Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Any short- or long-term Colorado predictions as recreational marijuana sales begin?

Lots of mainstream (as well as not-so-mainstream) media outlets are now talking a lot about what may or may not happen in Colorado a few days from now when state-legalized and regulated sales of recreational marijuana is to begin with the start of 2014.  This Reuters article is just one of many covering the buzz surrounding the opportunity for folks in Colorado to have a new legal way to get buzzed.   Here how it starts:

The world's first state-licensed marijuana retailers, catering to Colorado's newly legal recreational market for pot, are stocking their shelves ahead of a New Year's grand opening that supporters and detractors alike see as a turning point in America's drug culture....

[S]tarting January 1, cannabis will be legally sold and taxed at specially regulated retailers in a system modeled after a regime many states have in place for alcohol sales - but which exists for marijuana nowhere outside of Colorado.

For the novelty factor alone, operators of the first eight marijuana retailers slated to open on Wednesday morning in Denver and a handful of establishments in other locations are anticipating a surge in demand for store-bought weed.  "It will be like people waiting in line for tickets to a Pink Floyd concert," said Justin Jones, 39, owner of Dank Colorado in Denver who has run a medical marijuana shop for four years and now has a recreational pot license.

Jones said he is confident he has enough marijuana on hand for Day One but less sure of inventory levels needed after that.   About 90 percent of his merchandise is in smokable form, packaged in small child-proof containers.  The rest is a mixture of cannabis-infused edibles, such as cookies, candy and carbonated drinks.  "People seem to prefer smoking," he said.

In addition to the "Black Friday"-type atmosphere sure to part of the New Year's Day experiences in Denver, this AFP article highlights that some folks are planning a road-trip in order to get to Colorado for another kind of trip:

Enterprising companies are even offering marijuana tours to cash in on tourists expected to be attracted to a Netherlands-style pot culture -- including in Colorado's famous ski resorts.  "Just the novelty alone is bringing people from everywhere," said Adam Raleigh of cannabis supplier Telluride Bud Co.

"I have people driving in from Texas, Arizona, Utah... to be a part of history.  Over the last month I have received somewhere between four to six emails a day and five to 10 phone calls a day asking all about the law and when should people plan their ski trip to go along with cannabis," he added.

But as highlighted in this lengthy AP article, headlined "Legal pot sales begin amid uncertainty in Colorado," perhaps the only real certainty come 2014 in Colorado is uncertainty:

Will it be a showcase for a safe, regulated pot industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year and saves money on locking up drug criminals, or one that will prove, once and for all, that the federal government has been right to ban pot since 1937?

Legal pot's potential has spawned businesses beyond retail shops. Marijuana-testing companies have popped up, checking regulated weed for potency and screening for harmful molds. Gardening courses charge hundreds to show people how to grow weed at home....

Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, maker of pot-infused foods and drinks, is making new labels for the recreational market and expanding production on everything from crispy rice treats to fruit lozenges. "The genie is out of the bottle," says company president Tripp Keber. "I think it's going to be an exciting time over the next 24 to 48 months."...

The challenges, activists and regulators say, are daunting in Colorado and Washington. One of the biggest questions is whether they have built an industry that will not only draw in tens of millions of dollars in revenue but also make a significant dent in the illegal market. Another is whether the regulatory system is up to the task of controlling a drug that's never been regulated.

There are public health and law enforcement concerns, including whether wide availability of a drug with a generations-old stigma of ruining lives will lead to more underage drug use, more cases of driving while high and more crime....

To prevent the criminal element from getting a foothold, regulators have enacted residency requirements for business owners, banned out-of-state investment and run background checks on every applicant for a license to sell or grow the plant. Whether the systems are enough is anyone's guess.

I like the descriptive phrase that the "genie is out of the bottle," and think the green marijuana genie could grant many wishes and also create many nightmares. And I am eager to hear reader thoughts and predictions about what might happen in this arena in 2014 before the official start of this unofficial "turning point in America's drug culture."

