Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

More notable coverage of marijuana enforcement challenges thanks to hemp legalization

Mitch-mcon-weedIn prior posts here and here I have highlighted ways in which hemp and other cannabis reforms have made marijuana enforcement ever more challenging for law enforcement. Politico has this new lengthy article covering these realities with a spotlight on Senator Mitch McConnell's central role in hemp reform under the headline "Marijuana Mitch? How McConnell’s hemp push has made pot busts harder." Here are excerpts:

Mitch McConnell’s big victory for his home state hemp industry may have made it easier for people busted for marijuana to get off the hook.

Last year, McConnell pushed to get a provision legalizing hemp into the farm bill.  His goal was to spur hemp farming across the country and boost farmers in his home state of Kentucky who have been battered by a loss in federal tobacco subsidies.

But here’s the catch: Hemp and marijuana products both come from the same plant, cannabis, which makes it nearly impossible for the average cop to tell the difference.  As states rushed to change their hemp laws to capitalize on the federal changes, many municipalities are giving up on small-time pot busts because of a lack of reliable testing.  Under federal and most state laws, hemp can’t be more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that triggers a high.  Before hemp was legal, police only had tests that could detect the presence of THC, not how much.

Now that cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC is legal, a growing number of prosecutors are requiring lab tests to bring charges. The mere presence of THC is no longer enough.

For example, in Texas, prosecutors were shocked by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s embrace of a hemp bill in June, said Paul Fortenberry, the narcotics division chief in the Harris County district attorney’s office.  The new law led to several district attorney’s offices to set policies requiring lab testing in marijuana cases.  Hundreds of people across the state happily had their cases dismissed.

Prosecutors in Florida, Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere have announced similar policies following hemp legalization laws. Five states legalized hemp this year and others expanded existing hemp programs because of the farm bill.

In Ohio, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein’s office announced in August that it would stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases entirely after Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the state’s hemp legalization bill.  “I was not opposed to the law because of what it meant for Ohio farmers,” Klein said.  “Our farmers have been particularly hit by President [Donald] Trump’s trade war with China so it’s a positive thing for our state … but it still doesn’t mean there aren’t unintended consequences of this law.”

The localities where changes have already been made are likely just the first of many.  “It is a national issue.  This is not anything that is limited to just a few states,” said Duffie Stone, a South Carolina prosecutor and president of the National District Attorneys Association.

Hemp backers including McConnell, especially in conservative-leaning states, frame the hemp legalization issue as an agricultural one.  The crop cannot be consumed as an intoxicating drug, and it can help otherwise struggling farmers access a booming global market worth $3.7 billion in 2018.

But the issue of hemp cuts across several issues.  It’s exactly this focus on agriculture that caught prosecutors off guard in the first place — the hemp bill in Texas went through the agriculture committee.  “Typically when we have a criminal justice bill, it will come through the criminal justice committee,” Fortenberry said.  “Legislatures are seeing that other states have hemp programs worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and they don’t want farmers in their state to get left behind,” he said.  “But in the process of doing that, I don’t think that they foresaw this unintended consequence.”

Earlier this year, South Dakota’s legislature passed a hemp legalization bill that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem promptly vetoed, arguing that it would undermine marijuana enforcement.  While lawmakers fell a few votes short of overriding her veto, they have vowed to try again in 2020.

“I find hard to believe [McConnell] would have moved [hemp legalization] in the same way had he been thinking about all these different implications,” said Melissa Moore, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that aims to reduce criminalization in drug policies.  McConnell has previously opposed efforts to liberalize marijuana laws and didn’t return requests for comment for this report.

The farm bill essentially legalized hemp by removing it from the definition of marijuana under federal drug laws. Regulatory agencies haven’t finalized rules for the newly legal industry, however, leaving the nearly $2 billion industry built on the hemp derivative CBD in a regulatory limbo. CBD is a trendy cannabis compound used for relieving anxiety, pain, inflammation and more, though research on its efficacy is slim.  Hemp cultivars generally contain higher amounts of CBD and trace amounts of THC.  Its industrial applications abound: Hemp is gaining attention for its environmental friendliness and can be used in textiles, construction, biofuels, and more....

CBD-rich hemp flowers often look and smell the same as marijuana flowers that are high in THC. “Testing before didn’t distinguish the quantity of THC,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot.  Without some sort of lab results showing that the substance had more than the legal limit of THC, “it just didn’t make any sense to accept the case.”

Texas lawmakers were so dismayed by marijuana cases being tossed out that they wrote a letter to local prosecutors arguing that lab tests aren’t required in every case.  “Criminal cases may be prosecuted with lab tests or with the tried and true use of circumstantial evidence,” read the letter signed by the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, and state attorney general.

Some smaller DA offices in the state agree. A spokesperson for the El Paso DA’s office sent a statement pointing to a provision of the Texas Health and Safety Code for its decision to continue prosecuting marijuana cases without lab results. But prosecutors in the state’s more populous counties have a different view. “In this day and age, when you have the actual ability to determine whether something is a certain substance, juries expect you to bring you that evidence,” Fortenberry said.

But the lack of testing equipment to differentiate between hemp and marijuana has overwhelmed state crime labs and using private labs can be pricey for local authorities.  Some local police departments are exploring a roadside test from Switzerland, where cannabis under 1 percent THC is legal.  In Florida, more sophisticated testing is coming soon to law enforcement agencies in the Sunshine State: An agriculture official told the Industrial Hemp Advisory Council that a new THC field test will cost $6.50 per test.

Stone said local prosecutors in South Carolina are sending samples to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which hired additional chemists and bought additional mass spectrometry machines that each cost about $100,000.

Like Texas, South Carolina hemp laws followed last year’s farm bill. But unlike other states that have seen prosecutions move away from marijuana cases, South Carolina prosecutors can still move forward with the cases because there is no statute of limitations for any criminal offense in the state.  In Texas, the statute of limitations for marijuana offenses is two years. That’s why prosecutors’ offices are tossing cases, said Creuzot, the Dallas County district attorney.  There’s such a “tremendous backlog” at state crime labs that the suspected marijuana samples can’t be tested before the statute of limitations runs up.

Ohio bought equipment that isn’t yet online, said Klein, but it will eventually allow the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to test suspected marijuana samples.  When testing becomes available, prosecutors in the state also will have a two-year statute of limitations to contend with....

Proponents of marijuana legalization, however, caution that a lack of enforcement does not solve the issues that legalization and regulation would address.  “Certain individuals will avoid prosecution, but the only way to truly end the arrest of adults for marijuana is to fully legalize it at the state level,” said Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, an organization that advocates for marijuana legalization.

