Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Marijuana ads stir the pot over drug safety, free speech"

1eh2eV.AuSt.91The title of this post is the headline of this notable new press report highlighting how a seemingly little political issue in a seemingly little corner of the US is already having reverberations around the nation.  Here are the details:

When televangelist Pat Robertson announced his support for legalizing marijuana last year, pot backers wasted no time in putting his picture on an electronic billboard in Colorado.

Marijuana billboards have popped up along busy freeways from Seattle to Florida. In September, one greeted fans going to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver for the first NFL game of the season.  In July, pot supporters tried to get a video ad on a jumbo screen outside a NASCAR event in Indianapolis, but objections forced them to pull it in the last minute.

In the latest twist, pro-pot billboards are emblazoned on city buses in Portland, Maine, aimed at winning votes for a Nov. 5 ballot measure that would make the city the first on the East Coast to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Critics fear that the increased advertising is a sign of things to come as support for legalization continues to grow, reflected by a Gallup poll released last week that found backing from a record high 58 percent of Americans. They see the stepped-up promotion as a dangerous trend that will lead to more drug abuse among children.

While the Greater Portland Transit District has banned tobacco ads, it accepted $2,500 to display the marijuana billboards on the exterior of four of its 32 city buses and in two bus shelters.  The ads, which debuted early this month, are set to run until Election Day.

In one ad, a bespectacled woman says: “I prefer marijuana over alcohol because it’s less toxic, so there’s no hangover.” Another features a smiling young man who says he prefers pot over booze “because it doesn’t make me rowdy or reckless.” Transit officials say the ads are constitutionally protected political speech since they also encourage a “yes” vote on a city ballot initiative.

“We’re allowing this message because it’s political speech. It’s designed to help change a law,” said Gregory Jordan, the general manager of the transit district. “It’s not the promotion of a commercial product. . . . We don’t have a position on the content of the advertising, just that it’s a political message and by its very nature it’s protected by the First Amendment.”

Opponents say the ads go well beyond endorsing a ballot measure, instead promoting an illegal product.  They say the ads shouldn’t be allowed in places where they’re so easily viewed by youths, including high school students who ride city buses to school. “What we say and what we do is being watched by the kids in our communities, and they look to us for clues on what’s acceptable and what’s normal and how they should act,” said Jo Morrissey, the project manager for a substance abuse group called 21 Reasons, which asked the transit district to drop the ads....

Jordan said the transit line, which serves nearly 1.5 million riders a year, was on solid legal ground but that he understood the criticism: “I can certainly see how maybe it’s a fine distinction.”

David Boyer, the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which bought the ads, said the backlash had surprised him.  He defended the ads, saying it’s important that everyone, including kids, knows that marijuana is safer than alcohol....

The Portland vote is the first ballot test for legalization backers since last November, when Washington state and Colorado approved plans to sell and tax the drug for recreational use beginning next year.  If the measure passes, residents of Maine’s largest city who are 21 and older each will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

October 30, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Current Trends and Job Creation in the Medical Marijuana Business"

The title of this post is the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar. Here is the outline of issues and resources the students prepared to foster and facilitate discussion:

My Experience Working at a Marijuana Dispensary – One girl's first-hand account of her experience working at a dispensary in California for one year

14 Kinds of Jobs Sustained by Marijuana – According to Indeed.com, which tracks job listings, in 2011 there was over a 3,000 percent increase in the medical marijuana industry since 2005.  This is a list of 14 types of jobs available in medical cannabis.

Colorado

Your Genius Idea for a 420-Friendly Lazer Tag Arena Could Soon Become Reality in Colorado – Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) is accepting applications for business proposals, but only existing medical marijuana shop owners are allowed to apply for the recreational marijuana licenses for the first nine months. Investors have committed “well over $1 million” to Colorado marijuana companies.

High-Paying Jobs Available in New Medical Marijuana Industry? Dixie Elixirs, Denver-based company that manufactures medicated edibles, employed directly in excess of 10,000 employees, including high-salary executive jobs, scientists, and attorneys. 

Illinois

Cannabis Career Institute Hits Chicago to Help Residents Cash in on ‘The New Gold Rush’CCI is continuing its educational tour in Chicago, teaching students the ins and outs of owing a dispensary or grow operation through their “pot college.” 

Montana

MMGA Study Finds That 1,400 New Jobs Created In State of Montana 

Also Check Out: http://cannajobs.com ; https://cannabiscareerinstitute.com ; http://www.thcjobs.com

Marijuana Entrepreneurs, Seminars, and Finance

 These are all resources that pertain to creating your own marijuana business. They are comprised of seminar services, RSS feeds regarding important marijuana entrepreneur news, and derivative sources of some economics that marijuana creates.

Comparison to Casino and Alcohol

Links with state-by state jobs numbers for the wine and spirits industry (not including the beer industry).  No need to read through all of them, just click on a few links to get a sense of the alcohol industry's job impacts. http://www.wswa.org/search_results.php?search=repeal%20prohibition&type=news

A PDF fact sheet of the total number of jobs the alcohol industry supports: http://www.discus.org/assets/1/7/ContributionFactSheet.pdf

A brief survey of casino jobs across America: http://www.americangaming.org/industry-resources/research/fact-sheets/casino-employment

An employment study from "The Journal of Gambling Business and Economics." Apparently that's a thing.   It's a technical read, so they should read the descriptive parts and skip the technical parts.  http://www.walkerd.people.cofc.edu/360/AcademicArticles/Cotti2008.pdf  

Another employment study, done by the St. Louis Federal Reserve.  The gaming has had a positive impact on employment in localities across the country.  http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/04/01/garrett.pdf

Miscellaneous

1) In addition to the educational aspects of the store, weGrow provides anywhere between 15 and 20 full- and part-time jobs. But Mann says it’s the ancillary jobs   created that make a difference, including hiring a doctor on site for medical marijuana evaluations; professors to teach classes, including technicians and experienced growers; design and construction positions; security positions, and distributors.  About 75 indirect jobs are created with the opening of each weGrow store.   http://aznow.biz/small-biz/wegrow-phoenix-opens-cultivates-opportunities-arizona%29

2) By recognizing the potential for medical marijuana business advertisements, the Sacramento News and Review is expanding its distribution and hiring more staff. http://www.today.com/id/43641235/ns/business-us_business/#.Um8iJiRieiY

3) Interesting stats — apparently only a quarter of people think legalized pot would lead to more jobs in their community, while 57% believe there would be no effect. Makes you wonder if this is a (mis)perception that should be hit harder by legalization reformers.  If the benefits can be demonstrated to those in the 57% camp maybe you pull in some new supporters.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/20/legalizing-pot-will-not-b_n_544526.html?

