Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, January 20, 2020

Taking stock of 2020 marijuana reform prospects in various states (and noting some significant omissions)

US-legalization-prospects-2020Jeff Smith over at MJBizDaily has this helpful article (with a helpful graphic) under the headline "Several states could legalize cannabis sales in 2020 as marijuana industry eyes lucrative East Coast market."  The article maps out the ten or so states that might move forward with adult-use legalization regimes in 2020 and also reviews the handful of states in which medical marijuana legalization might move forward this year.  Here is a snippet from the start of the piece:

Up to a dozen states could legalize adult-use or medical marijuana in 2020 through their legislatures or ballot measures, although only about a handful will likely do so.

Much of the cannabis industry’s focus will home in on a possible recreational marijuana domino effect along the East Coast, which could create billions of dollars in business opportunities.  Adult-use legalization efforts in New York and New Jersey stalled in 2019, but optimism has rekindled this year.

Potential legalization activity runs from the Southwest to the Dakotas to the Deep South. Mississippi in particular has a business-friendly medical cannabis initiative that has qualified for the 2020 ballot.

If even a handful of these state marijuana reforms move forward this year, it becomes that much more likely that some form of federal reform will have to follow. That reality is one of the theme of this lengthy new Politico article which also provides an accounting of potential state reforms under the full headline "Marijuana legalization may hit 40 states. Now what?: Changes in state laws could usher in even more confusion for law enforcement and escalate the pressure on Congress to act." Here is an excerpt:

More than 40 U.S. states could allow some form of legal marijuana by the end of 2020, including deep red Mississippi and South Dakota — and they’re doing it with the help of some conservatives.  State lawmakers are teeing up their bills as legislative sessions kick off around the country, and advocates pushing ballot measures are racing to collect and certify signatures to meet deadlines for getting their questions to voters.

Should they succeed, every state could have marijuana laws on the books that deviate from federal law, but people could still be prosecuted if they drive across state lines with their weed, because the total federal ban on marijuana isn’t expected to budge any time soon.  The changes could usher in even more confusion for law enforcement and escalate the pressure on Congress to act.  Federal bills are crawling through Congress, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell firmly against legalization....

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we can win more marijuana reform ballot initiatives on one Election Day than on any previous Election Day,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project.  Schweich cited growing public support for the issue among both liberals and conservatives.  The measures that make the ballot could drive voter turnout at the polls and by extension affect the presidential election.

Liberal states that allow ballot petitions have largely voted to legalize marijuana, including California, Oregon and Massachusetts.  “Now, we’re venturing into new, redder territory and what we’re finding is voters are ready to approve these laws in those states,” said Schweich, who, along with leading legalization campaigns in Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, served as the co-director of the medical marijuana legalization campaign in Utah.  “If we can pass medical marijuana in Utah, we can pass it anywhere.”

National organizations like his are eschewing swing states like Florida and Ohio, where the costs of running a ballot campaign are high during a presidential election. They are intentionally targeting states with smaller populations.  For advocates, running successful campaigns in six less-populous states means potentially 12 more senators representing legal marijuana states.  “The cost of an Ohio campaign could cover the costs of [four to six] other ballot initiative campaigns. Our first goal is to pass laws in as many places as we can,” Schweich said.

They can’t take anything for granted, however.  In Florida, where polling says two-thirds of voters want to legalize pot, one effort to gather enough signatures for a 2020 ballot measure collapsed last year, and a second gave up on Tuesday, saying there’s not enough time to vet 700,000 signatures.  Organizers are looking to 2022.  And many legislative efforts to legalize marijuana came up short in 2019, including in New York and New Jersey.  Those efforts were derailed in part over concerns about how to help people disproportionately harmed by criminal marijuana prosecutions, despite broad support from Democratic-controlled legislatures and the governors.

I fully understand the strategic and economic reasons why MPP and other national marijuana reform activist groups have chosen not to focus on big purple states like Florida and Ohio for full legalization campaigns. But these two states have unique long-standing and well-earned reputations as national swing states. Only if (when?) these kinds of big (reddish-purple) states go the route of full legalization will I think federal reform becomes unavoidable.