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

December 29, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Concluding on a high note: student papers highlight diversity of important marijuana law and policy topics

I was eager and excited to teach a law school seminar this past term focused on marijuana law, policy and reform in part because I have come to see how many diverse and dynamic legal and policy issues are raised and impacted by states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana use.  Last week, my students providing a fitting final demonstration of this reality when they turned in their final papers.  Below I provide the titles of the seminar papers submitted for this course:

You’re Fired…Maybe: How the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Will Affect Employee and Employer Relations

The Anonymous Online Black Market

The Pliant Majority: Cognizing the Attitudinal Shift Toward Marijuana Legalization in America

The War on Federalism: Battleground Medical Marijuana

Federal Sentencing in Marijuana Offenses: How Should Federal Judges Reflect the National Changes in Policy When Sentencing Marijuana Offenders?

Marijuana or Xanax: the Lesser of Two Evils

Marijuana Policy and Immigration Law: Policing Borders, Blurring Lines, and Reforming Policies

Privacy Concerns Within the Ever-growing Marijuana Industry

Responsible Smoking – A Guide to Police Powers in a Recreational-Use State

Nuestra Voz Entre La Hierba: the Latino Vote and Marijuana Reform

“Weed Here, Get Your Weed Here!”:The First Amendment and Advertising Legalized Marijuana

Keeping the Flashing Lights On: Using Civil Forfeiture to Fund Law Enforcement by [Not] Punishing Drug Offenders

Additional Revenues for the City of Detroit and State of Michigan: An Initiative for Legalized Marijuana within the City of Detroit

Legalize and Tax Marijuana: The Path to a Better Fiscal Future for Ohio

A Guide to Marijuana Reform in the Buckeye State: How and Why Ohio Should Lead America’s March Towards Marijuana Legalization

Starting a Retail Marijuana Business: Colorado or Washington?

As these paper titles highlight, students used their final papers as an opportunity to explore employment law, cyber-law and markets, public opinion trends and minority voting patterns, privacy law, federalism, the First Amendment, federal sentencing and civil forfeitures, immigration law, and health law as well as the array of tax and business issues that surround marijuana reform policies and practices. (Once I finish grading all the papers, I am planning to post some or all of them in this space if I surmise there is reader interest.)

In some future "wrap-up" posts, I hope to discuss more broadly what I thought worked best (and did not work so well) in my development of this seminar. I also want to discuss a bit why I think I should probably wait until late 2015 or early 2016 to teach a course like this again.

Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg

December 28, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What are the best and worst drugs for daily use by teens?

The title of this post is the (perhaps silly) question that came to my mind upon reading this new report on some new research headlined "Heavy Pot Use Linked To Memory Loss, Schizophrenia Link."  Here are the basics:

Heavy pot users — smoking marijuana daily for three years — had abnormal changes in their brain structures related to working memory, U.S. researchers say. Lead study author Matthew Smith, an assistant research professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said poor working memory predicts poor academic performance and everyday functioning.

The groups in the study started using marijuana daily at ages 16 to 17 for about three years.  At the time of the study, they had been marijuana free for about two years. Almost 100 subjects participated, including matched groups of healthy controls, subjects with a marijuana use disorder, schizophrenia subjects with no history of substance use disorders and schizophrenia subjects with a marijuana use disorder. The subjects who used marijuana did not abuse any other drugs, the researchers said.

Of the 15 marijuana smokers who had schizophrenia in the study, 90 percent started heavily using marijuana before they developed the mental disorder. Marijuana abuse has been linked to developing schizophrenia in prior research, Smith said.

“The abuse of popular street drugs, such as marijuana, might have dangerous implications for young people who are developing or have developed mental disorders,” said co-senior study author Dr. John Csernansky of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“This paper is among the first to reveal that the use of marijuana may contribute to the changes in brain structure that have been associated with having schizophrenia.”... The paper was published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Modern brain science research has long had me convinced that it would be wise for everyone under the age of 25 to avoid all dangerous substances while their brains are still developing.  Consequently, I am not at all surprised by a finding that daily use of marijuana could hurts developing brains.  I wonder, though, whether it is likely to hurt developing brains more than daily use of alcohol or even some prescription drugs.

That said, I hope the relaxation of modern marijuana laws in many jurisdictions will facilitate a lot more serious scientific research on the various potential harms and benefits of the use and abuse of this widely-used and seemingly widely under-researched drug.

December 17, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is a "worst-case scenario" regarding marijuana reform and regulation already emerging in Colorado and Washington?

