Tuesday, April 6, 2021
As 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
The federal marijauan reform bill that passed through the US House late last year was the "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act" (the
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
As 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.
Monday, March 1, 2021
The 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.”
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
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)
Monday, February 8, 2021
State judge declares South Dakota ballot iniative legalizing marijuana invalid for covering "multiple subjects"
This AP article, headlined "South Dakota judge strikes down voter-approved measure legalizing marijuana," reports on a notable state ruling from the Mount Rushmore State. Here are the basics:
A South Dakota judge on Monday struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana. Circuit Judge Christina Klinger ruled the measure approved by voters in November violated the state’s requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject.
Lawyers on both sides have said they expect the issue to be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.
Two law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, sued to block legalization by challenging its constitutionality. Miller was effectively acting on behalf of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who had opposed the effort to legalize pot.
Lawyers for the law enforcement officers argued that the ballot initiative violated a rule that constitutional amendments must only address one subject. They also said that by giving the Department of Revenue the power to tax and regulate marijuana, it improperly elevated the department to a fourth branch of state government.
Lawyers defending legalization dismissed those arguments and said the lawsuit was an effort to overturn the results of a fair election. About 54 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana. Possessing small amounts of marijuana would have become legal on July 1, but that will not happen unless a higher court overturns the ruling.
The full ruling is available at ths link.
Monday, February 1, 2021
Key Democratic Senators pledging to soon "release a unified discussion draft" to advance "comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the 117th Congress"
There is notable marijuana reform news from Capitol Hill today, well covered by this Marijuana Moment piece headlined "Democratic Senate Leaders Announce Steps To Federally Legalize Marijuana In 2021." Here are the basics:
Three leading champions of marijuana reform in Congress said on Monday that the issue will be prioritized in the new Democratic Senate this year and that they plan to release draft legislation in the coming weeks to begin a conversation about what the federal policy change will look like.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a joint statement that ending cannabis prohibition “is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country,” but that alone “is not enough.”...
This is a narrative that’s been building in recent months, with Schumer saying on several occasions both before and after the election that he would work to move reform legislation with his new power to control the Senate floor agenda. Since Democrats secured a majority in the chamber, the stage is set for action....
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has spent decades working to end marijuana prohibition and is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a press release that he’s encouraged that Senate’s new majority is “prepared to move forward together on comprehensive cannabis legislation.” He added that the House-passed Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to legalize marijuana “is a great foundation” for reform in the 117th Congress. The new legislation would likely be referred to Wyden’s panel, the Senate Finance Committee, for consideration once introduced....
Recent comments from the Schumer, the majority leader, indicate that whatever bill is filed will likely include components of multiple pieces of legislation from the last Congress, which he said are actively being merged....
Already in 2021, two congressional marijuana bills have been filed: one to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act and another to prevent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from denying veterans benefits solely because they use medical marijuana in compliance with state law.
Read the full joint statement on Senate marijuana reform priorities below:
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued the following joint statement regarding comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the 117th Congress:
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.
“We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority.
“In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations. Getting input from stakeholder group will be an important part of developing this critical legislation.”