January 20, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 13, 2020

US House Subcommittee to hold hearing on Jan 15, 2020 on "Cannabis Policies for the New Decade"

Ccc_SQUAREAs detailed on this US House committee webpage, the "Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a legislative hearing on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, at 10 a.m. in the John D. Dingell Room, 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is entitled, 'Cannabis Policies for the New Decade'."  Interestingly, the hearing page provides a list and links to six House bills with varying approaches to marijuana reform as well as the names and titled of the three government officials now scheduled to testify:

Legislation

H.R. 171, the "Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act" or the "LUMMA"

H.R. 601, the "Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019"

H.R. 1151, the "Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act"

H.R. 2843, the "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act"

H.R. 3797, the "Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019"

H.R. 3884, the "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019" or the "MORE Act of 2019"

 

Witnesses

Matthew J. Strait
Senior Policy Advisor, Diversion Control Division
Drug Enforcement Administration

Douglas Throckmorton, M.D.
Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
Food and Drug Administration

Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse
National Institutes of Health

 

Also listed on the website is a "Key Document" in the form of a "Memorandum from Chairman Pallone to the Subcommittee on Health."  This memo runs six pages and provides a nice primer on the basics of federal cannabis law as well as a very brief accounting of the six bills listed above.

January 13, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Is 2020 really going to be "a defining year for the cannabis industry"?

Us-1231-1364894-frontThe question in the title of this post is promoted by this CNN Business piece which asserts in its headline "2020 could be a defining year for the cannabis industry."   I find myself a bit skeptical because it seems someone says every January that this year is going to be a defining one for marijuana reform.  But I do think there are reasons to see 2020 as an especially big year in this space, and here is part of the article:

2019 was a momentous year for the cannabis industry: Hemp-derived CBD had a heyday, Illinois made history, California got sticky, vapes were flung into flux, and North American cannabis companies received some harsh wake-up calls.

2020 is gearing up to be an even more critical year. There's a well-worn saying in the cannabis business that the emerging industry is so fast-moving that it lives in dog years. 2020 is barely a week old, and cannabis is already making headlines after Illinois kicked off the new year with recreational sales. Other states are inching closer to legalization this year -- with several mulling how best to ensure social equity. Also in 2020, there's the FDA could chill the CBD craze, and a move from Congress could change the game entirely....

Illinois will remain in focus, after it made history last year with the first legislatively-enacted recreational cannabis program. Critical aspects of its program include social equity and social justice measures created to help people and communities most harmed by the War on Drugs. "Underserved groups are holding the industry accountable," said Gia Morón, president for Women Grow, a company founded to further the presence of women in the cannabis industry. "And our legislators are recognizing that [social, gender and minority concerns] are a part of this now."

New York and New Jersey have been flirting with legalization but have held off to navigate some logistics related to aspects that include social equity. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania convened this past fall for a summit on coordinating cannabis and vaping policies. New Jersey is putting a recreational cannabis measure before voters in November, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed Wednesday that New York would legalize cannabis this year....

CBD products have been all the rage, but they may be on shaky ground. CBD oils, creams, foods and beverages have seen an explosion in availability following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp but left plenty of discretion to the US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pharmaceutical drugs, most food items, additives and dietary supplements.

The FDA is reviewing CBD and has yet to issue formal guidance, although the agency has issued warning letters to CBD makers that make unsubstantiated health claims. Class action lawsuits have been filed against several CBD companies, including two of the largest, Charlotte's Web and CV Sciences, alleging they engaged in misleading or deceptive marketing practices, Stat News reported.

Cannabis insiders are closely awaiting the fate of industry-friendly bills such as the STATES Act, which would recognize cannabis programs at the state level, and the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow for banks to more easily serve cannabis companies. Those and other bills likely won't pass in full...

In addition to the promise of new markets, the evolution of established cannabis programs could also play a significant role in the cannabis business landscape. In California, the world's largest cannabis industry has developed in fits and starts. Regulators are taking aim at an entrenched illicit market as businesses decry tax increases and local control measures that limit distribution....

Canada's "Cannabis 2.0" roll-out of derivative products -- such as edibles, vapes and beverages -- is in its beginning stages. The Canadian publicly traded licensed producers that have been beset by missed and slow market development have bet heavily on these new product forms....

The capital constraints are expected to continue into the first leg of 2020 as some initial bets don't pan out for some companies, said Andrew Freedman, Colorado's former cannabis czar who now runs Freedman & Koski, a firm that consults with municipalities and states navigating legalization. Some companies' low points could create opportunities for other firms and investors that waited out the first cycle, Freedman said. "In 2020, I see that everybody will understand the economics of cannabis a little bit better," he said.

