Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Two notably rosy new account of the state of marijuana reform circa 2018

180130115042-medical-marijuana-map-780x439Today I have seen two notable new articles making much of where marijuana reform stands as of January 2018.  CNN Money has this new article headlined "The U.S. legal marijuana industry is booming."  It starts this way:

It's 2018 and marijuana remains illegal in the United States.  But continued federal prohibition hasn't stopped the marijuana industry from growing like a very profitable weed.

Despite what could be considered an unfriendly administration in Washington D.C., nine states and the District of Columbia now allow for recreational marijuana use and 30 allow for medical use.  And more states are lining up to join the legalization wave.  Pot has become big business in the U.S.

The emerging industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry.  Sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry, or to annual revenue from Pampers diapers.

That was before California opened its massive retail market in January.  The addition of the Golden State is huge for the industry and Adams estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.

The industry has also been creating jobs and opportunities.  There are 9,397 active licenses for marijuana businesses in the U.S., according to Ed Keating, chief data officer for Cannabiz Media, which tracks marijuana licenses.  This includes cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, dispensaries, distributors, deliverers and test labs.

More than 100,000 people are working around the cannabis plant and that number's going to grow, according to BDS Analytics.  The industry employed 121,000 people in 2017.  If marijuana continues its growth trajectory, the number of workers in that field could reach 292,000 by 2021, according to BDS Analytics.

And German Lopez at Vox has this new piece headlined "January was the biggest month yet for marijuana legalization, despite Trump’s new war on pot."  Here is how it starts:

January 2018 was the most important month yet for marijuana legalization.

Things looked rocky a few days into the month, when President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama-era memo that protected states that had legalized marijuana from federal interference.  Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, the federal government can still crack down on pot even in states where it’s legal under state law for recreational purposes.

But the announcement came and went with little sign that the Justice Department will actually do much in its new war on marijuana.  The agency was unclear when reporters asked if the move will actually lead to more anti-marijuana prosecutions.  And in the aftermath, federal prosecutors across the country released statements that were either vague or indicated that they won’t lead to a new wave of anti-marijuana crackdowns in places where pot is legal under state law.

Meanwhile, California at the beginning of the month opened the world’s biggest legal market for recreational marijuana — following voters’ decision in 2016 to legalize pot for recreational purposes and allow sales of the drug.

Then, after Sessions announced his new marijuana policy, Vermont legislators, with the support of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, legalized marijuana for recreational use. The law won’t allow sales — only possession and growing.  But it’s a big move because Vermont is now the first state to have legalized marijuana through its legislature.

All of this adds up to a huge month for marijuana legalization.  If even a federal threat over marijuana legalization didn’t stop Vermont’s legalization momentum or slow down California’s massive new legal pot market, what, if anything, will stop more states from going down the same path?

January 31, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

San Francisco DA talking about proactively revising past marijuana convictions to better implement Prop 64

RawImageThis new local article, headlined "SF will wipe thousands of marijuana convictions off the books," reports on an interesting and encouraging development int he Bay area. Here are the details:

San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s marijuana-legalization laws to past criminal cases, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday — expunging or reducing misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades. The unprecedented move will affect thousands of people whose marijuana convictions brand them with criminal histories that can hurt chances of finding jobs and obtaining some government benefits.

Proposition 64, which state voters passed in November 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California for those 21 and older and permitted the possession up to one ounce of cannabis. The legislation also allows those with past marijuana convictions that would have been lesser crimes — or no crime at all — under Prop. 64 to petition a court to recall or dismiss their cases.

Rather than leaving it up to individuals to petition the courts — which is time consuming and can cost hundreds of dollars in attorney fees — Gascón said San Francisco prosecutors will review and wipe out convictions en masse. The district attorney said his office will dismiss and seal more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions in San Francisco dating back to 1975. Prosecutors will also review and, if necessary, re-sentence 4,940 felony marijuana cases, Gascón said. “Instead of waiting for people to petition — for the community to come out — we have decided that we will do so ourselves,” Gascón said. “We believe it is the right thing to do. We believe it is the just thing to do.”

He made the announcement at a news conference at which he was joined by city Supervisors Malia Cohen and Jeff Sheehy, along with Nicole Elliot, director of the city’s Office of Cannabis, Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance reform group, and the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP.

Advocates for poor and minority communities have long complained that marijuana laws are applied disproportionately to the impoverished and people of color. A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African Americans were more than twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites, despite similar levels of use. In San Francisco, African Americans were four times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession, the study found. A marijuana conviction can affect whether a person qualifies for federally subsidized housing, student loans and disability insurance....

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, nearly 5,000 people statewide have petitioned courts to have their marijuana convictions expunged since Prop. 64 took effect. In San Francisco, however, fewer than two dozen people have done so, Gascón said. His office is believed to be the first in the state to move to clear old marijuana convictions, Gascón said. Most of the work will be done outside of courtrooms, and those affected won’t be required to show up for court.

Misdemeanor clearances will begin immediately, but felony cases “will take a little more time,” Gascón said. Those who were convicted of felony marijuana counts that were tied to other offenses may not be eligible to have their cases expunged under Prop. 64. Gascón said he will have a limited number of attorneys and paralegals going over such cases at first, but may assign more depending on the workload. “It’s evolving,” he said. “It will be a lot of clerical work, and we will evaluate as we start reviewing felonies.”

Prosecutors will also have to coordinate with the state attorney general’s office to make sure cases are updated in the state system.

Gascón said he hopes his undertaking will prompt other jurisdictions to follow suit. “We’re hoping what we are doing here will not only benefit San Francisco,” he said. “We’re hoping other elected officials around the state will say this is the right thing to do.”

On Jan. 9, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced a bill that would make it easier for many people statewide to have marijuana convictions expunged. The legislation, AB1793, would “allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction.” However, the number of such convictions throughout California over the years runs into the millions. Opponents of the bill have said ordering courts to expunge them on a broad scale could cost millions of dollars.

Some prior related posts:

January 31, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Guardian commentary authored by Alex Halperin.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been known as dope, grass, herb, gage, tea, reefer, chronic. B ut the most familiar name for the dried buds of the cannabis plant, and one of the few older terms still in use today, is “marijuana”.

