Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Is marijuana legalization likely to be a staple of all major Democratic campaigns in 2022?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Hill piece headlined "Crist says as Florida governor he would legalize marijuana, expunge criminal records."  Here are excerpts:

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) on Thursday said that he would expunge criminal records of those facing certain marijuana-related charges and legalize the drug if he is elected the governor of Florida.  “Let me be clear: If I’m elected governor, I will legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State,” Crist said in a video posted on his Twitter on Thursday. “This is the first part of the Crist contract with Florida.”

Crist, who is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 2022, discussed different elements of his gubernatorial platform focused on racial equity in the state, including expunging criminal records for those who have received marijuana-related charges, specifically third-degree felonies and misdemeanors, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The former Florida governor and Senate hopeful also said that he was in favor of decentralizing the marijuana industry, allowing people to personally grow marijuana plants.  He noted that money made through marijuana sales would fund things such as drug treatment programs and police agencies, according to the news outlet.

Crist, who was a Republican while he was in the governor's mansion from 2007 to 2011, acknowledged that his stance, among others, had changed on marijuana use.  As governor, he had signed harsh anti-marijuana legislation, which included targeting growing the plant.

His comments were criticized over Twitter by Democratic opponent Nikki Fried, who is also running to take on DeSantis. The state Agriculture commissioner, who has been previously supportive of legalizing marijuana and was a former marijuana lobbyist, according to Tallahassee Reports, accused him of imitating her political stance.

“Imitation is flattery, but records are records. People went to jail because Republicans like @CharlieCrist supported and enforced racist marijuana crime bills. Glad he's changed his mind, but none of those people get those years back. Legalize marijuana. #SomethingNew,” Fried tweeted.

Crist last year voted to end marijuana from being prohibited and criminalized federally. “We know that people across racial and income levels use marijuana at the same rate.  And yet, for decades, it's been poor, Black, and/or Hispanic folks targeted for prison on marijuana charges,” Crist said in a statement in December.  “That tells me that marijuana has been legal now for a while if you had the right skin tone or the right paycheck.”

I surmise that all major Democratic candidates have finally figured out that marijuana reform is a popular position. It will be interesting to watch if this issue could become significant debate topic is red-leaning swing states like Florida and Ohio that have big 2022 elections. I am inclined to believe this topic still is more fringe than fundamental in broader political discourse, but even topics that only move the electorate a little bit could prove consequential sometimes.

October 17, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 30, 2021

House Judiciary Committee, by vote of 26-15, approves MORE Act to deschedule marijuana and thereby end federal prohibition

After what reportedly was quite an intriguing discussion, this afternoon the House Judiciary Committee approved  the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, H.R. 3617, with 26 votes in favor (24 Democrats, 2 Republicans) and 15 votes (all Republicans) against. The MORE Act, as noted in this post from DEC 2020, received a full favorable vote from the House. But at that time, everyone knew there would be no time and likely little interest in Senate action before the Congress term ended. Now there is ample time for the Senate to pass MORE or another like bill, though I think there is considerable uncertainty about there being enough votes for reform.

In case you forgot, in addition to removing marijuana from the prohibitions created by the Controlled Substances Act, the MORE Act would expunge non-violent federal marijuana convictions and support state efforts to do the same, while also providing provide resources and support for minority owned marijuana businesses and creating other reinvestment programs for communities that have been adversely impacted by marijuana prohibitions.  Here is a bit more from this Marijuana Moment piece:

Although most Republicans who spoke argued against the bill, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a cosponsor of it, made the case for reform.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the MORE Act because the federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” he said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana. And then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swaths of communities, and particularly in African-American communities.”

“We cannot honestly say that the war on drugs impacted suburban white communities in the same way it affected urban black communities. We can’t say that marijuana enforcement was happening the same way on the corner than it was happening in the fraternity house,” he said. “We have an opportunity to fix that problem. The war on drugs, much like many of our forever wars, has been a failure. If there’s been a war on drugs, drugs have won that war.”

However, he expressed certain concerns about provisions of the legislation such as the proposed federal excise tax on cannabis sales. While Gaetz also said that while he supports the MORE Act, he doesn’t feel it stands a chance in the Senate and recommended advancing more modest reform.

While the legislation has largely stayed intact compared to the prior version that passed the chamber last year in a historic vote, there were some modest revisions that were incorporated upon its reintroduction in May.

The panel on Thursday considered additional changes before moving the measure forward, although much of the time was spent debating unrelated issues such as COVID-19 vaccines, abortion policy and protests against police violence.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) sought to remove the bill’s tax provisions as well as grant funds it would create to help repair the harms of the war on drugs.

September 30, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 30, 2021

Notable and dynamic marijuana legalization efforts in bellwether (or deep red) Ohio

Download (19)Perhaps because I live and work in Ohio, I still tend to consider the state a national bellwether politically.  But, in recent elections (due in part to gerrymandering as well as to other factors), the state has been quite red politically with  GOP candidates winning the vast majority of statewide and local elections.  Whether now considered a bellwether or a deep red state, recent developments on the marijuana reform front strike me as quite interesting and worth watching in the months ahead.  Here are the basics from two great Marijuana Moment articles:

From July 15, "Ohio Lawmakers To File First-Of-Its-Kind Marijuana Legalization Bill As Activists Pursue Local Reforms":

Ohio lawmakers are preparing to file a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana in the state. This would mark the first time such a proposal to allow recreational cannabis commerce has been introduced in the legislature. Rep. Casey Weinstein (D) is sponsoring the legislation alongside Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D). While the text of the measure has not yet been released, the lawmakers circulated a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues on Thursday to shore up support for the effort in advance of its formal introduction....