Creuzot said police officers often file marijuana cases anyways, despite knowing that his office won’t pursue the charges. “They arrest the person [and] take them to jail....  I don’t have any control over that if that’s what they want to do,” he said.  “An arrest in and of itself, even if the case is dismissed, can still have life-altering effects for somebody,” said Moore, of the Drug Policy Alliance, listing the potential consequences: barriers to employment opportunities, loans for higher education, affordable housing, and family law and immigration implications.

Recent related posts:

September 25, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Advocacy groups urge House leaders not to move forward with banking bill that "does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition"

As noted in this prior post, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is reportedly planning to put a marijuana banking bill on the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote in the  coming weeks.  But yesterday a set of advocacy groups sent this short and significant letter to House leaders urging a postponement of the floor vote because the SAFE Banking Act fails to address any criminal justice reform issues.  Here are excerpts from the letter:  

The Congress has a unique opportunity to address the myriad injustices created by this nation’s marijuana laws. For decades, people of color have suffered under harsh and racially-biased marijuana laws. Although marijuana use is equal between whites and Blacks, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses. Despite many states legalizing marijuana, arrests have increased, with one arrest every 48 seconds.  Against this backdrop, we urge Congress to address the issue of marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively, with timely Committee and Floor consideration of H.R.3884 – the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.  Marijuana legislation must first address the equity and criminal justice reform consequences of prohibition.

The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.  To be clear, we recognize the challenges facing marijuana businesses that lack access to financial services.  However, we believe it is a mistake to move this issue forward while many of the other consequences of marijuana prohibition remain unresolved.  The banking bill does not solve the underlying problems of marijuana prohibition – namely, that many people of color have been saddled with criminal records for a substance that is now legal in many states, and that communities have been shut out of the emerging and booming marijuana industry....

Since the start of the 116th Congress, we have expressed concern to House Leadership, the House Financial Services Committee, and member offices, that if the banking bill moved to the Floor before broader reform, it would jeopardize comprehensive marijuana reform.  Therefore, we have pushed for a conversation among advocates, Committee leadership, and House Leadership to formulate a plan for moving marijuana legislation in a way that is comprehensive and does not result in carve-outs for the industry and leave behind impacted communities.

We ask that you delay any vote on the banking bill until agreement has been reached around broader marijuana reform.

September 18, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Keeping up with the times: how national public health and governmental organizations communicate about cannabis on Twitter"

The title of this post is the title of this new "Short Report" authored by Jenna van Draanen, Tanvi Krishna, Christie Tsang and Sam Liu for the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy.  Recognizing the partial M.C. Escher-like quality of blogging (and automatically tweeting) this piece, here is its abstract:

Background

Public health and governmental organizations are expected to provide guidance to the public on emerging health issues in accessible formats.  It is, therefore, important to examine how such organizations are discussing cannabis online and the information that is being provided to the public about this increasingly legal and available substance.

Methods

This paper presents a concise thematic analysis of both the volume and content of cannabis-related health information from selected (n = 13) national-level public health and governmental organizations in Canada and the U.S. on Twitter.

Results

There were eight themes identified in Tweets including 1) health-related topics; 2) legalization and legislation; 3) research on cannabis; 4) special populations; 5) driving and cannabis; 6) population issues; 7) medical cannabis, and 8) public health issues.  The majority of cannabis-related Tweets from the organizations studied came from relatively few organizations and there were substantial differences between the topics covered by U.S. and Canadian organizations.  The organizations studied provided limited information regarding how to use cannabis in ways that will minimize health-related harms.

Conclusions

Authoritative organizations that deal with public health may consider designing timely social media communications with emerging cannabis-related information, to benefit a general public otherwise exposed to primarily pro-cannabis content on Twitter.

September 18, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Web/Tech, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Serious talk of marijuana banking bill moving forward in Congress

This new Politico piece, headlined "Hoyer plans cannabis banking vote this month," reports that there is new momentum behind a small but very important federal marijuana reform bill.  Here are the details:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer intends to put cannabis banking legislation on the floor this month, a historic step toward legitimizing the marijuana industry nationwide.

A Hoyer spokesperson said the Maryland Democrat was discussing the matter with members but hasn't scheduled the vote just yet. He shared his plans at a whip meeting yesterday.  Other House Democratic aides said they expected the bill to be on the floor during the week of Sept. 23.

The bipartisan legislation would shield banks from federal penalties if they serve cannabis-related businesses in states where the drug has been legalized. Banks have been lobbying for the bill because cannabis remains banned at the federal level.

The new movement in the House comes as the legislation appears to be getting unexpected traction in the Senate, where Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is planning to hold a vote on a cannabis banking bill this year.

This piece at Marijuana Moment, headlined "Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month," provides more context and quotes concerning these developments. It also has this account why matters are now moving forward:

While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.

I have generally been pessimistic about the prospects for any form of federal marijuana reform primarily because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has seemed disinclined to allow any reforms to get to the Senate floor.  I fear that this remains a reality that will thwart passage of even a modest reform bill that might have considerable support on both sides of the aisle. But, as proved true with the sentencing reform legislation last year, it seems possible that Senator McConnell would be willing to move the bill if President Trump and a significant number of GOP Senators expressed support for it. Stay tuned.

September 16, 2019 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, July 31, 2019

Could legalization vote in 2020 help make Florida a tipping point state for marijuana reform nationwide?

Smoking-medical-marijuana-is-now-legal-in-floridaThe question in the title of this post is my first thought in reaction to this local news piece headlined "With Petition Milestone, Recreational Marijuana Is One Step Closer in Florida."  Here are the details:

[W]ith activists pushing to get recreational weed on the 2020 ballot in Florida, the possibility of legalization now seems likelier than ever.  Yesterday the advocacy group Regulate Florida announced its petition to legalize pot has gathered more than 76,632 verified signatures — enough to trigger a review by the Florida Supreme Court.

"We have a long way to go to get it on the ballot, but we will GET IT DONE TOGETHER!!!" the organization wrote in an email newsletter. "TODAY IS THE 1st VICTORY OF MANY TO COME!!!"

Next, the Florida Supreme Court will review the language of the prospective ballot item, which would regulate weed like alcohol in that marijuana would be legal "for limited use and growing" for anyone 21 years or older. Even if the language is approved, Regulate Florida would still need 766,200 signatures to put the amendment before voters.

The Florida Supreme Court review represents a significant milestone, but Regulate Florida still must hit several other targets to get recreational marijuana on the ballot. According to the group's chairman, Michael Minardi, the state has 90 days after the court's certification to complete a financial impact statement on the economic effects of legalizing recreational marijuana.  State statutes also call for the Florida secretary of state to send the proposed amendment to Florida's attorney general, who has 30 days to give an advisory opinion and potentially challenge the validity of the petition....

Last month, a poll by Quinnipiac University showed that 65 percent of Florida voters support "allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use."  However, as the Miami Herald recently pointed out, that support doesn't guarantee the amendment's success on Election Day.

