Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

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)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pennsylvania Gov advocating for full legalization to aid economic recovery amidst COVID pandemic

In this post back in March, I wondered aloud "In a post-COVID economy, will job creation and tax revenue from marijuana reform become irresistible?".  Five months later, I am sad that we are not yet to a "post-COVID" era, but can still note this new piece at Marijuana Moment revealing a prominent development serving as a kind of answer to my question.  The piece is headlined "Pennsylvania Governor Calls For State-Run Marijuana Sales To Boost Economy Amid Coronavirus," and here are excerpts:

The governor of Pennsylvania is calling on lawmakers to legalize marijuana to aid the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — and he’s floating the idea that the state itself would sell the cannabis to consumers.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) talked about his plan to address the COVID-19 crisis and included legalization prominently in his agenda. Tax revenue from marijuana sales could help “supplement” relief loans provided by the federal government, he said.  Asked about the prospects of advancing legalization legislation through a Republican-controlled legislature, the governor said, “I think there was some appetite for it before and my hope is that with the pandemic and the hit that we’ve taken to revenues that there might be a little more interest in it right now.”...

Unlike Colorado and all other legal markets, however, Wolf is suggesting that lawmakers pursue a state-run cannabis model.  “The proposal is, that for people that people over 21 years of age, I think we have a state store system that would be an ideal way to distribute it,” he said.  “But I think it’s also a way that the state could actually get some tax revenue from something that people are evidently already doing.”

The governor also acknowledged that tax revenue from marijuana sales wouldn’t occur immediately, but he stressed the need to implement regulations quickly so that they can begin collecting those dollars as soon as possible.  According to an outline of the plan, 50 percent of that tax revenue “would be earmarked for historically disadvantaged businesses.”

“Along with the call to the General Assembly to pass legislation legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, the governor proposes that a portion of the revenue be used to further restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of marijuana criminalization,” it states.  “Also, the governor wants the General Assembly to pursue criminal justice reform policies that restore justice for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses.”...

Shortly after the governor announced that he is embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model as Wolf is now proposing. With this new plan, Wolf is also aligning himself with a majority of Senate Democrats, who sent him a letter last month, arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to state shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) announced that he would be introducing a revised legalization bill for the session. The lawmaker, who filed a similar bill last year, wrote that his proposal will be “the most comprehensive and well-vetted legislation providing for a legal adult-use cannabis industry.” It would also provide for expungements and releasing people from prison for non-violent drug offenses.

Outside of Pennsylvania, other leaders are recognizing that taxing and regulating marijuana can provide a much-needed economic boost amid the coronavirus pandemic. In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said in May that the state needs to explore every option for economic relief, and that includes passing cannabis legalization.  The governor of New Jersey said last month that legalizing cannabis could simultaneously help the state recover economically from crisis while also promoting racial justice.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was asked in May about whether marijuana legalization could serve as a tool for economic recovery and he expressed support for the proposal, stating that while the legislature hasn’t yet accomplished the policy change, “I believe we will” down the line.

A few of many prior COVID-cannabis related posts:

August 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thorough review of "Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana"

1563932774784Regular readers surely know of my appreciation for all the work done at Marijuana Moment to cover all sorts of marijuana issues, and this recent posting on the record on Senator Kamala Harris highlights why that resource does so much more than anyone else on this front.  Specifically, the posting goes on and on, because Harris has a long record, and here is how the coverage gets started (with links from the original):

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice presidential running mate, the campaign announced on Tuesday.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s choice to join him on the ticket has evolved significantly on marijuana policy over her career.  Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.

It remains to be seen whether she will push Biden in the same direction, as the former vice president has maintained opposition to ending marijuana prohibition despite supermajority support among Democrats.

While Harris, a former attorney general of California, made marijuana reform a major component of her criminal justice platform when she unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, she’s been less vocal about the issue since dropping out in December 2019.

Convincing Biden to come around seems like a steep task in any case.  Some advocates suspect that the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee voted against an amendment to add legalization as a 2020 party plank specifically because it’s at odds with the presumptive nominee’s agenda.  Biden has drawn the line at decriminalizing marijuana possession, expunging past convictions, modest federal rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization and letting states set their own policies.

But it remains the case that Harris is the chief Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act — a comprehensive piece of legalization legislation that includes various social equity and restorative justice provisions.  Advocates will be watching to see if she continues to advocate for the reform move as she’s on-boarded to the Biden campaign.

The senator indicated in July that she doesn’t plan to push the presumptive presidential nominee on the issue.

Here’s a deeper look at where Harris stands on marijuana [click through to see it all]:

August 13, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

"Why Won’t Democrats Just Come Out for Legalizing Marijuana?"

Joe-biden-marijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the title of this new commentary at The Nation authored by John Nichols. The piece is in the same vein as the one noted here asking why Joe Biden won't embrace legalization.  Here are excerpts:

Some political issues are hard to wrestle with.  Some are easy.  Legalizing marijuana is easy.

A Pew Research Center survey found last fall that Americans back legalization by a 67-32 margin.  The numbers spike among Democrats, 78 percent of whom favor ending this form of prohibition.  But there’s also majority support — 55 percent — among Republicans.  Among voters under age 30, support for legalization is sky-high.

Enthusiasm for legalization extends far beyond the large number of Americans who are recreational users of marijuana to include millions of people who recognize, as does the American Civil Liberties Union, that “Marijuana Legalization Is a Racial Justice Issue.”...

When the [Democratic] party’s task force on criminal justice reform released its policy recommendations this week, legalization was off the agenda.  That was just one example of the caution that permeates the 110-page document submitted to the Democratic National Committee’s platform drafters by the six task forces that were set up in May by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his chief rival for the party’s nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders....

There’s criticism of mass incarceration and a good proposal to restrict federal funding for states that maintain cash bail systems. But there’s no plan to abolish the scandal-plagued Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency or to defund the police with an eye toward establishing new law enforcement models that strive for public safety and justice....

Color of Change senior director of criminal justice campaigns Scott Roberts told Politico that Biden “still seems to embrace kind of a law-and-order lite.” That was certainly the case when it came to upending marijuana laws.

The commission rejected legalization — the popular position backed by Sanders. Instead, it stuck to the more cautious approach that’s been maintained by Biden, a supporter of the drug war during his own Senate years who has softened some but not all of his old positions. Instead of legalization, the commission proposed to “decriminalize marijuana use,” reschedule cannabis on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and leave it to the states to decide about legalization.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws concluded that the proposal “is out of step with public opinion [and] would do little to mitigate the failed policy of federal prohibition.”

