Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Prez Obama in "exit interview" with Rolling Stone hints he might work on marijuana reform as private citizen
Rolling Stone magazine has this big new interview with Prez Obama about his legacy on an array of issues, and it includes this notable Q&A on marijuana law and policy:
You can now buy marijuana legally on the entire West Coast. So why are we still waging the War on Drugs? It is a colossal failure. Why are we still dancing around the subject and making marijuana equivalent to a Schedule I drug?
Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues.
[Laughs] What about you? Are you gonna get on the cutting edge?
Look, I am now very much in lame-duck status. And I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go. But in light of these referenda passing, including in California, I've already said, and as I think I mentioned on Bill Maher's show, where he asked me about the same issue, that it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that's legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There's something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Trump's selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the next attorney general has drug policy reform advocates worried. Sessions proudly supports the drug war, which includes hostility to marijuana and the people who use it. Earlier this year he said that "good people don't smoke marijuana." In this recent editorial, The O.C. Register makes the case that Sen. Sessions needs to get with it, writing in part:
Recent public opinion polls have shown a majority of Americans support legalization, including polls conducted by Gallup and Pew Research finding 60 percent and 57 percent in support, respectively. An additional Gallup poll reported 13 percent of American adults identify as current marijuana users — bad people, according to Sessions — and 43 percent of adults have tried marijuana in their lifetimes.
While concerns over the abuse of marijuana, or any substance for that matter, are perfectly valid, it is clear that growing numbers of Americans are no longer convinced that prohibition and criminalization are justifiable approaches to the issue.
In fact, we now live in a nation where 29 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, and eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, despite marijuana officially being illegal under federal law...
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice has effectively taken a hands-off approach, allowing states to try their own approaches to marijuana policy. But marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, illegal under federal law for medicinal or recreational use and distribution.
Going on his record and past statements, the prospects of a hands-off approach to marijuana under a Sessions-led DOJ seem dim. “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington saying marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” said Sessions at a hearing in April.
If there’s any room for optimism, it comes from statements made by Donald Trump throughout his campaign. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” he said to The Washington Post last year. He later told Bill O’Reilly that he is “a hundred percent” in support of medical marijuana.
We completely agree with these stances from Trump. Allowing states greater freedom to experiment with differing approaches to complex problems is often desirable, and this is certainly the case with respect to marijuana.
Ideally, Congress should consider removing marijuana from the federal drug scheduling system entirely to remove any ambiguity about the legal status of marijuana. Short of that, a continuation of the current hands-off policy from the DOJ makes more sense than going against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.
Regular readers of this blog know that one of the most encouraging pieces of modern marijuana research comes from the growing evidence suggesting that deaths from opioid overdoses are lower in states that have functional medical marijuana programs. (See prior discussions here and here and here.) For that reason, when I see this new article from my local paper, headlined "Ohio leads nation in overdose deaths," I immediately think it is time for all Ohio officials to try to shift the state's new medical marijuana law into high gear. Here is the ugly deadly data (which actually is based only on 2014 fatalities):
In a grim statistic that surprises no one close to the problem, Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths, a new report shows. Along with the overall category, Ohio also had the country's most deaths related to heroin: One in 9 heroin deaths across the U.S. happened in Ohio. The Buckeye State also recorded the most deaths from synthetic opioids: About 1 in 14 U.S. deaths.
In all the categories, Ohio easily surpassed states with larger populations. According to state-by-state statistics compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2,106 opioid overdoses were reported in Ohio in 2014, which was 7.4 percent of the 28,647 deaths reported nationwide that year. California ranked second with 2,024 deaths and New York was third with 1,739.
The statistics are troubling but probably aren’t news to many law enforcement officials, treatment providers and families of addicts in Ohio who have seen the number of overdose deaths shoot up every year lately. Ohio’s status as the nation’s OD capital may continue. The state’s overdose deaths rocketed to 3,050 last year and are expected to burst past that number in 2016.
The Kaiser analysis, compiled from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information, showed Ohio had the highest number of deaths from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, with 590 deaths out of 5,544 nationally, or 7.4 percent. Finally, Ohio also had the dubious distinction of having the most heroin deaths in 2014, 1,208 of 10,574 nationally, or 11.4 percent, the Kaiser statistics showed.
Tellingly, the MUCH bigger states of California and New York both have medical marijuana programs (though New York's is still in its infancy), and I suspect that marijuana access is generally greater in a number of other larger prohibition states (e.g., Texas and Florida) relative to Ohio. Critically, I am not asserting that marijuana reform alone is a magic solution to opioid overdose problems or even that Ohio's new medical marijuana program will make a major difference in this arena. But I am asserting that, at a time of a deadly opioid crisis that has only gotten worse and worse each year, state officials ought to be embracing any and every public policy response that research suggests might be of help. Marijuana reform would seem to be on any serious list of public policy responses that research suggests might be of help in this time of crisis.
Some prior related posts:
Monday, November 28, 2016
Regular readers know I find fascinating the intersection of MJ reform and NFL realities. Two recent pieces, as linked and excerpted below, highlight these realities:
Seantrel Henderson, a third-year offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills, is facing his second suspension of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse rules. But Henderson’s case is unusual because it raises fresh questions about the approach to pain management and changing attitudes about the legalization of marijuana.