There has been talk of marijuana legalization initiatives in states ranging from Arizona to Arkansas to Montana to North Dakota.  But, for various reasons, Florida would be the most significant state for a legalization vote in 2020.  For starters, it is a big state and a swing state.  In addition, because a 60% vote is needed for approval, a ballot win in the state would reveal just how potent support for full legalization can be.

July 31, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Recapping big congressional hearing on marijuana reform and wondering what is next

Yesterday was an interesting and perhaps historic day inside the Beltway as the  Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary of US House of Representatives conducted a hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."  The full two-hour+ hearing, along with the written testimony submitted by the official witnesses, can all be found at this official webpage.   If one is looking for a summary, this High Times piece provides recap under the headline "What Was Said at Today’s Congressional Hearing on Federal Marijuana Law Reform."  And the headline of this Marijuana Moment recap, headlined "Lawmakers And Witnesses Clash On Strategy During Congressional Hearing On Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition," highlights that there was considerable consensus on the problems with blanket federal marijuana prohibition, but considerable dissensus concerning how reform might best move forward.

I have been fairly pessimistic about federal marijuana reforms before 2020 primarily because, as I noted in this MJBiz Daily piece, I do not think Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has any interest in moving  any significant reforms forward these days (especially after he got hemp reforms passed late last year).  But this congressional hearing provides yet another reminder of why federal marijuana reform is likely to remain so very challenging in the months and years ahead.  Even when there is broad agreement as to the need for reform, we still seem to be a very long way from agreement as to the best form of reform.  And experiences over the last year in New Jersey and New York highlight that even a strong political will for reform among key official can still be thwarted by squabbles over which of various forms reform could take.

For this reason, as I wonder about what is next in Congress on this front, I remain inclined to say "probably nothing."  

A few related recent prior posts:

July 11, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

On eve of congressional marijuana reform hearing, major policy groups form new Marijuana Justice Coalition

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiAs reported in this Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "ACLU And Other Groups Form Coalition To Push Justice-Focused Marijuana Legalization Model," a notable new alliance has come together to press for federal marijuana reform.  Here are the basics:

Ten leading civil rights and criminal justice reform groups announced on Tuesday the formation of a coalition to advocate that marijuana legalization legislation must be comprehensive and include wide-ranging social equity provisions.

Members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC) include the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Noting that the congressional conversation around cannabis has shifted from whether to legalize to how to legalize, MJC said in its announcement that any reform effort should include a series of measures that focus on investing in communities disproportionately harmed by prohibition, encouraging participation in the industry by impacted individuals, expunging the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and ensuring that work in a legal market doesn’t impact citizenship applications.

“Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws,” MJC wrote. “As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive.”

That comprehensive approach should involve descheduling cannabis and advancing criminal justice reform provisions such as expungements and resentencing, MJC said. The group also called for “eliminating barriers to access to public benefits (e.g. nutrition assistance, public housing, etc.) and other collateral consequences related to an individual’s marijuana use or previous arrest or conviction” and “eliminating unnecessarily discriminatory elements for marijuana use, arrests and convictions, including drug testing for public benefits or marijuana use as a reason for separating children from their biological families in the child welfare system.”

Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs office, said the coalition was formed “with the goal of reforming federal marijuana laws, but doing so in a way that gives back to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs.”...

“Since the scheduling of marijuana as a Controlled Substance in 1970, over 20 million Americans have been unjustly arrested or incarcerated,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Entire communities have lost generations of citizens to cyclical poverty and incarceration that resulted from the collateral consequences of having a cannabis-related conviction on their record.”...

Tuesday’s announcement from MJC and its influential members is especially timely. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on marijuana reform that’s expected to explore many of the social equity and racial justice issues identified in MJC’s priority list. While the panel may well consider the bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act among other bills, it seems unlikely MJC will be inclined to offer its support for that specific legislation because it lacks social equity provisions.

The full "Statement of Principles on Federal Marijuana Reform" from this coalition can be found at this link. Here are a few paragraphs from that two-page statement before it turns to specifics:

Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws.

As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive. The provisions set forth below are agreed upon by the undersigned criminal justice, drug policy, civil rights, and anti-poverty groups as principles that should be considered as a part of any moving marijuana reform efforts in Congress.

Relatedly, Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment also has this lengthy preview of today's congressional hearing on marijuana reform headlined "The Debate Over How, Not Whether, Congress Should Legalize Marijuana Is Heating Up."

Related prior post:

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

July 10, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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)

Monday, July 8, 2019

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaI am quite intrigued and pleased that this week the US House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."  The official notice of the hearing is here, and the event will be conducted by the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary and will take place on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at 10:00am in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Based solely on the title given to this hearing, I would expected it to be focused principally on racial disparities in arrests and on other racialized aspects of the enforcement of marijuana prohibitions.   But the official witness list for the hearing shows that two of the four scheduled witnesses are doctors while another is the CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation.   One scheduled witness who does work in the criminal justice, Marilyn Mosby, the chief prosecutor for Baltimore City, surely can and will speak to racial justice issue in the application of marijuana laws.  But I am not entirely sure the other witnesses will be focused on racial justice specifically or just the need for reform generally.

Kyle Yeager at Marijuana Moment has this helpful review of what we might expect from the witnesses and the significance of this event.  Here are excerpts:

Given the backgrounds of these individuals, it seems apparent that committee members will be discussing not whether the U.S. should end federal cannabis prohibition, but will focus primarily on how to do it.

Witnesses [will] include Malik Burnett, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who previously served as the Washington, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, where he helped lead a successful ballot initiative campaign to legalize cannabis in the nation’s capital in 2014.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced in January that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases and would work to clear the records of certain individuals with prior marijuana convictions, is also being invited to testify.

David Nathan, a physician and board president of the pro-legalization group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), will also appear before the committee. He told Marijuana Moment that he looks “forward to discussing the evidence-based health effects of cannabis, the failure of prohibition, the inadequacy of decriminalization, and the public health and social justice benefits of effective regulation.”...

Finally, Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, will be the minority witness—which is noteworthy in and of itself, as Levine advocates for legalization, while one might expect the minority Republican party to invite someone who shares an opposing perspective on ending prohibition. “I cannot comment on what has not been announced publicly by the committee, but I would welcome the opportunity to share the perspective of our members,” Levine, who previously served as a staffer for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We are especially well positioned to discuss the challenges arising from the inconsistency between state and federal cannabis laws.”...

While lawmakers aren’t expected to vote on any particular bill at the hearing, it will nonetheless be one of the most significant congressional developments on marijuana reform to date.

July 8, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Illinois officially now the eleventh US state to legalize marijuana for adult use

Though it was nearly a month ago that the Illinois legislature passed a full legalization bill, it was only today that Gov JB Pritzker signed this marijuana legalization bill into law.  This new Vox piece provides some of the particulars and context (as well as an updated marijuana reform map):

Illinois just became the 11th state to legalize marijuana — and the first where the legislature legalized selling the drug. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who advocated for legalization in his 2018 campaign, signed a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday. The legislature had sent the bill to him in May.

