Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, April 12, 2019

Spotlighting racial and regional differences in modern marijuana reform dynamics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 28, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Thursday, February 7, 2019

More on the forces that have shaped views on marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related post:

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

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AG-nominee Bill Barr reiterates (with nuance) commitment to non-enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition in reform states

AG-Candidate-William-Barr-Just-Stated-His-Position-on-Marijuana__FocusFillWzExNzAsNjU4LCJ5Iiw2MV0Tom Angell has this effective Forbes report, headlined "Trump Attorney General Pick Puts Marijuana Enforcement Pledge In Writing," spotlighting that the next US Attorney General has made clear his inherent commitment to respecting state-level marijuana reforms. Here are the details:

William Barr, President Trump's nominee to serve as the next U.S. attorney general, made headlines earlier this month when he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing not to "go after" marijuana companies that comply with state laws.

Now, in response to written questions from senators, Barr is putting that pledge on paper, in black and white. He's also calling for the approval of more legal growers of marijuana for research, and is acknowledging that a recent bill legalizing hemp has broad implications for sale of cannabis products.

"As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum," he wrote, referring to Obama-era cannabis enforcement guidance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.

That said, Barr isn't committing to formally replacing the Cole Memo, which generally directed federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana laws, with new guidance reiterating the approach. "I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like," he wrote in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). "If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration."

And Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, says it would be even better if Congress got around to addressing the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws. "I still believe that the legislative process, rather than administrative guidance, is ultimately the right way to resolve whether and how to legalize marijuana," he wrote in a compilation of responses delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday.

But even as Barr reiterated that he wouldn't go after people and businesses that benefited from the Cole memo, he voiced criticism of policy directives like it and of the idea of legalization in general. "An approach based solely on executive discretion fails to provide the certainty and predictability that regulated parties deserve and threatens to undermine the rule of law," Barr wrote in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "If confirmed, I can commit to working with the Committee and the rest of Congress on these issues, including any specific legislative proposals. As I have said, however, I do not support the wholesale legalization of marijuana."

Nonetheless, legalization advocates were happy to see the nominee reiterating his non-enforcement pledge when it comes to state-legal businesses. "It’s positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings," Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. "My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition."

January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Effective accounting of Top 5 marijuana reform developments in 2018 (with a couple extra added for emphasis)

German Lopez has this effective Vox piece serving as a kind of marijuana reform year in review under the headlined "5 moments that show 2018 was marijuana legalization’s biggest year yet: From Canada to Michigan to California, marijuana legalization had a very big year." Here are excerpts from the start of the piece with his top 5 listing as it appears therein:

When we look back, 2018 may be the year in which marijuana legalization really won.

Canada legalized marijuana, defying international treaties (which the US is also a part of) that prohibit fully legalizing cannabis.

After legalizing marijuana in 2016, California opened the world’s biggest fully legal pot market in early 2018.

Michigan became the first state to legalize pot in the Midwest.

State legislatures, particularly New York, New Jersey, and Vermont, began taking legalization more seriously. And while Congress didn’t legalize pot at the federal level, it did legalize industrial hemp.

Together, these developments represented a tidal wave for legalization — a massive shift that’s making legal pot look more and more inevitable across the country.

Here are the five major stories of marijuana legalization this year, and why they matter.

1) Canada legalized marijuana...

2) California opened the world’s biggest legal marijuana market...

3) Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize pot...

4) State legislatures began taking legalization seriously...

5) The federal government legalized hemp...

This top five list strikes me as sound, though I think the federal legalization of hemp should find a place higher on the list and I have a few additions that I think could reasonably compete for a top five spot. First, I think it very significant that serious medical marijuana reforms were enacted by ballot initiative with strong majorities in 2018 in the very red states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. Senators in very red states will be able to stop or limit or shape any future federal marijuana reforms, so having red states come into the reform fold is so very important for the fate and future of federal reform efforts. Second, and perhaps worth of a coming future post, arguably the biggest story of 2018 was a non-story, namely the decision in January of (now former) Attorney General Sessions to repeal the Cole memo shaping federal marijuana enforcement and then the failure of the new Sessions memo amounting to much of anything. I was not too worried that all that much would come from repeal of the Cole memo, but that so little resulted still strikes me as another telling sign of the state of marijuana reform as we close out 2018.