“It is impractical at best and disingenuous at worst for the Biden campaign to move ahead with these policy proposals. Rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act would continue to make the federal government the primary dictators of cannabis policy, and would do little if anything to address its criminal status under federal law,” explained Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law.  “Rescheduling marijuana is intellectually dishonest. Just as cannabis does not meet the strict criteria of a Schedule I controlled substance, it similarly does not meet the specific criteria that define substances categorized in schedules II through V.”

Why didn’t the commission simply endorse the Marijuana Justice Act, which has been introduced by New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker in the Senate and House Democrats Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna?  Sanders supports the measure, as do two of Biden’s vice presidential prospects, Warren and Senator Kamala Harris.  The answer is that Biden has a long history of opposing legalization — going so far in his resistance to the idea that, last year, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested that the former vice president was employing “Reagan-era talking points.”

Prior related post:

Is marijuana reform really a "Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use"?

 

July 11, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is marijuana reform really a "Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use"?

EJ3gu5eWsAEdEfSThe question in the title of this post is drawn from the headline of this great new Atlantic piece by Edward-Isaac Dovere fully titled "The Marijuana Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use: Legalizing marijuana is extremely popular. So why won’t Joe Biden embrace the idea?".  Here are extended excerpts from an interesting piece worth reading in full:

Democratic political consultants dream of issues like marijuana legalization. Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of it, polls show.  So are independents. A majority of Republicans favor it now too. It motivates progressives, young people, and Black Americans to vote. Put it on the ballot, and it’s proved a sure way to boost turnout for supportive politicians. It’s popular in key presidential-election states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Virginia. There’s no clear political downside — although marijuana legalization motivates its supporters, it doesn’t motivate its opponents. For the Democratic presidential nominee, the upsides of supporting it would include energizing a very committed group of single-issue voters and making a major move toward criminal-justice reform and the Bernie Sanders agenda.

Joe Biden won’t inhale.

Democrats eager for Biden to support legalization have theories about why he won’t.  His aides insist they’re all wrong.  It’s not, they say, because he’s from a generation scared by Reefer Madness. It’s not, they say, because he spent a career in Washington pushing for mandatory minimum sentencing and other changes to drug laws.  It’s definitely not, according to people who have discussed the policy with him, because he’s a teetotaler whose father battled alcoholism and whose son has fought addiction, and who’s had gateway-drug anxieties drilled into him.  With legalization seeming such an obvious political win, all that’s stopping Biden, current and former aides say, is public health.  He’s read the studies, or at least, summaries of the studies (campaign aides pointed me to this one).  He wants to see more.  He’s looking for something definitive to assure him that legalizing won’t lead to serious mental or physical problems, in teens or adults....

If Biden really has his eyes on public health, he should think about how many Black people end up in jail for marijuana sale and possession, argues Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba — a young Black progressive who oversaw local decriminalization in his city in 2018....  Alternatively, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, says Biden should think about how legalization could raise tax revenue in the post-pandemic economy of state budget deficits....

Amid the criticism that Biden hasn’t taken a definitive stance on legalization, it’s easy to lose track of how far ahead he is of any other major-party presidential nominee in history in terms of changing marijuana policy.  He’d decriminalize use, which would mean fines instead of jail time, and move to expunge records for using.  He’d remove federal enforcement in states that have legalized the drug.  That’s further, by far, than Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, has gone.  Biden would move marijuana off as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same category as heroin, but would not take it off the illegal-drugs schedule entirely, so that federal law would treat it the way it does alcohol or nicotine....

“As science ends up with more conclusive evidence regarding the impact of marijuana, I think he would look at that data. But he’s being asked to make a decision right now. This is where the science guides him,” Stef Feldman, Biden’s policy director, explained to me....  There isn’t some conclusive study about health effects that Biden is ignoring, but one is also not likely to emerge anytime soon.  And though they insist this is all about health, other ripples from legalization are on the minds of institutionalists like Biden and his close advisers: trade deals that require both sides to keep marijuana illegal would have to be rewritten, half a century of American pressure on other countries about their drug policies would be reversed, and hard-line police unions would have to be convinced that he wasn’t just giving in to stoners. 

Realistically, marijuana isn’t a priority right now for the campaign.  Legalization is at once too small an issue for Biden’s tiny team to focus on and too large an issue to take a stand on without fuller vetting.  And it comes with a frustration among people close to Biden, who point out that liberals talk about trusting science on everything from climate change to wearing masks — and, notably, wanted vaping restricted because the health effects were unclear — but are willing to let that standard slide here because they want marijuana to be legal.

Biden’s compromise: going right to the edge of legalization, while appointing a criminal-justice task force for his campaign whose members have each supported at least some approach to legalization.  But that sort of signaling doesn’t get people to the polls.  “Being cute is fine. Being bold is motivating,” Ben Wessel, the director of NextGen America, a group focused on boosting political involvement among younger voters, told me.

“If Biden said he wants to legalize marijuana tomorrow, it would help him get reluctant young voters off the fence and come home to vote for Biden — especially Bernie [Sanders] supporters, especially young people of color who have been screwed by a criminal-justice system that treats them unfairly on marijuana issues,” Wessel told me.  Publicly supporting marijuana legalization would be an easy, attention-grabbing move, and might help many Sanders diehards get past the fact that he’s not where they want him to be on the rest of their candidate’s democratic-socialist agenda. 

In 2018, top Democrats credited a legalization ballot initiative in Michigan with boosting turnout and producing the biggest blue wave in the country — winning races for governor, Senate, attorney general, and secretary of state, along with flipping two congressional seats and multiple state-legislature seats.  A ballot initiative is expected for the fall in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and possibly Montana.  Anyone who believes — hopefully, or out of cynical political calculation — that Biden will announce some big change in his thinking, aides told me, will be disappointed. 

I really like lots of aspects of this commentary, and I generally believe support for marijuana reform is a sound and significant political strategy these days.  But, as this piece highlights, when Biden's opponent is Donald Trump, it will still be easy for Biden to claim to be the most reform-minded candidate.  And while support for full legalization might attract younger voters, it also will attract hard questions about whether Biden would support legalizing other drugs.  By saying he will follow the research and the science, Biden can appear both wise and flexible on an issue that can still generate more heat than light.

Moreover, I think the political calculations can be a bit more nuanced here if one thinks about swing states and swing voters.  A number of potential swing states, ranging from Georgia and North Carolina to Iowa and Ohio and Wisconsin (and Texas?), are not states with a track record of significant voter support for full marijuana legalization.  Perhaps even more importantly, key voting blocks like suburban women and older white men are the populations that have generally been most resistant to marijuana reforms.   Though I still think support for major marijuana reforms would be a political plus for Biden, I do not think it is obviously a "superweapon" being left on the sidelines.

