Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

"Can the cannabis industry be an agent of social justice? Or is it just another big business?"

The question in the title of this post are from the headline of this recent Washington Post piece.  Here are excerpts:

Jason White ... is now chief marketing officer at Curaleaf Holdings Inc., which says it is the world’s largest provider (by revenue) of legal medical and recreational cannabis. While some liken legal pot to a gold rush, White — who is African American and Cuban — talks of repairing communities harmed by the war on drugs.  “Some are very wary of cannabis, having seen people arrested and their voting rights taken away,” he says.  “But as cannabis has become more mainstream, others don’t see harm, but opportunity. I want to use this platform to help improve society.”...

America is the world’s largest cannabis market, but the use, possession or sale of marijuana over certain amounts remains illegal under federal law.  Still, state laws are shifting, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Following ballot measures in November, cannabis will be legal for adult recreational use in 15 states and Washington, D.C. Medical use will be allowed in 36 states.

For some, the irony of marijuana becoming a big business is cruel.  Decades of disparate drug arrests and sentencing have ravaged Black and Brown communities.  “While many large companies are making millions, many people remain imprisoned because of the historic classification of the plant as a Schedule 1 drug in the very same states where adult use is legal,” says Stormy Simon, executive director of the board for Mission Green, which is part of the Weldon Project — a nonprofit that pushes to free those incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis offenses.  It strikes her as hypocritical that cannabis dispensaries were deemed “essential” operations amid the pandemic in some jurisdictions yet the drug remains illegal in others....

Yet some are skeptical of the cannabis industry’s altruistic motives.  Kevin Sabet is a former senior drug policy adviser in the Obama administration.  He and former congressman Patrick Kennedy (a son of the late Ted Kennedy) co-founded Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) in 2013.  “Pot legalization has failed to deliver for communities of color.  Disproportionate arrests and steady incarceration rates persist in legal states,” says Sabet, who serves as president of SAM.  The policy nonprofit favors decriminalization instead of legalization.  “We can go much further by referring people to job programs, treatment and intervention,” he says.  SAM’s 2020-2021 report “Lessons Learned From State Marijuana Legalization” notes that marijuana shops are disproportionately located in low-income or Black neighborhoods.

Will Jones, an outreach associate with SAM, lives in a community where stores are plastered with cigarette and alcohol ads.  “These same industries have invested billions” in cannabis, he points out.  “They will continue their exploitative practices in communities of color with marijuana.  That is not social justice.”

Others, however, see a more positive role for the marijuana industry.  Brittany K. Barnett, a lawyer and co-founder of the Buried Alive Project, which advocates for justice reform, wants to see “bold, brave” action from cannabis companies and legislation at the federal level.  “Marijuana justice,” she says, “means everyone has the ability to achieve economic equity, health equity and general social equity.”

January 26, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

"Ensuring Marijuana Reform Is Effective Criminal Justice Reform"

The title of this article is the title of this new article that I wrote along with Alex Kreit that is now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

In less than a decade, marijuana legalization has gone from unthinkable to seemingly unstoppable.  This essay — written for a special issue on improving Arizona’s criminal justice system — discusses how Arizona should best advance marijuana legalization so that it can significantly improve Arizona’s criminal justice system.  Now that Arizona has legalized marijuana via ballot initiative, we do not wade too deeply into the arguments for and against legalization or the criminal justice impact inherent in the repeal of prohibition (such as reductions in marijuana arrests and sentences).  Instead, we focus on steps that Arizona policymakers and advocates who are interested in improving the criminal justice system can take to ensure that legalization best advances this goal.  First, we set the stage in Part I with a brief history of marijuana prohibition, its role in criminal enforcement today, and the movement to enact state legalization laws.  In Part II, we turn our attention to Arizona, beginning with a description of marijuana reform efforts in Arizona and key facets of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act.  We then provide recommendations for policymakers and other concerned parties about how to ensure modern marijuana reforms in Arizona (and elsewhere) can and should help build a reform infrastructure that could not only ensure record relief to redress past marijuana convictions but also address broader criminal justice issues that historically intersect with marijuana prohibition.

January 21, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

SAM releases notable list of 10 marijuana reform recommendations for the Biden Administration

Download (9)Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which describes itself as "the nation’s leading organization opposed to the commercialization of marijuana," today released this short report titled "TEN POINTS ON MARIJUANA REFORM: Science And Policy Recommendations For The Biden Administration."  This press release claims that the report is "centered on the President-Elect’s marijuana policy position and the platform of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force," and here is the list of 10 recommendations from the report:

Adjust Federal Criminal Penalties for Use; Model Law of States (Congress, DOJ, ONDCP)

Commence a Science-Based Education and Awareness Campaign to Discourage Young People from Using Marijuana and Educate Parents on Today’s High Potency THC (HHS/CDC)

Expand Options for Marijuana Researchers (Congress, HHS/NIH/NIDA/DOJ/DEA)

Publish a Surgeon General Report on the State of Science (HHS/ASH/OSG)

Appoint Bi-Partisan Commission to Examine Scheduling Options (EOP/ONDCP)

