Thursday, January 29, 2015
The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new article by Paul Larkin now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Beginning in the 1920s and lasting for seventy years, state and federal law treated marijuana as a dangerous drug and as contraband, forbidding its cultivation, distribution, possession, and use. Over the last two decades, however, numerous states have enacted laws permitting marijuana to be used for medical treatment. Some also permit its recreational use. Those laws have raised a host of novel legal and public policy issues. Most of the discussion, and almost all of the litigation, has involved the respective roles of the states and federal government and how each one may and should deal with this very controversial subject.
One issue that has received little attention in the legal community is the risk that medical and recreational marijuana laws will pose to highway safety. Will those laws increase, decrease, or leave untouched the rate of accidents and fatalities on our nation’s roadways? How should the criminal justice system — in particular, its law enforcement officers — address the problem of “drugged driving” in general and in states with medical marijuana laws?
This Article addresses those issues. Some of the possible solutions do not involve changing the law. Training law enforcement officers to better spot drugged drivers, developing safe, reliable, portable, and inoffensive devices to test drivers for marijuana use on a highway shoulder, identifying a particular concentration of marijuana in the blood or some other bodily fluid that can be used to establish impairment — those and other steps can be taken without changing the legal framework for addressing the problems that occur when people drive under the influence of an intoxicating substance. But it also may be necessary to modify the laws governing alcohol in order to reduce the crashes caused by marijuana use. People often take those drugs in combination, and a marijuana-alcohol cocktail is more debilitating that either drug consumed alone. States therefore may need to lower their thresholds for drunken driving in order to dissuade people who use marijuana and alcohol together from getting behind the wheel.
The title of this post is the headline of this local article from Ohio. Here are excerpts:
Ohio's top cop was blunt about his opinion on legalizing marijuana in Ohio: "I think it's a stupid idea."
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told a group at the Newark Rotary Club on Tuesday that efforts to legalize marijuana in the state would lead to increased use of the drug, more accidents and less healthy residents. "The law is a teacher, and when the law says, 'Well, this is OK for adults,' people are going to use it," DeWine said.
DeWine also had few kind words for the recent proposal to legalize the drug. "The proposal, by the way, that I saw is just a ludicrous proposal. It's basically legalizing a monopoly in the state of Ohio among a few individuals or a few companies who will be able to make all the money from the sale of marijuana," he said.
ResponsibleOhio, a group that supports medical and personal use of marijuana, proposed legalizing marijuana for anyone older than 21 who can pass a criminal background check and taxing the drug at 15 percent. The proposed ballot initiative would create a seven-member Marijuana Control Commission to oversee and regulate the manufacture and sale of marijuana....
"Even if you think selling marijuana is a great idea, I don't know why anyone would think just giving a few people who are going to put the money up to pass it on the ballot is a good idea to let them have that monopoly," DeWine said.
I sometimes think the seriousness and importance of any legal reform proposal can be gauged by the seriousness and importance of the individuals and groups that are quick to criticize the proposal. By this metric, the fact that Ohio's Attorney General is already assailing marijuana reform proposals in Ohio shows that these proposals are already pretty serious and important.
This NPR report provides details on the brief discussion of federal marijuana law and policy during her first day of confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch:
[S]he was asked about marijuana, and whether she supports legalizing it. "Senator, I do not," Lynch told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., when he asked if she supported making pot legal.
The moment stood in contrast to other exchanges between Lynch and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as she defended Obama's right to take executive action on immigration rules and aligned herself with the president's view on U.S. interrogation programs, saying, "Waterboarding is torture."
Sessions asked Lynch about marijuana during the afternoon portion of her hearing. And he noted that the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency also disagrees with the idea of legalizing marijuana.
The senator then read aloud a quote from President Obama from last January, in which he told The New Yorker, "I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."
When Sessions asked Lynch if she agreed with that assessment, she said, "Well senator, I certainly don't hold that view, and don't agree with that view of marijuana as a substance. I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion – neither of which I am able to share."
She added, "Not only do I not support legalization of marijuana – it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently, to support the legalization, nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general."
Monday, January 26, 2015
Yes, according to the authors of "Fear and Loathing in Colorado: Invoking the Supreme Court's Jurisdiction to Challenge The Marijuana-Legalization Experiment." Their proposed remedy? Similar to any other polluter, Colorado should pay damages to neighboring states to compensate them for "negative externalities."
Here's the abstract:
In this Article, we assert that States may invoke the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction to challenge Colorado’s marijuana-legalization experiment; the most appropriate remedy is damages. The Constitution endows the Court with jurisdiction to adjudicate suits between States. Historically, such cases generally fall into three categories: conflicts over boundary lines, water-rights disputes, and cross-border nuisances. Suits challenging the marijuana-legalization experiment would implicate the last category. Such suits once comprised a relatively common part of the Court’s docket. The number of these actions fell dramatically in the late-1970s following Congress’s passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts, rendering the Court’s historic role of establishing and enforcing interstate environmental standards obsolete. Colorado’s introduction of recreational marijuana into the stream of interstate commerce has reawakened this long-dormant body of constitutional law. Like downstream pollution produced by industrial operations, the cross-border externalities resulting from Colorado’s introduction of marijuana into the stream of interstate commerce fall squarely within the ambit of the Court’s original jurisdiction. The exercise of this jurisdiction is most appropriately applied “to questions in which the sovereign and political powers of the respective states [are] in controversy” — and in particular, those involving a quarrel for which a “sovereign State could seek a remedy by negotiation, and, that failing, by force.” The current controversy presents just such a case.
In such a controversy the Court should award damages to a prevailing state, using the Coase Theorem as its guide. The theorem states that if transaction costs are eliminated, “parties will negotiate the efficient solution to private nuisance problems.” Real-world application of the Coase Theorem is attained through the application of legal rules that best approximate the way disputes would be resolved in the absence of transaction costs. Such an outcome is best effectuated by a rule charging the nuisance with the damages it causes. As Coase observed, “when a damaging business has to pay for all damage caused” market forces will determine which of the competing enterprises should prevail, coercing the partisans to allocate their resources in the most economically efficient manner. If compelling a polluter to internalize the cost of his pollution drives him out of business, then his enterprise was not the most economically efficient use of the property and his interests should yield to that of his neighbors. In contrast, if the polluter assumes responsibility for all the costs of his venture and still realizes a sufficient profit to stay in business, then his use of the land is most efficient, and his neighbors should yield to his interest. If this remedy is applied, the market will determine the success or failure of Colorado’s marijuana legalization experiment and will serve as a guide to other states in deciding whether Colorado’s venture is worth emulating. This remedy respects the sovereignty of all States, leaving it to the market, not the Court, to decide which of the competing policies should prevail.