What makes Henderson’s situation unique is that he uses marijuana, which is legal in many states but prohibited under the collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, to combat the pain from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that just this year has caused him to have two surgeries. In January, 2 1/2 feet of his colon were removed and in April he underwent surgery to reattach his intestines. In the interim, he wore an ileostomy bag and lost 50 pounds. He chose not to appeal the four-game suspension he received in September, his first of the season.
But Henderson is expected to appeal what would be a 10-game suspension for this second offense for using a banned substance. The NFL is expected to decide his punishment this week and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Henderson may take the matter to court.
For the typical American going to work every day, the demands of your job probably don't include your daily dose of pain medications which are administered by your employer. Imagine being an employee at General Motors or Chase Bank and being forced to see your "company doctor" for all ailments and being prescribed addictive pain medications. Now what if that same job resulted in daily injuries, most of which would be considered debilitating for the general population? Well this was the reality for me and countless other NFL players....
With so many states now legalizing some form of legal marijuana use, the NFL and its conservative owners must face the inevitable. The players' association is beginning to push the league to reevaluate their logic. "Certainly given some of the medical research out there, marijuana is going to be one of the substances we talk a look at," says Players' Union Executive George Atallah.
The league's response to the topic included a statement that it would be open to reconsidering its policy, but the league's medical experts haven't recommended any changes. Let's remember that these same medical experts denied that football caused concussions.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
The title of this post comes from this BBC.com article, which states in part:
The current domestic black market for marijuana is CA$5bn ($3.7bn; £3bn).
Chris Horlacher is president of Jade Maple, a consulting agency in the cannabis industry and one of the founding members of the Cannabis Growers of Canada (CGC). They represent small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs trying to establish
Canada's "craft cannabis" industry.
He says there is frustration and fear that the federal government will simply allow already established legal medical marijuana suppliers to take over the recreational marketplace.
"The government has created this brand new camp that is trying to gain its share of the market and they don't necessarily understand the product, the culture," Mr Horlacher says.
"We have all these people who are actually newcomers who don't have any experience with the product and now they're saying: 'We're the legitimate ones and you're the evil profiteers.'"
Medical marijuana is legal in Canada but, since 2014, registered patients can only get their cannabis shipped from licensed large-scale suppliers. They have also recently been allowed to grow their own.
There are currently 36 licensed growers in Canada. Many are openly positioning for the eventual legal recreational market.
Canadians, especially its youth, are among the world's biggest pot users.
Ottawa says legal pot under a new "strict regulation" regime will make it easier to keep it away from young people, to pull profits from organised crime, to reduce the burden on police and the justice system, and to improve public health.
A federal legalisation task force is wrapping up its work and is expected to send its recommendations to the government soon.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
As long-time readers know, my modern professional interests in marijuana law policy and reform emerged directly from my professional interests in criminal justice reform general and sentencing reform in particular. For that reason, I will be watching especially closely the application and impact of the criminal justice/sentence provisions that were part of California's marijuana legalization proposition, Prop 64. This new article from the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Green wave: Legalized marijuana setting scores of defendants free," provides an early report:
Chris Phillips, a marijuana entrepreneur and Livermore father of four, faced five felony counts and possible prison time after he was accused of illegally growing pot at his home, which police raided in June. But when California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use Nov. 8, they retroactively erased several small-time pot crimes and reduced the penalties for bigger ones like growing, selling and transporting.
So at 9 a.m. the next day, Phillips sat in a courtroom in Pleasanton. He was first on the docket, and it wasn’t long before his attorney Bill Panzer and Alameda County prosecutors hammered out a deal for the 36-year-old to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor possession charge. “It was literally a sigh of relief,” said Phillips, who runs several pot farms, a medical dispensary in Long Beach and an extract brand — and had been out of jail on a half-million-dollar bond....
California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names.
California does not keep detailed records on pot crimes, but the attorney general’s office said police made 8,866 felony pot arrests in 2015, involving 7,987 adults and 879 juveniles — mainly for possession for sale, cultivation and transportation. Roughly 2,000 jail and prison inmates are affected by Prop. 64, according to estimates from the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group that helped sponsor the initiative.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said Prop. 64 could result in net court savings of tens of millions of dollars per year. Counties that took the hardest line on pot in the past are seeing the biggest shares of sentence reductions and dismissals, lawyers say. “We’re getting calls many times throughout the day,” said Joe Rogoway, an attorney who practices in San Francisco and the North Bay and specializes in cannabis law. “It’s cathartic. I’m elated to be able to go into court and help people.”
The changes are profound. For example, illegally growing a single marijuana plant used to be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Today, it’s no longer a crime. About a dozen other crimes were either deleted or downgraded. Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, an office spokeswoman, said local judges were sending felony pot cases to misdemeanor court, though she didn’t have the exact number of cases. “We’re absolutely following the law,” she said.
Sacramento County prosecutors say they have about 75 affected cases. San Mateo officials report approximately 100 pending cases, mostly felonies for alleged cultivation, while San Francisco prosecutors report about 200 affected cases, mostly involving small-time sales. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said defendants being held in county jails because they could not post bail are being released if they’ve already served more time than they would if convicted of what’s now a misdemeanor. “That will be common,” he said. “There’ll be plenty of those.”