I am with Andrew Freedman in thinking that the realities of marijuana reform and the industry will, at best, become just "a little bit" clearer during 2020. In the end, I think what will matter most is who wins the White House and control of Congress in this big election year. If the status quo holds after the votes are counted, I do not expect to see federal reform anytime soon. But if new leadership takes over the White House or the Senate, then 2021 will become real interesting.

January 10, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Reviewing the year that was 2019 with a round-up of reviews of the year (and decade) in marijuana reform

2019-marijuana-snowflake-ldThis holiday season has brought not only the usual "year in review" pieces, but also a number of "decade in review" accountings of big changes since the start of 2010.  Interestingly, I have not seen too many "decade in review" pieces focused on marijuana reform developments even though so much has happened in this space since 2010.  This new NBC News piece by Zachary Siegel, headlined "Opioids, pot and criminal justice reform helped undermine this decade's War on Drugs," covers some of this ground in a broader context.  Here is an excerpt:

If shame was a potent force in fighting against the company that oversold opioids, it was the shedding of stigmas that characterized the massive shift in public opinion toward marijuana in the past decade — which transformed more than that on just about any other policy across the American landscape.  In 2000, 63 percent of Americans said the use of marijuana should be illegal, according to polling from Pew Research Center.  By 2010, that number had dropped to 52 percent, and for the last 10 years it continued to plunge, shifting the balance in favor of marijuana. In 2019, a full two-thirds of Americans believed cannabis should be legal.

There is no way to characterize this but as a loss for the so-called War on Drugs.  Marijuana not only continued to be consumed — with nearly 55 million people who indulge, it’s one of the most widely used drugs — but now, thanks to the legalization drive, there’s a chance to right wrongs of the past.  For instance, once legalization goes into effect in Illinois on Jan 1, 2020, the city of Evanston will use tax revenue on cannabis to fund reparations for black residents....

So how did 80-year-old cannabis laws finally begin to crumble this past decade?  Though very different in properties and ill effects, marijuana’s image shifted for some of the same reasons that opioids changed the drug conversation in America: White people being criminalized, the medical industry having a role in how to calibrate use of the drug, and a feeling among both liberals and conservatives that filling up jails with users was a waste of lives and money.

Cannabis laws didn’t change all by themselves, and it’s important to recognize the role that grass-roots advocacy played.  “The remarkable progress of marijuana legalization over the past decade was driven not by for-profit interests but by people and organizations who care first and foremost about freedom, justice, compassion and human rights,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nonprofit that helped get cannabis on the ballot in numerous states.

There is, of course, so much more to say about the past decade in marijuana reform, way too much to say in a single book, let alone a single blog post.  Rather than try to cover all that ground, I will be content here to just link to a number of 2019 "year in review" pieces about marijuana reform:

From the National Law Review, "Puff, Puff, Passed: 2019 Marijuana Laws in Review and 2020 Projections"

From MG Magazine, "The Evolving Cannabis Industry: a 2019 Year-End Review"

From The Hill, "2019 was a historic year for marijuana law reform — here's why"

From JD Supra, "The Year in Weed: 2019 Edition"

From NORML, "2019 Year in Review: NORML's Top Ten Events in Marijuana Policy"

And from the Dayton Daily News, "Ohio medical marijuana: What happened in the first year"

December 30, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission recommends legislation to create medical marijuana program for Yellowhammer State

Alabama-cannabis-and-hemp-reform-act-of-2013As reported in this local article, "Friday, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission voted to recommend legislation that would legalize marijuana for persons with diagnosed medical conditions."  Here is more:

The commission voted twelve in favor and three against. Three members abstained. State Health Office Scott Harris voted against the bill.

The proposed bill would allow farmers to grow marijuana, doctors to prescribe marijuana for certain listed conditions, transporters to transport the product, dispensaries to sell the product, and would designate a state testing lab to perform the tests on the product sold on the state.

A new state agency, the Alabama Medical Cannabis agency would regulate cannabis in Alabama.  The commission would strictly regulate the product from planting to sell so that all product would be accounted for and limited to grown and produced within the state of Alabama.... The draft did not allow for a smokable products or for edible products such as marijuana gummies and brownies.  There is no provision for the legalization of home gardeners to grow marijuana for their own use....