You may not agree with the authors' perspective [I didn't]; but the article provides some good background information on "original jurisdiction."
The title of this post is the title of this notable new report coming from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here is its abstract:
This technical report updates the 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics abstract technical report on the legalization of marijuana. Current epidemiology of marijuana use is presented, as are definitions and biology of marijuana compounds, side effects of marijuana use, and effects of use on adolescent brain development. Issues concerning medical marijuana specifically are also addressed. Concerning legalization of marijuana, 4 different approaches in the United States are discussed: legalization of marijuana solely for medical purposes, decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana, legalization of recreational use of marijuana, and criminal prosecution of recreational (and medical) use of marijuana. These approaches are compared, and the latest available data are presented to aid in forming public policy. The effects on youth of criminal penalties for marijuana use and possession are also addressed, as are the effects or potential effects of the other 3 policy approaches on adolescent marijuana use. Recommendations are included in the accompanying policy statement.
The AAP's updated policy statement referenced at the end of this abstract is available at this link, and here are three of the most notable of the ten recommendations appearing at the end of the policy statement:
The AAP opposes “medical marijuana” outside the regulatory process of the US Food and Drug Administration. Notwithstanding this opposition to use, the AAP recognizes that marijuana may currently be an option for cannabinoid administration for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.
The AAP opposes legalization of marijuana because of the potential harms to children and adolescents. The AAP supports studying the effects of recent laws legalizing the use of marijuana to better understand the impact and define best policies to reduce adolescent marijuana use.
The AAP strongly supports research and development of pharmaceutical cannabinoids and supports a review of policies promoting research on the medical use of these compounds. The AAP recommends changing marijuana from a Drug Enforcement Administration schedule I to a schedule II drug to facilitate this research.
January 26, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
As highlighted in this prior post, earlier this month the RAND Drug Policy Research Center released this big policy/research report on marijuana reform titled "Considering Marijuana Legalization: Insights for Vermont and Other Jurisdictions." This report was produced in response to specific Vermont legislation and expressly "aims to inform the debate in Vermont." Nevertheless, the report's summary ends by asserting that the report's "general themes should be useful to any jurisdiction considering alternatives to marijuana prohibition."
I am certain policy-makers and advocates for and against reform will find this RAND report "useful" in various ways, and I have already required students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar to review the RAND report with an eye on how its analysis might impact consideration of various marijuana reform proposals emerging in Ohio. But I continue to wonder if (and worry that) there is ultimately a strong disaffinity among most marijuana advocates to seriously engage with the kind of "wonkish" cost/benefit analysis that the RAND report represents.
I sense that supporters of marijuana reform are often eager to deny that there are any significant costs likely to result from reform, and likewise that opponents of marijuana reform are often eager to deny that there are any significant benefits likely to result from reform. Consequently, I suspect (and fear) that the most ardent participants in policy debates on both sides may not want something like the RAND report at the center of reform discussions because it presents a more nuanced account of costs and benefits than advocates may want to acknowledge.
Friday, January 23, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece via Quartz. Here are excerpts (with links from the original):
By 1970, legislation codified cannabis as one of the nation’s most dangerous drugs: the Controlled Substance Act classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it possessed high potential for abuse and had no acceptable medical use. Over 40 years later, the classification remains.But research has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addictsand preventing overdoses. Massachusetts, which recently legalized medical marijuana — and where heroin overdoses have soared — could be a fertile testing ground for this potentially controversial treatment.Before being criminalized, marijuana was used in the US to cure depression and a variety of other mental health ailments. Many studies have supported the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, along with the ability of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredients to treat nausea, help with weight loss, alleviate chronic pain, and mitigate symptoms of neurological diseases.Other research, however, contradicts claims regarding the benefits of cannabidiol treatment. Some say marijuana actually poses a risk for psychosis and schizophrenia. Although the FDA has approved some synthetic cannabinoids for medical treatment, federal agencies do not support marijuana as a legitimate medicine until more clinical studies have been conducted....Among drug treatment specialists, marijuana remains controversial. Although some research has shown marijuana to be an alternative treatment for more serious drug addiction, addiction treatment specialists still view marijuana as highly addictive and dangerous. These views handicap policy reform, but despite its status as a Schedule 1 drug, recent research shows marijuana could be part of the solution to the most deadly drug epidemic our country has seen in decades.In 2012 Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, though the first 11 dispensaries are not scheduled to open until sometime in the coming year. This situation presents an opportunity to implement sensible, research-based policy.Massachusetts, like many states across the US, has seen a dramatic rise in opioid addition fueled by the increase in opiate prescription pills. In Boston, heroin overdoses increased by 80% between 2010 and 2012, and four out of five users were addicted to pain pills before turning to heroin.Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among the Boston’s homeless population has shifted from AIDS complications to drug overdoses, with opiates involved in 81% of overdose deaths. This is an alarming finding given recent expansion in clinical services for the city’s homeless.Addiction specialists and health care professionals in Boston have been at the forefront of integrating behavioral and medical care. Naloxone and methadone are currently the main solutions to address the growing opiate addiction and overdose problem. But Naloxone is an overdose antidote, not a cure or a form of preventative therapy.Methadone, like heroin and other opioids, has a very narrow therapeutic index (the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose of a drug). This means that a small change in dosage can be lethal to the user. Marijuana, however, has one of the safest (widest) therapeutic ratios of all drugs.Research shows that marijuana has been used as a form of self-treatment, where users take cannabis in lieu of alcohol, prescription opiates, and illegal drugs. That’s one reason why researchers are calling for marijuana to be tested as a substitute for other drugs. In this capacity, marijuana can be thought of as a form of harm reduction. While researchers don’t seek to discount some of the drug’s potential negative effects, they view it as a less damaging alternative to other, harder drugs. Despite these findings, marijuana is rarely incorporated in formal drug treatment plans.A recent study might change this policy. Comparing states with and without legalized medical marijuana, it found a substantial decrease in opioid (heroin and prescription pill) overdose death rates in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws. In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that medical marijuana should be part of policy aimed to prevent opioid overdose....Since Massachusetts has not yet opened its medical marijuana dispensaries, it is too early to see if medical marijuana legislation will help reduce opiate addiction in the Commonwealth. Using recent research findings, Massachusetts policymakers have a unique opportunity to implement medical marijuana policies that address its contemporary opiate overdose. Medical marijuana could be part of drug treatment for heroin and opiates.For homeless people, however, getting a marijuana card is expensive and buying medical marijuana from a dispensary is beyond their economic means. Street drugs are more prevalent in their social setting, easier to obtain, and can be much cheaper. From a policy perspective, addressing the alarming rates of overdose deaths among the homeless in Boston could mean distributing medical marijuana cards to homeless addicts for free and providing reduced cost medical marijuana.Formerly demonized and later legislated as a Schedule 1 substance, marijuana could diminish the damage wrought by harder drugs, like heroin. While opioid use is a nationwide epidemic, Massachusetts — long at the forefront of developing scientifically based public policy — has the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, socially-informed drug policy.