The bill would legalize possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow them to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. It will also include provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.

A 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with revenue first going toward the cost of implementation and then being divided among municipalities with at least one cannabis shop (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent) and infrastructure (35 percent).

From July 27, "Ohio Marijuana Activists Launch Ballot Campaign To Push Lawmakers To Enact Legalization":

Ohio marijuana activists have a new plan to legalize cannabis in the state as lawmakers pursue separate reform legislation.  Voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative, and advocates suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.  But on Tuesday, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) launched a new effort to implore legislators to enact the policy change.

The group submitted the requisite 1,000 signatures to the Ohio attorney general’s office on Tuesday.  Officials now have 10 days to review the summary and text to ensure that it is “fair and truthful” and approve it for circulation. Several existing medical cannabis businesses are backing the measure....

Unlike past efforts, the new measure is a statutory, rather that a constitutional, proposal.  If supporters collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt and amended version.  If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the measure before voters on the ballot in 2022.

The start of an statutory initiative campaign, which gives the Ohio General Assembly a chance to act on proposed reforms before the proposal goes directly to the voters, strikes me as especially shrewd and interesting.  This approach will likely keep the issue in the news in ways that ought to be helpful to reform proponents (e.g., they can discuss tax revenues and the need for Ohio to keep up with its reform neighbors); and this approach may require many state legislators to have to express a position on reform in a run-up to an off-year election in which a topic like marijuana reform could help turn out some extra voters.  Interesting times.

July 30, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Some federal reform headlines a week after introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

My Google and Twitter feeds have not been buzzing about the release last week of the discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, and that has lead me to think nobody is too excited about its particulars. That said, it is still an important bill-in-development, and I thought it worthwhile to round up some of the reactions and commentary I have seen in response:

From The American Prospect, "High Hurdles for Commonsense Cannabis Reform: The plan unveiled by the Senate majority leader is doomed to languish despite massive public support for legalization."

From Bloomberg, "U.S. Pot Legalization Bill Gets a Frosty Reception"

From Daily Breeze (editorial), "Latest federal marijuana bill a total dud"

From Fox Business, "Democrats' marijuana legalization bill leaves Canopy Growth CEO optimistic"

From Politico, "Amazon endorsed legal weed. Will it now fight to make it happen?"

July 20, 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)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Great early coverage of US Senate Leader Chuck Schumer's "discussion draft" of new Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiSince nearly the start of this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with  Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker , has been talking up the introduction in the US Senate of a new comprehensive federal marijuana reform bill.   That talk has suggested that reform efforts from these Democratic Senators would be similar to, but still quite distinct from, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, that has moved forward in the House of Representatives in recent years.

Today, in mid July 2021, these Senators have scheduled a press conference to unveil what is being described as a "discussion draft" of a lengthy federal bill titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA).  The full text of this CAOA "discussion draft" is available here and it runs 163 pages(!).  In other words, CAOA give marijuana reform advocates (and opponents) a whole lot to discuss.  Helpfully, the cannabis press core is already doing great job covering the basic:

From Marijuana Moment, "Here Are The Full Details Of The New Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill From Chuck Schumer And Senate Colleagues."  Excerpt:

Perhaps the most immediately consequential provision would be a requirement that the attorney general to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.  But it’s important to keep in mind that this legislation—like other federal legalization bills moving through Congress—would not make it so marijuana is legal in every state. The proposal specifically preserves the right of states to maintain prohibition if they way. It stipulates, for example, that shipping marijuana into a state where the plant is prohibited would still be federally illegal.

However, the measure would make it clear that states can’t stop businesses from transporting cannabis products across their borders to other states where the plant is permitted.  FDA would be “recognized as the primary federal regulatory authority with respect to the manufacture and marketing of cannabis products, including requirements related to minimum national good manufacturing practice, product standards, registration and listing, and labeling information related to ingredients and directions for use,” according to the summary.

From Politico, "Schumer launches long-shot bid for legal weed." Excerpt:

The discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act includes provisions that cater to both “states rights” Republicans and progressive Democrats. While the proposal seeks to remove all federal penalties on weed, it would allow states to prohibit even the possession of cannabis — along with production and distribution — a nod to states’ rights.  It would also establish funding for a wide range of federal research into everything from drugged driving to the impact cannabis has on the human brain. The measure aims to collect data about traffic deaths, violent crime and other public health concerns often voiced by Republican lawmakers.

On the flip side, the proposal also includes provisions that are crucial to progressives.  That includes three grant programs designed to help socially or economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as those hurt by the war on drugs and expungements of federal non-violent cannabis offenses.  States and cities also have to create an automatic expungement program for prior cannabis offenses to be eligible for any grant funding created by the bill.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

July 14, 2021 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, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Red state marijuana reforms not yet leading to GOP Senator support for federal reform

Natalie Fertig of Politico has this effective new piece highlighting that Senate Republicans do not seem to be moving off their opposition to broad federal  marijuana reform even as more and more red states enact reform.  The piece is headlined "Republicans are watching their states back weed — and they’re not sold," and here are excerpts:

Marijuana’s popularity boom in red states isn’t breaking through with conservatives on Capitol Hill, pinching an already narrow path to federal legalization.

A growing number of Republican senators represent states that have legalized recreational or medical cannabis — six approved or expanded marijuana in some form just since November.  But without their support in Congress to make up for likely Democratic defectors, weed falls critically short of the 60 votes needed to advance legislation.