4) Mr. McPherson said the city stood to reap more of what he called the “secondary benefits.”   “You’ve got accountants that are working for them, you’ve got all the security companies that are working for them, you have labs that are working for them, you have bakeries that are baking all the edibles, you have union employees that are getting great benefits, you have delivery services, hydroponic stores, doctors get some benefit,” he said. “It’s the secondary market that gains from this, and all of those pay business taxes to us.”   http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/cities-turn-to-a-crop-for-cash-medical-marijuana.html?_r=2&

 

October 29, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do nationwide reforms now call for federal judges to sentence below the guidelines in all marijuana cases?

The question in the title of this post is one that I have been thinking about for quite some time, but it has now taking on some real-world salience in the wake of a couple hearings and sentencing decisions by a federal district judge in Baltimore.  Two recent reports from the Baltimore Sun, headlined "Federal judge weighs shift on marijuana sentences," and U.S. judge says government view on marijuana raises 'equal justice' issue" (available here and here, respectively), suggests that at least one federal district judge believes the answer to the question in the title of this post is yes. Here are details drawn from both press reports:

A federal judge said Friday he would consider lighter-than-normal sentences for members of a major suburban marijuana smuggling organization — the latest fallout of the drug's legalization in several U.S. states.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar noted that federal authorities announced this summer they would not pursue criminal cases against dispensaries and others legally handling marijuana in states where the drug has been legalized.

Bredar, who called the hearing to discuss the issue, said it might be more appropriate to compare the defendants in the Maryland marijuana case to smugglers of improperly taxed cigarettes rather than treat them as hardened drug traffickers. "It's a serious thing," Bredar said of the group's operation, "but it's not the same as dealing heroin."...

Friday's hearing involved defendants convicted of running a smuggling operation that imported large quantities of marijuana to Howard and Anne Arundel counties from California and New Jersey and laundering the proceeds through an eBay business located in a Jessup warehouse. Twenty-two of the 23 people charged in the case have been convicted; charges against one were dismissed.

Earlier this month, Bredar canceled all of the scheduled sentencings in the case and announced his plan to hold a hearing on changes in Justice Department policy that allow marijuana handlers such as dispensaries and cultivation centers to operate openly in states where marijuana is legal....

At issue in the Maryland case, Bredar said, is whether that shift means the government has decided the drug is less serious now than when federal sentencing guidelines were formulated. "Has the federal government changed its enforcement policy?" Bredar asked.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith said the topic was an appropriate one to discuss, but argued that marijuana remained a serious drug and noted that the case involved guns and violence. She suggested it might be more appropriate to compare marijuana dealing to trafficking in illegally obtained prescription pain pills rather than to cigarette smuggling....

And on a sliding scale of regulated substances, Bredar said, he thought marijuana had moved away from hard drugs and toward tobacco.

Sentences in federal cases are based on guidelines that take into account drug quantities and other circumstances in advising judges on the appropriate prison time. Those rules already recognize that dealing heroin is much more serious than dealing marijuana.

For example, all else being equal, a defendant convicted of dealing between one and three kilograms of heroin would face between nine and 11 years in prison, as would someone who sold between 1,000 and 3,000 kilograms of marijuana. At the same time, a cigarette trafficker would have to evade $100 million in taxes to face that length of prison sentence — a vastly greater weight in tobacco.

The guidelines are advisory and judges can take other factors into account when deciding a sentence. Bredar said he would take particular note of two of those factors when sentencing the defendants: He wants to make sure that defendants around the country are being treated equally and that the sentences reflect the seriousness of the offense....

A federal judge in Maryland handed down lighter prison sentences Monday to defendants in a huge marijuana distribution case, saying that such offenses are "not regarded with the same seriousness" as they were just a few decades ago.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar said the federal government's response to marijuana legalization in some states — notably the decision not to pursue criminal cases against dispensaries and others handling the drug in accordance with those states' laws — raises concerns of "equal justice."

In handing down a nearly five-year sentence, Bredar said he felt Scott Russell Segal had committed a significant crime for his role moving hundreds of kilograms of marijuana and laundering the proceeds.

But the judge used his discretion to ignore federal guidelines, which equate marijuana with harder drugs like heroin and called for Segal to receive eight to 11 years in prison. A second defendant also got a shorter sentence than called for in the guidelines. "It's indisputable that the offense is not regarded with the same seriousness it was 20 or 30 years ago when the sentencing guidelines … which are still in use, were promulgated," Bredar said.

October 29, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Modern marijuana realities and some history in one new infographic

I receive a lot (read: too much) e-mail that promotes infographics on some hot topic in an effort, it would seem, to drive my blog readers to some legal source or website or marketplace. I tend not to be inclined to post these infographics, but one just sent to me dealing with marijuana law, policy and reform today fed my addition for some new visual content. Ergo, thanks to the folks promoting "this new infographic giving a timeline of marijuana usage in the U.S." and related information, here is a visual presentation of (not-quite) all you need to know about the state of marijuana law, policy and reform: Up in Smoke: A Timeline of Marijuana Use in the U.S.
Source: Up in Smoke: A Timeline of Marijuana Use in the U.S.

October 28, 2013 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another week, another set of notable new marijuana news and headlines

One of many signs, as Reason has put it, that pot has gone "legit" is all the mainstream press coverage of all sorts of mainstream issues that arise in jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana use and distribution.  Here are headlines and links to just a few stories that highlight state marijuana news and developments around the nation:

 

  • From ABC News here, "Dot-Bong Era's First Marijuana Brand Debuts"

  • From the Chicago Tribune here, "Illinois pot law presents hazy legal situation for employers"

  • From the Denver Post here, "Colorado's new pot laws draw marijuana refugees"

  • From Salon here, "Science for stoners: What is marijuana 'abuse?'"