December 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Mayor de Blasio Calls for Fair Cannabis Legalization That Promotes Equity and Opportunity for All"

Pr607-18The title of this post is the title of this lengthy press release from the office of the Mayor of New York City.  Here are excerpts from the release and links to related documents:

Mayor Bill de Blasio today endorsed the safe and fair legalization of cannabis in New York.  The Mayor also released his Task Force report on Cannabis Legalization, which calls for a strong, public health-focused regulatory framework and the empowerment of local government to prevent corporate greed, foster small businesses and meet the demands of New York City communities.  The report also places great emphasis on the need to ensure that any marijuana industry in New York City right the wrongs of the past and promotes economic opportunity....

The report, A Fair Approach to Marijuana, was produced by the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, which was convened in July 2018 to identify the goals and challenges that should guide the City’s preparations for potential legalization.

The recommendations are centered on local development, equity, public health and a wholesale departure from the failed war on drugs.  These include the automatic expungement of criminal records for conduct that would be legalized – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases; educational resources for youth, educators, consumers, health care workers; the elimination of routine testing as prerequisite to social service benefit eligibility and the prohibition of pre-employment and random testing, with some narrow exceptions.

It also calls for balancing State regulatory structures with local authority to permit licensed consumption sites, determine business density restrictions to avoid over-concentration and allow localities to restrict or prohibit home cultivation. The report also makes recommendations to prevent big business from market domination by instituting a licensing system that would create opportunities for small businesses.

If legalized, the City would seek to:

  • Establish an Equitable Licensing System: Create local licensing programs, regulate public places of consumption, regulate home and commercial cultivation and manufacturing, and regulate home delivery services.
  • Preserve Communities: Establish zoning and area restrictions for cannabis businesses, as well as restrictions on the density to determine how the location of cannabis businesses can best fit into the fabric of its communities.
  • Protect Public Health: Enforce age limits of 21 and over with civil rather than criminal penalties to violations of cannabis regulations to the greatest extent possible consistent with public safety.
  • Right Historic Wrongs: Recommend automatic expungement of criminal records relating to conduct that may be legalized, including personal use and possession of certain quantities – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases.
  • Ensure Product Safety: Recommend statewide standards for product safety, labeling and packaging, marketing, and advertising, as well as a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system accessible to State and local regulators and financial institutions serving cannabis-related businesses.
  • Put Small Businesses First: Work with State authorities to reduce the risk of market domination by big businesses and foster sustainable growth, in part, by restricting businesses from owning and controlling each stage of the supply chain, which may otherwise be owned by different, specialized businesses.
  • Create Equal Opportunity: Participate in a dual state-local licensing structure that will permit the City to pursue its own innovations to promote economic opportunities created by this new market, subject to the minimum standards set by the State.
  • Ease Access to Capital: Advocate for legislation expressly providing that banking and professional services for cannabis-related businesses do not violate State law.
  • Make Fair Investments: Allocate tax revenue, licensing fees, and other sources of financing to administer the new industry and support cannabis businesses and workers, with a focus on target populations and community reinvestment.
  • Build Local Businesses: Develop an incubator program to provide direct support to equity applicants in the form of counseling services, education, small businesses coaching, and compliance assistance.

To see the entire report of the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, click here. To see a quick cannabis fact sheet, click here.

December 20, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Democrat wing of congressional Joint Economic Committee releases report on "The National Cannabis Economy"

Download (30)This week the Democrats of the US Congress' Joint Economic Committee released this interesting short report titled simply "The National Cannabis Economy." Here is how it gets started and its final passages:

The National Cannabis Economy

Cannabis, or marijuana, is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.  Though illegal at the federal level, states are taking action to legalize cannabis — from recreational use in states like Colorado and Maine to medical use in New Mexico and Florida.  A record 66 percent of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, a dramatic increase from just 12 percent in 1969.

