Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Illinois Governor Announces Half A Million Marijuana Expungements And Pardons"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Marijuana Moment piece, which I thought must include a typo because how could there be "half a million" arrests or convictions to eliminate.  But then I remembered how many people bear scars from marijuana prohibition, and sp here is the story:

The governor of Illinois on Thursday announced more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level marijuana offenses on their records.  The massive clemency and records clearing sweep comes about one year after the state’s legal cannabis market launched.  Prior to its implementation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) granted an earlier round of more than 11,000 pardons for marijuana-related convictions.

The new effort saw slightly fewer gubernatorial pardons (9,219), but an additional 492,129 expungements for people convicted over non-felony cannabis offenses.  The Illinois State Police helped facilitate the record clearing process.

Illinois’s marijuana legalization law includes restorative justice components that require the state to proactively expunge certain cannabis convictions — but this development puts Illinois four years ahead of schedule.  “Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said in a press release.  “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage.  But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past — and the decency to set a better path forward.”

“I applaud the Prisoner Review Board, the Illinois State Police, and our partners across the state for their extraordinary efforts that allowed these pardons and expungements to become a reality,” Pritzker, who alluded to the additional pardons in October, added.

Toi Hutchinson, a senior cannabis advisor to the governor, said she is “heartened by the progress we have made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs.”

“We are one year into what will be an ongoing effort to correct historic wrongdoings,” she said.  “The administration remains committed to working with legislators to address any challenges to equity and on building an industry that re-invests in our state’s communities.”  According to the press release, “the expungement process has been completed at the state level,” but “county clerks are still processing expungements at the local level.”

The Marijuana Moment article concludes by noting some other states that have been working to ensure marijuana reform serves as a form of criminal justice reform:

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is being pressed by civil rights groups to systematically issue pardons for people with marijuana convictions to supplement the state’s voter-approved move to legalize cannabis.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) used a recently enacted law to grant nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.

In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor and Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has also issued pardons for cannabis offenses.

December 31, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, December 28, 2020

Update on the state of marijuana expungements in the Prairie State

Download (16)The Chicago Tribune has this new extended article details the status of expungement efforts in Illinois, and its full headline captures its themes: "Pot legalization was to bring expungements to many with records in Illinois. Numbers so far are low, but more are expected to be on the way."  Here are excerpts:

Marijuana legalization in Illinois came with grand plans for wiping clean many criminal records involving cannabis.  That aspect of the law was so important that on the eve of legalization on Jan. 1, 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people of low-level marijuana convictions.

Yet more than 700,000 cases could qualify for expungement, a process in which police and court records of arrests and convictions are cleared.  The process is crucial to giving people with such records a better chance at getting a job, an education and a place to live.

Now, almost one year after legalization took effect, few of those cannabis cases have been cleared. But officials say more expungements are on the way.  Under the legalization legislation, Illinois State Police were tasked with identifying by Jan. 1, 2021, those cases that occurred since 2013 that could be expunged automatically.  That amounts to some 47,000 cases, Toi Hutchinson, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s senior adviser on cannabis, said.  With the deadline just days away, state police said they would make an announcement about those expungements soon.

In Cook County, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx worked with a nonprofit tech company called Code for America to identify and clear 2,200 cases early this year.  But during the COVID shutdown of courts, that process was delayed for months. Now, prosecutors there plan to expunge another 11,000 cases early in 2021.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally also went to court to get about 1,900 cases expunged early in 2020. But in general, other counties have not taken such initiative.  Some are still waiting for state police to identify which cases are eligible. Lake County, for instance, the state’s attorney’s office knew of only two requests to vacate and expunge records, both of which were granted.

As a result, many people are still paying the price for having small amounts of marijuana that customers now buy routinely at pot shops.  On the production side, licensed cannabis companies are churning out tons of the plant, amounts that previously could have earned life sentences in prison.

Now, after months of delays in the process, in part because of the pandemic, advocates are trying to reboot parts of the state’s plan to clear convictions.  While only misdemeanor and the lowest level felony cases are eligible for automatic expungement, there remain an estimated 71,000 cases involving larger amounts of cannabis that don’t qualify for automatic expungement but are eligible to be cleared in court, advocates say.  Yet very few individuals have come forward seeking to clear their records, advocates say.  They blame lack of familiarity with the process by the public, courts and court clerks.