The Commission is chaired by State Senator Tim Melson, R-Florence.  Melson is a physician who introduced medical marijuana legislation during the last legislative session. That bill passed the state Senate; but ran into fierce opposition in committee in the Alabama House of Representatives.  Senator Melson will introduce this bill, which was recommended by the Commission, in the 2020 Alabama legislative session.

Some marijuana advocates are arguing for a much broader legalization of cannabis in Alabama, including the legalization of recreational marijuana.  They have also criticized the ban on edible marijuana products and smokable product as well as the ban on the sell of marijuana plant material.  They have also questioned the legality of the ban on importing marijuana products into the state.

During the commission meetings, Melson said that he would join with Senators skeptical of his bill in fighting to defeat any effort to pass recreational marijuana.  Some opponents of medical marijuana have told the Alabama Political Reporter that they oppose passage of medical marijuana; because it is an incremental step towards the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Whether or not the state passes a medical marijuana bill will be decided in the Alabama legislature next year.

The full report is available at this link; it is short and reader-friendly.

December 24, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 20, 2019

New Jersey and South Dakota are first two states (of many to come?) with marijuana reform officially on the 2020 ballot

Though we are still 11 months away from Election Day 2020, this past week two state already made official that its voters will have a marijuana reform proposal to consider.  Here are the basics via press reports:

From New Jersey: "Legal weed is now up to N.J. voters as lawmakers vote to put it on 2020 ballot"

New Jersey residents will decide whether to legalize marijuana in the Garden State, after both houses of the state Legislature voted Monday to put the question on the 2020 ballot.  The measure passed the state Senate in a 24-16 vote at the Statehouse in Trenton on Monday afternoon, while the state Assembly voted 49-24 with one abstention....

Gov. Phil Murphy made legalizing marijuana for those over 21 one of his campaign promises. In the nearly two years since he took office, the initiative has seen several setbacks.  State Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced in late November he would not take the bill to the floor, and would instead seek to put it to the ballot for voters to decide.

From South Dakota: "Medical Marijuana Measure Makes SD Ballot"

Petitions submitted for an initiated measure on legalizing marijuana for medical use have been validated and the measure will appear on South Dakota’s 2020 general election ballot.  According to a press release by Secretary of State Steve Barnett, the petitions were officially validated Thursday.  It will be titled Initiated Measure 26. An initiated measure currently requires 16,961 valid signatures in order to qualify for the ballot.

My understanding is that there could be as many as a half-dozen additional states, including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska and North Dakota, that could end up having marijuana ballot measures for voters in 2020.

December 20, 2019 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)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Taking stock of the state of modern marijuana politics circa late 2019

Writing in Forbes, Mike Adams has this amusing commentary under the headline ""Federal Marijuana Legalization Is A Lock – But How, When?". Here are excerpts:

Although pro-pot groups insist that 2019 has been the best year ever in the realm of cannabis reform, the reality is not much progress has transpired.  It is only revered as the “best year” because even less occurred in the years that came before it.  But no matter how you size it up, nothing plus bupkis still equals squat.  In spite of everything, marijuana remains illegal across most of the United States.

At the state level, many advocates predicted that New York and New Jersey would be the next to legalize weed.  Well, that didn’t happen.  In fact, Illinois swooped in and legalized first, making both states look like dorks.  But aside from that, no other significant pot laws were passed at the state level in 2019.  We also learned that police are still out there arresting more than 600,000 pot offenders nationwide every year — mostly small timers, too.

In addition, some states, like California, are having trouble curbing the black market, and tainted pot products, most of which were initially believed to be counterfeits, are finding their way into legal dispensaries.  To make matters worse, the cannabis industry, as a whole, is struggling to keep it together long enough to see profitability. Layoffs are prevalent and some of the nation’s most popular cannabis magazines are at risk of going under.  There’s just no possible way that 2019 should be considered a banner year for cannabis.

Federally speaking, parts of Congress dilly-dallied around with the notion of forging some kind of change in the realm of national cannabis reform, but the powers against it are still too strong to penetrate.  Rumor has it that the cannabis trade’s legislative pride and joy known as the SAFE Act is presently being gnawed on by rats in the basement of the Senate chamber.  Its last words were reportedly, “Y’all know I’m not really a marijuana bill, right?”  And the MORE Act, the proposal that got everyone to stop giving two-flying squirts about SAFE, well, that sucker has already been buried out behind the Capitol building alongside last year’s great green hope, the STATES Act.  Remember that one?  No?  Don’t feel bad, no one does.  No one cares.  The point is that cannabis hopefuls have spent all year yapping about legislation that doesn’t have what it takes to go the distance.