Montana’s Steve Daines and South Dakota’s Mike Rounds, both Republicans, said they don’t support comprehensive federal cannabis reform, no matter what voters back home voted for....

Lawmakers whose constituents have already approved some form of legal marijuana are seen as the most likely to support loosening federal restrictions, but so far Republican senators appear largely unmoved by the will of voters when it comes to weed.  In some states, such as Montana and South Dakota, marijuana did better on the ballot than their senators.

POLITICO spoke with a dozen GOP senators who represent medical or recreational cannabis markets in recent days. None committed to vote to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, but Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said they were open to discussing ways to remove federal cannabis penalties.  Others, however, said they were not on board with any type of federal cannabis legislation.

June 27, 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, June 17, 2021

Connecticut on verge of becoming 18th state to fully legalize marijuana (and fifth state in 2021)

Connecticut-recreational-legalization-scaledAs reported in this local article, headlined "A bill legalizing marijuana cleared the Connecticut House of Representatives on Wednesday; the measure could receive final approval in the Senate on Thursday," it looks like the Nutmeg State is now getting very close to legalizing marijuana fully for adult use.  Here are the basics:

Following more than seven hours of debate, the Connecticut House of Representatives avoided a threatened gubernatorial veto and approved a revised bill that would legalize marijuana in the state.

The measure cleared the House by a largely party-line vote of 76 to 62. Twelve Democrats joined all but one Republican -- Rep. Rick Hayes of Putnam -- in voting no. The bill could come up for a final vote in the Senate as soon as Thursday.

“Connecticut’s time has finally come,” declared Rep. Steven Stafstrom, a Democrat from Bridgeport, who helped shepherd the bill through the House. “We take the next step as this chamber in recognizing the war on drugs has failed us and the criminalization of cannabis was the wrong course of action for our state and for our nation.”

Rep. Juan Candelaria, a New Haven Democrat who has been advocating for the legalization of cannabis for years, said the bill has one of the nation’s strongest social equity provisions. “We’re able to repair the wrongs of the past and ensure that these communities who have been disproportionately impacted are made whole,’' Candelaria said.

The sweeping, 300-page bill, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, contains a number of provisions, from setting limits on THC content to funding programs to address addiction and mental health. But for many lawmakers, the most vexing part of the legislation is the equity section, which is designed to provide those hurt by the criminalization of cannabis would have an expedited opportunity to enter the potentially lucrative market.

Paul Mounds, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff, said an earlier version of the bill did “not meet the goals laid out during negotiations when it comes to equity and ensuring the wrongs of the past are righted.”

At a briefing before the debate began, House Speaker Matt Ritter said most members of the Democratic caucus are comfortable removing the language Lamont finds objectionable. After all, he said, it was not part of the original bill that lawmakers crafted in coordination with Lamont’s office.

The bill’s equity provision was a key sticking point, but it wasn’t the only issue some lawmakers found objectionable. Republicans expressed opposition to the very notion of a legal marijuana market, saying it would lead to a rise in crime, a spike in addiction and a host of other societal ills. Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said his criticism of the measure is based on science. He cited a study by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that found marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds rose in states that legalized cannabis. “Youth use will increase,’' he said.

Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, noted that much of the marijuana debate focused on equity and the marijuana marketplace. “I know there are good people in this chamber,’' she said. “I know this is motivated by wanting to right the wrongs of the past ... please, this is not the way.”...

Not all of the opponents were Republicans. Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a moderate Democrat from Westport, said he has long struggled with marijuana legalization. “This is a tough vote,’' Steinberg said. “Frankly no state to date has done well in their first pass in introducing marijuana. ... I’m still uncomfortable. I fully expect we will be back next year and the year after that making needed changes to ensure safety and reliability and equity.” Steinberg introduced and later pulled an amendment that would have barred “home grown” cannabis in Connecticut. He ultimately voted yes on the bill....

Debate over the question of social equity unfolded over the past few days, creating chaos at the Capitol and at one point, throwing the fate of legalization into question. The earlier version of the bill backed by Lamont contained a geographic definition of equity, giving preference to people from cities that have borne the brunt of the war on drugs. But late Tuesday, right before the Senate was scheduled to vote on the bill, the equity provision was changed to include people with prior marijuana convictions.

At a press conference Wednesday, Jason Rojas, the House majority leader who helped craft the legislation, said it makes sense to him that people who have been hurt by the criminalization of cannabis are among those who are first in line for a license. “I think it’s appropriate to consider someone’s criminal history in terms of defining an equity applicant,” Rojas said. Ritter, however, echoed some of Lamont’s concerns. “Do I think that you should get a leg up because you got pinched [for] marijuana at 19 at Wesleyan? No, I don’t,” he told reporters before the House session began.

The marijuana legalization effort has stalled for at least five years at the Capitol. But this year, it appeared to have fresh momentum and Lamont’s strong support. Despite that, the bill only came up for debate in the Senate for the first time last week. The Senate approved the bill but because time ran out before the House could vote, the legislature convened in a special session this week to take up the bill.

June 17, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 10, 2021

"Data, Damn Lies, and Cannabis Policy: Reefer Madness and the Methodological Crimes of the New Prohibitionists"

The title of this post is the title of this article published earlier this year in the journal Critical Criminology and authored by Jon Heidt and Johannes Wheeldon.  Here is its abstract:

The rapid pace of cannabis legalization in North America has provoked a backlash that is predictable and discouraging.  The New Prohibitionists, distinct but related to their predecessors, the Old Prohibitionsists, have offered scholarship rife with conceptual errors, methodological flaws, and practical oversights.  While their advice would likely hasten that which they seek to decrease, they overlook the costs of returning to practices associated with prohibition.  To counter simplistic research interpretations and ill-considered policy, we present a critically informed research program on cannabis and crime based on previous scholarship.  Our work is designed to apply replacement discourse and refocus research to withstand the tendency for justice systems to subvert, rather than embrace, reform.  Cannabis legalization has been decades in the making and serious questions remain for proponents, opponents, and policymakers.  Society, however, will be far worse off if the mistakes of reefer madness are repeated.

