Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Interesting accounting of the disinclination of congressional candidates to talk about cannabis

-1x-1John Hudak has this interesting new piece over at Brookings discussing the continued failure of marijuana reform becoming a significant campaign issues in this year's congressional races.  The piece is titled "Congressional candidates’ silence on cannabis reform," and is worth a full read.  Here is how the piece starts and concludes:

Cannabis reform has grown in popularity with voters, activists, and state legislators; cannabis is now legal for medical use in 38 states and DC and for adult-use in 19 states and DC.  Despite those advances in state level reforms and in the broader conversation nationwide, Congress has failed to pass a major piece of legislation addressing the issue, and many voters and activists wonder why.

One argument is that federal level officials — in the executive branch and in Congress — simply don’t care enough about the issue to address it.  To consider this question, I included a coding about cannabis reform in Brookings Primaries Project in 2022.  The Brookings Primaries Project examines the publicly stated views—via the websites and social media presence — of all candidates running in U.S. congressional primary races.  We coded each candidate on a four-point scale: whether they supported legalization or decriminalization of cannabis, whether they supported medical legalization only, whether their position was complex or indecipherable, and whether they failed to mention the issue at all.

The results provide three general takeaways.  First, primary candidates for Congress do not consider the issue important enough to elevate to be included on their website or on social media.  Second, on average, candidates who do engage on the issue are at least not harmed by staking out a public position.  Third, stark differences exist between Democratic primary candidates for Congress and Republican primary candidates for Congress....

It is clear that among all candidates, all Democrats, and all Republicans, taking no public position on cannabis was the most popular strategy during the 2022 congressional primaries.  However, among candidates who chose to take a clear position on cannabis, Republicans were more likely to oppose legalization than support it, and the reverse is true for Democratic primary candidates who took a position on cannabis.

In sum, cannabis as a political issue has risen in importance over the past 25 years.  As state legislatures and voters via referenda have enacted changes to cannabis laws, the issue has become more popular even in the halls of Congress.  However, cannabis reform advocates’ frequent stupefaction at the lack of progress at the federal level bumps up against a stark reality.  Most candidates for federal office do not see cannabis as an issue prominent enough to discuss, and deep partisan differences still remain among elected officials, even as support for cannabis in the general public has exploded in recent years.  And the true motivator for a member of Congress to take or change a position — whether voters hold their feet to the fire over an issue — has not yet become a reality in the vast majority of Congressional races across the United States.

September 28, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Legalization ballot initiative sidelined by state Supreme Court in Oklahoma, while initiative cleared to go forward in neighboring Missouri

Kansas-missouri-oklahoma-arkansas-map-vector-23600096As students in my marijuana seminar know (too) well, I find the modern history of marijuana reform throughout the United States to be a fascinating legal and political story.  And sometimes I view some of the regional variations in these stories to be especially remarkable, and one such recent example comes from the center of our great nation.  Specifically, I am referencing here the notably different outcomes of legal challenges to state ballot legalization initiatives in neighboring Oklahoma and Missouri.  Though these states share a (small) border, they are not sharing the same outcomes in lawsuits challenging efforts to put marijuana legalization before votes, as reported in this Marijuana Moment articles:

"Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Will Appear On November Ballot After State Supreme Court Rejects Prohibitionists’ Challenge"

An initiative to legalize marijuana in Missouri is officially cleared for ballot placement following a month-long legal back-and-forth between the campaign and prohibitionists.  A lawsuit filed last month sought to keep the Legal Missouri 2022 reform proposal off the ballot after it was certified by the secretary of state.  But after two lower courts dismissed the challenge, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered the final word that the legal battle is over.

"Oklahoma Supreme Court Says Marijuana Legalization Won’t Be On November Ballot, But Will Be Voted On In Future Election"

Oklahoma voters will not get the chance to vote on a marijuana legalization initiative in November, with the state Supreme Court on Wednesday rejecting the campaign’s lawsuit that sought to secure ballot placement this year.  However, justices also dismissed two separate legal challenges to the ballot title, clearing the initiative’s path for a vote during the state’s next general or special election.

Legal battles over initiatives are never unusual, and a range of legal tripwires can often attend efforts to bring ballot measures directly to voters on any topic.  But I surmise that these kinds of challenges to marijuana reform measure have found growing success, perhaps unsurprisingly, as initiative move from bluer to redder states. Judges and other legal actors in bluer states can often seem more welcoming of ballot initiatives in this arena (and we have seen politicians in Maryland and New Jersey place marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot), whereas these actors in redder states sometime seem far more keen to keep voters from having a chance to directly weigh in on these issues.

September 22, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Notable new report urges notable new messaging about marijuana use and driving

GHSALOGOAs reported in this press release, "the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), Responsibility.org and the National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving [last week] released a new report that provides guidance on how State Highway Safety Offices can better communicate with cannabis consumers about safe driving and offers recommendations about the types of messages that do and don’t work."  Here is more from the release about the report:

The report, Cannabis Consumers and Safe Driving: Responsible Use Messaging, comes as SHSOs face a rapidly changing cannabis landscape that includes the legality, prevalence and social norms about its use. In 2011, no state had legalized recreational cannabis. Just 10 years later, 18 states have done so, and more states will have legalization on the ballot this November. Cannabis use has increased alongside the spread of state legalization....

“As legal cannabis use becomes more widespread in the U.S., motorists need to know the dangers of driving under the influence,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “But that message won’t be heard if it’s outdated, irrelevant or insulting to cannabis consumers. This new report offers a playbook to help states develop messaging that resonates with cannabis users and prompts them to refrain from driving for their own safety and the safety of everyone else on the road.”

The report highlights lessons learned from outreach efforts in Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize cannabis, as well as more recent efforts in Connecticut and Wyoming. It also discusses promising practices that all SHSOs should consider utilizing to create the most effective messages and offers the following recommendations:

  • Encourage dedicated funding for traffic safety programs derived from a portion of cannabis sales tax revenue so that states and their partners can deliver timely and relevant information to the public.
  • Form partnerships with the cannabis industry, which can help states gain insights on consumer motivations and behaviors, develop and deliver impactful messaging, and legitimize safety efforts.
  • Enlist trusted advisors to serve as messengers. Have people and institutions that cannabis users trust – rather than government representatives – convey factual safe driving messages. Diverse and non-traditional messengers can improve message reception with cannabis consumers.
  • Use language that resonates with cannabis consumers, so they hear the safe driving message instead of tuning it out because it has outdated terminology. Avoid using unflattering or alienating stereotypes of cannabis consumers.