But the stakes are about to change in 2020, which could set the nation up for legal weed the following year.  There’s only one catch.  Americans – 66 percent of which are on board with legalizing the leaf the same as beer and tobacco – have to vote in the next election.  And for the right people.

The first thing all cannabis hopefuls need to come to grips with is that the SAFE Act and the MORE Act are dead.  No, that’s not official or anything.  There hasn’t been a press release issued saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican-dominated Senate are refusing to entertain these bills before year’s end.  But trust me on this one – SAFE and MORE are finished.

They could, however, be resurrected in 2020.  But for either of them to get any further attention, the legislative process would have to start from the very beginning.  And unless the Republicans in the Senate have a change of heart in the next few months, the prospect of getting these bills or any others aimed at legalizing weed nationwide isn’t going much further next year than they did in 2019.  Remember, as of January, Congress is still playing with the same losing team.

It is the November election when all the magic could happen.  It’s a time when the stoner stars could align and contribute to getting America high again.  But that all depends on the nation’s political loyalty when it comes time to vote.  There are several Senate seats up for grabs.  It is conceivable that the Democrats could win these seats and take control over the Senate. If that happens, McConnell, the man presently standing in the way of cannabis reform in the U.S, would be dethroned as Senate Majority Leader.  That’s when the cannabis debate could really find its footing in both chambers.  Because there would no longer be anyone on the Hill that cares enough to try to stop it.  And anyone who did oppose would surely be out voiced by Democratic rule.

Furthermore, a Democratic president (except for Joe Biden) would undoubtedly support most cannabis legislation, and there is even a solid chance that President Trump would sign off on it if he wins a second term.  Unless, of course, Trump decides to make a statement by stamping it with a veto just to prevent the Democrats (the same ones trying to have him impeached) from making any progress.  Grudges tend to have an extremely long shelf life when it comes to politics.

But here’s the deal.  If both Trump and the Democrats find success in the next election, the best-case scenario for getting marijuana legalization done at the federal level in 2021 is for Trump to make it his idea and let the Democrats follow suit.

December 11, 2019 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, November 20, 2019

"Yes, marijuana has a gateway effect. But so do most addictive substances."

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Washington Post commentary.  I am not keen on the headline, but I am keep on the contents, especially because a Democratic Prez Candidate Debate scheduled for tonight makes this piece is a timely must-read.  But that is true primarily because it is authored by Keith Humphreys, who I always consider to be a timely must-read.  Here are excerpts:

When former vice president Joe Biden asserted over the weekend that marijuana shouldn’t be legal because it might be a “gateway” to hard drug use, pro-legalization critics were quick to paint him as an out-of-touch codger still fighting the last drug war.  But the reaction isn’t entirely fair: Yes, the marijuana gateway theory that was omnipresent in the 1980s was at best distorted and at worst dishonest.  Nevertheless, gateways between marijuana and other addictive substances are real — and they swing in both directions.

During the heyday of anti-marijuana sentiment in America, fear-based prevention programs warned adolescents that a huge percentage of adults who experienced some horrible drug-related outcome (e.g., becoming addicted to heroin) had used marijuana when they were younger.  These statistics were technically accurate, but even as teenagers, most of my classmates and I could see the logical flaws in the implication that marijuana was inevitably a road to ruin.  Just because most people who used heroin had previously used marijuana didn’t prove that most people who used marijuana would go on to use heroin.

But strip away that era’s ideological agenda, designed to assign marijuana a unique and powerful role in ruining lives, and a more nuanced underlying truth about gateways reveals itself. People who become users of almost any addictive substance are at higher risk of subsequently using and having problems with other substances.  A recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report found moderate evidence that this is the case for cannabis, but it’s also true of other drugs, including legal ones such as alcohol and tobacco.  At least three causal forces can create such gateways.

First, people can become habituated to particular routes of administering drugs....

Social networks are the second force behind drug gateways. Drug use, like many other behaviors, is very commonly a social activity. This creates gateway effects between drugs in part because classes of behavior (e.g., playing sports, traveling to exotic locales, collecting antiques or, yes, taking drugs) come to seem more normal when your friends all engage in them.... 

