Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A first accounting of how "Marijuana Won The Midterm Elections" in 2018

Tom Angell has this new Forbes piece under the headline "Marijuana Won The Midterm Elections."   His accounting of marijuana's victory goes beyond just the statewide ballot initiatives, and here are excerpts (with links from the original and my highlighting of state names):

Michigan voters approved a ballot measure making their state the first in the midwest to legalize cannabis.  Missouri approved an initiative to allow medical marijuana, as did Utah.

Voters in several Ohio cities approved local marijuana decriminalization measures, and a number of Wisconsin counties and cities strongly approved nonbinding ballot questions calling for cannabis reform.

While North Dakota's long-shot marijuana legalization measure failed, cannabis also scored a number of big victories when it came to the results of candidate races. When new pro-legalization governors take their seats next year, marijuana bills in several states will have a good chance of being signed into law. 

In Illinois, Democrat J.B. Pritzker won the governor's race after making marijuana legalization a centerpiece of his campaign.  "We can begin by immediately removing one area of racial injustice in our criminal justice system," he said during his primary night victory speech earlier this year. "Let's legalize, tax and regulate marijuana."

Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim Walz (D) wants to "replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms."

Michigan voters who supported the state's marijuana legalization measure will have an ally in the incoming governor, Gretchen Whitmer (D), who supported the initiative and is expected to implement it in accordance with the will of the people. She has called cannabis an "exit drug" away from opioids

In New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who won the governor's race, said legalizing marijuana will bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy."

In New York, while easily reelected Gov Andrew Cuomo (D) had previously expressed opposition to legalization, he more recently empaneled a working group to draft legislation to end cannabis prohibition that the legislature can consider in 2019, a prospect whose chances just got a lot better in light of the fact that Democrats took control of the state's Senate.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers supports decriminalizing marijuana and allowing medical cannabis, and says he wants to put a full marijuana legalization question before voters to decide.  He ousted incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday.

States that already have legalization elected new governors who have been vocal supporters and will likely defend their local laws from potential federal interference. California's Gavin Newsom, Colorado's Jared Polis, Maine's Janet Mills and Nevada's Steve Sisolak, all Democrats, fit that bill.   Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), also a legalization supporter, was reelected in her state, which ended prohibition in 2014.

Speaking of the federal government, when it comes to congressional races, one of the main impediments to cannabis reform on Capitol Hill won't be around in 2019.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who as chairman of the House Rules Committee, has systematically blocked every single proposed marijuana amendment from reaching a floor vote this Congress, is now out of a job after having lost his reelection bid to Democrat Colin Allred.

And the fact that the Democrats, who have been much more likely than Republicans to support cannabis reform legislation than GOP members, retook control of the chamber means that the chances of ending federal prohibition sooner rather than later just got a lot better.  Last month, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) published what he called a  "Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana" in which he laid out a detailed, step-by-step plan for Democrats to enact the end of federal cannabis prohibition in 2019.  It's not clear whether Democratic leaders will embrace the idea, but a look at polling on the issue should give them the sense that marijuana reform is a popular issue with bipartisan support....

That said, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has championed legalizing hemp, he does not support broader marijuana law reform and seems unlikely to bring far-reaching cannabis bills to a vote without substantial pressure.

But President Trump earlier this year voiced support for pending legislation that would respect the right of states to implement their own marijuana laws.  If Democrats pass that bill or similar proposals out of the House, the president's support could be enough to get it through the Senate, where a number of GOP members have already endorsed ending federal prohibition. 

November 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Another election with marijuana reform as a big winner in (most) ballot initiatives

In recent history, elections in 2012 and 2016 have been arguably the most consequential for the modern marijuana reform movement.  But every election cycle is important in its own way, and the 2018 season is no different as three of four statewide marijuana initiatives appear to have passed on this election night (and this follows a medical marijuana initiative passing in Oklahoma in mid-2018).  Specifically:

Michigan voters have approved Proposition 1 providing for legalization of recreational marijuana use.

Missouri voters have approved Amendment 2 providing for legalization of medical marijuana use.

Utah voters have approved Proposition 2 providing for legalization of medical marijuana use.

But, North Dakota voters have rejected Measure 3 providing for legalization of recreational marijuana use.

November 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 5, 2018

"Where marijuana is on the ballot Tuesday — and where it’s most likely to win"

Total-Funds-rev-768x405The title of this post is the headline of this effective new Washington Post piece, which gets started this way:

It has been a big year for marijuana policy in North America. Mexico’s supreme court overturned pot prohibition last week, while Canada’s recreational marijuana market officially opened its doors in October.

Stateside, recreational marijuana use became legal in Vermont on July 1, Oklahoma voters approved one of the country’s most progressive medical marijuana bills in June, the New York Department of Health officially recommended legalization to the governor and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands legalized recreational use.

Now, legalization advocates are hoping to build on these successes with a number of statewide ballot measures up for consideration Tuesday, including full recreational legalization in two states and medical marijuana in two more. Here’s a rundown of what the measures say and where the polling on them stands.

Michigan: Recreational use....

North Dakota: Recreational use....

Missouri: Medical use....

Utah: Medical use....

UPDATE: The folks over at Marijuana Majority have this interesting accounting of monies spent in these campaigns under the headline "Marijuana Ballot Initiative Campaigns Raised $12.9 Million, Final Pre-Election Numbers Show." Here is how the piece starts:

2018 has been a banner year for marijuana ballot initiatives. Voters in two states are considering legalizing recreational use, while those in another two states will decide whether to allow medical cannabis.

In the lead-up to the election, committees supporting or opposing these initiatives have raised a total of $12.9 million in cash and in-kind services over the past two years to convince those voters, Marijuana Moment’s analysis of the latest campaign finance records filed the day before Election Day shows.

On the day final ballots are cast and tallied, here’s where funding totals now stand for the various cannabis committees, both pro and con, in the four states considering major modifications to marijuana laws.