For the prohibitionists of nearly a century ago, the exotic-sounding word emphasized the drug’s foreignness to white Americans and appealed to the xenophobia of the time. As with other racist memes, a common refrain was that marijuana would lead to miscegenation.

Harry Anslinger, the bureaucrat who led the prohibition effort, is credited as saying back then: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry, but a vocal contingent prefers the less historically fraught “cannabis”.  At a time of intense interest in past injustices, some say “marijuana” is a racist word that should fall out of use....

The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown.  According to the book Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth, it may derive from an Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana....

As with other symbols of past oppression, from the pink triangle to the n-word, there’s a powerful tradition of marginalized communities redeploying symbols of their oppression.  It’s these communities – not businesses – who have the moral authority to decide if marijuana is a racist word which should be avoided or an important reminder of a more racist past.

January 29, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Imagining a productive tax break for marijuana businesses to provide drug education

Images-22Last week I spotlighted this article published at the Cannabis Law Report titled "An Introduction To The Internal Revenue Code For Cannabis Businesses." The piece was authored by Chris Nani, a student in my Marijuana Law & Policy seminar last semester, and now available here via the Cannabis Law Report is another part of his taxing treatment.  The piece is titled simply "Part II: My Proposed Tax Break," and here is an excerpt:

While there is still federal prohibition, Congress should incentivize current marijuana businesses to perform desirable social policy goals in exchange for tax deductions. Because taxes are so astronomically high for marijuana businesses such as dispensaries, by adding an amendment to § 280E Congress could specifically tailor it to marijuana businesses or include all scheduled I and II drugs. I elected to make it about all scheduled I and II drugs.

Under § 280E, the proposed amendment would read:

“Any scheduled I or II drug business that pays federal income taxes, regardless of its legality, is applicable to deduct from its expenses any activities that meet the following: (i) educational programs that demonstrate health risks and safety procedures for the drug(s) the business is involved with (ii) informational programs that display the short and long-term risks of the drug(s) the business is involved with and (iii) informational programs that educate on how to identify the signs of an overdose and how to properly treat it for the drug(s) the business is involved with.”

Just like any statute, my proposed § 280E amendment is vulnerable to abuse, but hopefully the legislative history would be able to give guidance to the IRS and courts if litigation arose. The social goal aimed at this amendment is public health. By increasing awareness and knowledge of a drug, the user will be able to make better judgment calls and more accurately understand the consequences of their actions.

Now, to fully dissect the language of my proposed amendment.  The first sentence applies to any scheduled I or II drug regardless of its legality. This includes drugs such as heroin, LSD, and marijuana along with prescribed drugs such as Adderall, Fentanyl, and OxyContin.  All of the drugs listed have side effects and can damage the human body. By educating the public on the health risks and safety procedures for the drug, heroin dealers and marijuana dispensaries both could reduce their federal income taxes. I believe it’s better for a heroin addict to understand the deadliness of the drug and how to properly use it beforehand to help minimize the chance of death. Similarly, for marijuana, dispensaries could receive a deduction while showing consumers how to properly use a bong or smoke a blunt while discussing the health consequences of smoking. It would allow dispensaries to showcase their products and demonstrate any new innovative ways to use marijuana while additionally educating the public on how to properly use a device.

Prior related Post:

"An Introduction To The Internal Revenue Code For Cannabis Businesses"

 

January 27, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dreaming of what Prez Trump could say (but surely won't) in State of the Union about marijuana policy

The ever-astute John Hudak of the Brookings Institute has this lengthy new commentary about federal marijuana policy headlined "Trump’s 1st State of the Union: His chance to be a states’ rights president." The piece merits are full read, and here are excerpts:

When President Trump delivers his State of the Union address next week, there will be plenty of issues to cover. One likely to be overlooked, but in need of presidential clarity, is marijuana policy.  It is not the most high-profile issue, but a few sentences would help reconcile the president’s campaign promises with the actions of his administration....

If Mr. Trump truly believes in the promises he made during the campaign, his speech next week is an opportunity to scold Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescinding the Cole Memo that offered protections to states that have legalized recreational marijuana (and companies within those states who are playing by the state rules).  He can publicly oppose Mr. Sessions’ explicit request to Congress to rescind the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that restricts the Justice Department from spending funds to enforce against state-legal medical marijuana operations.  He can ask Congress to rescind the Harris Amendment that prevents the District of Columbia from implementing its recreational legalization initiative — a congressional decision that has left D.C. with a legal homegrow system but no power to construct a regulatory system for commercial sales.

Mr. Trump can go further and signal to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — who will likely be sitting a few yards in front of him — that the Treasury Department should strengthen protections for banks working to keep the marijuana industry accountable and transparent, and he can ask Congress to put those protections into law.  Mr. Trump knows better than any president in history how important access to financial services are for an individual starting and building a business.

Mr. Trump can talk about marijuana research. He can disavow his VA Secretary’s recent statements about medical research. Secretary Shulkin first said — incorrectly — that his department was restricted from studying marijuana’s medical efficacy.  He subsequently and messily “cleaned up” his statement by saying that studying marijuana was too bureaucratically difficult for his department to pursue.  As a vocal supporter of our troops and someone committed to helping our injured veterans, President Trump can demand that the VA Secretary change his tune.

And he can do much more.  He can tell the HHS Secretary to review and remove the barriers that hinder our nation’s most talented medical and scientific researchers from studying marijuana’s efficacy, dosing, and side effects. He can demand that Attorney General Sessions stop stalling with the approval of new licenses for regulated, research-grade facilities to grow marijuana for use in federally approved research — breaking the monopoly currently held by the University of Mississippi’s marijuana farm.  He can tell Congress that because most of their constituents live in states with medical marijuana programs, they should increase funding for such research, including promising research into whether medical marijuana can be used to combat the opioid crisis.

This is, of course, a lot to ask of a president on an issue that does not command top-tier attention.  What’s more, because his administration seems to have no interest in this policy area — and several appointees explicitly oppose marijuana—there does not seem to be an agency head or cabinet member who will lobby the White House to include language on marijuana policy in the speech.  Without having a high-level ally on the issue, marijuana is unlikely to be addressed.