In response, a program called New Leaf is seeking to get people with pot convictions to come forward and get their slates wiped clean.  New Leaf brings together 20 nonprofit organizations to help people get through the sometimes difficult process, which can take months or years.  The program is being led by Illinois Legal Aid Online, which has step-by-step instructions for people to take part.  The effort is being funded by taxpayers through the nonprofit Illinois Equal Justice Foundation.

December 28, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Notable NORML accounting of marijuana reform highlights in 2020

I just came across this recent posting titled "2020 NORML Victories," which serves as a kind of year-in-review  of marijuana reform highlights in 2020.  Folks should click through to see the particulars as discussed by NORML, but here are heading flagging big developments in this post:

Historic: House Of Representatives Passes Legislation Repealing Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Cannabis Retailers Are Acknowledged To Be “Essential Businesses”

2020 Election Was A Clean Sweep For Legalization Ballot Measures

Virginia Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession, Calls For Legalization

Tens Of Thousands Have Their Criminal Marijuana Records Expunged

Vermont Legalizes Retail Marijuana Access

I now see that NORML has this additional new accounting of the marijuana reform year that was under the headline "2020 Year in Review: NORML’s Top Ten Events in Marijuana Policy." Here are the listed events:

#1: Advocates Run the Table on Election Day

#2: House of Representatives Votes to Repeal Federal Marijuana Prohibition

#3: Tens of Thousands Have Their Marijuana Records Expunged

#4: Sales of Retail Cannabis Products Reach Historic Highs

#5: No Uptick in Youth Marijuana Use Following Legalization

#6: Vermont Lawmakers Legalize Retail Marijuana Access

#7: More Seniors Report Using Cannabis to Improve Their Quality of Life

8: Cannabis Retailers Designated as “Essential Businesses”

#9: Studies Show Off-The-Job Cannabis Use No Threat to Workplace Safety

#10: Virginia Ceases Arrests for Marijuana Possession

December 27, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How state marijuana legalization became a boon for corruption"

The title of this post is the headline of this great new lengthy Politico article, which is summarized by its subheadline: "By making local officials the gatekeepers for million-dollar businesses, states created a breeding ground for bribery and favoritism."  I recommend the piece in full, and here is a small taste:

In the past decade, 15 states have legalized a regulated marijuana market for adults over 21, and another 17 have legalized medical marijuana.  But in their rush to limit the numbers of licensed vendors and give local municipalities control of where to locate dispensaries, they created something else: A market for local corruption.

Almost all the states that legalized pot either require the approval of local officials – as in Massachusetts – or impose a statewide limit on the number of licenses, chosen by a politically appointed oversight board, or both. These practices effectively put million-dollar decisions in the hands of relatively small-time political figures – the mayors and councilors of small towns and cities, along with the friends and supporters of politicians who appoint them to boards.  And these strictures have given rise to the exact type of corruption that got [Fall River Mayor Jasiel] Correia in trouble with federal prosecutors.  They have also created a culture in which would-be cannabis entrepreneurs feel obliged to make large campaign contributions or hire politically connected lobbyists.

For some entrepreneurs, the payments can seem worth the ticket to cannabis riches.  For some politicians, the lure of a bribe or favor can be irresistible.

Correia’s indictment alleges that he extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies in exchange for granting them the local approval letters that are necessary prerequisites for obtaining Massachusetts licenses.  Correia and his co-conspirators — staffers and friends — accepted a variety of bribes including cash, more than a dozen pounds of marijuana and a “Batman” Rolex watch worth up to $12,000, the indictment charges.

December 27, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"Marijuana Businesses, Section 280E, and the Sixteenth Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this recent article authored by Erik M. Jensen that I just saw on SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Quite a few judicial opinions in recent years have discussed the constitutionality of Internal Revenue Code section 280E, which denies income-tax deductions and credits to taxpayers for any trade or business that involves “trafficking in controlled substances,” as the section is applied to cannabis businesses.  Since marijuana is a controlled substance under federal law, section 280E comes into play for those in the cannabis industry even though that industry has been legalized in many states.  This article makes two main points.  One is that, even though courts have consistently rejected taxpayers’ arguments that Congress may not impose limits on business-related deductions, that shouldn’t mean that Congress can deny all deductions from gross income for trafficking individuals and still have a “tax on incomes” exempted from the direct-tax apportionment rule by the Sixteenth Amendment.  The second is that the Sixteenth Amendment isn’t even arguably relevant if the taxpayer engaged in the cannabis business is a C corporation, a taxable entity.  The Supreme Court concluded, before the 1913 ratification of the amendment, that a corporate income tax is not a direct tax that has to be apportioned to be valid.  Denial of significant deductions to a corporate taxpayer may be an important policy issue, but it’s not a constitutional one.