June 10, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Array of marijuana reforms move forward in array of states

When I started this blog nearly eight years ago, it was often pretty big (and blogworthy) news whenever any single state would move forward with any kind of marijuana reform in the usual legislative process.  Back then, adult-use reform by traditional legislation was almost unthinkable and only a few state legislatures had enacted modest medical programs via standard legislation (as opposed to a ballot initiative).  But fast forward less than a decade, and here is a round-up of news accounts of notable legislative developments in just the first week of June 2021:

"Connecticut state Senate approves recreational marijuana bill in a 19-17 vote. House expected to take up bill before adjournment."

"Legalizing marijuana in Delaware: State lawmakers take another shot"

"Louisiana lawmakers pass bill to decriminalize marijuana"

"Mississippi Senate weighs in on medical cannabis legalization"

"Nevada Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Marijuana Consumption Lounges"

"N.C. bill to legalize medical marijuana picking up support"

"Medical marijuana law changes get through Pennsylvania House"

Of course, all this mid-year action comes on the heels of already historic legislative developments in the first part of 2021 with four states (New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Virginia) legalizing adult-use of marijuana and one deep south state (Alabama) legalizing medical marijuana through the traditional legislative process.  

June 8, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Could reintroduction of MORE Act in US House actually make federal marijuana reform less likely?

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is my initial reaction and worry in response to this press release from the office of House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler.  Here are some basics from the release:

Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

"Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace," said Chairman Nadler. "I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. I want to thank my colleagues, Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Hakeem Jeffries, and Nydia Velázquez for their contributions to this legislation, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we work to get this legislation signed into law."...

Following efforts led by states across the nation, the MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level. The bill also aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life. The MORE Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders....

In the 116th Congress, Chairman Nadler led the House of Representatives in passing the MORE Act by a bipartisan vote of 228 to 164.

Because the MORE Act is a very ambitious bill, it has lots of support from many advocacy groups and long-time supporters of marijuana reform. But because the MORE Act is a very ambitious bill, it got no traction in the Senate in the last Congress and there is little reason to be confident it will get any traction in the Senate in this Congress. 

This Politico article last month, headlined "Senate Democrats split over legalizing weed; Several told POLITICO they’re opposed to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's legalization push," highlighted that not even all Senate Democrats are inclined to support federal marijuana legalization.  That article also rightly noted that there are some particular provisions in the MORE Act that are especially likely to turn off libertarian-leaning GOP Senators who might be inclined to support another kind of federal reform.

Because I have never work on the hill, I am not sure if a bill like the MORE Act with little chance of actual passage can still help advance the reform cause.  But I am sure that the current President and the current Congress seem generally disinclined to do anything all that big in this arena.  The MORE Act is not only big, but it also presents the possibility of indirectly thwarting smaller efforts garnering needed support and momentum going forward.

In this post last month, I suggested that Senator leader Chuck Schumer may have a shrewd view of how best to advance marijuana reform legislation in his chamber.  But I remain worried that there really is neither a will nor a way for big federal marijuana reforms like the MORE Act to become law anytime soon. 

May 28, 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 (1)

Monday, May 17, 2021

Alabama Gov signs medical marijuana legislation just days after Mississippi Supreme Court blows up medical marijuana initiative

As detailed by these recent stories and headlines, it has been an interesting time lately with respect to marijuana reform in the deep south:

From the Yellowhammer State, "Gov. Kay Ivey signs Alabama medical marijuana law"

From the Magnolia State, "Mississippi Supreme Court overturns medical marijuana Initiative 65"

There are interesting and important facets to both of these stories, but together they serve as a terrific reminder of just how dynamic and unpredictable marijuana reforms can be on any number of legal and political fronts.  But for the historic stigma (as well as persistent federal prohibition), I suspect lots and lots of prominent folks would be writing lots and lots of books and articles about what we can and should be learning from modern marijuana reform movements for all sort of other social and policy arenas.

May 17, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Notable new GOP bill for ending federal marijuana prohibition

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiIn a post last month, titled "Senate majority leader shrewdly emphasizing "freedom" in his push for federal marijuana reform," I explained why I viewed Senator Chuck Schumer's focus on "freedom" in his marijuana reform pitch to be appealing and shrewd given that it lines up with a lot of the smaller-government rhetoric often coming from GOP politicians and activists.  Consequently, I was not surprised to see this past week that part of the pitch for a notable new GOP-sponsored bill to end federal marijuana prohibition includes an emphasis on greater liberty for individuals and states concerning marijuana practices.   

This new 14-page marijuana reform bill is available at this link, and it is formally titled the "Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act."  This press release from Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14), one of the sponsors, provides these details:

Through his work with the Cannabis Caucus and his position on the House Appropriations Committee, Joyce has helped lead the effort to reform the federal government’s outdated approach to cannabis and protect the rights of states across the country, like Ohio, that have voted to implement responsible cannabis policies. Specifically, the Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses and Medical Professionals Act, which has been applauded by several organizations, would:

  • Remove cannabis from the Federal Controlled Substances Act.
  • Direct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to issue rules to regulate cannabis modeled after the alcohol industry within one year of enactment.
  • Create a federal preemption to protect financial institutions and other businesses in non-cannabis legal states so that they can service cannabis companies.
  • Allow the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to prescribe medical cannabis to veterans.
  • Direct the National Institutes of Health to conduct two studies on cannabis as it pertains to pain management and cannabis impairment and report to Congress within two years of enactment.

