Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oregon on the verge of becoming third state with lawful recreational marijuana sales

In a few hours, Oregon will officially join the ranks of Colorado and Washington as states with functioning state-authorized marijuana sales for recreational purposes.  This lengthy Oregonian article, headlined "Pot won't be for sale in many Oregon cities," provides the basic lay of the land on the eve of a new era in the Beaver State.   Here are excerpts:

When recreational cannabis sales start Thursday in Oregon, consumers will be able to buy the drug at most of the state's 300-plus medical marijuana dispensaries. But some communities — ranging from Portland suburbs to cities in eastern Oregon — are keeping the door shut to storefront pot sales of any kind.

In many towns, marijuana remains shunned by the majority and is seen as something that shouldn't be given any official stamp of approval. And even where voters agreed to legalize marijuana, there are worries that retail sales will encourage youth consumption, attract crime or tarnish their commercial districts....

The taboo against the drug is particularly strong throughout many of the state's rural communities. Carol Free, a medical marijuana patient and grower in Baker City, was unable to persuade her city or county to allow even a dispensary — perhaps not a surprise given the nearly 60 percent no vote locally against the Measure 91 legalization measure last year. "It's just a huge fear factor," she said. "People are so wrapped up in the negatives about it."...

In the 15 counties — all in eastern Oregon — where at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91, city councils and county commissions can vote to prohibit marijuana businesses of any kind. In the rest of the state, local governments can refer a measure to the November 2016 ballot to ban sales.

Last, the Legislature decided to allow limited recreational sales at medical marijuana dispensaries starting Oct. 1 to give consumers a way to legally buy the drug after it's allowed under Measure 91 but before the state is ready to issue retail licenses. The Legislature left it to cities and county governments to decide whether to opt out.

At last count, governments in six eastern Oregon counties — plus 13 cities in those counties — have voted to ban medical and recreational marijuana sales, production or processing, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Meanwhile, Douglas County and eight other cities have decided to take the issue to voters next year....

In many cases, cities have placed tough zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses. Tualatin, for instance, requires a 3,000-foot buffer from residences, schools and parks that restricts them to one corner of the city. So far, no one has applied to open a dispensary there, according to City Manager Sherilyn Lombos.

Lake Oswego has a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries even though 55 percent of the city's voters approved Measure 91. At a Sept. 15 council meeting, officials fretted about how allowing marijuana businesses would affect life in one of Oregon's wealthiest enclaves....

In more isolated communities, many officials and voters hope to wall themselves off from the effects of Measure 91. "Just pure logic tells you, if there are retail sales, use will go up," said Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff, who urged officials in both his county and Baker City to ban marijuana businesses....

Don Morse, a Portland dispensary owner who heads the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said his group is organizing to fight local sales bans on the ballot next year. But he said his group is inclined to give places such as Baker County time for the culture to change. "We have no desire to go into a community and force something down their throat," Morse said. "There were some communities that remained dry for a long time after Prohibition ended."

September 30, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Wonder Drug: Inside the medical marijuana industry's wild new frontier"

The title of this post is the headline of this must-read New Republic article, which is mostly about the current crazy "wild west" world of CBD medicines.  There are many parts of the article that make it must-read in full, and here are passages that I especially wanted to highlight for commentary:

Today, dozens of companies produce CBD in an array of forms. CBD can be inhaled through vape pens, applied in topical salves, ingested in edibles, or swallowed in oil-based tinctures.  Oil has become the dominant CBD delivery method for kids with epilepsy, since it is easy to administer and ingest, and there is no shortage of it available for sale online.  There are dozens of companies boasting names like Healthy Hemp Oil, Dose of Nature, and Natural Organic Solutions, each of them selling CBD products at prices ranging from trivial to dizzyingly steep.  You don’t have to look hard to find them. If you have a PayPal account and $100 to spare, you could have a vial of hemp oil delivered to your doorstep....

In February, as part of an investigation into the marketing claims of six hemp oil companies, the FDA analyzed 18 CBD products.  What it found was disturbing: Many of these supposed CBD products were entirely lacking in CBD.  Of the products tested, six contained no cannabinoids whatsoever.  Another 11 contained less than 1 percent CBD.  The product that tested highest in CBD, at 2.6 percent, was a capsule for dogs. In states that have legalized CBD, regulations can require CBD products to contain at least 5 percent CBD, more often 10 or 15 percent....

In the end, companies like HempMedsPx are asking consumers simply to trust them. CBD oils are never subjected to systematic testing by any U.S. regulatory body.  The FDA regulates all pharmaceutical labs in the country.  But cannabis labs like the ones that HempMedsPx and others use are not, because cannabis is not federally recognized as a legal drug.

All of this makes CBD remarkably difficult for even the most dedicated health care providers to manage safely. Dr. Kelly Knupp, an associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Colorado, and the director of the Dravet Syndrome program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said families of epileptic children have tried to bring CBD oils to the hospital for testing.  “They’re just concerned that they don’t know exactly who’s growing [the hemp],” Knupp said.  “They know it’s not being regulated.”  But because CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance, high-tech, regulated laboratories, like those at the University of Colorado, can’t accept, store, or test CBD oils, lest they risk prosecution.  “There is no such lab that can take that product,” Knupp said, which leaves any testing up to the unregulated testing centers that cater to the cannabis industry....

To this point, CBD oil has existed in a kind of liminal space — at once an illegal drug, a legal medication, and some kind of “dietary” supplement. It’s possible this could change in the coming years, however. GW Pharmaceuticals, a U.K.-based firm, has developed a “pure CBD” medication called Epidiolex that has shown promising test results. It is currently on a fast-track to receive FDA clearance. For some patients, Epidiolex could be a miracle cure. This summer, in Wired magazine, writer Fred Vogelstein chronicled his family’s own struggles to find an effective treatment for his son’s epilepsy — including experiments with hemp oil — and the immense hurdles they overcame to gain access to Epidiolex prior to its FDA approval.  The drug could be for sale on pharmacy shelves in the near future, though exactly how near is hard to say.

For the sake of all the individuals and families struggling with seizure disorders, I sincerely hope that all the emerging CBD treatments being promoted by private industry are much more than snake oil. But I find especially remarkable the sad reality that the blanket prohibition of marijuana in any form at the federal level means that it is near impossible for a person to even have access to a credible lab in order to try to research whether a CBD oil marketed to suffering persons is even what it claims to be. What a sad mess, and one that I hope will get cleared up before too long at the federal level by efforts to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

September 30, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

South Dakota tribe poised to open "marijuana resort" to serve as "adult playground"

This new AP article, headlined "Nation's first marijuana resort to open in South Dakota," discusses the soon-to-be-up-and-running marijuana business at the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation. Here are the basic details:

The Santee Sioux tribe has already proven its business acumen, running a successful casino, a 120-room hotel and a 240-head buffalo ranch on the plains of South Dakota. But those enterprises have not been immune to competition and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, so the small tribe of 400 is undertaking a new venture -- opening the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation. The experiment could offer a new money-making model for tribes nationwide seeking economic opportunities beyond casinos.

Santee Sioux leaders plan to grow their own pot and sell it in a smoking lounge that includes a nightclub, arcade games, bar and food service, and eventually, slot machines and an outdoor music venue. "We want it to be an adult playground," tribal President Anthony Reider said. "There's nowhere else in American that has something like this."