The legalization of cannabis has significant implications for state economies, as well as the national economy.  The industry totaled more than $8 billion in sales in 2017, with sales estimated to reach $11 billion this year and $23 billion by 2022.  There were more than 9,000 active licenses for cannabis businesses in the U.S. in 2017, with the industry employing more than 120,000 people.

As more states move to legalize cannabis, these numbers will only continue to rise, potentially providing a new stream of revenue and jobs to local economies.  But to realize these benefits, policymakers must address conflicts between state and federal regulations that impede the growth of the cannabis economy....

Going Forward

There are a variety of proposals to fix the conflicts between state and federal cannabis laws.  Of these proposals, the bipartisan STATES Act has drawn support from President Trump and the cannabis industry.  The STATES Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that its provisions no longer apply to individuals acting in accordance with state laws. Importantly, the bill would also clarify that financial transactions with state-legal cannabis businesses are not drug-trafficking, creating a solution for financial institutions and the cannabis industry.  Several states could be next to legalize cannabis.  A bill to legalize cannabis is progressing through the New Jersey legislature, while New York lawmakers are preparing to consider similar legislation this year.  Similarly, newly elected governors in New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, and Connecticut have all voiced support for legal cannabis, positioning their states to consider the issue.

Conclusion

The growth of the cannabis economy presents opportunities for greater job creation, more tax revenue, and better patient care.  But current conflicts between state and federal law threaten to impede social and economic growth.  Going forward, lawmakers and regulators should prioritize solutions that promote greater research into the health effects of cannabis and reduce regulations that restrict the industry’s ability to conduct business.

December 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Employment and labor law issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Could Prez Trump's new Chief of Staff become major force pushing federal marijuana reforms in 2019?

Download (28)The question in the title of this post is prompted by President Donald Trump's  announcement that Mick Mulvaney will be his next Chief of Staff and this effective review of Mulvaney's marijuana reform record by Tom Angell at Marijuana Moment.  Here are the details, with links from the original:

Mulvaney, who currently serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was previously a member of the U.S. House, where he consistently voted to support marijuana reform amendments and cosponsored cannabis bills.

In 2015, for example, he voted for a floor amendment that would have barred the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state marijuana laws. The proposal, which came just nine flipped votes short of passage, would have expanded on existing protections for state medical cannabis programs by covering recreational laws as well.  Mulvaney also voted for the medical marijuana rider three years in a row.

In 20142015 and 2016, he supported amendments to allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.  Mulvaney backed a 2014 amendment to prevent the Treasury Department from punishing banks that work with marijuana businesses.  The South Carolina congressman he also voted for an amendment to protect limited cannabidiol (CBD) medical cannabis laws as well as a number of proposals concerning industrial hemp.

He also signed his name on as a cosponsor of several pieces of standalone marijuana legislation, including a comprehensive bill to reschedule cannabis and protect state medical-use laws, a measure to allow banking access for marijuana businesses, a hemp legalization bill and two separate CBD proposals.

“Mulvaney’s history of opposing wasteful government spending and support for states’ rights, specifically when it comes to marijuana, makes him our strongest ally in the White House,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

Pointing to how the Office of Management and Budget under Mulvaney on several occasions has floated severe funding cuts for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly known as the drug czar’s office, Murphy said that the new acting chief of staff “delivers our ‘more liberty/less spending’ position directly into the Oval Office on a daily basis, where it could bring the federal war on marijuana to an end by 2020.”

It is unclear how long Mulvaney will serve as acting chief of staff, or how frequently marijuana issues will come across his desk, but the fact that he — and not an ardent legalization opponent like Chris Christie, who was also under consideration for the job — will sit a door away from the Oval Office is likely to be seen as a positive development for cannabis reform supporters.

In his new capacity, Mulvaney will be party to conversations about which congressional legislation the president should back as well as discussions about potential marijuana enforcement policy changes at the Department of Justice under a new attorney general.