And here is some of the media coverage that provides a review of this bill:

May 15, 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)

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Equity getting lots of attention, but still much work to do, as social justice becomes centered in marijuana reform efforts

Social-Equity-2.0-Lessons-from-the-States_for-video2I flagged in this post the great Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) event that took place last week titled "Social Equity 2.0: Lessons From Recent State Developments."  Though I may be a bit biased, I think this 90-minute event was a spectacular review by spectacular speakers of the importance and the challenges of centering social justice and equity issues in modern marijuana reform.  But do not take my word for it, and everyone can now watch the full event via the video link on this page.  In addition, Jimi Devine at The Village Voice did this thorough review of the panel discussion under the headline "The Time Has Come for Cannabis Equity." Here is how the review gets started:

As cannabis legalization enters its newest phase with social equity dominating the conversation, Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law hosted an advocate and regulator-packed panel to map out a path to Social Equity 2.0.

The Tri-State was well represented on the panel. Incoming New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission chair Dianna Houenou spoke to how the issue had been embedded from the start in her new state agency. Minority Cannabis Business Association President Jason Ortiz spoke about the current effort in Connecticut to put equity front and center in the conversation.

The pair were joined by Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker’s senior advisor for cannabis control, Toi Hutchinson, and former Massachusetts Cannabis Commission member Shaleen Title. Both have championed the issue in their respective states over the years. Politico’s Natalie Fertig led the conversation.

Meanwhile, I have see a lot more significant coverage of equity issues in all sorts of distinct media in recent weeks. Here is a sampling:

From the AP, "Marijuana social equity: Seeds planted but will they grow?"

From Brookings, "State cannabis reform is putting social justice front and center"

From MJBizDaily, "New York’s marijuana social equity program eyed as possible game changer"

From Self, "What Will It Take to Build a Truly Equitable Cannabis Industry?"

May 6, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Effective coverage of marijuana expungement efforts and work still to do

Marijuana-record-relief-map.4.29.21-1024x890The PBS News Hour has this great new and lengthy piece about marijuana expungement laws and practices under the headline "As more states legalize marijuana, people with drug convictions want their records cleared."  Regular readers know I have long been invested in these issues  (see my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"), and I am especially pleased that folks at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center worked with folks at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center to create the national map found in the PBS piece and reprinted here.  I recommend the PBS piece in full, and here are some excerpts:

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana over the last nine years, and industry advocates have applauded measures to de-stigmatize the substance and bring major revenue to state coffers.  But for people with lingering drug convictions like Michael, the news has raised more questions about what legalization means for their criminal records.

Currently in Virginia, “you have to go through all these hoops and loopholes to actually have an expungement,” Michael said.  This may soon change.  Like many other states that recently legalized marijuana, Virginia lawmakers included provisions in their legislation that over several years will allow for the automatic expungement of certain marijuana convictions, meaning people like Michael may one day see their records cleared without having to petition to do so.

Such measures signal a broader effort by lawmakers to right the wrongs of the war on drugs, a decades-long campaign by federal and state governments to crack down on use of illegal drugs that also helped incarceration balloon in the U.S.  States have begun to legalize substances like marijuana that have disproportionately imprisoned Black and brown Americans over the last 50 years, affecting their access to employment, education and housing.  Racial justice advocates argue that state legislatures should not consider legalization bills unless they include proposals to help people easily expunge their records, as well as eliminate some of the barriers to entry Americans of color face when looking for work in the cannabis industry.

But just as states did not legalize recreational marijuana overnight, the lingering effects of the war on drugs are not likely to quickly disappear.  Though Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pushed to make cannabis legal in the state by the beginning of July, for example, many expungement provisions in the legalization and record-sealing laws are not set to take full effect until 2025 as state police and courts need time to update their computer systems and processes.

As a result, many Americans with marijuana charges on their records are currently living in a grey area, cautiously optimistic about the wave of legalization taking place but unclear what it means for their future.  “[Politicians] are making strides toward being really liberal and legalizing [weed], and that’s cool, but at the same time I served 10 years for this,” said Harry Kelso, another Virginia resident who served time in prison for possession and distribution.  “So at some point, I feel like I deserve some reparations.”...

Pauline Quirion, director of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) & Re-Entry Project at Greater Boston Legal Services and an adviser to Mass CultivatED program participants, said she thinks it’s a good sign when she works with clients seeking to seal or expunge their records because it means they’re focused on securing a career.  She said that the adverse effects of a criminal record are evident from their experiences with the job search process. “Some clients have applied for like 200 jobs and they’re rejected, but they keep applying,” she said.  “So you have to have a lot of stamina to find employment.”...

David Schlussel, an expert on marijuana expungement with the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, said recent efforts to pass laws to expunge marijuana records in states such as Virginia, New Mexico, and Arizona signal a greater awareness of the harmful impact cannabis continues to have on communities targeted by the criminal justice system.  He said that when states first began legalizing recreational marijuana 10 years ago, they rarely considered legislation that would help people clear their records.  Campaign messaging to promote the new laws in states such as Colorado and Washington was usually driven by consumerism and tax benefits rather than racial justice.  Schlussel said this began to change as lawmakers began to emphasize the necessity of racial justice in marijuana reform in their messages to voters, which in turn gave it more political capital.