Wagstaffe, who is also president of the California District Attorneys Association, expects Prop. 64 to cause police officers to arrest and cite fewer people for remaining pot crimes that are now misdemeanors, because the effort is “not worth” the paperwork and police time....
Because young, low-income people of color have felt the brunt of drug enforcement, they stand to gain the most from the law’s changes, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “That’s certainly what we’re hoping,” he said. Now, citizens who potentially faced years in jail are sometimes facing days. Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol attorney specializing in cannabis, said one of his clients was looking at up to nearly five years in prison for felony transporting of pot and possession for sale, as well as a related probation violation. After Prop. 64, Figueroa said Sonoma County prosecutors agreed to an infraction charge, with no jail and no probation.
In Los Angeles, attorney Allison Margolin spoke of a client with a 3-year-old warrant alleging hash possession. The defendant never surrendered, and now he doesn’t have to. “Possession of hash is no longer a crime at all,” she said. “We can take away his warrant.”
Beyond those in jail, or awaiting trial on pending cases, an estimated tens of thousands of Californians on probation or parole have begun petitioning to reduce or end supervision, which would give them full rights to travel, refuse a search and use marijuana medically. Many crimes that once yielded three, five or seven years of probation now have a maximum term of one year under Prop. 64.
Margolin noted that Prop. 64 builds on Proposition 47, which reduced drug possession and low-level theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors when California voters approved it in 2014. While Prop. 47 diverted most drug users out of the felony court system, she said, Prop. 64 diverts pot growers, sellers, transporters and all juveniles, as well. “It’s really awesome for a lot of people, of course,” Margolin said. “A young person who sold weed in college and gets caught and then has it affect their whole life — there’s probably more than 100,000 people in those situations.”
The biggest group touched by Prop. 64 — those who have already been punished for past pot convictions — may number in the hundreds of thousands. Many are now eligible to clean up their records, which could improve their job prospects or give them the right to possess a gun. “I cannot overstate the significance of this,” said Rogoway. “It really is a paradigm shift.”
The California Judicial Council posted forms online last week for any pot convict or defendant — adult or juvenile — to petition for a resentencing, for reduced charges, or to expunge and seal their record. Those who are awaiting trial or are behind bars don’t need a form. They can petition for a Prop. 64 sentence reduction orally at their next court date.
Margolin plans to hold a Prop. 64 legal clinic Dec. 3 while offering to help people address past convictions for $1,000. She said such expungements may not totally clear people’s records in all databases, but they will no longer have to check employment application boxes saying they were convicted of a felony.
For those aiming to make a living in the marijuana business, Prop. 64 may be even more pivotal. Felons who felt locked out of the industry “now have a reason to strive forward,” said Phillips, the Livermore entrepreneur, who announced with pride that he had become Puerto Rico’s first medical marijuana licensee. “You can make your new life happen.”
Ironically, Phillips had spent a year opposing Prop. 64, believing the law would lead to a corporate takeover of cannabis that would undermine medical patients. But just two weeks before the election, Phillips said he sat down with his lawyer, read the 62-page initiative and realized it would set him free. “How stupid I was for a whole year talking about this,” he said.
The question in the title of this post was the headline of this recent New York Times article, which included these excerpts:
For businesses and insurers, a string of ballot victories this month for marijuana advocates are adding to an intensifying conundrum about the drug and issues such as insurance coverage, employee drug testing and workplace safety.... “We are entering this conflict between a social policy decision and a workplace that is highly regulated,” said Alex Swedlow, the chief executive of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, a research organization.
A major part of the predicament centers on unclear science about the benefits of marijuana or the dozens of compounds, known as cannabinoids, that are found in the plant. For its part, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only a synthetic version of a cannabinoid and a similar drug for narrow uses, such as to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients or to stimulate the appetites of patients with AIDS. Typically, health insurers will pay for marijuana-related drugs only for F.D.A.-approved uses.
But state medical marijuana laws usually give doctors permission to recommend marijuana to a patient with a “debilitating” condition, a phrase that can encompass problems including glaucoma, cancer and chronic pain. Usually, patients pay for the drug themselves and several states have explicitly exempted workplace compensation insurers for covering such costs.
But as a result of recent state court rulings in New Mexico, workplace insurers there are required to pay for marijuana-based treatments if they are recommended by a doctor. And lower courts in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan have issued rulings directing workplace insurers to do so. The number of patients receiving such coverage is small. And because marijuana is illegal under federal law, insurers paying for the drug must use a financial workaround to avoid violations. One strategy is to reimburse patients for their costs rather than make a direct payment to a marijuana dispensary....
Despite the push toward legalization, few employers have dropped marijuana from the list of drugs for which employees are tested, compounds that typically include opioids, amphetamines and cocaine... As marijuana legalization expands, there are also concerns about its effect on workplace safety. Some studies suggest that marijuana use can impair a person’s judgment, though little data exists to compare the effect with that of other drugs like opioids.