Prez Obama was an (in)famous marijuana user in high school and yet never thought marijuana policy could justify any real attention in any of his speeches, let along the State of the Union. Consequently, I would by shocked if Prez Trump used his first State of the Union speech to speak really for the first time on this divisive issue. But, of course, Prez Trump sometimes seems to like to be shocking, so I will still be listening closely.

January 26, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lamenting "marijuana apartheid" amidst modern marijuana reform movement

Bosnia-a-scuola-di-apartheidThe title of this post picks up on a provocative phrase in this provocative new commentary at The Intercept authored by Shaun King.  The piece is headlined ""Despite Liberalizing Marijuana Laws, the War on Drugs Still Targets People of Color, " and here are excerpts:

[New York] city’s leaders have openly bragged about the decriminalization of marijuana, but arrests for simple possession actually went up by 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 18,136 people arrested.  In a 2016 interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession.” But that’s simply not true: 96 percent of those arrested in New York were busted for low-level possession. Over 50 people a day are still being arrested for it in New York City alone.

Most of those arrests, predictably, are happening in communities of color. The new numbers for New York City’s 2017 marijuana arrests just came out and they hardly budged — arrests declined by about 1 percent, disappointing many advocates and attorneys who took the mayor’s word on this issue.

Democrats dominate in New York. In addition to its liberal mayor, 47 of 51 city council members are Democrats. New York can’t blame arresting 50 people a day for low-level marijuana possession on Sessions or Trump. Neither can most of America’s largest cities — where a huge percentage of these arrests go down — and where Democrats have ruled for decades. This disparity extends to places that have legalized weed — and not just medical marijuana. As far as arrests go, the legalization wave has mainly helped white people....

Then there is the economic justice side of things. Millions of African-Americans have gone to jail for marijuana possession and distribution; hundreds of thousands remain in jail at this very moment. And while African-Americans continue to pay an enormous price for marijuana prohibition, a legal weed economy is exploding. In California, the weed economy is worth about $7 billion, and it’s going to grow exponentially.

Who do you think owns these businesses? That’s right: The weed industry is dominated by white ownership. I recently picked up a magazine that was all about the marijuana industry. Not a single black or Latino face was in the entire magazine. That people of color are largely shut out of the legal cannabis industry, after paying the heaviest price for it, is the definition of white privilege.

We’ve seen this sort of exploitation many times. We celebrate, as we should, Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball. But when MLB “integrated,” it only integrated the teams, not the front offices or ownership groups. The integration of baseball then meant the destruction of the Negro League and every black-owned franchise that came with it. Generations later, not a single team in baseball is black-owned. The same is true for basketball. Even the Harlem Globetrotters is owned by white people.

What we have right now is a type of marijuana apartheid, a de facto policy of segregation on this issue, in which one lived reality exists for white America on weed and a completely different, more punitive and costly reality exists for African-Americans. Of course it’s unfair, but it damn sure is as American as apple pie. Even if we’ve already passed the bygone golden years of bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice reform, it’s time for Democrats to lead on this issue. But judging by the fact that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has just one single co-sponsor for his progressive legislation on the matter, it doesn’t look like Democrats have a real plan here. Do they ever?

January 26, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Keeping up with the latest notable news with the help of Marijuana Moment

Regular readers are used to me regularly referencing Tom Angell great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment and his similarly titled news portal available here.  Because I have been busy on many other fronts this week, I have not been able to keep up with some notable news, and so I will link to Tom's particular recent postings that struck me as especially worth highlighting:

The last of these listed items discusses a notable new Ninth Circuit ruling that I am hoping to blog more about before too long.

January 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Drug Policy Alliance releases big new report: "From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization"

Status-report-coverThe reform advocacy organization Drug Policy Alliance has released today this big new data-dense report headlined "From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization; What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Eight States and Washington, D.C." I am likely going to do a series of posts about this report and its details particulars, but I will begin here by just quoting the first part of its executive summary:

On November 6, 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states – and first two jurisdictions in the world – to legalize marijuana for adult use.  Two years later Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. followed suit.  In 2016 voters in four additional states – California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada – also approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana.  In January 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a state legislature.  More states are expected to legalize marijuana in the near future.

Evidence shows that marijuana legalization is working so far.  States are saving money and protecting the public by comprehensively regulating marijuana for adult use. This success has likely contributed to the historically high levels of public support for marijuana legalization in the U.S., which has steadily grown to an all-time high of 64 percent.  The majority of Americans, across party affiliations, support legalizing marijuana, with 51 percent of Republicans now in favor.

Arrests and court filings for the possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana have plummeted since voters legalized marijuana for adult use in eight states and Washington, D.C.  These states have saved millions of dollars and prevented the criminalization of thousands of people. Marijuana legalization has a positive effect on public health and safety.  Nationally, and in states that have legalized marijuana, youth marijuana use has remained stable or declined.  Legal access to marijuana is associated with reductions in some of the most troubling harms associated with opioid use, including opioid overdose deaths and untreated opioid use disorders.  DUI arrests for driving under the influence, of alcohol and other drugs, have declined in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to establish legally regulated adult use marijuana markets.  In addition, crash rates in both states have remained similar to those in comparable states that have not legalized marijuana.

At the same time, states are filling their coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenues.  These revenues are being allocated for social good – to fund education, school construction, early literacy, bullying prevention, behavioral health, and alcohol and drug treatment.  In addition, the legal marijuana industry is creating jobs; it currently employs approximately 200,000 full and part-time workers across the country.

January 23, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is marijuana legalization really just "another Jim Crow law"?

RonriceThe notable question in the title of this post is prompted by the last sentence of this notable recent commentary, headlined "Marijuana Legalization Is Not the Answer to the Injustices of the War on Drugs," authored by New Jersey State Senator Ronald L. Rice. Here is the bulk of the piece (with one particular line stressed for follow-up commentary):

In 1982 President Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs. He promised to fund a major campaign against drugs and to develop a plan to carry out his war.  Reagan’s declaration followed that of President Richard Nixon, whose effort to vilify people of color and tear apart their communities began when he used those same words in 1971.  The ‘war on drugs’ theme of these administrations was the political rhetoric that ultimately became the statutory and legislative foundation over the years for the United States’ domestic policy.