More than 20 states have passed reforms related to marijuana expungement, Schlussel said, with outcomes ranging from automatic pardons for a broad range of offenses to the possibility of expungement for a narrower set of charges.  But once these laws are on the books, states could very well face challenges getting a variety of marijuana charges expunged, he added.  While states like New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico recently passed bills to automatically expunge a wide range of marijuana offenses from people’s records, others have pursued approaches that are resource-intensive and still include a number of hurdles for people who want their offenses cleared.

In Arizona, where recreational marijuana recently became legal, expungement is possible but not automatic.  Julie Gunnigle, who ran unsuccessfully for Maricopa County attorney in the fall, said clearing Arizonans’ records is dependent on the support of county attorneys and the state’s attorney general, making it subject to the whims of politicians who may not necessarily be inclined to clear a broad swath of charges.  Although Gunnigle praised the “first-of-its-kind” expungement law that recently passed along with legalization, she added that “it is now going to be incumbent on leaders to find the folks who are eligible or those who are eligible to come forward and file these petitions if they want to get justice.”

May 4, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

"Reflexive Federalism" reviews Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane

9780815737896_FCI believe I have previously noted some of the marijuana reform essays in the terrific collection published last year by Brookings under the title "Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane." (Information about the book can be found here and here.)  I am now pleased to see that Paul Larkin, Jr. has this notable new article titled "Reflexive Federalism" which engages with many of the ideas and essays in Marijuana Federalism.  Here is its abstract:

Over the last twenty-plus years, a majority of states have concluded that marijuana has legitimate therapeutic and recreational value, and those states allow private parties to cultivate, sell, possess, and use it under a state regulatory régime.  Consequently, we have witnessed the development of state cannabis regulatory programs that are inconsistent legally, practically, and theoretically with the approach that our national government has taken for fifty years.  How do we resolve that conflict between state and federal law?  The Supreme Court has refused to take this issue away from the political branches of the federal government by ruling that it is a matter within the states’ bailiwick.  The Executive Branch has failed to take a coherent position regarding whether, when, and how it will enforce the existing federal law.  And Congress has abdicated its responsibility to clarify what should be federal policy in a field where only Congress can decide.  The result is that we have one law for Athens and one for Rome. Not surprisingly, that strategy is not working for anyone other than those members of Congress who wish to avoid casting a vote on the issue.

Some of Marijuana Federalism’s contributors encourage Congress to “cowboy up” politically and eliminate the disarray in the law by leaving it to each state to decide, while others try to persuade the Supreme Court to take another whack at the issue and rule that Congress cannot generally regulate the intrastate sale of cannabis.  The threads that tie the essays together are the potential benefits we might see from permitting multiple states to devise different regulatory approaches and the affinity for decentralized decision-making built into our Constitution’s DNA.  What Marijuana Federalism is missing, however, is a treatment of the argument that Congress should leave decisions regarding the recreational use of marijuana to the states, but not whether it has legitimate medical uses. For 80 years the nation has entrusted the Food and Drug Administration with the responsibility to decide what is a “drug” and what drugs are “safe” and “effective.”  There is no good reason to treat cannabis differently.

April 28, 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)

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Notable new group, the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, seeks to advance end of marijuana prohibition

Cannabis-freedom-allianceAs discussed in this new Politico piece, headlined "Koch, Snoop Dogg join forces to push marijuana legalization," there is another notable new advocacy group focused on marijuana reform.  Here is how the Politico article gets started:

What do you get when weed-loving rapper Snoop Dogg, right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and criminal justice reform advocate Weldon Angelos walk into a Zoom room?   The Cannabis Freedom Alliance, a new coalition launching Tuesday that could change the dynamics of the marijuana legalization debate, as first reported by POLITICO.

The organization includes Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers; the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank; marijuana trade organization the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce; and The Weldon Project, a nonprofit that advocates for the release of individuals incarcerated for marijuana offenses.

The movement for marijuana legalization has long been dominated by left-leaning organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  And despite a handful of congressional Republicans supporting the issue, most legalization proponents in Congress are Democrats.  “We can’t cut with one scissor blade.  We need Republicans in order to pass [a legalization bill],” said Angelos, founder of the Weldon Project. Angelos served 13 years of a 55-year sentence for marijuana trafficking charges, and got a full pardon from former President Donald Trump last December.

The background: The idea for the Cannabis Freedom Alliance sprouted from a Zoom call between Angelos, Snoop Dogg and Koch last summer.  Koch expressed support for legalizing all drugs, to the surprise of Angelos. “I had known that his position on drugs was very libertarian,” Angelos said. “I just didn't know that he supported the legalization of all drugs.”

Angelos connected with the Koch network for its help in advocating for legalization at the federal level, which he believes is now more important than ever with Democrats in control of Congress. Prior to flipping the Senate, then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a barrier to any marijuana legislation coming to the floor. But now with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushing the issue as a priority, a marijuana bill could very well come up for a vote. “We need 10 to 12 Republican senators,” Angelos said. “With Koch’s influence, I think that's likely a possibility.”

The website for the Cannabis Freedom Alliance is available here, and its one-page Statement of Principles can be found here. (Disclosure: The Ohio State University's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC), which I help run, was founded with a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, and a long time ago I served as co-counsel for Weldon Angelos as he pursued relief through a 2255 motion.  But I have never met Snoop Dogg.)

