Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"Cannabis and Coronavirus: Impact on Medical Cannabis Industries in Three States"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Samuel DeWitt, a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic, while detrimental to the American economy as a whole, positively impacted the cannabis industry in many ways.  This paper examines how the pandemic changed the medical cannabis industries in three states where medical cannabis programs were recently implemented -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. 

In all three states, cannabis dispensaries were declared essential businesses and have remained in operation throughout the pandemic.  Due to the necessities of social distancing and minimizing contact, the medical cannabis programs in these states implemented new, innovative measures such curbside pickup, online ordering technology, drive-thru windows, delivery systems, and telehealth consultations.  Additionally, some states loosened restrictions on supply limits and caregiver registration, making medical cannabis more accessible to patients.  This paper suggests that many of these changes should remain permanent after the pandemic ends because they have modernized and, in some cases, legitimized, the cannabis industries in these states.

September 30, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Is South Dakota soon to become the first deep-red mainland state to fully legalize marijuana?

Growing-marijuana-south-dakota-600x250The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Marijuana Moment piece headlined "South Dakota Voters Support Medical And Recreational Marijuana Initiatives, New Opposition Poll Finds."  Here are excerpts:

A majority of South Dakota voters support separate initiatives to allow both medical and recreational marijuana that will appear on the state’s November ballot, according to a new poll funded by legalization opponents.

But when it comes to the proposed adult-use legalization amendment, opponents argue that there’s significant confusion over what it would accomplish, as most people who said they favor the measure cited therapeutic applications of cannabis as reasons they support the broad reform.

The statutory medical cannabis initiative would allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.  They could also grow at least three plants, or more if authorized by a physician.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which couldn’t be changed by the legislature if approved by voters, would legalize marijuana for adult use. People 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.

There’s strong support for each of the measures in the new prohibitionist-funded survey, which was conducted June 27-30 and announced in a press release on Thursday. Roughly sixty percent of South Dakota voters said they favor recreational legalization, while more than 70 percent said they back medical cannabis legalization, according to the No Way on A Committee, which didn’t publish detailed cross-tabs, or even specific basic top-line numbers, from the poll results.

The decision by the prohibitionist committee to release the results of a poll showing such broad support for legalization is an interesting one. Typically, ballot campaigns and candidates use polling results to demonstrate momentum, but perhaps the South Dakota group is seeking to sound the alarm and generate donations from national legalization opponents to help stop the measure. If South Dakota votes to legalize cannabis this November, that would signal that the policy can pass almost anywhere....

While the recreational measure might not have been crafted solely with patient access in mind, adults who want to use marijuana for therapeutic reasons would still stand to benefit from a regulated market — regardless of whether it’s a medical or adult-use model — so it’s possible that the survey results don’t demonstrate total confusion among those respondents. Plus, the constitutional amendment does contain language requiring the legislature to enact policies on medical cannabis as well—providing more robust constitutional protections for therapeutic use than the statutory measure alone would ensure.

Maine, Nevada and especially Alaska are arguably "reddish" or "red" states that have already fully legalized marijuana via ballot initiatives in years past. But South Dakota is really deep red, as in 2016 it voted for Donald Trump two-to-one over Hillary Clinton. If such a deep red state really does vote convincingly for full marijuana legalization, I think the prospects for federal reforms get a lot brighter no matter who is in charge at the federal level after this election.

September 22, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Noticing how hemp reform indirectly became criminal justice reform in Texas

JzOybXdocQLWjml-800x450-noPadLong-time readers know that my focus on marijuana reform began with, and is still situated deeply within, my eagerness for criminal justice reforms.   And though I remain concerned that the marijuana reform movement and broader debate still fails give enough attention to criminal justice issues, I always like seeing new stories of how the movement can have criminal justice reform success even in unexpected ways.  One such story can be found in Texas, as reported here by Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment under the headline "Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet In Texas After Hemp Legalization, New State Data Shows." Here are details:

Marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, new state data shows, and that trend seems connected to the legalization of the plant’s non-intoxicating cousin hemp.