August 2, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Weldon Angelos previews his testimony to US Senate on marijuana prohibition's harms

IMG_9480Over at my sentencing blog, I have spotlighted here what seems to be a truly historic congressional hearing taking place this afternoon, July 26, 2022, before the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism of the US Senate Judiciary Committee.   The hearing is titled "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms," and the scheduled witnesses all seem likely to have something notable to say.  One of the scheduled witnesses is Weldon Angelos, and he previewed his testimony via this new Marijuana Moment commentary that is worth reading in full.  Here are excerpts:

Tuesday will be a historic day in the U.S. Senate. Members of a key subcommittee have invited me to testify at a hearing on cannabis reform and the harms of criminalization — a first-of-its-kind meeting in a chamber where marijuana policy and the lifelong consequences of prohibition have been swept under the rug for far too long.

My message to the panel will be simple: My name is Weldon Angelos, and I am living proof of the benefits of second chances.  But I’m far from the only person deserving of relief.  I plan to remind members that inaction will only continue to breed injustice, and there’s no more time to waste.

The topic of the hearing — the critically important issue of federal cannabis decriminalization — affects the lives of millions of Americans, from those who have interacted with the criminal justice system, to patients and veterans who get relief from cannabis....

National cannabis reform must include: (1) the release of federal cannabis offenders; (2) a true expungement and sealing of records; and (3) the creation of meaningful opportunities for the formerly incarcerated upon release.

With a comprehensive approach to cannabis reform, we could immediately assist many of the nearly 3,000 people serving federal prison time for cannabis offenses, as well as the tens of thousands of individuals whose lives and futures are haunted by records of cannabis arrests, convictions, and sentences.  Further still, Congress must provide the resources to address state-level cannabis arrests, convictions, and sentences, since each year hundreds of thousands of individuals become entangled in state criminal justice systems despite cannabis being legal in some form in 37 states, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

This is why I was excited and grateful to see the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act introduced last week.  This bill would deschedule cannabis, helping to end the harmful criminal justice impacts of prohibition and supporting the expungement and resentencing of cannabis convictions, all while allowing states the right to decide the direction their jurisdiction will take.

Congress must also address the residual effects of cannabis convictions.  Those with felony convictions can be politically disenfranchised, losing the right to vote or to serve on juries, for instance.  They lose other civil liberties like the right to possess a firearm legally, as well as lawful opportunities afforded to others in education and in public housing, among other things.  Cannabis convictions adversely impact credit scores too, and they can impede or entirely prevent employment, creating permanent barriers to true participation in society.

Even with a full presidential pardon, I still feel the stranglehold of my cannabis conviction.  In my home state of Utah, my prior conviction bars me from participating in the state’s legal medical cannabis industry.  The state refuses to issue licenses to individuals with felony cannabis convictions, even with a full presidential pardon.  In California — the other state I call home — my criminal history prevents me from accessing credit, capital, and financing despite having engaged in conduct that is now legal throughout the jurisdiction....

I realize that I am one of the lucky ones.  I am no longer inmate 10053-081.  I am Weldon Angelos, a reform advocate with the immense privilege of being invited to testify before a Senate panel. But my fortune is not universal.  I am reminded of all those left behind in prison — those who are still serving unjust sentences — many of whom are Black and Hispanic men and women who continue to serve time while predominantly white CEOs and entrepreneurs make millions from the recreational and medical cannabis industries around the country.  The cannabis industry should be able to grow and thrive, but not at the expense of those who are still incarcerated.

And as we think about federal cannabis reform and ensure the release of those who are still serving, we must also provide opportunities and resources to support reentry and create a pathway to expungement to stop the collateral consequences.

July 26, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Senator Schumer finally to introduce his Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

Caoa-display.pngAs reported in this new Politico article, "Senate leaders are introducing sweeping legislation Thursday meant to lift federal prohibitions on marijuana more than 50 years after Congress made the drug illegal."  Here is more about a long-in-development, unlikely-to-become-law marijuana reform bill:  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would decriminalize weed on the federal level and allow states to set their own marijuana laws without fear of punishment from Washington.

The bill has been a long time coming — Schumer, along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) proposed a discussion draft more than a year ago — and its odds of passing in this Senate are slim. But the legislation will shape the conversation around cannabis legalization going forward and portions of it are likely to find their way into other bills that could pass before the end of the year.

The legislation includes both Democratic and Republican priorities: It expunges federal cannabis-related records and creates funding for law enforcement departments to fight illegal cannabis cultivation. It also establishes grant programs for small business owners entering the industry who are from communities disproportionately hurt by past drug laws, requires the Department of Transportation to research and develop a nationwide standard for marijuana-impaired driving, and restricts the marketing of cannabis to minors....

While marijuana legalization has spread rapidly across the U.S. over the past decade, Capitol Hill has not transitioned as quickly. Nineteen states now allow anyone at least 21 years old to possess and use the drug, and 37 states have established medical marijuana programs. National polls have consistently shown that roughly two-thirds of Americans back marijuana legalization, and support is even higher among younger voters.

But the votes aren’t yet there to pass Schumer’s bill on Capitol Hill. That’s in part because many lawmakers from states with legal markets don’t yet support substantial changes to federal law. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, for example, represents a state where weed is legal — Montana — and says he does not support federal decriminalization. A handful of other Democrats told POLITICO that they are against legalization or are undecided, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Schumer would need all Democrats, plus ten Republicans, to get the bill over the finish line.

Cannabis legalization advocates have had success in the past framing it with Republicans as a states’ rights issue, but some pro-decriminalization Republicans will likely be unhappy with the bill’s expungement of cannabis-related criminal convictions and its equity grant provisions.

Further complicating matters is that the House has twice passed its own sweeping marijuana legalization package, known as the Mariuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act. That legislation does not include much of the regulatory structure that’s part of the Senate bill, and also has a different tax rate....

Instead, some Democrats and Republicans are considering a smaller cannabis bill later this year that could see one or more provisions from the CAOA added to the SAFE Banking Act, a more widely-supported bill that would make it easier for banks to offer financial services to cannabis companies. That plan is still in the discussion stage and nothing formal has been decided.

Many of the changes added to the final Senate bill echo requests regularly made by Republicans. Law enforcement grants, a nationwide youth prevention campaign and traffic safety research all correspond to concerns that legalization skeptics have frequently raised. Schumer has met with Republicans — including Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus — in recent months to discuss where the two parties could potentially come together on weed legislation. Whether the changes will be enough to get enough Republicans on board, however, seems doubtful at this point.

Marijauna Moment's extensive coverage of this long-awaited news can be found here, and includes these additional details (and much more):

[T]he main thrust of the now-filed 296-page legalization bill closely resembles that of the earlier version, which weighed in at a mere 163 pages—though the senators highlighted a number of changes, which generally expand on the draft.

For example, there are revisions concerning cannabis industry workers’ rights, a federal responsibility to set an impaired driving standard, banking access, expungements and penalties for possessing or distributing large quantities of marijuana without a federal permit.