The campaigns launched by these administrations were designed to change the public’s perception of the use of drugs. They were intended to demonstrate that the administrations of Nixon and Reagan were concerned about public safety, crime prevention and victims of crime.  As a result, African-Americans and Latinos became the target.  And the public perception became that these groups were responsible for the immoral habits, practices and crime such as drug use, possession, sales, prostitution, and bad conduct in general.

The war on drugs was a racially divisive campaign that put countless numbers of black people behind bars, became a political tool for the government and a money-making venture for too many in America. African-American communities to this day suffer from discriminatory practice of mass incarceration of black people.  The use and violation of drug laws by whites and blacks are reasonably proportionate; however, the enforcement effort disproportionately affects minorities.

In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union found that in New Jersey, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate of whites, despite similar usage rates. There is also disparity in sentencing, with blacks often receiving longer and more severe sentencing, for the same type and similarly-situated crimes.

In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado, black people are still arrested at a rate of nearly three times greater than whites for a violation of marijuana laws. There are more children being exposed with calls to poison control centers increasing, nearly half of the cases a result of a child ingesting an edible product. There are more babies born with THC in their system due to the mother’s use of marijuana than there were prior to legalization of recreational marijuana, and much we don’t know about the extent of harm this could cause.  And there is a lot of money being made by business people and investors, who are largely white, at the expense of people of color. Their profits are also coming at the expense of newborn babies, children and the poor....

Legalizing recreational marijuana would without a doubt produce in New Jersey’s urban communities, more so than any other community, unintended consequences.  It would continue the problems we are seeing now, such as racial profiling and disparity in arrests and incarceration.  It would mean increased homelessness and undoubtedly it would mean increased crime.  It would only compound the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is not the answer to the injustice, disparity issues and the discriminatory arrests of people of color.   We can begin the process of righting the wrong by passing legislation that will decriminalize marijuana use and possession, releasing people from jails and prisons who are incarcerated for use and possession of marijuana, and by expunging their records.

This we can do without passing another Jim Crow law that disproportionately harms people who historically have seen the most suffering as a result of the War on Drugs.

I have reprinted much of this commentary because I consider Senator Rice's perspective very interesting, important and debatable, particularly in light of the fact that many advocates for marijuana reform believe marijuana reforma can and will help ameliorate "the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs."

If Senator Rice were only to state that legalization and commercialization of marijuana has not yet sufficiently remedied drug-war inequities and that reform efforts must make such remediation a priority concern, this commentary would likely be widely embraced by many marijuana reform advocates.  But the assertion that legalization and commercialization of marijuana "would only compound the unequal outcomes caused by the so-called war on drugs" is a more forceful claim that does not seem supported by existing data (e.g., such as this report indicating more minority marijuana executives than minority executives in other industries).  Nevertheless, it is both interesting and valuable to hear from a legislator clearly concerned about the racialized reality of the drug war who is also clearly concerned about racialized realities an impact of marijuana reform efforts.

January 23, 2018 in Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Vermont now officially the ninth US state to legalize marijuana ... and the first to do so through traditional legislation

VermontAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vermont governor signs pot bill with 'mixed emotions'," a small state finalized some big marijuana reform news this afternoon. Here are the details:

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday privately signed Vermont's marijuana bill into law, making the state the first in the country to authorize the recreational use of the substance by an act of a state legislature. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, two mature and four immature plants.

Vermont will become the ninth state in the country, along with Washington, D.C, to approve the recreational use of marijuana. The other states and Washington authorized the recreational use of marijuana through a vote of residents. Vermont law contains no mechanism that allows for a citizen referendum.

The Republican governor had until the end of the day Monday to sign the bill. His office issued a statement Monday afternoon saying he had signed the bill. "Today, with mixed emotions, I have signed" the bill he said. "I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children."

The law contains no mechanism for the taxation or sale of marijuana, although the Legislature is expected to develop such a system.

Vermont's move is an incremental reform that will have little impact for most people in the state, said Matt Simon, New England political director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "I think the vast majority of Vermonters won't notice any change at all," Simon said. "It's simply eliminating a fine and eliminating a penalty for growing a small number of plants."

The new law is unlikely to prompt people who don't now smoke marijuana to take it up, said Robert Sand, a Vermont law school professor and former county prosecutor who has advocated for years to change the state's drug laws. "Realistically anyone who wanted to try it has tried it," Sand said....

The Vermont Legislature passed a similar proposal last spring, but Scott vetoed it, citing practical concerns. Lawmakers revised the proposal to do more to protect children and enhance highway safety. The revised bill passed both chambers this month.

Recreational use of marijuana already has passed in Maine and Massachusetts, and both states are awaiting the implementation of systems to tax and regulate marijuana. New Hampshire's House gave preliminary approval to a bill earlier this month that would allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities, even though a commission studying the issue won't finish its work until next fall.

Scott said last week he was declining to hold a bill signing ceremony because "some people don't feel that this is a momentous occasion."

January 22, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Interesting new data on the latest economics of marijuana reform politics

636518826214405336-Contributions-OnlineUSA Today has this interesting new article with interesting new data under the headline "Marijuana money increasingly flowing to Republican lawmakers." Here are excerpts:

Marijuana business owners are increasingly pouring their profits into lobbying lawmakers as they face a federal crackdown from the Trump administration.

A USA TODAY survey found hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing from the cannabis industry into campaign finance accounts of both lawmakers and political action committees, with emphasis this year on Congressional Republicans who are trying to stop the Trump administration from targeting marijuana businesses.

Combined, medical and recreational marijuana marketplaces across the country are worth a staggering $8 billion, and last year generated at least $2 billion in taxes, said Matt Karnes of cannabis data firm GreenWave Advisors. It’s no surprise those businesses want to protect what they’ve built, experts say.  “These are legitimate, taxpaying businesses that want and deserve to be heard, and lawmakers at every level of government have become more comfortable with accepting their contributions,” said Mason Tvert, a cannabis activist who helped lead Colorado’s legalization effort in 2012.