December 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Senator Cory Gardner talking up getting STATES Act attached to federal criminal justice reform bill

This Denver Post article, headlined "Cory Gardner will try to pass marijuana banking, other reforms in the Senate next week," reports on a legislative gambit that the Republican Senator claims to be considering.  Here are the details:

Gardner plans to introduce an amendment Monday that, if passed, would let cannabis businesses open bank accounts in states where they’re legal. It would exempt retailers from federal prosecution while still keeping cannabis a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it would remain illegal in the states that haven’t legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use....

The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act is a bill Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, introduced together this summer. Its purpose was to have federal laws basically mirror state laws when it comes to cannabis. The bill hasn’t moved much since it was introduced, so Gardner wants to attach it to a criminal justice reform bill working its way through Congress during the lame-duck session.

“This is by far and away the best shot we’ve had so far,” Gardner told the Denver Post on Friday morning. The reason Gardner thinks this might work is because of how the Senate works. When a bill comes up for a vote, it’s a lot easier to attach a germane amendment than one that has nothing to do with the bill. Any one senator can object to an unrelated amendment, but relevant amendments often become pending — meaning they get a vote from the full Senate. “I can’t think of a more appropriate piece of legislation than this bill to try as an amendment to,” Gardner said.

The criminal justice bill is a priority for both President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Gardner said he hadn’t spoken to the president about his plan to attach his measure to the bill, but said “the president supports this legislation, and in its purest form it is sentencing reform.” He’s also confident that he has Senate support to add it as an amendment if he can get a vote.

Given that the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee and of the Senate generally has shown, to date, absolutely no interest in holding hearings or moving forward with the STATES Act, I will not dispute Senator Garnder's statement that this is "the best shot [supporters have] had so far." But given that the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee and of the Senate generally has shown, to date, absolutely no interest in the STATES Act, I would be shocked if it gets the procedural or substantive support needed to get through the Senate in the coming weeks. And even if it somehow did, there is limited basis to think it would also make it through the House. Ergo, I think this proposed gambit by Senator Gardner has improve the chances of the STATES Act passing in 2018 from 0.1% to maybe 0.5%.

That said, especially with Democrats in control of the House of Representatives come 2019, there is a brighten chance for some meaningful federal marijuana reform in the next Congress. And it is great that Senator Gardner remains highly motivated to try to get his version of reform before his colleague and ultimately into law.

Prior related posts:

December 14, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

New York Gov Cuomo reportedly has a plan for legalizing marijuana in the Empire State

Weed-3The New York Post is reporting here that "Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget address next year could be smokin’."  Here is what is meant:

Aides said Tuesday the governor will introduce a plan for legalizing recreational marijuana, possibly as part of his executive budget.  “The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use cannabis — and the best way to do that is to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” said Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens.

“That’s why Governor Cuomo launched 17 listening sessions in cities across the state to give every community in every corner of New York the opportunity to be heard. Now that the listening sessions have concluded, the working group has begun accessing and reviewing the feedback we received and we expect to introduce a formal comprehensive proposal early in the 2019 legislative session.”

A study released in May by city Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated that legalizing marijuana could create a $3.1 billion market in New York state.  Imposing excise taxes on weed — similar to levies on cigarettes and booze — could generate $436 million in new state tax revenues and $336 million in additional city tax revenue, the report said.   Some advocates want the new taxes dedicated to the MTA.

Another key issue that’s being discussed is whether to expunge the records of New Yorkers who were arrested for marijuana possession when they were young — a disproportionate number of them are black and Latino.

In August, the governor appointed a 20-member task force to draft legislation to regulate cannabis following a report by his Health Department that gave the green light to legalizing pot. The group has been holding hearings and soliciting opinions.

Numerous other issues also need to be addressed, including: How many outlets would be permitted to sell marijuana, and will be cannabis be sold in smokeable form?   Under the state’s current medical marijuana program, patients are prescribed pot in pill and ointment form.

One lawmaker long involved in marijuana legalization efforts said cannabis should be sold in smokeable form, with limitations.  “The law ought to allow smoking of cannabis, with rules similar to limits on where you can smoke tobacco — but not necessarily the same,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan)....