April 6, 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 (1)

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Senate majority leader shrewdly emphasizing "freedom" in his push for federal marijuana reform

11119_Weed_Legalize_Freedom_Decal_Sticker_DM__26064.1538472841.1280.1280The federal marijauan reform bill that passed through the US House late last year was the "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act" (the MORE Act).  But the marijuana reform bill that Senator Chuck Schumer first introducted in the US Senate in 2018 was called the "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act."  I find the names of these bills particularly notable upon seeing this new Politico interview with now-majority-leader Schumer headlined "Schumer: Senate will act on marijuana legalization with or without Biden."  As highlighted by these excerpts, Senator Schumer seem especially eager to play up the freedom theme in explaining his reasons for supporting reform (my ephasis added):

Schumer: In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition.  I'm sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved.  When a few of the early states — Oregon and Colorado — wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up.  Drug use would go up.   Everything bad would happen.

The legalization of states worked out remarkably well.  They were a great success.  The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.

I think the American people started speaking with a clear message — more than two to one — that they want the law changed.  When a state like South Dakota votes by referendum to legalize, you know something is out there.

Was there a specific moment or a specific experience that you can point to and say, “This is when I started to see this issue differently?”

A while back — I can't remember the exact year — I was in Denver.  I just started talking to people, not just elected officials, but just average folks.

[They said] it benefited the state, and [didn’t] hurt the state.  There were tax revenues, but people had freedom to do what they wanted to do, as long as they weren't hurting other people.  That's part of what America is about.  And they were exultant in it.

Perhaps because it plays well to my libertarian instincts, I find this focus on "freedom" to be appealing and shrewd as a central part of a pitch for federal marijuana reforms.  I find the freedom focus appealing because I like the general notion that the federal government generally ought not be prohibiting personal freedoms, and especially ought not be using the weighty tools of the federal criminal justice system to advance prohibitions, unless and until we can be generally confident that federal prohibition is doing more good than harm.

Perhaps more importantly, I find the freedom focus shrewd because it lines up with a lot of the smaller-government rhetoric, past and present, often coming from GOP policians and activists.  Whether it is the congressional Freedom Caucus or opposition to gun control or COVID rules or a host of other issues, there are lots of Republican who loudly claim to be ever eager to shrink the size and power of the federal government in order to increase the freedom of individuals (and/or states and localities). Against this political backdrop, I think Senator Schumer is already trying to position any vote against federal marijuana reform as a vote against freedom.

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

Friday, March 19, 2021

Marijuana use still proving hurdle to working in White House despite Prez Biden's advocacy for reform

6054e3359505d732ff68aa75_o_U_v2As reported in this Daily Beast piece,"dozens of young White House staffers have been suspended, asked to resign, or placed in a remote work program due to past marijuana use, frustrating staffers who were pleased by initial indications from the Biden administration that recreational use of cannabis would not be immediately disqualifying for would-be personnel, according to three people familiar with the situation." Here is more:

The policy has even affected staffers whose marijuana use was exclusive to one of the 14 states — and the District of Columbia — where cannabis is legal.  Sources familiar with the matter also said a number of young staffers were either put on probation or canned because they revealed past marijuana use in an official document they filled out as part of the lengthy background check for a position in the Biden White House.

In some cases, staffers were informally told by transition higher-ups ahead of formally joining the administration that they would likely overlook some past marijuana use, only to be asked later to resign.  “There were one-on-one calls with individual affected staffers — rather, ex-staffers,” one former White House staffer affected by the policy told The Daily Beast. “I was asked to resign.”...

In response to this news story, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted out on Friday an NBC News report from February stating that the Biden administration wouldn’t automatically disqualify applicants if they admitted to past marijuana use.  Psaki said of the hundreds of people hired in the administration, only five who had started working at the White House are “no longer employed as a result of this policy.”

Psaki didn’t note how many had been disqualified for a White House job before actually starting, nor did she note how many were suspended or relegated to remote work, but she did send an additional statement to The Daily Beast on Friday. “In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use.  While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated,” Psaki said.

The White House said in February it intended — for some candidates — to waive the requirement that all potential appointees in the Executive Office of the President be able to obtain a “top secret” clearance.  The rules about past marijuana use and eligibility for the clearance vary, depending on the agency: For the FBI, an applicant can’t have used marijuana in the past three years; at the NSA, it’s only one.  The White House, however, largely calls its own shots, and officials at the time told NBC News that as long as past use was “limited” and the candidate wasn’t pursuing a position that required a security clearance, past use may be excused.

Asked about the policy and its effect on the administration’s staffing Thursday night, a White House spokesperson disputed the number of affected staff, but said the Biden administration is “committed to bringing the best people into government — especially the young people whose commitment to public service can deepen in these positions,” and noted that the White House’s approach to past marijuana use is much more flexible than previous administrations....

Some of these dismissals, probations and remote work appointments could have potentially been a result of inconsistencies that came up during the background-check process, where a staffer could have, for example, misstated the last time they used marijuana.  The effect of the policy, however, would be the same: The Biden White House would be punishing various staffers for violating thresholds of past cannabis use that would-be staffers didn’t know about....

The Biden administration has attempted to modernize the White House’s personnel policy as it relates to past marijuana use, which has disproportionately affected younger appointees and those from states where marijuana has been decriminalized or legalized. (Marijuana, of course, remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.) The number of allowable instances of past marijuana use was increased from the Trump and Obama administrations — a reflection of the drug’s widespread use — and the White House approved limited exemptions for candidates whose positions don’t require security clearances.  Those employees, like all those at the White House, must commit to not using marijuana while serving in the federal government and must submit to random drug testing.

The president, however, remains the final authority on who can receive a clearance, and the chief executive can overrule agency judgments on eligibility, as President Donald Trump did when he granted his son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret clearance over the objections of the intelligence community and his own counsel.