I am pleased to see this reform effort moving forward, and it will be especially interest to see when this unified discussion draft will be released and what provisions it will include. I am inclined to guess that the draft will be public sometime in late March or early April (I hope not on 4/20), and that the draft will look somewhat like, but not exactly like, the MORE bill that made it through the House last year. Interesting times
February 1, 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, January 20, 2021
Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which describes itself as "the nation’s leading organization opposed to the commercialization of marijuana," today released this short report titled "TEN POINTS ON MARIJUANA REFORM: Science And Policy Recommendations For The Biden Administration." This press release claims that the report is "centered on the President-Elect’s marijuana policy position and the platform of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force," and here is the list of 10 recommendations from the report:
Adjust Federal Criminal Penalties for Use; Model Law of States (Congress, DOJ, ONDCP)
Commence a Science-Based Education and Awareness Campaign to Discourage Young People from Using Marijuana and Educate Parents on Today’s High Potency THC (HHS/CDC)
Expand Options for Marijuana Researchers (Congress, HHS/NIH/NIDA/DOJ/DEA)
Publish a Surgeon General Report on the State of Science (HHS/ASH/OSG)
Appoint Bi-Partisan Commission to Examine Scheduling Options (EOP/ONDCP)
Urge Reimbursers to Treat Marijuana Use Disorder (HHS/CMS)
Fund Efforts to Monitor Youth Marijuana Marketing (HHS/CDC)
Increase Funding for Counterdrug/Marijuana Production Operations (ONDCP/HIDTA, DOJ/DEA)
Fund Data Monitoring Systems Like DAWN and ADAM (HHS/SAMHSA, DOJ/BJA)
Appoint ONDCP Director Whose Position on Marijuana is Consistent with the President-Elect, and Elevate to the Cabinet (WHO/PPO)
Thursday, December 31, 2020
The title of this post is the headline of this new Marijuana Moment piece, which I thought must include a typo because how could there be "half a million" arrests or convictions to eliminate. But then I remembered how many people bear scars from marijuana prohibition, and sp here is the story:
The governor of Illinois on Thursday announced more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level marijuana offenses on their records. The massive clemency and records clearing sweep comes about one year after the state’s legal cannabis market launched. Prior to its implementation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) granted an earlier round of more than 11,000 pardons for marijuana-related convictions.
The new effort saw slightly fewer gubernatorial pardons (9,219), but an additional 492,129 expungements for people convicted over non-felony cannabis offenses. The Illinois State Police helped facilitate the record clearing process.
Illinois’s marijuana legalization law includes restorative justice components that require the state to proactively expunge certain cannabis convictions — but this development puts Illinois four years ahead of schedule. “Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said in a press release. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past — and the decency to set a better path forward.”
“I applaud the Prisoner Review Board, the Illinois State Police, and our partners across the state for their extraordinary efforts that allowed these pardons and expungements to become a reality,” Pritzker, who alluded to the additional pardons in October, added.
Toi Hutchinson, a senior cannabis advisor to the governor, said she is “heartened by the progress we have made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs.”
“We are one year into what will be an ongoing effort to correct historic wrongdoings,” she said. “The administration remains committed to working with legislators to address any challenges to equity and on building an industry that re-invests in our state’s communities.” According to the press release, “the expungement process has been completed at the state level,” but “county clerks are still processing expungements at the local level.”
The Marijuana Moment article concludes by noting some other states that have been working to ensure marijuana reform serves as a form of criminal justice reform:
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is being pressed by civil rights groups to systematically issue pardons for people with marijuana convictions to supplement the state’s voter-approved move to legalize cannabis.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) used a recently enacted law to grant nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.
In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor and Board of Pardons Commissioners.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has also issued pardons for cannabis offenses.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
The title of this post is the headline of this great new lengthy Politico article, which is summarized by its subheadline: "By making local officials the gatekeepers for million-dollar businesses, states created a breeding ground for bribery and favoritism." I recommend the piece in full, and here is a small taste:
In the past decade, 15 states have legalized a regulated marijuana market for adults over 21, and another 17 have legalized medical marijuana. But in their rush to limit the numbers of licensed vendors and give local municipalities control of where to locate dispensaries, they created something else: A market for local corruption.
Almost all the states that legalized pot either require the approval of local officials – as in Massachusetts – or impose a statewide limit on the number of licenses, chosen by a politically appointed oversight board, or both. These practices effectively put million-dollar decisions in the hands of relatively small-time political figures – the mayors and councilors of small towns and cities, along with the friends and supporters of politicians who appoint them to boards. And these strictures have given rise to the exact type of corruption that got [Fall River Mayor Jasiel] Correia in trouble with federal prosecutors. They have also created a culture in which would-be cannabis entrepreneurs feel obliged to make large campaign contributions or hire politically connected lobbyists.