Politicians are increasingly willing to accept those contributions from an industry that remains illegal at the federal level and now faces even more scrutiny after Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month rolled back Obama administration policies not to interfere with state laws allowing people to use recreational marijuana....

Money is also flowing at the state level, where legislators and regulators decide on details about packaging, testing and even who can get business licenses. Legalization ballot initiatives across the country have also been backed by millions of dollars, particularly in California.

Cannabis lobbying groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), have long lobbied lawmakers, but now marijuana business owners themselves are contributing — and letting everyone know it.

John Lord, the CEO of Colorado-based LivWell Enlightened Health, whose company employs more than 600 people, has donated nearly $23,000 to federal lawmakers in the past four years, and another $10,000 to Colorado politicians and issue committees. Increasingly he’s been giving to Republicans at the federal level. "It would be rather imprudent if I didn’t,” Lord said.

Lord's donations make him one of the biggest individual donors in cannabis campaign contributions nationally, at least among those who admit where the money comes from. While campaign donors are supposed to disclose their employer, many black-market marijuana growers simply say they're self-employed or a consultant, obscuring the source of the money.

Democrats have typically been the largest recipients of marijuana campaign money in the past, but Republicans are now taking the lead in accepting those donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzed contributions at the request of USA TODAY. Experts say the recent shift is largely attributable to the belief by marijuana businesses that Republicans who support states' rights are their best allies today.

Because marijuana contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign donations and lobbying spending, it's hard to track exactly how much money is flowing to candidates.

Industry groups with political action committees are the biggest donors, among them the MPP, NORML and the National Cannabis Industry Association, which combined have donated about $327,000 to candidates over the past three Congressional election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, the National Beer Wholesalers Association donated about $1.5 million to candidates in the past year alone.

While the marijuana contributions represent a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to traditional businesses like brewers, grocers, manufacturers or liquor stores, the increasing flow from cannabis entrepreneurs suggests the industry won’t willingly let the federal government slow this fast-growing juggernaut.

January 21, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Jersey paper discusses "The moral case for legal pot"

With the election of a new governor, New Jersey is an especially interesting new state to watch as a legislative debate over recreational marijuana reform heats up.   This morning the state's leading paper, the Newark Star-Ledger, weighed in with this editorial headlined "The moral case for legal pot." Here are excerpts:

Gov. Phil Murphy wants to legalize pot in his first 100 days in office, but needs the votes to do it — and is facing some opposition even within his own party.

It's especially troubling to hear Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), who chairs the black caucus, and a Newark bishop claim that marijuana legalization will hurt black communities. In fact, it's quite the opposite, which is why so many black leaders and groups like the NAACP support legalization.  So let's address the lingering skepticism.

First, there's no evidence that legalizing marijuana for adults will "gut the best and brightest in many neighborhoods," as Newark Bishop Jethro James put it, in a sermon he invited Murphy to attend on Martin Luther King Day. On the contrary, it's the criminalization of marijuana that has gutted the best and brightest, as many other black leaders point out.

While blacks use pot at the same rate as whites, they are arrested nearly four times more often for it — needlessly ensnaring them in our criminal justice system.  It's the kind of injustice that would outrage MLK.  The real moral issue is "keeping people in jail for something they can now go out and purchase legally in many states," said Rev. Tim Jones of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, who supports legalization.

Some legislators, like Rice, argue that instead of making pot legal and taxing it, we could simply decriminalize it — permit people to have a small amount, instead of arresting them.

This would end the arrests of pot users, but we'd still have the same illegal market. Those who sell pot in places like Newark would still get shot in turf battles between dealers and people would still buy dangerous and illegal marijuana on the streets. The city also wouldn't have the tax revenue from controlled and regulated sales, which could be used for things like schools or anti-drug education....

It is true that after Colorado legalized marijuana, the number of young minorities arrested for pot offenses went up 58 percent. That's disturbing, but an increase in arrests does not mean an increase in drug use by kids. On the contrary: There was a slight decrease in youth drug abuse after legalization in Colorado, research showed. So what would account for the surge in youth arrests? A shift in policing strategy, one we must prevent here....

In the end, this isn't about big marijuana profits, as Rice and Bishop James claim.  The best argument for legalization isn't money — it's morality.  Prohibition taught us that making alcohol illegal caused even greater moral problems, like the rise of organized crime.  The same is true of marijuana, Rev. Jones says: "The more it's controlled and out in the open, the better for our communities."

January 21, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

"An Introduction To The Internal Revenue Code For Cannabis Businesses"

The title of this post is the title of this new article published at the Cannabis Law Report.  I am distinctly proud of this article because it was authored by Chris Nani, a student in my Marijuana Law & Policy seminar last semester.   Here is a portion of this piece: 

Marijuana-related businesses face an additional hurdle other businesses do not. Congress specifically implemented § 280E to prevent any business trafficking illegal drugs from receiving deductions. 26 U.S.C. §280E. The provision prohibits any deductions or credits to businesses trafficking schedule I or II illegal drugs within the meaning of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Marijuana is currently classified as a schedule I drug. Because marijuana-related businesses such as dispensaries or farmers traffic marijuana they either are not applicable for any tax deductions under § 162 or are extremely limited on what they can deduct.

The IRS’ current stance on what marijuana-related businesses can deduct is summarized in Chief Counsel Advice 201504011. It allows for marijuana businesses to deduct some of their cost of goods sold (COGS). The memo allows for deductions under § 471 as long as they comply with § 280E. § 471 allows for the inventoriable cost of any good that can be capitalized to be deductible. 26 U.S.C. § 471. Meaning, raw materials or labor costs are deductible because they are used within a year to create a product. Although the IRS updated the tax code with § 263A to permit additional expenses included under inventoriable cost, the IRS memo prohibits marijuana-related businesses from using § 263A in their calculation of COGS.

January 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

"It’s my belief that 70-80% of today’s NBA players use marijuana in some form."