November 5, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Various takes on politics of marijuana reform a week before the latest big election

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Marijuana midterms: Why legal weed advocates think 'all the pieces are coming together' this year"

Images (16)The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new NBC News article, which carries this summary subhead: "Four states have marijuana measures on the ballot in November, and a Democratic Congress could make it easier for more states to relax drug laws." With exactly two weeks until Election Day 2018, I like the phrase "marijuana midterms," and here are excerpts from the lengthy press piece:

As polls show record support for marijuana legalization, advocates say the midterm elections could mark the point of no return for a movement that has been gathering steam for years. "The train has left the station," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a leading marijuana reform advocate in Congress. "I see all the pieces coming together... It's the same arc we saw two generations ago with the prohibitions of alcohol."

Voters in four states will weigh in on ballot initiatives to legalize weed for recreational or medical use next month, while voters everywhere will consider giving more power to Democrats, who have increasingly campaigned on marijuana legalization and are likely to advance legislation on the issue if they win back power in Congress and state capitals.... Politically, the issue has gone from a risible sideshow to a mainstream plank with implications for racial justice and billions of dollars in tax revenue. "Politicians embraced it because it's actually good politics,” said Blumenauer. “They can read the polls.”...

But opponents say advocates are ignoring the backlash that rapid legalization has created, including from some surprising corners, like the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, which is set to announce Tuesday its opposition to a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana in Michigan, the most significant of this year's referendums. Michigan already has a robust medical marijuana industry, but voters could decide to fully legalize the drug for recreational use on Nov. 6. A recent survey commissioned by The Detroit Free Press found 55 percent of voters supported the measure, compared to 41 percent who opposed it.

Meanwhile, North Dakota voters will also have a chance to legalize recreational marijuana in one of the most conservative states in the country, two years after 64 percent of voters approved its medical use during the 2016 election. Advocates are less hopeful about their prospects this year, though a pro-legalization group released a poll this weekend claiming a narrow 51 percent of likely voters approve of the measure.

Utah, a deep red state with some of the strictest alcohol rules in the country, is considering a medical marijuana initiative, which polls suggest is favored to succeed, even though most of the state’s political and religious leaders oppose it.

At the same time, Missouri voters will consider three separate and competing medical marijuana ballot initiatives. The situation has frustrated advocates and could confuse voters, especially because it's unclear what will happen if they approve more than one next month.

Meanwhile, Vermont's state legislature earlier this year legalized cannabis, though not for commercial sale, and New York and New Jersey could be next, as lawmakers in both states are actively considering the issue....

Progressive Democrats like Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Texas Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, have adopted marijuana legalization as a central plank of their campaigns by tying the issue to criminal justice reform, citing the disproportionate number of African-Americans arrested for the drug even though usage is common among whites.  In one of the biggest applause lines of his stump speech, O’Rourke — a longtime advocate of marijuana reform dating back to his days on the El Paso City Council — asks supporters who will be the last person of color incarcerated for possessing something that is now legal for medical use in a majority of states.

But a growing number of more mainstream Democrats have adopted the policy too, like J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire hotel magnate running for governor of Illinois, and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, who beat a progressive Bernie Sanders-style challenger in the Democratic primary.  “Democrats have really jumped on this as a way of galvanizing their voters,” said Michael Collins, the interim director of the pro-legalization group Drug Policy Action. “If you're on the more moderate side of the party and you want to show your progressive bona fides, you go to marijuana, because it's not as controversial an issue as, say eliminating ICE,” the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency....

But Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the Obama administration on drug policy who runs a group that opposes marijuana legalization, says advocates are overstating the inevitability of their side.  “I don't think this is a done deal at all,” he said, noting that his group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, has raised more money this year than any year in its history.  “Ironically, the more legalization rolls out, as recklessly as it is, the more support we get.”  Polls showing sky-high support for legalization can be misleading, Sabet argues, because they use vague wording that can lead respondents to conflate decriminalization with a full-blown recreational system that allows for storefront dispensaries.

Some of the most vocal opposition, he said, has come from African-American organizations, who express concern that the commercialization of the marijuana industry has primarily benefited white entrepreneurs even though communities of color have borne the brunt of the drug war.  "This really isn't about social justice, it's about a few rich white guys getting rich," Sabet said, noting that the black caucus in the New Jersey state legislature has helped stall Murphy's legalization effort in New Jersey.

Proponents acknowledge the racial disparities in the marijuana industry, and some, like Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, has advocated a legalization regime that would benefit black and brown weed entrepreneurs.

Either way, if Democrats win back the House, advocates say Congress could advance a number of reform bills that have been blocked by the Republican majority. Some, like a bill to exempt states that have legalized marijuana from federal restrictions and another to allow marijuana businesses to use banks, have numerous Republican co-sponsors and could pass both chambers of Congress today — if only leaders allowed lawmakers to vote on them, advocates say.

October 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Will Canada's legalization of marijuana impact coming legalization votes in Michigan and North Dakota and elsewhere in US?

319030_87b0d3e2e5596a530b55b4f110aa6dbc440af205.png_facebookThe question in the title of this post is my domestic reaction to the big international marijuana reform news of Canadian marijuana legalization efforts becoming a reality.  This new Politico article, headlined "Members of Congress, businesses push for homegrown weed," reports on some of the US echoes of what has transpired in the country up north this week, and here are excerpts:

Washington just got some major peer pressure to embrace the bong.  Its vast northern neighbor Canada legalizes the retail sale of marijuana nationwide Wednesday.  The Canadian cannabis sector is already estimated to be worth $31 billion and upstart marijuana companies have soared on the New York Stock Exchange.

But America’s patchwork of state laws — and federal ban on marijuana — put American pot companies at a high disadvantage. It's unclear whether the push to liberalize U.S. marijuana laws will get very far: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared war on marijuana, though his efforts have been dampened by a not-so-hostile White House.  Yet Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said last week that the White House plans to address cannabis reform following the midterms.

Rohrabacher's efforts are bolstered by a chorus of congressional and business voices calling on the Trump administration to respond with an “America First” policy on pot. A publicly traded U.S. cannabis company bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday with a message to President Donald Trump: Canada will take over the U.S. marijuana market if we don't legalize soon....