The bill would also create a new federal definition for hemp that would increase the permissible THC by dry weight to 0.7 percent from the current 0.3 percent, but also make it so all THC isomers would be included in that total, not just delta-9 THC.

July 21, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Two notable new missives to the Biden Administration about marijuana policy and practice

Marijuana Moment has effective coverage to two notable new letters sent recently to the Biden Administration.  Here are headlines, links and the ledes:

"Marijuana Regulators Coalition Pushes Biden Administration For Updated Federal Enforcement Guidance"

A coalition of current and former marijuana regulators is urging the Justice Department to instate updated guidance to federal prosecutors on cannabis enforcement priorities as an interim step while Congress considers broader legislation to end prohibition.

Ten members of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) sent a letter to top DOJ officials, as well as the president and vice president, on Tuesday that addresses the urgent need to reinstate something like Obama-era guidance that generally recommended that prosecutors use discretion in marijuana-related enforcement for state-legal activities.

As the the coalition points out in the the letter, which was shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment, the 2013 guidance that was later rescinded by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the Trump administration came before any states had launched retail cannabis sales. Now, with 19 states that have legalized for adult-use and the vast majority permitting some level of medical marijuana access for qualified patients, there’s a need to bring back something akin to the so-called Cole memo, CRCC said.

The updated memo should advise federal prosecutors against going after people for “crimes related to cannabis when those activities accord with relevant state law and a reasonable set of regulatory principles intended to promote safety and fairness,” the letter says.

"Senators Blast Biden Administration’s ‘Extraordinarily Disappointing’ Marijuana Stance"

A coalition of six U.S. senators are renewing their call for the Biden administration to deschedule marijuana and grant mass pardons for people with federal cannabis convictions, calling the Justice Department’s response to an earlier request for action “extraordinarily disappointing.”

In a letter that was sent to President Joe Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday, the senators made a dual request: first, that the attorney general work independently to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and second, that the president issue mass clemency for people with non-violent federal marijuana convictions.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) signed the new letter. The senators said that DOJ took six months to respond to a previous October 2021 letter urging the attorney general to use his authority to unilaterally start the process of federally descheduling marijuana. The “half-page response” was “extraordinarily disappointing,” they wrote.

July 6, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, June 17, 2022

Lots and lots and lots of interesting federal marijuana reform news

As it became more and more clear in recent months that there weren't the votes in the Senate needed to pass any of the major federal marijuana legalization bills, federal reform discussions started to grow a bit boring.  Whether and how the SAFE Banking bill might get enacted seemed to be the only story afoot, though that still remains a lively and important matter.  But just in the last few days, a lot of notable news from both inside and outside the Beltway has started to make the federal reform landscape a lot more interesting for a lot of different reasons.  As always, Marijuana Moment has these stories well covered, and here are links to its coverage:

Developments Inside the Beltway

"Attorney General Says Justice Department Will Address Marijuana Issues ‘In The Days Ahead’"

"Bipartisan Congressmen Urge Support For Medical Marijuana Bill For Military Veterans They’ll Be Introducing Soon"

"Congress Pushes Marijuana Protections For Immigrants, Advertisers And Banks In Spending Bills"

"Congressional Lawmakers Seek Broad Marijuana Protections For Legal States In Key Spending Bill Coming Next Week"

"Top Federal Drug Agency Wants To Create A National Medical Marijuana Registry To Track How Patients Use Cannabis"

"White House Drug Czar Says Biden Admin Is Reviewing Marijuana Policies And Safe Consumption Sites"

 

Developments Outside the Beltway

"Pro-Legalization GOP Congresswoman Prevails In Primary Victory After Being Attacked Over Marijuana Reform Stance"

"GOP Senate Candidate Pushes ‘Pot For Potholes’ Marijuana-Funded Infrastructure Plan In Hilarious Campaign Ad"

June 17, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 1, 2022

MORE Act to legalize marijuana federally again passes US House, but this time with LESS support

Ccc_SQUAREA little under 18 months ago, as noted here, the US House had a historic vote on the MORE Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and do a lot of other notable reforms.  The bill passed in early December by a margin of 228 in favor, 164 against (largely along party lines with 222 Democrats, 5 Republicans and libertarian Rep. Justin Amash in support and 158 Republicans and 6 Democrats against).  With much fanfare, the MORE  Act was brought to the floor again, and Politico has this report on how this new vote went:

The House passed a far-reaching marijuana legalization bill on Friday by a 220-204 vote, largely along party lines and still with no real path to President Joe Biden’s desk.

It marks the second time in less than two years that the House passed legislation to decriminalize cannabis, scrap some old marijuana-related convictions and allow states to make their own decisions about whether to establish marijuana markets. But Democrats seem no closer to fulfilling a major campaign promise, passing a party-line bill that has little chance of getting the necessary Republican support to pass the Senate.

“I was a supporter of the War on Drugs — I’ve been here a long time,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on the House floor on Friday, pointing out that Black Americans are four times more likely than white people to be arrested for low level cannabis crimes. “This bill is a matter of justice and equal opportunity… so that Americans and America can become a better, stronger, more fair, and more just America.”

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to introduce his own cannabis bill soon, but does not currently have the Democrat votes to pass it, let alone the Republicans needed to overcome a filibuster. Today’s vote highlighted the growing rift between the parties — and even among Democrats — on how to address cannabis policy. Despite growing support among GOP lawmakers for legalization and polling that shows two-thirds of Americans back that stance, just three Republicans voted for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. That was fewer than the five GOP lawmakers who backed the bill in 2020 — two are no longer in Congress.

The MORE Act debate underlined a fundamental question that divides the parties: When changing the nation’s drug laws, should the federal government also take steps to provide financial incentives to individuals and communities who were most harshly impacted by the war on drugs?

Republicans say no. “You’re not going to be able to get Republicans on board… the way that the MORE Act is done,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who introduced a bill last year that decriminalizes cannabis and expunges some records but does not create federal grant programs. The federal social equity efforts were a major reason for her “nay” vote on Friday. “You’ve got to have Republicans on board if we’re going to have any chance of getting it done in the Senate.”

For many Democrats, however, the equity grant programs are nonnegotiable. “This is a major criminal justice reform bill,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “So negotiating that away — to leave [affected communities] behind — that to me is just immoral.”

In fact, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday went so far as to frame the MORE Act as a criminal justice reform bill. In her weekly news conference, she touted the criminal justice and economic provisions of the bill, and explained that the lack of similar provisions in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was one reason that it failed in the upper chamber.

The Senate — where Schumer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), are working on their own comprehensive cannabis bill — is even tougher ground for weed. Booker and Schumer have drawn a line in the sand on marijuana policy, refusing to even hold a hearing on a cannabis banking bill the House has approved six times because it does not address criminal justice reform.