Screen-Shot-2017-10-05-at-1.14.59-PMThe title of this post is one line in the heart of this extended essay, headlined "9 Reasons to End the War on Marijuana," authored by former NBA player Al Harrington at The Players' Tribute. Here are a few excerpts from the piece:

I was never into marijuana when I was in the league, but I tried everything the doctors could prescribe. After my career, when I was around 32, after seeing what cannabis did for my grandma, I tried out cannabidiol, which is the non-psychoactive form of it — you get the anti-inflammatory effects and the pain relief without the THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high. I took the cannabidiol (CBD) as a cream or oil that could be rubbed on topically.

And look, I’m not trying to give out medical advice, so I’ll just say this — for me, cannabis changed my experience with pain. It has worked better, with fewer side effects, than anything I’ve gotten from a doctor. To this day, at 37, after 16 years in the NBA and back surgery and all the miles on my body, I’m still playing ball every week in L.A. Meet me out there. Afternoon runs Tuesday and Thursday. You don’t want none of this!

A few years ago I co-founded a business that produces non-psychoactive cannabis as well as THC-based products. Marijuana changed my life with regard to pain. Now it’s my second calling after basketball. And in a way, it all goes back to that day seven years ago in the garage with my grandma.

Being a minority in the cannabis industry has made me realize how rare it still is. That’s why I’m active in the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA). The MCBA is about improving access and empowerment for minorities in the industry. It basically comes down to this: We’re the communities most hurt by the War on Drugs. Now that marijuana is legal in so many parts of the country, we shouldn’t be left without a seat at the table as the industry takes off.

Alcohol abuse and the NBA. You don’t hear a lot about it, but it’s there. It flies under the radar. This is just the reality: NBA players are affected by anxiety and stress. We’re like any other people with a full-time job that involves a lot of emotional and physical ups and downs.

Many NBA players have a few alcoholic drinks a day. I’ve seen the progression to where they’re having more than a few — just to unwind a little bit or relieve some pain. Pretty soon, it’s easy to be doing that after every game. That takes a serious toll. Pain is just part of sports, though. Athletes are going to seek ways to ease that pain.

I won’t say names, but in my 16 years in the league, I knew of at least 10 or 12 players who had their careers cut short due to alcohol. It either affected them physically or mentally, but one way or another, alcohol shortened their careers. No judgment from me, just facts. We all should be honest. It’s well known how liquor can destroy lives. But we’re still out here demonizing cannabis while alcohol is promoted at sporting events? It all starts with some honesty....

It’s my belief that 70-80% of today’s NBA players use marijuana in some form. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t do any formal polls or anything like that. I just played in the league for 16 years, and that’s my opinion.

Due to the NBA’s ban on cannabis, most of the guys are doing it in the offseason. But I really think the number is that high.

Here’s why I’m telling you that. These guys are NBA superstars. It’s not the last dude on the bench who’s on his couch getting high. These are global icons — leaders, teammates, parents, citizens. These are world-class athletes, man. They’ve got pain and stress and anxiety and all the things any human has. The NBA has never been more skilled or more fun to watch.

So you tell me: Is cannabis ruining these athletes’ lives? Or are our laws and ideas behind the times?

January 18, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Maryland report details basis for marijuana measures to "remediate discrimination affecting minority- and women-owned businesses"

Maryland-Medical-Marijuana_thumbnailAs reported in this local article, headlined "State consultant finds grounds to consider race in awarding medical marijuana licenses," a notable report focused on the Maryland business arena was released yesterday. Here are the basics and context:

A state consultant has determined that there are grounds to conclude that minorities are at a disadvantage in Maryland's fledgling medical marijuana industry.

The state’s medical marijuana commission has awarded 15 licenses to growers, but none of them to a minority-owned business.  The General Assembly is considering a bill that would create five new licenses and require the commission to consider the race of applicants.

The consultant’s finding, released by Gov. Larry Hogan’s office Wednesday, is a key legal step toward allowing officials to weigh race when awarding any new licenses. Hogan ordered the study in April.  “Today’s findings are clear and unequivocal evidence that there is a disparity in the medical cannabis industry,” said Shareese Churchill, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor.  “This study is an important part of the process to allow for increased minority participation in our state.”

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, the chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus and a leading advocate for more minority participation in the state’s new marijuana industry, said the finding will help whatever legislation the General Assembly passes withstand a court challenge.  “I’m ecstatic Maryland can move forward and be a beacon of light and show it is a serious issue, that everyone should be concerned about having diversity in a multibillion-dollar industry,” the Baltimore Democrat said....

Such disparity studies are commonly used in government contracting to provide a justification for considering the race or gender of bidders for jobs.  Civil rights advocates found the commission’s failure to award any licenses to black-owned businesses especially galling because African-Americans have disproportionately faced consequences from marijuana being criminalized.

The full consultant report is available at this link, and here are key passages from its conclusion:

After reviewing and analyzing the information received from the State, and bearing in mind the 2017 Disparity Study’s finding that discrimination continues to adversely impact minority-owned and women-owned firms throughout the Maryland economy, I conclude, based upon the information available to me at this time, that the 2017 Disparity Study provides a strong basis in evidence, consisting of both quantitative and qualitative findings, that supports the use of race- and gender-based measures to remediate discrimination affecting minority- and women-owned businesses in the types of industries relevant to the medical cannabis business.

Moreover, the 2017 Disparity Study details a range of race- and gender-neutral activities that the State has already undertaken to address existing disparities. The 2017 Disparity Study found that, notwithstanding these race- and gender-neutral activities, many of which have been in place for a number of years, disparities continue to exist in both public and private contracting in the same geographic and industry markets in which medical cannabis licensees and independent testing laboratories are likely to operate. These disparities, in general, are large, adverse, and statistically significant. In addition, the 2017 Disparity Study contains both qualitative and quantitative evidence to suggest that economy-wide contracting disparities in Maryland’s relevant markets are even greater than disparities in the public sector. This difference may be due to the fact that the State has, for a number of years, operated an assertive MBE program in an attempt to remedy discrimination, which would tend to reduce, though it has not yet eliminated, the effects of discrimination in public procurement. Absent such affirmative remedial efforts by the State, I would expect to see evidence in the relevant markets in which the medical cannabis licensees will operate that is consistent with the continued presence of business discrimination.