  • From Time here, Study: Marijuana Compounds Can Kill Some Cancer Cells"

  • From USA Today here, "Marijuana debate catches fire among college students"

  • From the Washington Post here, "Marijuana likely to be decriminalized in DC"

October 28, 2013 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New York Times reports "Few Problems With Cannabis for California"

Sunday's New York Times has, on its front page, this lengthy article about California's marijuana reform experiences over the last few decades.  Here are a few excerpts:

But at a time when polls show widening public support for legalization — recreational marijuana is about to become legal in Colorado and Washington, and voter initiatives are in the pipeline in at least three other states — California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.

Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded. Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.

Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use.

And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption.

Imposing a local tax on medical marijuana, as Oakland, San Jose and other communities have done, has not pushed consumers to drug dealers as some analysts expected. Presumably that is because it is so easy to get reliable and high-quality marijuana legally.

Finally, for consumers, the era of legalized medical marijuana has meant an expanded market and often cheaper prices. Buyers here gaze over showcases offering a rich assortment of marijuana, promising different potencies and different kinds of highs. Cannabis sativa produces a pronounced psychological high, a “head buzz,” while cannabis indica delivers a more relaxed, lethargic effect, a “body buzz.”...

Still, even as public opinion in support of legalizing marijuana has grown, opposition remains strong among many, including some law enforcement organizations, which warn that the use of the drug leads to marijuana dependence, endangers the health of users and encourages the use of other drugs....

In a broad study on the ramifications of legalizing recreational marijuana about to be published in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, two economics professors said a survey of evidence showed a correlation between increased marijuana use and less alcohol use for people ages 18 to 29.

The researchers, D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel I. Rees of the University of Colorado, said that based on their study, they expected younger people in Colorado and Washington to use marijuana more and alcohol less. “These states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use: Reducing traffic injuries and fatalities is potentially one of the most important,” the professors said.

Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an expert on marijuana policy who was the chief adviser to Washington on its marijuana law, said the connection between alcohol and marijuana use, if borne out, would be a powerful argument in favor of decriminalization. “If it turns out that cannabis and alcohol are substitutes, then by my scoring system, legalizing cannabis is obviously a good idea,” Mr. Kleiman said. “Alcohol is so much more of a problem than cannabis ever has been.”

Still, he said, it will take time before long-term judgments can be made. “Does it cause problems?” he said. “Certainly. Is it on balance a good or bad thing? Ask me 10 years from now.”

October 26, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana is America's Next Political Wedge Issue: Pot politics, in 2016 and beyond"

Rs and potThe title of this post is the headline of this very interesting new piece in The New Republic authored by Nate Cohn.  Here are excerpts from what strikes me as an astute political analysis circa fall 2013:

We’ve reached the point where there should be no surprise if a major national politician embraces marijuana legalization. Without any large-scale campaign on its behalf, surveys show that approximately half of Americans now support marijuana legalization, including 58 percent in a recent, but potentially outlying, Gallup poll. Regardless of the exact support today, marijuana is all but assured to emerge as an issue in national elections — it's only a question of how and when.

So far, neither party wants to touch the issue. The Democratic governors of Washington and Colorado didn’t even support initiatives to legalize the possession, distribution, and consumption of marijuana, even though the initiatives ultimately prevailed by clear margins. It took the administration ten months to announce — in the middle of the Syria debate — that the Department of Justice wouldn’t pursue legal action against Washington and Colorado. And on the other hand, Republicans weren't exactly screaming about hippies and gateway drugs, either.

Despite their apparent reservation to engage the issue, it’s hard to imagine Democrats staying on the sidelines for too many more election cycles. The party’s base is already on board, with polls showing a clear majority of self-described Democrats in support....

To date, Democrats haven’t had many incentives to take a risk on the issue. Democrats are already winning the winnable culture war skirmishes, at least from a national electoral perspective, and they have a winning demographic hand. And let’s get perspective: Marijuana legalization may be increasingly popular, but it’s not clearly an electoral bonanza. Support for legalization isn’t very far above 50 percent, if it is in fact, and there are potential downsides. National surveys show that a third of Democrats still oppose marijuana legalization. Seniors, who turnout in high numbers in off year elections, are also opposed. Altogether, it’s very conceivable that there are more votes to be lost than won by supporting marijuana. After all, marijuana legalization underperformed President Obama in Washington State.

Even so, Democratic voters will eventually prevail over cautious politicians, most likely through the primary process. Any liberal rival to Hillary Clinton in 2016 will have every incentive to support marijuana legalization. Whether Clinton will follow suit is harder to say, given that frontrunners (and Clintons) are generally pretty cautious. It’s probably more likely that Clinton would endorse steps toward liberalization, like weaker criminal penalties and support for the legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado.

Republicans, meanwhile, are less likely to support legalization or liberalization. To be sure, some Republicans will. They can take a states’ rights position and the party has a growing libertarian bent, perhaps best exemplified by Rand Paul’s willingness to support more liberal marijuana laws. Republicans also have electoral incentives to lead on issues where they can earn a few votes among millennials, who pose a serious threat to the continued viability of the national Republican coalition. If the Republicans can't adjust their existing positions to compensate for demographic and generational change, which (for now) it appears they cannot, then perhaps taking a stance on a new issue, like marijuana, is the best they can do.

Of course, the problem is that a majority of Republicans are opposed to legalization. Two thirds of Republicans voted against legalization in Colorado and Washington, where one might expect Republicans be somewhat more amenable than the nation as a whole. It probably doesn’t help that marijuana is closely aligned with the liberal counterculture. It's also possible that many pro-legalization conservatives don't identify as Republicans at all, but instead might be independents....

With Republicans likely to remain opposed, marijuana could emerge as a big cultural issue in the 2016 election. In particular, Clinton would be well-positioned to deploy the issue. Her strength among older voters and women mitigates the risk that she would lose very much support, while legalization could help Clinton with the young, independent, and male voters who could clinch her primary or general election victory.

But realistically, Clinton or another Democrat won't campaign on marijuana legalization. For one, it’s most likely that the Democratic nominee will support incremental measures....