A bipartisan group of American lawmakers fumed last month when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency gave the green light to importing Canadian marijuana for research purposes. The 15 lawmakers, many of them representing states that have legalized recreational cannabis, protested to the DEA and Sessions that dozens of American companies already requested permission to produce marijuana for study.  They wrote that allowing the University of California, San Diego, one of the applicants, to import marijuana capsules from Canada-based Tilray, Inc., was “adding insult to injury.”

Noting that Trump had issued a "Buy American" executive order, the lawmakers urged the administration to ensure that the domestic need for cannabis research be met by American institutions. The concerns are not just limited to medicinal marijuana. Recreational use is gaining a foothold in U.S. states.  Voters in North Dakota and Michigan will vote on ballot initiatives on legalization on Election Day.

Already, nine states and the District of Columbia, have legalized pot, and 31 others allow medical marijuana. “I think it frankly cries out for a federal solution,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), now challenging Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for her Senate seat, told POLITICO.  “And this is tough stuff — this is hard stuff to talk about — because I’m a law-and-order congressman, but it’s impossible to ignore what’s going on. … If the federal government itself doesn’t do something to sort of at least provide the banking system that allows for greater oversight and regulation, I think we’re just setting ourselves up for a bit of a rogue industry rather than a highly regulated one.”

Though this piece is focused on federal US policies, I am especially interested in the reality that the two states voting on full legalization this election cycle both border Canada. I have been thinking that voters in the (bluish) state of Michigan were on a path toward legalization even before these developments in Canada, but I have also been guessing that voters in the (deep red) state of North Dakota were not going to be ready to vote for full legalization. But maybe developments up north could change these dynamics among the voters

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Could Weed Be Federally Legal in 2019?"

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Rolling Stone article that effectively summarizes the lengthy memo circulated yesterday by Representative Earl Blumenauer written to House Democratic Leadership outlining his plan to legalize cannabis in the next Congress.  Here are excerpts from the article:

In honor of Canada’s first day with legal adult-use marijuana, an optimistic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sent a letter to House Democratic leadership Wednesday outlining a plan to advance federal legalization measures with the goal of federally legalizing cannabis by the end of 2019. “Congress is out of step with the American people and the states on cannabis,” he wrote. “There is no question: cannabis prohibition will end. Democrats should lead the way.”

Blumenauer’s plan would begin as early as next January, when he says the key to advancing some of the 37 cannabis bills sitting in Congress is to have the individual issues evaluated by the distinct congressional committees. For example, the House Judiciary Committee could hold a hearing on descheduling marijuana; the House Veterans Affairs Committee could hold a hearing on veterans’ access to medical pot; the House Financial Services Committee could discuss the current barring of cannabis businesses from federally backed banks; and the House Ways and Means Committee could have a hearing on the unequal taxation of pot businesses.

Additionally, Blumenauer writes that these committees should start “marking up bills in their jurisdiction[s] that would responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap — the gap between federal and state marijuana laws,” using examples like the protection of employment, protection of private property from civil asset forfeiture and the removal of barriers to marijuana research. He also includes, most importantly, the need to “address the racial injustices that resulted from the unequal application of federal marijuana laws” — or, in other words, a social-justice element that could begin to correct the racist tide of the 40-year-old War on Drugs.

By August, Blumenauer believes, the House can pass a package of marijuana laws to address these concerns, and the bills can move to the Senate. The Oregon representative hopes that, given the increasing public support for marijuana — he cites a poll that 69 percent of registered voters support legalizing pot — the public will be able to pressure the senior body of Congress into passing the bill....

On a call with reporters, Blumenauer said that he believes key members of the prohibitionist movement — including Texas Rep. Pete Sessions and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan — won’t be returning next session, and with those opponents gone, the cannabis movement will be able to advance. He has been speaking with senior members of the committees, he said, and is confident that some will be able to get these specific areas of cannabis law on the agenda next year. “The outline is ambitious,” Blumenauer admitted. “It’s aspirational, but it’s entirely within our capacity.”

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Is Trump White House really on verge of proposing federal marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Fox Business piece headlined "White House to unveil federal cannabis reform 'very soon,' says GOP lawmaker." Here are excerpts:

The White House is planning on tackling cannabis reform after the midterm elections, according to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Rohrabacher tells FOX Business that the Trump administration has made a “solid commitment” to fix marijuana regulation.

“I have been talking to people inside the White House who know and inside the president’s entourage... I have talked to them at length. I have been reassured that the president intends on keeping his campaign promise.”...

“I would expect after the election we will sit down and we’ll start hammering out something that is specific and real,” he said.

The California congressman, who is up for re-election this November, is battling to hold onto a seat that national Democrats have identified as part of their strategy to win the House majority this midterm election. Rohrabacher faces Democrat Harley Rouda. RealClearPolitics has listed the seat that Rohrabacher has held for five years as a toss-up – and the polling average has both candidates in a dead heat – with both at 48 percent of voter support.

Recreational marijuana was just recently legalized in California this year – but reforms on the federal level have been stalled for decades. Yet, according to Rohrabacher, that will soon change: “It could be as early as spring of 2019, but definitely in the next legislative session.”

I suspect Rep. Rohrabacher is making these claims as part of an effort to make the case to Californians that he needs to be reelected to help with federal marijuana reforms.

October 12, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Notable discussions of a fully state-run medical marijuana program in Utah

Download (23)Though some may tire of  the talk of "laboratories of democracy" in the context of marijuana reform, I never tire noticing all the different ways state-level reform efforts are producing different approaches to marijuana laws and policies.  And, as explained in this new local piece, headlined "Utah could become the guinea pig for state distribution of medical marijuana," a notable state out west is working toward a novel social and economic experimental approach to marijuana reform.   Here are the details:

The medical marijuana agreement that has brought together warring factions in the Proposition 2 debate could make Utah a national test case — the state itself would distribute the cannabis.  Sure, other governments have mulled such a system, but they’ve generally shied away from direct involvement in dispensing a substance illegal under federal law, said Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project....

Gov. Gary Herbert, legislative leaders and advocates unveiled the proposed legislation Thursday that Utah lawmakers are expected to take up during a November special session.  Herbert described it as a step toward establishing a medical marijuana program that Prop 2 opponents, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could stomach and pledged to put it before lawmakers next month whether or not the ballot initiative passes.