July 6, 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)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Reviewing direct democracy marijuana/drug reform initiatives as we celebrate America's birthday

Download (11)Kyle Jaeger has this helpful and timely piece at Marijuana Moment discussing the state of direct democracy marijuana and drug reform campaigns in the states. The piece is headlined "As Signature Deadlines Approach, Here’s Where Marijuana And Drug Policy Reform Campaigns Stand," and is worth a full read. Here are highlights:

Several drug policy reform campaigns are in the final stretch as deadlines to submit signatures for proposed ballot initiatives loom this week and next.

While the coronavirus pandemic dealt serious blows to marijuana, psychedelics and other drug reform groups in jurisdictions across the country, forcing some to end their campaigns, activists in Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. are still in the game, with some running against the clock to turn in enough valid signatures to qualify and others now waiting for officials to validate petitions they’ve already submitted. That’s in addition to measures that have already qualified for November ballots in states like Mississippi, New Jersey and South Dakota.

The proposed ballot measures would accomplish everything from legalizing cannabis to decriminalizing psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Here’s a status update on where they stand:

Arizona  Deadline: July 2

Smart & Safe Arizona is a campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot, and it seems to be in good shape to qualify....

Idaho  Deadline: TBD

While the original deadline to submit signatures for an initiative to legalize medical marijuana passed on May 1, a federal judge recently ruled that the state must make accommodations for a separate non-cannabis ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response to it. Activists feel the ruling will also apply to the marijuana measure....

Nebraska  Deadline: July 3

Activists behind an initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state turned in 182,000 raw signatures on Thursday — well more than the 121,669 valid submissions needed to qualify for the ballot....

Oregon  Deadline: July 2

A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes already submitted signatures that they feel will qualify them for the ballot....

Washington, D.C.  Deadline: July 6

Washington, D.C. activists are continuing to collect signatures for a proposed measure to make enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities....

Here’s the status of other drug policy campaigns that have either succeeded or failed so far this year:

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced on Tuesday that a campaign to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand substance misuse treatment has qualified for the ballot.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

Mississippi activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana initiatives—one to legalize the plant for adult use and another stipulating that individuals must be 21 or older to participate — for the November ballot.  The state is currently validating those submissions.

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas will not qualify for the ballot this year, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.

Activists behind an initiative to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand access to treatment services in Washington State said last week that they will no longer be pursuing the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they are seeking to enact the policy change through the legislature during the next session starting January 2021.

An effort to place a psilocybin legalization measure on California’s ballot ended after the coronavirus pandemic presented petitioning difficulties and officials didn’t agree to a request to allow electronic signature gathering.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

North Dakota activists ended their push to place a marijuana legalization measure on the 2020 ballot and will instead seek qualification for 2022.

July 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2020

"Why Marijuana Legalization Funds The Police"

The title of this post is the headline of this timely new Forbes piece worth reading in full.  Here are excerpts:

Bribing the cops is illegal, but not in politics.  Without paying off the cops, California might not have legalized recreational cannabis.

But now, four years later, with the legal industry struggling and police unable to protect legal merchants from either the illicit market or organized thieves, there’s serious doubt whether devoting tax revenue from marijuana sales to police budgets was smart politics.  And in light of calls to defund or cut police spending throughout the country, California’s experience is a warning for legalization efforts in other states.  Should police get a cut before education, healthcare, or disadvantaged communities shut out of the legal market?  And does law enforcement have any business making money off of legalization at all?

Eager to sell regulating and taxing cannabis to uneasy suburban and conservative voters, the authors of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, offered the state’s powerful law-enforcement lobbies a gift.  Twenty percent of the promised $1 billion in annual tax revenue legalization would create was earmarked for “public safety.” Legalization advocates heard an earful from growers and merchants eager to go legal — why reward the crews that had spent decades trying to arrest them? — but it was sold as necessary and practical electoral strategy. And from a public-safety standpoint, the gambit worked — sort of.  Though the cop lobbies opposed the measure anyway, they also didn’t run a massive scare campaign. On Election Day 2016, AUMA won more than 57 percent of the vote....

Similar tactics have been employed elsewhere.  California’s generosity was notable only in its size. Marijuana legalization has meant money for American police everywhere the social experiment’s been tried....  In Nevada, pot taxes help pay the police to “enforce” the measure (along with, one assumes, other laws).  In Colorado, cannabis taxes fund diversion and addiction-recovery programs, which are administered by the police.  In Portland, Oregon, most of a special 3 percent city tax on cannabis, part of which was meant to help jump-start minority entrepreneurs, somehow ended up in the police budget, infuriating local lawmakers who thought the cash would go to minority entrepreneurs....

Either Arizona, New Jersey, or maybe New Mexico or New York will be the next state to legalize cannabis for adults.  All need money, badly.  And in all states, elected officials and policymakers have suggested cannabis could provide that money.  This is the ATM argument for legalization.  But anyone running those campaigns will now have a harder sell promising cash to cops — at all, and not just up front.

As for California, lawmakers are now in a bind.  “I can think of a lot of betters uses of those funds,” said Matt Kumin, a San Francisco-based lawyer who advocated for Prop. 64’s passage.  In the coronavirus pandemic, with millions of Americans going untested for COVID-19 symptoms and millions more out of work, he’s not the only one.

Redirecting legalization money away from police budgets will require modifying the voter-approved legalization law.  This can probably be done by the state Legislature, but not without a fight. “The cops use blackmail, threaten, and practice low enforcement activity if pols threaten their budgets,” Kumin added.  Hints of this were underway before the pandemic and the protests.  In December, an effort to cut local weed taxes in Oakland, where Goldsberry and other merchants paid a 10 percent local tax on top of state taxes, in order to stimulate the industry was opposed — by the local police union.

Defunding the police will be a lengthy and divisive political project.  Whether legalization should fund the police in the first place may be a question settled much sooner.

June 8, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general urge Congress to include banking access for marijuana businesses in COVID relief bills

As reported in this press release from earlier this week from the Colorado Attorney General, "a bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territorial Attorneys General [on Tuesday urged]  Congress to pass as part of upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (H.R. 1595) or similar measures that would give legal marijuana-related businesses access to the federal banking system."  Here is more from the press release:

Under existing law, federal regulators prohibit financial institutions from providing services to marijuana businesses in states where medical or retail marijuana sales are legal. Forcing legal businesses to operate as cash-only operations poses serious safety threats, creating targets for violent and white-collar crime. The SAFE Banking Act permits marijuana-related businesses in states and territories with existing regulatory structures to access the federal banking system.