Illinois’s marijuana legalization law will allow recreational possession and sales starting on January 1, 2020, creating a new system of taxes and regulations.  Adults 21 and older will be allowed to possess and buy cannabis, although tourists in Illinois will be allowed to buy less than state residents.  Cities and counties may prohibit sales, but not possession, within their borders. Personal growing will only be fully legal for medical use.  Previous low-level convictions and arrests for marijuana will be pardoned and expunged.

The law will go into effect on January 1, 2020.  The state previously allowed marijuana for medical purposes.  Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, with federal law classifying cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance with no medical value and a high potential for misuse.  But the federal government has generally taken a hands-off approach toward state laws loosening access to the drug.

Ten other states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana.  But Vermont (which also legalized through its legislature) and DC have not yet allowed sales.  Besides Vermont and now Illinois, states have legalized through ballot initiatives. Several other states, including New York and New Jersey, have considered legalization in their legislatures this year, but the proposals have so far failed to pass despite support from the governors in those states.

Prior related post:

Illinois poised to become first big state to legalize adult use/recreational marijuana via traditional legislation

June 25, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Spotlighting former congressional leader John Boehner (and his cohorts) following the marijuana money

1541019214-screen_shot_2018-10-31_at_1.52.43_pmThe New York Times has this notable new account of the work of the former US House Speaker as salesman for marijuana reform.  The front-page lengthy piece, headlined "John Boehner: From Speaker of the House to Cannabis Pitchman," is an interesting read and here are a few excerpts:

John A. Boehner, the former speaker of the House, once stood second in line for the presidency and staunchly against legalized marijuana.  Now you can find the longtime Republican standing before a wall-size photo of the Capitol, making an online infomercial pitch for the cannabis industry.  “This is one of the most exciting opportunities you’ll ever be part of,” Mr. Boehner says in an endlessly streaming video for the National Institute for Cannabis Investors.  “Frankly, we can help you make a potential fortune.”

Mr. Boehner’s pro-weed epiphany coincides with the prospect of a payday as high as $20 million from the industry he once so vigorously opposed.  He sits on the board of Acreage Holdings, a marijuana investment firm whose sale to a cannabis industry giant hinges on Mr. Boehner’s ability to persuade Congress and the federal government to legalize, or at least legitimize, marijuana.

The chain-smoking, merlot-sipping, former 12-term congressman from Ohio says he had never lit a joint in his life when he and the former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld, now a Republican candidate for president, joined Acreage’s board last year.  This year, Acreage announced plans to sell itself to Canopy Growth, a Canadian company that is the biggest cannabis holding in the world.  The deal, worth around $3 billion, based on current stock prices for both Acreage and Canopy, would create an $18 billion behemoth, industry analysts say.  Buried deep in a financial filing from Nov. 14, 2018, is Acreage’s disclosure that the two men each hold 625,000 shares in the company, which if sold after the company’s sale to Canopy would net them a fortune.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon and a founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said he saw Mr. Boehner at a dinner on Capitol Hill the day he joined Acreage.  “I said, ‘John, where were you when we needed you?’ And he said, ‘I’ve evolved,’” Mr. Blumenauer recalled in an interview, imitating Mr. Boehner’s smoky baritone.  (Mr. Boehner had made a similar statement on Twitter earlier that day.)

“He’s nothing if not entrepreneurial,” Mr. Blumenauer said.  “The more the merrier.”  But there is a catch.   The takeover will not happen without substantial changes in marijuana policy, leaving it up to Mr. Boehner and his team of lobbyists to work their magic in Washington.

Mr. Boehner declined to be interviewed for this article.  Terry Holt, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Roundtable, which Mr. Boehner founded in February, declined to speculate on Mr. Boehner’s potential income from the sector. Mr. Boehner “sees an investment opportunity in cannabis,” Mr. Holt said. Citing statistics suggesting most Americans favor “some kind of marijuana reform,” he added, “Who wouldn’t want to be involved?”

A slew of former lawmakers agree.  Among those who have signed on in recent months to represent the weed industry are former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, a longtime Democratic leader in the Senate; former Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California; former Representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York; and former Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida....

In 2016, [Boehner] joined Squire Patton Boggs, successor to the marquee Washington law and lobbying firm, as a “strategic adviser.”  About the same time, Mr. Boehner, who once handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to lawmakers on the House floor, joined the board of the tobacco giant Reynolds American, makers of his favorite Camel brand.

Reynolds directors with his profile earn roughly $400,000 a year, and Mr. Boehner holds other board seats, too, Mr. Holt said.  Combined with a pension derived from his $223,000 annual congressional salary, Mr. Boehner likely earns a seven-figure retirement income, even without the potential Acreage windfall.

Mr. Boehner and Mr. Weld joined Acreage’s board in April 2018, and together issued a statement: “We both believe the time has come for serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy.”  For evidence, “We need to look no further than our nation’s 20 million veterans, 20 percent of whom, according to a 2017 American Legion survey, reportedly use cannabis to self-treat PTSD, chronic pain and other ailments,” they said, denouncing “the refusal of the V.A. to offer it as an alternative” to opioids.

Chanda Macias, the National Cannabis Roundtable’s first vice chairwoman and the owner and general manager of the National Holistic Health Center medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, said that she had seen more than 10,000 patients who suffer from a lack of research, education and access to medical marijuana.  “This is not about Boehner,” Ms. Macias added, “this is about saving lives.”

June 4, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Half-Baked: The Science and Politics of Legal Pot"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Joelle Anne Moreno and now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Weed, herb, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, hash oil, sinsemilla, budder, and shatter.  Marijuana – whether viewed as a medicine or intoxicant – is fast becoming a part of everyday life, with the CDC reporting 7,000 new users every day and the American market projected to grow to $20 billion by 2020.  Based on early campaign rhetoric, by that same year the U.S. could have a pro-marijuana president.

Despite its growing acceptance and popularity, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  Like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, marijuana is a DEA Schedule I drug reflecting a Congressional determination that marijuana is both overly addictive and medically useless.

So what is the truth about pot?  The current massive pro-marijuana momentum and increased use, obscures the fact that we still know almost nothing about marijuana’s treatment and palliative potential.  Marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical is THC; but it also contains over 500 other chemicals with unknown physiological and psychological effects that vary based on dosage and consumption method.  Medical marijuana may be legal in 32 states and supported by 84% of Americans, but federal constraints shield marijuana from basic scientific inquiry.  This means that lawmakers and voters are enthusiastically supporting greater access to a drug without demanding critical scientific data.  For policymaking purposes, this data should include marijuana’s short and long-term brain effects, possible lung and cardiac implications, chemical interactions with alcohol and other drugs, addiction risks, pregnancy and breast-feeding concerns, and the effects of secondhand smoke.