Urge Reimbursers to Treat Marijuana Use Disorder (HHS/CMS)

Fund Efforts to Monitor Youth Marijuana Marketing (HHS/CDC)

Increase Funding for Counterdrug/Marijuana Production Operations (ONDCP/HIDTA, DOJ/DEA)

Fund Data Monitoring Systems Like DAWN and ADAM (HHS/SAMHSA, DOJ/BJA)

Appoint ONDCP Director Whose Position on Marijuana is Consistent with the President-Elect, and Elevate to the Cabinet (WHO/PPO)

January 20, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Interesting review of the incoming Cabinet with an eye on cannabis policy

This recent piece, headlined "We Know About Biden’s Cabinet on Cannabis," reports on the marijuana reform profiles of a number of members of the new Cabinet selection by Prez-Elect Joe Biden. The piece is an interesting read, and here is the start and conclusion to a focused discussion of some key nominees:

With Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden set for inauguration next week – and with his party in control of both chambers of Congress (albeit the narrowest of majorities in the Senate) – cannabis legalization could, finally, get at least a debate in both houses.  There are three measures that the 117th U.S. Congress could consider during Biden’s first term: the SAFE Banking and MORE Acts – which were approved by the Democrat-controlled House in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and the STATES Act, a measure which would give states control over cannabis laws without federal interference that never made it to the House floor.

Were any of the reforms approved by Congress, responsibility for enacting and enforcing provisions of the law would be the responsibility of several government agencies led by Biden’s Cabinet picks.  The SAFE Act, for example, would require regulation (and buy-in) from the Treasury Department; the MORE Act would likely involve a host of agencies, including but not limited to Health and Human Services, and the departments of Labor, Commerce, and Justice.  The STATES Act would also likely hinge on support from the Justice Department and perhaps Commerce.

Many of Biden’s picks are veterans of the Obama Administration – for which the former Senator from Delaware served as vice president – such as Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, and Domestic Policy Council Chair Susan Rice. Others, including Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, HHS Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra (California), and Labor Secretary nominee Marty Walsh (Massachusetts), come from states that have legalized cannabis for adult use.

A host of nominees that could play a role were Congress to end federal cannabis prohibition simply have made no public statements on the issue....

If approved by the Senate, Biden’s cabinet would be the most diverse in the history of the U.S. and that diversity could be advantageous – rather than obstructionist – if Congress passes all (or some) of the major cannabis proposals. 

January 19, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

"Guidance Documents: The Sirens of the Cannabis Odyssey"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Troy Sims recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The growing cannabis industry in the United States has presented both economic opportunity and legal complexity. States that allow medical or recreational cannabis conflict with federal regulations and lawyers who represent cannabis businesses are caught in an ethical maze.  This article discusses an often-overlooked cause of this complexity: guidance documents from the Department of Justice.  The rapid growth of the cannabis industry correlates with a series of memos issued by the Department of Justice, one of which is known as the “Cole Memorandum”, and all of which have been rescinded.  The ambiguities and shortcomings of current administrative law have played a large part in creating the confusing legal status of the cannabis industry.  Resolutions must reflect this reality to adequately address the ethical, financial, and legal problems in the cannabis industry. 

January 17, 2021 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2021

"Cannabis use among military veterans: A great deal to gain or lose?"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new meta-analysis of research on marijuana use by veterans just published in the Clinical Psychology Review and authored by Jasmine Turna and James MacKillop. (I found this preprint version of the paper here for those with paywall barriers.)  Here is the paper's abstract:

Policy changes have resulted in dramatic increases in access to cannabis for medical purposes.  Veterans are disproportionately affected by conditions for which medical cannabis is often pursued, making an evidence-based perspective on risks versus benefits of high priority.  The current review sought to examine the state of the evidence on consequences and correlates of cannabis use among veterans.  Using a comprehensive search strategy, 501 articles were identified and 86 studies met criteria for inclusion. The literature was predominated by cross-sectional studies (67%) of male veterans (71.4%–100% male) from the United States (93.0%). 

Three overarching themes emerged, comprising cannabis associations with other substance use, mental health, and physical health outcomes.  The balance of the evidence associated cannabis use with negative health outcomes, with consistent positive associations with other substance use, psychiatric disorders, and self-harm/suicidality.  Few studies examined the therapeutic effects of cannabis, thus limiting the potential to evaluate evidence of efficacy. 

Priority areas for future research are studies using designs that can examine the directionality of links between cannabis and health in veterans more conclusively, and studies directly examining therapeutic efficacy of cannabis-based therapies in veterans.  Methodologically rigorous design will be essential to inform clinical recommendations and practices guidelines in an era of burgeoning access to cannabis.

Because I have always been eager to support giving veterans safe and healthy access to whatever resources they might need, I am pleased to see added focus on this important issue and a call for further research. And I think it notable that many of the studies examined in this meta-analysis pre-date the modern marijuana reform movement, which leads me to wonder whether some of the negative associations with marijuana use might be linked to its prohibited status rather than the drug itself.

January 15, 2021 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Catching up on a remarkable political moment for marijuana reform with the help of Marijuana Moment