The push for pot legalization is a reversal for Cuomo, who once dismissed weed as a “gateway drug.”  But earlier this year, he called for a study of legalization after neighboring Massachusetts legalized cannabis. Meanwhile, new New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is finalizing a proposed law to legalize weed in the Garden State.  The most recent New Jersey bill being debated calls for a 12 percent tax on pot sales — a standard 6.625 percent sales and a 5.375 marijuana tax.  Murphy initially sought a 25 percent tax.

Law-and-order types said Cuomo and the Democrat-run Legislature are making a mistake. Legalizing weed was never a priority during GOP control of the state Senate — but the Democrats won the majority in the Novembers election and are more supportive.   “I guess it’s not a gateway drug anymore,” state Conservative Party chairman Mike Long said sarcastically.

December 11, 2018 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)

Federal farm bill officially includes provisions to legalize "hemp" defined as the cannabis sativa plant with THC levels under 0.3%

65c04791337f8e561d0e508b808657a0One of many reasons I typically use the work "marijuana" on this blog and in other discussions of marijuana reform is because I think it is the word most directly and commonly associated with the version of the cannabis plant (or the parts of the plant) containing the chemical ingredient (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) that gets humans high from consumption. But for various sound reasons, other researchers and many advocates like to talk only about "cannabis" because this is the scientific name for the plant often called marijuana and because there are so many possible uses for and derivatives from that plant that have nothing to do with getting high. Of course, regular readers surely know all this, and yet it is worth reviewing given this notable news as reported by this Marijuana Moment piece: "The Final 2018 Farm Bill ... Will Legalize Hemp." Here are the basics:

The final text of the 2018 Farm Bill was released on Monday, and industrial hemp legalization made the cut. Votes to send the legislation to President Trump’s desk are expected this week.

The bipartisan provision, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will enable U.S. farmers to cultivate, process and sell hemp, the market for which is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

Following the announcement last month that lawmakers in the Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the agriculture legislation — with hemp legalization in the mix — questions remained about a controversial provision in the Senate version that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry. But a compromise was reached and the final version will allow such individuals to work for hemp businesses after 10 years....

“While this Farm Bill is a missed opportunity, there are some good provisions,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a press release. “One of those provisions is to roll back our senseless hemp prohibition.”

“Our forefathers would be rolling in their graves if they saw us putting restraints on a versatile product that they grew themselves. We have farmers growing thousands of acres of hemp in dozens of states across the U.S. already. You can have hemp products shipped to your doorstep. This is a mainstream, billion-dollar industry that we have made difficult for farmers. It’s past time Congress gets out of their way.”

Under the legislation, hemp would no longer be in the jurisdiction of the Justice Department. Rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will lightly regulate the crop. If the bill passes and President Trump signs it, hemp legalization will go into effect on January 1, according to VoteHemp.

Here is the definition of "HEMP" as set forth in this draft legislation: "The term ‘hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis." In other words, if and when this bill becomes law, it will be possible to produce and sell, without violating federal law, "certain version of the "plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids" etc. This seems to me a very big deal, though one that also seems certain to create even more confusion about what is and is not allowed under federal law with respect to so-called "medical marijuana."

This recent lengthy CNBC artice, headlined "Hemp legalization included in new farm bill could 'open the floodgates' on nascent industry," provide a review of what enactment of this legislation could mean and how we got here. Here is a snippet:

Hemp is a cannabis cousin of marijuana but it contains low levels of THC, the chemical that produces a "high" for pot users. Industrial hemp is used to make everything from apparel, foods and pharmaceuticals to personal care products, car dashboards and building materials.

"The vast majority of the market right now is going for CBD products," said Brightfield Group's [Bethany] Gomez. "You can find some hemp seed-based beauty products or hemp in some cereals and things like that, and there's such usage on the fibers for like clothes and other industrial purposes, but that's really minimal right now."

Brightfield Group estimates the domestic hemp market could reach $22 billion in the next four years. The estimate factors in the hemp amendment in the farm bill becoming law....

"There are three words why we have hemp now, and those words are tobacco state Republicans," said Kristin Nichols, editor at Denver-based Hemp Industry Daily, a publication owned by MJBizDaily. "There's been strong support from lawmakers and politicians up and down in former tobacco states looking for a replacement crop."