January 18, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Notable new data on marijuana arrests in NYC

This new press report, headlined "Still Too High? Marijuana Arrests Barely Budge in NYC," reports on the latest data on marijuana arrests in our nation's biggest city. Here are the details:

Police data obtained by WNYC shows that 16,925 people were arrested last year for low-level marijuana possession and smoking in public. That's a decline of only 1 percentage point from the previous year's total of 17,097.

Public defenders and drug reform advocates said that's disappointing because the mayor said he would cut down on arrests after taking office in 2014. "What these numbers show is that that war has not ended and that crusade is still going on," said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director at the Drug Policy Alliance. She added that "marijuana arrests are still something that NYPD is continuing to use as a way to disrupt communities."

Frederique, who advocates for the legalization of marijuana, has previously cited statistics showing arrests are far more prevalent in low-income communities of color than in more affluent neighborhoods that are largely white. "The city’s progress reducing low-level marijuana arrests has clearly slowed," said Redmond Haskins, spokesperson at The Legal Aid Society. Citing data from Legal Aid's own low-income clients across the city, he said, "there was basically no statistical change in low-level marijuana arrests" since 2016....

De Blasio had asked police to issues more summonses for the lowest amount of possession (25 grams or less). A summons results in a $100 ticket on the first offense instead of a misdemeanor, though the individual still has to go to summons court. In 2017, summonses went up slightly to 21,024 compared to 20,717 in 2016.

Mayoral spokesman Austin Finan said, "What’s important is the broader trend that shows a dramatic shift away from arrests in favor of summonses since 2013, proving this administration’s commitment to enhancing fairness without sacrificing safety or responsiveness to community concerns." He said the total number of low-level marijuana arrests dropped by 38 percent since 2013. There was also a 58 percent increase in summonses.

Queens Councilman Rory Lancman, who chairs the justice committee, also expressed disappointment that arrests hadn't declined more in the last year. "We need clarity to determine if this policy is sufficient and what changes must be made," he said. "In 2014 the Mayor pledged to fundamentally change the City’s criminal justice policy by treating most low-level marijuana possession as a violation instead of a misdemeanor. However, these numbers indicate that the policy is not having the impact we hoped and too many individuals still wind up in the criminal justice system, draining District Attorneys' resources and clogging our courts." 

January 17, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Attorney General’s Memorandum on Federal Marijuana Enforcement: Possible Impacts"

The title of this post is the title of this "Legal Sidebar" publication authored by Todd Garvey and Brian Yeh with the Congressional Research Service.  The piece serves as a useful short primer on federal marijuana laws and policies right now, and it concludes this way:

[T]he impact of the Sessions Memorandum will likely depend on how it is interpreted and implemented by individual U.S. Attorneys, especially with regard to state policies on recreational marijuana that are not protected by the appropriations rider.  The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, for example, has stated that he “cannot []provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution.”  But regardless of its implementation, the memorandum has highlighted the general uncertainty associated with the marijuana legalization movement, and the ease and speed with which a change in executive branch policy can unsettle the system.  This point was made somewhat presciently in 2016 by the Ninth Circuit in McIntosh, which noted that a new president would soon be elected whose “administration could shift enforcement priorities to place greater emphasis on prosecuting marijuana offenses.”  Even in the absence of immediate federal enforcement efforts, the apparent increase in risk faced by marijuana businesses as a result of the rescission of the safe harbors established by Obama-era guidance may have a chilling effect on the industry.  The mere possibility of federal marijuana enforcement has already negatively impacted marijuana stocks, and could also reverse the recent uptick in financial institutions willing to offer services to the fledgling industry. 

Prior related posts:

January 16, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

A critical look at what the VA Secretary is saying about medical marijuana research

Images (6)John Hudak of the Brookings Institute has this lengthy review and criticism of recent comments by VA Secretary David Shulkin about medical marijuana research.  The report merits a full read, and here is the start and end of the piece providing a flavor of its themes and contents:

In October, the Democratic members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee wrote a letter asking VA Secretary David Shulkin why his department is not conducting research into medical marijuana.  In the letter, Ranking Member Tim Walz (Minn.) and the other nine Democratic committee members note that in many states that have medical marijuana programs, cannabis is recommended for PTSD and/or chronic pain—conditions that afflict many of our wounded warriors.  The members do not ask Mr. Shulkin to start dispensing medical marijuana from VA facilities. Instead, they ask the secretary why the department is not conducting rigorous research....

[T]he response from Secretary Shulkin ... is an unfortunate combination of false information, incomplete analysis, and incomprehensible logic.  Rather than engaging in an honest, comprehensive discussion of the merits of the VA’s position, the secretary appears to wave off committee members’ concerns about an issue that affects the lives of millions of soldiers and veterans across the United States.

There are seven major problems with Secretary Shulkin’s response to the Democratic members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Those problems range from a mischaracterization of federal law to a faulty analysis of current medical research to a failure to put medical findings in context and more.  The shortcomings in the secretary’s response should alarm Democrats and Republicans; House members and Senators; soldiers, veterans, and civilians alike....

Secretary Shulkin has an obligation to do better.  He should recommit that his own department examine the questions posed by the House Veterans Affairs Committee more carefully and rigorously than it has previously as outlined in his letter.  He should have a frank conversation in-house that distinguishes between conducting research on the medical efficacy of marijuana and endorsing the legalization of marijuana.  Conducting basic medical research is important for the advancement of therapies for our veterans and the VA has unique opportunities to advance such efforts.  Instead, old-fashioned biases, incomplete evaluations of existing literature, and a mischaracterization of policy has, to this point, won the day at VA.

The irony in the secretary’s response to Mr. Walz’s query is that the department’s position and behaviors do not advance health care for our veterans.  Instead, it adds further risk that frustrated veterans with a variety of conditions will self-medicate, procure medicine through illegal means and/or fail to be forthcoming with their VA doctors.  Veterans deserve better than an administration that produces letters like the one sent to the Congress on December 21.

January 16, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

"Is Today's Cannabis Business Plan Yesterday's Marijuana Conspiracy?"

The question in the title of this post is posed at the start of this blog post authored by Beth Curtis at her Life for Pot blog.  Here is how it starts and ends:

On the first day of market trading for the New Year, CNBC interspersed programing with positive stories of the new California cannabis businesses.  They covered a broad range of the issues startups would face, but the common theme was prosperity and hope.  Sam Masucci talked about the new marijuana ETF, Marcus Lemonis explored the marijuana business in Humbolt County for The Profit.