December 15, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Highlighting again DEPC call for proposals for new Marijuana Research Grants Program

6a00d8341bfae553ef026bdea68922200c-320wiAs I have mentioned before, I am going to keep highlighting the program first flagged in this prior post, namely the new research grant program from the Ohio State Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).  DEPC's goal is to fund certain types of new work specifically in the marijuana research/policy space.  Here is the basic overview of the call for proposals:

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) invites researchers from universities and independent research centers in the United States to submit proposals for funded research focused on implementation and policy impacts of marijuana legalization.  We are specifically interested in research addressing questions related to public health, criminal justice and public safety, as well as their various intersections.  In selection for funding, we are likely to prioritize shorter-term research projects that can help inform the work of lawmakers, regulators and advocates eager to promote evidence-based best practices and policies in future reforms efforts.

In general, grant requests should not exceed $50,000. However, projects exceeding this amount are still encouraged to apply as additional funding could be appropriated.  The deadline for first-round submissions is January 11, 2021; a second round of funding may be announced in February 2021 after the first-round awards are announced.

The full call for proposals can be found here, and this document provides these additional details on topics of interest in this grant program:

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Impacts on law enforcement including resource allocation, changes to existing arrest/charging practices, use of fines and fees for enforcement, and broader effects on crime and community relations.
  • Impacts on the criminal justice system including arrests/incarceration rates, outcomes achieved by changes in criminal penalties with cannabis legalization and/or decriminalization, impacts on the juvenile justice system.
  • How federal law currently impacts state-level marijuana reforms and practices across a range of areas (e.g., banking, employment, housing, medical practice and research, tax), and what federal reforms might most effectively and efficiently improve state practices.
  • Changes in rates of diagnosis for cannabis-related substance use disorders; need, availability and efficacy of treatment programs and other counseling services for problematic cannabis use.
  • Impacts and attitudes toward cannabis reform in specific neighborhoods/communities defined both by geography, social-economic status, and demographics.
  • Cost-benefit analyses of marijuana legalization/decriminalization policies and the various budgetary impacts resulting from reforms such as law enforcement savings versus treatment costs.

December 13, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Half Banked: The Economic Impact of Cash Management in the Marijuana Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now on SSRN authored by Elizabeth Berger and Nathan Seegert. Here is its abstract:

We investigate the economic effects of cash management services that banks and credit unions offer in the legal marijuana industry, where only half of businesses have access to cash management services.  Administrative data from Washington state on marijuana sales, data on financial institutions, and our hand-collected survey on marijuana dispensaries allow us to investigate product-level effects.  Dispensaries with cash management services have 40% higher profitability, and we find that this is due to reduced frictions with upstream suppliers. Specifically, dispensaries with cash management negotiate 10% lower wholesale prices.  Through this channel, we find banking services provide large economic value.

December 13, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

"America’s longest serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner," Richard DeLisi, released from Florida prison

Download (15)As reported in this AP piece, headlined "Man serving 90-year sentence for selling marijuana released from prison," a ridiculous sentence for a marijuana offense came to a partial conclusion this week.  Here are the basics:

While serving a 90-year prison sentence for selling marijuana, Richard DeLisi's wife died, as did his 23-year-old son and both his parents.  His adult daughter was in a horrific car accident and suffered a paralyzing stroke as a result.  He never met two granddaughters -- a lifetime of missed memories.

Yet, 71-year-old DeLisi walked out of a Florida prison Tuesday morning grateful and unresentful as he hugged his tearful family.  After serving 31 years, he said he's just eager to restore the lost time. DeLisi was believed to be the longest-serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner, according to the The Last Prisoner Project which championed his release.

DeLisi also finally met his 11-year-old and 1-year-old granddaughters for the first time this week....