In states where recreational use is allowed, the problem for employers becomes one of determining when an employee used marijuana, because detectable levels of it remain in the body for days afterward. As a result, employers must use more subjective observations to judge whether an employee has become impaired from using marijuana while at work, said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization.
As for Mr. Vialpando, the disabled worker in Santa Fe, he and his wife say they have all the evidence they need that medical marijuana works. Mr. Vialpando said that during the decade he used opioids, he withdrew from his family and friends, preferring to spend time by himself, watching television. He lost interest in food and developed sleep apnea — his wife used to wake up terrified at night because it appeared that he was dying.
These days, he smokes about four marijuana cigarettes daily. He said he had gained weight, enjoyed talking again and had resumed working on hobbies at home. His wife, Margaret, said that she hoped President-elect Donald J. Trump, when he takes office, will make marijuana a legal drug by changing how it is regulated. “I feel like I’ve gotten my husband back,” she said. “His personality has come back to the person that he used to be.”
November 26, 2016 in Employment and labor law issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Forbes.com reports on the milestone of sorts at the New York Stock Exchange:
The race to be the first cannabis company to list on one of the major stock exchanges is over.
The New York Stock Exchange has approved the initial public offering of Innovative Industrial Properties, a real estate investment trust that plans to invest in medical marijuana properties. Since marijuana is still federally illegal, the New York Stock Exchange could be breaking its own requirement not to list companies that aren’t in compliance with the law.
This is why most marijuana companies are publicly traded at the Over-The-Counter market, where there is little concern over a company’s business as long as it files the proper paperwork. That’s not the case at the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange, both of which conduct strenuous reviews of potential clients. Neither would comment on this story.
Year-to-date, IPOs are down 42% from last year. This decline in business has affected both exchanges. Could the exchanges be willing to ease their rules in order to bring in new business?
Innovative Industrial Properties filed to go public on Oct. 17 and chose the New York Stock Exchange as its home. At the time of the filing, the NYSE would only share its filing review process and would not comment on the filing request. The review process states that “companies must be in compliance with the law.” On Nov. 17, the REIT confirmed it had been approved, although the NYSE still won’t discuss the listing.
NYSE may have found comfort in the company’s top management. Executive Chairman Alan Gold co-founded two NYSE-listed REITs, BioMed Realty and Alexandria Real Estate. An affiliate of The Blackstone Group purchased BioMed for $8 billion earlier this year and Alexandria is currently listed at the NYSE under the symbol ARE. So, they have worked with Gold before and maybe that is why they were willing to take the risk.
Cannabis social media company MassRoots also doesn’t “touch the plant,” but they were rejected for an uplisting by Nasdaq. Chief Executive Officer Issac Dietrich said, “We went to Maryland to meet with the Nasdaq listing people and their main focus was on the risk factors.” Dietrich said the company was very transparent that some business people could accuse them of aiding and abetting criminal activity.
“They were a little uncomfortable with that risk factor. They spent six weeks reviewing the application and then told us they were not willing to move forward,” said Dietrich. “They didn’t want to be a trailblazer.” He is hoping that since the NYSE has accepted IIPR, it will give them more comfort...
The question in the title of this post is prompted by the recent release of this report by several U.K. lawmakers titled The Tide Effect: How the world is changing its mind on cannabis legalisation. The executive summary states:
The people of California have just voted to legalise cannabis – a decision which will have immense repercussions both in America and around the world, while efforts are already underway in Canada to legally regulate the cannabis market. The Tide Effect argues strongly that the UK should follow suit, and that the legalisation of cannabis here is both overdue and imperative.
The eight main points outlined in The Tide Effect are:
- The government strategy is based around three main pillars: reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery. All three are failing.
- Regulation is substantially more desirable than simple decriminalisation or unregulated legalisation, because only regulation addresses all four key issues: ensuring that the product meets acceptable standards of quality and purity; removing criminal gangs from the equation as far as possible; raising revenue for the Treasury through point-of-sale taxation; and best protecting public health.
- The entire language used to address cannabis-related issues needs to change. Language poses a barrier every bit as formidable as legislation does. The opponents of legalisation have long been able to reinforce their position by using the words of public fear – ‘illegal,’ ‘criminal’, ‘dangerous’, and so on. Only by using the language of public health, consumer rights and harm reduction, the same language used about alcohol and tobacco, can we move towards regulation.
- The scale of a legalised industry will be huge. The US market is estimated to be worth $25bn by the time of the next election in 2020. A similarly regulated UK market could be worth around £7bn per annum.
- Legally regulating cannabis will allow long-term studies of its health effects not currently possible. The effects of both tobacco and alcohol are well understood because of the amount of scientific scrutiny brought to bear on them.
- Many shifts in public policy are prompted, or at least prodded, by an emotional response on the part of the public. Greater efforts must be made to show that the cannabis issue also has a human aspect to which many people respond.
- Any campaign to legalise cannabis must be multifaceted, involving public support, media analysis and political engagement.
- Responsibility for cannabis policy should be moved primarily to the department for Health, while the role of the Home Office should change from enforcement of prohibition to enforcement of regulation and licensing.
The Brookings Institution's John Hudak discussed with The New York Times:
• How worried should California’s emerging marijuana industry be about Mr. Sessions?