The project, according to the tribe, could generate up to $2 million a month in profit, and work is already underway on the growing facility. The first joints are expected to go on sale Dec. 31 at a New Year's Eve party.

The legalization of marijuana on the Santee Sioux land came in June, months after the Justice Department outlined a new policy that allows Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana under the same conditions as some states.

Many tribes are hesitant to jump into the pot business. And not everyone in Flandreau, about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls, believes in the project. But the profit potential has attracted the interest of many other tribes, just as the debut of slot machines and table games almost 27 years ago.

"The vast majority of tribes have little to no economic opportunity," said Blake Trueblood, business development director at the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. For those tribes, "this is something that you might look at and say, 'We've got to do something.'"

Flandreau's indoor marijuana farm is set against a backdrop of soybean fields. If not for a security booth outside, the building could pass as an industrial warehouse. Inside, men are working to grow more than 30 different strains of the finicky plant, including those with names like "Gorilla Glue," ''Shot Glass" and "Big Blue Cheese."...

Tribal leaders from across the country and South Dakota legislators will tour the Flandreau facility in mid-October. "This is not a fly-by-night operation," said Jonathan Hunt, Monarch's vice president and chief grower. Tribal leaders "want to show the state how clean, how efficient, how proficient, safe and secure this is as an operation. We are not looking to do anything shady."...

Unlike the vast reservations in western South Dakota, where poverty is widespread, the little-known Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation is on 5,000 acres of gently rolling land along the Big Sioux River. Trailer homes are scarce and houses have well-trimmed lawns. The Santee Sioux hope to use pot in the same way that many tribes rely on casinos -- to make money for community services and to provide a monthly income to tribal members. The existing enterprises support family homes, a senior living community, a clinic and a community center offering afterschool programs.

Reider hopes marijuana profits can fund more housing, an addiction treatment center and an overhaul of the clinic. Some members want a 24/7 day care center for casino workers....

Since the Santee Sioux announced their plans, the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine signed a letter of intent with Monarch to build a cultivation facility for industrial hemp. The Suquamish Tribe and Washington state officials signed a 10-year agreement that will govern the production, processing and sale of pot on the tribe's land.

In the long run, Reider is certain that the benefits will outweigh the risks of tribal marijuana enterprises. The tribe, he said, must "look at these opportunities because in order to preserve the past we do have to advance in the present."

Prior related posts:

September 29, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Weed and Water Law: Regulating Legal Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper authored by Ryan Boudin Stoa available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Marijuana is nearing the end of its prohibition in the United States.  Arguably the country’s largest cash crop, marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC.  Between now and election day 2016, an additional 14 states may place marijuana legalization initiatives on their ballots. In addition, 23 states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana, with up to seven states pending legislation.  The era of marijuana prohibition is rapidly coming to a close.

At the same time, traditional doctrines of water law are struggling to cope with the modern realities of water scarcity.  Administrative agencies lack capacities to monitor and enforce water rights in real-time amid rapidly changing conditions.  As marijuana cultivation leaves the black market and enters state regulatory frameworks, legal doctrines and administrative agencies will need to adapt in order to balance existing water rights with the demands of marijuana production.  Failure to do so will encourage producers to remain clandestine while perpetuating existing conflicts between legal and illegal water users.  At present there is a gap in understanding the relationship between water rights and marijuana legalization, despite their rapid convergence.

This Article is the first to systematically address that gap.  The study begins by describing status quo marijuana production taking place outside the context of state water law doctrines, and the unsustainable conditions that often result.  Sections III and IV envision a legal marijuana market governed by the predominant doctrines of US water law: prior appropriation and riparianism.  In Section V the theoretical becomes reality, as California’s complex water laws are put to the test by the largest marijuana cultivation community in the United States.  Section VI concludes with recommendations for states in the process of legalization.  Broadly speaking, this Article finds that both common law and regulatory approaches to water allocation are capable of accommodating legal marijuana cultivation, but to minimize disruptions to existing water rights and the marijuana industry, state agencies will need to proactively adapt to the new realities of the legal marijuana economy.

September 27, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Highlighting federal tax dollars still being spent to eradicate marijuana in legalization states

This interesting local report, headlined "Feds still waging war on weed in Oregon," details that state marijuana reform does not necessarily reallocate federal resources spent on the drug war. Here are the details:

Cannabis may be legal in Oregon, but police are still waging a war on weed.  A KGW investigation found the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is sending more than $750,000 to police in Oregon this year to snuff out pot operations.

“I think the DEA’s marijuana eradication program is a huge waste of federal taxpayer dollars,” Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, told KGW.  “We have states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado that have legalized marijuana and then you’ve got the federal government trying to eradicate it,” said Lieu.  “That doesn’t make any sense.” Congressman Lieu is pushing to get rid of the DEA’s $18 million marijuana eradication program.

In Oregon, the bulk of the anti-pot money is used for police to search for marijuana farms by helicopter and then have officers trample though the woods to pull out plants. “Those of us in reform have always seen eradication programs as largely a make-work, overtime program for cops to go pull weeds and spend taxpayer money on helicopters,” said Russ Belville, executive director of Portland NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Last year, state records show drug teams in Oregon spent $275,000 for police overtime and $685,000 for use of a helicopter. In 2015, Oregon will get $762,000 from the DEA’s eradication program. In August, the Oregon Department of Justice gave $450,000 of federal money to Brim Aviation of Ashland to help look for marijuana farms....

According to intelligence reports, violent Mexican drug cartels have been connected to large outdoor marijuana farms in Oregon. These sophisticated criminal gangs have been known to protect their grow operations with armed guards, booby traps and razor-wired fences. “This program has proven effective in dismantling and disrupting drug trafficking organizations, has protected public and tribal lands from illegal marijuana grows, and in 2014 was responsible for the removal of almost 5,000 weapons from cannabis cultivators,” said Special Agent Joseph Moses of the DEA....

In 2014, police in Oregon destroyed 16,067 cannabis plants, down from 26,597 pot plants in 2013 and 27,641 plants in 2012. Drug cops theorize that Mexican drug cartels have moved away from growing pot. Instead, they’re focused on trafficking other illegal drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.

“When there were huge cartel problems, we needed that money. But now we don’t,” said Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls. Earlier this year, Falls disbanded a regional marijuana task force called SOMMER, or Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation. “I wanted to focus on person crimes,” said Falls. “Child abuse, sex assault, crimes against people.”...

“It makes no sense for one hand of government doing one thing, such as eradicate marijuana and have other parts of government, such as state governments, legalizing it,” said Rep. Lieu. “The war on marijuana has largely failed and the federal government should get out of the way.”

September 25, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is Ohio already the most interesting laboratory of democracy for marijuana reform?

A number of smart folks have talked about state-level marijuana reform as, in the words of GOP Prez candidate Ted Cruz,  "a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’”   These two new stories about marijuana reform efforts in Ohio has me thinking that the Buckeye state is already in the midst of one of the most interesting and dynamic experimental forms:

 "A medical marijuana farm for Ohio?"

Excerpt: Dr. Suresh Gupta ticked off a list of conditions that marijuana could help alleviate: nausea, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome.... Gupta is one of several wealthy donors who contributed millions to help bankroll ResponsibleOhio’s effort to place marijuana legalization on the ballot and limit marijuana growing facilities to 10 locations....