But Democrats’ pursuit of their perfect bill worries some pro-cannabis lawmakers and advocates, who do not see a clear path forward for sweeping drug policy changes under Republican leadership in either chamber — especially the Senate. Given that Democrats may not control both houses of Congress come January, the window for federal cannabis policy change may not be open much longer.

“We need those social equity programs,” one moderate Democrat lawmaker said, granted anonymity to speak candidly about his leadership’s strategy. “Nonetheless, if I have to choose between nothing and something that, going forward, will not put our children, our neighbors or friends in jail — I’ll choose the latter.”

Conspicuously absent from the “ayes” on Friday were some of the most pro-cannabis Republican voices on Capitol Hill, including Mace and Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Joyce’s office circulated a memo among Republicans earlier this week outlining his critiques of the MORE Act and why he intended to vote against it — and inviting discussion on Republican approaches to marijuana policy.

Joyce’s office said he reached out to Democrats to try and forge consensus on the best approach to overhauling federal cannabis laws. He sent a letter to Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chief sponsor of the MORE Act, in February — offering to work with him to create a bill that was more palatable to Republicans. Joyce’s office said they also had one meeting with Nadler’s staff to discuss their primary concerns with the bill, but were not invited back for any further discussion. Nadler’s office declined an interview request for this story. His office told POLITICO that the chair asked many Republican lawmakers to cosponsor the MORE Act, but did not answer questions about the letter from Joyce or requests from Republicans to change the bill.

It’s unclear how many additional Republican votes Mace and Joyce could bring to the legislation — between their two decriminalization bills they have four additional Republican cosponsors. But Joyce’s office said the bill, as it stands, is “too impractical and too flawed” to even start a conversation with GOP members who are interested in changing America’s drug laws.

Mace says her cannabis reform bill — the States Reform Act — polls better among Republican primary voters in her district than broad federal legalization, but she is also facing a tough primary in May and was recently targeted by Super PAC ads on her support for cannabis legalization.

Despite declining GOP support for the MORE Act, Democrats’ nerves on cannabis legislation have calmed. When a vote on the bill was scheduled in September 2020, moderate Democrats balked, worried that voting to legalize weed could hurt their reelection chances. But the politics around cannabis have changed so rapidly nationwide that those concerns appear to have evaporated.

In fact, six Democrats voted against the bill in 2020, but only two voted against the MORE Act on Friday. One of the lawmakers who previously voted against the bill — Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania — is in a tough primary race with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. Fetterman has campaigned vocally on cannabis legalization, both for his state and federally. This time around, Lamb voted in favor of the bill.

Because I am very much on board with the let's do something "if I have to choose between nothing and something," I am deeply disappointed that the House leadership decided this symbolic vote was more important than trying to forge a federal reform bill that could have at least a small chance of moving forward.  (As the headline of this post indicates, I think what really proved symbolic about this vote is that the MORE Act got less support in April 2022 than it did in December 2020.)  If, as many expect, the GOP takes over Congress next year, it will be interesting to watch if any real compromise marijuana reform bills become more broadly discussed or if instead blanket marijuana prohibition continues to remain the law of the land at the federal level.

April 1, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Register now for "Ohio Cannabis Reform in Focus"

Download (13)The quoted portion of the title of this post is the title of this exciting event taking place next month, on April 7, 2022 from noon-2:30 pm as a  hybrid even in person in Saxbe Auditorium in Drinko Hall at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and also on Zoom.  Folks can and should Learn More and Register at this link.  Here are the basics about the event:

The year 2022 might see significant cannabis reforms in the state of Ohio, both to the existing medical marijuana regime as well as the proposed legalization of adult-use marijuana. Please join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center for two expert panels that will put focus on these two possible routes to reform and the implications they may have for patients and Ohioans alike.

Medical Marijuana Reform panelnoon-1:10 p.m. EDT

After three years of operation, the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program continues to grow and yet continues to be plagued by high levels of patient dissatisfaction due to access limits and high costs. The recent approval of dozens of new dispensary licenses comes as major reform bills have been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly with the aim of improving the Ohio MMCP's functionality for both patients and the cannabis industry. Please join our panel of experts as we discuss on-going and proposed reforms, why they are needed and how they could impact the various stakeholders.

Panelists:Ohio Senator Steven HuffmanAndrew Makoski, Administrative Attorney, Ohio Department of CommerceAdditional panelist TBA

Adult-Use Marijuana Reform panel1:20-2:30 p.m. EDT

The fall of 2021 was eventful when it comes to Ohio marijuana reform proposals. Two major bills were introduced in the Ohio General Assembly, and a voter-initiated statute campaign collected enough signatures to be sent to the General Assembly for considerations. Yet, despite polling suggesting public support for these kinds of reforms, the Ohio political leadership appears unlikely to advance adult-use legalization in 2022. Please join us for a panel of experts and policy advocates as they discuss the future of marijuana legalization in Ohio as a matter of politics and policy, including the arguments for and against reform and the possible consequences of action or inaction on the part of Ohio General Assembly.

Panelists:Ohio Representative Ron FergusonThomas Haren, Partner, Frantz WardJodi Salvo, Director of Substance Use Prevention Services, OhioGuidestone

March 16, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Jeff Bezos can go to space, but can Amazon help get federal marijuana reform enacted?

Amazon_tweetThe question in the title of this post is prompted by all the press buzz about the decision by Amazon to formally endorse Rep Nancy Mace's States Reform Act.  This New York Post piece, headlined "Amazon endorses GOP bill that would legalize marijuana on federal level," provides some context:

Amazon has endorsed a Republican-backed bill in Congress on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana on a federal level, leaving states to decide whether to prohibit or regulate it.  Rep. Nancy Mace’s (R-SC) States Reform Act would remove cannabis as a federal Schedule I substance and introduce a new 3% federal tax on the substance....  “Every state is different and every state should be able to dictate their cannabis laws,” Mace told The Post in an interview. “This bill would get the federal government out of the way.”...

Mace, a freshman Congresswoman who previously worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, told The Post that she was approached by Amazon representatives after she introduced the bill.  She said the company was motivated to endorse her bill because legal issues around marijuana can make hiring difficult.  “They’re looking at it from a workers perspective,” Mace said in an interview. “The prohibitions at the federal level really do affect their workforce.” 

Amazon told Mace that it is not interested in selling marijuana on its website, according to the Congresswoman.  “That is not their goal, not their intention,” Mace said of the prospect of Amazon pushing pot. “They said that right off the bat.”  In June, Amazon stopped testing many job applicants for marijuana and said that it would support efforts to legalize the drug.... 

Mace expects Democrats, many of whom have supported weed legalization for years, to come out in support of her bill. She argued that Republicans are also likely to support her bill because it gives more power to states — and because weed legalization is extremely popular nationwide.  “Even in my very red state of South Carolina, statewide, medical cannabis is at an approval rating of 70%,” she said. “If we’re going to do cannabis reform at the federal level, Republicans need to have a seat at the table.” 