While marijuana remains illegal in Texas, the policy change around hemp in mid-2019 created complications for law enforcement since the two forms of the cannabis crop are often indistinguishable to the naked eye. Police have said that, because of this, they can’t consistently charge people without conducting lab analyses of seized cannabis for THC content.

According to data released last week by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), that appears to have led to a significant decline in marijuana arrests.   In 2018, there were about 63,000 marijuana [arrests in total] in the state [data here] — and that went down to just over 45,000 arrests in 2019 [data here].

Prosecutors have dismissed hundreds of low-level cannabis cases since hemp was legalized. And state officials announced in February that labs wouldn’t be performing testing in misdemeanor cases, with DPS saying it “will not have the capacity to accept those.” Cannabis manufacturing arrests also dropped significantly since hemp’s legalization — from about 2,700 in 2018 to about 1,900 in 2019.

Municipalities across the state have jumped at the chance to push through local cannabis reforms in recent months. The El Paso City Council approved a measure in May that encourages police to issue citations for low-level marijuana cases instead of making arrests.  In January, the Austin City Council approved a resolution aimed at ending arrests for simple cannabis possession. The city’s police department said in July that they “will no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor ‘possession of marijuana’ offenses, unless there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony.”

A cite-and-release program in San Antonio led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of arrests for small amounts of marijuana, according to data released by the local police department....

Last year, the House voted to approve a decriminalization bill that would’ve made possession of one ounce or less of cannabis punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time, but it filed to advance to a Senate floor vote by the end of the session.

I am not sure the significant reduction in arrests for marijuana possession in Texas in 2019 can or should be wholly or even mostly attributed to hemp reform, but hemp reform was likely one of a number of factors that played an important contributing role.  And, as I have highlighted in some prior posts here and here, it will be fascinating to follow 2020 arrest data to see how the health challenges of COVID and the moral challenge of calls for racial justice might be impacting marijuana prohibition's continued enforcement in Texas and nationwide.

But, to make sure an important reality is not lost, we ought not lose sight of the fact that even at reduced arrest rates in 2019, on average well over 100 people were being arrested every single day in Texas for merely possessing marijuana.  (And, as we see everywhere, blacks were greatly over-represented among those arrested: though only about 12% of the Texas population is black, over 30% of those arrested for possessing marijuana in Texas in 2019 were black.)

September 10, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

"Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program at Two Years: Evaluating Satisfaction and Perception"

The title of this post is the title of this great new report, available via SSRN, authored by colleagues of mine at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, Jana Hrdinova, Stephen J. Post and Dexter Ridgway.  Here is its abstract:

Medical marijuana became legal in Ohio on September 8, 2016 when House Bill 523 (HB 523) became effective. This bill created the framework for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (OMMCP), and the architects of HB 523 promised the program would be “fully operational” within two years.  But as of July 15th, 2020, the OMMCP was still not fully operational, creating concerns around persistent delays and the overall functionality of the program.

After a year and a half of partially operating, the OMMCP continues its slow rollout.  With possible future marijuana reforms on the horizon, the perceived effectiveness and success of the current system among Ohioans may shape the long-term future of the program.  To our knowledge, the Harm Reduction Ohio (HRO) report1 released in September 2019 was the first concerted effort to survey patients and potential patients to evaluate their experiences and satisfaction with the OMMCP to date.  This report looks at how people potentially impacted by the OMMCP perceive its performance and whether there have been changes in their satisfaction levels as compared to last year’s survey data.  Our updated survey allows for a new examination into the efficacy of the structure of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program and how this state’s initial experience with marijuana reform can inform the larger national conversations currently underway.

September 8, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Building a Better Marijuana Tax"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Carl Crow, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation legalizing adult possession and use of marijuana.  Of those twelve jurisdictions, only eight of those jurisdictions have active markets where the substance can be legally bought and sold, and each imposes a different taxation scheme on the flow of marijuana goods in the marketplace.  This paper analyzes each tax base and then proposes a bifurcated recreational marijuana tax scheme for states that are currently thinking about legalization: (i) tax flower, bud, and trim based on weight; and (ii) tax concentrates, edibles, oils, and other “distilled” marijuana products based on potency, currently measured by THC content.