For some entrepreneurs, the payments can seem worth the ticket to cannabis riches. For some politicians, the lure of a bribe or favor can be irresistible.
Correia’s indictment alleges that he extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies in exchange for granting them the local approval letters that are necessary prerequisites for obtaining Massachusetts licenses. Correia and his co-conspirators — staffers and friends — accepted a variety of bribes including cash, more than a dozen pounds of marijuana and a “Batman” Rolex watch worth up to $12,000, the indictment charges.
December 27, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
A few months ago there was lots of excitement about the announced plans for the US House of Representatives to vote on H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE Act). But House leadership put off the vote until after the 2020 election, and now excitement is growing again as a vote is being discussed again. This new Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week," provides an effective accounting of where matters stand. Here is how it starts:
A key House committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing to advance a bill to federally legalize marijuana toward a full floor vote, which could then happen as soon as Thursday. Meanwhile, leaders in the chamber are proposing an amendment that would make several changes to the cannabis legislation. Among the most significant revisions would be to the tax-related provisions of the bill.
The Rules Committee’s move to take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act follows Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announcement that the chamber would be holding a floor vote on the bill before the end of the year.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill, transmitted it to Rules with the series of modifications—many of them technical in nature. But beyond the tax changes, the newly proposed language also reaffirms the regulatory authority of certain federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clarifies that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers. Other members of the House are likely to file proposed amendments as well, though the Democratic majority of the Rules panel will determine which ones can be made in order for floor votes later this week.
Because there is zero chance that the MORE Act will move forward in the Senate during this Congress, this House vote may seem mostly symbolic. (Indeed, this new Politico piece, headlined "Why the next Congress is unlikely to legalize marijuana," highlights why marijuana reform is likely to remain an uphill battle in the Senate even in 2021 and beyond.) But Jacob Sullum has this new Reason piece, headlined "Will a Historic House Vote on Marijuana Legalization Nudge Biden Toward More Ambitious Reforms?," which rightly suggests the vote could have an impact on Joe Biden and the work of the incoming Biden Administration. As Sullum puts it, any "historic House vote to repeal [the federal marijuana] ban would allow him to go further than he has so far without sacrificing his cherished reputation as a moderate."
I share Sullum's view that the House lame-duck vote on the MORE Act could prove to be consequential, though my take is that the answer to the question in the title of this post could and likely will prove to be the most important part of the story (perhaps along with how many Democrats vote against the MORE Act). If the MORE Act passes with only D support, the discourse over federal marijuana reforms is likely to remain quite partisan for the months and years to come. But if more than a handful of GOP Representatives vote for the MORE Act, it will become that much easier for reform advocates to portray future federal efforts as bipartisan.
Notably, Florida GOP Rep, Matt Gaetz was one of the original 29 co-sponsors of the MORE Act. The Act now has 120 co-sponsors, but Rep. Gaetz is still the only GOP Rep among that number. My understanding is that there may be a few more GOP Reps who would ultimately vote for the MORE Act. But without more than just token GOP support, I doubt even a passing vote on the MORE Act will be as consequential as many reformers might hope.
December 1, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Four years ago, I suggested in a post, titled "Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform, that Hillary Clinton's close loss in the 2016 Presidential election migtht have had a different outcome if she had been a vocal and consistent advocate for major marijuana reforms. Among other points in that post, I noted that third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had both advocated for full marijuana legalization and that Clinton might have prevailed in key swing states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin simply by peeling off some of their support voa support for marijuana reforms.
I am reminded of this now long-ago post, and prompted to ask the question in the title of this post, by this new commentary by Don Murphy of Marijuana Policy Project over at Marijuana Moment. The piece, titled "Did Trump’s Failure To Embrace Marijuana Legalization Cost Him Votes?," is worth a full read and here are snippets:
As a candidate [in 2016], Trump said he was in favor of medical marijuana… “100 percent.” He also said he knew sick people who use marijuana for medical purposes and that, “it really does help them.” I knew then that he was sympathetic to patients and to our cause. And he thought legalizing marijuana should be left up to the states. I was dealt a pretty good hand....