Gupta, along with a Columbus co-investor, wants to grow multiple types of marijuana at the Pataskala facility, focusing on treating specific conditions.  The nine other marijuana farms will focus on growing marijuana to be sold at retail stores.  He also plans to use about 40,000 square feet for a research facility he’s calling the International Cannabis Institute.  There, researchers, chemists and microbiologists would study the makeup of each crop and replicate the best strains, Gupta said.  “In the United States, there’s virtually no research being done,” Gupta said.

"ResponsibleOhio moves marijuana offense expungement law forward"

Excerpt: The group behind November's marijuana legalization initiative said Tuesday it had collected more than enough signatures to advance a separate measure that would allow marijuana convictions to be purged. ResponsibleOhio, the group backing Issue 3, said it collected 236,759 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the Fresh Start Act before state lawmakers next year -- 91,677 are needed to qualify....

Issue 3 would legalize recreational and medical marijuana sales and use for adults over age 21. Commercial growing would be limited to 10 sites belonging to initiative backers, and Ohioans could grow small amounts of marijuana at home. The Fresh Start Act would allow people with convictions made legal by Issue 3 and offenses made legal in the future to file a petition in court to reduce or eliminate their sentences or expunge, or destroy, their criminal records....

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said many low-level offenders are unable to obtain employment or secure housing because of criminal background checks. "This allows people ability to move forward," James said at a news conference with several Ohio clergy members.

As an initiated statute, the Fresh Start Act would go before the legislature in January 2016. Lawmakers would have four months to pass the bill, pass a revised version, or reject the bill. If the language is changed or rejected, ResponsibleOhio would have to collect some 92,000 more signatures to put the measure before voters.

The Fresh Start Act would not automatically erase records or free inmates, and it wouldn't apply to federal marijuana offenses. Offenses that are illegal now and would remain illegal under Issue 3, such as driving under the influence of marijuana, would not be eligible for expungement under the proposed law.

Both of these stories suggest marijuana legalization in Ohio, if passed by voters this Novermber, would trigger novel legal and practical development that could significant reshape future marijuana reform efforts. Indeed, the existing ballot measure in Ohio, Issue 3, is already novel and interesting because it is trying to get Ohioians to support moving from blanket prohibition to full legalization in one vote and the effort is being backrolled by a group of investors poised to have a legal advantage in the future marijuana market based on the provisions of Issue 3.

How these experimental elements of proposed reform play out in the Buckeye state is already making Ohio a laboratory of democracy worth watching. And if Issue 3 is approved by voters, Ohio seems sure to have lots of experimental developments and data that should help advance the national dialogue and debate on these matters for years to come.

September 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Massachusetts top court says marijuana reforms limit police authority to stop drivers

As reported in this Boston Globe article, headlined "SJC bans police stops solely for suspected marijuana: Court ruling cites 2008 decriminalization law," a top state court yesterday ruled that state marijuana reforms necessarily changed policy powers related to suspicion on drug offenses. Here are the details:

In a decision hailed by civil rights advocates and supporters of marijuana legalization, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that police cannot stop motorists solely because they suspect the vehicle’s occupants are in possession of the drug.

The Supreme Judicial Court based its 5-2 ruling largely on a measure that voters approved in 2008 that reduced possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil violation punishable by a fine.

“Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives” of the law change, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. Botsford wrote that allowing such stops “does not refocus police efforts on pursuing more serious crime,” another goal of changing the law.

The ruling does not prevent police from issuing citations for marijuana possession if they stop a driver for a traffic infraction, such as speeding, and later notice marijuana in plain view inside the vehicle.

otsford’s opinion was welcomed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, a group pushing for a 2016 ballot question that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement that the ruling “provides further clarification for how police officers should handle vehicle stops in the era of decriminalization, and it advances the clear message sent by voters in 2008 to refocus police activity on more serious crimes.”

Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, echoed that view, saying that with the vote to decriminalize marijuana in 2008, residents of the Commonwealth were making a statement “about how the police ought to spend their time and the taxpayers’ money.” Pulling over a car on suspicion of marijuana possession, he said, is “not consistent with the Massachusetts constitution, nor is it consistent with the will of the voters who passed decriminalization.”

David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said in a statement that troopers are not primarily concerned about a vehicle occupant who possesses an ounce or less of marijuana. He said troopers usually make observations of marijuana use after stopping a car for other reasons, such as traffic infractions.

“What does concern us about marijuana, even amounts less than an ounce . . . is whether the operator has used it and is thus driving while impaired,” Procopio said. “The voters decriminalized possession of less than an ounce. That does not mean that using less than an ounce means you are OK to drive . . . and this ruling will have no impact on the observations we use to establish probable cause for drugged driving or our determination that a driver should be charged as such.”

Botsford’s opinion followed SJC rulings in 2011 and last year finding that the odor of burned marijuana alone does not provide grounds for police to order occupants to exit a car, and that the smell of burned or unburned marijuana does not justify searching a vehicle without a warrant.

Bristol prosecutors who argued the Rodriguez case before the SJC asserted that police can stop vehicles for a civil marijuana offense, just as they can for a civil traffic offense. The court rejected that argument, finding that traffic laws promote road safety, but there “is no obvious and direct link” between issuing civil citations for marijuana possession and maintaining highway safety.

Justice Robert Cordy, in a dissenting opinion, expressed a different view, writing that even if not all civil marijuana violations affect highway safety, infractions “occurring in motor vehicles do implicate concerns regarding traffic and automobile safety.” He argued that “there is no constitutionally based reason to distinguish” motor vehicle stops for civil marijuana violations from stops for traffic infractions.

The full opinion in Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, No. SJC 11814 (Mass. Sept. 22, 2015), is available at this link.

September 23, 2015 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Detailing distinctive dynamics of marijuana reform in Oregon

Yesterday's New York Times had this lengthy article, headlined "Oregon’s Legal Sale of Marijuana Comes With Reprieve," which discusses various differences in the various approaches Oregon is taking to marijuana reform. Here are excerpts:

Oregon was not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, which happened through a state ballot vote last November, nor is it the largest. But in preparing to begin retail marijuana sales next month, it is nonetheless blazing a profoundly new trail, legal experts and marijuana business people said.

“Oregon is one of the first states to really grapple with the issue of what do you do with a record of something that used to be a crime and no longer is,” said Jenny M. Roberts, a professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C., who specializes in criminal law and sentencing....

“In criminal law reform on marijuana, Oregon has gone further than anyone else,” said Leland R. Berger, who specializes in marijuana law and practices in Portland. But the differences in Oregon’s way of handling marijuana go far beyond criminal law.

The state’s recreational marijuana taxes paid by consumers will be among the lowest in the nation. Across the border, Washington tacks on a 37 percent tax, compared with 17 percent in Oregon and a 3 percent local, optional addon.

That raises the possibility here in the Northwest, at least, of a border war, if marijuana consumers start crossing into Oregon for lower prices. (They already do for many other purchases, since Oregon has no regular state sales tax, either.) But Oregon officials say their main motive in tax policy is to better compete with the still-­illegal unregulated market at home, offering prices closer to what people are used to but with products and producers now inspected and monitored.