This lengthy new Forbes article, headlined "Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace Is On A Mission To Legalize Cannabis — And Amazon Just Got Behind Her," discusses further Rep Mace, the States Reform Act, and some of the current political realities as of early 2022. I recommend the full piece, and here are some excerpts:

The cannabis industry also adores Mace and her bill, which is pro-business. (She proposes a 3% federal excise tax—compared to Schumer’s 10% tax—which would generate an estimated $3 billion in annual tax revenue by 2030.) Still, her bill is unlikely to become law, and Mace is under no pot-addled delusion that its passage is a sure thing. Her broader goal is to get as many Republicans as possible on board with cannabis reform and show the GOP that legalization is a good campaign issue in 2022 and beyond....

Mace’s bill also attempts to heal some of the inequities of America’s war on drugs, which disproportionately affects people of color. She estimates that if her bill were to pass, and some 2,800 federal prisoners incarcerated for non-violent cannabis crimes were released and another 1,100 or so people who get put in prison for similar crimes each year are not incarcerated, the government would save nearly $600 million over five years....

Cannabis legalization has historically been a progressive issue, but Mace wants to make it a Republican talking point. Kim Rivers, the CEO of Florida-based Trulieve, which has 160 dispensaries across eight states, welcomes Mace’s approach. “Cannabis is not a red or blue issue,” says Rivers. “And cannabis reform has done well consistently in conservative states. It sends a significant message that cannabis is not partisan.”...

Despite all of this momentum, Mace knows the States Reform Act is unlikely to go forward before the midterm elections, but her goal is to show a “proof of concept” that there are enough votes on the Republican side to get meaningful reform across the finish line in Congress.

When asked what it means that cannabis is now more popular than President Trump in red states—74% of Mississippians, for example, voted for the state’s medical marijuana ballot initiative while nearly 58% of Mississippians voted for Trump—she says it’s a signal to Republicans that they need to get on board with legalization.

“It means that if you don't do it, you're full of shit,” Mace says. “There's no reason not to do this. And if you are anti-marijuana, this is not forcing you to do it. It's not forcing your state to legalize it. But if it is legal in your state, then we're going to tax it and regulate it.”

January 26, 2022 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 24, 2022

Notable accounts of current politics and practicalities surrounding marijuana reform

I have recently seen two good new press reviews of the essential politics of federal marijuana reform as of January 2022 and of a key practical issue that has been a concern since the start of modern state marijuana reforms.  Here are full headlines, links and excerpts from these pieces:

From Politico, "Big Weed is on the brink of scoring big political wins. So where are they?: Competing agendas have stifled the effectiveness of the burgeoning industry on Capitol Hill."

Marijuana advocates are stuck in the weeds. Cannabis policy has never had a rosier outlook on Capitol Hill: Democrats control both Congress and the White House, seven new states just legalized recreational marijuana, and the cannabis industry has gained powerful new allies in companies like Amazon and conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity that are backing federal reform. The industry has even lured powerful advocates like former GOP House Speaker John Boehner and former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to help push its agenda.

But nearly one year into this Congress, not one piece of cannabis legislation has been sent to the president's desk. There is growing fear among advocates that the window to act is closing. Industry lobbyists and legalization advocates say the movement has been stymied by a lack of consensus on the legislative strategy. Liberal advocacy groups are pushing for a comprehensive overhaul of federal cannabis policies with the aim of helping people harmed by criminal enforcement, while industry groups are seeking any piecemeal policy victory that could provide momentum toward more sweeping changes.

“There are certain people who are willing to forgo any of it if they don’t get all of it,” said one marijuana lobbyist, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to candidly discuss the industry’s struggles. The lobbyist noted that such a viewpoint is not universally shared, causing a disagreement “that’s stunting the legalization effort.”

From Bloomberg, "U.S. Grapples With How to Gauge Just How High Cannabis Users Are"

“Everybody wants a cannabis breathalyzer — something like what we have for alcohol where you breathe into a device and it tells a THC level and whether that means you’re impaired or not,” said Jodi Gilman, an associate professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the imaging study.  “But that’s not how it works for cannabis, we need a new paradigm.”

Companies have been trying to crack the stoned-test for a while.  Hound Labs, which makes a marijuana breathalyzer, said in September it had raised $20 million to scale its product.  Cannabix Technologies Inc. recently reported it had made headway creating a more portable device, while Lifeloc Technologies Inc. said it was finalizing the platform for a rapid marijuana breathalyzer that could be used for roadside testing.

There are concerns, however, that tests based on THC levels may be unfair to those who have it in their system but aren’t actually impaired.  This can be the case for some who consumed cannabis days ago, or with frequent users who’ve built up a tolerance — who may use it for medical reasons.  “You wouldn't want to penalize that person,” Gilman told me. “What this technology will do is differentiate impaired from not-impaired, which is different than distinguishing cannabis from no-cannabis.”

January 24, 2022 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Modern day Fiorello La Guardia?: US Senate candidate Gary Chambers smokes marijuana in new campaign ad protesting criminalization

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As detailed in this piece, headlined "Fiorello La Guardia Protested Prohibition By Drinking a Beer…In Congress," some notable politicians have taken notable steps to protest foolhardy prohibitions.  Here are the details from a century ago:

Fiorello La Guardia, best known as the mayor of New York City in the 1930s and ’40s, flaunted his illegal drinking by sipping homemade beer in his congressional office in Washington, D.C.

In 1926, La Guardia summoned 20 newspaper reporters and photographers into Room 150 of the House Office Building. With a straight face, he took “near beer” (the low-alcohol beer allowed under the Volstead Act) and mixed it with two-thirds of a bottle of malt tonic. Then he took a sip. He declared the alcoholic beverage legal, according to La Guardia’s New York Times obituary in 1947, and headlines the next day heralded his publicity stunt.

Notably, La Guardia was also not a fan of marijuana prohibition either:

He went on to become one of the most popular mayors in New York City history. As mayor, his activism against congressional policing of substances continued. La Guardia commissioned the La Guardia Committee Report on Marihuana in response to the start of the war on drugs in the late 1930s. In 1944, after five years of study, his report declared several groundbreaking statements:

“The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction and no effort is made to create a market for these narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana (sic) smoking. The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded. Marihuana is not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes.”

The study was enough to make Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the federal Bureau of Narcotics, denounce La Guardia, his study, and his stance on drugs.

La Guardia’s anti-regulatory stance on cannabis wasn’t embraced by the public as much as his stance against Prohibition was. But one day, perhaps the U.S. will look back fondly on La Guardia’s prescience, just like people today look back on his homemade “beer” he drank while in the House of Representatives.