Knowing he agreed with the policy and could witness firsthand the value of the politics, I was just waiting for executive action. In August, in anticipation of an ‘October Surprise,’ MPP hand-delivered to the administration a list of what Trump could do to bring this civil war to an end. Yet they never acted.
When it was apparent that the Democratic nominee would be the author of the ‘94 crime bill, Joe Biden, the RNC and the Trump campaign were quick to juxtapose Trump’s criminal justice reform efforts with Biden’s “lock ‘em up” history. But it was difficult to make the case that Biden was bad on cannabis when Trump wasn’t yet good on cannabis. Trump’s vocal support of STATES was negated by his nomination of Jeff “good people don’t smoke pot” Sessions as Attorney General and Sessions’ subsequent repeal of the Cole Memo.
Finally in August, the president blamed marijuana ballot initiatives for the defeat of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for bringing “out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.” I knew then that Trump understood the benefit of being on the right side of reform. Yet he never acted.
Maybe Trump is right, maybe not. According to an analysis by Marijuana Moment, one thing is certain: sharing your ballot with cannabis will embarrass you. In the red states, in the blue states and in the battleground states, pot is more popular than the pols. This year, medical cannabis beat the president in South Dakota and Mississippi. Adult-use bested all the Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates in Montana and beat both Trump and Biden in New Jersey and Arizona.
If Trump is correct, there is a certain irony that, less than three months after his remarks to Walker, cannabis got 60 percent, Trump 49 percent in battleground Arizona. His margin was razor thin. In a race where everything mattered, marijuana votes mattered. Did being on the wrong side of cannabis not only embarrass Trump (and McSally) in Arizona, but also cost him the state’s 11 electoral votes and maybe the White House? Based on his comments in Wisconsin, Trump must think so.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
In this post four years ago, right after then Prez-elect Donald Trump had named then-Senator Jeff Sessions to be his first Attorney General, I highlighted various political and practical reasons why I did not expect AG Sessions or the broader Trump Administration to dramatically thwart the state-driven momentum toward marijuana reform. I think that post has aged pretty well, as marijuana reform proved in the 2020 election cycle to be quite popular in blue, purple and red states. Results in in Arizona, which voted on full legalization initiatives in both 2016 and 2020, is perhaps especially informative: marijuana legalization was voted down 51% to 49% in 2016, and then was approved 60% to 40% in 2020.
Notably, as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions perhaps hoped to slow the state marijuana reform momentum by rescinding in early 2018 the Justice Department's "hands off" enforcement memos of the Obama era (basics here and here). But that move, by triggering backlash of various sorts and not really amounting to much, may have actually helped the state-level reform cause. And, of course, AG Sessions was fired before the end of the year, and the 2018 election cycle brought important initiative reforms in the midwest and western states of Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. Whenever the definitive history of modern US marijuana reform gets written, it will be valuable to note that Prez Trump, by essentially ignoring the issue for his entire time in office, allowed bipartisan momentum for reform to continue growing at the state level.
I am ruminating about these realities in reaction to seeing this piece from Gallup earlier this week headlined "Support for Legal Marijuana Inches Up to New High of 68%." Here are excerpts:
Americans are more likely now than at any point in the past five decades to support the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. The 68% of U.S. adults who currently back the measure is not statistically different from last year's 66%; however, it is nominally Gallup's highest reading, exceeding the 64% to 66% range seen from 2017 to 2019....
The latest data are from a Sept. 30-Oct. 15 poll, conducted before the election that saw marijuana legalization proposals on the ballot in several states. Voters in all of these states -- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota -- authorized the legal use of recreational marijuana in the Nov. 3 election. They join 11 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing pot for recreational purposes. Additionally, voters in Mississippi and South Dakota join 33 states and the District of Columbia in passing laws legalizing or decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes....