The idea behind taxing by potency is two-fold: first, the state may pursue public health goals by nudging consumers away from high-potency forms of marijuana – and prevent producers from gravitating even more strongly toward high-potency goods; second, taxing by potency may help normalize the recreational use of marijuana by encouraging society to treat marijuana more like other legal drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes.  While no tax scheme is perfect, a hybrid weight/potency base combined with a sunset provision to allow further research on the area appears to be the ideal way to regulate marijuana at this moment in time.

September 8, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2020

Noticing the notable "red state" realities of marijuana reform ballot initiatives in 2020

Download (26)The Daily Beast has this new piece highlighting that the bulk of the marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot in 2020 are in so-called red states. The piece is fully headlined "Marijuana Is Making Its Mark on Ballots in Red States: Republican-led legislatures have opposed legalization measures, so proponents are going right to the voters." Here are excepts:

Montana and a handful of other states this fall [will] decide whether to legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Five of the six states with ballot questions lean conservative and are largely rural, and the results may signal how far America’s heartland has come toward accepting the use of a substance that federal law still considers an illegal and dangerous drug.

Since Colorado first allowed recreational use of marijuana in 2014, 10 other states have done the same. Most are coastal, left-leaning states, with exceptions like Nevada, Alaska and Maine. An additional 21 states allow medical marijuana, which must be prescribed by a physician.

This year, marijuana advocates are using the November elections to bypass Republican-led legislatures that have opposed legalization efforts, taking the question straight to voters. Advocates point to a high number of petition signatures and their own internal polling as indicators that the odds of at least some of the measures passing are good....

Mississippi and Nebraska voters will decide on medical marijuana measures. South Dakota will be the first state to vote on legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana in the same election.

Montana, Arizona and New Jersey, all medical marijuana states, will consider ballot measures in November to allow recreational sales, a move opponents consider evidence of a slippery slope....

The Marijuana Policy Project is helping to coordinate the Montana legalization effort. Its deputy director, Matthew Schweich, said the organization does so only when polling suggests at least half of voters would support the measure. “It’s becoming normalized for people,” Schweich said. “People know that other states are legalizing it and the sky has not fallen.”

An effort to legalize marijuana in rural, conservative states would have been an uphill battle even a few years ago. But several factors have worked toward changing attitudes there, Schweich said. They include a gradually increasing acceptance in red states of neighbors that have legalized recreational pot—and seeing the tax revenue that legal marijuana brings. But perhaps the biggest catalyst toward normalizing pot use is having an established medical marijuana program, Schweich said.

After 15 years, Montana’s medical cannabis program is firmly rooted and has survived several legislative attempts to restrict it or shut it down. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, more than 500 marijuana providers were serving 38,385 people as of July, which represents nearly 4 percent of the state’s population....

In Mississippi, 20 medical marijuana bills have failed over the years in the Statehouse. This year, 228,000 state residents signed petitions in support of a medical marijuana initiative to allow possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana to treat more than 20 qualifying medical conditions. In response, lawmakers put a competing measure on the ballot that would restrict marijuana use to terminally ill patients and require them to use only pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products.

Jamie Grantham, spokesperson for Mississippians for Compassionate Care, called the measure an effort by the state to split the vote and derail legalization efforts. “I’m passionate about this because it’s a plant that God made and it can provide relief for those who are suffering,” said Grantham, who described herself as a conservative Republican. “If this is something that can be used to help relieve someone’s pain, then they should be able to use it.”

But opposition is starting to build. Langton, the Mississippi Board of Health member, is working with Mississippi Horizon, a group fighting legalization. Langton said he opposes the original initiative because he believes it’s “overly broad” and would allow dispensaries within 500 feet of schools and churches. It could also put Mississippi on a path toward legalized recreational use, he said. He added: “They say that marijuana is a natural plant, but poison ivy is natural, too. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is good for you.”