DeLisi was sentenced to 90 years for marijuana trafficking in 1989 at the age of 40 even though the typical sentence was only 12 to 17 years.  He believes he was targeted with the lengthy sentence because the judge mistakenly thought he was part of organized crime because he was an Italian from New York.  DeLisi said he had opportunities, but never had any desire for that life.  He prefers not to dwell on lost memories and time he'll never get back. He's not angry, and instead takes every opportunity to express gratitude and hope....

When the then-40-year-old hipster with the thick Italian accent first entered prison, he was illiterate, but taught himself how to read and write.  Now, he wants "to make the best of every bit of my time" fighting for the release of other inmates through his organization FreeDeLisi.com....

Chiara Juster, a former Florida prosecutor who handled the case pro bono for the The Last Prisoner Project, criticized DeLisi's lengthy sentence as "a sick indictment of our nation."...

Rick DeLisi said his family fell apart after his father's sentence. His mother never recovered. His brother overdosed and died, his sister was in a terrible car accident.  Rick fled at the country at 17 to get away from the pain.  "I can't believe they did this to my father. I can't believe they did this to my family," the grieving son said, describing the reunion like opening up an old, painful wound.

A bit more about this ugly case can be found via this Last Prisoner Project page titled "America’s Longest Serving Nonviolent Cannabis Prisoner Richard DeLisi to be Released After 32 Years Behind Bars."

Interestingly, as detailed in this CNN piece, the Florida Department of Corrections has represented that DeLisi's release was a routine matter:

Florida Department of Corrections press secretary Kayla McLaughlin told CNN that the decision to move up DeLisi's release date was not "related to any action by an outside party."

DeLisi's release date was initially moved up from summer 2022 to May 2021 after an error was discovered on his record, McLaughlin said, which restored 390 days of provisional release credits he was owed upon the start of his sentence in 1989.

Good behavior also earned him "gain time," or a reduction in his sentence. DeLisi had previously forfeited 120 days of "gain time" due to disciplinary infractions. But because DeLisi's last disciplinary report was from July 2005 and because he was 120 days from his new release date of May 2021, he was eligible to have his "gain time" restored, which moved up his release date, McLaughlin said.

December 10, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (3)

Via bipartisan voice vote, US House passes bill to expand research on marijuana

As reported in this Politico piece, the "House on Wednesday passed a bill that would make it easier for scientists to conduct marijuana research in states where the drug is legal.  The bill passed on a voice vote with strong bipartisan support."  Here is more:

What’s the context?  Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree that more research into the health effects of marijuana is needed.  The bill is co-sponsored by two lawmakers who stand at opposite ends of the spectrum on marijuana legalization: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is the unofficial cannabis czar on Capitol Hill, while Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) is known for his work on an appropriations rider that restricts Washington D.C. from taxing and regulating a marijuana market.

Marijuana research legislation also has strong support in the Senate, where lawmakers from both parties, including Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), have proposed marijuana research legislation.  This bill, however, does not have a Senate equivalent.

What does this bill do?  Marijuana research now is limited to being based on a few variations grown by the University of Mississippi, the only entity that can legally grow marijuana under federal law for research.  Scientists have complained for years that what is grown for research doesn’t resemble the marijuana used in the real world.

The DEA has never licensed other research cultivators. In 2016, the agency said it would authorize other growers to help facilitate research.  It has received 37 applications, and said in August 2019 that it would move forward with processing those applications.  But no other growers have been greenlighted, and the lack of action on those applications has prompted lawsuits from two applicants....

The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove limitations on researching marijuana and create a new research structure for the drug.  The bill directs HHS and DOJ to create a program that would license additional producers and manufacturers of research marijuana. Researchers with federal licenses could use that marijuana for FDA-approved research.  The legislation also would speed up the wait times for research marijuana cultivation applications and reduce some of the cumbersome regulations that researchers face when trying to get approval to study marijuana....

What’s next? The Senate is unlikely to bring the bill up for a vote in the final days of this Congress, but its passage sets a marker for the next session.

Because this was passed through a voice vote, we do not get any accounting of how many House members actually supported or opposed this legislation. And it will be quite interesting to see if this modest marijuana reform bill becomes a priority in the next COngress or if instead reform advocates push only for more ambitious reforms.

December 10, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Can Revenue From Legalized Recreational Marijuana Help States Close Budget Gaps?"

Webp.net-resizeimage-17The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new piece from folks at Pew.  Here are excerpts:

Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota on Nov. 3 legalized recreational marijuana in their states, joining 11 others that already allow regulated use and sale of the drug.