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable recent Denver Post article sent my way by one of my terrific students. The article is headlined "Oregon bank opens doors to Colorado marijuana businesses," and here are excerpts:
An Oregon bank is openly offering service to the marijuana industry in Colorado at a time when banks here are lurking mostly in the shadows. MBank, based outside Portland, is part of a growing number of financial institutions, mostly Washington-based credit unions, that are banking openly with marijuana businesses.
But it is the first to venture across state lines and the only bank to announce publicly that it is serving Colorado marijuana businesses. The bank said it also is taking marijuana-related deposits in Washington, the other state where recreational pot is legal and has been serving Oregon-based medical marijuana dispensaries since September.
While some industry analysts see its announcement as somewhat brazen, considering pressure from regulators to keep any participation with the marijuana sector quiet, MBank officials say they're confident it's a good idea. "It's a bold maneuver and not one for a lot of folks to take on," MBank president and CEO Jef Baker said Tuesday. "We looked to regulators, both state and federal, to help us come to the conclusion that we can do banking in this sector."
The $165 million bank, in business since 1995, is putting trust in what it said is "tacit approval" — bank-speak for acceptance that isn't in writing — from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "We had to vet the program and expose ourselves to additional audits," Baker said. "But to be sure, we've put together something that meets without objection, though not necessarily specific approval."
An FDIC spokesman said the agency does not comment on bank operations.
MBank partnered with Guardian Data Systems to hook marijuana businesses. Already about five in Colorado have established accounts, Baker said, with about 30 other applications pending. "Finding access to traditional banking services has been one of the most daunting challenges faced by owners and operators in our industry" said Lance Ott, principal at GDS, which is handling the preliminary screening of account applicants.
"To date, there has not been a permanent (federally) compliant solution to the cannabis industry. With this partnership, cannabis industry operators no longer must shield the nature of their business from banking institutions," he said....
Federal regulators have offered guidance to bankers willing to work with the industry, mostly by requiring a restrictive set of rules and filing reports about account-holder transactions. Bankers balked at opening their doors to the industry, at least publicly. Some business owners offered anecdotes of account closures if even a hint of their participation became known to others. As a result, banks willing to work with the industry have remained a trade secret that businesses protect.
A number of business solutions — such as point-of-sale ATMs and credit-card processing machines — regularly are offered to marijuana shops, but all require the participation of a bank and the vendors aren't willing to identify their partner.
For that reason, Colorado bankers doubt that MBank's openness will work. "I wonder if this bank will suffer the fate as those in Colorado that tried to work openly, only to be told to close accounts," said Jenifer Waller, vice president of the Colorado Bankers Association. "I'm not sure Colorado banks will step out again after this since each test trial has met with the same result: closed accounts."
Colorado Springs State Bank was the last to openly work with the marijuana industry here. In October 2011, it closed about 300 industry accounts amid concerns about working with companies that violate federal law.
Marijuana remains on the government's list of illegal drugs, and no bank has stepped into the light since. That has not happened in the Pacific Northwest, where others willing to openly bank the pot industry have crept forward, including Washington credit unions in Olympia, Spokane and Seattle.
Although Colorado awaits the opening of the world's first pot credit union, that won't happen until federal regulators approve a master account for the Fourth Corner Credit Union to operate....
MBank first took on Oregon-based medical marijuana businesses in September after clearing its plan with state and federal regulators, but at the time it remained focused on dispensaries in that state alone. That changed as the bank saw opportunity in "an underserved sector," Baker said.
MBank won't have a physical office or employees in Colorado. Cash deposits are to be picked up by contracted armored-car services and brought to a Federal Reserve System bank, such as the one located in downtown Denver. Deposits are then credited to MBank's account and further credited to the account of the marijuana business. "It's all electronic and never physically crosses state lines," Baker said. MBank has established a limit of 35 new accounts for marijuana businesses each month for the first year, which works out to be a convenient number: 420.
I had lately been thinking that Section 538 of the cromnibus act passed by Congress last month, which forbids the use of money by the Department of Justice for interfering with State laws implementing medical marijuana programs, might embolden more banks to openly move into the marijuana business sector. I am not sure if Section 538 fully explains MBank's moves now, but I am sure more and more financial institutions will move into this space if and when it becomes clear that the feds will not go after those who provide responsible banking services to state-approved marijuana businesses.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
As this BBC article details, jurisdictions within the United States are not the only places in the Americas moving forward with marijuana reform. The article is headlined "Jamaica considers marijuana legalisation and production," and here are excerpts:
The Jamaican cabinet has approved a bill that legalises the possession of small amounts of marijuana. It means that for the first time the country's Rastafarian community, which uses the herb for religious purposes, could be able to smoke it legally.
The bill also envisages a licensing authority for the cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana for medical and therapeutic purposes. It goes to the senate this week for approval. The bill also proposes that the smoking of marijuana will be banned in public spaces.
South and Central America and the Caribbean countries have been battling the impact of drug trafficking and drug use for decades. Cocaine and marijuana produced in the region is transported through many countries, their citizens turned into consumers by the trade.
But the BBC's Candace Piette says that as trafficking and drug consumption have continued to grow, many governments have begun to recognise that heavy-handed tactics and the crackdown on drugs has failed....
In Mexico, Colombia and Argentina marijuana possession in small amounts was decriminalised a few years ago, and Argentina is drafting a set of proposals to loosen restrictions on possession.