It’s easier to imagine marijuana playing a role in the 2016 primaries. Many candidates will have incentives to use the issue, whether it’s a cultural conservative using marijuana to hurt Rand Paul among evangelicals in Iowa, or a liberal trying to stoke a progressive revolt against Clinton’s candidacy. And once one party begins to debate the issue, the other will almost certainly be confronted by the same question. Marijuana won’t be decisive in a primary, but 2016’s primary battles will shape the two party’s initial positions on the issue.

Yet marijuana’s big moment will probably come later, perhaps in 2024. Legalization might eventually be popular enough for Democrats to use the issue in general elections, first at the state level and then nationally. As with gay marriage, the GOP’s obvious but difficult solution is to take their own creed on states’ rights seriously, and devolve the issue — and the politics — to the states. Compared to gay marriage, which strikes at the heart of the evangelical wing of the party, it should be easier for the Republicans to make an adjustment on marijuana. But if they cannot, the GOP will again find itself on the losing side of the culture wars.

I see lots and lots of merit to this analysis, and I find especially intriguing the cogent observation that a older female politician like Hillary Clinton might be especially well positioned to experiences far more political benefits than costs from pro-marijuana reform positions. (Indeed, I have been thinking for some time that the marijuana reform movement needs a prominent female (and motherly) face and voice comparable to Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee, who was a vocal advocate from repealing alcohol prohibition 80 years ago.)

But I think this commentary may be missing one key reality that I am certain will impact dramatically the politics of pot over the next few cycles: the reality and perceptions of what ends up happening, good or bad, in Colorado and Washington as recreational pot goes mainstream in these two distinct states.  If legalization is seen as a huge success inside and outside these states over the next 12 months, especially in swing-state Colorado, we should expect marijuana reform supporters to see positive political possibilities as early as 2014.    But if things go poorly in these states, the reform politics necessarily will take on a much different character. 

Labaoratories of democracy, here we come: buckle up local, state and national politicians, we are likely in for a bumpy and unpredictable politicial ride.

October 26, 2013 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Hippies, step aside please. Marijuana's Marlboro Man is about to take the stage."

The title of this post comes from the final lines of this notable new commentary by Kevin Sabet of Project SAM at The Huffington Post headlined "Marijuana Opinion Polling: Be Cautious Amidst the Hype." Here are excerpts from the start and finish of the piece:

The special interest marijuana lobby -- who, like the tobacco industry, intend to make millions off of marijuana products by advertising and promoting their substance of choice -- can't stop talking about a recent Gallup poll finding that 58 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. Media outlets are already calling "game over" on the debate, expressing that, like gay marriage, marijuana is an issue whose time has come.

Not so fast. Though marijuana lobbyists, like other special interest groups, are masters at manipulating and overplaying findings favorable to their crusade -- and ignoring findings that are unfavorable (like the link between marijuana and IQ loss or mental illness), the rest of us should see through the smoke and mirrors. There are at least three major problems with using Gallup as a reliable marker for marijuana attitudes in the U.S....

Earlier this year, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and I founded Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), along with a slew of public health researchers and physicians -- from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Addiction Medicine, and other prominent medical organizations -- to raise awareness about what the likely real result of legalization will be: this century's version of Big Tobacco. That's because millionaire ex-Microsoft executives are already launching, in their words, the "Starbucks of Marijuana." And multimillion-dollar private holding groups continue to raise money from investors eager to cash in on the "green rush."

People's image of marijuana legalization, however, is not consistent with this new corporate reality. Folks are still stuck in the 1970s -- they think of peace loving, drum playing, harmless pot smokers who just want to light up without the hassle of the law. And thanks to a marijuana industry casting doubt on any shred of scientific evidence (indeed mounds of it) that puts the drug in a bad light, confusion persists.

Hippies, step aside please. Marijuana's Marlboro Man is about to take the stage.

Recent related post:

October 24, 2013 in Current Affairs, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Latest Gallup poll shows considerable spike upward in support for legalizing marijuana

Pot pollAs reported in this new Gallup page, headlined "For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana: Support surged 10 percentage points in past year, to 58%," the latest polling data suggests that marijuana reform developments over the last year in a variety of state have had a pretty dramatic impact on public opinion concerning marijuana laws and policies.   Here are the basic details via the folks at Gallup:

For marijuana advocates, the last 12 months have been a period of unprecedented success as Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana.  And now for the first time, a clear majority of Americans (58%) say the drug should be legalized.  This is in sharp contrast to the time Gallup first asked the question in 1969, when only 12% favored legalization.

Public support for legalization more than doubled in the 1970s, growing to 28%. It then plateaued during the 1980s and 1990s before inching steadily higher since 2000, reaching 50% in 2011.    A sizable percentage of Americans (38%) this year admitted to having tried the drug, which may be a contributing factor to greater acceptance.

Success at the ballot box in the past year in Colorado and Washington may have increased Americans' tolerance for marijuana legalization.  Support for legalization has jumped 10 percentage points since last November and the legal momentum shows no sign of abating.  Last week, California's second-highest elected official, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, said that pot should be legal in the Golden State, and advocates of legalization are poised to introduce a statewide referendum in 2014 to legalize the drug....

Independents' growing support for legalization has mostly driven the jump in Americans' overall support.  Sixty-two percent of independents now favor legalization, up 12 points from November 2012.  Support for legalization among Democrats and Republicans saw little change.  Yet there is a marked divide between Republicans, who still oppose legalizing marijuana, and Democrats and independents.

Americans 65 and older are the only age group that still opposes legalizing marijuana. Still, support among this group has jumped 14 percentage points since 2011.   In contrast, 67% of Americans aged 18 to 29 back legalization.  Clear majorities of Americans aged 30 to 64 also favor legalization....

Whatever the reasons for Americans' greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide.  But detractors such as law enforcement and substance abuse professionals have cited health risks including an increased heart rate, and respiratory and memory problems.

With Americans' support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future.

October 22, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Uruguay to sell legal marijuana for $1 a gram"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article from The Guardian, which reports that Uruguay has plans to become the locale with the lowest legal prices for marijuana in the world.  Here are the details:

Uruguay's drug tsar says the country plans to sell legal marijuana for $1 a gram to combat drug-trafficking, according to a local newspaper.

The plan to create a government-run legal marijuana industry has passed the lower house of Congress, and Uruguay's president, José Mujica, expects to push it through the Senate soon as part of his effort to explore alternatives in the war on drugs....