Policymakers in these states pitched legal cannabis in part to bring in much-needed revenue.  For example, in New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy (D) said the money would “help fund critical priorities like education and infrastructure.”  But tax revenue from marijuana has proved uncertain in normal times, and pandemic-driven economic disruptions and consumer behavior shifts may only add to that uncertainty....

One of the challenges of legalized recreational marijuana is that the tax revenue is difficult to forecast because of the lack of historical data.  Even Colorado and Washington, the first states to begin legal marijuana sales in 2014, have only a few years of data on which to base projections.  (See Figure 1 for details on which states have legalized marijuana and when.)

This uncertainty may be compounded by the recession, the first to hit since the sale and use of recreational marijuana has been legal in any state.  Although revenue forecasters have historical data on sales and excise taxes for other goods over the business cycle, this is not true for recreational marijuana, which was first legalized well after the official end of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.  The 2020 downturn — driven by a disease that has prompted significant shifts in individual behavior — could prove especially difficult for forecasters trying to predict how much states could collect in marijuana taxes.

In addition, states’ experiences so far suggest that the initial years may be the most volatile as supply tries to meet demand. Recreational marijuana may provide a burst of revenue upon introduction, but policymakers should not expect consistent growth over the long term.  In Colorado, for example, revenue has been volatile in recent months, in large part because of the disruption to the state economy caused by the pandemic.  April usually brings an uptick in marijuana revenue, but this year tax collections were down 2% over the previous month. In the following months, however, the state has seen record-breaking revenue.  It is unclear whether this spike is temporary and related to the recession or part of a longer-term trend.

Policymakers can hedge against the uncertainty and volatility of marijuana revenue by budgeting it cautiously.  They can put the money toward savings, for example, or spend it after it is collected.  If states are considering using the funds for ongoing spending priorities that require sustainable revenue streams, they should be careful about relying too heavily on marijuana taxes.  Understanding the short- and long-term effects of budget balancing actions such as these can help officials make decisions that put their states on sound fiscal footing for years to come.

December 10, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

"A History of United States Cannabis Law"

The title of this post is the title of this new article from the Journal of Law and Health authored by David V. Patton. Here is the first paragraph of its introduction:

Perhaps the best way to understand early-Twenty-First Century state and federal cannabis law in the United States is to examine the relevant history.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s statement is apropos: “[A] page of history is worth a volume of logic.”  This article begins by discussing the early history of cannabis and its uses.  Next, this article examines the first state and federal marijuana laws.  After a brief comparison of alcohol prohibition to cannabis prohibition, this article addresses cannabis laws from the 1920s to the early 1950s.  Then, this article takes up the reorganization of the federal drug regulatory bureaucracy since its inception.  Addressing the current era of cannabis laws and regulations, this article recounts how marijuana became a Schedule I drug.  The discussion then turns to changing social attitudes towards cannabis as reflected in presidential politics and popular culture.  Starting with the late-1990s, this article describes the development of state and federal cannabis laws and policies up to the present day.

December 8, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Congressional Budget Office reports MORE Act would generate over $13 billion in net federal revenue over next 10 years

Medical-marijuana-tax-28251526_11622906As reported in this new Marijuana Moment article, the MORE Act "passed in a historic vote last week by the U.S. House of Representatives would generate about $13.7 billion in net revenue for the U.S. treasury over the next decade, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)." Here is more:

Most of the new funds — roughly $8 billion — would come from business taxes on the legal marijuana industry, such as income and payroll taxes. A separate excise tax, initially based on the price of cannabis products, is estimated to yield another $5.7 billion.

“CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that H.R. 3884 would increase revenues, on net, by about $13.7 billion over the 2021-2030 period,” says the nonpartisan report, published Friday....

Legalization would also bring additional government costs, the CBO report says, though all spending would be entirely offset by new revenue. The expected reduction in the federal prison population, for example, would lead to an estimated $636 million in new spending on federal benefits programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“Federal prisoners generally are not eligible for these benefits,” says the report. “By reducing the prison population, CBO estimates, H.R. 3884 would increase the number of federal beneficiaries, compared with current law, and thus increase direct spending for federal benefit programs.”