In Guatemala, President Otto Perez Molina is proposing moves to push for the legalisation of marijuana and potentially other drugs. Chile and Costa Rica are also debating the introduction of medical marijuana policies.
Uruguay last year became the first country in the world to approve the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana.
Monday, January 19, 2015
This lengthy local article, headlined "Social-conservative lawmaker fights for legalizing medical marijuana," notes that a notable Republican Senator in the Keystone state has become noted for his "pot proselytizing." Here are excerpts from the piece:
Standing amid the lunchtime crush at the Pennsylvania Farm Show last week was a gray-haired man in deck shoes and a fleece vest, animatedly pitching an unusual - and illegal - product. Like a street-corner preacher, Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) was bringing his message to the people - in his case thousands of voters he hopes will pressure their representatives to support his bill to legalize medical marijuana.
Folmer stops anyone who will listen, alternately delivering a rant against Big Pharma - which he blames for holding up federal approval of medical cannabis - and smiling at wise-cracking visitors who ask, "Any free samples?"
"I feel like a missionary," he said Friday, pausing to pop in a throat lozenge before beginning his pot proselytizing again. "I'm a Bible-believing Presbyterian. I don't even drink."
But Folmer, a 59-year-old grandfather of seven and a social conservative from a largely rural district northeast of Harrisburg, was moved by two mothers who stopped in his office 18 months ago. They told him they believed medical marijuana could ease their children's epileptic seizures without the damaging side effects of the narcotics that doctors had been prescribing. Skeptical, he hit his computer to find out and soon became a convert to the cannabis cause.
"It was very compelling," he said. "I learned that it is nontoxic, no one's going to die. So I figured, no harm, no foul. There are too many sick people." He teamed up with one of the state's most liberal lawmakers, Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery). Their original bill cleared the Senate by a wide margin (43-7) before dying in the House last fall.
When the new legislative session opened in December, Folmer immediately reintroduced the bill. It calls for letting patients purchase medical cannabis with a doctor's recommendation from centers licensed by a newly created board. Medical cannabis growers, processors, and dispensers would be licensed and regulated. Users would pay an access fee and would be barred from operating vehicles while taking the medication....
Folmer said neither parents of sick children nor adults with chronic conditions want to wait - or should wait - any longer. In his view, patients suffering from a range of illnesses are being prescribed narcotic cocktails of highly addictive and dangerous drugs that have little effect on these disorders.
On Friday, when a brisk but sunny afternoon drew a steady crowd to the show, Patti Bach breezed past Folmer's booth. She didn't need information. She already knew about the bill and voted against lawmakers who did not support it. "I eat Vicodin like candy," said Bach, 56, of Carlisle, who said she suffers from debilitating chronic pain. "Cannabis could reduce the pain and allow me to function."
Bach, who said her 30-year-old daughter has severe epilepsy, said she had researched the issue extensively and discussed it with her doctor. "He said as soon as it's legal he would prescribe it for me," she said.
Monica Kline, a Harrisburg lobbyist who raises alpacas in Folmer's district with her husband, a former Army pilot, donated the booth space at the farm show. Kline said her husband, a Vietnam veteran, hated to see returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder unable to find relief. Nor could she, who helps a mothers' advocacy group, bear to see another child suffer needlessly. "We knew we had to change our booth," said Kline, daughter of former Lt. Gov. Ernest Kline. "Parents were losing children."...
The bill stands a solid chance of becoming law if it reaches the desk of the incoming governor. "Gov.-elect Wolf supports the legalization of medical marijuana because he believes we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy," said his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan. House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) opposed the measure as GOP leader last year, but new House Majority Leader David Reed (R., Indiana) was a cosponsor of a House version of the bill....
Folmer says he thinks he can win passage of his bill in the Senate by spring. Still, he said he feels every day he's in a race against the clock. "My greatest fear is that I am going to get a call from one of the moms that one of the children has died," he said. "I'm not saying marijuana is a cure, but people ought to have the opportunity for help."
It bears noting in the context of this story that Pennsylvania's state motto is "Virtue, liberty, and independence." Kudos to this social-conservative lawmaker for showing such a commitment to these values in his work on this front.
January 19, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, January 18, 2015
The front-page of today's New York Times has this notable lengthy article about a notable problem increasing in Colorado since marijuana legalization. The piece is headlined "Odd Byproduct of Legal Marijuana: Homes That Blow Up," and here is how the article starts:
When Colorado legalized marijuana two years ago, nobody was quite ready for the problem of exploding houses. But that is exactly what firefighters, courts and lawmakers across the state are confronting these days: amateur marijuana alchemists who are turning their kitchens and basements into “Breaking Bad”style laboratories, using flammable chemicals to extract potent drops of a marijuana concentrate commonly called hash oil, and sometimes accidentally blowing up their homes and lighting themselves on fire in the process.
The trend is not limited to Colorado — officials from Florida to Illinois to California have reported similar problems — but the blasts are creating a special headache for lawmakers and courts here, the state at the center of legal marijuana. Even as cities try to clamp down on homemade hash oil and lawmakers consider outlawing it, some enthusiasts argue for their right to make it safely without butane, and criminal defense lawyers say the practice can no longer be considered a crime under the 2012 constitutional amendment that made marijuana legal to grow, smoke, process and sell.
“This is uncharted territory,” said State Representative Mike Foote, a Democrat from northern Colorado who is grappling with how to address hashoil explosions. “These things come up for the first time, and no one’s dealt with them before.”
Saturday, January 17, 2015
RAND produces big new policy report: "Considering Marijuana Legalization: Insights for Vermont and Other Jurisdictions"
As reported in this local AP piece, headlined "RAND study: Marijuana legalization could be big bucks from sales, tourism," the RAND Drug Policy Research Center has just released a big new report on marijuana reform with a focus on Vermont. The AP piece provides an effective summary of the basics of the RAND report and local political recaction in Vermont:
Vermont could reap hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue if it were to legalize marijuana, but only if nearby states didn't also jump on the bandwagon, according to a study released Friday.
The study comes as states across the country increasingly explore the potential budget boost from taxing an underground industry, even while the nascent legal pot business in Colorado and Washington experiences growing pains.