The SAFE Banking Act has widespread, bipartisan support with 206 cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House passed the bill in September 2019. The HEROES Act relief legislation, which the House approved last week, also included the language of the SAFE Banking Act.

In their letter, the Attorneys General note that the COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on problems that the SAFE Banking Act is intended to remediate, including health and safety concerns stemming from frequent and large cash exchanges.

The full text of the letter can be read here.

Also released with this letter ws this effective report from the Attorney General Alliance Cannabis Project titled "Solving An Untenable Situation: The Public Health and Safety Rationale Behind The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act."

May 21, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

"Pandemic upends pot legalization: Ballot campaigns and cannabis bills get pushed aside during public health crisis"

Download (8)The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Politico article, and here are excerpts:

What was supposed to be a banner year for marijuana legalization is becoming a bust.

Advocates are pushing ballot referendums in nearly a dozen states, from Idaho to New Jersey. Governors and state lawmakers who failed to pass legalization last year — most notably in New York — vowed that 2020 would be different. But social distancing has put ballot drives on pause and state lawmakers are overwhelmed with addressing the crisis at hand.

“People are scared. They don’t want to touch a pen or paper,” said Melissa Fults, executive director of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform. “All we can do is sit and wait.”

So even with marijuana sales spiking, the coronavirus pandemic is crippling marijuana legalization efforts on the state level — and campaigns on all kinds of other issues, too. “The coronavirus has impacted every signature drive on every issue across the country,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.

Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared that marijuana legalization would be a “top priority” earlier this year, abandoned the initiative when his state emerged as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. “Too much [to deal with], too little time,” Cuomo said when asked about marijuana legalization during a recent press briefing.

A few states are poised to vote on marijuana referendums: New Jersey voters will decide whether to allow recreational marijuana sales in November, and Mississippians are expected to face two competing medical marijuana referendums.

But some ballot campaigns have abandoned this year’s plans and are eyeing 2022, and advocates are unsure what will happen to legalization bills with dozens of legislative sessions suspended or postponed. Even anti-legalization advocates are not cheering these developments. “Obviously this isn’t the reason we would want legalization measures to be set back,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Lives are on the line.”

Nearly a dozen marijuana legalization ballot campaigns were angling for a spot on the 2020 ballot until coronavirus-related orders made it nearly impossible for canvassers to collect signatures. "[Circulating petitions] contributes to the public health problem," said Schweich. "There’s no playbook on how to do a signature drive during a pandemic."

Of all the legalization ballot campaigns still collecting signatures, Smart and Safe Arizona is perhaps the best positioned to succeed. It filed early and collected more than 300,000 signatures to date, well beyond the 238,000 verified signatures it needs by July 2 to qualify. Ballot campaigns typically submit more than the required number of signatures since a good portion generally can’t be verified by government officials. “Marijuana is in very good shape even with the lockdown order. We’d like to collect more,” said Stacy Pearson, a spokesperson for the campaign.

For other campaigns facing July deadlines, including Arkansas and Nebraska, advocates hope to get back out in the field in May. “[We] had already started hiring canvassers when this whole coronavirus thing happened,” said Tommy Garrett, a former Republican state senator in Nebraska who now serves as chairman of ADOPT, a statewide coalition that aims to reduce state property taxes and legalize medical marijuana....

The Arizona campaign recently joined three other ballot initiatives in filing a petition to the Arizona Supreme Court to allow them to use e-signatures. Advocates are looking into whether they can email people to find out if they are willing to sign a petition if it were dropped off outside their front door so they could use their own pens to sign it. The person could then leave the signed petition outside their door to be collected.

Arkansans for Cannabis Reform plans to work with two other campaigns on separate issues to help each other. The idea is to have canvassers for each campaign carry the petitions for all three signature drives. They’re discussing ways to safely collect signatures, such as having people drive up to canvassers to sign a petition while remaining in their cars. “We’re just going to have to get really creative,” Fults said.

Meanwhile, other recreational legalization campaigns are all but dead, including those in Missouri and Oklahoma. Medical marijuana legalization campaigns in Idaho and North Dakota have both expressed plans to focus their efforts on making the 2022 ballot instead.

"Coronavirus is taking up all the oxygen in the room," said Andrew Freedman, senior vice president at the public affairs firm Forbes Tate Partners. "People are just going to go home when all the essential business is passed." States with marijuana bills including Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut all shifted their priorities as coronavirus cases surged....

Some advocates are hoping the crisis bodes well for legalization efforts in the long run, as states face revenue decimated by the crisis. "[Cannabis businesses] are taxed heavily,” said Richard Acosta, CEO of Subversive Real Estate Acquisition REIT, a cannabis-focused real estate investment operation. “The economic slowdown makes cannabis legalization at the state and federal level more attractive.”

Oklahoma Republican state Rep. Scott Fetgatter recently said he plans to introduce legislation to establish a taxed, regulated recreational marijuana market, arguing it could bring in $100 million per year in revenue and help with a budget crunch expected because of the health crisis.

But until the worst is over, lawmakers likely will be consumed with more urgent matters. Legislative leaders in Connecticut, who had been discussing marijuana legalization matters with Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont, are now working with the governor on a coronavirus stimulus package. The session has been postponed until at least April 13.

A medical marijuana legalization bill was chugging along in Kentucky’s legislature with a 65-30 vote in the Republican-dominated House. Now, the bill is languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee as the legislature swerved to deal with the state budget amid the coronavirus crisis.

Some prior COVID-cannabis related posts:

April 8, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"Coronavirus Upends Marijuana, Psychedelics And Drug Reform Ballot Measures"

Download (26)The title of this post is the headline of this new Forbes piece by Tom Angell highlighting one way that the COVID-19 crisis seems certain to slow the drug law reform momentum heading into November.  Here are the details:

Marijuana and drug policy reform advocates came into 2020 believing it would be a big — and perhaps unprecedented — year for legalization and decriminalization measures on state ballots. From California to Missouri to Oregon, they had high hopes for placing far-reaching initiatives before voters in November.

But many of those efforts have been severely impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has made mass signature gathering to qualify ballot measures all but impossible as public health and government officials have urged social distancing measures.