The $5.7 billion in expected revenue from the marijuana excise tax, meanwhile, would go into the so-called Opportunity Trust Fund. From that, an estimated $3 billion would be spent by the Department of Justice over the 10-year period to provide job training, legal aid and other services to disproportionately impacted communities. The remaining $2.7 billion would go to the Small Business Administration to be used on state and local grants to cannabis-related small businesses that help develop licensing rules.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the CBO report analyzed the bill as originally introduced last year or included the impacts of new changes made to the legislation last week that would adjust cannabis excise taxes as the market matures. Under the amendment, the excise tax would initially start at 5 percent of a product’s cost, then increase over time to 8 percent and later shift to a weight-based tax.

The new CBO report was a long time coming. The office is supposed to assess the financial impact of most bills that advance out of congressional committees, but it’s been more than a year since the MORE Act won approval from the House Judiciary Committee....

While the MORE Act faces an uphill battle in the Senate — some have called the issue a nonstarter unless Democrats gain control of the chamber — legalization proponents have nevertheless cheered the bill’s House passage as a major milestone.

December 7, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, December 5, 2020

"Cannabis Capitalism"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Paul Larkin now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Federal law treats cannabis as contraband, but more than 30 states allow it to be sold for medical or recreational use.  The industry has a unique, quasi-legal status that poses legal, political, and commercial challenges for member businesses.  States with legalized cannabis use allow parties to own the means of production and sale, but supervise the industry by using traditional regulatory tools such as licensing, product quality testing, and taxation.

Yet, those supply-side regulations are not likely to control the harms that cannabis overuse can generate.  Like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is a consumer good that can harm individual users and third parties.  Supply-side restrictions are also necessary to limit the number of people who overly consume marijuana.  States should assume responsibility for the sale of that product, just as many already do in the case of alcohol.  States should also decline to advertise their own sales of cannabis.  Finally, Congress should require states to assume those responsibilities as a condition of revising the federal Controlled Substances Act to lift the federal ban on cannabis sales.

December 5, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 4, 2020

MORE Act passed by US House, but party-line vote suggests uncertain future for federal reform

As reported in this CNN article, headlined "House passes bill decriminalizing marijuana at federal level," a big vote on federal marijuana reform was conducted today. But the vote reveals the still politically divisive nature of this issue, which will surely impact future reform efforts. Here are details:

The House of Representatives has approved legislation that would decriminalize marijuana and seek to "address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs." Friday's vote in the Democratic-led House is the first time a chamber of Congress has voted on federal marijuana decriminalization. It has little chance of passing the Republican-led Senate, however.

The bill passed largely along party lines: 222 Democrats, five Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian, voted in support while 158 Republicans and six Democrats voted against.

The Republicans who voted for the bill are Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, the bill's co-sponsor, as well as Reps. Brian Mast of Florida, Tom McClintock of California, Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Don Young of Alaska. The Democrats against were Reps. Cheri Bustos and Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Collin Peterson of Minnesota....

The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute or possess marijuana. It also includes creating a process to remove prior convictions, known as expungement, and conduct sentencing review hearings for federal cannabis offenses.

The measure would also authorize a 5% sales tax on marijuana products to invest in services such as job training, legal aid and substance abuse treatment for individuals adversely impacted by the war on drugs. The tax revenue would also provide funds for small businesses loans and allow access to marijuana licensing and employment for economically disadvantaged individuals.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week criticized the House for moving on the bill instead of passing parts of the Covid-19 stimulus bill that both parties agree on. "The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis," McConnell said sarcastically on the Senate floor.

Critics of the bill cite the lack of potential traction in the Senate. "It's an unserious bill that was voted on in an unserious manner and we rest easily knowing there is zero interest in moving this bill in the Senate and zero interest in supporting it in either the current administration or the incoming one," Kevin Sabet, president and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes marijuana legalization, said in a statement....

President-elect Joe Biden supports decriminalizing marijuana and the automatic expungement of prior criminal records for marijuana possession, but not full legalization of the substance, a Biden campaign spokesman said last year. "He would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization and would seek to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana's positive and negative health impacts by rescheduling it as a schedule 2 drug," Andrew Bates, who is now a spokesperson for the Biden transition, told CNN.