In Vermont, the Rand Corporation found that revenue from marijuana consumers could generate between $20 million and $75 million a year for the state. The larger figure could be reached through what the report calls "marijuana tourism and illicit exports." It also found that nearly 40 times as many marijuana consumers live within 200 miles of Vermont than live in the state.
The preface to the report, which doesn't make a recommendation about whether the state should legalize marijuana, says it's meant to "inform the debate." While it was prepared for Vermont, it says its conclusions could be useful to other states considering marijuana legalization.
Such high revenue is by no means assured, the report said. "If the federal government intervened to stop such cross-border traffic or if another state in the Northeast decided to legalize marijuana and set lower tax rates, these potential revenues might not materialize," it said.
Vermont allows the use of medical marijuana, and the possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he believes the state will follow Washington and Colorado in legalizing it, but he wants to see how it plays out in other states before easing laws. "I continue to support moves to legalize marijuana in Vermont but have always said that we have to proceed with rigorous research and preparation before deciding whether to act," Shumlin said. "This report will help us do that."
The price of marijuana in Washington has plunged since the sky-high prices when pot shops opened six months ago, and now growers complain the state isn't properly regulating supply. Regulators in Colorado have capped production to deter weed from spilling into nearby states, but that has meant more demand than supply.
Last spring, the Vermont Legislature passed a law requiring Shumlin's administration to produce a report about the consequences of legalizing marijuana. No proposals to legalize marijuana have been introduced in the Legislature. After the Friday presentation by the report's authors, portions of it were recounted during a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee. "It seems to me the big question is do we go forward with this," said Committee Chairwoman Janet Ancel, D-Calais. She said the question on how to tax it is complicated.
The report provided few hard answers. It said that many questions can't be answered in advance, such as whether easing marijuana laws would increase abuse and how to keep it from minors and out of other states. "There is no recipe for marijuana legalization," the report said, "nor are there working models of established fully legal marijuana markets."
Here are links to the full report and materials that RAND released with this report:
January 17, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new ABC News- 20/20 piece headlined "Washington Parents Using Marijuana Accused of Child Abuse." Here are the basics:
While most parents probably want to keep their kids away from marijuana, one mom and dad were accused of child abuse for their avid use of the drug. “[I use it] pretty much every day,” Jesse Thompson, 30, told ABC News’ “20/20.”
Jesse and his wife Vicca Thompson, are from Sedro-Wolley, Washington, where marijuana use, including recreational, is now legal. The Thompsons are both medical marijuana users with doctor’s prescriptions. Jesse Thompson, a cancer survivor, takes it for pain, while Vicca Thompson, 43, uses it for arthritis and a nervous condition. They run their business, a medical marijuana dispensary and garden store called the Grow Shop, where they sell home-grown strains of marijuana as well as marijuana edibles, and are strong advocates of medical marijuana.
The two are also parents to 5-year-old Jerry and 13-year-old Sohani, Vicca Thompson’s son from a previous marriage. But they insist they are still capable of being responsible parents even when they’re high. “It just means I have an elevated mood. It doesn’t mean I’m incapacitated or that I can’t think straight,” Vicca Thompson told “20/20.” “I’m on pot right now, and I’m able to parent.”
But there is an apparent gap between the enforcement of child protection laws and marijuana statutes. In many cases, child protection services are taking children away from legal, legitimate users of medical marijuana. Not all types of medical marijuana gets you high, but a lot of it is psycho-active, which can get you high.
“We have irrefutable evidence that it’s damaging for kids,” Dr. Leslie Walker told “20/20.” “Kids who think their parents approve of it are six times more likely to begin using marijuana and begin using much earlier than the average high school age.”
In November 2014, authorities came for the Thompsons’ son Jerry. The Thompsons said they had an employee that they let go. "About a month later, she … called CPS,” Jesse Thompson said, referring Child Protective Services. “She told them that we not only are feeding our children marijuana all the time, but that they have access to it in our home and in our business.”
Within days of that call, CPS questioned Jerry’s half-brother Sohani, who told authorities that his mom fed him a goo ball. A goo ball, Vicca Thompson explained, is a “peanut butter raisin ball,” medicated with psycho-active marijuana. “He gets aggressive and is too mean, sometimes ... and just needs to ... look inside and relax,” Vicca Thompson said.
After that, the city quickly shut down the Grow Shop. When CPS requested a meeting with the Thompsons, Jesse asked to wait until their attorney was able to attend. CPS didn’t reschedule the meeting, Jesse Thompson said, and instead, decided to take Jerry away and made him live with an aunt. The Thompsons could only see their son by visiting him at the local CPS office. “It’s destroying me. I can’t not be with my son. He is all that matters,” Jesse Thompson said of having Jerry taken away.
Vicca Thompson’s son Sohani went to live with his father full-time. “I felt like my heart might stop,” said Vicca Thompson.
The Thompsons went to court to fight to get Jerry back home. CPS had Jerry take a hair follicle drug test. When the results came back, Jerry tested positive for THC, the psycho-active ingredient in marijuana.
Vicca and Jesse Thompson were accused of posing a risk to Jerry's well-being by feeding marijuana to him. They denied doing so, but Vicca Thompson said she did rub a marijuana salve on his skin to treat a rash, which would not put him at risk of getting high. After weeks of stilted, supervised meetings with Jerry and numerous hearings, the court commissioner allowed Jerry to come home with the Thompsons on Jan. 7. He stated he saw no other evidence of harm even though there was evidence of THC in Jerry's body.
“The law says there has to be serious physical harm. A child who ingests an edible is not going to suffer serious physical harm,” attorney Jennifer Ani, who has represented a mother who had her child taken away for her legal marijuana use, told “20/20.” “They may go to sleep. They may be out of it. Children can't be removed because of bad judgment. If they could, lots of people wouldn't have kids because we all make mistakes.”
The court commissioner set strict conditions for Jerry’s return home that included making sure he was not exposed to marijuana smoke or edibles in any form. If Jerry were to test positive, the court commissioner said he would not be allowed to live with the Thompsons. “We’re going to hide the marijuana,” Vicca Thompson said after Jerry returned home. “I definitely feel like I shouldn’t give it to children.”