This Article treats marijuana as a significant contemporary science and law problem.  It focuses on the fundamental question of regulating a substance that has not been adequately researched.  The Article examines the extant scientific data, deficiencies, and inconsistencies and explains why legislators should not rely on copycat laws governing alcohol or prescription narcotics.  It also explores how marijuana’s hybrid federal (illegality)/state (legality) raises compelling theoretical and practical Constitutional questions of preemption, the anti-commandeering rule, and congressional spending power.  Marijuana legalization has, thus far, been treated as a niche academic concern.  This approach is short-sighted and narrowminded.  Marijuana regulation implicates the reach of national drug policy, the depth of state sovereignty, and the shared obligation to ensure the health and safety of our citizenry.

May 22, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Spotlighting racial and regional differences in modern marijuana reform dynamics

I am very sad that presentations in my my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar have wrapped up, but that reality gives me a bit more time and space here to catch up on the marijuana law, policy and reform stories that most catch my eye.  One such important story that I missed a few weeks ago comes here from Stateline under the headline "African-Americans Missing Out on Southern Push for Legal Pot."  I recommend the extended article in full, and here are some excerpts:

Medical cannabis laws typically lay out the conditions for which the drug may be prescribed. But the laws in Arkansas and Florida — the only Southern states that have legalized medical cannabis — don’t cover sickle cell disease, which causes acute pain and disproportionately affects African-Americans. The bills advancing in Tennessee and Kentucky also exclude that condition. Three states that have legalized medical but not recreational cannabis — Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania — allow sickle cell disease patients to use it....

Black legalization advocates also fear that even if medical cannabis becomes legal, white politicians won’t regulate licensing and permitting in a way that ensures equitable opportunities for people of color. “Without that, it’ll be more of the same,” said Dr. Felecia Dawson, a board-certified physician who closed her Georgia-based OB-GYN practice to focus on advocating for medical cannabis. “Legislators will keep people of color ... from the benefits of cannabis.”

Nationally, research suggests that medical marijuana use is more common among whites with high incomes, perhaps in part because of the long history of racial disparity in drug enforcement....

Every Southern state by 2016 had legalized the treatment of a limited number of conditions using CBD oil. As public support increased, so did lawmakers’ willingness to expand the list of eligible conditions. But some conditions that affect minority populations at higher rates than white ones — such as sickle cell disease, which affects 73 in 1,000 African-Americans at birth compared with 3 whites, according to federal estimates — are not included in proposals currently making their way through several Southern statehouses.

In a 2017 hearing co-hosted by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, following a ballot initiative that had legalized medical cannabis, advocates wore “Diversity for All” T-shirts to emphasize the drug’s importance to minority residents. “We know that such diseases as hypertension, sickle cell, neuropathy and so on are more predominant in blacks,” Casey Caldwell, a black cannabis advocate, said at the hearing.

“It is safe to say that African-American communities would benefit the most,” she added. “In the past, pharmaceutical drugs have been priced so high that [we] have to make a decision whether or not they should eat or whether they should purchase medication.”

Those concerns echoed what Dee Dawkins-Haigler, a former Democratic Georgia representative who headed the state’s Black Caucus, said in 2015 about the initial absence of black people among the state’s 17 appointees to the Commission on Medical Cannabis. The Black Caucus eventually fought to get sickle cell disease added to the list of conditions eligible for CBD oil....

In Florida, black farmers initially cried foul at being shut out of the state’s multibillion-dollar cannabis trade over policies that required license holders to have operated for 30 straight years. According to Roz McCarthy, founder of the Florida-based advocacy group Minorities for Medical Marijuana, the state’s law lacked the teeth needed to ensure that medical cannabis license holders adhered to requirements to ensure diversity in hiring. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said that state law “does not require medical marijuana treatment centers to report the race or ethnicity of its owners.”

McCarthy said, “We’re trying to push lawmakers to understand that they have the ability and the power to ensure exclusionary practices don’t happen. Barriers are there. But the opportunity to reduce barriers is also there.”

April 12, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Will the new, reintroduced version of the STATES Act be able to get even a hearing in Congress?

Supportstates-copy-300x300The question in the title of this post was my reaction of this news out of Congress as reported here by Marijuana Moment:

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) filed the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, appearing alongside cosponsors Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) at a press conference. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed the Senate version of the bill.... The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect people complying with state legal cannabis laws from federal intervention, and the sponsors are hoping that the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the bill will advance it through the 116th Congress.

“I’ve been working on this for four decades. I could not be more excited,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. While other legislation under consideration such as bills to secure banking access for cannabis businesses or study the benefits of marijuana for veterans are “incremental steps that are going to make a huge difference,” the STATES Act is “a landmark,” he said....

The congressman said it will take some time before the bill gets a full House vote, however. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) recently suggested that the legislation would advance within “weeks,” but Blumenauer said it will “be a battle to get floor time” and he stressed the importance of ensuring that legislators get the chance to voice their concerns and get the answers they need before putting it before the full chamber. “We want to raise the comfort level that people have. We want to do it right,” he said. “There’s no reason that we have to make people feel like they’re crowded or rushed.”...

Asked whether he’d had conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about moving cannabis bills forward this Congress, Blumenauer said there’s been consistent communication between their offices and that the speaker is “very sympathetic” to the issue and “understands the necessity of reform.”

There are 26 initial cosponsors — half Democrats and half Republicans—on the House version. Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) are among those supporters. The previous version ended the 115th Congress with 45 cosponsors.

On the Senate side, there are 10 lawmakers initially signed on: Warren and Gardner, along with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rand Paul (R-KY)....

For the most part, the latest versions of the legislation are identical to the previous Congress’s bills, though there are two exceptions. Previously, there was a provision exempting hemp from the definition of marijuana, but that was removed—presumably because it is no longer needed in light of the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop.

The bigger change is that the new version contains a section that requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the “effects of marihuana legalization on traffic safety.” Among other data points, the office would be directed to collect info on “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries in States that have legalized marihuana use, including whether States are able to accurately evaluate marihuana impairment in those incidents.” A report on those effects would be due one year after the law is enacted.

This article in Roll Call, headlined "Marijuana bill could help Cory Gardner’s re-election chances. Will Senate GOP leaders get behind it?," provides some more insights into the politics in play. Here are excerpts:

The bill’s sponsors are confident the bill can pass — if it comes up for a vote. “If we get it on the floor of the Senate, it passes,” said Gardner. “If we get it on the floor of the House, it passes.”...