22353476The question in the title of this post is my reaction to what strikes me as a "Chicken Little" comment appearing in this lengthy New York Times article about marijuana reform in Colorado and Washington.  The article, which started on the front page of Saturday's Times is headlined "In 2 States, Corner Cannabis Store Nears Reality." And here are excerpts that provide some background and context for my query:

Starting early next year, any adult with a craving or curiosity will be able to stroll into a strip mall or downtown shop in Colorado or Washington State and do what has long been forbidden: buy a zip-lock bag of legal marijuana.

After landmark votes made marijuana legal for recreational consumption, users in these two states will no longer need doctors’ notes or medical reasons to buy the drug. Instead, they will simply show identification to prove they are at least 21, and with the cautious blessing of state and federal officials, they will be able to buy as much as an ounce of marijuana and smoke it in their living rooms.

It is a new frontier of drug legalization, one that marks a stark turn away from the eras of “Reefer Madness,” zero tolerance and Just Say No warnings about the dangers of marijuana. But it also raises questions about whether these pioneering states will be able to regulate and contain a drug that is still outlawed across most of the country — although medical marijuana can be sold legally in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The end of the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s, by contrast, to which some historians and legal scholars are comparing this moment, came all at once across the nation.

On this never-traveled road, the outcome on many fronts is uncertain: Supporters predict an economic boom in new business activity, cannabis tourism and reduced public expense with fewer low-level drug offenders clogging jails and courtrooms.

Elected officials, parents’ groups and police chiefs worry that drug traffickers will exploit the new markets, that more teenagers will take up marijuana, and that two places with reputations for fresh air and clean living will become known as America’s stoner states.

Other states flirting with legalization are watching closely too, not least for the expected windfall in state revenue in stiffly taxing something that has never been taxed at all. Referendum drives modeled on Colorado and Washington are already underway for next year in Arizona, California, Oregon and Alaska, and others are expected to follow in 2016. So the pressures to get it right the first time, local and state officials said, are immense. “We are floating in uncharted waters here,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock of Denver, where 149 businesses have applied to sell or grow retail marijuana.

Consider, for example, the strangely altered new role of the police, who in Washington are required to make sure all marijuana is of the legal, state-licensed variety. That could make for more crackdowns on illegal grow-and-sale operations, not fewer, a fact highlighted when federal agents raided several dispensaries in Colorado last month, smashing glass and hauling away hundreds of plants.

Practical questions about the legal, workaday drug trade have required reams of rules and regulations to answer: Should it be specifically taxed?... Can people give it away in public parks?...

But most important, Colorado and Washington must show skeptical federal authorities that they can control this new world of regulated marijuana, and keep it from flowing to underage consumers, into other states or into the grip of drug traffickers and violent cartels. Even as the Justice Department announced in August that it would not block states from regulating marijuana, it also warned that their enforcement rules “must be tough in practice, not just on paper.”

“We’re already seeing a worst-case scenario emerging,” said Kevin A. Sabet, an opponent of legalization and the co-founder of Project SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He said marijuana was already flowing from dispensaries into the hands of teenage users, and he predicted the social costs would only mount in the months ahead.

Though I genuinely hope that marijuana reform is successful in Colorado and Washington because it would provide more evidence that freedom and free markets tend to be superior public policy choices to big government, I am genuinely eager to see sensible and sober assessments of the on-the-ground pros and cons of what these two states are trying.  But if anti-reform (or, for that matter, pro-reform) advocates are going to persistently scream that the sky is falling (or that all is nirvana), it is going to end up being very hard to come to a truly sound assessment of whether and how reform can be more or less successful.

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Slate series examines Colorado prelude to pot legalization

Sam Kamin and Joel Warner have launched a new Slate series that is a must-read for any and everyone interested in following Colorado's path-breaking experiences with marijuana legalization. This first piece, headlined "Blazing a Trail: Colorado is about to become the first state in the modern world to legalize marijuana from seed to sale—is it ready?," sets up the themes, and here are excerpts:

On Jan. 1, Colorado will become the first state in the modern world to legalize marijuana from seed to sale. (Uruguay voted on Tuesday to legalize pot, but the law won't be implemented for 120 days. In the Netherlands, marijuana is simply decriminalized, not legal. While Washington state legalized marijuana at the same time Colorado passed Amendment 64, its regulatory system likely won’t be up and running until next summer.) That means Colorado’s lawmakers, businesses, and citizens are facing issues no one has tackled before. How do you legally produce marijuana? What procedures should be put in place for its packaging, transportation, sale, and taxation? How do you keep track of all that pot, and how do you discipline those who run afoul of your regulations? How do you regulate the financing of pot operations, the development of peripheral businesses, the marketing of marijuana to tourists? And how do you keep the whole thing from falling apart? In short, how do you build an entire industry from scratch?

