbued with considerable discretion ... [indicating] DOJ can still prosecute growers and sellers if Colorado and Washington fail to adequately address federal concerns....

On top of this, it is worth asking how the IRS will react to this.  The tax problems of the industry are notorious and one of the major impediments facing the industry. Unfortunately, there has been no IRS announcement on the heels of the DOJ and we should not expect much.  The IRS is unlikely to lay off the tax attack it has mounted against marijuana income.

The reason is that even legal dispensaries are drug traffickers to the feds.  And the main culprit is Congress, not the IRS.  Section 280E of the tax code denies even legal dispensaries tax deductions.  In the past the IRS has said it has no choice but to enforce the tax code passed by Congress.

“The federal tax situation is the biggest threat to businesses and could push the entire industry underground,” the leading trade publication for the marijuana industry reported.  One answer has been for dispensaries to deduct expenses from other businesses distinct from dispensing marijuana.  If a dispensary sells marijuana and is in the separate business of care-giving, the care-giving expenses are deductible.  If only 10% of the premises are used to dispense marijuana, most of the rent is deductible.

Of course, good record-keeping is essential.  And even if one is aggressive in allocating expenses between business, there is only so far one can go.  Another idea is that marijuana sellers might operate as nonprofit social welfare organizations.  That way Section 280E shouldn’t apply.

The industry needs to operate more like other businesses.  Sometimes such matters involve structural questions.  To avoid trouble with the IRS, some claim that dispensaries should be organized as cooperatives or collectives.  A cooperative is owned and governed by its members.  A collective is much less structured. 

The tax issues here are clearly no joke....  Perhaps this facts suggests that the industry has really arrived.  In other respects, though, including tax, banking and credit card processing for patients, the industry is still barely off the ground. And that is doubly disturbing, since the tax law seems an entirely inappropriate way to hinder (if not outright doom) these businesses.

Congressmen Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Marijuana Tax Equity Act to end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed. This legislation would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. That way growers, sellers and users would not need to fear violating federal law. In addition, the bill would impose an excise tax on cannabis sales and an annual occupational tax on workers in the growing field of legal marijuana.

September 4, 2013 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)