Here’s a look at the growing list of ballot initiatives on cannabis and broader drug reforms that have been effectively halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

California

Separate campaigns to amend California’s legal marijuana program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are calling on officials to allow them to collect ballot signatures digitally instead of in-person due to the health risks of the the latter traditional route amid the pandemic. So far those requests seem to have been ignored.

Missouri

Activists in Missouri announced that they have “no practical way” of collecting enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization measure before voters amid the pandemic and are now considering shifting their focus to the 2022 election.

Nebraska

A campaign working to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the November ballot is temporarily suspending signature gathering efforts during the coronavirus outbreak “out of an abundance of caution.”

Oregon

Activists behind a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs and expand treatment services using current marijuana tax revenue has halted in-person signature collection efforts. That said, the campaign says it has almost enough to qualify and so is urging supporters to download, print, sign and mail petitions to help. Also in Oregon, a separate team of advocates working to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms has also suspended mass signature collection efforts despite similarly having almost enough to ensure ballot access. They are asking people who want to sign to fill out an online form so that petitions can be mailed to them.

Washington, D.C.

Activists in the nation’s capital were hoping to give voters a chance to decide on a measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics—including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine — in November.  But they, like their colleagues in states across the country, have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person signature collection virtually impossible. They’ve asked for a change in the law to allow for electronic petition signing, but officials have demurred, and so the campaign is now exploring a plan to mail petitions to supporters who would then collect signatures from their immediate family members and close friends.

Beyond the ballot, the coronavirus outbreak has also impeded efforts to advance marijuana reform bills through state legislatures in place like Connecticut, New York and Vermont as sessions have been largely halted due to health concerns.

But ... in South Dakota, separate measures to legalize marijuana and allow medical cannabis have already qualified for the state’s November ballot.... In Mississippi, the state certified that advocates collected a sufficient number of signatures to place a medical marijuana legalization question before voters.... In New Jersey, the legislature voted late last year to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot.  And in Arizona, activists announced last week that they have already collected more signatures than needed to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the ballot — though they have not yet been submitted to and verified by the state.

This accounting leave out Ohio, where a campaign for full legalization of marijuana was just getting launched when COVID-19 started shutting down the state. I suspect still other states and localities may have had similar nascent efforts shut down as well.

March 31, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Advocacy groups urge ceasing of cannabis arrests and release of cannabis offenders during COVID-19 outbreak

As detailed in this press release, the "Last Prisoner Project and other organizations are urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for non-violent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, the organizations are calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced." Here is more:

The Marijuana Policy Project, Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have sent a letter calling for these actions to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.

The letter is available at this link, and here are excerpts:

[W]e are imploring you to curtail arrests for non-violent offenses, such as marijuana possession, cultivation, and sale until the country is better able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Similar actions have already been taken in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and nationally by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Many jurisdictions give police broad discretion to choose infractions and summonsed misdemeanors as alternatives to serious charges and arrests.  In addition, officers have wide discretion to merely provide warnings for minor offenses.  We encourage broad use of this flexibility in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to curtailing arrests, we are urging you to release cannabis offenders, along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced.  By significantly reducing the number of inmates in local jails and prisons, you can ultimately reduce the risk of the coronavirus being spread amongst inmates, staff, and the community.  Guards return to their families and communities after their shifts, as do prisoners upon their release.  The larger the number of individuals incarcerated, the greater the likelihood and possible scope of a related outbreak.  This puts prisoners, guards, and the larger community at risk as the communities grapple with this public health crisis. Significantly reducing the number of inmates is a necessary step to ensuring public health in the face of this crisis.

Many localities — including Baltimore; Suffolk County, Massachusetts; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; New Jersey; Los Angeles; and New York City — and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have already begun to release inmates incarcerated for non-violent, drug-related offenses with the understanding that infections in prisons and jails are rampant, and releasing inmates could save the lives of not only inmates but also the custodial, medical, and safety staff that serve them.

March 27, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Cannabis finds its moment amid coronavirus outbreak"

CoronavirusandcannabisgraphicThe title of this post is the title of this notable new Politico piece.  Here are excerpts:

Cannabis is turning out to be the one thing the coronavirus can’t destroy.

Marijuana sales are booming, with some states seeing 20 percent spikes in sales as anxious Americans prepare to be hunkered down in their homes potentially for months. Weed sellers are staffing up too, hiring laid-off workers from other industries to meet demand. And in the midst of a historic market meltdown, stock prices for cannabis companies have surged, in some cases doubling since the public health crisis began.

“We are hiring because we are having to shift our business a bit,” said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, which is valued at $1 billion. The company is staffing up its delivery fleet, retail workers, and people to handle increased inventory shipments. “Now is a great time [to apply], particularly if you’re in a business that has seen layoffs.”

Nearly all of the 33 states with legal medical or recreational markets have classified marijuana businesses as an essential service, allowing them to remain open even as vast swaths of the retail economy are shuttered. San Francisco and Denver initially announced plans to shut down dispensaries, but immediately backpedaled after a public furor.

Weed shops are essentially being treated the same as pharmacies, reflecting a dramatic shift in cultural perceptions about the drug over the last decade. “It is a recognition that it has taken on much greater significance around the country,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime Capitol Hill champion for cannabis. “This is something that makes a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every day. I do think that this might be part of a turning point.“

Concerns about whether smoking pot is the smartest response to a pandemic that’s causing severe lung injuries in tens of thousands of Americans have been largely drowned out. "Public opinion has pushed lawmakers to think about cannabis — and particularly medical cannabis — in different ways than they used to," said John Hudak, a cannabis policy expert at the Brookings Institution, and author of Marijuana: A Short History. "A lot of state policymakers are trying to get this right and they obviously see the risk of shutting down a dispensary to be higher than the rewards of shutting down a dispensary."...

The burgeoning industry does face some stiff financial headwinds: The massive stimulus package moving through Congress this week to help beleaguered businesses shuts out cannabis companies from taking advantage of its benefits, reflecting the continued federal illegality of marijuana. Prior to the recent boom in sales, the industry had been in financial turmoil, with many companies laying off workers and scuttling acquisitions as they ran short on cash. “I'm frustrated Senate Republicans refused to allow us to include them in this legislation, but we aren't giving up," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Wednesday.

In addition, some medical experts question the wisdom of allowing uninhibited access to marijuana during a massive public health crisis. They worry that customers flocking to pot shops could spread the virus, that stoned customers will engage in risky behavior and that smoking pot will worsen the lung damage for people who do become infected. “If you keep the pot stores open, you're just adding fuel to the fire,” said Karen Randall, an emergency room doctor in Colorado. “You're having a whole bunch of people who are trashing their lungs.”...