Majorities of most demographic subgroups of Americans support legalizing marijuana, including by gender, age, education and household income. Yet there is considerable variation in the extent of support within each group, as men, younger adults, college graduates and those in households with incomes of at least $100,000 are more likely than their counterparts to favor legalization....
Most politically left-leaning and middle-of-the-road Americans remain supportive of legalizing marijuana, while less than half of those who lean right favor it. Over eight in 10 Democrats and liberals, and more than seven in 10 independents and moderates, back legalization, but just under half of Republicans and conservatives do.
Views of legalization also differ greatly depending on frequency of attendance at religious services. A slim majority of those who say they attend weekly oppose legalization. Yet, about three in five of those who attend nearly weekly or monthly, and about four in five who attend less frequently, favor legalizing marijuana.
The 83% of Democrats and 72% of independents who prefer legalization are the highest readings in the trend for both groups, but Republicans' current 48% is down slightly from slim majorities in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
One could seek to draw lots of political lessons, past and future, from these data. For now I am content to just capture this polling snapshot while also recalling that social and political views on marijuana have been quite variable over time throughout US history. Anyone who thinks certain trends are inevitable, either short- or long-term, has not learned some of the key lessons from our history.
November 11, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
"Potus and Pot: Why the President May Not (and Should Not) Legalize Marijuana Through Executive Action"
The title of this post is the title of this essay authored by Robert Mikos. The essay was written and posted to SSRN months before the November election, but it is arguably even more timely today. Here is the piece's abstract:
Could the President legalize marijuana, without waiting for Congress to act? The 2020 Presidential Election has shown that this question is far from hypothetical. Seeking to capitalize on frustration with the slow pace of federal legislative reform, several erstwhile presidential candidates promised they would bypass the logjam in Congress and legalize marijuana through executive action instead. This Essay warns that such promises are both misguided and dangerous, because they ignore statutory and constitutional constraints on the President’s authority to effect legal change. It explains why supporters of marijuana reform should be wary of legalizing the drug through executive action, even if that means having to wait for Congress to pass new legislation. To be clear, this Essay is not a defense of our current federal marijuana policy. That policy is a mess, regardless of one’s views towards legalization. But proponents of reform need to recognize that Congress made this mess, and only Congress is capable of cleaning it up.
November 11, 2020 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)
Sunday, November 8, 2020
In what states (and how quickly) might we now see marijuana reform through the traditional legislative process?
I mentioned briefly in this post a few days ago that the big wins at the polls for marijuana reform in red and blue states nationwide will surely have all sorts of future reform echoes. As the question in the title of this post flags, I am especially intrigued to watch, in the short term, developments in various states in which we might reasonably expect the traditional legislative process to now take up reform.
The most obvious answer to the question in the post title flows from the big win for full legalization reform in New Jersey. That result, for reasons discussed a bit in this prior post, certainly should increase the likelihood of traditional legislative reforms neighboring New York and Pennsylvania and maybe even a few other mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. I have also seen mentioned that New Mexico might be a lot more likely to move forward with reforms now that legalization prevailed in Arizona.
But, of course, New Jersey ended up having a ballot initiative this election cycle because its legislature could not agree on a framework for legalization through the traditional legislative process. New Jersey demonstrated in 2019 that even when a legislature has "the will" for marijuana reform, it might not always readily find "the way." So even if legislatures in New York and other states now seriously commit themselves to full legalization, turning that kind of commitment into completed legislation can still prove challenging.
One final element to consider here are states that seem likely to have state legalization ballot initiatives in the works for 2022. In states like Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma and a few others, I wonder if legislatures might have the wisdom and foresight to consider moving forward with reform through the (somewhat controllable) legislative process rather than just allowing reform to be defined by the (advocate controlled) ballot initiative process. Interesting times.