Gardner acknowledged the bill will have a harder time in the GOP-controlled Senate than in the Democrat-led House, saying he was working to convince Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham to advance the bill and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to eventually allow it to come to a floor vote. Graham, asked about the bill, said he hadn’t thought about marking it up. “I’m not very excited about it,” the South Carolina Republican said....

Gardner is up for re-election in 2020 in a state that legalized recreational marijuana, and allowing him a legislative win could help the GOP retain control of the Senate. On the other hand, Republican leadership may be loath to give some Democratic co-sponsors running in 2020 — whether for re-election or the presidency — political victories.

If Congress passes the proposal, Gardner said President Donald Trump will sign it. “The president has been very clear to me that he supports our legislation,” Gardner said. “He opposed the actions that were taken by the Attorney General [Jeff Sessions] to reverse the Cole memorandum and believes we have to fix this.” The Cole memorandum is Justice Department guidance against prosecuting federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it.

April 5, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

More encouraging expungement news out of California cities thanks to proactive district attorneys

In my article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I gave justified credit to work being done at the state and local level in California to ensure marijuana reform is operationalized  as a form of criminal justice reform.  I am pleased to see this work continuing, especially as described in this news release from the LA DA titled "Los Angeles, San Joaquin County District Attorneys Announce Code for America Partnership to Reduce, Clear Cannabis Convictions."  Here is how the release starts:

District Attorneys Jackie Lacey of Los Angeles County and Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County joined with Code for America today to announce a cutting-edge, criminal justice reform partnership to automatically clear more than 50,000 eligible cannabis convictions under Proposition 64.

The two counties are among the first in California to take part in Code for America’s pilot program that proactively identifies convictions that qualify for resentencing or dismissal under the voter-approved initiative in November 2016.

“We have partnered with Code for America to take on this monumental effort in the state’s most populous county,” District Attorney Lacey said. “As technology advances and the criminal justice system evolves, we as prosecutors must do our part to pursue innovative justice procedures on behalf of our constituents. This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future. Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefitting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past. We are grateful to Code for America for bringing its technology to our office.”

“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” said Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We have a responsibility to right these wrongs by utilizing the latest innovations in technology, such as Code for America’s Clear My Record initiative, to ensure that people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs get the second chance they deserve.”

“Since the passage of Propositions 47 and 64, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the Public Defender’s Office and the Superior Court, have worked collaboratively to successfully implement the law in a timely and efficient manner,” said San Joaquin County Public Defender Miriam Lyell in joint statement with District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “We have seen firsthand the capabilities of the Clear My Record tool to facilitate the record clearing process and provide a much-needed service to our community, restoring families along with tremendous cost savings to the People of the State of California. This powerful tool represents the best of public-private partnerships: harnessing the power of technology to create new pathways of opportunity for members of our community with convictions.”

“In the digital age, automatic record clearance is just common sense,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director, Code for America. “Thanks to the leadership of District Attorneys Lacey and Salazar, we’ve shown how records clearance can and should be done everywhere. When we do this right, we show that government can make good on its promises, especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been denied jobs, housing and other opportunities despite the passage of laws intended to provide relief. Clear My Record changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the state and the nation.”

Both offices have been working with Code for America since July 2018 to develop a system that examines cannabis convictions. There is estimated to be approximately 50,000 eligible convictions in Los Angeles County. There are an additional 4,000 eligible convictions in San Joaquin County.

Recognizing that California’s record clearance process was not designed for the digital age, this historic partnership demonstrates a growing momentum for technology-assisted record clearance in California. It builds on last month’s announcement that Code for America’s Clear My Record technology helped San Francisco dismiss and seal more than 8,000 cannabis convictions.

The references to Code for America’s work in San Francisco is both timely and a bit dated. I say that because of this recent tweet by the SF DA:

April 4, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2019

New Jersey shows, yet again, the challenges of marijuana legalization done via the traditional legislative process

NJ-legalize-marijuana-1-800x533Full adult-use marijuana legalization has a strong winning record when the issue has been taken directly to voters via ballot initiative.  This reform has proven much more difficult through the traditional legislative process, with only Vermont able to pass a limited (non-commercialized) version of reform this way.  Today, after lots of debate in the state, New Jersey proved yet again how challenging this can be as detailed in this local story headlined "Legal weed won’t happen right now in N.J. Lawmakers call off big vote."  Here are the basics:

Leaders of the state Legislature have canceled a planned vote Monday on a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older in New Jersey, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney is set to announce.

“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy,” Sweeney, New Jersey’s top state lawmaker, said in a statement provided to NJ Advance Media. Sweeney. D-Gloucester, added that the “fight is not over.”

It’s expected that lawmakers will schedule another vote this year, but it’s unclear when that will happen. “We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward,” Sweeney said." While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage.”

The vote fell apart after Gov. Phil Murphy and fellow Democratic state leaders spent more than a week feverishly trying to wrangle enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass the Democratic-sponsored measure. But top lawmakers said they wouldn’t hold the vote if they weren’t guaranteed to have both the 21 votes they need in the state Senate and the 41 they need in the state Assembly. As of Monday afternoon, multiple sources said, there were only 17 or 18 members of the Senate who would vote yes. But that still left leaders a few votes short....

Sweeney said earlier this year said he wouldn’t schedule another vote until after the November elections at the earliest. If they can’t get enough votes by then, it’s possible leaders could opt for asking New Jersey voters to decide in a ballot referendum next year whether to legalize weed.

The crumbling of Monday’s vote is a tough pill for Murphy, who made legalizing marijuana a key plank in his platform when he won election in 2017. He and top Democratic lawmakers have been hoping for more than a year to have New Jersey join 10 other states and Washington, D.C., that have legalized pot. But they prefer to become only the second state to do it legislatively, rather than through a ballot referendum.

Monday’s development also postpones two other measures tied to the bill: one that would expand the state’s oft-criticized medial marijuana program and another that would expunge thousands of pot convictions in the state. Murphy has said his administration will now move to dramatically increase the number of licenses for cultivators of medical marijuana as a backup plan.

Murphy and proponents of legal pot say the goal of legalization is to increase tax revenue for the state, create a brand new industry, and improve social justice because black people are three times more likely to be arrested on pot charges than whites. Recent polls have found a majority of New Jerseyans support legal pot. But many lawmakers — Democratic and Republican — have been leery, saying it could erode public safety, lead people to try more dangerous drugs, and damage communities of color.

March 25, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"All 2020 presidential candidates now support marijuana legalization efforts — even the Republicans"

Download (2)The title of this post is the title of this recent Boston Globe piece. Here are excerpts:

When it comes to marijuana, Elizabeth Warren of 2012 would probably not recognize Elizabeth Warren of 2019.

Seven years ago, Warren opposed legalization. In 2015, the US senator from Massachusetts said she was “open” to it. In 2016, she said, she voted for it privately at the ballot box. Now she’s one of marijuana’s top cheerleaders on Capitol Hill, championing a measure to protect the pot industry in states where it’s legal.