The hemp provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill were in the Senate version of the legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader McConnell. The Kentucky Republican put himself on the joint Senate-House conference committee formed to hammer out the details of the final farm bill. "I know there are farming communities all over the country who are interested in this," McConnell said in June when discussing the hemp legalization legislation before the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Mine are particularly interested in it, and the reason for that is — as all of you know — our No. 1 cash crop used to be something that's really not good for you: tobacco. And that has declined significantly, as it should, given the public health concerns."

December 11, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

NYC Comptroller advocates for New York to pursue an "Equitable Cannabis Industry"

Hqdefault (1)New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer first caught my attention six months ago when he produced this notable  report titled "Estimated Tax Revenues from Marijuana Legalization in New York." Today, Comptroller Stringer has my attention again with this notable new 15-page report titled "Addressing the Harms of Prohibition: What NYC Can do to Support an Equitable Cannabis Industry." I recommend the document in full, and here is part of its introductory section:

Over the last several decades, the prohibition of cannabis has had devastating impacts on communities in New York City, extending beyond incarceration to often long-lasting economic insecurity: damaged credit, loss of employment, housing, student loans, and more.  Today, thousands of New Yorkers, overwhelmingly Black and Latinx, continue to endure the untold financial and social costs of marijuana-related enforcement, despite steps to decriminalize.

As New York joins neighboring jurisdictions in moving closer to legalizing cannabis for adult use, the State and the City must take action to ensure that the communities who have been most harmed by policies of the past are able to access the revenue, jobs, and opportunities that a regulated adultuse marijuana program would inevitably generate.

While the creation of a legal market brings the promise of new wealth, the uneven enforcement of marijuana policies in New York specifically and the lack of diversity in the cannabis industry generally foreshadow potential inequities in who will benefit — and, indeed, who will profit — from a legal adult-use cannabis industry. In anticipation of future legalization, this report, by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, offers a new neighborhood-by-neighborhood look at cannabis enforcement and charts a roadmap for building equity into the industry....

Together, the report findings show that the neighborhoods most impacted by prohibition are among the most economically insecure and disenfranchised in the city.  It is precisely these New Yorkers then — those to whom the benefits of legalization should be targeted — who are most likely to face barriers to accessing opportunities in the industry, in particular financing. In addition to reinvesting tax revenue from legalization in these disproportionally impacted communities, steps should therefore be taken to equip those impacted by prohibition to secure the funding and other resources needed to become cannabis licensees.  This report recommends that the City, in partnership with the State, develop a robust cannabis equity program to direct capital and technical assistance to impacted communities interested in participating in the adult-use industry.

December 6, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Spotlighting the still-challenging politics that surround the intersection of marijuana reform, criminal justice reform and racial inequities

Today's must-read for both marijuana reform and criminal justice reform fans is this lengthy new Politico article fully headlined "Racial Justice and Legal Pot Are Colliding in Congress: The latest fight over criminal justice reform is over allowing felons access to newly legal aspects of the cannabis industry. Lawmakers are getting woke — slowly." I recommend this piece is full, and here are some extended excerpts:

Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the [Farm] bill includes an amendment that would permanently remove hemp from the list of federally banned drugs like heroin and cocaine, freeing hemp from the crippling legal stigma that has made it economically unviable for the past four decades.  But that amendment also includes a little-noticed ban on people convicted of drug felonies from participating in the soon-to-be-federally-legal hemp industry.

Added late in the process, apparently to placate a stakeholder close to McConnell, the exception has angered a broad and bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, hemp industry insiders and religious groups who see it as a continuing punishment of minorities who were targeted disproportionately during the War on Drugs and now are being denied the chance to profit economically from a product that promises to make millions of dollars for mostly white investors on Wall Street....

[L]awmakers like McConnell, who have discovered the economic benefits of relaxing prohibitions on products such as hemp, have nevertheless quietly found ways, like the Farm Bill felon ban, to satisfy the demands of their anti-legalization constituents, to the chagrin of pro-cannabis lawmakers and activists. After POLITICO Magazine reported on the drug-crime felon ban in August, three senators — Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) — wrote to Senate leadership demanding the removal of the ban, citing its “disparate impact on minorities,” among other concerns.