Over the next two months, as Colorado’s legal pot industry opens for business, the two of us — Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor, and Joel Warner, a local writer — will look at how Colorado is answering these questions, with the world watching and possibly billions of dollars at stake — not to mention the federal government keeping a close eye on everything. Marijuana, after all, remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside LSD and heroin. That means Colorado has to figure out a way to abide by its voters’ wish to authorize marijuana’s possession, manufacture, and sale without causing the feds to act on the fact that all of these actions are still punishable by up to life in prison.

We’re beginning our coverage with the most important issue Colorado has had to wrestle with so far: How do you build a regulatory framework for pot? All other decisions on legalized marijuana derive from this one. Pretty much every legal good and service is regulated in one way or another—restaurants are inspected, plumbers are licensed, sodas have to list their ingredients—and marijuana is a psychoactive substance, like cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping pills, so clearly there have to be rules about how it’s used. Even marijuana’s most ardent proponents concede there have to be limits on its sale and usage — children shouldn’t have access to it, people shouldn’t drive under its influence. But the biggest argument of all for marijuana regulation, from the government’s perspective, is taxation. If the state doesn’t know who is selling it, where they are selling it, or who’s buying it and at what price, Colorado can’t make any money off it.

To determine the best way to regulate this new market, a week after the law passed, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper formed the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force comprised of elected officials, stakeholders in the state’s existing medical marijuana industry, and various experts (including one of us—the University of Denver’s Sam Kamin). It was no easy task, especially since Colorado had just over a year to pick a regulatory model, pass legislation implementing it, conduct rulemaking around it, and go through all the licensing and inspections required to implement it by Jan. 1. Compared to how long most governmental processes take, that was a blink of an eye.

Cross posted in part at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

December 12, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So many notable marijuana stories and so little time to blog 'em all

As my my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar winds down with students working on final papers, local, state, national and international stories concerning modern marijuana reform efforts is really starting to heat up.  Here are headlines and links from just today's latest news of note:

  • From CNN here, "Uruguay to legalize marijuana, Senate says"

  • From the Denver Post here, "Colorado officials, pot businesses clash over inventory tracking"

  • From ESPN magazine here, "Smoke screen: It's time for the NFL to embrace a new pain reliever: marijuana"

  • From the Huffington Post here, "Polls Suggest California Is Poised To Legalize Marijuana In 2014"

  • From Politicker here, "Pols Begin Push to Legalize Marijuana in New York State"

  • From the San Jose Mercury News here, "San Jose medical marijuana crackdown begins after council vote on regulations"

December 11, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Will Colorado Have Enough Pot Stores to Meet Demand?"

MarijuanaThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece in Time magazine.  Here are excerpts:

Call it Black Wednesday. Recreational marijuana goes on sale legally in Colorado on Jan. 1, and Denver officials are worried that the city’s retail shops won’t be anywhere close to meeting demand.

At a city-council meeting Monday, lawmakers in Colorado’s largest city raised questions about licensing delays and the prospect of people queuing up for hours in what have been historically low temperatures. “If we have 10 stores open … we could have people camping out overnight with cash in their pocket,” said councilman Charlie Brown. “How is the industry, how is the police department going to work together?”

Though more than 100 stores are waiting to have applications approved by the city and state, a process that involves multiple inspections and a public hearing, a small fraction of that number are likely to be open by 8 a.m., Jan. 1, when legal sales for recreational marijuana begin. Employees from the city’s department of excise and licenses estimated that Denver will have around 12 legal retail outlets in operation.

City officials are worried about the ability of those stores to handle the expected crowds, which they said will be supplemented by marijuana tourists arriving on chartered buses. Security is also a concern, as marijuana can only be purchased with cash.