The federal government said Thursday that a staggering 3.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week. While the cannabis industry can’t do much to remedy that bloodletting, some companies are looking to hire people who have recently lost their jobs. Harborside — which operates three shops in the Bay Area — found itself suddenly understaffed as delivery requests increased by 45 percent and phone calls exploded from around 100 to 8,000 per day.... Harborside has hired 10 employees in the last few weeks — some of whom were directly laid off as a result of the coronavirus — and plans to hire at least six more. The largest increase was in their delivery fleet, going from four drivers to 10.

And they’re not alone. “Two and a half weeks ago, our sales just exploded,” said Zachary Pitts, CEO of California cannabis delivery service Ganja Goddess. “People are leaning on delivery more now … even though storefronts are still open in California.” Pitts estimated that he’s increased his workforce by about 15 percent in recent weeks, and is working on hiring more. The company has suspended normal vetting processes and is instead relying on trusted referrals....

As states move to declare marijuana an essential business, the gulf between state and federal policy has never been wider. Congress is poised to enact a $2 trillion stimulus package this week, but the cannabis industry will not see a cent. “In the same way that cocaine dealers in the United States who are suffering under Covid-19 are not going to be eligible for relief under the stimulus bill, cannabis companies won't either,” said Hudak of the Brookings Institution. “Illegal businesses do not access legal funding.”

The cannabis industry generated $15 billion in sales last year and employs 340,000 people. Employers and workers pay federal taxes, and are required to comply with other coronavirus-related measures such as paid sick leave coverage. But for cannabis companies to access assistance made available through the stimulus package, Congress or the administration would need to dictate their inclusion. A spokesperson for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said he wants to include such a provision in a future coronavirus aid package. Similarly, Murray said she is “exploring what can be done in the upcoming appropriations process to help them through this crisis and beyond."

March 27, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

New Brookings paper envisions a "Cannabis Opportunity Agenda"

2020At Brookings, Makada Henry-Nickie and John Hudak have this interesting new brief as part of  its "Policy 2020" series titled "It is time for a Cannabis Opportunity Agenda." Here is the paper's executive summary:

The 2020 election season will be a transformative time for cannabis policy in the United States, particularly as it relates to racial and social justice.  Candidates for the White House and members of Congress have put forward ideas, policy proposals, and legislation that have changed the conversation around cannabis legalization.  The present-day focus on cannabis reform highlights how the War on Drugs affected targeted communities and how reform could ameliorate some of those wrongs.  The national conversation on cannabis stands at a pivotal inflection point that provides policymakers and legislators with an extraordinary opportunity to establish a policy context wherein inclusive economic opportunities can thrive in tandem with responsible investments to redress longstanding harms.

When Congress works to remedy a discriminatory past or to rectify decades of institutionalized bias, it has an obligation to thoroughly consider implicit and explicit hurdles to equity.  Nowhere is this deliberation more critical than in drug policy reform.  For decades, the criminalization of drugs led to foreclosed opportunities for people of color who were disproportionately victimized by unequal criminal enforcement.  In 2013, police officers were 3.73 times more likely to arrest people of color for cannabis possession than whites.  Arrest disparities were even more egregious in some communities where Blacks were 8.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.  The racist roots of the War on Drugs inflicted significant collateral damage on minority groups, saddling young men and women of color with drug convictions — often before age 30 — and setting them on a course of institutionalized disadvantage because of the crippling, collateral consequences of criminal records.

Today, amidst a thriving state-legal cannabis industry, the same people hurt most by the drug war face the greatest barriers to participating in the emerging cannabis economy.  As elected officials consider how to reform the nation’s cannabis laws and rectify these serious socioeconomic and racial issues, they must erase any ambiguity about the protections, corrective actions, and inclusive opportunities intended to reverse the generation-long ills of the War on Drugs.  We argue that 2020 is an opportune moment to design a comprehensive pragmatic Cannabis Opportunity Agenda: a set of policies that addresses the social harms of marijuana prohibition and seeks to rehabilitate impacted communities with a focus on equity, opportunity, and inclusion.

March 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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)

Advocacy groups urge governors to ensure "medical cannabis patients do not experience disrupted access to crucial medicine" during COVID crisis

I just saw that, earlier this week, an array of advocacy groups sent this short letter to the National Governors Association headed "Emergency Call To Action To Governors In States With Medical Cannabis Programs." Here is the heart of the letter (which also attaches a similar letter from last week from Americans for Safe Access):

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undersigned national drug policy, HIV/AIDS, and public health organizations write to all U.S. governors and medical cannabis program directors to amplify a letter sent last week by the nation’s leading medical cannabis and patient advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA).  We are joining their call for necessary, immediate actions and safeguards to ensure that medical cannabis patients do not experience disrupted access to crucial medicine.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have medical cannabis laws enacted and, cumulatively, these states serve over three million patients.  Medical cannabis patients often live with debilitating ailments, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain that significantly affect quality of life.  It is critical that policymakers and other decision makers who are working to address the current COVID-19 pandemic are also considering the public health consequences that will follow the decision to abruptly interrupt the legal supply chain for medical cannabis patients.  We are especially worried about vulnerable patients being unintentionally pushed to the unregulated market, where there will not be access to lab-tested, tightly controlled products.  This could endanger the health of those who rely on cannabis as medicine.

The undersigned organizations -- who support research and access to medical cannabis -- join ASA in calls for the recognition of medical cannabis as necessary medicine and for the recommendations below to be implemented to ensure that patients’ access to medicinal cannabis will continue.

March 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Ohio 2020 ballot initiative, "An Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol," officially filed

As noted in this post, last week news broke that  there was in the works a serious attempt to bring a full marijuana legalization initiative to Ohio voters in 2020.  This local press piece, headlined "Ohio 2020 recreational marijuana legalization measure filed: 5 things to know," report on that effort and (some of) what we all need to know.  Here are excerpts:

The latest effort to legalize marijuana in Ohio stems from frustration with Ohio's nearly four-year-old medical marijuana law. Supporters of the measure include at least two medical marijuana businesses, a medical marijuana patient, a mother of twins with autism – a condition excluded from the program – and advocates for recommending cannabis in place of opioids.

Supporters of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment turned in the petition summary language and an initial 1,000 signatures to the Ohio attorney general on Monday. This is the first step in a months-long process to qualify for the November ballot. The constitutional amendment would allow adults over age 21 to buy, possess, consume and grow limited amounts of marijuana....