“I think there’s a growing recognition of the hypocrisy and unfairness of our nation’s drug laws, when hundreds of thousands of Americans are behind bars for something that is now legal in nine states and something that two of the last three Presidents have admitted to doing,” Booker told POLITICO Magazine. “If we truly want to be a just and fair nation, marijuana legalization must be accompanied by record expungement and a focus on restorative justice.”...

[The] once-radical notion that felons ought to gain priority for entry into a newly legal industry — instead of being shut out — has quietly gained bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, albeit not among Republican leadership.  In the House, this mounting opposition to the continuing punishment of felons first cropped up in September when the Judiciary Committee passed its first pro-marijuana bill.  It would expand access to scientific study of the cannabis plant, a notion agreed-upon by marijuana’s supporters and detractors alike.  However, Democrats almost killed the bill because it included language that barred felons (and even people convicted of misdemeanors) from receiving licenses to produce the marijuana.

Felon bans are commonplace in legal marijuana programs.  Every state has some version of it, but most of them have a five- or 10-year limit.  But the felon bans in both the Senate’s Farm Bill and the House’s marijuana research bill are lifetime bans, and the House bill includes misdemeanors, too. “Any restriction on misdemeanors goes in the exact contrary direction of the Second Chance Act,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York), who will become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in January.  His criticism was echoed by Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), who sought to have the misdemeanor language struck from the bill until its sponsor, Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), promised to address that language when it comes to the House floor.

In the Senate, the movement to protect the legal marijuana trade has taken the form of the proposed bipartisan Gardner-Warren STATES Act, which would maintain the status quo of federal non-interference of state-legal programs that was upended when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo, an Obama-era document that outlined a hands-off approach to state-legal programs.  Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act would adopt California-style principles and apply them federally, going far beyond the STATES Act, removing marijuana from Schedule I (defined as having no medical value and a high risk of abuse) and eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana.  But unlike other pro-marijuana bills, it would also deny federal law-enforcement grants to states that don’t legalize marijuana; direct federal courts to expunge marijuana convictions; and establish a grant-making fund through the Department of Housing and Urban Development for communities most affected by the War on Drugs.

Booker’s bill has become popular among Senate Democrats.  Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren have signed on as co-sponsors — a list that looks a lot like a lineup of presumed candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.  “For too long, the federal government has propped up failed and outdated drug policies that destroy lives,” Wyden told POLITICO Magazine.  “The War on Drugs is deeply rooted in racism.  We desperately need to not only correct course, but to also ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted. People across America understand and want change. Now, Congress must act.”

Recent polling shows that Americans agree with Wyden — to a point.  There is a widespread acceptance of legalizing marijuana.  Gallup has been tracking this number since 1969, when only 12 percent of Americans believed in legalizing it; in October, Gallup put the number at 64 percent, the highest ever number recorded.  Pew says it is 62 percent, also its highest number ever. 

But there is far less acceptance of the idea that the War on Drugs has had an adverse impact on poorer, minority communities, or that there should be some form of compensation in terms of prioritized access to the new industry. A  poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, a progressive DC-based polling firm, earlier this year on the “Politics of Marijuana Legalization in 2018 Battleground Districts” found that 62 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed agreed with the idea “we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed War on Drugs.”  However, when the pollsters added a racial component to this message — whether the respondents felt that the marijuana prohibition “unfairly target[s] and destroy[s] minority communities” — only 40 percent found that message to be “very convincing.”...

