Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Significant Mexican Supreme Court ruling finds personal right to grow marijuana

As reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Mexico’s Supreme Court Opens Door to Legalizing Marijuana Use," a major legal ruling in a notable country could provide yet another jolt to the legal and policy status of marijuana in the Americas.  Here are the basics:

The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.

The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. The ruling is a first step — applying only to a single cannabis club that brought the suit — and does not strike down Mexico’s current drug laws. But it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately legalize marijuana.

The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-­backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence....

The ruling on Wednesday was the culmination of an effort to change the law by four members of a prominent Mexican anti­crime group, Mexico United Against Crime. Mr. Torres Landa and Mr. Santacruz formed a cannabis club with two other people, called the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption — the Spanish acronym is Smart.

The group applied for a license from Mexico’s drug regulatory agency, but, as expected, was turned down. Their appeal of that decision eventually reached the Supreme Court. “We have been trying to struggle against illegality, and the results were almost negligible,” said Mr. Torres Landa, who says he has never tried marijuana and does not intend to. “Five or six years ago, we asked why? The answer, as the Americans say, was in the money.”

But the ruling on Wednesday applies only to their petition. For legal marijuana to become the law of the land, the justices in the court’s criminal chamber will have to rule the same way five times, or eight of the 11 members of the full court will have to vote in favor.

If the court decisions continue in that direction, they will be flying in the face of public opinion. Mexicans are so opposed to legalizing marijuana that a leading pollster told the Smart group not to bother with a survey, Mr. Santacruz recalled, or to limit it to young people. The Mexican government, legislators and security and health officials all came out against legalization, as did the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the authorities have not permitted even the use of medical marijuana.

November 5, 2015 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ohio 2015 results highlight how marijuana elections are different (and not-so-different) than other elections

Vote-ohioAmong the many reasons I was so interested in the controversial ballot initiative to legalize recreation marijuana in Ohio, Issue 3, was my expectation that the campaign and vote in the Buckeye State in an off-off-election year would reveal just whether and how marijuana elections are different than other elections.  With nearly all the votes counted, here are a couple of ways the Ohio 2015 experience shows that marijuana elections are different and not-so-different:

Big difference #1:  Local polls are not so reliable:  I generally surmise that lots of public polls, especially those done by major professional, are pretty reliable.  And Nate Silver has demostrated that combining together a number of polls can produce extraordinary reliable predictions of election day outcomes.  But all the local polling done around marijuana legalization in Ohio suggested a majority of Ohioans were supportive of reform and polls focused on Issue 3 suggested that it would at least be a close vote.  But none of the public polls even hinted that Issue 3 would be a blowout.

Big difference #2:  Big money does not ensure big votes:  I tend to think that concerns and complaints about money "buying" elections can often be overstated.  But, especially in elections for representatives, it is generally true that having lots of money to raise a candidate's profile (and to attack any opponents) can be critical to electorial success.  But in Ohio the backers of Issue 3 had a huge war chest and they spent tens of millions on advertising and other traditional campaign efforts.  But, despite out-spending opponents of Issue 3 more than 10-to-1, the backers of Issue 3 seemingly got very little return at the ballot box for all their spending.

Not-so-big difference #1:  Making enemies of natural allies is not a good political strategy:  At the outset of ResponsibleOhio campaign, I wondered how traditional supporters of marijuana reform would respond to the "corporate" reform plan that Issue 3 represented.  I had expected that the Issue 3 backers would work hard to get the traditional marijuana reform community (both locally and nationally) to support their efforts.  But it seems that the Issue 3 political team was much better at making enemies than making friends in both the local and national reform community.  Throughout the heart of the campaign, I kept discovering that leading marijuana reform activists were far more energizied by the prospect of defeating Issue 3 than by the possibility that passage of Issue 3 could put Ohio at the forefront of the marijuana reform movement.

Not-so-big difference #2:  It is really hard to get young people to vote on off years:  Generational demographics provide a big reason why I think (smart) marijuana legalization campaigns can  be successful  in the years ahead; polling consistently shows that voters under 40 support reform by a significant margin.  But having political support among younger folks does not practically mean  much if these folks do not make it to the polls on election day.  I had expected, and the Issue 3 backers hand banked on, having marijuana reform on the ballot in 2015 would motivate many more younger, reform-supportive voters to go to the polls.  But it appears turn out in Ohio in 2015 was low and that any get-out-the-vote effort by ResponsibleOhio on college campuses produced no tangible results.