Marijuana sales should start in the second half of 2014 at a price of about $1 a gram, drug chief Julio Calzada told Uruguay's El País, on Sunday – an eighth or less of what it costs at legal medical dispensaries in some US states.  Calzada said one gram would be enough "for one marijuana cigarette or two or three slimmer cigarettes".

He said the idea was not to make money but to fight petty crime and wrench the market away from illegal dealers.  "The illegal market is very risky and of poor quality," he said.  The state was going to offer "a safe place to buy a quality product and on top of that, it's going to sell it at the same price"....  Sales would be restricted to locals, who would be able to buy up to 40g a month.

Smoking pot has long been legal in Uruguay, but growing, carrying, buying or selling it has been punishable by prison terms.  About 120,000 Uruguayans consume marijuana at least once a year, according to the National Drug Council.  Of these, 75,000 smoke it every week and 20,000 every day.

In the US, the states of Washington and Colorado have legalised marijuana and adopted rules governing its sale.  Unlike Uruguay, they will tax marijuana, seeing it as a revenue source, when it goes on legal sale next year.  In Washington, the state marijuana consultant has projected legal pot might cost $13-$17 a gram.  Marijuana in the medical dispensaries typically ranges from $8-$14 a gram in Washington depending on quality.

October 22, 2013 in Current Affairs, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

How can, will, should the Fourth Amendment accomodate a new world order legalized marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is the question that one of the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar is making the focus of our class discussion this week. Here is an outline of issues and resources that he prepared in conjunction with the question:

I. What is Probable Cause?  (Skim Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983))

    A. Consider Ohio's current approach to P.C./marijuana (Read State v. Moore, 90 Ohio St.3d 47, 2000-Ohio-10 (2000))

    B.  What is a "crime" for Fourth Amendment purposes  (Read Controlled Substances casebook pp. 193-209 (trafficking, etc))

Note: Give thought to issues surrounding drugged driving in this context

    C.  Special topic: drug dogs. When is a "sniff up to snuff?" (Read Florida v Harris, 133 S.Ct. 1050 (2013))

II. State (potential?) remedies

    A.  State Statutes (Consider Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001))

    B. State Constitutional Analogues

            -exclusionary rule?

            -fed actors?

October 22, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hoping lots of tax policy experts will engage with on-going natural pot experiments

This past week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar, two students did a wonderful job focusing the class readings (assembled here) and the class discussion on tax issues.  I came away from the experience not only once again impressed by how effectively law students can deliver complicated legal content to fellow law students, but also truly fascinated by the array of tax policy issues and questions that legalized state marijuana regimes necessarily engender.   Pat Oglesby (a former Congressional tax staffer) has put together this commentary for the Huffington Post, titled "Taxing Marijuana: Four Questions," which highlights just a few of the challenging policy issues that a legal marijuana industry is now creating:

Marijuana legalization brings tax questions: Whether to tax, how much, for whose benefit, and by what measure.  None of the answers is obvious....

American consumers today reportedly spend around $30 billion a year for marijuana. That's a pot of gold. Where will that money go?....  Ganjapreneurs — producers and sellers of legal marijuana — are lining up to share in that $30 billion (or whatever the number turns out to be).  But tempering the profit motive may go a long way toward building public support — and toward addressing concerns of worried parents.  Colorado's successful 2012 initiative enticed voters with taxes for school construction; Washington's helped a laundry list of programs.  Marijuana revenue could go into the general fund, or allow cuts of unpopular taxes.  There will never be a "right" way to split up the money....

So far, taxes have been based on percentage of sales price.  That's easy to calculate: It requires no weigh stations or product testing.  But a percentage base is easy to get around.  Free Joint Giveaways, like those designed to boost opposition to taxes in Colorado, would be tax free, since any percentage of zero is always zero.  And how would anyone figure the tax on hotel stays bundled for one price with free marijuana? When the seller winks at the buyer when selling something for below its fair market price, it's hard for auditors to figure out its "real" price — that's how Google, Starbucks, GE, and other multinationals make a laughing stock of international tax rules.

Price-based taxes will swing wildly up and down as an industry starts up and prices find equilibrium.   That's not good.  If we look for analogies, price is not the base for any federal alcohol tax.  Taxes on liquor and wine depend on alcohol content; beer taxes depend on volume.

Taxing marijuana by weight would solve some problems, but powerful ounces would be taxed the same as weak ounces.  Still, the choice for marijuana plant material is either price or weight: Taxes based on content of psychoactive THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) won't work.  Test results are not replicable because the material is not fungible enough — not consistent in THC content....

Still, percentage-based taxes don't require indexing for inflation.  In real terms, unindexed Federal alcohol taxes have shrunk dramatically since the last increase, in 1991....

Taxing marijuana is no easy matter, but tax-free marijuana could cause a voter backlash -- or intervention from a federal government worried about leakage to other states and underage users....  A state monopoly would be the most cautious approach to legalization, but states have steered clear of selling through state stores, which would directly violate federal law. We are not even at the end of the beginning of figuring out the revenue issues -- and many more things -- around legalized marijuana.

This effective new Time magazine article highlights an important reality that was also stressed by my students in this week's class: there are significant differences in the tax rates and approaches being adopted in Colordo and Washington as they become the first two states with a legalized and regulated recreational marijuana marketplace.  And though a range of factors are sure to impact the "success" of new pot policies in these states, there are good reasons to believe tax policies may be the legal factor that has the most tangible and consequential impact on how the marijuana marketplaces emerge and evolve.

Because I know very little about tax policy, especially at the state level, I am certain I will be unable to follow closely and with sophistication the tax policy debates and developments that will continue to unfold as marijuana laws get reformed and marijuana markets transform in the months and years ahead.  But as the title of this post highlights, I think this is an important and fertile arena for the work of tax policy experts.

October 20, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Might debates over marijuana reform be a lot different if eating pot was far more common than smoking it?

Slide_321166_3011023_freeThe question in the title of this post was prompted in part by a discussion with one of my seminar students about the connections between tobacco public health research and marijuana public health research.  And this recent Huffington Post piece, headlined "10 Marijuana Edibles That Could Pass As 'Real' Food," further pushed me to wonder if the traditional ways in which marijuana traditionally is consumed plays a (too?) significant role in debates over modern legal reforms.