[M]any members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been slow to support marijuana legalization. But the CBC finally made its position on this issue clear in June when its 48-member caucus voted in an “overwhelming majority” to support policies beyond mere decriminalization: “Some of the same folks who told African Americans ‘three strikes and you’re out’ when it came to marijuana use and distribution, are now in support of decriminalizing the drug and making a profit off of it,” CBC Chairman Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat from Louisiana said at the time. “The Congressional Black Caucus supports decriminalizing marijuana and investing in communities that were destroyed by the War on Drugs…” 

Arguments for legalizing marijuana haven’t been entirely persuasive to sway many in the conservative black community, but re-framing it in the context of civil rights has brought many around to this new way of thinking. “What is moving conservative black and brown folks is this idea that we’re on the horizon of marijuana legalization,” according to Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance. “So the idea is in order to do this in a way that is equitable and fair, you have to start on the front end of alleviating racially biased consequences of prohibition while we’re legalizing — and that means expungement, re-sentencing, community re-investment, and looking at where marijuana tax revenue can go, and getting rid of barriers to the industry.”

Now that Democrats have won control of the House, co-founder of the Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), is poised to implement his blueprint for how the House under Democratic leadership would legalize marijuana at the federal level.  Racial justice is front-and-center in that plan.  The memo he sent to Democratic leadership reads in part, “committees should start marking up bills in their jurisdiction that would responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap — the gap between federal and state marijuana laws — before the end of the year. These policy issues… should include: Restorative justice measures that address the racial injustices that resulted from the unequal application of federal marijuana laws.”

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

November 18, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mapping out where marijuana campaigns are headed in 2020

Download (26)The Hill has this extended (and not surprising) article about where the marijuana reform movement is planning to go for the next round of ballot initiatives.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana backers plot ambitious campaign," and here are excerpts:

Advocates of legalizing medical and recreational marijuana are planning a wave of new ballot measures in coming years few years, buoyed by wins scored this year's midterm elections in swing and conservative states.

Supporters say they are likely to field measures in states like Ohio and Arizona in 2020, and potentially in Florida and North Dakota. They say plans are underway for initiatives to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota.

“2020 provides an opportunity to run medical marijuana and legalization campaigns across the country. Typically, presidential elections offer better turnout and a more supportive electorate,” said Matt Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “I’d be surprised if there weren’t a large number of initiatives being run — statutory, constitutional, legalization, medical marijuana. It’s going to be a big opportunity for our movement to build momentum.”...

“We won our first state outside of the coasts, and I think there’s a strong feeling that we’re sort of on the downhill of the tipping point,” said one strategist who has worked on legalization measures, who asked for anonymity to describe future plans....

The strategist said legalization backers have settled on a reliable formula that has generated success at the ballot box. The template includes language allowing adults to grow a small number of marijuana plants in their own home, banning advertising aimed at children and controlling potency of products like edibles that make it to market.

The measures [that failed previously] in North Dakota and Ohio did not closely follow that template; the Ohio measure, which did not earn support from the largest groups that back legalization campaigns, went so far as to parade a marijuana leaf mascot — named Bud — around campaign events before it went down in a crushing defeat.

Opponents of marijuana legalization said they have turned their focus to another provision typically found in successful ballot measures, one that allows counties and municipalities to ban pot shops even if recreational marijuana is legal statewide. “In all states with legalization, the majority of towns and cities that have voted have banned pot shops,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads the drug policy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization. “We … think we can get a majority of counties to opt out of pot shops in Michigan.”

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October showed 62 percent favor legalization — including majorities among Millennials, members of Generation X and the Baby Boomer generation. Drug legalization is one of the few issues where men take a more liberal stand than women. The Pew Research survey showed 68 percent of men, and just 56 percent of women, support legal pot.

The Utah measure that passed this year is especially notable, Schweich said, because the Republican-dominated state legislature is now likely to take up its own medical marijuana measure. That measure will likely be more conservative than the ballot proposition voters approved, but it will still mark the first time a conservative legislature has approved marijuana use. “You’re going to see a very conservative state adopt, via its legislature, a medical marijuana law,” he said. “We’ve really showed that any state, no matter how socially conservative it might be, can have medical marijuana.”

The legislative action in Utah is a prelude of what marijuana legalization backers hope becomes the next front in their fight. Not every state allows citizens to change laws via ballot measure; in some states, any change will be up to the legislature.

Two Democratic governors have indicated they would support legalization if the legislature forwards a bill to their desks. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) ran into opposition from some Democratic legislators during his first session in office but Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker (D) has said he supports legalization.

November 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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 | Permalink | Comments (0)