November 4, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Ohio legislators indicate new (serious?) interest in medical marijuana reform

I am pleased and intrigued to see from this local Ohio article reporting reactions to the overwhelming defeat of a controversial recreation marijuana reform ballot proposal that some important Ohio legislators are now talking about considering moving forward with medical marijuana reform in the state.  Here are the encouraging quotes for those interesting in medical marijuana reform in the Buckeye State:

Although Issue 3 was handily defeated, the debate and conversations about the issue have convinced House Speaker Cliff Rosenberg, R-Clarksville, and other state lawmakers who were staunchly opposed to legalization to now say it may be time to move ahead with medical marijuana.  “After going through this process, myself and many of my colleagues realize there’s tremendous support for medical marijuana and something we should have a bigger discussion about,” said Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, a leader in the House.

That could be in the form of a pilot program or some other narrowly written legislation, Smith said. He noted that Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, already has proposed a medical marijuana bill.  “In talking to people, it was surprising to me how many said they support medical marijuana,” Smith said.  “We obviously want to help the parents with children that are ill and the elderly that are suffering.  We just want to make sure the scientists tell us it will help and we write it in a responsible way.”

November 4, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Will big loss of Issue 3 in Ohio set back marijuana reform movement in midwest and nationally?

As noted in this post at my other blog and as reported in this local article, "Ohio voters strongly rejected legalizing marijuana today, despite a $25 million campaign by proponents.   The issue to legalize pot for recreational and medical use [Issue 3] is going down 65 percent to 35 percent, losing in all 88 counties with about 72 percent of the of the statewide vote counted."  

Based on the significant criticisms of the corporate reform model brought to Ohio voters, which generated significant criticisms from the traditional marijuana reform advocacy community, I am not to surprised that Issue 3 failed to garner a majority of off-off-year voters.  But I am somwhat surprised, especially in light of polling that suggested a closer outcome, that Issue 3 is losing by such a significant margin.  And I think the size of the loss in Ohio could slow down the momentum for full marijuana legalization in midwestern states.

Helpfully, John Hudak at Brookings already has this lengthy post providing lots of Ohio election take-aways.  The post's title highlights its main themes: "Ohio's failure to legalize marijuana tells us little about reform, and less about the future." Here is how it concludes:

I have written previously that the success of previous marijuana reform ballot initiatives was due in part to the professionalization of the reform community, hiring political strategists, lawyers, lobbyists, communications professionals, and others to join issue-driven activists in the fight for their cause.  The failure of Issue 3 was a failure by Responsible Ohio to implement an effective political strategy that is sensitive to the challenges facing referenda.

The “big” takeaway from tonight’s rejection of legalization is this: don’t run a controversial marijuana initiative in Ohio in an off-off year. Anyone who suggests Ohio’s decision tells us anything about the success or failure of initiatives in 2016 is just blowing smoke.

November 3, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, November 2, 2015

New California legalization effort starts with big mo (money and momentum)

Download (2)As reported in this local article, headlined "Sean Parker initiative ignites California marijuana legalization," there appears now to be a leading proposal for bringing a marijuana legalization initiative to California voters. Here are the details:

Billionaire technology and music industry disruptor Sean Parker upended another sector this afternoon, with the release of a new initiative to legalize marijuana in California in 2016.

Parker’s proposal — called the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act — calls for ending cannabis prohibition in California, and allowing folks to possess up to one ounce of bud and grow up to six plants. Cities would have wide latitude on cannabis commerce, but couldn’t ban small, secure personal indoor gardens.

The proposal upends the 2016 playing field for California reformers. Parker’s wealth is the first substantial amount of funds to be moved into play in the 2016 race. Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project are reportedly backing the Parker proposal. That leaves other camps far out of the running for lack of funds — including the post-Prop 19 coalition ReformCA, as well as group behind the MCLR.

The full measure also received enthusiastic support from respected social-justice and industry organizations. “This initiative provides a model for the country,” stated Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It breaks new ground not just with its pragmatic regulatory provisions but also in directing tax revenue to prevention and treatment for young people, environmental protections and job creation in underserved communities.”