Tom Haren, a Northeast Ohio attorney representing supporters, said there were several catalysts in the medical program that led to the new adult use measure. "If you're a patient in Ohio, it's hard to participate in Ohio's medical marijuana program," said Haren, who has also represented medical marijuana licensees. "We were promised a program that worked." Haren confirmed Pure Ohio Wellness, a cultivator and dispensary operator in Springfield and Dayton, and Galenas, a small-scale grower in Akron, are backing the measure. Haren said other medical marijuana businesses support it but declined to name them on Monday.

The Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association, which represents 14 Ohio companies, is not supporting the measure. “We’re focused on the medical program and at this time are not backing a recreational initiative,” association associate director Thomas Rosenberger said.

The purchase and possession limit in the amendment is 1 ounce, with no more than 8 grams of concentrate. Adults could grow up to six plants (limit of three flowering plants) in an enclosed area – home grow is not allowed in the medical marijuana program. The state's nascent medical marijuana program would remain in place, and state officials would have to ensure patients still have access to products.

The amendment wouldn't change laws against driving under the influence of marijuana or employers' rights to prohibit employee marijuana use....

The 118 medical marijuana licensees could operate as recreational businesses on July 1, 2021, according to the amendment. The Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees medical marijuana growers, processors and testing labs, would also regulate the entire recreational marijuana program.

The agency could issue more licenses, but the number of licenses would be capped until 2026. Retail stores would be capped at about 200. Cultivation would be limited to a total of 1.5 million square feet of growing space among all licensees. For comparison, the state's 19 large-scale and 13 small-scale medical marijuana growers are licensed to cultivate 514,000 square feet.

Local governments could limit the number, location and business hours of marijuana businesses and could ban them altogether. Licenses would be awarded if the applications comply with the rules and regulations; Ohio's medical marijuana business licenses were awarded after a months-long application scoring process....

The amendment doesn't set a tax rate – that would likely violate an anti-monopoly amendment passed by voters in 2015 to block ResponsibleOhio's recreational marijuana measure. Lawmakers could set a special sales tax for recreational marijuana.

Revenue from marijuana would be split several ways:

  • 25% to a special fund for a Commission on Expungement, Criminal Justice, Community Investment, and Cannabis Industry Equity and Diversity
  • 50% allocated to the state's Local Government Fund
  • At least 10% must be returned to municipalities where retail sales occurred, proportional to the amount of sales

Equity in legal cannabis programs refers to ensuring African-Americans and members of other traditionally marginalized groups participate in the industry. African-Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU.

Ohio's attempt at equity in the medical marijuana program – awarding 15% of all licenses to minority-owned businesses – was found unconstitutional. The amendment requires the Department of Commerce to conduct a study into whether there has been discrimination in awarding medical marijuana licenses.

The attorney general has 10 days to review the petition language to make sure it's "fair and truthful" summary of the amendment. Most initiatives don't pass the first time. A bipartisan legislative panel led by the Ohio secretary of state will then decide whether the measure is one or more ballot issues. Then, supporters will have to have to collect at least 442,958 valid signatures of Ohio voters, including a certain percent in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties.

To do that before July 1 – the deadline for the November ballot – supporters will likely need to hire paid signature collectors. Recent statewide ballot issue campaigns have spent upwards of $3 million to collect signatures. Haren declined to name investors or sources funding the campaign. "We expect it will be funded by a diverse set of folks including people with licenses as well as folks outside the licensing," Haren said.

The full text of the the ballot initiative, titled "An Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol," is available at this link.  Once I get a chance to read the text in full, I suspect I will have a lot more to say about how this proposal seek to make marijuana fully legal in the Buckeye State.

Prior related post:

March 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ballot initiative pursuing 2020 vote on full marijuana legalization in Ohio now in the works

Images (12)Throughout the first part of 2019, I thought it quite likely that there would be at least an attempt to bring a full marijuana legalization initiative to Ohio voters in 2020.  But as 2019 marched forward and as I heard that some Ohio medical marijuana industry players were against such an effort, I concluded that the Buckeye voters were going to have to wait until at least 2022 to weigh in again on recreational marijuana.  But, to my surprise, this news broke this week: "Ohio petitioners want to put recreational marijuana on the fall ballot."  Here are the basics and some context:

Advocates of adult marijuana use, which includes some licensed Ohio medical marijuana companies, are working on letting citizens vote on recreational marijuana this fall.

But an initiative to bring a referendum before voters this November will face an uphill battle, as it may be challenging to collect the signatures needed by a July deadline to get a measure on this fall's ballot.  Presidential elections historically draw the greatest voter turnouts, which is why it makes sense strategically to bring out a marijuana legalization referendum at that time despite the time crunch.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, which says it's seen a copy of the petitions, the proposed constitutional amendment would "allow anyone 21 and older to buy, consume and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants."  Additionally, the Enquirer reported that "Ohio's existing medical marijuana businesses would have first dibs on the recreational market beginning in July 2021.  State regulators could decide to issue additional licenses."

Working on the initiative are reportedly Frantz Ward attorney Tom Haren and Mike Hartley, a Republican consultant based in Columbus.  Haren represents multiple marijuana companies in Ohio and is the executive vice president of the Ohio Hemp Association trade group.

Matt Close, executive director of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association, which includes about 15 members, said the trade group is aware of the petitions but is not backing any legalization measure, at least not yet. "From the association standpoint right now, we are not backing any sort of initiative," Close said. "We are trying to fix the current program."...  Nonetheless, while it's currently unclear who's supporting the legalization initiative, sources say the group does include some current Ohio medical marijuana license-holders.

According to the Ohio attorney general's office, a statewide total of 442,958 signatures would be required from at least 44 of the state's 88 counties to file a ballot initiative.  That number is particularly high because of the high voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election.  Petitions can be tricky because a number of signatures will inevitably be marked invalid.  Collecting nearly 443,000 valid signatures means petitioners would likely want to collect double the required number to be safe.  If initial petitions are filed with the state later this week, the initiative would have just four months to collect signatures before the July 1 deadline. A successful campaign would probably take several million dollars of financial support.

The last marijuana referendum brought before voters was Issue 3 in 2015.  While that would've established a recreational market, the amendment would've provided for only 10 cultivators chosen by backers of the bill, including '90s boy-band singer Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees.  Critics, including the state, which worried about losing control of the marijuana situation, framed Issue 3 as a monopoly on the lucrative cultivation business.  While not a literal monopoly, the idea was that one group of investors working together would effectively gain unilateral control over who would be allowed to grow medical pot and where in the Buckeye State.  That left many marijuana advocates unimpressed.