This notable bit of history came to mind when I saw this new ABC News story headlined "Democratic Senate candidate smokes marijuana in new ad highlighting disparity and reform." The ad is very much worth watching in full (so I have it embedded below), and here are the basics from the press piece:

Progressive activist and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gary Chambers Jr. smokes marijuana in a field in New Orleans while talking about marijuana reform in his first campaign ad. On Jan. 1, smokeable medical marijuana became legal in Louisiana under certain conditions....

Chambers, who is Black, opens the new ad titled "37 Seconds" by lighting and smoking a joint as a stopwatch clicks in the background.

He says someone is arrested for possession of marijuana every 37 seconds. “Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people. States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year,” he goes on....

Chambers, who has never been arrested, ended the ad saying, “Most of the people police are arrested aren't dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me.”

January 18, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 27, 2021

Looking back and forward suggests pessimism (with a hint of hope?) for federal marijuana reform in 2022

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiA couple of notable new commentaries on federal marijuana reform caught my eye recently.   This first one is by Alex Shephard at The New Republic under this full headline: "Legalize It, Already!: Biden needs to ditch his old-fashioned ideas about marijuana and realize that legalization is a winning bipartisan issue — something he desperately needs in 2022."  This piece is more about marijuana politics than policy, and here are a few passages with an emphasis on the White House:

“You would think that President Biden would embrace legalization, considering where his constituents are on this issue,” Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst at the Marijauna Policy Project, told me. Per a recent Pew survey, 60 percent of Americans favor full legalization, while 31 percent favor legalizing marijuana for medical use only, meaning that a whopping 91 percent of Americans are in favor. And while several states have relaxed laws or fully legalized weed, the federal government is trailing....

Given the general sense of inertia in Congress, there are other less far-reaching but still important things the Biden administration could do.  The Cole memo, issued by Eric Holder in 2013 and revoked by Jeff Sessions five years later, instructed U.S. attorneys not to enforce federal marijuana laws.  That memo could be reinstated and even expanded to other departments.  Biden could offer clemency to people currently imprisoned for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses and pardons for them and those who have been released.

All of this would be better politically and morally, and in policy terms, than what Democrats are doing now. “You would think that President Biden would embrace legalization, considering where his constituents are on this issue,” Lindsey told me.  “There’s really no question [about] the level of support that they have, and yet the president seems to be AWOL.” After a year ending with political and legislative inertia — and with Biden’s tanking poll numbers, particularly among young people — marijuana policy would be the perfect place to start.

This second one is by John Hudak at Brookings under the headline: "The numbers for drug reform in Congress don’t add up." This piece effectively details some political cross-currents thwarting reform progress in Congress. It should be read in full, and here are some highlights:

Often, in a legislative body, the issue is not whether a law should be reformed, but how that law should be reformed. And there’s the rub for federal legalization legislation. Liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party cannot agree with moderate and libertarian Republicans on what cannabis reform should look like, even if majorities agree that the law should be changed. And as pro-cannabis reform members from both sides dig their heels in on the importance of provisions that are close to their heart (and the heart of their base), it makes assembling that coalition impossible....

It is clear that as a legalization bill shifts away from a pro-business direction, the number of Republican supporters plummets.  And while in a Democratic-controlled House, leadership can muster the votes to pass something like the MORE Act, the requirement to beat a filibuster in the Senate makes passage of more social equity and racial justice-oriented comprehensive legislation an impossibility.  It is not clear if Democrats can even keep all 50 of their Democratic members in line for such a vote, and it is a certainty that they cannot attract the 10 or more Republicans necessary to clear the 60-vote hurdle. And more moderate legislation that could attract more Republicans will likely lose the more progressive members of the Senate Democratic Caucus....

Ultimately, cannabis reform supporters inside and outside of Congress need a reality check about the state of play of current cannabis reform proposals, and what additional complications the future may offer. Regardless of the chosen path forward, there will be naysayers, holdouts, resistance, and anger.  There will be accusations of bloated government or not doing enough to reverse the effects of the drug war.  That is standard for an interest group environment on a passionate issue in a deliberative body.  However, in the end, Congress has a choice between doing nothing and letting prohibition win the day and allowing all of the consequences of that to remain. Or doing something short of perfect, that addresses some of the real harms that drug prohibition has created in this country.

Looking for a hint of hope in these stories, I am drawn to notion that, if the Biden team concludes that Congress is unlikely to get much (if anything) done on this front in 2022, it might look for "safe" executive action that serves as a political winner in this space.  And, as I see it, a clemency initiative focused around certain marijuana offenders — maybe not one as robust as urged by many advocates, but still impactful — could be a huge political winner. 

Frustratingly, I know I am projecting a vision of what I hope will happen soon, not an account of what seems likely in the short term (or even long term).   But I really want to believe there are "safe" and  smart and impactful ways for Prez Biden to start leaning in to this issue at least a bit more.  And at some point he has to at least try in some way to deliver on his 2020 campaign promise to "Decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions."

UPDATE on 12/28: I see that the Wall Street Journal now has this new article in a similar vein discussing the challenges of federal marijuana reform under this full headline: "Cannabis Overhaul in Washington Is Only Getting Harder: Legalization agenda could be complicated by states that want to defend their nascent marijuana industries and associated tax revenues."

December 27, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 20, 2021

Initiated statute effort to legalize marijuana in Ohio advances with submission of signatures to prompt legislative consideration

Ballot Initiative Process Diagram_final_16Dec202_webAs reported in this local article, headlined "The Just Like Alcohol campaign submits signatures to state, one step closer to getting recreational marijuana on Ohio ballot next year," a notable effort to advance marijuana reform in the Buckeye State advanced a bit today.  Here are the basic details:

A group of Ohio medical marijuana businesses with a proposal placing recreational cannabis on the ballot said they submitted 206,943 signatures to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office Monday.  The submission of signatures is just the latest step in the winding process to get the issue on the November 2022 ballot....

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaign needed 132,887 signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties by Dec. 27.  The campaign’s spokesman, Cleveland attorney Tom Haren, said campaign workers also verified signatures as they came in.  “The success of our petition drive shows just how eager Ohioans are to end prohibition and legalize the adult use of marijuana,” Haren said. “We look forward to receiving the results of the Secretary of State’s review, and are eager to begin working with legislators on this important issue.”

If county election officials verify the signatures, the proposal will go before the Ohio General Assembly, which gets to first stab at creating a law based on it.  If the legislature fails, the proposal will go on the ballot as an initiated statute.  Haren said the campaign would prefer if the legislature passed a law.

Under the proposed law, Ohioans ages 21 and older could buy and use marijuana.  They could grow up to six plants per person and 12 plants per residence.  It would create a Division of Cannabis Control under the Ohio Department of Commerce to license, regulate, investigate and penalize adult-use cannabis operators, testing laboratories and individuals who would be required to be licensed.