September 7, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 5, 2020

"Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Law Enforcement and Crime: Final Report"

Images (13)The title of this post is the title of this lengthy new report, which was made possible by funding from the National Institute of Justice and which digs deeply into law enforcement and crime experiences after Washington state legalized marijuana. The study covers lots of important ground in thoughtful and diverse ways, and here are part of its lengthy abstract:

In 2012 the citizens of Washington State, via Initiative 502, legalized possession of a small amount of cannabis by adults.  On July 1, 2014 licensed retail outlets in Washington opened with a regulated and monitored product. The effects that this legalization would have on crime and law enforcement in the state were open questions.  In this National Institute of Justice-funded study we employed a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches geared toward addressing these questions. Research partners and participants included municipal, county, state and tribal law enforcement agencies representing 14 state, urban, suburban, rural, and tribal organizations in Washington the neighboring state of Idaho, as well as law enforcement professionals from 25 additional agencies and organizations.  Focus group, joint, and individual interviews involved 153 justice system officials that included sworn officers from three multi-agency drug task forces and one gang task force....  We constructed case study profiles and assessed qualitative (focus groups, interviews) and quantitative (Uniform Crime Reporting Program or UCR, calls for service records, and body/dash camera footage) data regarding how police practices and strategies, and crime itself, have been affected by legalization in Washington, and how that watershed decision in Washington has changed policing in adjacent border areas....

We found that marijuana legalization has not had an overall consistently positive or negative effect on matters of public safety.  Instead, legalization has resulted in a varied set of outcomes, including: concern about youth access to marijuana and increased drugged driving, a belief that there is increased cross border transference of legal marijuana to states that have not legalized, reports that training and funding for cannabis-related law enforcement activities have been deficient given the complex and enlarged role the police have been given, and the persistence of the complex black market.  On the “positive” front, legalization appears to have coincided with an increase in crime clearance rates in several areas of offending and an overall null effect on rates of serious crime.  Importantly, the legalization of marijuana has reduced the number of persons brought into the criminal justice system by non-violent marijuana possession offenses.  The police were also greatly concerned about how to best handle the detection and documentation of marijuana-related impairment in both commercial vehicle operations and traffic incidents.  The state has adopted the Target Zero goal of no traffic fatalities by 2030 and the legalization of marijuana and the privatization of liquor sales have combined to make accomplishment of this worthy goal extremely difficult.

Our research methodology necessarily included a number of limitations that would prevent the wholesale generalization of the results.  For instance, most of the data was collected from one state (Washington) which was one of the two “pioneer” states involved in legalization in this country.  Furthermore, the calls for service data were obtained from a limited number of agencies and are likely not generalizable to the entire state, much less the country.  The crime data is extracted from the UCR database (as not all of Washington was National Incident Based Reporting System [NIBRS] compliant for all years under study) is known to suffer from a number of limitations, including: undercounting of some crimes, a lack of contextual information about criminal activity, and missing incidents not reported to the police.  While the calls for service data address some limitations of the UCR database (for instance, calls for service data are better suited for the analysis of minor crimes), these data still do not address the limitation that only incidents reported to the police are analyzed.  Put simply, if legalization resulted in a shift in criminal behavior that was not reported to the police, our quantitative analyses would be incapable of detecting it.  Similarly, the body-worn camera (BWC) analysis was exploratory in nature and the data represent two agencies that are geographically and organizationally disparate.  As an exploratory component, these results are not generalizable.

The qualitative findings of this study offer insight into the lived experiences of officers, deputies, troopers, trainers, supervisors, administrators, and prosecutors, and are not without their limitations.  Our qualitative data are limited by issues of generalizability (they may not represent the opinions of law enforcement professionals more broadly) and potentially be issues of selection bias (it is possible that those with the strongest opinions were perhaps most likely to volunteer to participate in focus groups and interviews).  As with any research design employing purposive sampling, these results are not generalizable.  They do not represent the lived experiences of all law enforcement officers or justice system representatives, nor adequately capture the totality of the lived experiences of this study’s participants.... These results emphasized and sought to document experiences pre- and post-legalization. While we made every effort to restrain our analysis to issues involving cannabis legalization effects on law enforcement and crime, our participants, as reflected in our findings, often gravitated towards broader frustrations involving police resourcing, training, and prosecutorial practices.  Lastly, while our qualitative data is wellsuited for capturing the perceptions of police officers, they are also limited in this regard.  Police perceptions of legalization may be skewed and not reflective of the broader process of legalization.

September 5, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)