A representative from the medical-marijuana industry said he knows Denver is going to be under enormous scrutiny on New Year’s Day. “It’s very true that the whole world is watching,” said Michael Elliott, who noted that shoppers may be confused when they’re turned away from the vast majority of medical-marijuana dispensaries that aren’t licensed to sell recreational pot. “It’s very intense right now.”

After voters approved a measure to legalize marijuana in November 2012, Colorado spent the next six months developing regulations for consumption — dealing with advertising restrictions, childproof packaging, THC-limits and rules for driving while high. “Clearly we are charting new territory. Other states haven’t been through this process,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said in May. “Recreational marijuana is really a completely new entity.”...

Among the measures the council approved Monday was one its president called a “seminal” piece of marijuana legislation outlining procedural nuts and bolts like making it illegal to consume weed on the city’s tourist-heavy 16th Street Mall and banning “pot giveaways” in public parks. Then they moved on to the next item before them: revamping zoning codes to deal with growing marijuana. After being approved by the council, bills must still be signed by the mayor.

“In 22 days, whether you like it or not, the image of our city will change,” Brown said. “And if we need to make adjustments we will. This is not the end. This is, frankly, the beginning.”

December 10, 2013 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Detailing how Colorado is now a modern marijuana Mecca for many families with sick children

MeccaToday's New York Times has this very interesting new article headlined "Families See Colorado as New Frontier on Medical Marijuana." Here are excerpts:

As their children cooed from wheelchairs and rocked softly in their arms, the marijuana migrants of Colorado clasped hands, bowed their heads and said a prayer of cautious thanks.

They thanked God for the dinner of roast turkey and mashed potatoes, for their children and for the marijuana-based serum that has drawn 100 families to Colorado on a desperate pilgrimage to quell the squalls of seizures inside their children’s heads. They have come from Florida and Virginia, South Carolina and New York, lining up to treat their children with a promising but largely untested oil that is considered legal medicine in this cannabis-friendly state.

“Thank you for bringing us together,” said Aaron Lightle, whose wife and 9-year-old daughter, Madeleine, moved here after the girl’s neurologists suggested removing part of her brain to stop her relentless seizures. “In crazy ways, maybe. But hey, we’re here.” Amen, they said.

Their migration is one of myriad ways that a once-illicit drug is reshaping life here in Colorado, which now stands at the forefront of the national debate over legalizing drugs. While these families are seeking treatment through a medical marijuana system that has existed for years, they are arriving at a time when the drug is becoming a mainstream part of public life, made legal for recreational use in a historic vote last year....

The new arrivals call themselves marijuana refugees. Many have left jobs and family members behind in states where marijuana remains outlawed, or cannot be used to treat children. While some have moved their entire families, others are splintered, paying rent and raising children in two states. During the holidays, they join family gatherings through video chats and swap iPhone pictures of Christmas trees.

But as more arrive to register their children as medical-marijuana patients, they have knitted together a random family here, across the suburbs and foothills of Colorado’s Front Range. They are Muslims and conservative Christians, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Now, they cook dinners and babysit for one another. They meet to compare progress and seizure diaries. They discuss the best ways to feed the oil to their children. They wait, and hope for results that mirror the astonishing successes they have seen in television reports and online videos....

The families have hung their hopes on a marijuana oil called Charlotte’s Web, which is made by a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado Springs. The business, called Indispensary, also sells a variety of highly potent marijuana and edibles. Buyers of the medical marijuana must present certifications from two practicing Colorado doctors.

Charlotte’s Web is a rich amber and as thick as cold honey. It smells like marijuana and tastes like raw plants. Joel Stanley, one of five brothers who run the dispensary, says the oil is low in THC, which gets users high, but contains a wealth of a cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical that provides no buzz, but that marijuana advocates and medical researchers say has a variety of medical uses.

A month’s supply of the oil can cost $150 to $250, and some families say they receive financial help from a nonprofit group related to the dispensary called the Realm of Caring Foundation. In a YouTube video produced by Realm of Caring, two mothers describe how their children were transformed after taking the oil for a few months. In one section, Paige Figi recalls how seizures had jolted her daughter Charlotte every 15 minutes, leaving the girl unable to walk or talk. In the next shot, the girl dances in a pink leotard and shouts, “Ballerina!”