Gateways can also result from users’ desire to combine the effect of a new drug with a familiar one.  Established cocaine users sometimes become heavy drinkers (and vice versa) because they find the cocaethylene produced in the body by this drug combination particularly euphoric. Similarly, the fact that many people take the trouble to carve out cigars and fill them with marijuana (known as smoking “blunts”) demonstrates that tobacco and marijuana combined is uniquely reinforcing to some users.

So those who mocked Biden’s claim that marijuana could be a gateway to other drugs thus got the science wrong. There are plenty of ways using the drug can make people more likely to use other substances.

But research also shows that singling out marijuana is wrong; the gateway effect is in fact shared by many substances.  If Biden continues to oppose the legalization of marijuana on the grounds that marijuana could lead to other drugs, it is only fair that he should answer another question: Why have we made alcohol and tobacco legal and often subjected them to insufficient restrictions when they are powerful gateways, too?

November 20, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical community perspectives | Permalink | Comments (0)

US House Judiciary Committee advances sweeping marijuana reform bill, the MORE Act, by a vote of 24-10

As report in this press piece, headlined "House panel passes bill aiming to legalize marijuana, but top Democrat concedes ‘Senate will take its own time,’" a notable marijuana reform bill advanced in Congress today, but its long-term prospects are still limited.  Here are the basics:

The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted in favor a bill that decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level, with a couple of Republicans supporting the measure.

The panel’s chairman, however, had acknowledged Tuesday that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act could be a tough sell in the Republican-controlled Senate. “The Senate will take its own time, but then the Senate always does,” said Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat. He aimed to sound upbeat during Tuesday’s news conference ahead of Wednesday’s markup session for the bill: “The energy and the political pressure from the various states is growing rapidly. The Senate is subject to that, too. We’ll accomplish this.”...

Nadler, for his part, had on Tuesday described the committee vote on the MORE Act as “part of a long-term fight.” He stressed Wednesday that House lawmakers can negotiate with the Senate. Pro-marijuana activists have been celebrating the action in the House Judiciary Committee, with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also known as NORML, calling it the “biggest marijuana news of the year” and the “first-ever vote to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.”

Besides decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, the MORE Act aims to expunge prior marijuana convictions and spur re-sentencing hearings for people still under supervision. It also would set up a 5% sales tax on marijuana products that would fund three grant programs, including one that would provide job training, legal aid and other services to the individuals hit hardest by the War on Drugs....

The MORE Act [available here] has more than 50 co-sponsors in the House, including Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who voted for the measure on Wednesday. The backers of the bill in the Senate include Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The House committee voted 24-10 in favor of the bill on Wednesday, a House clerk said. Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the committee’s top Republican, was among the GOP lawmakers who didn’t support the measure.

Collins said the MORE Act was a non-starter for most of his Republican colleagues. He suggested it won’t become law and lead to real change. “Do we want to accomplish something or do we just want to make a political statement?” Collins asked.

Groups in Washington that have disclosed lobbying on the MORE Act this year include the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), the Cannabis Trade Federation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and NORML.

The cannabis industry has set a fresh record for its overall annual lobbying spending in Washington, with an outlay of $3.77 million through this year’s third quarter as it has pushed for a bill that would protect financial institutions that work with the marijuana industry.

November 20, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

New Jersey legislators turn to 2020 referendum as means for seeking full legalization reforms

New-jersey-reform1As reported in this Politico piece, headlined "New Jersey marijuana legalization bill dead; lawmakers will let voters decide," legislators in the Garden State have failed again to achieve significant marijuana reforms through the traditional legislative process and now have a new 2020 plan.  Here are the details and backstory:

For the second time this year, top Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey pulled the plug on legislation to legalize cannabis sales for recreational use, killing any likelihood Gov. Phil Murphy will deliver on a key campaign promise before 2021.

Instead, legislative leaders introduced a resolution Monday that would put a recreational use question on the November 2020 ballot. The resolution would need to pass both houses of the state Legislature by three-fifths majorities in one year or by simple majorities in consecutive years to make it onto the ballot.

“We made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively, but we recognize that the votes just aren’t there. We respect the positions taken by legislators on what is an issue of conscience," Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a joint statement with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who had been the lead sponsor of the cannabis legalization bill, NJ S2703 (18R), in the upper house....