I was ushering in the New Year trying to give hope to people serving life in prison for selling marijuana while Jane Wells, Kate Rogers and Aditi Roy were convincing listeners that California’s cannabis commerce would bring promised affluence.  As the day wore on, the juxtaposition was as incredible as my conclusion – today’s cannabis business plan is yesterday’s marijuana conspiracy. Life without parole is death by imprisonment.  The people I advocate for, nonviolent marijuana lifers will die in prison while a “new industry” in cannabis takes root.

We hoped that this category of nonviolent prisoner would all receive commutations at the end of the last administration, but they did not.  They are aging in Federal Prisons around the country while they watch the product they are incarcerated for become a main stream commodity and a source of profit for individuals as well as local and state governments....

The marijuana prisoners I advocate for are serving life because they were charged with “conspiracy” and became accountable for drugs sold by others, even people they had never met or known.  Conspiracy charges hold them responsible for acts that occurred over a period of years and involve many people.  Another common thread is they didn’t plead guilty and chose to exercise their right to a trial. Legal experts call it the trial penalty.  Key witnesses are usually co-defendants who accept a plea and receive less prison time, government agents, and even witnesses that are testifying for a fee.

These marijuana prisoners all have names and life stories.  They have mothers and fathers, wives, husbands, siblings and children who all have suffered and wonder why there is no mercy.  Their family time is spent traveling to a Federal Prison, being searched and processed, sometimes drug tested, then sitting in a large visiting room with only two hugs allowed and lunch from a vending machine.  We are paying dearly for this in federal treasure and human dignity.  I would like to tell them that they will have a chance to be home with their family before they die. They have been entrapped in a gigantic failed social experiment and their release would bring it all to a harmonious conclusion.

These sentences are not fiscally responsible and are not compatible with our sense that we are a nation of compassion, mercy and justice.  These nonviolent marijuana offenders with life need sentencing relief either through executive clemency or retroactive legislation.  

January 14, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 12, 2018

US Attorney for Oregon, expressing "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework," plans summit in response to new AG enforcement policy

BillBilly J. Williams, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, has this fascinating new newspaper commentary under the headlined "U.S. Attorney: A call for transparency and action on marijuana." Here is most of what it says:

Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum rescinding existing Justice Department guidance on marijuana enforcement. The move gives U.S. Attorneys wide latitude to develop district-specific strategies and deploy department resources without Washington, D.C. artificially declaring some cases off limits. Before developing a strategy for Oregon, however, we need more information from the state.

Here's what we know right now. Oregon has a massive marijuana overproduction problem. In 2017 alone, postal agents in Oregon seized 2,644 pounds of marijuana in outbound parcels and over $1.2 million in cash. For comparison, postal agents in Colorado seized just 984 pounds of marijuana during a four-year period beginning in 2013.

Overproduction creates a powerful profit incentive, driving product from both state-licensed and unlicensed marijuana producers into black and gray markets across the country. This lucrative supply attracts cartels and other criminal networks into Oregon and in turn brings money laundering, violence, and environmental degradation.

A survey of recent federal cases in Oregon illustrates alarming trends: in the last six months, federal agents and port police have seized over $1 million in cash linked to marijuana transactions passing through Portland International Airport; law enforcement partners from 16 states have reported marijuana seizures from Oregon. In the first half of 2017, in-state production of butane hash oil resulted in six separate lab explosions. And police and sheriff deputies regularly encounter vehicles with hundreds of pounds of marijuana on highways heading out of state.

We also know that even recreational marijuana permitted under state law carries ill-effects on public health and safety, as Colorado's experience shows. Since 2013, marijuana-related traffic deaths have doubled in Colorado. Marijuana-related emergency and hospital admissions have increased 35 percent. And youth marijuana use is up 12 percent, 55 percent higher than the national average. We must do everything in our power to avoid similar trends here in Oregon.

As U.S. Attorney, I have traveled throughout the state to meet with community leaders and citizens to discuss distinctive issues facing rural Oregonians.  Many of these conversations quickly turn to marijuana.  Landowners throughout central and southwestern Oregon have legitimate concerns that marijuana cultivation has had a detrimental effect on water rights, public lands and livability.

Rural communities simply do not have the resources to fund the additional police and sheriff deputies needed to address these issues. While state officials have allocated a portion of marijuana tax revenues to public safety organizations including the Oregon State Police, the net effect on enforcement remains an open question. Moreover, can 20 Oregon Liquor Control Commission marijuana enforcement specialists adequately police thousands of recreational licensees?

We don't know the answer to these questions, in part, because the state has yet to release a final version of its report evaluating out-of-state diversion, distribution to minors, cultivation on public land and violent crime associated with marijuana in Oregon.  We need this information to move forward smartly, effectively, and transparently.

In sum, I have significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon.

Congress's judgment on marijuana activity is reflected in the Controlled Substances Act.  Before charting a path forward for the enforcement of marijuana in Oregon, we must see how the state mitigates the public safety and health issues raised here.  The time for informed action is now.

In the coming days, I will send invitations to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, public health organizations, Oregon marijuana interests and concerned citizen groups to attend a summit to address and remedy these and other concerns.

This summit and the state's response will inform our federal enforcement strategy.  How we move forward will depend in large measure on how the state responds to the gaps we have identified.  Until then it would be an inappropriate abdication of my duties to issue any blanket proclamations on our marijuana enforcement strategy in light of federal law.

This commentary and its coming echoes confirms what has been one of my thoughts since Attorney General Sessions' recent decision to rescind the Cole Memo (basics here and here): each US Attorney in each US district is now able to be (and perhaps inevitably will become) the chief regulatory officer for marijuana reform in that jurisdiction.  This commentary is a clear statement that this US Attorney is concerned that Oregon's state reforms and regulations are not working, and he is going to have a quasi-regulatory hearing with interested parties, and then (perhaps) he will issue some "regulations" in the form of some explanation of the types of federal marijuana crimes and criminals he will be eager to prosecute in the near future.

January 12, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)