December 4, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rounding up a few headlines just before historic vote on MORE Act to end federal marijuana prohibition

I have already highlighted in a prior post, asking "How many House Republicans are going to vote in support of the MORE Act?," what grabs my attention as the US House of Representatives conducts an historic vote on federal marijuana reform today.  But as the vote approaches, I thought it might be worthwhile to flag some media coverage that has caught my eye in recent days:

From Courthhouse News Service, "House Prepares for Historic Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization"

From Fox News, "McCarthy skewers Pelosi over coronavirus relief deadlock as House Dems take up marijuana, 'Tiger King' bills"

From Investor's Business Daily, "Marijuana Stocks Rise Ahead Of Historic Vote To End Prohibition"

From Marijuana Moment, "Conservative Groups Call For Marijuana Legalization Ahead Of House Vote"

From Rolling Stone, "Inside the Weed Legalization Bill Congress Is Voting on This Week"

December 4, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Highlighting again DEPC call for proposals for new Marijuana Research Grants Program

6a00d8341bfae553ef026bdea68922200c-320wiI am going to make a habit of highlighting the program first flagged in this prior post, namely the Ohio State's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) new research grant program.  DEPC's goal is to fund certain types of new work specifically in the marijuana research/policy space.  Here is the basic overview of the call for proposals:

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) invites researchers from universities and independent research centers in the United States to submit proposals for funded research focused on implementation and policy impacts of marijuana legalization.  We are specifically interested in research addressing questions related to public health, criminal justice and public safety, as well as their various intersections.  In selection for funding, we are likely to prioritize shorter-term research projects that can help inform the work of lawmakers, regulators and advocates eager to promote evidence-based best practices and policies in future reforms efforts.

In general, grant requests should not exceed $50,000. However, projects exceeding this amount are still encouraged to apply as additional funding could be appropriated.  The deadline for first-round submissions is January 11, 2021; a second round of funding may be announced in February 2021 after the first-round awards are announced.

The full call for proposals can be found here, and this document provides these additional details on topics of interest in this grant program:

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Impacts on law enforcement including resource allocation, changes to existing arrest/charging practices, use of fines and fees for enforcement, and broader effects on crime and community relations.
  • Impacts on the criminal justice system including arrests/incarceration rates, outcomes achieved by changes in criminal penalties with cannabis legalization and/or decriminalization, impacts on the juvenile justice system.
  • How federal law currently impacts state-level marijuana reforms and practices across a range of areas (e.g., banking, employment, housing, medical practice and research, tax), and what federal reforms might most effectively and efficiently improve state practices.
  • Changes in rates of diagnosis for cannabis-related substance use disorders; need, availability and efficacy of treatment programs and other counseling services for problematic cannabis use.
  • Impacts and attitudes toward cannabis reform in specific neighborhoods/communities defined both by geography, social-economic status, and demographics.
  • Cost-benefit analyses of marijuana legalization/decriminalization policies and the various budgetary impacts resulting from reforms such as law enforcement savings versus treatment costs.

December 3, 2020 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

United Nations reclassifies cannabis as less dangerous

United-Nations-1024x679I am not at all an expert on international law, by I still think I know enough to regard actions today by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs regarding cannabis is a pretty big deal.  This official press release provides the special details, and this NPR story provides a bit more context.  Here are excerpts:

The U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to reclassify cannabis Wednesday, taking it off the strict Schedule IV list that includes dangerous and highly addictive drugs such as heroin.  The U.N. still deems cannabis a controlled substance.  But the move, which the U.S. supported, could ease restrictions on research into marijuana's therapeutic use.

The 53-member commission approved the change in a close vote, by 27-25, with 1 abstention.  Russia was a vocal opponent of the move, calling cannabis "the most abused drug globally."

The U.N. vote follows guidance from the World Health Organization and its expert committee on drug dependence, which had recommended deleting "cannabis and cannabis resin" from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs.  The drug will now remain in Schedule I rather than appearing on both lists.  The vote had been closely followed by marijuana activists and the burgeoning cannabis industry, as it could bolster arguments for easing legal restrictions on marijuana and establishing consistent regulations.

In its recommendation to the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the WHO committee noted that cannabis can have adverse effects and cause dependence.  But it also cited the drug's benefits in reducing pain and nausea, as well as easing symptoms of medical conditions such as anorexia, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. And it noted that unlike opioids such as fentanyl, cannabis is not associated with a significant risk of death.  The committee said, "the inclusion of cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV is not consistent with the criteria for a drug to be placed in Schedule IV."

The WHO committee also said that despite "limited robust scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis," the drug has been shown to be different from Schedule IV substances that have little or no therapeutic use.