Oregon also rejected ideas tried in Washington and Colorado about how to monitor and license new industry participants. Washington, for example, created a set number of licenses and held a lottery to distribute them; Oregon is setting no limits on how many businesses can enter the industry. Likewise, Oregon has no barriers to so­called vertical integration ownership, in which one company can control the product from growth to sale, a practice Washington also restricts.

In Washington and Colorado, the police must administer blood tests on drivers suspected of marijuana impairment. To avoid such a tricky and cumbersome system, Oregon legislators adopted a more open­ended standard approved by voters, which lets an officer use his or her judgment as to whether a person is too high to drive.

September 22, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Highlighting that now you "can't spell POTUS without pot"

The quote in the title of this post is drawn from the first line of this notable new Denver Post article headlined "Welcome to the marijuana election, where Colorado is the star: More than prior elections, pot is becoming a prime time topic in the 2016 presidential race." Here are excerpts:

The 2016 campaign is spawning a new axiom in presidential politics: You can't spell POTUS without pot. For the first time, marijuana is becoming a significant policy issue for Republican and Democratic candidates — thanks in part to softening public attitudes toward the drug and Colorado's prominent place on the political map.

"(Marijuana) is a topic that 2016 presidential candidates will not be able to avoid or dismiss with a pithy talking point," said John Hudak, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank whose research has focused on the legalization push. "It is one that candidates will have to think about and engage."

In the Republican primary, the candidates are making marijuana an issue on their own. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would enforce federal laws to crack down on pot use in states such as Colorado. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul became the first major candidate to attend a fundraiser with the weed industry in his recent Denver visit.

But pot politics hit prime time with an extended exchange in last week's GOP debate on CNN, which drew an audience of 23 million. The focus on the topic is likely to intensify as the campaign trail leads to Colorado for the next GOP debate, in October.

"It's a national debate that's occurring, and Colorado has led the way," said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who opposed legalization. On the GOP side, he said, "I don't think you can talk about the states' rights issue without talking about the biggest states' rights issue of modern time."...

"In years past, marijuana was being brought up as sort of a gotcha question," Hudak said in an interview. The most recent debate "was really the first time in a presidential debate that marijuana was brought up as a public policy."

For Republicans, the issue remains a challenge, perplexing a number of candidates who have taken contradictory positions on the issue at different times. Josh Penry, a Colorado adviser to Republican candidate Marco Rubio, said it's an important issue that is here to stay.

"It becomes a proxy to argue, 'Are you consistent or are you not consistent on these issues?' " he said. "I think it will continue to percolate in the national election, in part because of the importance of Colorado."...

On the Democratic side, the legalization issue is a measure of liberalism, but so far the candidates are staking out middle ground. The Marijuana Policy Project recently issued a report card on the stances of the candidates and is watching the election closely as it seeks to educate and influence both parties, said Mason Tvert, the group's communications director.

A day after the debate, Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley visited Denver to meet with pot industry supporters and learn more about Colorado's system. "We should have this conversation and be informed by the true facts and the experience the people of Colorado are having on the ground here," he said of marijuana legalization.

O'Malley and rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders support decriminalization moves and medical marijuana. But Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is more cautious. All say they are watching Colorado for guidance.

Eric Sondermann, a Denver-based political analyst, said this attention is "both good news and bad news." "On the plus side, Colorado continues to be at the epicenter of the political world," he said. "On the more problematic side, many leaders — starting with the governor and the economic development community — continue to be worried about pot being so increasingly central to the Colorado brand."

September 20, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Colorado tax revenues from marijuana now clearly exceeding those from alcohol

As highlighted by this recent Forbes article, headlined "Colorado Now Reaping More Tax Revenue From Pot Than From Alcohol," the Centennial State now seems to be reaping more public revenue benefits from the wicked weed than from the golden grape. Here are the details:

The tipping point has finally occurred in Colorado: The state is raising more revenue from marijuana taxes than from alcohol.

According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the state has received nearly $70 million in tax revenue from marijuana from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, easily beating the nearly $42 million in taxes on alcohol....

Colorado is having record recreational sales this summer. In June, recreational marijuana sales hit $50 million for the first time, then in July sales rose over $55 million. If you add in medical marijuana sales, the total comes to $96 million for July, also higher than June’s total of $85 million. The portion of these sales in July that is earmarked for school construction projects is $3 million....

“It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market,” said [Mason] Tvert [of the Marijuana Policy Project] in a statement. “It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.”

September 20, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ohio editorial highlights civic engagement that marijuana issues can produce

This new Toledo Blade editorial about a recent local marijuana decriminalization vote highlights a variety of themes that I am always drawn to when discussing the various benefits of robust debate over modern marijuana law and policy.  The subheadline of the editorial highlights its coverage: "Toledoans’ vote to decriminalize marijuana has implications for voter turnout,  campaigning, and public policy."   Here are excerpts: 

Toledo voters’ decision to decriminalize marijuana in the city, reducing penalties for the drug to the minimum allowed by state law and repealing penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, drove voter turnout in this week’s municipal primary to 9 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but it doubled the turnout from the comparable election four years ago. City and state officials should pay attention.

The marijuana measure drew votes from more than 11,000 Toledoans, compared with 4,700 who voted against the proposal. More residents voted for the measure than voted for all City Council candidates on the primary ballot combined.

The plan to decriminalize marijuana, called the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance to reflect the antiquated spelling in the municipal code, drew support from Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and most other mayoral candidates. City officials now say some parts of the new ordinance may be unenforceable because they conflict with state law.

Whatever the complications of the provision, though, its broad implications are clear. The proposal will, properly, abolish Toledo’s penalties for largely victimless crimes, such as possessing and selling marijuana paraphernalia and using small amounts of the drug. It will help spare nonviolent offenders needless fines, jail time, and criminal records that can keep them out of the work force and subject them to a cycle of crime and imprisonment....

Toledo’s vote creates a strong precedent for Ohioans to dismantle further the state’s marijuana penalties; although they already are among the most lenient in the nation, they are still tough enough to cause the arrests of tens of thousands of people for possessing the drug each year. Ohio voters will get that opportunity with a proposal on the statewide ballot in November.

Whether that initiative also would give a select group of marijuana growers an unacceptable advantage in the drug’s production is, or should be, a question for Ohioans to decide. Secretary of State Jon Husted has sought to tilt the campaign debate by including nonneutral descriptors such as “monopoly” in the language voters will consider. State officials should seek to embrace, not suppress, Ohioans’ desire to assert their own policy preferences through the political process.

More important at the moment, and worthy of celebration, is the level of civic participation that Sensible Toledo, the group behind the local marijuana decriminalization campaign, has activated to draw voters to the polls. On national political issues such as a living wage, racial justice, and now this one, grass-roots organizing has engaged ordinary citizens and forced once unheard-of ideas into the political arena.

When politics is about issues, not feuds or personalities, all citizens gain.

Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Featured-Editorial-Home/2015/09/18/Make-marijuana-law-work.html#tpD1Vj1q9ijREgQm.99

September 18, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Did last night's GOP debate "open the door to legal marijuana"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this extended MSNBC article that seems to think the (relatively brief) discussion of marijuana policy during the latest GOP debate was something of a game-changer.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Marijuana had a major moment at the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, taking center stage for the first time this election season. But rather than launch a new war on drugs, several candidates endorsed the right of states to make their own decision on marijuana, clearing the way for an explosion of new pro-pot ballot initiatives in 2016.