Notably, the HuffPo piece (which has lots of pictures, including the one posted here) is mostly focused on how some in the modern marijuana industry can "sneak" the plant into products that look like more traditional food. Here is the introduction to the 10 products and pictures, which includes lots of interesting links:

The legalization of marijuana -- be it medical or recreational -- in more than 20 states across the U.S. has inspired a new industry: marijuana-infused food products.

People choose to eat pot-infused treats for a variety of reasons. For some medical marijuana patients, it can be the simplest or healthiest way for them to benefit from the drug. For the recreational user, it can be a discreet and delicious way to enjoy marijuana.

Marijuana business owners -- or ganjapreneurs -- are nothing if they aren't innovative, and this collection of ten sneaky pot treats disguised as everyday snacks from Marijuana.com show just how clever the industry can be.

The most prominent public policy group actively resisting marijuana reform efforts is Project SAM, which has as its main mission and concern that "Big Tobacco" will quickly become a big player in a legalized marijuana industry.  Obviously, if marijuana was always or mostly consumed by eating it inside food products rather than by smoking, these claimed concerns would make a lot less sense.  (Those against reform might start talking about the harms of "Big Fast Food" or "Big Snacks," but such concerns seem far less likely to resonate with the vast majority of folks who like dislike smoking but like fast food and snacks.)

In addition, my own sense of the public health discourse and common perceptions about the enduring problems of tobacco smoking have extra pejorative bite because of second-hand smoke and the harms that flow that can and do get exported to non-smokers forced to be in proximity to any smokers.  And in Denver, as noted in this AP article, there is already some talk about perhaps making it a crime to expose non-smokers to marijuana smells in public spaces.  These issues and concerns, of course, become a much smaller concern if eating pot were far more common than smoking it.

October 18, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

California now to get a running start on regulating legalizied marijuana circa 2016

As reported in this San Francisco Chronicle article, headlined "Newsom, ACLU look to legalize marijuana," the planning and progress in California toward a fully legalized and regulated marijuana marketplace got a jump start today. Here is why and how:

Marijuana advocates took a step toward making California the third state to legalize the drug for adult recreational use Thursday when Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the American Civil Liberties Union launched an 18-month campaign aimed at putting a ballot measure before voters in 2016.

Newsom, who came out in favor of legalization last year, will lead a panel of academics, drug policy experts, law enforcement authorities and officials from Colorado and Washington - the two states whose voters legalized recreational use last year.

The panel's goal: To answer legal and practical questions about the state-endorsed sale of marijuana before advocates move forward with a measure to tax and regulate the estimated $1.5 billion cannabis industry in California.

Backers intend to go to the voters in November 2016 - coinciding with the presidential election, when the electorate is likely to skew younger than average and thus more marijuana-friendly. Even older voters, however, are becoming more open to marijuana legalization,according to a pair of recent polls.

One, which the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released last month, found that 60 percent of likely voters overall backed legalization. A survey by San Francisco pollster Ben Tulchin, commissioned by the ACLU and released Thursday, found that 65 percent of 1,200 respondents considered likely to vote in 2016 would support a measure to tax and regulate marijuana. The state's voters rejected a legalization measure in 2010 by 53 to 47 percent.

"The fact is that the public's support for marijuana is increasing," Tulchin said. "The key, though, is that they want regulations and limits on this. And they want the revenue (from taxation) to fund essential services. They don't want to be able to go to Costco and buy it in bulk," Tulchin said.

At a San Francisco press conference Thursday, members of the ACLU-led panel acknowledged that voters will have many questions about what legalization would entail. Over the next year and a half, the group will travel around the state, holding town hall meetings and periodically issuing recommendations."People want to know what a DUI would be. Employers want to know what happens if their employee shows up stoned at work," said Craig Reinarman, a panel member and professor of sociology and legal studies at UC Santa Cruz who has written about drug policy for 30 years.

For answers, advocates will turn to officials and activists from Colorado and Washington, who have been wrestling with such issues since legalization measures passed in their states last fall. It wasn't until this week that Washington's Liquor Control Board adopted rules that will permit 334 retail marijuana stores to open statewide next year....

Other legalization groups are talking about going to the ballot in 2014. Hopper said the ACLU is not going to run any ballot measures or decide who should. "We want to make sure that whatever coalition ends up doing this has the data and the facts and the research to do it right," Hopper said.

October 17, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Reason magazine covers modern realities as "Pot Goes Legit"

Pot reason coverThe November 2013 issue of Reason magazine has lots of terrific coverage of the latest realities of the new marijuana world order in the United States.  The lengthy cover article by Jacob Sullum is titled "Pot Goes Legit," and here is just one of the many passages that make this piece a must-read:

[Mason] Tvert says several factors help explain why Coloradans decided it was time to treat pot smokers like consumers instead of criminals. Nationwide support for legalization has been rising more or less steadily since the 1980s, hitting 50 percent in the Gallup Poll for the first time in 2011. And unlike in 2006 [when a marijuana decriminalization initiative lost in COlorado], voters were picking a president in 2012. "We see much greater turnout in presidential election years," Tvert says, "and when there is more turnout, there is virtually always more support for making marijuana legal." He also credits six years of public persuasion emphasizing the theme reflected in the name of the group he co-founded in 2005, SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation), and the title of the 2009 book he co-wrote, Marijuana Is Safer. Tvert cites polling data indicating that people who accept that premise are much more likely to support legalization than people who don't. "Our strategy all along," he says, "was to bring that message and break people's fears of marijuana down to the point where they would go ahead and go with their gut feeling on making it legal."

Supporters of Amendment 64 had a big financial advantage in getting their message across (although not as big as the one enjoyed by legalizers in Washington, who outspent their opponents by 400 to 1). According to campaign finance reports, seven groups backing the initiative raised about $2.7 million, the vast majority of it from out-of-state donors, including the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance. The opposition, which consisted largely of law enforcement groups, raised about $560,000, half of it from out-of-state donors. The biggest backer of the No on 64 campaign was Save Our Society From Drugs, a Florida-based group co-founded by Mel Sembler, a Republican fundraiser and drug treatment entrepreneur who co-founded Straight Inc., the notorious (and now-defunct) chain of behavior modification centers for troubled teenagers.