Existing Ohio medical marijuana growers could expand their cultivation areas once they receive an adult-use cultivator license, the proposal says.  Nine months after the proposed law goes into effect, the state would have to issue recreational licenses for existing medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, processors and testing laboratories if they complied with other provisions of the proposed law....

People who buy recreational marijuana would be taxed 10% at the dispensaries, and have to pay any other state and local sales taxes at the time of the purchase.  Of that, 36% of tax revenues would go to communities with recreational dispensaries; 36% to a social equity and jobs fund that would seek to “redress past and present effects of discrimination and economic disadvantage” for communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition, such as the more severe criminal penalties for Black men in comparison to white men possessing the same levels of marijuana; 25% to substance abuse and addiction efforts; 3% to the Division of Cannabis Control to support the costs of regulation....

To head off the initiated statute, the legislature is considering a few bills to broaden marijuana access.  Last week, the Ohio Senate passed and sent to the House a bill that would expand medical marijuana to anyone with a condition that would “reasonably be expected to be relieved” by the drug. It would increase cultivation areas and changes the medical marijuana regulation scheme, which currently is divided among three state agencies, to one under the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Those of us working at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, which is based at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, have been closely following this initiative and all the other marijuana reform proposals being actively discussed in the Buckeye State.  DEPC has created a set of materials to aid in understanding the Ohio initiative process as well as the substantive particulars of different legislative reform proposals.  These Ohio materials are collected here under the heading "A Comparison of Marijuana Reform Proposals in Ohio."  That page includes this link to the original graphic appearing above that we have created to follow the Ohio initiative process, and here is just a sampling of some of the original Ohio materials to be found at the page:

December 20, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 3, 2021

Ohio GOP and NY Dem representatives introduce federal HOPE Act to support state cannabis expungement efforts and study collateral consequences

I was pleased to see this news via Marijuana Moment about a new federal bill to support state marijuana expungement efforts.  Here are the basics:

As congressional lawmakers work to advance federal marijuana legalization, a bipartisan duo on Thursday filed a bill that would incentivize states and local governments to expunge cannabis records in their jurisdictions.  Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are sponsoring the legislation, titled the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act.

It would encourage states to provide relief to people with non-violent marijuana convictions through federal grants — the State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program, run through the Department of Justice — that would help cover the administrative costs of identifying and clearing eligible cases.  The bill proposes to appropriate $2 million in funding to support the program for each fiscal year starting in 2023 and ending in 2032.

Specifically, the grants could be used by states to purchase technology used to facilitate expungements at scale, automate the relief process, fund legal clinics to help people get their records cleared and support “innovative partnerships” to provide mass relief....

Under the bill, state governors and local governments “shall submit to the attorney general an application at such time, in such manner, and containing such information as the attorney general may reasonably require” to qualify for the grants.  Further, the legislation would require the attorney general to carry out a study on the impacts of cannabis convictions on individuals, as well as the financial costs for states that incarcerate people over non-violent marijuana offenses.

Officials in jurisdictions that receive the grants would be required to “publish on a publicly accessible website information about the availability and process of expunging convictions for cannabis offenses, including information for individuals living in a different jurisdiction who were convicted of a cannabis offense in that jurisdiction.” They would also need to “submit to the attorney general a report describing the uses of such funds, and how many convictions for cannabis offenses have been expunged using such funds.”

Longtime readers know that expungement policies and practices have long been of great interest to me, going back to my work years ago on an big early article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices." and more recently through work done in part by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (see here and here).  So I am very excited to see this issue getting notable attention via this notable bill by two notable members of Congress.

That said, I must comment that the particulars of this short bill are a bit disappointing.  For starters, allocating only $2 million per year to incentivize states to ramp up expungement seems woefully insufficient.  From the state's perspective, a little money is better than nothing, but having a range of mandates tied to a very small revenue stream likely ensures this bill would have at most modest impact.  Second, the issues that the US Attorney General is tasked to study in this bill are only a small portion of the issues raised by marijuana criminalization, and the bill seems only to look at the impact of past marijuana offenses that have been reformed rather than all marijuana prohibitions.

In the end, I presume this bill is highly unlikely to become law anytime soon, so the particulars may matter less than the useful discussion of the broader issues raised.  Still, I hope that any future legislative proposals in this space are even bolder than this first notable effort.

December 3, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"New GOP weed approach: Feds must ‘get out of the way’" ... which is an important historic drug policy theme

9780197582183The first part of the title of this post is the headline of this notable new Politico piece, and the second part draws on this recent short book review that I recently authored for The Federalist Society blog.  I was reviewing Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s majestic Who Decides, in which the judge richly develops and documents why “some matters should not be nationalized” while urging a “renewed appreciation for the virtues of localism.”  In my (too brief) review, I stressed the importance of these localism themes for drug policy throughout US history, and I highlighted this fascinating 1921 Atlantic piece by journalist Louis Graves discussing how alcohol prohibition most effectively gained adherents from a “gradual building up of dry sentiment" at the local level until “Federal interference ... dealt a blow to the cause of real prohibition.”

With Judge Sutton's book and my own affinity for ever-evolving political realities, the long Politico piece by Natalie Fertig and Mona Zhang provides an effective accounting of some structural issues in play in the modern marijuana reform discourse.  I recommend the article in full, and here are excerpts:

Republicans are warming to weed. Nearly half of Republican voters support federally decriminalizing cannabis, and GOP lawmakers are now beginning to reflect their constituents’ view by increasingly supporting broad legalization at the state and federal level.

“We need the federal government just to get out of the way,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who introduced the first Republican bill in Congress to decriminalize marijuana this past week and pointed to more than 70 percent of Americans supporting the idea.

Stronger Republican involvement could hasten a snowball effect on Capitol Hill, where Democrats lead the charge on decriminalization but lack results. It could also chip away at Democrats’ ability to use cannabis legalization to excite progressives and younger voters as the midterms approach.

“When the culture becomes more accepting of something, even the most resistant groups get tugged along,” said Dan Judy, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, which focuses on Republican politics. “I don't want to directly conflate marijuana legalization with something like gay marriage, but I think there's a similar dynamic at play.”

Earlier this year, North Dakota’s GOP-dominated House passed a marijuana legalization bill introduced by two Republican lawmakers — the first adult-use legalization bill to pass in a Republican-dominated chamber. And Mace's bill marks the first time a Republican has proposed federal legislation to decriminalize cannabis, expunge certain cannabis convictions and tax and regulate the industry.

As Republicans wade into the weed group chat, they are bringing their principles, constituents and special interest groups. When Mace introduced her bill on a freezing day on the House triangle, she was surrounded at the podium not by Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but by veterans groups, medical marijuana parents, cannabis industry lobbyists and Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity.