As attorney general, Sessions would have the ability to rescind two Justice Department directives — known as the Cole and Ogden memos — that called for stepping back from marijuana prosecutions. He could also use federal law enforcement power against operators and sue state regulators to block state systems. The only person who can stop the attorney general is the president, and it is unclear whether Trump will direct or delegate drug policy — the latter option being what should worry California the most.
• What’s your read on Mr. Trump’s posture toward states with legal marijuana?
Trump has made statements that seem supportive of states’ rights around marijuana and made others that are unclear. It is also unclear whether this is a policy he will direct from the White House or just let his attorney general steer this ship. It all means, pot policy in the U.S. is up in the air.
• What might a marijuana crackdown in California look like?
First, the Justice Department would likely sue the state to prevent the enforcing of Prop 64. They could use other law enforcement entities — outside of the Drug Enforcement Administration — to begin physical crackdowns on existing operators. The law enforcement efforts would be expensive. The litigation approach might be cheaper and easier — if less effective.
• What does all this mean for the individual consumer?
It would be nearly impossible for federal officials to arrest every marijuana consumer in California (or elsewhere), but if the Trump administration strikes at the heart of the industry — shutting down the supply chain — it would drive producers underground and consumers back to the black market.
Friday, November 18, 2016
And Sessions really dislikes pot smokers. According to WaPo:
In 1986, a Senate committee denied Sessions, then a 39-year-old U.S. attorney in Alabama, a federal judgeship. His former colleagues testified Sessions used the n-word and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were "okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana."
His selection is not an encouraging sign for those hoping for (among other things) a continuation of the Obama administration's more temperate stance on marijuana policy.
NORML has graded Sessions an "F" on its congressional scorecard.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Shouldn't a new "grassroots" Democratic Party led by Bernie Sanders get started by focusing on grass and roots?
In the video below from the Late Show, Bernie Sanders tells Stephen Colbert that the Democrats have to become a "grassroots" party. Because of the frustrating tendency in recent years the the Clinton wing of the Democratic party to promote and give power to older, less diverse and more "insider" officials and candidates than the Republican party, I have largely given up on the party and I am fairly apathetic about whether the party gets its act together sooner or later. But I am sure about one thing: if the Democratic party wants to become relevant very quickly and build as a true "grassroots" party, it ought to begin by focusing a lot on marijuana law and policy reform. Specifically, as the title of this post seeks to suggests, I think smart progressive politicians and community organizers ought to be laser focused, at least for the next six months if not longer, on (1) protecting the constitutional rights of citizens in states who are in strict and clear compliance with state marijuana laws (that is the "grass"), and (2) seeking to expand the reach and breadth of existing state marijuana reform laws, with a particular concern for allowing citizens a legal means for at least limited "home grow" (that is the roots).
I make this "pitch" largely driven by the fact that the only significant progressive policy issue that has gone to voters in the last two major election cycles and pretty consistently done much better with most voters (especially white male voters) than the leading Democratic candidate IN RED STATES has been marijuana reform. Specifically, in the 2014 election, in Alaska and Florida, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more than 50% of the vote even though, I believe, no democratic state-wide candidate in those two stated got more than 50% of the vote. Similarly, in the 2016 election, in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more support than the leading Democratic candidate. (The outlier here is Arizona, but notably exit polls show 43% of white men supported supported full legalization in the state, whereas only 36% of them supported Hillary Clinton; similarly 45% of whites without a college degree in Arizona supported full legalization, whereas only 35% of them supported Hillary Clinton.)
I could go on and on and on about why the "smart" approach for any political party circa Fall 2016 would be to focus on the bipartisan and wildly popular issue of medical marijuana reform. I will just close by noting that major medical or recreational marijuana reform is now the law of the land in just about big blue and red state except Texas. Specifically, recreational marijuana reform is now the law in "big states" like California (55 EV), Washington (12), Massachusetts (11), Colorado (9) Oregon (7), Nevada (6), while medical marijuana reform is the law of the land in Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), New Jersey (14), Arizona (11), Connecticut (7), Arkansas (6). Notably, I have left out three "small" full legalization jurisdictions from this list (e.g., Alaska, Maine and Washing DC), but my list of bigger states now with major marijuana reform laws on their books after the 2016 election now just happens to add up to 271 electoral votes.
This electoral math and the marijuana map are among the reasons I remain quite bullish about the future of marijuana reform in the United States, and it is why I have been saying to any and everyone who would listen that the truly smart political candidates in BOTH major political parties are likely to be supportive of state-led marijuana reforms. But, given that the election last week highlighted that leading Democrats are not very good at getting to 270, I am not really all that optimistic that the Democratic party will wake up and smell the marijuana reform future rather than keep being focused on the prohibitionist past.
November 16, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Via email, I received news of this new accounting (with some typos) of reform states and their populations recently produced by folks at Carnevale Associates LLC. In addition, the same folks previously produced a three-page Policy Brief headlined "Policy Debate Must Adjust to Changes in State Law and Public Opinion" which I promoted in this prior post titled "Highlighting the 'knowledge gap' as marijuana reform moves forward at a speedy pace"
Though I will not crunch the numbers here, the accounting of states and populations reveals that before last week, there were roughly 20 million Americans living in states which had passed full marijuana legalization by initiative. Now, thanks to big states like California and Massachusetts and with a little help from Nevada and Maine, the number of Americans living in states that have passed full marijuana legalization has tripled to over 65 million.