Tvert argues that, contrary to what you might expect, the switch from merely decriminalizing use to legalizing the marijuana business improved Amendment 64's prospects, because it promised to eliminate the black market and addressed the question of where people would get the pot they were now allowed to smoke. Voters' familiarity with state-regulated medical marijuana centers also helped. "When you talk about legalizing marijuana in the abstract," says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, "people say, 'I don't understand. What does it look like?' The visual matters. The medical marijuana dispensaries have been regulated since 2010, and there were already hundreds of stores voters would walk past every day."

In addition to the cover story, Jacob Sollum has these companion pieces on related topics:

October 16, 2013 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Recommended readings on marijuana reform and tax laws, policies and practices

Over the next two months, the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar are "taking over" the class and classroom by selecting topics of special interest to them and assembling readings to provide the basis for our classroom discussions of these topics.  I am excited to be able to post those readings in this space, and the first week is devoted to coverage of tax issues.  Here is my students' recommended reading list with links to all the terrific reader-friendly resources they have assembled:

Sources addressing Colorado and Washington's tax plans General sources on marijuana taxation Sources addressing existing State/Federal/Local alcohol taxation

October 13, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Headlines highlighting recent state marijuana news and notes

I have been busy and distracted by a variety of work (and non-work) activities lately, and I have been remiss at posting in this space.  In part to make up for lost coverage,  I am going to headline writers and links to a bunch of press stories serve as a means to review some recent media coverage of state marijuana news and developments around the nation:
  • From the AP in Chicago here,  "Medical marijuana could bring new jobs, attitudes to Illinois

  • From the Denver Post here, "Denver floats new rules that could make even the odor of pot a crime"

  • From the Las Vegas Sun here, "Big money clamoring for a piece of Nevada’s medical marijuana pie"

  • From the Los Angeles Times here,  "LA city attorney moves to shut down illegal marijuana dispensaries"

  • From the Maine Sunday Telegram here, "High hopes for legalizing marijuana in Maine"

  • From Medical News Today here, "Chemicals in marijuana 'protect nervous system' against MS"

  • From Michigan's WNLS here, "Oral Arguments Heard In Medical Marijuana Case"

October 13, 2013 in Current Affairs, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reflections on the FBI takedown of online illegal drug marketplace Silk Road

Silk road endOn of my many bright students in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar sent me these interesting reflections concerning a notable "drug war" battkefront in the news this week:

As you likely read, yesterday the FBI shut down Silk Road (reported here via LA Times), an online marketplace for illegal drugs, after a lengthy investigation turned up evidence of hit men and obviously lots of illegal drug transactions. The reaction from users of the site (e.g. here) raises somewhat interesting issues relating to the impact of marijuana prohibition (and drug prohibition more broadly) on public health and safety.

Silk Road provided two major public health/safety benefits over the traditional street-level black markets for drugs.  First, by eliminating the need for street deals, Silk Road provided a safer way for buyers and sellers to exchange drugs. Buyers no longer needed to venture into sketchy neighborhoods.  They simply placed an order online and received the drugs in the mail. Sellers no longer had to hang out in those sketchy neighborhoods.  The blight of corner dealers was at least marginally reduced as transactions moved online.  This was better not just for those engaged in the drug trade, but also for the residents of drug-infested neighborhoods.

Second, Silk Road provided a marketplace where sellers could compete on the purity and safety of their products.  Listings often included pictures of purity test results, with some drugs approaching Walt Walter quality levels.  To the extent that we care about harm reduction, Silk Road marginally reduced the risk of harm resulting from drugs cut with dangerous substances.  It also reduced the risk of accidental overdoses (on drugs other than marijuana) resulting from using drugs of uncertain potency.

Silk Road users are now lamenting the fact that they will be forced to return to buying impure drugs from street dealers in dangerous neighborhoods.  While the site clearly facilitated violations of U.S. law, its success in providing a safer marketplace for drugs serves to reinforce the harms caused by drug prohibition, both to users and to those who in live in neighborhoods where drug dealers operate.  Silk Road may also stand as an example of how drug markets could operate if drugs were legalized.  Policymakers should consider the success of Silk Road (and the inevitable clones that will pop up to fill its place in the coming weeks) when debating drug reform.

As an aside, people who oppose reforming drug laws will likely point to the rather disgusting things that went down on Silk Road as evidence that drug prohibition is necessary.  The head of the site ordered a hit on a would-be narc who threatened to blackmail him.  Trade in child pornography, guns, and other contraband proliferated on the site. But these things resulted from the anonymity necessitated by drug prohibition, not from the nature of the site as a forum for buying and selling drugs. Absent prohibition, buyers and sellers on Silk Road-like sites would use bank accounts or credit cards to make purchases (similar to Ebay, to which Silk Road was often compared). This would kill the anonymity that led to unfortunate side effects.

October 3, 2013 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Interesting report on marijuana money and politics as election seasons approach

The Open Secrets Blog has this intriguing new piece on politics and political funding titled "Marijuana Heating Up as Midterm Election Issue." Here are excerpts:

As burning topics go, marijuana's not up there with the government shutdown. Still, it's more likely than ever before to be a topic in the midterm election, after activists in Alaska, Arizona, California and Oregon — states with medical marijuana laws already in place — announced their plans for similar ballot initiatives in 2014 to allow recreational use of the drug.

Voters in Colorado and Washington state decriminalized recreational use in 2012. And the number of states that allow medical use of cannabis is now up to 20. Although federal law prohibits the sale and possession of marijuana, the Obama administration said it will not challenge state laws regulating the drug, which has opened the floodgates for those urging its decriminalization — even though it's still classified as a Schedule I substance, defined as having a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

In preparation for potential initiatives and pro-marijuana congressional candidates, some organizations are gearing up for the election already, led by the Marijuana Policy Project.

The group — which aims to increase public and congressional support for marijuana policy reform — has been politically active for more than a decade. In the first half of this year, MPP's PAC raised almost $41,000 and spent $20,000, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. At this rate, the PAC is on track — in an off-year — to surpass its 2012 numbers, when it raised about $78,000 and spent almost $52,000.

Campaign contributions from MPP in the last cycle came to about $31,000, with 79 percent of it going to candidates — almost exclusively Democrats.  Freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) led the way, receiving $5,000, according to OpenSecrets.org.