But Vicca Thompson said if it was legal to give marijuana to children, she would do so. “If I lived somewhere else and a doctor was looking over me, telling me that it was okay, then I would think, ‘Yeah, it's totally safe,’ especially to put salve on a cut or a rash,” said Vicca Thompson.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
The question in the title of this post is the question I am asking myself as I gear up for second year of teaching my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform Seminar. As the National Law Journal highlighted in this lengthy article, headlined "Law Schools Firing Up Marijuana Law Classes," a law school course devoted specifically to marijuana laws and policies was novel back in Fall 2013 when I first taught my seminar, but not it is becoming all the rage. Specifically, I am aware of marijuana-focused courses this Spring being offered at:
University of Denver College of Law, titled "Representing the Marijuana Client"
Hofstra University School of Law, titled "Business and Law of Marijuana"
Santa Clara University College of Law, titled "Drug Policy Practicum"
Vanderbilt Law School, titled "Marijuana Law & Policy"
Conversations with some of the professors teaching these courses, and even the diverse course titles themselves, strongly suggest that various (and perhaps very distinct) themes and materials will be at the center of these various courses. But I am wondering now whether all the different students in all these different courses will (or should) get exposed to certain essential marijuana law materials.
To this end, I know that Vanderbilt's Rob Mikos is working on a casebook tentatively titled Marijuana Law and Policy, and I surmise his (somewhat traditional?) law school course is focused a good bit on the substance of federal and state marijuana laws and the (ever-evolving) doctrinal implications of these laws. In contrast, I have found myself inclined to focused my seminar on the social and political history of intoxicant prohibitions in the United States and the (ever-evolving) prospects for and potential consequences of continued marijuana law reforms. Consequently, I am not going to expect my students to delve too deeply into the doctrinal intricacies of particular state and federal laws.
Ironically, one reason I have been encouraging more and more folks to consider developing new courses around marijuana law, policy and reform is because I see so many distinct and distinctly valuable ways to present recent legal developments to students and to encourage them to think critically about the modern marijuana reform movement. And yet, as the title of this post indicates, I am finding myself growing ever more concerned that law professors working in this space should perhaps be working toward identifying a core cannabis canon.
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Jacob Sullum commentary at Forbes. Here are excerpts:
Drug dogs typically are trained to detect marijuana and several other substances. When they smell one of those drugs, they are supposed to alert their handlers with a signal such as barking, scratching, or sitting down. But the dogs cannot indicate which drug they have smelled, let alone distinguish different quantities—a crucial issue in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, where adults 21 or older are allowed (or soon will be allowed) to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public.
Until recently, those canine limitations did not matter, because any quantity of marijuana was unambiguously illegal throughout the country. But the ongoing collapse of marijuana prohibition is undermining the legal assumptions that have made drug-detecting dogs such a handy law enforcement tool, one that can be deployed at will to justify searches that would otherwise be unconstitutional.
According to the Supreme Court, letting a police dog sniff a suitcase or a car is not a search, so it does not require probable cause. At the same time, an alert by that dog provides probable cause for a search. Those conclusions, which have always been questionable because they are based on a grossly exaggerated sense of the average police dog’s accuracy, look even shakier in light of marijuana legalization....
Washington State Patrol and the Seattle Police Department [have] decided to phase out the use of marijuana-trained dogs, gradually replacing them with animals that alert only to heroin, methamphetamine, crack, and cocaine powder. Police in some Oregon jurisdictions, including Clackamas County and Medford, also are moving away from marijuana-trained dogs....
The Tacoma Police Department is sticking with conventionally trained dogs, and so are police in several Colorado cities, including Denver, Aurora, Lakewood, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs. New dogs are expensive (about $15,000 each if fully trained, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette), and these departments say the old ones are still useful in certain situations, such as school searches, or in conjunction with other sources of evidence.
Some cops say they are waiting for guidance from state courts. “There are so many unanswered questions,” the officer in charge of K-9 training at the Colorado Springs Police Department told Bloomberg News. “There have not been any test cases to say yes or no, we do not have the right to do this.”
Other departments are being more proactive. The Gazette reports that Loveland, a city about 50 miles north of Denver, is phasing out its marijuana-detecting dogs based on advice from the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office. “It basically goes back to the Fourth Amendment prohibition on illegal searches,” a police spokesman told the paper. “We want to make sure we aren’t infringing on people’s rights.”
The Cato Institute has posted this short research brief in which a group of social scientists summarize this study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health titled "Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicides by Gender and Age." Here are excerpts from the research brief (with references removed and my emphasis added):
Our research examines the relationship between medical marijuana laws (hereafter MMLs) and suicides. While the majority of people who suffer from mental illness do not commit suicide, over 90 percent of those who do commit suicide have a diagnosable mental or substanceuse disorder. The relationship between marijuana use and suicide-related outcomes (e.g., depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts) has been studied extensively, but there have been no previous attempts to estimate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and completed suicides, the tenth leading cause of death in the United States....
Our empirical analysis draws on data from the Centers for Disease Control from 1990 through 2007 to examine the relationship between legalizing medical marijuana and suicide rates. This empirical approach can be thought of as exploiting a “natural experiment” unrelated to comorbidities or personality. Our results suggest that the passage of a MML is associated with an almost 5 percent reduction in the total suicide rate.
When we examine the relationship between legalization and suicides by gender and age, we find evidence that MMLs are associated with decreased suicides among 20- through 29-year-old males and among 30- through 39-year-old males. This result is consistent with registry data from Arizona, Colorado, and Montana showing that most medical marijuana patients are male, and that roughly half are under the age of 40....
We conclude that the legalization of medical marijuana leads to fewer suicides among young adult males. This result is consistent with the oft-voiced, but controversial, claim that marijuana can be used to cope with depression and anxiety caused by stressful life events. However, the result may, at least in part, be attributable to the reduction in alcohol consumption among young adults that appears to accompany the legalization of medical marijuana.
Our study is relevant to the ongoing debate surrounding marijuana legalization for medical or recreational purposes. Opponents of these policy changes contend that any increase in marijuana use is undesirable. Yet our research suggests the public-health benefits of legalization may outweigh the costs.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this notable news story from The Cannabist about a notable new cannabis product, headlined "That weed-infused sex lube for ladies? It’ll be on Colorado shelves this month." Here are the details:
Remember when we first wrote about THC-infused sex lube Foria and its quite singular user instructions in June 2014? “Apply 4-8 sprays directly onto the clitoris, inner and outer labia and inside the vagina.”