November 8, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Some (too early) speculations on the (uncertain) future of marijuana reform after big state wins Election Night 2020
As of Wednesday morning after a very long 2020 Election Night, there is a lot which remains uncertain politically, but one matter is quite clear: marijuana reform is very popular all across the United States. As noting in this post last night, marijuana reform ballot initiatives prevails by pretty large numbers in states as diverse as Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota. This Politico article, headlined "1 in 3 Americans now lives in a state where recreational marijuana is legal," provides some political context:
New Jersey and Arizona, with 8.9 million and 7.3 million residents, respectively, are the biggest wins for advocates this year. Legalization in New Jersey is expected to create a domino effect for legalization in other large East Coast states, including Pennsylvania and New York.
South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi, while much smaller, are significant in another way: As red states, the passage of marijuana measures illustrates the shift in Republican sentiment toward marijuana.
The impact of these ballot measures will be felt in Congress, especially if Democrats regain control of the Senate. If all the measures ultimately pass, a third of House members will represent states where marijuana is legal, as will a fourth of the Senate. If Democrats end up in control of both chambers next year, expect those legal state lawmakers to be called upon to vote on significant changes to federal marijuana policy — including removing all federal penalties for using it.
As of this writing, it is still unclear who will be in the White House for the next four years, but it seems increasing clear that Democrats will not be in control of the Senate. This reality leads me to speculate that, despite the big 2020 state ballot wins, it will still be quite challenging for Congress to move forward with any significant federal statutory marijuana reforms. Whether to pursue a modest or major form of federal reform already divides Democratic lawmakers in various ways, and I doubt that Republican leadership in the Senate will be eager to prioritize or even advance various bills on this topic. If the person in the White House decides he wants to focus on this issue, these political realities could surely change. But, at this moment, it seems to me unlikely that a large number of lawmakers at the federal level will be keen to prioritize these matters in the short term.
But continued non-action at the federal level could actually make even more space for state-level reforms to continue apace. As the Politico excerpt highlights, the outcome in New Jersey should increase the likelihood of traditional legislative reforms in states like New York and Pennsylvania and maybe other northeast states. Also, the big ballot wins in red states in 2020 also makes even more likely that there will be ballot initiatives for full legalization or medical marijuana reform in a half-dozen or more states in the coming years. Just off the top of my head, I count Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma as all real possibilities for state initiatives perhaps as early as 2022.
November 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, 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)
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Though it may be a bit too early to declare all the ballot initiatives winners, as of this writing just before the end of Election Day 2020, it seems as though every marijuana reform initiative and all the other drug reform initiatives on ballots today are going to pass. Specifically, as now reported on this Marijuana Moment tracking page, here is what I am seeing:
Full marijuana legalization:
Arizona: 60% in favor
Montana: 60% in favor
New Jersey: 67% in favor
South Dakota: 53% in favor
Medical marijuana legalization:
Mississippi: 69% in favor
South Dakota: 69% in favor
Oregon: 55% in favor
Washington DC: 77% in favor
Oregon: 59 % in favor
November 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
I am pleased to see that the folks at Marijuana Moment have created this webpage to serve as a single tracking tool to follow all the marijuana and drug reform ballot initiatives that voters are considering today around the country. Here is how they set up the page I will be refreshing through the evening.
Marijuana Moment is tracking 11 separate cannabis and drug policy reform measures on ballots in seven states. Stay tuned to this page for results as votes are counted.
Make sure to follow Marijuana Moment and our editors Tom Angell and Kyle Jaeger on Twitter for live news and analysis, and check our homepage for individual articles about each ballot measure as races are called.
Thanks to support from ETFMG | MJ, we have a single tracker tool below that lets you cycle through all of the key measures as well as separate standalone tools for each initiative.
Interestingly, though votes in New Jersey and Washington DC should be coming in relatively early in the night, some of the votes I will be watching most closely are in the mountain west and west in Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and Oregon. So I expect to be up late, and look forward to blogging here about any especially interesting developments.