The consensus plan would create a centralized state pharmacy that would package individual medical cannabis orders and ship them to a local health department for pickup by patients who qualify.  Up to five private “medical cannabis pharmacies” would also be allowed under the legislation, but the state-run system would act as an alternative for rural residents who live far from these locations, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said.  “Is it unique? Yeah, it’s definitely a unique model,” he said, “and that’s why it could very well become the role model ... for the rest of the country."...

Vickers, who is a pharmacist by profession and helped broker the cannabis accord, said he was comfortable that the state wouldn’t run afoul of federal law by getting involved in the distribution of a Schedule 1 drug.  He said he vetted the idea with the Drug Enforcement Administration but wouldn’t disclose who he’d communicated with, saying the conversations were sensitive.

O’Keefe said the Marijuana Policy Project isn’t sure a state-run model will fly in Utah.  The closest comparison for it is in Louisiana, where the state designated two public institutions, Louisiana State University and Southern University, as the only legal growers of marijuana plants.  The Louisiana program isn’t running yet, she said.  But her advocacy group — which has dumped more than $210,000 into the campaign supporting Prop 2 — is satisfied that if Utah’s centralized system fails, the private cannabis pharmacies will keep patients supplied....

Connor Boyack, founder of the libertarian Libertas Institute, said the state-run system was a hotly debated element in the medical cannabis plan.  His group was unwilling to rely on the central fill pharmacy alone and insisted the bill allow private pharmacies as a backup.  “We don’t have high hopes for [the state-run system]," he said, “but to be fair and in good faith, we’re saying, go for it.”

October 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

BuzzFeed reporting Trump Administration effort to assemble "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" and "threats" posed by marijuana reforms

Avatars-000114258398-2fkvx7-t500x500BuzzFeed News has this important scoop on an important effort by the Trump Administration to develop data and arguments against marijuana reform.   The full title of the article provides a basic summary: "Inside The Trump Administration’s Secret War On Weed: The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee wants to counteract positive marijuana messages and identify problems with state legalization initiatives, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News."  The whole piece is today's must-read, and here are highlights:

The White House has secretly amassed a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for marijuana and cast state legalization measures in a negative light, while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat, according to interviews with agency staff and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.

In an ironic twist, the committee complained in one memo that the narrative around marijuana is unfairly biased in favor of the drug. But rather than seek objective information, the committee’s records show it is asking officials only to portray marijuana in a negative light, regardless of what the data show.

“The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate,” says a summary of a July 27 meeting of the White House and nine departments. In a follow-up memo, which provided guidance for responses from federal agencies, White House officials told department officials, “Departments should provide … the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends.”

As several states have approved laws allowing adults to use and purchase cannabis, critics have contended lax attitudes will promote drug abuse, particularly among youth, and they have pressed for a federal crackdown. The White House at one point said more pot enforcement would be forthcoming, though President Donald Trump has never said he was onboard with that agenda and he announced in June that he "really" supports new bipartisan legislation in Congress that would let state marijuana legalization thrive.

However, the committee’s hardline agenda and deep bench suggest an extraordinarily far-reaching effort to reverse public attitudes and scrutinize those states. Its reports are to be used in a briefing for Trump “on marijuana threats.”

“Staff believe that if the administration is to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use there is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security,” says the meeting summary....

Coordinated by White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the committee met on July 27 with many of the largest agencies in the federal government, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and State. An unclassified summary of the meeting, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says the memo is “predecisional and requires a close hold.” And it says the notes were not to be distributed externally.

The White House followed up the next week by sending agencies and other departments — including the departments of Defense, Education, Transportation and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency — instructions to submit two-page, bulleted fact sheets that identify marijuana threats and issues with the initiatives by Aug. 10....

Departments were told to “identify marijuana threats; issues created by state marijuana initiatives; and consequences of use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security.” The agencies should also provide an example of a “story, relating an incident or picture, that illustrates one or more the key areas of concern related to use, production, and trafficking of marijuana,” the White House guidance says. The agencies were asked to describe how the drug poses threats to their department and the consequences of marijuana “on national health and security.”...

None of the 14 agencies BuzzFeed News contacted for this story, the DEA, or the White House denied the marijuana committee’s existence.

John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, blasted the committee’s slanted approach to the facts and the “alienating effort on behalf of the president. ” “This is a terrible political move by the administration,” he told BuzzFeed, saying that the committee’s agenda betrays Trump’s pledges to protect states from federal intervention — a position with overwhelming public support.  Hudak added it would be “policy malpractice” to only collect one-sided data.  “The coordination of propaganda around an issue that the president ostensibly supported is fairly unprecedented.”

“This is a president who is not serious about states rights and regulatory reform in areas like drug policy, and is not serious about telling the truth to the American people or members of Congress from his own party," Hudak said, pointing to Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, who authored legislation that would protect states rights on marijuana and has praised Trump on the issue.

I share John Hudak's concerns about the one-sided approach to collecting data that is apparently afoot inside the Trump Administration. But I am more generally inclined to complain about the last three administrations for their collective failure to take seriously and consider studying all the state policy initiatives that have developed in this space.  State-authorized medical marijuana use has been going on now for more than two decades, and the array of state legal and policy developments in the marijuana space are too great to even take in completely.  The feds for years should have been trying to study and assess the import and impact of state innovations, and I suppose I am a bit pleased to see someone is finally really trying to pay attention.  I sure wish the folks inside the Beltway could pay attention without minds already made up, but I suppose there is a limit to what one can hope to get from our tax dollars at work.

August 29, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Newsweek cover story spotlights "How Republicans Learned to Love Marijuana"

Jk77C_Ig_400x400The feature article in the August 24 issue of Newsweek is headlined "Legal Weed: How Republicans Learned to Love Marijuana." The lengthy piece is worth reading in full, and here are excerpts:

[At Texas's] 2018 Republican ­Party convention in San Antonio in June, nearly 10,000 conservative politicians voted to revise the ­party platform on marijuana. The changes included supporting industrial hemp, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession and urging the federal government to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 drug.