Warren’s evolution is not unique — in fact, 2020 will see the first US presidential race in which every candidate, at least so far, favors some path to legalization.

All 12 official Democratic candidates, as well as the potential Republican hopeful and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, told the Globe they now support full nationwide legalization, Canada-style. President Trump, meanwhile, has said he supports states’ rights to legalize.

“There’s been a tremendous evolution — marijuana legalization, if you look back, was really something for fringe candidates,” said John Lapp, a Democratic national campaign strategist.“It’s just not very controversial at all now.”

For Democrats, especially, being for cannabis legalization might be as much of a litmus test in 2020 among voters as is being for abortion rights. But they must face their past stances with honesty, political strategists say. In 2008, now-US Senator Kamala Harris touted her high conviction rates for drug dealers as a district attorney, and Joe Biden, the former vice president — who is likely to run, but hasn’t announced — was long an evangelist for the war on drugs.

A quarter-century ago, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton did damage control by saying he tried pot while he was a Rhodes scholar in England, but “didn’t inhale.” Running in 2007, Barack Obama found it politically acceptable to admit he had smoked marijuana as a young man, and “the point was to inhale” — but he called it “a mistake.”’...

Now politicians, particularly Republicans, have a more politically safe way of supporting cannabis: by advocating for states’ rights, said Steve Fox, a cannabis lobbyist with VS Strategies. “At this point, the greatest driving factor at the federal level is simply the fact that it’s legal in so many states,” Fox said.

To combat the rising momentum, the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana is producing a guide for candidates that it says will be backed by medical associations. “Candidates will have a simple choice: They can either follow the pot lobby or they can follow the science,” said executive director Kevin Sabet....

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has made legalization a core part of his presidential campaign, said his position has much more to do with addressing racial disparities in policing than it does with freedom for recreational use. “I am pleased to see public sentiment moving as it is, but I have an approach to marijuana legalization that sees it as a justice issue and not just as an adult-use issue,” Booker said. “The damage that the enforcement and prohibition has done to our country is outrageous, unacceptable, and violates our values.”...

In New Hampshire this election cycle, candidates are likely to be asked about marijuana, as the Legislature there moves toward possibly passing legalization this year. Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, has vowed to veto such a measure.

But don’t expect many candidates to focus their campaigns on marijuana. It’s not just safe now — it’s too safe. To stand out in a crowded field, Lapp recommends that a candidate take on affordable health care, immigration, or college debt — “something where there’s some upside and downside, some passion and some risk. I’m just not sure that’s the case with marijuana anymore.”

February 28, 2019 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)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

In Virginia city, local judges refuse to allow prosecutor to drop marijuana charges

As reported in this local article, headlined "Norfolk judges unite to block prosecutor from dropping marijuana cases," a fascinating tussle has broken out as an elected prosecutor tries to move away from criminally prosecuting marijuana offenders.  Here are the details:

The judges on the city’s top court have decided to block Norfolk’s chief prosecutor from essentially decriminalizing marijuana possession, a setback he’s thinking about appealing to the state Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, prosecutors under Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood went to court for at least the third time to try to drop or dismiss misdemeanor marijuana charges. Prosecuting people for having marijuana disproportionately hurts black people and does little to protect public safety, he’s said.

For the third time, a judge rebuffed them, and told prosecutors she’s not alone, but joined by her seven colleagues. “We are of one mind on this,” Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall said.

The decisions adds to the confusion about whether it’s OK to have a small amount of weed in the city. Norfolk police have said they will continue to cite people for misdemeanor marijuana possession as they’ve always done. Circuit Court judges appear determined to make sure offenders are tried, even if the commonwealth’s attorney refuses to prosecute them....

In 2016 and 2017, more than 1,560 people have been charged with first- or second-offense marijuana possession, prosecutor Ramin Fatehi told the judge in court Tuesday. Of them, 81 percent were black in a city that’s 47 percent white and 42 percent black.

This “breeds a reluctance on the part of African Americans, particular young African American men, to trust or cooperate with the justice system,” according to a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office memo announcing the policy changes. “Such prosecution also encourages the perception that the justice system is not focusing its attention on the legitimately dangerous crimes that regrettably are concentrated in these same communities.”

On Tuesday, Hall denied Fatehi’s motion to dismiss charges against Zemont Vaughan. The 24-year-old Norfolk man, who is black, had been convicted in a lower court in October, but on Tuesday, he went to the higher Circuit Court to appeal that conviction.

Prosecutors’ motions to dismiss or drop charges are typically formalities. They don’t generally like giving up on cases, so when they make what amounts to an admission of defeat, judges almost always grant them. Not this time.

Hall told Fatehi she and the other seven judges think the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney is trespassing on the state legislature’s territory: making laws. The judge said Fatehi made an “extremely compelling case” with his statistics on racial disparities, but should pitch it to lawmakers in Richmond.

“I believe this is an attempt to usurp the power of the state legislature,” Hall said. “This is a decision that must be made by the General Assembly, not by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.”

Fatehi countered: Underwood is exercising the executive power voters gave him when they elected him the city’s top prosecutor. Part of the job is prosecutorial discretion, or deciding which laws should be enforced, especially since he has a limited amount of resources. In contrast to the misdemeanor possession charges, Underwood’s lawyers will keep prosecuting people accused of trafficking or dealing marijuana. “This is an exercise of our discretion,” Fatehi said.

Fatehi said Underwood is thinking about asking the state Supreme Court to reverse the judges’ decisions, adding that he’s “very close” to making a decision.

Lots can be said on the substance of the decisions being made by the city prosecutor and city judges in this case, but I will be content for now (1) to note that broad prosecutorial discretion in charging (and not charging) is the norm, and (2) to wonder aloud how prosecutions could or would move forward in these cases if city prosecutors refuse to be involved.  And, finally, this story highlights yet again how disparate marijuana enforcement seems to be everywhere and how interesting legal issues surrounds all kinds of modern marijuana reform efforts.

February 17, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Notable new lobbying group, National Cannabis Roundtable, to be chaired by former US House Speaker John Boehner

LogoWhen Acreage Holdings last year announced that former Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner was now on its board of advisors, I was unsure whether Boehner was really interested in being a serious advocate for marijuana reform or was mostly to be a high-profile figurehead in this space. But in November, as noted here, Boehner penned a Wall Street Journal commentary headlined "Washington Needs to Legalize Cannabis." And today comes news that John Boehner is to be the Chair of a new industry lobbying ground calling itself the National Cannabis Roundtable.

This new local press piece and this National Cannabis Roundtable website is all I can find about this new group right now, but the press piece provides a flavor of the group's commitments:

The former lawmaker will also serve as an advisor, not a registered lobbyist, for the roundtable, Boehner said during a phone call with reporters Friday. Boehner said the roundtable will promote changes to federal law that make it easier to research cannabis and for regulated cannabis businesses to operate. Federally, marijuana is an illegal Schedule 1 controlled substance, alongside heroin and LSD, is not a top priority for the group....