Speaking at the presidential library of drug warrior Ronald Reagan, the GOP vanguard might have been expected to double down on opposition to the drug, promising to stamp out marijuana in America. But the biggest cheers came for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina – the three candidates who pledged to let local governments do what they want about pot.

They didn’t have a single soft word for marijuana itself, but they gave their ideological blessing to the four states where voters have already said “yes, please” to recreational markets. CNN moderator Jake Tapper set up the question with a reference to the sinking candidacy of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor who believes federal drug law should be enforced on the state level. ...

“I don’t think that the federal government should override the states,” Paul answered. “I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.” The audience erupted in applause. And he wasn’t done. “I would let Colorado do what the Tenth Amendment says,” he continued, referring to the first state to legalize marijuana. “Colorado has made their decision. And I don’t want the federal government interfering and putting moms in jail, who are trying to get medicine for their kid.”

Paul also landed a racial and social critique of the status quo, which includes arresting hundreds of thousands of people for marijuana possession, most of them nonwhite, poor, and in for a world of collateral damage as a result of a bust. That forced Jeb Bush into the conversation, where he ratified the same idea of state rights.

“What goes on in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned, that should be a state decision,” he said. “I agree with Senator Paul. I agree with states’ rights,” added Fiorina.

But unfortunately the candidates also displayed an old fashioned and largely misguided understanding of marijuana’s dangers and its rank among more dangerous drugs. Paul took the softest approach, saying that marijuana’s “only victim” is the individual. But he still called pot use “a crime.”

Fiorina, Christie and Bush, meanwhile, made no distinction between marijuana and heroin. And to varying degrees they promoted the debunked idea that marijuana is a “gateway” to harder drugs just because it often comes first in a sequence.

Fiorina gave strongest voice to the anti-drug position, unveiling a painful personal story that could have been clipped from a Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” campaign from the 1980s. “I very much hope I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing,” she said. “My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction. So, we must invest more in the treatment of drugs.”...

What Fiorina said is certainly true. Drug addiction is a killer. But the culprit is not marijuana, according to the best available research. What America is experiencing is a great heroin relapse, with the death rate for overdoses quintupling since 2002, cutting through class and color lines. Heroin today is now as popular and deadly as crack cocaine was in the 1980s. Marijuana, meanwhile, remains incapable of delivering a fatal overdose.

Chris Christie and Jeb Bush also lumped marijuana and the harder drugs and no one tried to correct them. “Here’s the deal,” said Bush. “We have a serious epidemic of drugs that goes way beyond marijuana.” He referenced New Hampshire, one of the states hardest hit by heroin overdoses. “People’s families are being torn apart.”

Chris Christie went even further, deploying some of the oldest and least defensible arguments of the old war on drugs even as he claimed the drug war has been a failure. “That doesn’t mean we should be legalizing gate way drugs,” he said. “And if Senator Paul thinks that the only victim is the person, look at the decrease in productivity, look at the way people get used and move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug, it is not them that are the only victims. Their families are the victims too, their children are the victims too, and their employers are the victims also.”

That’s a scary speech for supporters of marijuana reform, but for now it’s also a moot position. As long as Republican support for “states rights” is stronger than their distaste for marijuana use, reformers have nothing to fear.

Though I found the discussion of marijuana policy by the GOP candidates to be interesting and somewhat significant, I really did not perceive it to be a true game-changer.  To his credit, Senator Paul seemed to try to get the discussion focused a bit more on medical marijuana, and I think sharp questions to the GOP about medical marijuana reform in the states (and at the federal level) could have produced something big.  But I did not come away from what actually transpired thinking all that much had changed politically.  But I welcome other perspective on this part of the GOP debate last night.

September 17, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

With GOP debate in California and CNN seeking a real debate, should we expect a question on marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by this notable new Washington Post piece, headlined "As California considers looser marijuana laws, Paul calls out Christie." Here are excerpts:

The 15 leading Republican candidates for president have arrived in California just as the state closes in on a fully legal regime for medical marijuana.

Californians have been buying marijuana with medical exception cards since it was legalized by a 1996 ballot measure, but only this month has the state's Democratic legislature passed comprehensive bills to regulate the industry. The state's Department of Food and Agriculture would oversee cultivation; the Department of Public Health would monitor quality. Come Election Day 2016, it's highly likely that Californians will vote on whether to legalize the drug, full stop.

The survival of that experiment could depend on who gets elected president that day. Earlier this month, in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) told an audience that current experiments with legal marijuana were encouraging "lawlessness," and needed to end. "Marijuana’s illegal in the United States, yet the president allows Colorado and Washington state: Hey, get high! It’s okay! I’ll look the other way!" said Christie. "I won’t change the law, but I’ll look the other way."

A Christie administration would sprint in the other direction. As he described a friend's descent into opiate addiction -- a story he often tells to talk about New Jersey's treatment programs -- Christie said that his DEA would raid the legal pot industry in the West. "Seize their money," he said. "Seize their product. Close their stores."

In an interview here, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) -- Christie's most ready critic in the GOP field -- said that Christie's idea of raiding currently legal businesses puts him "on the wrong side of history," and wasn't even workable. "If he wants to put the parents of a kid who had 500 seizures a day away before he started moderating that with cannabinoid oil, he can say so," said Paul. "He can put someone with MS in jail. He can put someone who's just carrying a little marijuana in jail. Most Americans are not with him, and it's not going to sit well with a lot of conservatives and libertarians, I mean, is he going to send federal troops in to enforce medical marijuana laws?"

Marijuana's legal status, once dismissed as a fringe issue, has evolved after a series of quiet decisions from the Obama administration. The west's experiment with legalization -- so far, a major boost to Colorado's tax revenue -- has been treated with benign neglect. Just three months ago, the administration lifted a public health review requirement that had prevented some research into marijuana's medicinal properties. A new president could reverse all of that with a pen stroke. Only two potential presidents have said much about it.

Regular readers know I am very anxious to see marijuana laws and policies discussed on the Presidential debate stage.  The fact that Senator Paul is brining this up in advance of the debate, combined with the fact that CNN has been talking up its interest in highlighting issues concerning which the GOP candidates have distinct policy positions, has me know believing there is a real chance for a marijuana portion of tonight's big GOP event.

September 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Might Prez candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz come to defense of faith-driven marijuana user?

The question in the title of this post is  my cheeky reaction to this somewhat amusing (but still serious) story emerging from Minnesota.  The piece is headlined "Defendant cites membership in First Church of Cannabis for pot use: She says smoking doesn't violate her probation because of her 'sincerely held' religious beliefs," and here are the details:

A Golden Valley woman is asking the courts to allow her to smoke marijuana for religious reasons — because she belongs to the First Church of Cannabis.

Through her lawyer, 31-year-old Ashley Firnschild is arguing to the Hennepin County District Court that the weed’s illegality places an “undue burden” on her “sincerely held” religious beliefs as a member of the Indiana-based church established earlier this year.  The case is coming before the court because Firnschild is alleged to have smoked the weed in violation of a condition of her probation for a drug charge.

Firnschild’s use of marijuana is based on “guidance in the philosophies of her church” and her embrace of the church’s mission “establishes her dedication and sincerity to such ideologies,” the motion said.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement that selling, possessing or smoking marijuana is not a First Amendment right.  “Other folks have argued this in the past, unsuccessfully,” he said. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute this case of possession of a large amount of marijuana.”