November 15, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, November 14, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Wall Street Journal article. Here are excerpts:
Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s husband and sons ordered her a new Benelli 12-gauge shotgun as a gift, but when the Alaska Republican — and enthusiastic duck hunter — went to pick it up, she was puzzled by a question on the federal background form she had to fill out. The form asked if she used marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, both of which are legal in Alaska. If she answered yes, she would be unable to get the gun, because federal law prohibits anyone who uses illegal drugs from buying a firearm.
The senator doesn’t use pot, but she was taken aback by the notion that an activity that is legal in her state could block gun ownership. “I don’t like marijuana — I voted against legalization — but we passed it,” Ms. Murkowski said in an interview. “Now, you’ve got this conflict.”
The scope of that conflict just grew, as voters in eight states last week approved marijuana-related ballot initiatives. Now, 28 states and Washington D.C., allow marijuana use in some form, including eight that allow recreational use. Yet federal law still holds that anyone who uses marijuana, even medicinally, is doing so illegally and can’t buy a gun.
That is upsetting advocates for both gun owners and pot smokers, groups that don’t always find themselves on the same side of the cultural divide. “This idea that you somehow waive your Second Amendment rights if you smoke marijuana” is wrong, said Keith Stroup, founder of NORML, which advocates marijuana legalization. “In particular, if you are using marijuana as a medicine, the idea that you have to choose between your health and the Second Amendment is offensive.
Californians may have approved recreational marijuana use last Tuesday, but that doesn't mean they can expect weed shops to be as ubiquitous as 7/11s any time soon. Even before it passed, many municipalities had taken advantage of Prop. 64's provision leaving to local communities the authority to restrict the commercial cultivation, distribution and retail sale of the drug (these communities, however, can't restrict possession or private consumption). Indeed, in some large suburban communities east of Los Angeles and Orange Counties that make up the Inland Empire, legalized weed may be no more accessible than it was before Prop. 64 passed. This local article explains:
With its great commercial capacity and relatively cheap land prices, the vast and logistics-savvy Inland Empire might seem like a good place to set up various seed-to-store marijuana-related businesses now that California voters have approved the legalization of recreational marijuana.
While local cities may be bursting with industrial property and easy access to highway and even an airport, a number of them also may be sporting an equal amount of distaste for marijuana. Already, many have already enacted laws banning the commercial cultivation, distribution and retail sale of recreational pot, even though Proposition 64 doesn’t allow for the issuance of business licenses until 2018...
Inland Empire city leaders who have banned marijuana cultivation, distribution and sale — for either medicinal or recreational purposes — cite concern over family values and public safety.
“With prospective sales, it brings about an unwanted criminal element,” [Fontana Mayor Acquanetta] Warren said. “It’s a really touchy situation because I’ve had a chance to really study how medical marijuana (helps some), but we just have a responsibility to keeping our citizens and commercial businesses safe.”...
[Community development director for Chino Hills, Joann ]Lombardo said Chino Hills is a family community and when leaders looked at the appropriate use of medical marijuana establishments in the city, they determined “it is not in keeping with that family atmosphere that is typical of Chino Hills.”
Meanwhile in the city of San Bernardino, voters on Election Day passed Measure O, which replaces a citywide ban with a regulatory plan.
The new marijuana law in San Bernardino could bring $19-24 million in new revenue to the city, according to the research firm Whitney Economics.
Experts say the emerging industry may take foothold first in the Inland Empire farther east, in the less populated desert communities, such as in Adelanto and Desert Hot Springs, where city leaders have already approved medical marijuana cultivation.
The initiative that legalized recreational use of marijuana in California found its strongest support among those who voted for Hillary Clinton for president, African Americans and voters ages 18 to 29, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times post-election poll.
Proposition 64 passed with 56% of the overall vote, but was supported by 68% of Clinton supporters and Democratic voters while it was opposed by 59% of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to the poll conducted by SurveyMonkey.
A breakdown of the vote by race found the ballot measure drew support from 64% of African American voters, 58% of whites and 56% of Latino voters.
Though marijuana legalization was supported by 66% of voters ages 18 to 29, backing from those ages 50 to 64 was weaker at 49%.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Will Prez-Elect Donald Trump make it legal and easier for veterans to have access to medical marijuana?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new AP article headlined "For Colorado Veterans, Marijuana A Controversial Treatment." Here are excerpts:
Tom couldn’t sleep. After six years in the U.S. Navy, he found himself in the civilian world unable to readjust from his time on a ship, when a commanding officer would often wake up the sailors every few hours. He tried prescription sleep aids, but nothing really worked until he smoked some weed ... “I tried it very sparingly and slept the whole night for the first time in like months,” Tom said.
For members of the U.S. military, admitting to using marijuana could result in an investigation and in most cases, punishment or separation from the military. Because of this, many of the veterans who use marijuana chose not to reveal their last names...