Murphy, who campaigned heavily on a pro-cannabis platform in 2017, was disappointed by the announcement, but said in a statement he has “faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November.“ “By approving this ballot measure before the end of this legislative session, New Jersey will move one step closer to righting a historical wrong and achieving what I have spent more than three years advocating for,” the governor said.

Several polls released over the last two years suggest a solid majority of New Jersey residents support marijuana legalization. Even so, NJ RAMP —an affiliate of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana — has already said it plans to fight the measure at the ballot box.

Should voters approve the referendum, it would be up to the Legislature to take action to grant oversight of the adult use industry to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which was previously established through medical marijuana legislation passed earlier this year....

Monday’s announcement marks the conclusion of a long odyssey for the Democrat’s recreational use bill, which was originally scheduled for a vote in March after months of protracted negotiations between Murphy, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. That vote was scuttled after Sweeney and Murphy failed to whip up the necessary 21 votes in the upper house. A majority of Assembly members supported the bill.

Two months later, amid an escalating feud between Murphy and South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross over tax incentives, Sweeney said there wasn’t a viable path forward for the bill’s passage, laying some blame on the administration’s efforts to unilaterally expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.

Sweeney reversed course several months later, saying he’d like to give the legislation another shot with some technical revisions to accommodate regulatory changes established through the state’s new medical marijuana law, NJ A20 (18R), along with criminal justice reforms that have since been included in subsequent legislation. Both bills had previously been linked to the fate of recreational use legislation.

November 20, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Senator Bernie Sanders puts forth details for his plan to legalize marijuana and repair harms of the drug war

95e4ca64-1205-4f28-b167-c6912ed95230-sandersIn August, Senator Bernie Sanders released this extended plan detailing a wide array of criminal justice reform proposals.  Unsurprisingly, one plank of his broader reform plan included a commitment to "legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs."  Today, as detailed on this campaign page, Senator Sanders has provided a lot more of his proposed particulars for marijuana reform and here are excerpts:

As president, Bernie will:

Legalize marijuana in the first 100 days with executive action by:

  • Nominating an attorney general, HHS secretary, and administrator for the DEA who will all work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana
  • Immediately issuing an executive order that directs the Attorney General to declassify marijuana as a controlled substance
  • While Congress must aggressively move to end the war on drugs and undo its damage, as president Bernie will not wait for Congress to act. Passing legislation to ensure permanent legalization of marijuana

Vacate and expunge all past marijuana-related convictions.

  • In a Sanders administration we will review all marijuana convictions - both federal and state - for expungement and re-sentencing. All past convictions will be expunged.
  • Based on the California model, we will direct federal and state authorities to review current and past marijuana related convictions for eligibility. This review will include re-sentencing for all currently incarcerated with marijuana convictions. Following determination of eligibility or status, prosecutors will have one year to appeal or object, after which authorities will automatically expunge and vacate past marijuana convictions for all those eligible.
  • Federal funding will be provided to states and cities to partner with organizations that can help develop and operate the expungement determination process, much like how California worked with Code for America....

Ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs, especially African-American and other communities of color.  With new tax resources from legal marijuana sales, we will:

  • Create a $20 billion grant program within the Minority Business Development Agency to provide grants to entrepreneurs of color who continue to face discrimination in access to capital.
  • With this revenue we will also create a $10 billion grant program to focus on businesses that are at least 51% owned or controlled by those in disproportionately impacted areas or individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses....
  • Use revenue from marijuana sales to establish a targeted $10 billion USDA grant program to help disproportionately impacted areas and individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses start urban and rural farms and urban and rural marijuana growing operations to ensure people impacted by the war on drugs have access to the entire marijuana industry....
  • Create a $10 billion targeted economic and community development fund to provide grants to communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.

Ensure Legalized Marijuana Does Not Turn Into Big Tobacco  Big Tobacco is already targeting the marijuana industry for its profits.  As president, Bernie will not allow marijuana to turn into Big Tobacco.  He will:

  • Incentivize marijuana businesses to be structured like nonprofits.
  • We will provide resources for people to start cooperatives and collective nonprofits as marijuana businesses that will create jobs and economic growth in local communities.

October 24, 2019 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)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

More notable coverage of marijuana enforcement challenges thanks to hemp legalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent related posts:

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

Methods

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

Results

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

Conclusions

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

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

Monday, September 16, 2019

Serious talk of marijuana banking bill moving forward in Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 16, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

A few related recent prior posts:

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related prior post:

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

July 10, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related post:

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

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