Oral arguments on Firnschild’s motion are scheduled for Oct. 1. Firnschild’s lawyer, Camille Bryant, is arguing her case under the Minnesota Constitution, which provides greater religious freedom protections than the federal Constitution.

Although Firnschild’s argument is uncommon, the legal analysis is complicated, according to one Twin Cities law professor who cited multiple state cases where individuals have been allowed to exercise their religious convictions even though they violated state laws.

In 2014, Firnschild pleaded guilty to fifth-degree drug possession and was sentenced to community service and probation.  The previous year, police had searched her home after Hennepin County Child Protection Services alerted them to a potential marijuana-growing operation in her basement.  Police found such operations in the basement and attic. Firnschild said the drug was for personal use.

Last summer, Firnschild’s probation officer alerted the court to a possible violation of her probation for smoking marijuana.  Rather than admit to a violation, Firnschild is arguing that her religious freedom is at stake.

The church’s mission statement calls cannabis “the healing plant” and a staple of sacrament.  Members are neither required nor requested to smoke the weed, but to “embrace cannabis and hemp for betterment of the world, including medical, industrial, fuel, oil and housing,” the motion said, quoting the church doctrine.  By prohibiting her from smoking marijuana, the motion said, “she cannot adhere to the principal ideologies of her church, namely the positivity cannabis provides to the world.”

Her lawyer argues the state can’t demonstrate a “compelling interest” in banning her use of marijuana. Firnschild’s use hasn’t created a danger to the “peace or safety of the public,” nor have there been complaints, the motion said.

Michael Steenson, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, said the court will balance the state’s interest in controlling marijuana use with Firnschild’s individual right.

State courts have been reluctant to explore whether a religious belief is sincerely held. In a 1989 case, an Amish family was given traffic citations for refusing to use the brightly colored emblems signaling slow-moving vehicles because they weren’t willing to compromise their belief that the loud colors were worldly symbols. The state Supreme Court found that the family’s beliefs were sincerely held even though the Amish community as a whole wasn’t in agreement....

Steenson noted, as Firnschild’s memo did as well, that there is no alternative to smoking as a means to exercise her religion — either she can or can’t smoke marijuana. “You can see it isn’t all that simple,” he said.

Some prior related posts concerning the First Church of Cannabis:

September 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Legalized Pot Might Create Work Lawyers Fear Going After"

Images (1)The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new article in Pennsylvania's legal newpaper The Legal Intelligencer.  Here are excerpts:

As Pennsylvania continues to debate how and whether to legalize medical marijuana usage, ethics concerns and client pushback are forcing many lawyers to sit back on what could be the biggest industry to come to the state since the legalization of gaming.

Lawyers and lobbyists in support of medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania say its passage is closer than ever, with the Senate on board and the House needing to work out some competing methods for structuring the industry. But some are more subdued in their optimism, noting the passage of a budget is probably higher on the General Assembly's priority list.

The question still seems to be when, not if, and that has caused the attorneys who are interested in representing marijuana companies to seek guidance and protection. Last week, the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp called for any legislation passed in Pennsylvania to include protections for attorneys in the space.

"Lawyers representing cannabis businesses must be able to do so without fear of running afoul of the law or losing their license by representing members of the industry," said attorney Andrew B. Sacks, managing partner of Philadelphia-based Sacks Weston Millstein Diamond and a member of ATACH's Pennsylvania state-level coalition. Sacks is the first to acknowledge the request is purely symbolic given the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has sole power to outline attorney ethics rules.

"That whole area has been so hairy all across the country that ... to me, in my 31-year career, this is the biggest ethical issue that I have ever seen," Sacks said. "You have a federal law that says this is a crime and you have a state law that says we need you." A lawyer hauled before the state Disciplinary Board with only a symbolic legislative protection would have a major uphill battle, Sacks said. That is why he went to the Philadelphia Bar Association for an advisory opinion on the issue. As it turned out, the Pennsylvania Bar Association also had several similar inquiries. The two associations have been working together to issue an opinion.

According to former PBA President Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr., a joint formal ethics opinion concerning marijuana-related issues not limited to medical marijuana is under review by the PBA legal ethics and professional responsibility committee and the Philadelphia bar's professional guidance committee. "It is far along but we cannot provide a specific date when it will be finalized and issue[d]," Wilkinson said in a statement. "The PBA committee is next scheduled to meet on Sept. 30 in Pittsburgh." Sacks said the advisory opinion will be "crucial." He said he knows of a number of law firms that aren't going near the industry while the federal government still considers marijuana in the same class as heroin and cocaine.

Earlier this year, for example, Ballard Spahr reportedly withdrew from representing a marijuana dispensary in New Jersey over fears the attorneys' licenses could be put in jeopardy. And other firms with large clients in the medical and life sciences fields have been told those clients might not think too highly of marijuana-related companies on the firms' client rosters....

In the 23 other states that have some form of legalized marijuana usage, many of the states have amended attorney ethics rules to protect lawyers entering the industry. Clearfield said he would expect something similar would be needed in Pennsylvania and said there was some concern about how long that process could take and what lawyers would do in the interim....

"I think any time a new industry starts up there is a lot of work for lawyers and this is definitely going to be a new industry and state-specific," Clearfield said. Clearfield said likening the advent of the marijuana industry in the state to that of the gaming industry was an apt analogy. He said the cannabis industry will have state-specific rules and the regulatory process that will play out over years will require local lawyers with local ties. Other areas may not require locally based attorneys, such as financing and other business issues, Clearfield said.

For Sacks, he envisions legal work stemming from applications to get a medical marijuana license to zoning fights between counties regarding where the dispensaries will be located. "It will be a very large industry," Sacks said. The question is whether lawyers will feel comfortable taking a piece of that pie.

September 15, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases third annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

DownloadHigh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States."  Usefully, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform, and the last three years it has produced a annual report around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact."  Volume Three of that report, which runs nearly 200 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here is an excerpt from the report's executive summary highlighting its coverage:

Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) is tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado. This report will utilize, whenever possible, a comparison of three different eras in Colorado’s legalization history:

• 2006 – 2008: Early medical marijuana era

• 2009 – Present: Medical marijuana commercialization and expansion era

• 2013 – Present: Recreational marijuana era

Rocky Mountain HIDTA will collect and report comparative data in a variety of areas, including but not limited to:

• Impaired driving

• Youth marijuana use

• Adult marijuana use

• Emergency room admissions

• Marijuana-related exposure cases • Diversion of Colorado marijuana

This is the third annual report on the impact of legalized marijuana in Colorado. It is divided into eleven sections, each providing information on the impact of marijuana legalization. The sections are as follows:

Section 1 – Impaired Driving...

Section 2 – Youth Marijuana Use...

Section 3 – Adult Marijuana Use...

Section 4 – Emergency Room Marijuana and Hospital Marijuana-Related Admissions...

Section 5 – Marijuana-Related Exposure...

Section 6 – Treatment...

Section 7 – Diversion of Colorado Marijuana...

Section 8 – Diversion by Parcel...

Section 9 – THC Extraction Labs...

Section 10 – Related Data...

Section 11 – Related Material...

The nature and order of the sections in this big RMHIDTA "Impact" report help highlight that RMHIDTA is almost exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado and deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts.  