But Boehner said removing cannabis from Schedule I of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act is not the group's top priority. "It would clearly be a big goal, but I think there are other steps that need to be taken along the way before we get to that," he said....

Boehner said the roundtable's members represent every aspect of the cannabis supply chain, including growers, processors, retailers, wellness centers, investors, entrepreneurs, and publicly traded companies.

The National Cannabis Roundtable website has the following sentences under the heading "Our Mission"

The legal cannabis boom promises to contribute billions of dollars to the US economy over the next decade - creating jobs, advancing new health science and adding momentum to criminal justice reform.

The National Cannabis Roundtable promotes common sense federal regulation, tax equality and financial services reform and supports changing federal law to acknowledge states’ rights to regulate and manage cannabis policy.

I like the reference to "adding momentum to criminal justice reform" in the first sentence, though the second sentence and other factors leads me to suspect that National Cannabis Roundtable will not have criminal justice reform as a focal point of its work.

Prior related posts:

February 8, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

More on the forces that have shaped views on marijuana

Download (6)In this post last month, I blogged  this interesting new paper, titled ""How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?", which was recently published in Social Science Research and was authored by Jacob Felson, Amy Adamczyk and Christopher Thomas. I am not pleased to see that the authors of this research have this new piece at The Conversation under the headline "Why do so many Americans now support legalizing marijuana?". Here are excerpts (with links from the original) from this reader-friendly account of their interesting research:

American views on marijuana have shifted incredibly rapidly. Thirty years ago, marijuana legalization seemed like a lost cause. In 1988, only 24 percent of Americans supported legalization.

But steadily, the nation began to liberalize. By 2018, 66 percent of U.S. residents offered their approval, transforming marijuana legalization from a libertarian fantasy into a mainstream cause. Many state laws have changed as well. Over the last quarter-century, 10 states have legalized recreational marijuana, while 22 states have legalized medical marijuana.

So why has public opinion changed dramatically in favor of legalization? In a study published this February, we examined a range of possible reasons, finding that the media likely had the greatest influence....

What has likely made the biggest difference is how the media has portrayed marijuana. Support for legalization began to increase shortly after the news media began to frame marijuana as a medical issue....

In the 1980s, the vast majority of New York Times stories about marijuana were about drug trafficking and abuse or other Schedule I drugs. At that time, The New York Times was more likely to lump marijuana together in a kind of unholy trinity with cocaine and heroin in discussions about drug smuggling, drug dealers and the like.

During the 1990s, stories discussing marijuana in criminal terms became less prevalent. Meanwhile, the number of articles discussing the medical uses of marijuana slowly increased. By the late 1990s, marijuana was rarely discussed in the context of drug trafficking and drug abuse. And marijuana had lost its association with other Schedule I drugs like cocaine and heroin in the New York Times. Gradually, the stereotypical persona of the marijuana user shifted from the stoned slacker wanting to get high to the aging boomer seeking pain relief....

As Americans became more supportive of marijuana legalization, they also increasingly told survey researchers that the criminal justice system was too harsh.

In the late 1980s, the “war on drugs” and sentencing reform laws put a large number of young men, often black and Latino, behind bars for lengthy periods of time. As Americans started to feel the full social and economic effects of tough-on-crime initiatives, they reconsidered the problems with criminalizing marijuana.

Because support for the legalization of marijuana and concerns about the harshness of the criminal justice system changed at about the same time, it’s difficult to know what came first. Did concern about the harshness of the criminal justice system affect support for legalization – or vice versa?

By contrast, the cause and effect is clearer with respect to the media framing of marijuana. The news media’s portrayal of marijuana began to change shortly before the public did, suggesting that the media influenced support for the legalization of marijuana.

Prior related post:

"How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?"

February 7, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Baltimore State’s Attorney says no more prosecutions of marijuana possession offenses

1548786086089As reported in this local article, "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday her office would cease prosecuting people for possessing marijuana regardless of quantity or criminal history." Here is more:

Calling the move monumental for justice in Baltimore, Mosby also requested the courts vacate convictions in nearly 5,000 cases of marijuana possession. “When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” Mosby said, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”

Mosby follows district attorneys in Manhattan and Philadelphia who have scaled back or outright ended marijuana prosecutions. Maryland lawmakers decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014.

But she also stood alone, politically: No police and no other city officials joined her at the announcement. Hours later, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her support for Mosby’s plan.

Mosby aims to formalize marijuana policies already in practice. A report released Tuesday by her office shows city prosecutors dropped 88 percent of marijuana possession cases in Baltimore District Court since 2014 — 1,001 cases. [This report is available at this link.]

Still, convictions have saddled thousands in Baltimore with criminal records and frustrated their job searches, Mosby said. The marijuana arrests have disproportionately affected minority neighborhoods in Baltimore. Nationwide, African-Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. The ratio jumps to six times more likely in Baltimore, prosecutors wrote in the report.

Such arrests squander scarce police resources, Mosby said, noting 343 people were killed in Baltimore in 2017. Police closed nearly one-third of those cases. Last year, 309 people were killed and police closed closer to one-quarter. “No one,” Mosby said, “thinks spending resources to jail people for marijuana is a good use of our limited time and resources.”

But it remains unclear how the policy will play out in the streets. Mosby made her announcement at the nonprofit Center for Urban Families in West Baltimore while surrounded by her staff, marijuana advocates and neighborhood activists. Police leaders weren’t there....

The department is run by a former agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Gary Tuggle; he is interim commissioner. He said his officers wouldn’t quit arresting people for possessing marijuana. “Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession,” he said in a statement....

Police leaders have long said they are focused on violent crime and marijuana arrests aren’t a priority. But officers routinely use marijuana as reason to search the pockets or car of someone suspected in more serious crimes....

Mosby has pledged to continue to prosecute anyone suspected of selling marijuana. She said her office would take cases to court when police find evidence of drug sales, such as baggies and scales....

In nearby Baltimore County, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he had no plans to quit prosecuting marijuana cases. Most first-time offenders are placed in a treatment program in the county, he said.

Mosby also urged state legislators to support a bill that would empower her office to vacate criminal convictions in everything from corrupt cop cases to marijuana prosecutions. The current procedures require action from both prosecutors and defense attorneys to vacate a conviction.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed papers for marijuana cases dating back to 2011 to be vacated — about 1,000 in Circuit Court and nearly 3,800 in District Court. Judges would rule on the requests.

The press release, titled "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Cases, Says Prosecutions Provide No Public Safety Value And Undermine Public Trust In Law Enforcement," discusses the essentials of the policy announced by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby,

January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)