Attorney Will M. Helixon, an expert in military law, said the military still considers marijuana a controlled substance. Someone in active duty caught using the drug could be punished and in most cases, processed for separation from the military. For someone who is not on active duty, it could still result in a discharge, which could close the door for future benefits and career options.
Helixon said it makes no difference to the military if marijuana is legal in some states, such as Colorado. “There are many instances where otherwise lawful conduct is prohibited by the military, marijuana being one of them,” Helixon said. “To not be efficient in your job or to be derelict in your duties is not a crime in the civilian world, but it is in the military.”...
Tom said he much prefers marijuana over drinking, even though branches of the military are no strangers to alcohol consumption. “The Navy has, I don’t want to say a tradition, but we’re known for being heavy drinkers. There’s that saying ‘drunk as a sailor,'” Tom said. “It’s like a big frat because at every port there’s ‘Let’s go out and get as drunk as possible.’ I thought it was so odd that the Navy was so gung ho about drinking and so against marijuana. I consider them on the same level.”
Juan, who is 50 and was in the U.S. Marine Corps, expressed the same sentiment. Juan broke his collarbone from injuries not related to the military, he said. “I just drank all the time to numb the pain but marijuana works much better and for sleep as well,” Juan said. Marijuana “doesn’t really get rid of the pain. It changes it to something more manageable if that makes sense … it like feels good to get it moving, like a massage.”
Juan said he has a couple friends recently who died from heavy drinking. He said the drinking culture in the Marines is similar to what Tom described in the Navy. “Oh yeah, it’s just like college — put enough young people together and they’re going to want to party and drink. In the Marine Corps everyone drank and pretty excessively too,” Juan said.
Juan said he is distrustful of prescription opiates as well. “I think the amount of opiates being prescribed to people is a little reckless. I don’t take aspirin because I don’t like the idea of drugs,” Juan said. “An opiate can actually kill you if you overdose. With marijuana, that can’t happen. You’re not going to smoke yourself to death.”... Juan conceded that it is possible to get hooked on marijuana, like anything else. “To be honest, I’m kind of addicted to not hurting all the time. You can be psychologically dependent on it,” Juan said. “If it gets to a point where you’re smoking before work or something then you’ve got a problem. I have friends who smoke it pretty heavily and they are well-paid with families to take care of. They’re not the stereotypical stoner on the couch.” ‘A Band-Aid’ Sam House, a spokesman for the U. S. Department Veterans Affairs for northern Colorado and Cheyenne, said that while marijuana may seem beneficial, it’s masking the real problem.... House said the VA follows the Federal Drug Administration, which has not found a medical use for cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
Because of the federal policy, House said a veteran who uses marijuana won’t be able to get certain prescriptions at the VA medical office. For instance, veterans are routinely blood-tested every time they go in for a VA appointment, House said. So if a veteran tweaks his or her back in a way for which a doctor would prescribe prescription painkillers, when the bloodwork comes back positive for marijuana, the VA doctor can no longer prescribe the painkillers.
House is a veteran who is diagnosed with PTSD. He said it’s important for veterans to treat the root cause of the side effects with therapy, instead of self-medicating with marijuana. “The goal of every veteran should be to be normal and to seek out that new normal,” House said. “If someone is on an antidepressant, they may need that for the rest of their lives. Why complicate that with self-medication, which could or could not contribute to that depression?”...
Curt Bean, 31 of Lakewood, was diagnosed with PTSD after tours in Iraq with the U.S Army. Bean said he knows a fellow veteran who went from taking 14 medications for PTSD to three medications after starting marijuana. “The three biggest things for me — anxiety is really tough and then there’s depression and sleeplessness,” Bean said. “I’m able to have something to mitigate that in a healthy and positive way with zero negative side effects.”
Bean said he is heavily involved in the Colorado veterans community and he has seen other veterans switch from opiates to marijuana with positive effects. “They were just being zombies. And the marijuana allowed them to be a successful part of their families and their communities,” Bean said. “It allowed them to be part of their communities rather than isolating them in their room.”...
Bean said he knows many veterans are afraid to come out and say they use marijuana, but he is trying to raise more awareness about the issue. Bean has smoked marijuana on a few local news stations. “I understand the ramifications of doing that, but it takes people to stand up and say, ‘It’s silly,’ for this to become less of an issue,” Bean said.
Bean said he wished the VA would come around and see his perspective on marijuana use for PTSD. “It’s a matter of time. The longer they wait and drag their feet, the lower the quality of life for veterans and there is some loss of life,” Bean said. “That’s the most upsetting thing — that I’m on this expedition to be able to say that this is a valuable option for the guys and they should be able to use it because it does save lives.”
Notably, this two-page document entitled "Donald Trump's Contract with the American Voter," describes a part of a planned initiative to include "provid[ing] veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice." If that becomes a reality, it could make it much easier to veterans to have access to medical marijuana through the private health care system (although this would not alone solve problems for active military members).
Friday, November 11, 2016
Thanks to Tom Angell, Marijuana Majority founder and Twitter fiend, I now have seen that CNN has great exit poll data detailing and breaking down by a variety of demographics who voted for and against the marijuana reform initiative in Arizona (which failed) and California (which passed).