This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization.  Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report starts with this warning: "It will take years of data collection to complete an analysis of whether marijuana legalization is economically positive or an economic disaster."  

Similarly, changes in overall crime rates are only briefly discussed in the final "related data" section of the report, probably because the news seems pretty positive: property crime rates seem to be going down since marijuana reform throughout Colorado while violent crimes rates seem flat.  Of particular note, as this semi-official chart reveals, it appears Denver (which is sort-of ground-zero for marijuana reform relalities and likely impact) experienced a significant decrease in reported homicides, rapes and robbery in 2014 relative to 2013.   I suspect that this RMHIDTA report would have made much of Colorado and/or Denver homicide rates if they had gone up, but instead this "impact" goes undiscussed. 

Reporting biases notwithstanding, this is still an important report that assembles lots of data. And, perhaps in part because of its biases, this report now stands as the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment. Any and all serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying.

September 15, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2015

"Why I Fight for Ohio Marijuana Legalization"

The title of this post is the title of this provocative new Huffington Post commentary authored by Russ Bellville.  Here are excerpts:

I'm somewhat of an outlier in the marijuana reform movement these days. Ohio has marijuana legalization on the ballot for 2015, and I'm one of the few high-profile (pardon the pun) legalization advocates pushing hard for its passage.  Most of my colleagues are in a hold-their-nose-and-backhandedly-support-it public stance, and some are assiduously attacking the measure and angling for its defeat.

That's because they don't understand the nature of this war.  This is not about marijuana and it is certainly not about entrepreneurship.  This is about freedom.

In 1971, the president of the United States declared war on people like me who use marijuana.  People don't think of it that way, but when you look at how our liberties have been shredded in the War on Drugs, they should.

This war, in a nutshell, is the ability for authorities of the state to abrogate my rights because the drug I choose to use is contraband.  The result is a society where my friends who choose to use alcohol, nicotine, and numerous prescription drugs that are far more harmful than my drug are afforded adult respect and accommodation, while my people are treated as criminals.

In 2014, I sat on the side of a Utah freeway while armed agents of the state rifled through my personal possessions and detained me for six hours until I could raise $1,200 because they detected marijuana.  For twelve months, I've had to diligently pay $100 a month to ensure I don't have a permanent criminal record, while being extra cautious to avoid encounters with law enforcement who'd quickly discover I have a current criminal drug record in Utah.  I take this shit personally.

So the way the war is won is by taking from the authorities, state by state, the ability to fuck with adults who use marijuana.  When marijuana is not contraband, the whole game changes.  We shift from being criminals seeking a high to consumers of a legal product seeking equal rights.  We get businesses and money and tax revenue and lobbyists and politicians on our side.

Then we fight for cultivation rights.  Then we fight to make the business model more equitable.  But we've got to get it legal first, period.

The reason so many of these stoners against legalization feel confident in "wait 'til next year" is most of them don't get busted.  There are 20 million-ish pot smokers, but 675,000-ish marijuana arrests.  It's like what, 1 in 30 of us are going to get busted? Then, in Ohio, it's a ticket and driver's license loss, no arrest, so some people don't fear the risk of remaining criminals.

Sometimes that's attributable to those people being white, or older, or both, and being far less likely to be busted if they're careful.  Why accept a less-than-perfect legalization, they'd think, when I've already got my hook-up; I smoke pretty much with impunity, and I am disgusted at the idea of know-nothing carpetbagger money guys who don't know their sativa from Shinola swooping in and stealing the industry from my pals who are cop-ducking risk-taking illicit marijuana growers who've kept me high all these years?

So, I get it.  I'm not ignorant to the shitiness of the business plan, the opportunistic capitalistic ignorant (really, a superhero bud?) asshole behind the measure, and the karmic turd sandwich voting for Issue 3 will be.

But to me, this is war. And it's not us against the corporations or us against the rich, it's us against the prohibition that keeps us second-class citizens.

To me, it's not just Ohio, it's every goddamn state that is so much further behind Ohio, wishing they had a shot at imperfect legalization.  States like Texas where women get raped in parking lots by cops who claim they smell marijuana in the women's vaginas. States like Missouri where a man serving life for pot finally gets released, but so many more men and women in so many more states are rotting behind bars.  States that only inch closer to freedom on the wave of other states' successes.

I never again want to see the prohibitionists win another battle in this war....  Win every battle.  Do not give the opponent any quarter.  Be as ruthless to our enemy as they have been to us.  They will all be hoping that Ohio defeats legalization in 2015. They want to keep making easy ticket money, busting down home growers' doors, seizing people's assets over marijuana.  They want to keep raking in cash for drug testing and prison and probation and parole.  Don't give them a victory.

September 14, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"California Marijuana Legalization 2015: New Medical Marijuana Law Rankles Top Cannabis Industry Investor"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Internation Business Times article effectively reviewing the dynamics surrounding the notable legislative development in California this past week.  Here are excerpts:

California lawmakers quietly passed Friday the state’s most significant medical-marijuana legislation in almost two decades, but some leaders in the space worry that the law’s good intentions could get lost in the weeds . Paving the way for what supporters say is a much-needed regulatory framework for the state’s multibillion-dollar medical-cannabis industry, the California Senate and Assembly voted to approve the historic Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which will require licenses for cannabis dispensaries and create a new state agency to oversee the industry.

Although California residents voted to approve medical marijuana back in 1996, a regulatory plan has until now eluded policymakers, who could not seem to agree on specifics.  Legislators finally reached a compromise on three bills, which have been sent for final approval to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign them into law.  The legislation was approved as part of a comprehensive package pushed through on the final day of the 2015 session.

Despite the historic achievement, some leaders in the field expressed concerns about the implications of regulating an industry that has been unregulated for so long. Steve DeAngelo, co-founder of the ArcView Group, mammoth marijuana-investment firm, and the Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit dispensary in the state, said in a statement Saturday that the time pressures made it impossible for state legislators to adequately consider the impact the new law will have on patients who depend on medical cannabis.

“[S]ome of the language in the bill is unclear or may be in conflict with prior legislation,” said DeAngelo, also the health center’s executive director.  He added that the center hopes to work with lawmakers in the next session to address and resolve what he called “outstanding issues.”

[T]he legislation approved Friday would create -- in theory, at least -- a working template for how recreational marijuana might be regulated assuming it were to become legal.  The bills will also allow for the creation of a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs, which will oversee licenses.

September 13, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is DC's gray marijuana market the best of all possible marijuana reform worlds?

31_panglossforwebWith apologies to Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss, the title of this post is my reaction to this notable new Washington Post article discussing how marijuana reform is playing out in the District of Columbia.  The piece is headlined "First legal harvest of marijuana fueling gray market for pot in U.S. capital," and here are some extended excerpts:

In upper Northwest Washington, marijuana buds the size of zucchinis hang drying in a room once reserved for yoga.  In the Shaw neighborhood, pot grown in a converted closet sits meticulously trimmed, weighed and sealed in jars.  Elsewhere, from Georgetown to Capitol Hill to Congress Heights, seven-leafed weeds are flowering in bedrooms, back yards and window boxes.  

Welcome to the first crop of legal pot in the nation’s capital — where residents may grow and possess marijuana but are still forbidden to sell it.