The other mother featured in the video, Heather Jackson, was so convinced by the potential of CBD that she is now the executive director of the Realm of Caring Foundation. Ms. Jackson said her son, Zaki, who once had 200 seizures a day, still faces a host of developmental disabilities, and will probably need help for the rest of his life. But she said he had gone 14 months without a seizure. A pretreatment recording of electrical activity in his brain showed a heaving chaos of huge spikes and deep troughs. A readout taken several months in showed smoother rises and falls. “It’s really incredible,” Ms. Jackson said in an interview. “For whatever reason, this has put his syndrome into remission.”

There is only scattered medical research to substantiate the claims, in large part because marijuana’s outlaw status has kept it off limits for many scientists in the United States. Studies as far back as 1975 have suggested that cannabidiol can prevent spasms in lab animals, and a few researchers in the United States have conducted limited studies on people.

Dr. Margaret Gedde, a Colorado physician who has recommended medical marijuana to dozens of families with severely epileptic children, recently conducted a small survey that offered promising results. Of 11 families who treated their children with high-CBD oil, eight reported that their children’s seizures had fallen by 98 to 100 percent. The other families reported smaller but noticeable declines. Dr. Gedde and her co-researcher, Dr. Edward H. Maa, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, will present their research to the American Epilepsy Society at a meeting next week.

But the clinical trials matter little to parents who have watched their children sustain cracked skulls and broken arms during seizures, who have spent holidays in the emergency room, whose toddlers are taking barbiturates. After years of watching their children slowly vanish behind a firestorm of seizures, or the debilitating side effects of powerful prescription drugs, they said marijuana seemed worth a try.

December 6, 2013 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Great state government summer job for teens(?): trying to buy pot illegally in Washington

One oft-heard argument in support of ending marijuana prohibition concerns the economic and job creation developments expected to follow a regime of legalization and regulation.  And, as highlighted in this AP article, headlined "Washington state will use minors in marijuana buying stings," the employment benefits will flow down to a few young workers in at least one state:

Charged with implementing the new law that allows adults over age 21 to possess an ounce of pot, the state Liquor Control Board already uses minors in "controlled buys" of alcohol at retail stores. The board's enforcement chief said using the same strategy with marijuana makes sense, especially because federal officials want to make sure Washington restricts minors' access to the drug.

"Of course the feds are looking at a tightly regulated market around youth access, and I think this shows we're being responsible," said Justin Nordhorn. The agency also will ask the Legislature to set penalties for minors who attempt to purchase legal pot and those who use or manufacture fake ID cards for that purpose.

Alison Holcomb, chief author of the new law voters approved last year, agreed that using minors in pot-buying stings would support the state and federal emphasis on limiting youth access. But as criminal-justice director for the ACLU of Washington, Holcomb does not believe that adding criminal laws for pot possession is a good idea. She said she would prefer a focus on other prevention strategies.

Nordhorn said there are currently no penalties for teenagers who try to buy legal pot. He'd like the offense to be a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, and likewise for making or using fake IDs to buy pot.

This Seattle Times article concerning the state's sting plans provides a bit more background on Washington's current activities concerning illegal alcohol sales to minors:

Stings appear to be warranted in alcohol enforcement. Data for the past 17 months show that alcohol retailers had an 85 percent compliance rate in youth stings. In other words, for every seven times minors working for the state tried to buy alcohol in stores, bars or restaurants, they succeeded once.

While Washington has licensed more than 20,000 locations to sell alcohol, the state plans to allow just 334 marijuana stores, making it easier, in theory, to enforce marijuana laws at them.

The pot stings would work similarly to the alcohol buys, Nordhorn said. The state now hires 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds across the state to use in alcohol stings, according to Nordhorn. About 30 minors, both men and women, work for the liquor board. They get paid about $10 an hour, Nordhorn said, and they tend to be students interested in law enforcement and substance-abuse prevention.

He declined to make any available for an interview. “We try to protect their identities because we don’t want anyone knocking on their door,” he said. Nordhorn plans to send minors into pot stores to try to purchase products. It’s the store clerks’ responsibility to make sure customers are 21. The law does not even allow minors in stores.

December 2, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)