Many GOP proposals include lower taxes and a less regulatory approach than Democratic-led bills, while often maintaining elements popular among most voters, like the expungement of nonviolent cannabis convictions. “I tried to be very thoughtful about what I put in the bill that would appeal to Democrats and Republicans,” Mace said in an interview on Monday. “Which is why criminal justice reform is part of it. It's why the excise tax is low.”

The motivations bringing Republicans to the table are also changing. Former Capitol Hill cannabis advocates like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) advocated primarily for their state legalization programs, but Mace comes from South Carolina — a state with no medical or recreational cannabis program. She joins other GOP lawmakers who are pushing for federal policy to move beyond their own states — they include Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida, where only medical marijuana is legal, and libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which does not yet have a medical program....

Six in 10 younger GOP voters — what Pew described as the “Ambivalent Right” in a recent report — believe marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, but older, educated Republicans and Christian conservatives do not feel the same way....

Republicans who support legalization are viewing the issue through the prism of states' rights, personal freedom, job creation and tax revenue. Many libertarian-leaning Republicans are early supporters of cannabis policy reform, arguing that arresting people for using cannabis is a violation of personal liberties.

Some Republicans also cite the racial disparities in marijuana arrests as a reason to fix federal law — though Democrats focus more strongly on criminal justice reform on the whole. And, as is the case for Democrats, the shift is often generational: Texas Young Republicans announced they support marijuana decriminalization back in 2015.

The shift within the GOP at times is less about lawmakers’ own beliefs about marijuana and more about how much the public has shifted on the subject. Bill sponsors in North Dakota, for example, said they were personally opposed to marijuana, but introduced the bill anyways to head off the possibility of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana through the constitution — especially after South Dakota voters approved legalization in 2020.

November 21, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Highlighting the persistent Democratic divide over federal marijuana reform

Those who follow happenings inside the Beltway know that the primary roadblock to federal marijuana reform right now is the debate over whether to make smaller reforms (like the SAFE Banking bill) or to go for a more comprehensive approach to reform.  This lengthy new Washington Post piece, headlined "Democratic divide puts congressional action on marijuana in doubt," effectively review the state of this debate as of mid-November 2021.  I recommend the full piece, and here is how it gets started:

A split on Capitol Hill over marijuana policy has lawmakers confronting the possibility that they could again fail to pass any meaningful changes to the federal prohibition of cannabis this Congress, even as polls show vast majorities of Americans support at least partial legalization of the drug.

The clash, on one level, follows familiar contours for Washington policymaking: A narrower measure with significant bipartisan support — one that would make it easier for banks to do business with legitimate cannabis firms in states where marijuana is legal — is in limbo while a smaller group of lawmakers pushes for a much broader bill.

But it has also become infused with questions of racial equity and political competence that have pitted key Democrats against each other as they seek a way to roll back federal marijuana laws that have gone largely unchanged since the height of the War on Drugs in the 1980s and 1990s.

The conflict has come to a head in recent weeks after a push by Democratic and Republican lawmakers to attach the narrower banking legislation to the must-pass annual defense policy bill, which would ensure its passage in the coming months.  The bill’s advocates say it would offer a substantial step toward legitimizing and rationalizing the cannabis industry in the 47 states that have moved to at least partially legalize marijuana — allowing businesses to move away from risky cash-only operations.

That push has hit a roadblock in the Senate, however, where Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has sided with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-N.J.), who are seeking to assemble a comprehensive bill that would federally decriminalize the drug, tax it and potentially expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of having bought or sold it.  Passing the narrower bill, they argue, would make passing their broader bill more difficult....

November 18, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 15, 2021

Some early coverage of big new federal GOP bill, the States Reform Act, to legalize marijuana

Congress-legalization-billsToday, Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC) unveiled a new GOP-led bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.  The States Reform Act (available here), which runs 131 pages, is cosponsored by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Brian Mast (R-FL) and Peter Meijer (R-MI).

My initial sense is that this bill does not have a great chance of passage anytime soon, but it still ought to be considered a big moment in the broad modern story of marijuana reform.  And it is understandably getting a lot of press.  Here is a sample:

From the AP, "GOP Rep. Mace’s bill would federally decriminalize marijuana"

From Forbes, "Representative Nancy Mace Introduces Bill To End Federal Cannabis Prohibition"

From Insider, "Rep. Nancy Mace says her GOP-led cannabis legalization bill would be 'a real win-win' for bipartisan marijuana reform in the US"

From Marijuana Moment, "Republican Lawmakers File Bill To Tax And Regulate Marijuana As Alternative To Democratic Proposals"

From MJBizDaily, "South Carolina Republican reveals marijuana legalization bill she’ll introduce in Congress"

From Reason, "Frequently asked questions about the States Reform Act, a proposed marijuana bill"

November 15, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 5, 2021

"Cannabis Crossroads: What’s in Store for Marijuana Reform in Ohio?"

156cdb0c-41e6-4e54-8007-d123898cef30The title of this post is the title of this exciting event taking place online two weeks from today that I have the honor of moderating.  As detailed at this registration page, the event will take place on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 from Noon - 1:30pm.  Here are the basics with the list of confirmed speakers:

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and Natural Therapies Education Foundation for a virtual discussion featuring panelists representing current Ohio cannabis reform endeavors.  The event will provide attendees with knowledge about pending initiatives and legislation, as well as a vision of what the future may hold for cannabis in Ohio.

Panelists

Mary Jane Borden, co-founder and secretary of the board, Natural Therapies Education Foundation

Thomas Haren, partner, Frantz Ward

Shaleen Title, distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, The Ohio State University

Rep. Casey Weinstein, Ohio House of Representatives

Moderator

Douglas A. Berman, Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law, executive director, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

November 5, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Notable new CRS report on ways a President could legalize or decriminalize marijuana at the federal level

I was intrigued to see this notable new five-page Congressional Research Service report titled "Does the President Have the Power to Legalize Marijuana?". Here is how it gets started:

The legal status of marijuana has been a topic of recurring interest in recent years, as states, federal legislators, and federal executive agencies consider how to regulate cannabis and its derivatives.  What role can the President play in determining the legal status of a controlled substance such as marijuana?  That question came to the forefront during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with multiple candidates supporting legalization of marijuana and several pledging to legalize the substance nationwide if elected, either indirectly through administrative proceedings or directly by executive order.  More recently, some commentators have called on President Biden to end criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use or grant clemency to federal marijuana offenders.  Although the President cannot directly remove marijuana from control under federal controlled substances law, he might order executive agencies to consider either altering the scheduling of marijuana or changing their enforcement approach.

This Sidebar outlines the laws that apply to controlled substances like marijuana, then analyzes several approaches a president might take to change controlled substances law as written or as enforced.  The Sidebar closes with a discussion of key considerations for Congress related to presidential power over controlled substances regulation.

November 3, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)