That interview with Los Angeles-based Foria founder Mathew Gerson helped introduce the unique product to the masses, and now Gerson — who originally hails from Boulder — is debuting his special, non-psychoactive lube outside of California for the very first time. Foria will make its Colorado debut at the Native Roots location in Aspen during the Winter X-Games on Jan. 21-25.
“I came out to L.A. from Colorado, and I’ve been trying to get back ever since,” Gerson told The Cannabist. “I’m super-excited to be bringing it to Colorado, and Native Roots is a good alignment for us.”
Need a reminder on what Foria is? Per Gerson, from my June interview with him: “It’s a sensual enhancement oil designed for female pleasure — a therapeutic aphrodisiac. Women have described it as relaxing, and they’ve said it’s heightened their sensations. They’ve associated it with warming and tingling, localized in the sexual region.”...
And how have the last six months been for Foria in California? “We never could have imagined the impact it’s having on the patient community in California and how it’s spanned the spectrum of users — from younger women who are looking to deepen the level of intimacy of their own bodies to older women who are experiencing a reawakening of their own sexuality,” Gerson said. “There are a large number of women who could benefit from cannabis but who aren’t interested in the psychoactive component.”
The product’s expansion into Colorado is only the beginning; Gerson estimates Foria will be available in Washington state pot stores in the next few months.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Federalism issues and tensions with modern MJ reform becoming even harder for Congress and Prez to avoid in 2015
This lengthy new Politico piece, headlined "The new clash over cannabis: Rising tensions between states over pot put pressure on Obama to act," spotlights just some of the new challenges facing federal officials and policymakers as marijuana reform continues to heat up in the new year. Here are excerpts:
The Obama administration and many congressional Republicans have been loath to go anywhere near the experiment with marijuana legalization in Colorado and other states. But pressure is mounting on Washington to take a stand on pot, and perhaps soon.
In a lawsuit filed last month with the U.S. Supreme Court, attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma argue that Colorado’s marijuana initiative is spilling over into their neighboring, more conservative states. Marijuana arrests and prosecutions are up over the past year, they say, straining law enforcement budgets as more overtime is paid to handle the uptick in activity. And drugged driving is a growing problem, they contend.
But the neighbor states are also taking aim at a federal government that seems highly reluctant to tackle the issue. And with several more states considering legalizing recreational marijuana, the Justice Department and Congress may be forced to clarify what’s OK or not when it comes to marijuana, experts say....
The issue is emerging as a major test for attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, who will have to decide whether to embrace the hands-off approach to marijuana in the states that the Justice Department has adopted under Eric Holder — or take more decisive action to regulate it.
Experts and advocates floated a range of options if Congress or DOJ were to act, some more far-reaching or politically feasible than others. Anti-legalization advocates want an about-face from the administration: Enforce the existing federal marijuana ban and crack down on legalization regimes in Colorado and elsewhere. That’s a pipe dream for the current White House but not inconceivable if a Republican is elected president in 2016.
Pro-legalization advocates want Congress or the Obama administration to reclassify marijuana under sentencing laws so that it would carry lesser or no criminal penalties. Marijuana is currently considered a “Schedule I” drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD. Even cocaine is deemed less dangerous than pot under federal law.
Other experts say Congress should pass legislation that would deem marijuana federally legal in states that enact legal cannabis laws, thus removing ambiguity in those states. And still others want the administration to establish a standardized regulatory framework throughout the states, as the federal government does with other “vice industries.”
The urgency is expected to grow as five states are preparing recreational pot initiatives for the 2016 ballot: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. A trio of other states — Missouri, Montana and Florida — are considering similar ballot measures. Currently, recreational pot is legal in Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and Oregon; an initiative approved by Washington, D.C., voters in November is currently being challenged by some Republicans in Congress....
In many regards, Oklahoma and Nebraska’s lawsuit demonstrates a last-resort tactic for states that don’t see a willing partner in the federal government, but want to try to blunt the rising tide of legal marijuana in the U.S. But analysts are far from confident that a gridlocked Congress will summon the will to find common ground on such a divisive issue. Though some Republicans and much of the GOP base oppose legalization and would like to see the federal government step up its enforcement, others say more federal action would run counter to the party’s support of states’ rights....
Congress sent something of a mixed signal on marijuana in the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed last month. Anti-legalization hardliners, led by GOP Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, earned a potential victory by including language that might invalidate D.C.’s Initiative 71. But the bill also included language to prohibit federal agents from raiding medical marijuana facilities in states where pot is legal, codifying the Obama administration’s de facto policy.
Without action from Congress or further clarification from DOJ, friction between the states will only increase, experts say. “[I]t is a useful reminder that the Constitution recognizes that having states go their own ways is not necessarily an unalloyed good,” said Brannon Denning, a law professor at Samford University. “In some cases, we want there to be a single, national rule governing conduct in all 50 states.”
The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new Washington Post article. Here are excerpts:
Mexican traffickers are sending a flood of cheap heroin and methamphetamine across the U.S. border, the latest drug seizure statistics show, in a new sign that America’s marijuana decriminalization trend is upending the North American narcotics trade.
The amount of cannabis seized by U.S. federal, state and local officers along the boundary with Mexico has fallen 37 percent since 2011, a period during which American marijuana consumers have increasingly turned to the more potent, higher-grade domestic varieties cultivated under legal and quasi-legal protections in more than two dozen U.S. states.
Made-in-the-USA marijuana is quickly displacing the cheap, seedy, hard-packed version harvested by the bushel in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. That has prompted Mexican drug farmers to plant more opium poppies, and the sticky brown and black “tar” heroin they produce is channeled by traffickers into the U.S. communities hit hardest by prescription painkiller abuse, offering addicts a $10 alternative to $80-a-pill oxycodone.
“Legalization of marijuana for recreational use has given U.S. consumers access to high-quality marijuana, with genetically improved strains, grown in greenhouses,” said Raul Benitez-Manaut, a drug-war expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University. “That’s why the Mexican cartels are switching to heroin and meth.” U.S. law enforcement agents seized 2,181 kilograms of heroin last year coming from Mexico, nearly three times the amount confiscated in 2009.
Methamphetamine, too, has surged, mocking the Hollywood image of backwoods bayou labs and “Breaking Bad” chemists. The reality, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures, is that 90 percent of the meth on U.S. streets is cooked in Mexico, where precursor chemicals are far easier to obtain.