For those who follow marijuana reform polling, many of these demographic data points are not surprising: younger voters supported legalization in both states much more than older voters. Democrats supported legalization in both states much more than Republicans. But there are also some really interesting distinctive data points to be found, such as:
In Arizona, the majority of voters making less than $100K were supportive of legalization, with those making less than $50K being the most supportive (at 53%). Among voters making more than $100K, a full 56% were against AZ legalization.
In Arizona, a strong majority of Latino voters supported legalization (60%), but a strong majority of white voters opposed legalization (55%)
In California, the majority of voters at all income levels supported legalization, but those making less than $100K did so by a much larger percentage.
In California, the majority of unmarried voters strongly supported legalization (64%), but a majority of married voters opposed legalization (52%), but it is really just married women (against 55%) and not married men (for 52%) who move the married voters into a majority no position.
- In California, the majority of voters saying no religion were huge supporters of legalization (76%), but protestants also were majority supporters (54%), but catholics were strongly opposed (61%).
November 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
The title of this post comes from this CBSNews.com article addressing the question looming over the otherwise positive results for marijuana legalization advocates on Tuesday: will a Trump White House aggressively enforce federal marijuana prohibition? The article begins:
Supporters of the marijuana industry should be celebrating this week’s passage of eight state ballot measures to permit its use by adults. That promises to triple the industry’s size in coming years.
But harshing their buzz are several key allies of President-elect Donald Trump, such as his running mate Mike Pence, who are skeptical about the benefits of marijuana legalization.
Not surprisingly, many in the cannabis industry had expected Democrat Hillary Clinton to cruise to victory and were stunned when it didn’t happen. Now, they’re awaiting signals of how Trump will approach cannabis, even as the industry is set to expand significantly.
“If Hillary Clinton had won, this would have been the grand slam that everyone in the industry had been hoping and praying for for years,” said Chris Walsh, editorial director of Marijuana Business Daily. “With Trump coming in, no one knows what’s going to happen. There are a lot of fears that he might crack down on the industry.”
During the campaign, Trump argued that marijuana legalization should be decided on a state-by-state basis, without being more specific. But in addition to the vice president-elect, some of Trump’s closest advisers, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, are no “friends of marijuana reform,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Lawmakers in Indiana failed to reach an agreement on a medical marijuana bill during their 2016 session, and according to the Marijuana Policy Project, the state has among the most draconian cannabis laws in the country.
In New Jersey, Christie signed a law allowing medical use of pot last year, but activists have criticized it for being overly restrictive. The governor is adamantly opposed to allowing recreational pot use. Giuliani reportedly has argued that marijuana is a gateway drug that could lead to abuse of more harmful substances like heroin, a view that many experts dispute.
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment...
It would be difficult for the Trump administration to get rid of legal marijuana given the windfall the states have earned in tax revenue, according to [Nick] Kovacevich[, the CEO of Kush Bottles].
As various folks continue to try to figure out just what happened on Election Day 2016, I am seeing a lot of people noting that Hillary Clinton won more of the popular vote than did Donald Trump. But Trump is now Prez-Elect because he squeaked out state-by-state victories in a majority of the swing states. As the title of this post trumpets, I think simple math suggests the most of the swing states would have swung the other way if HRC had been a vocal and consistent advocate for major marijuana reform. Here is the basis for my thinking:
1. Third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein both advocated for full marijuana legalization, and I think it fair to imagine that some (significant?) percentage of their voters would have voted for HRC instead if she championed major marijuana reform.
If only half of voters who picked Johnson/Stein would have instead voted for HRC had she championed marijuana reform, HRC would have won, instead of lost, the states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those states add up to 75 electoral votes and would have given HRC the presidency with more than 300 electoral votes. Given that younger persons disproportionately support full marijuana legalization (nearly 80%) and that younger voters disproportionately voted for Johnson/Stein, I think significant advocacy for major marijuana reform could have allowed HRC to secure many of these third-party voters in 2016.
2. In addition to securing more of those who showed up to vote for a third party, I think significant advocacy for major marijuana reform could have allowed HRC to motivate many more traditional democrats to turn out to vote. This UPROXX article, headlined "It Appears As Though Hillary Clinton Was Ultimately Done In By Low Democratic Voter Turnout," details why lower turn out among democratic voters was fundamental to her surprising loss. (Given that HRC mostly made arguments about who to vote against (Trump) rather than arguments about why to come out to vote for her (what did she promise to do exactly?), it is not hard to understand why she struggled to encourage her traditional base to show up and vote.
If HRC advocacy for major marijuana reforms motivate just another 10% of traditional democratic voters to show up to vote for her, she now wins Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin big AND now also wins Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and maybe even makes Ohio and Texas(!) remarkably close. With just the first additional three of these states added to her column, and HRC has now more than 350 electoral votes; throw in Ohio and Texas and she is way over 400.
Now I realize, of course, that one probably needs to be smoking something to really believe that potent advocacy for major marijuana reforms would have turned the US deep blue and led to a landslide outcome not seen since the Reagan era. But throughout the election season and now in this period of post-mortems, I keep returning the my own feeling that HRC really provided no tangible reason for me to vote for her rather than just against the other guy. Potent advocacy for major marijuana reforms, I suspect, would have given a lot of people other than me a real reason to vote for HRC.