In recent weeks, a small army of mostly novice gardeners who took up growing when the District legalized marijuana in February have begun to roll, pack and smoke the joints, bongs and bowls of their labor.  By one estimate, they have collectively grown upward of 100 pounds with a street value north of a ­half-million dollars — far more than most of these amateur cultivators are likely to consume on their own.

All of which presents a thorny question for District leaders and police in a city where cultivation and possession are legal but sales are not: How the heck will all this pot get from those who have it to those who want it?

A fitness instructor who took up the hobby six months ago has amassed enough pot to make tens of thousands of dollars selling it.  Instead, he’s begun giving away a little bit to anyone who pays for a massage.  The instructor asked not to be named out of concern that he or his home, where he sometimes serves clients, could become targets for criminals.

A T-shirt vendor in Columbia Heights who declined to comment may be working in a similar gray area.  College students say the roving stand has become known to include a “gift” of a bag of marijuana inside a purchase for those who tip really well.  And recently, dozens of people paid $125 for a class in Northwest Washington to learn about cooking with cannabis from a home grower.  Free samples were included.

Andrew Paul House, 27, a recent law school graduate, may be the best early test case for whether home growers can find a way to make money from their extra pot.  House has started a corporation and a sleek Web site to order deliveries of homegrown marijuana to D.C. residents’ doorsteps — “free gifts” in exchange for donations to the company, akin to a coffee mug given to donors by a public radio station.

“I believe we are following the letter and the spirit of the law,” House said of the business he has named the Premium Club.  “There’s this gap period where there is no retail and there is no regulation.  My purpose is to step into that in-between time when there won’t be enough marijuana for adults to use recreationally and allow for the legal transfer under the initiative.”

None of this is what advocates for marijuana legalization who authored last year’s overwhelmingly successful ballot measure intended.  They anticipated that if endorsed by voters, the D.C. Council would go the way of Colorado and Washington state and set up a legal system of sales and taxation.

Instead, conservatives in Congress blocked the city from doing so using their federal oversight of the District’s affairs.  But Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier went forward with what the letter of the ballot measure allowed, legalizing everything but sales.  And they insisted in February that, despite the legal limbo, a gray market for marijuana would not be tolerated.

But a lot has happened since then, namely a 40 percent spike in homicides that has monopolized the attentions of both Bowser and Lanier and led to a reorganization of the city’s narcotics investigators to focus on major streams of drugs into the city.  That has left untouched a cottage industry taking root from the inside out, said Delroy Burton, head of the D.C. Police Union. Marijuana has become tolerated in the city so much that the D.C. State Fair added a marijuana-growing competition to its lineup of events Saturday.  The “Best Bud” category joined the fair’s growing list of competitions.

“People are disguising sales as thank-you gifts, but they are being smart about it, distributing in a way that they cannot be charged with distribution,” Burton said.

Lanier’s department directed questions to the Bowser administration. Kevin Donahue, the city’s deputy mayor for public safety, said the administration remains focused on those trying to push the envelope of the new law. Representatives of the city’s health and police departments, as well as its licensing and business agencies, have met every other week since February, but the group has yet to identify anyone operating outside the bounds of the law....

“Keep in mind that the spirit, intent and letter of the law is supposed to decriminalize a practice that can lead to over­policing and overincarceration,” Donahue added. Asked about the Premium Club, Donahue said it didn’t necessarily sound like strict “home grow, home use” — Bowser’s mantra for what’s allowable.  Despite a promise to do so, the administration has not yet launched a public awareness campaign around that message....

Under the ballot measure, District residents are allowed to “possess, grow, harvest or process, within the interior of a house or rental unit . . . no more than six cannabis plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants.”  If more than one adult lives in the residence, the upper limits are twelve plants with six being mature at any one time. Those rules are among the most liberal in the nation; the District assigns, for example, no definition for the size of a full plant — as California and other states have....

Another grower who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about security has built an even more sophisticated growing room and expects a yield of medicinal-quality marijuana to “share” with friends suffering from a variety of ailments.  The grower went through a months-long process of applying for a city building permit and having contractors and electricians outfit a new $6,000 room constructed in his Adams Morgan home solely for growing pot....

Adam Eidinger, the face of last year’s Initiative 71 campaign, was among those with a meager harvest, but Eidinger has no shortage.  He has been gifted marijuana constantly as the harvest has come in.  Eidinger said he has found pot on his doorstep, joints rolled up in tin foil and left on his car and bags simply handed to him walking down the street. “I think it’s a sign that people feel good about themselves and what they were able to grow when they give to me,” he said....

House, who launched the Premium Club, declined to say how many home growers he is working with or how many donations or deliveries have been made since the Web site launched last month. He said “business is good — definitely better than expected,” and he is finalizing the launch of a mobile app with real-time information on deliveries.

Already in business for more than three weeks, House advertises that a portion of each $100 donation to the business will go to local charities.  He hasn’t given away any of the money yet, but he said in an interview that he will begin to later this month. Of the remaining half, he takes a cut of each donation as his salary.  Through a system he described only as “complicated and time consuming,” he said he directs the rest back to home growers.

I am not familiar with any traditional drug dealers who worry about "following the letter and the spirit of the law" or who makes plans to give a portion of his earnings to local charities. Similarly, I am unaware of any traditional drug dealers who plan to give away their product to "friends suffering from a variety of ailments." Thus, compared to the regular black market, the DC legalization initiative reform seems to be an improvement with respect to who is involved in marijuana dissemination.

In addition, unlike in Colorado and other full legalization jurisdictions where there concerns about the emergence of a "big Marijuana" industry that will actively promote marijuana products and profit from marijuana abuse and addition, the DC legalization initiative reform seems to be producing only "mom-and-pop" marijuana producers who should have limited ability to promote and profit considerably from their efforts. In this way for those most concerned about the potential harms of marijuana reform, perhaps the DC gray market is to be preferred to the "white markets" that continue to develop and grow in other legalization jurisdictions.

Like Voltaire, I am talking up the prospect of DC being the "best of all possible marijuana reform worlds" with my tongue planted somewhat in my cheek. Indeed, among hard-core pro-reform and anti-reform advocates on both side of the usual marijuana legalization debate, I suspect that the DC middle-ground seems like it could be among the worst of all possible world. But as the labratories of democracy keep experimenting with reform, I think it ultimately quite valuable that we are seeing many different marijuana reform worlds emerging so that we might be better able to assess effectively which are proving to be the best of the bunch.

September 13, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

"The Worst of Both Worlds: The Wild West of the 'Legal' Marijuana Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Luke Scheuer available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

As states have legalized marijuana, they have created a booming industry that operates in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Abuse Act.  Like the tobacco and alcohol industries, this new legal marijuana industry has the potential to do great harm to American consumers and communities if it is not disciplined and restrained in how it sells and develops its products.  Unfortunately the federal government has not yet stepped in to regulate the industry and state governments have imposed only limited controls.  In addition, because of the increased threat of criminal and civil liability hanging over the industry, it has been largely shut out from attracting professional stakeholders including banks, venture capital firms, and professional managers which could help impose market discipline.

In order to achieve the policy goals behind legalization of marijuana it is important that states do everything they can in the short term to regulate this industry so that it develops in a responsible manner. One of the things states can do is promote the integration of professional stakeholders into this industry. This essay explores what it means to be a “professional” in the marijuana industry and how more professionals could help mitigate some of the harm this industry poses to the public. 

September 11, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)