“California voters are ready to end marijuana prohibition in 2016 and replace it with a more sensible system,” stated Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “That is exactly what this initiative will do, and that is why MPP is proud to support it. We look forward to working with the proponents and doing whatever we can to help pass this measure and make history in California next year.”

About a half-dozen groups have filed ballot language, which costs $200 and signifies little. Millions of dollars must be spent to gather several hundred thousand valid signatures by a state deadline, then run a potentially polarizing campaign against a united conservative right, and a fractured, bickering far left. About 53 percent of Californians support legalization in theory. The details could drag those numbers down....

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who chaired a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, supported the measure, which was filed today by official proponents, Dr. Donald O. Lyman, MD, and Michael Sutton — a doctor and an environmentalist: “I am pleased that this thoughtful measure is aligned with the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations, and presents California its best opportunity to improve the status quo by making marijuana difficult for kids to access. It is backed by the broadest coalition of supporters to date and I believe that Californians will rally behind this consensus measure, which also serves to strengthen law enforcement, respect local preferences, protect public health and public safety, and restore the environment.”...

A number of groups have signed onto the initiative with letters of support, including: The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, California Council of Land Trusts, California Native Plant Society, California State Parks Foundation, California Trout, California Urban Stream Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Habitats League, Pacific Forest Trust, Trout Unlimited and Trust for Public Land. 

November 2, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

All marijuana reform eyes on Ohio as state prepares to vote on controversial legalization initiative

As regular readers of this blog know well, and as lots of other folks are surprised to discover, one of the biggest elections concerning marijuana reform is taking place this week in the great state of Ohio.  Here are links to some of the most recent press stories, both local and national, talking about what is afoot in the Buckeye State:

November 2, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Omaha Tribe assessing interest in marijuana legalization in northeast Nebraska

Bright-futuresNebraska has a pending suit (along with Oklahoma) in the US Supreme Court against its neighbor Colorado complaining about that state's marijuana reform efforts (basics here and here).  But, as this local article highlights, the Cornhusker state may soon have to be concerned about a marijuana reform effort within its own borders.  The article is headlined "Omaha Tribe to consider legalizing marijuana," and here are excerpts:  

The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is considering getting into the lucrative marijuana business, but at least one tribal expert fears doing so could put the tribe at risk of losing any investment it may make in marijuana industries.

The tribe plans to hold a referendum Tuesday in which members will vote on whether the tribe should allow recreational use of marijuana, medicinal use of marijuana, and growing industrial hemp on its northeast Nebraska reservation.

Ultimately, however, the Omaha tribal council will decide all three questions. The referendum vote simply will give the council guidance on whether to move forward, according to an information sheet distributed by the tribe.

Tribal law expert Lance Morgan, who also is president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe’s economic development arm, said it likely will be difficult for the Omaha Tribe to legalize the use or manufacture of marijuana on its reservation, despite a U.S. Department of Justice memo issued last year that some tribal advocates have argued grants tribes the right to legalize use of marijuana on their reservations.

Morgan said the federal memo doesn’t actually allow tribes to legalize marijuana. Rather, he said, it allows them to work with local U.S. attorneys to do so. And, he said, U.S. attorneys in many states have been unwilling to allow tribes to move forward. “I think the government should be more direct in whether it’s allowable or not,” he said.

Morgan said it will be especially difficult for tribes in Nebraska to legalize marijuana, considering the firm stance Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has taken against it. Spokeswoman Suzanne Gage declined to comment Friday on the referendum....

Morgan said the ambiguous Justice Department memo has encouraged tribes across the country to launch expensive marijuana and hemp operations, and now some of those tribes have discovered they don’t actually have the right to legalize marijuana. “This is just one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen come out of D.C.,” Morgan said. “Encouraging us to invest capital and then coming in and destroying that capital and raiding the tribe doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Morgan said the Winnebago Tribe has discussed legalized marijuana but has no plans to move forward with such a plan. He sees the Omaha Tribe's plan to gauge opinion through a referendum as a good idea. “The only way tribes are going to do it is if they hold a referendum,” he said. “Then they know what the people think and can act accordingly.”

November 1, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)