These planks, while still some of the most conservative approaches to marijuana policy in the country, were a marked departure from the party’s position a few years prior. And they’re indicative of the ­transformation happening with Republican voters and officials nationwide.

The motives are mixed. Some, like Isaac, were moved by arguments about its medical uses. For others, the shift is an attempt at criminal justice reform after years of racial discrimination. Some conservative lawmakers tout marijuana ­policy changes in the name of federalism and small government, and others say it might be the only bipartisan issue left in Congress. Regardless, Republicans can’t deny that marijuana legal­ization is popular among younger, more diverse voters who could help the party survive....

Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, vowed to block the president’s Department of Justice nominees until he received a commitment that his state’s rights would not be infringed [after AG Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo]. Gardner tells Newsweek that in a sit-down meeting with the president in April, Trump said leaving cannabis laws up to the states was “the right thing to do and that we’re not going back.”

Gardner then went on to create the Strengthening the 10th Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, along with Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren. The bill would eliminate any federal prosecution of marijuana users or sellers in states that had legally ­authorized such actions. “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes,” Trump told reporters in June, striking a big blow to Sessions.

In a polarized era, the bill is impressively bipar­tisan. Five conservatives and four liberals co-­sponsored the legislation in the Senate, including names you would never expect to be on the same side — like Jeff Flake and Cory Booker. It has significant “cross-cut appeal,” Gardner says. He hopes the bill will gain momentum after the midterm elections.

But for Republicans, the effort to ensure states’ rights when it comes to marijuana policy is more important than a bipartisan collaboration. “It’s a federalism experiment,” Gardner says. “Republicans who have long been champions of states’ rights can choose this as a moment to prove it.”...

Already, politicians are beginning to see the benefits of supporting the cannabis industry through campaign fundraising. Rohrabacher, who is facing his toughest re-election campaign in three decades and is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House, has been rewarded for his pro-weed stance. The congressman has gained $5,000 checks from companies and organizations including Weedmaps, Scotts Miracle-Gro and the National Cannabis Industry Association. Since 2016, Rohrabacher has received more than $80,000 in marijuana industry money.

In the long run, Republican lawmakers may support marijuana decriminalization for the simple fact that it may help them get elected as they play a catch-up game with young, nonwhite voters. An estimated 24 million people ages 18 to 29 cast votes in the 2016 election. In that demographic, Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by an 18-point margin. Millennials are about to inherit the kingdom as the largest voting block in the country, and, according to one poll, over 80 percent believe the drug is safer than alcohol.

August 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Which of these 6 states will be next to legalize marijuana?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Hill piece authored by Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  Here are excerpts from his accouting:

Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have legalized the adult possession and use of marijuana. In the coming months, some or all of these states will likely be joining them.

Michigan

Voters this November will decide the fate of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. If passed, the voter-initiated measure will permit those over the age of 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates, while also licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales....

New Jersey

Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana use and sales in the Garden State — a pledge he reiterated in his 2019 budget address when he stated, “[T]he only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults. … [F]rom the standpoint of social justice, and from the standpoint of protecting our kids and lifting up our communities, I could not arrive at any other conclusion."...

North Dakota

Proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana in North Dakota recently turned in over 19,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to place a measure before voters this November. State officials must certify 13,452 of those signatures in order to qualify the measure for the 2018 electoral ballot.... In 2016, nearly two-thirds of state voters approved a ballot measure regulating medical cannabis access. However, state officials have yet to make the program operational. Activists have acknowledged that regulators' failure to swiftly implement the 2016 measure was the impetus for the 2018 campaign.

New York

Ongoing legislative efforts to reform the Empire State’s marijuana laws received a significant boost this month when a state-commissioned study issued by the New York Department of Health called for the plant’s legalization....

Oklahoma

Sooner State voters in June approved one of the nation’s most liberal medical cannabis access laws, and they may have the opportunity to enact even broader reforms this fall. Days away from an August 8th deadline, local activists are estimated to be just a few thousand signatures shy of meeting statewide requirements to place an adult use legalization measure on the November ballot.

Delaware

Sixty-one percent of Delaware voters believe cannabis ought to be legal for those over the age of 21. And a majority of state representatives agree with them. In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year.

As I see it, full legalization is only likely in Michigan this year, though it is possible the New Jersey legislature will get this done before too long. If New Jersey does enact full legalization, that would increase the odds of neighboring New York and Delaware moving forward with legalization. But the odds still seem long to me for lots more full legalization states until the 2020 cycle. That major election year I expect we could see full legalization votes in at least a half dozen states, including big ones like Arizona, Florida and Ohio

July 30, 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)

"Wanna Beat Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee? Focus on Marijuana"

Brett-kavanaughThe title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Daily Beast commentary authored by Jeff Hauser.  I recommend the whole piece, and here are extended excerpts:

What if I were to tell you that there is a political issue that galvanizes young voters?  An issue that unites libertarians, independents, and African-Americans?  An issue with bipartisan power, that works not only in cities, but has demonstrated strength in red states like Kentucky and West Virginia? 

It’s an issue likely to generate cases to be heard by the Supreme Court in the next decade and one on which the Trump administration’s leading law enforcement official — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is already on the losing side politically.

Given all that, you would think this issue would be a central part of the Democratic Party’s campaign against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court.  You would think wavering Democrats and shaky Republican senators would be targeted on the basis of the threat Kavanaugh poses on this issue.  But because the progressive movement sometimes makes political basics look liking trying to solve Fermat's Last Theorem, you would be wrong.

The issue I speak of is marijuana.  And it is likely to be a source of many complicated legal disputes in the coming decade, disputes that will be of increasing salience to American voters and, by turn, the Supreme Court.

In fact, the Supreme Court has already had to deal with some marijuana-related matters.  Just a few years ago, it was asked to weigh in on Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. Nebraska and Oklahoma argued Colorado’s law was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, and that the court should enjoin Colorado from implementing its law.  Nebraska and Oklahoma complained that Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana “undermin[ed] their own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”

On presumably technical grounds, six members of the Court declined to hear the lawsuit, but without prejudice (meaning there was no implication those Justices disagreed on the merits and the states could pursue their theory in the lower courts). Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, dissented from the decision to not hear the case not only on technical grounds, but also by noting that Nebraska and Oklahoma have alleged “significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State.”  They stated that those allegations were significant enough to warrant the Court’s attention.