"This is a major win for cannabis advocates around the world with considerable symbolic and some practical implications for cannabis regulation," according to Conor O'Brien of Prohibition Partners, a global industry analyst group.   Taking cannabis off of the list of most restricted substances, he added, means that the U.N. agrees with the WHO "that cannabis is not 'liable to produce ill-effects' on the scale of other drugs in Schedule IV, and that cannabis has significant potential therapeutic value."

It's up to each country to form their own drug policies and punishments.  But international drug control treaties allow their parties to ban or limit the manufacture or import of the most dangerous substances. Under the 1961 convention, Schedule IV is reserved for drugs that are particularly liable to abuse and harm.  "Such liability is not offset by substantial therapeutic advantages," the U.S. Justice Department says in its guide to complying with the treaties. With cannabis now classified differently, the calculus for studying its potential benefits is now likely to change.

The U.S. was represented at the session by Ethan Glick, counselor for U.N. Affairs at the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, who said, "the legitimate medical use of a cannabis preparation has been established through scientific research, and cannabis no longer meets the criterion for placement in Schedule IV of the Single Convention."   Glick cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval in 2018 of a purified cannabidiol extract for use in treating rare seizure disorders in children. And he cautioned that cannabis poses public health risks, particularly to young people and pregnant women.  

But reclassifying cannabis in a less strict control category, Glick added, could spark new research into its medical benefits.  "This action has the potential to stimulate global research into the therapeutic potential and public health effects of cannabis and to attract additional investigators to the field including those who may have been deterred by the Schedule IV status," Glick said.

December 2, 2020 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

How many House Republicans are going to vote in support of the MORE Act?

Capitolpot-largeA few months ago there was lots of excitement about the announced plans for the US House of Representatives to vote on H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE Act).  But House leadership put off the vote until after the 2020 election, and now excitement is growing again as a vote is being discussed again.  This new Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week," provides an effective accounting of where matters stand.  Here is how it starts:

A key House committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing to advance a bill to federally legalize marijuana toward a full floor vote, which could then happen as soon as Thursday. Meanwhile, leaders in the chamber are proposing an amendment that would make several changes to the cannabis legislation.  Among the most significant revisions would be to the tax-related provisions of the bill.

The Rules Committee’s move to take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act follows Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announcement that the chamber would be holding a floor vote on the bill before the end of the year. 

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill, transmitted it to Rules with the series of modifications—many of them technical in nature. But beyond the tax changes, the newly proposed language also reaffirms the regulatory authority of certain federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clarifies that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.  Other members of the House are likely to file proposed amendments as well, though the Democratic majority of the Rules panel will determine which ones can be made in order for floor votes later this week.

Because there is zero chance that the MORE Act will move forward in the Senate during this Congress, this House vote may seem mostly symbolic.  (Indeed, this new Politico piece, headlined "Why the next Congress is unlikely to legalize marijuana," highlights why marijuana reform is likely to remain an uphill battle in the Senate even in 2021 and beyond.)  But Jacob Sullum has this new Reason piece, headlined "Will a Historic House Vote on Marijuana Legalization Nudge Biden Toward More Ambitious Reforms?," which rightly suggests the vote could have an impact on Joe Biden and the work of the incoming Biden Administration.  As Sullum puts it, any "historic House vote to repeal [the federal marijuana] ban would allow him to go further than he has so far without sacrificing his cherished reputation as a moderate."

I share Sullum's view that the House lame-duck vote on the MORE Act could prove to be consequential, though my take is that the answer to the question in the title of this post could and likely will prove to be the most important part of the story (perhaps along with how many Democrats vote against the MORE Act).  If the MORE Act passes with only D support, the discourse over federal marijuana reforms is likely to remain quite partisan for the months and years to come.  But if more than a handful of GOP Representatives vote for the MORE Act, it will become that much easier for reform advocates to portray future federal efforts as bipartisan.

Notably, Florida GOP Rep, Matt Gaetz was one of the original 29 co-sponsors of the MORE Act.  The Act now has 120 co-sponsors, but Rep. Gaetz is still the only GOP Rep among that number.  My understanding is that there may be a few more GOP Reps who would ultimately vote for the MORE Act.  But without more than just token GOP support, I doubt even a passing vote on the MORE Act will be as consequential as many reformers might hope.

 

December 1, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)