“The days of the large-scale U.S. meth labs are pretty much gone, given how much the Mexicans have taken over production south of the border and distribution into the United States,” said Lawrence Payne, a DEA spokesman. “Their product is far superior, cheaper and more pure.” Last year, 15,803 kilograms of the drug was seized along the border, up from 3,076 kilos in 2009....
Mexican cartels continue to deploy people as “mules” strapped with 50-pound marijuana backpacks to hike through the Arizona borderlands and send commercial trucks into Texas with bales of shrink-wrapped cannabis so big they need to be taken out on a forklift. But the profitability of the marijuana trade has slumped on falling demand for Mexico’s “brick weed,” so called because it is crushed into airtight bundles for transport across the border. Drug farmers in the Sierra Madre say that they can barely make money planting mota anymore....
The cartels, and consumers, are turning away from cocaine, too. Last year, U.S. agents confiscated 11,917 kilograms of cocaine along the Mexico border, down from 27,444 kilos in 2011. This reflects lower demand for the drug in the United States, experts say, as well as a cartel business preference for heroin and meth. Those two substances can be cheaply produced in Mexico, unlike cocaine, which is far pricier, and therefore riskier, because it must be smuggled from South America....
Heroin and meth are far easier to transport and conceal than marijuana. Especially worrisome to U.S. officials is a growing trend of more border-crossing pedestrians carrying the drugs strapped under their clothing or hidden in body cavities. “The criminals are trying to blend in among the legitimate travelers, who are 99 percent of the individuals crossing through here,” said Aki, the San Ysidro port director. “That’s the hard part for us.”...
In recent years, Mexican cartels also have begun producing higher-value “white” heroin, typically associated with traffickers from Colombia or Asia, according to DEA officials. “The Mexicans are evolving in their production abilities and getting more sophisticated,” said Payne, the DEA spokesman. “It’s not just black tar anymore.”...
The United States has an estimated 600,000 heroin users, Payne said — a threefold increase in the past five years. But that number is dwarfed by the estimated 10 million Americans who abuse prescription painkillers. Those addicts are the prime target for the booming heroin business. A U.S. crackdown on prescription opiates has driven up the price for drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet, enticing desperate addicts to switch to cheap heroin to fend off withdrawal symptoms.
The profile of U.S. heroin addiction is also changing, said Phil Herschman, chief clinical officer with the CRC Health Group, which operates 170 treatment centers in 30 U.S. states. “Now, we’re seeing housewives coming in who had been addicted to Vicodin for two or three years before switching to heroin, or adolescents who got hooked by snorting it, thinking it was safe, only to end up injecting themselves,” he said.
Advocates for marijuana reform frequently assert that legalization could and would help eliminate the profits reaped by drug cartels and the black market from illegal marijuana production and distribution. This article certainly provides support for this assertion.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Rolling Stone details how marijuana reform is "leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs"
This astute, lengthy Rolling Stone article, headlined "The War on Drugs Is Burning Out," give special and justified attention to how modern marijuana reform is changing dramatically the modern drug was landscape. The full piece is a must-read, and here are excerpts:
The conservative wave of 2014 featured an unlikely, progressive undercurrent: In two states, plus the nation's capital, Americans voted convincingly to pull the plug on marijuana prohibition. Even more striking were the results in California, where voters overwhelmingly passed one of the broadest sentencing reforms in the nation, de-felonizing possession of hard drugs. One week later, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD announced an end to arrests for marijuana possession. It's all part of the most significant story in American drug policy since the passage of the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol in 1933: The people of this country are leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs.
November's election results have teed up pot prohibition as a potent campaign issue for 2016. Notwithstanding the House GOP's contested effort to preserve pot prohibition in D.C., the flowering of the marijuana-legalization movement is creating space for a more rational and humane approach to adjudicating users of harder drugs, both on the state level and federally. "The door is open to reconsidering all of our drug laws," says Alison Holcomb, who led the pot-legalization push in Washington state in 2012, and has been tapped to direct the ACLU's new campaign against mass incarceration.
On the federal stage, the Justice Department continues to provide what Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, calls "a discreet form of leadership" on state experiments in drug reform – giving tax-and-regulate marijuana laws broad latitude, and even declaring that Native American tribal governments can also experiment with marijuana law, opening a path for recreational pot on reservations in, potentially, dozens of states. Congress, in the same legislation that sought to derail D.C. legalization, carved out historic protections from federal prosecution for state-legal medical-marijuana operations....
Top drug reformers had been wary about putting marijuana initiatives on midterm election ballots – worried that younger, pot-friendly voters might stay home, dealing the anti-Drug War movement a costly setback. "The midterm electorate in 2014 represented a wave of anti-progressive, pro-conservative voters," says the ACLU's Holcomb. Voters under 30 comprised just 12 percent of the national electorate, while voters over 60 – seniors are the one demographic that strongly opposes legalization – made up a whopping 37 percent. Nonetheless, each legalization measure passed, easily. In red-state Alaska, 53 percent endorsed legal pot. In Oregon, the tally was 56 percent – 35,000 more votes than any statewide elected official received. In Washington, D.C., legalization romped with 65 percent of the vote, carrying 142 out of the city's 143 precincts....
The issue of pot could prove more complicated on the presidential stage in 2016, where the big question, says Holcomb, is: "Will Democrats grab the issue as strongly as Rand Paul?"
Among likely 2016 contenders, of either party, the Kentucky senator is the most progressive on marijuana. He's sponsored legislation to make medical marijuana fully legal in states that have adopted it. In the last election, Paul championed the right of D.C. voters to decide on legalization for themselves. Paul has also been a vocal advocate for decriminalization, decrying the practice of booking kids for cannabis. "I don't want to encourage people to do it," he has said. "I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. But I also don't want to put people in jail who make a mistake."
If Paul were to face off in a contest with Hillary Clinton, pot could emerge as an unlikely wedge issue for the Republican – particularly in libertarian-leaning swing states like Arizona and Nevada, where legalization initiatives are expected. That's because Clinton has continued to talk like a 1990s drug warrior, recently fretting over the dangers of marijuana edibles to children in Colorado, and even declaring that "the feds should be attuned to the way that marijuana is still used as a gateway drug."...
Regardless of the final presidential matchup, pot initiatives in battleground states will make it impossible for the 2016 candidates to ignore, or to simply laugh off, the marijuana issue as they've done so often in the past, says Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority. "The road to the White House," he says, "travels through legal-marijuana territory."
January 8, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)