H.B. 523 followed in 2016 as a way for lawmakers to create a strictly regulated medical marijuana industry after seeing a recreational industry nearly willed into existence. Former Gov. John Kasich eventually signed that bill to little fanfare.  Medical marijuana sales in Ohio started in January 2019.  The state saw $58.3 million in total sales in that first year, a good deal less than comparable markets in their inaugural years.

I am very much looking forward to seeing the details of the petition, which should be out this week or next, and also seeing of the organizers will have the resources to collect the signatures needed to actually get the petition to the ballot. Stay tuned.

February 26, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Marijuana reform and expungements finally gets a question at a big debate

I have to give a shout out to CBS News for asking a direct question on marijuana policy and reform, though only three candidates had time during the debate to speak to the issue.  This live-time coverage of the debate reports on the (mostly unsurprising) comments from the candidates under the heading "Sanders pushes ahead on legalizing marijuana, but isn't joined by other candidates":

Klobuchar was given the first chance to address the issue of legalizing marijuana.  "Well, it is realistic to want to legalize marijuana, I want to do that, too," Klobuchar said.

The Minnesota senator added there also needs to be funding for treatment, so there aren't "repeat customers."

Bloomberg said small amounts of marijuana possession shouldn't be criminalized.  And legalization wouldn't be taken away from states that have already legalized the drug.  But he admitted there isn't enough research on mairjuana to know how much damage marijuana does, particularly on young minds, so he isn't pushing for full legalization at this point.  "Until we know the science, it's just nonsensical to push ahead," Bloomberg said.

Sanders blasted the "horrific war on drugs," and said he would "effectively legalize" marijuana.  He also said he wants to move to expunge the records of people with marijuana convictions.

February 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

"Could Bernie Sanders Actually Legalize Marijuana Nationwide On Day One As President?"

Images (1)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy and effective new Marijuana Moment piece by Kyle Jaeger.  I recommend the piece in full (especially to my students), and here is how it gets started:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is making a bold promise: if elected president, he will legalize marijuana in all 50 states on his first day in office.  “We will end the destructive war on drugs,” the 2020 Democratic candidate said at rally days before this week’s Iowa caucus.  “On my first day in office through executive order we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country.”

But while the pledge has been largely welcomed by reform advocates and cannabis enthusiasts, some experts question whether such immediate, sweeping action is legally or practically achievable.

The use of executive orders at the start of a presidency isn’t unprecedented — President Obama signed one aimed at shutting down the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison the day after he assumed office and President Trump issued an order scaling back Obamacare, for example — but there are unique challenges associated with a presidential move to unilaterally remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

To effectively end marijuana prohibition through the executive branch, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institution’s John Hudak, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or an outside party would have to file a petition, which would then be reviewed by the attorney general, who has usually delegated that responsibility to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  The attorney general can also initiate the process on their own, requesting a scientific review directly to HHS. Under HHS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would then assess the scientific, medical and public health implications before submitting that review to the Justice Department.

“The recommendations of the Secretary to the Attorney General shall be binding on the Attorney General as to such scientific and medical matters, and if the Secretary recommends that a drug or other substance not be controlled, the Attorney General shall not control the drug or other substance,” the CSA states.  “If the Attorney General determines that these facts and all other relevant data constitute substantial evidence of potential for abuse such as to warrant control or substantial evidence that the drug or other substance should be removed entirely from the schedules, he shall initiate proceedings for control or removal.”

Thus, changing marijuana’s classification under federal law without an act of Congress is far more complicated than a single stroke of a presidential pen.  While Sanders could theoretically make supporting descheduling a condition of nominating candidates to be HHS secretary or attorney general, it’s virtually certain he would not have those officials installed on day one of his presidency.

The new day-one, executive action proposal is a far more ambitious plan than the one Sanders previously floated. Last year, the senator said he’d take a systematic approach to legalization that would involve naming cabinet members who will “work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana” within 100 days of his taking office.

But it appears the timetable has changed, with top aides reportedly including marijuana legalization in a list of possible executive orders — though Sanders has yet to formally sign off on them.  Some experts are skeptical that this latest plan has legs, and some feel it reflects Sanders’s political desire to stand out as the most marijuana friendly candidate, rather than an earnest attempt to expedite the descheduling process.

February 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, February 3, 2020

NORML releases new scorecard of Governors based on "comments and voting records in 2019 specific to matters of marijuana policy"

Download (8)Last week the acvocacy group NORML released here its "2020 Gubernatorial Scorecard" which constitutes an "extensive database assign[ing] a letter grade 'A' through 'F' to states' governors based upon their comments and voting records in 2019 specific to matters of marijuana policy."  Here is part of the executive summary:

Public opinion in support of marijuana law reform, including adult-use legalization, is at an all-time high. Nonetheless, few federal lawmakers are espousing views on cannabis policy that comport with those of the majority of their constituents.  As a result, most legislative activity specific to marijuana policy takes place at the state level. America's governors are our nation's most powerful state-elected officials and they often play a key role in this ongoing legislative debate.  Here is where each of them stands on issues surrounding cannabis policy.

KEY FINDINGS

Thirty-two US governors received a passing grade of 'C' or higher (22 Democrats, 10 Republicans); last year, only 27 Governors received a grade of 'C' or higher.

Of these, nine US governors -- all Democrats -- received an 'A' grade.

Twelve governors received a 'B' grade (11 Democrats, 1 Republican)

Eleven governors received a 'C' grade (9 Republicans, 2 Democrats)

Ten governors -- nine Republicans and one Democrat -- received a 'D' grade

Eight governors -- all Republicans -- received a 'F' grade

Among Democratic Governors, 39 percent received an 'A.' Ninety-six percent of Democratic Governors received a grade of 'C' or higher.

Among Republican Governors, only 37 percent received a grade of a 'C' or higher. Thirty percent received a failing grade.

THE TAKEAWAY

Political support among US governors for marijuana policy reform continues to grow.  However, this support is more partisan than ever before.  No Republicans are on record in support of adult-use legalization and few are in favor of regulating medical cannabis access.  By contrast, a large percentage of Democrats are supportive of both issues.  This partisan divide is not similarly reflected among the general public.  According to national polling data compiled by Gallup in October 2019, 66 percent of the public -- including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- favor adult-use legalization.  Bipartisan support among the public for medical marijuana legalization is even stronger.  Until this public support is similarly reflected among lawmakers, many cannabis-specific legislative reforms – in particular adult-use legalization proposals – will continue to meet resistance at the state level.

February 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)