That decision was back in 2016. How will Justice Neil Gorsuch (typically an ally of Thomas and Alito) feel when this question comes back to the Court now, as it likely will?  How would a Justice Kavanaugh, who most well-informed observers believe is essentially Gorsuch 2.0, feel about it?  Would Chief Justice John Roberts feel differently about it with a social-issues moderate like Justice Anthony Kennedy no longer on the Court?

These are important questions, affecting a massive and growing industry that a growing portion of the population supports.  And yet, they’ve been completely unasked during this current debate about the future composition of the Court....

It’s impossible, of course, to say for sure whether other questions surrounding marijuana legalization will come to the Court, or in what form.  But it appears likely.  Even the intersection of banking law and drug policy is a messy thicket right now.  America’s slow burning experiment with marijuana reform raises many as yet unclarified legal issues.

And that’s why those who are interested in marijuana legalization should also want to know what Judge Brett Kavanaugh thinks about the host of legal questions that might ultimately decide its future.

As a political matter, there are few better cards for the Democratic Party to play.  According to Gallup, support for legalization has "risen from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2017."  Several other surveys reveal similar increases.  An April 2018 Quinnipiac poll shows support for marijuana legalization not only strong among Democrats (75 percent) but Independents as well (67 percent), and even 41 percent of Republicans.

Support remains strongest among millennials — a group that commentators have noted is crucial to Democrats’ performance in this November’s midterm elections — but it has also risen rapidly among all age groups and places.  This past June, Oklahoma — Oklahoma! — voted to legalize marijuana.

In an environment in which marijuana is salient to the Supreme Court and many voters, the fact that marijuana is not part of the effort to secure red and purple state Senate votes against Kavanaugh is a little perplexing.

Not least because it has already proven to be a topic that can compel lawmakers to act.  Senators with “the federalist position” on-marijuana includes progressives like Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand but also Republicans “Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski, and Mike Lee.”

But no Senator better reflects the potential of the marijuana issue as a wedge than Colorado’s Cory Gardner.  Just last month, Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a marijuana legislation reform bill to “give states the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.”  And for three months this winter, Gardner held up all Justice Department nominees in an effort to force Attorney General Sessions to agree to leave Colorado’s marijuana industry alone.

That display of spine was about as much as any Republican Senator has shown in attempting to restrain the Trump Administration to date.  But it also made sense.  Being viewed as a fighter for Colorado's right to legalize marijuana is likely pivotal to Gardner's political survival.  In 2014, Gardner won his seat in a GOP wave by a mere 2 points. In 2020, he will be facing an uphill battle since he holds the single most pro-Hillary Clinton seat of any Republican in the U.S. Senate....

Marijuana is not a staple of Supreme Court fights. The issue advocacy groups that focus on marijuana do not typically focus on the Supreme Court. And Cory Gardner is not a typical target for Democrats. But “typical” isn’t good enough. It is sadly clear that if progressive groups and Democrats rely exclusively on raising the same issues they raised in the Gorsuch “fight” in 2017, Kavanaugh will be confirmed easily.

Marijuana reform is one of the most important new political issues of this era and it’s about time Democrats and progressives take it seriously.

I do not think questions about marijuana will lead to "beating" Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but I do think it quite sound to urge Senators to ask Judge Kavanaugh about the range of federalism and personal freedom issues that surround modern marijuana reform.  In this post upon Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement, I asked "With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?".   Asking questions about Raich could be one of a number of ways to probe Judge Kavanaugh's views on these important topics.

July 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hooray for the proposed new "Marijuana Data Collection Act" ... but ...

Images (2)Tom Angell reports here at Forbes on the introduction of a new piece of federal legislation that I consider long overdue.   Here are the details:

The Marijuana Data Collection Act, introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors, would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study "the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment."...

If the legislation is enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would carry out the research and publish initial findings within 18 months, with follow-up reports to be issued every two years after that.

So far, the bill's backers seem to consist solely of those who support marijuana law reform, a situation that legalization advocates decried.  “This is not a marijuana bill, it is an information bill," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview.  "No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation. Our public policy needs to be based on sound data and science, not gut feelings or fear-mongering.  Approving the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide legislators with reliable and fact-based information to help them decide what direction is most beneficial to society when it comes to marijuana policy.”...

Gabbard held a Tuesday morning press conference with other supporters, including lead GOP cosponsor Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and former U.S. Attorneys Barry Grissom of Kansas and Bill Nettles of South Carolina. Other original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Darren Soto (D-FL), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dina Titus (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Tom Garrett (R-VA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA).

Here are the specific data points the bill directs federal officials to track:

REVENUES AND STATE ALLOCATIONS

The monetary amounts generated through revenues, taxes, and any other financial benefits. The purposes and relative amounts for which these funds were used. The total impact on the State and its budget.

MEDICINAL USE OF MARIJUANA

The rates of medicinal use among different population groups, including children, the elderly, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. The purpose of such use. Which medical conditions medical marijuana is most frequently purchased and used for.

SUBSTANCE USE

The rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of admission in health care facilities, emergency rooms, and volunteer treatment facilities related to overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of opioid-related and other painkiller-related crimes to one’s self and to the community. The rates of opioid prescriptions and other pain killers.

IMPACTS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including the rates of such arrests on the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and the rates of such arrests on the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. The rates of arrests and citations on the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. The rates of arrests on the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State. The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions.

EMPLOYMENT

The amount of jobs created in each State, differentiating between direct and indirect employment. The amount of jobs expected to be created in the next 5 years, and in the next 10 years, as a result of the State’s marijuana industry.