And do not forget about this great web resource put together by the folks I have the honor to work with at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. The resource collects and organizes information and links about the significant number of drug policy reforms proposals appearing on state ballots this election cycle.
November 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
The title of this post is the title of this great new web resource put together by the folks I have the honor to work with at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. The resource collects and organizes information and links about the significant number of drug policy reforms proposals appearing on state ballots this election cycle. Here is introduction to the detailed state-by-state materials:
A closer look at drug policy reform decisions voters will make during the 2020 election
On election day 2020, voters will decide more than the next United States President. Drug policy and enforcement reforms will appear on numerous state-level ballots. Five states have qualifying initiatives that attempt to legalize marijuana for medical or adult-use consumption, including some states that will ask voters to decide on multiple pathways to a legal market. And marijuana reform is not the only drug-related issue on ballots. Initiatives in a few states and Washington, D.C. will ask voters to modify existing sentencing laws, decriminalize all drugs, or legalize psychedelics for adult-use and therapeutic reasons.
To gain a better understanding of what this election could mean for drug policy across the U.S., the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) has developed a list of key ballot initiatives reaching voters in 2020. Read on for a list of initiatives we will be watching this November in the areas of marijuana legalization, psychedelics, and criminal justice.
Plus, don’t miss our post-election event Drug Policy Implications of the 2020 Elections on November 16, 2020. Our panel of experts will discuss the 2020 election results and what they are likely to mean for drug enforcement and policy at both the state and federal level.
October 28, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Marijuana Moment piece headlined "South Dakota Voters Support Medical And Recreational Marijuana Initiatives, New Opposition Poll Finds." Here are excerpts:
A majority of South Dakota voters support separate initiatives to allow both medical and recreational marijuana that will appear on the state’s November ballot, according to a new poll funded by legalization opponents.
But when it comes to the proposed adult-use legalization amendment, opponents argue that there’s significant confusion over what it would accomplish, as most people who said they favor the measure cited therapeutic applications of cannabis as reasons they support the broad reform.
The statutory medical cannabis initiative would allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary. They could also grow at least three plants, or more if authorized by a physician.
The proposed constitutional amendment, which couldn’t be changed by the legislature if approved by voters, would legalize marijuana for adult use. People 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.
There’s strong support for each of the measures in the new prohibitionist-funded survey, which was conducted June 27-30 and announced in a press release on Thursday. Roughly sixty percent of South Dakota voters said they favor recreational legalization, while more than 70 percent said they back medical cannabis legalization, according to the No Way on A Committee, which didn’t publish detailed cross-tabs, or even specific basic top-line numbers, from the poll results.
The decision by the prohibitionist committee to release the results of a poll showing such broad support for legalization is an interesting one. Typically, ballot campaigns and candidates use polling results to demonstrate momentum, but perhaps the South Dakota group is seeking to sound the alarm and generate donations from national legalization opponents to help stop the measure. If South Dakota votes to legalize cannabis this November, that would signal that the policy can pass almost anywhere....
While the recreational measure might not have been crafted solely with patient access in mind, adults who want to use marijuana for therapeutic reasons would still stand to benefit from a regulated market — regardless of whether it’s a medical or adult-use model — so it’s possible that the survey results don’t demonstrate total confusion among those respondents. Plus, the constitutional amendment does contain language requiring the legislature to enact policies on medical cannabis as well—providing more robust constitutional protections for therapeutic use than the statutory measure alone would ensure.
Maine, Nevada and especially Alaska are arguably "reddish" or "red" states that have already fully legalized marijuana via ballot initiatives in years past. But South Dakota is really deep red, as in 2016 it voted for Donald Trump two-to-one over Hillary Clinton. If such a deep red state really does vote convincingly for full marijuana legalization, I think the prospects for federal reforms get a lot brighter no matter who is in charge at the federal level after this election.
September 22, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)