MPP spokesman Mason Tvert estimated the PAC will spend about $100,000 by the end of the 2014 election cycle — a number comparable to its 2008 election cycle total when it spent about $118,000, the most since the PAC's existence.  "It's also worth noting that our strategy has shifted over the years," Tvert said, "from supporting the few members of Congress who support marijuana policy reform, to focusing on the ever-increasing number of supportive congressional challengers."

But campaign finance isn’t the only arena in which MPP is active; it is also the top organization lobbying on the issue, with more than 72 “marijuana” mentions in filings since 2006.

The group's federal lobbying expenditures peaked in 2007 at $200,000, but has declined over the years. In the first half of 2013, it spent just $10,000, but that doesn't mean its lobbying efforts have decreased.  Instead, they have been refocused toward reform at the state legislative level, hoping to move from the ground up.  "(This is) an effective way to help create change at the federal level by making marijuana policy relevant to members of congress back home in the district," said Dan Riffle, MPP's director of federal policies.

Federally, MPP's efforts are focused on policy reform and sponsorship of both medical and non-medical marijuana bills that would make federal statutes more compatible with states’ legalization laws....  MPP supports the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act (H.R. 689), which was introduced in the House earlier this year and would push marijuana under a listing other than Schedule I or Schedule II.  It also would amend the Controlled Substances Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to no longer prohibit the possession, production or distribution of marijuana in states where the medical use of cannabis is legal under state law.

October 3, 2013 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Legalized pot would mean more addiction" ... but maybe to a safer product?

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new commentary published by CNN and authored by Kevin Sabet, and includes what is, for me, a key follow-up question to any discussion of marijuana use and abuse.  My interest in a follow-up question is driven largely by the fact that this commentary, somewhat surprisingly, does not actually really discuss marijuana use or abuse or provide any sophisticated discussion of marijuana addiction rates.  Here are a few excerpts from the commentary:

"The war on drugs has failed" is a mantra often heard in policy and media circles these days. But not only is the phrase outdated (the 1980s called -- they want their slogan back), it is far too simplistic to describe both current drug policy and its outcomes.

The latest incarnation of this ill-advised saying can be found in a report arguing that since cannabis and heroin prices have fallen while their purity has increased, efforts to curb drug use and its supply are doomed to failure.  This leads some to highlight the possibility of alternatives in the form of "regulation" (e.g., legalization) of drugs.

But a closer look at the data -- and the implications for a policy change to legalization -- should give us pause if we care about the dire consequences drug addiction has on society.

Globally, drug use has been stable over the past decade, though it is difficult to paint such a broad brush across countries and substances.  But in the U.S. alone, there has been a 40% drop in cocaine use since 2006 and a 68% decrease in workplace positive cocaine tests.  Overall in the U.S., all drug use has fallen by about 30% since 1979.

There are likely numerous reasons for this drop, but we can't ignore the fact that the world's top supplier of the drug -- Colombia -- has greatly improved its security situation over the same period.  With help from the United States, Colombia has managed to reduce the amount of land dedicated to coca growing by nearly two-thirds from 2000 to 2010.

Potential production of cocaine has also fallen more than 60%, though in places without such security enhancements -- namely Bolivia and Peru -- cocaine production has picked up.  Still, this shows that progress is not only possible, it is happening....

Some have offered legalization as a possible alternative.  But we know from our experience with currently legal drugs -- prescription drugs (which are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S.), alcohol and tobacco -- that legality means commercialization, normalization and wider access and availability that lead to more use and addiction.

Legalization in the United States is likely to accompany a bombardment of promotion, similar to our other three classes of legal drugs.  These industries will stop at nothing to increase addiction since their bottom line relies on it.  In fact, we know that 80% of the profit from addictive industries comes from the 20% of users who consume most of the volume of the substance.

According to internal documents that the government forced Big Tobacco to release during its historic court settlement, those companies are ready to pounce on the golden opportunity of drug legalization.  It is no wonder that the parent company of Phillip Morris, Altria, recently bought the domain names "AltriaCannabis.com" and "AltriaMarijuana.com." If this sounds frightening, it should be.

Big Tobacco tried for decades to conceal the harms of their drug, and millions of lives were lost as a result.  We are naive to think that this wouldn't happen with any other drug that is legalized....

On the other hand, legalization -- especially in ad-obsessed America -- would not only sweep the causes of drug use under the rug, it would open the floodgates to more addiction, suffering and costs than we could ever bargain for.

I share Sabet's claimed interest in taking a "closer look at the data," but the very data he references in this commentary strikes me as the basis for encouraging marijuana reform efforts because doing might very well lead to more addictions to a drug which arguably is much less dangerous not only than other illegal drugs, but also even less dangerous than "our other three classes of legal drugs"!

For starters, Sabet highlights in this commentary that "there has been a 40% drop in cocaine use since 2006" and he concedes that there "are likely numerous reasons for this drop."  What he fails to discuss, however, is the possibility that wider availability of legalized medical marijuana in many states since 2006 might be playing a significant role in the big drop in cocaine use.  Here I am just speculating, but the broader point is that if legalization of marijuana moves some folks to use marijuana a lot more, but harder and more harmful drug like cocaine and heroin and meth a lot less, we end up with a quite significant overall public health benefit.

Similarly, while Sabet laments that legal and regulated "prescription drugs ... are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S.," he fails to discuss or acknowledge the oft-stressed point made by marijuana reformers that it is impossible to die from an overdose of marijuana.  So again, even if legalized marijuana leads to more abuse of this drug, that reality could be a good outcome if more pot abuse means less prescription drug abuse and less accident deaths from the more lethal drugs.

The mention of Big Tobacco and the scare tactic used here by Sabet is another variation of this story.  Based on discussions with various public health folks, smoking marijuana may prove to be significantly less addictive and harmful than smoking tobacco, and thus a move by tobacco companies to focus more on the marijuana market and less on the tobacco market might actually result in a positive public health result. (And, of course, many marijuana users are interested in edibles or other ways to consume marijuana that does not have the same direct or indirect harmful effects of smoking.)

As students in my on-going Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar know, I keep trying to identify and fully understand the very strongest arguments against modern marijuana reform efforts.  As suggested above, I do not think this latest commentary from Kevin Sabet is among them.

A few recent related posts:

October 3, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (3)