Because I cannot yet find the full text of the bill on-line, I cannot yet provide a full informed opinion on its particulars.  I can say that I think a big, data-focused federal study of the impact of state marijuana reform is looooooooong overdue.  I was hopeful, but not optimistic, that Prez Obama might see the wisdom and political value of pushing for this kind of study effort after the issuance of the 2013 Cole Memo and after the 2014 election brought more states and DC into the recreational marijuana column.  But, sadly, we have been left largely with national number crunching by partisan advocates rather than government bean-counters for now two decades of ever-more-robust state-level reforms.

Based on Tom's description of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act," I am a bit concerned that there are not provisions likely to encourage pot prohibitionists to be supportive of this particular study effort.   The folks at SAM are often eager to stress data on black markets, increased use of marijuana by workers, increased hospital visits, increased homelessness, increased drugged driving, increased use by youths and young adults, environmental impacts,  and all sorts of other concerns (see, e.g., this SAM "lessons learned" report from March 2018).  It is unclear if these kinds of potentially negative data are fundamental parts of the inquiry imagined by Marijuana Data Collection Act.  If not, I doubt opponents of marijuana reform will want to sign on to this bill.

That said, even if the current version of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act" is in someway incomplete or one-sided, I hope a lot of folks on all sides of the marijuana reform debate will be inclined to try to make the bill better and get it passed.  I sincerely hope nobody disagrees with the notion that sound data and science is needed in this arena, and I sense both sides of the debate sincerely believe that the data, if fairly collected, will be on their side.  So maybe all can come together to really work toward trying to have all the data fairly collected (though I am not holding my breath).

July 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pennsylvania auditor issues report extolling benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana

Press-release-placeholderLate last week the Auditor General of Pennsylvania released this notable report on “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana” that reads a bit more like an advocacy group's document than something that would emerge from a state government office.  But, as this press release about the report reveals, the Auditor General of PA seems real eager to have access to a new revenue source:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said Pennsylvania is missing out on $581 million per year in revenue by not regulating and taxing marijuana — money that could fund critical initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives. “Repeated polls have shown that a majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legalized.  In Pennsylvania, it’s 56 percent,” DePasquale said during a news conference with Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.

“Today, I’m releasing a special report that shows the staggering amount the state could reap in tax revenue if legislators simply did what their constituents want them to do: regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.”

The 14-page special report, “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana,” compiles national research data, which show that an average of 8.38 percent of the commonwealth’s adults (21 and older) currently use marijuana at least monthly — a total of 798,556 adults. In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, adult users spend an average of $2,080 annually.  If Pennsylvania’s 798,556 adult users spent the same amount, they would create a $1.66 billion retail industry.

Assuming Pennsylvania taxed the growth, cultivation and sale of marijuana at 35 percent, the state would collect roughly $581 million in tax revenue annually. If Allegheny and Philadelphia counties were allowed to add 1-2 percent local tax, they could collect an additional $3.8 million and $6.9 million, respectively. “Imagine what that $581 million could mean for Pennsylvanians,” DePasquale said.  “Not only would it help balance the state budget, but it would also mean increases to initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives, such as greater access to opioid treatment and better health care access for veterans and children.”

DePasquale became the first statewide elected official to endorse regulating and taxing marijuana in March 2017. “With our neighboring states all looking at legalizing marijuana, now is the time for Pennsylvania to do the same,” DePasquale continued. “Legislators must act now so that we can be competitive and not lose potential revenue to other states.”

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Has the U.S. reached a ‘tipping point’ in marijuana legalization?"

Download (2)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Post piece authored by Daniel J. Mallinson and A. Lee Hannah.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Has the U.S. reached the “tipping point” in marijuana legalization?  That’s what one CNN commentator said happened last month when, on June 26, Oklahoma adopted medical marijuana through a ballot initiative....

It’s true that a lot was unusual about the Oklahoma initiative.  The state approved medical marijuana with roughly 57 percent of the vote — despite the fact that the ballot measure was held in a conservative state, during a primary — when only the most committed party members tend to vote — rather than during a general election, is more permissive than many comparable laws, and was opposed by statewide Republican leaders....

Notably, Oklahoma’s voters approved medical marijuana directly, rather than through the legislature.  In our previous research, we found that five states legalizing medical marijuana via ballot initiatives between 1996 and 1999 helped legitimize the effort — and, beginning in 2000, a handful of legislatures followed suit.  Direct democracy is one important way that advocates successfully force the issue in some states — either through successful initiatives, as in Oklahoma, or through the threat of an initiative campaign, as in Ohio, where the legislature quickly passed a medical marijuana law to head off a 2016 initiative sponsored by Marijuana Policy Project.

As a result, as fewer and fewer of the remaining 20 states without any legal marijuana use have mechanisms for such direct referendums, it becomes less and less likely that those states will liberalize cannabis policy.  In that sense, perhaps Oklahoma is not a tipping point....

Direct democracy has furthered marijuana liberalization, assisted by changes in how advocates frame the issue.  Journalists and advocates have been drawing attention to recent research that shows the potential of medical cannabis to treat conditions like PTSD, epilepsy and opioid addiction.  This type of coverage serves to lift the stigma on marijuana use by presenting conditions and patients that are more relatable and sympathetic than treatment for other conditions, or than recreational use.

One of us, Lee Hannah, recently conducted a content analysis of news articles about medical marijuana stories by The Washington Post from 1995 (a year prior to California adopting the first program) to 2017 to determine whether this narrative shift was being seen in news coverage.  Hannah searched the newspaper archives and counted how many articles about medical marijuana were paired with specific medical conditions.

In the period from 1995 to 1999, The Washington Post ran 56 articles about medical marijuana that associated it with cancer, 73 articles that mentioned HIV/AIDS and only 7 articles associating medical marijuana with opioid addiction, epilepsy or PTSD.  That relative emphasis has flipped in the last five years.  The Post continued to make the connection to cancer, in 71 articles, but only 31 articles included HIV/AIDS.  Meanwhile, The Post ran 195 articles that connected medical cannabis to opioid addiction (71), epilepsy (83) or PTSD (41). The results were similar when analyzing coverage in the New York Times.

Some observers argue that evidence so far suggests other policy approaches are more successful than medical marijuana in treating opioid addiction.  But if interest groups can successfully persuade citizens that medical cannabis could help diminish the opioid crisis, conservative voters and state legislatures may be persuaded to make it available....