March 19, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Employment and labor law issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 1, 2021

AG-nominee Merrick Garland elaborates his views on marijuana prohibition enforcement

Senate-Supreme-Court-4-1609954094The folks at Marijuana Moment have this new lengthy piece, headlined "Biden AG Pick Restates Pledge To Respect State Marijuana Laws, In Writing," reporting on AG Merrick Garland's written responses to questions from Senators about marijuana enforcement. Here are some highlights:

President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as U.S. attorney general has reiterated in written testimony to multiple senators that he does not feel the Department of Justice should be using its resources to prosecute people who are acting in compliance with state marijuana laws....

“I do not think it the best use of the Department’s limited resources to pursue prosecutions of those who are complying with the laws in states that have legalized and are effectively regulating marijuana,” he said in response to a question from Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) about how he would navigate the federal-state marijuana policy conflict. “I do think we need to be sure, for example, that there are no end runs around the state laws by criminal enterprises, and that access is prohibited to minors.”

That view is consistent with policies put into place under Obama — known as the Cole memorandum — and then rescinded by President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

Pressed on whether he generally supports efforts to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, the attorney general nominee didn’t give a specific answer but gave an answer focused solely on the harms of current punitive policies.

“Criminalizing the use of marijuana has contributed to mass incarceration and racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” he wrote, “and has made it difficult for millions of Americans to find employment due to criminal records for nonviolent offenses.”...

But while Garland’s responses reflect a friendly attitude toward cannabis policy as far as advocates are concerned, he did say in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) about prosecutorial discretion that “the Executive Branch cannot simply decide, based on a policy disagreement, that it will not enforce a law at all.”

Another Grassley question noted Biden’s ongoing opposition to federal legalization and support for decriminalizing cannabis possession and expunging prior marijuana records. He asked whether Garland sees “any contradictions” in that policy stance.

“As I testified at my hearing, it is important to focus our attention on violent crimes and other crimes that greatly endanger our society, and prosecutions for simple marijuana possession are not an effective use of limited resources,” the judge replied. “As I testified, we have seen disparate treatment in these prosecutions that has had a harmful impact on people and communities of color, including stymied employment opportunities and social and economic instability.”

March 1, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

"Cannabis Croynism"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report just released by the Government Accountability Institute.  Here is part of the report's executive summary:

Cannabis legalization in the United States has come a long way . In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use only.  This past November, five more states legalized marijuana, and 47 of the 50 states now allow its recreational or medical use.  While governments this Spring were imposing lockdowns and closures of most businesses, churches and schools to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, marijuana dispensaries joined pharmacies and liquor stores as “essential businesses” that must remain open in California.

While he was the first governor to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, Governor Gavin Newsom of California kept marijuana available.  Other states would soon follow: Thirty states in total that issued statewide stay-at-home orders would allow dispensaries of some kind, including recreational, to remain open.

While some claim that cannabis dispensaries were truly as important as pharmacies, which also remained open during statewide lockdowns, other factors may have contributed to this decision.  Whatever its medicinal and recreational benefits, cannabis has evolved into a nearly $21 billion industry that lobbies, pressures, and rewards politicians who look out for it.

In August 2019, the FBI announced it was investigating public corruption in the cannabis industry through pay-to-play bribery schemes. This announcement came at a time when the debate in the United States over the pros and cons of legalizing pot had mostly concluded. Officials in many states have routinely ignored federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana, effectively giving regulatory authority over marijuana to individual states.

There are now far more states where marijuana is fully legal than where it is illegal.  Twelve states have decided through referendum, and two states through legislative action, to legalize recreational use of marijuana.  Just three states – Nebraska, Kansas, and Idaho – still prohibit any use of marijuana, while the remaining forty-seven states have opted for legalization in some form.

With this new authority, state officials must now create specific regulations.  Where states have approved legal marijuana, politicians must make licensing rules for detailing which businesses may distribute such products, and who may purchase them. As with any new market, laws and regulations inevitably will pick the winners and losers in this emerging industry, whose value may be as high as $35 billion by 2025.

As with any economic activity regulated by the government, affected businesses seek an advantage by hiring insiders who have access to those close to the regulatory process.  They also make campaign contributions to well-positioned politicians.

And while most cannabis-related regulatory and legislative action is happening at the state level, some national level political figures have leveraged their positions to make money from cannabis legalization.  For example, in 2017, Paul Pelosi Jr., the son of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was named Chairman of the Board of Directors of Freedom Leaf, Inc., a consulting firm advising the budding marijuana industry.  The following year, the company entered the CBD distribution business, while Pelosi purchased more than $100,000 in company stock.

Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who staunchly opposed legalizing marijuana in Congress, is now bullish on the industry.  “This is one of the most exciting opportunities you’ll ever be part of,” he says in a video announcing his new National Institute for Cannabis Investors.  “Frankly, we can help you make a potential fortune.”  Boehner stands to earn an estimated $20 million if his group succeeds in persuading the federal government to legitimize marijuana.

Still, for now, the states are where most of the action on marijuana distribution is found, and where the greatest threat of political corruption exists.  The Government Accountability Institute (GAI), whose mission is to expose cronyism, reviewed the process related to legalizing marijuana in seven states.  For each state we reviewed, GAI focused on identifying the relationships between policy decisions that benefited advocates of marijuana legalization and the transfer of money and other benefits from marijuana-related businesses and lobbyists to elected officials.

While each state possessed a unique set of circumstances related to legalizing marijuana, our research found striking similarities in how cronyism in these states occurred.  For example, in several states, elected officials and government employees made decisions that ultimately benefited them financially.

February 9, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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)