Whether Oklahoma’s new law is indeed a tipping point, changing public opinion and industry pressures seem to be pushing the federal government and the remaining states to make marijuana available for medical use — and probably, from there, recreational use as well.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reviewing efforts to ensure marijuana reform is focused on criminal justice and social justice issues

Download (19)As long-time readers should know, much of my interest in modern marijuana reform emerged from my interest in criminal justice reform,  as well as from my frustration that many "traditional" approaches to criminal justice reform seem to move much more slowly than have many modern marijuana reforms.  Given this background, I have always been eager to see, and been most supportive of, proposals for marijuana reform that focus on criminal justice issues.  And this recent Stateline article, headlined "Marijuana Bills Increasingly Focus on Social Justice," effectively reports on encouraging developments in this arena. Here are excerpts from an extended article that should be read in full:

State lawmakers and advocates pushing to legalize marijuana this year aren’t just touting legalization as a way to raise tax revenue and regulate an underground pot market. They’re also talking about fixing a broken criminal justice system and reinvesting in poor and minority communities that have been battered by decades of the government’s war on drugs.

The focus on justice and equity has sharpened over time, longtime pot advocates say, as it’s become clear that such issues should be addressed and that doing so won’t alienate voters — most of whom, polls consistently show, support legal marijuana. Civil rights groups also have raised their voices in legalization discussions.

Now social justice provisions can be found in legalization proposals in both blue and red states, including several of the states where voters will face ballot measures on the issue in November. Social justice also is a talking point for opponents, who argue that allowing weed sales would hurt — not help — low-income and minority people....

Many state lawmakers say they back legalization because, first and foremost, it can be an opportunity to make changes to the criminal justice system and repair the harm done to groups disproportionately arrested for using the drug. “For me, the social justice piece of it is much larger than, I think, the taxing and regulating — although that is important,” said New York Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat who represents part of the city of Buffalo and has put forward a bill to legalize weed....

California’s 2016 ballot initiative, which filled more than 60 pages and covered everything from rules for marijuana testing laboratories to expungement of marijuana crimes from criminal records.

The California initiative allowed people with drug convictions to obtain marijuana licenses. It set aside $10 million a year to pay for services such as job placement, legal help, and mental health and addiction treatment for residents of communities hit hard by former drug laws. Passed by 57 percent, the initiative’s success showed that voters support justice and equity provisions — or at least aren’t dissuaded by them...

Missouri has four pot legalization initiatives on the ballot this fall; three focus on allowing medical use of the drug and the fourth on recreational use. The recreational use initiative by Total Legalization, a volunteer operation that isn’t backed by national pro-weed groups, also would require prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes to be released within 30 days and would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related criminal records. Becca Loane, a member of the board of directors for the campaign committee backing the initiative, said her team wants to legalize marijuana completely without waiting for the Legislature to work out the details. “It’s something that needs to be done.”

In North Dakota, a legalization ballot measure also would expunge the records of people with some marijuana-related convictions automatically. And in Michigan, a legalization ballot measure would require state lawmakers to encourage people in communities impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the marijuana industry....

The argument that marijuana legalization will help poor black and Latino people has been made vociferously in New York and New Jersey, where national groups that back legalization, such as the Drug Policy Alliance, have teamed up with clergy and civil rights groups.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called marijuana legalization a social justice issue during his campaign last year. New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, also a Democrat, has said she supports legalization because “we have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”...

Nearly two-thirds of black, Hispanic and multiracial people supported marijuana legalization, according to a Stockton University poll of New Jersey adults this spring. That was a higher share than support among white adults, according to a breakdown by race and ethnicity shared with Stateline.

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Prominent US Representative for Ohio now advocating that "marijuana should be legal in all 50 states"

220px-Rep._Tim_Ryan_Congressional_Head_Shot_2010CNN recently published this recent commentary advocating federal marijuana reform that is particularly notable because of its author: Tim Ryan, a Democrat representing Ohio's 13th congressional district who is co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus (and who at least once had aspirations to be a party leader in the House). Here are excerpts from the commentary:

The year Donald Trump was elected President, more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.  Moreover, the ACLU found that even though African-Americans use marijuana at similar rates to white Americans, they are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession....

As co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus, I've been hesitant to support legalizing marijuana in the past.  But after meeting with countless Ohio families and youth whose lives have been irreparably harmed by a marijuana arrest, I find the social and economic injustices of our marijuana policy too big to ignore.  I firmly believe no person should be sentenced to a lifetime of hardship because of a marijuana arrest. It is morally wrong and economically nonsensical.  That is why I am calling for an end to marijuana being used as an excuse to lock up our fellow Americans.

Marijuana should be legal in all 50 states. Across the country, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana.  Voters in Michigan and Oklahoma will be voting on marijuana initiatives this November, and efforts are underway in Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska and Utah to get legalization initiatives on the ballot. While I support these states for leading by example, this is an issue that affects every corner of our nation.  You should not be able to legally buy a product in one state, just to be arrested for the very same act in another.

Studies have shown that marijuana legalization could save $7.7 billion in averted enforcement costs and add $6 billion in additional tax revenue -- a $13.7 billion net savings.  Not to mention the reported 782,000 jobs it could create on day one.  Think of what our country could do with that money: rebuild our highways, bridges, and railroads; provide our communities with the resources they need to respond effectively to substance abuse and the opioid epidemic; and create jobs....

Congress can change this by passing the Marijuana Justice Act.  This legislation would remove marijuana's designation as a Schedule I drug -- those classified as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.  It would also eliminate all criminal penalties for an individual who imports, exports, manufacturers, distributes, or processes with intent to distribute marijuana.  To create economic opportunity in communities devastated by mass incarceration, the bill creates a $500 million community reinvestment fund to provide job training for the nascent legal cannabis industry.

The War on Drugs failed the American people. It is time for us to take the necessary steps to right our nation's wrongs.  We cannot afford to leave people behind and money on the table. If we are truly a nation that believes in second chances, our federal marijuana laws must change.  America is speaking. Congress must act.

July 23, 2018 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 (4)