Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Should the public health community applaud shifts from alcohol to marijuana (and support cannabis beverages)?

960x0The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent Forbes piece headlined "Cannabis Taking A Larger Share Of Alcohol Industry Amid Concern Over Calories And Hangovers." Here are excerpts:

The growing concern over calories and hangovers is driving more millennials to replace alcohol with cannabis in their social life — a trend that pushes investors to increasingly eye the infused beverage industry as an opportunity.

A recent Monitoring the Future research found US millennials drink far less alcohol than previous generations: The percentage of college students who drink alcohol daily declined from 6.5% in 1980 to 2.2% in 2017.  By contrast, there was a significant increase in daily marijuana use among young US adults, especially during 2019, the research further revealed, resonating with the gradual legalization of medical and recreational marijuana across the country....

Financial services company Cowen predicts the sales of recreational cannabis in the US will increase more than 700% from $6 billion in 2016 to $50 billion in 2026, prompting beverage companies of all sizes, such as Ceria, to tap into the space to grow their profits.  Keith Villa, the creator of Blue Moon Brewing Company, launched Ceria in 2018 – a company produces a cannabis-infused and non-alcoholic craft beer brand Grainwave.  Breweries that manufactures similar products include Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing and Dad & Dude’s Breweria, as well as SweetWater Brewing Co. of Georgia.  Several mainstream CPG heavyweights, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Mondelēz, also reportedly consider launching infused food products, but nothing so far has materialized.

These existing infused beverages in the market, however, do not appeal widely to consumers who are already frequent cannabis users, at least according to Jake Bullock, co-founder of cannabis-infused social tonic startup Cann.  Cann produces cannabis-infused beverage products that are low in calories.  “As a result, the mainstream consumer is not entering the market as quickly,” he wrote me via email, stressing the cannabis industry has lagged the growth projections many analysts and companies have made.  “It is clear that cannabis is here to stay and will only continue to penetrate existing markets and new states over time,” Bullock added....

The other element that prevents more people from exploring THC-added food is their confusion with CBD products.  The other co-founder of Cann, Luke Anderson, notes many consumers who are curious about cannabis turn to CBD to explore the plant, but often time, they don’t know the difference between the cannabinoids.  “This has created a lot of confusion in the market, with people thinking they would 'feel something' after trying a CBD-only product and not being able to tell what was physiologically happening versus a placebo effect,” he said.

“This experience may have discouraged people from exploring micro doses of THC, which are quite safe but give you a very palpable buzz.  While CBD products play in a crowded health and wellness segment of grocery aisles.”

Anderson said his company has aimed to reshape the alcohol industry with a small amount of THC in each can since it was first launched about a year ago.  Cann prides itself in balancing 2 mg of sativa-dominant hybrid THC and 4mg of CBD to provide a “sessionable experience” without high calories and the hangover.

When the modern marijuana reform movement got started, I was often in the habit of saying that it would likely be a "public health win" if a lot of alcohol use was replaced by marijuana use. This article suggest this is already happening, and I presume a growing cannabis beverage market would enhance the number of folks who might substitute cannabis for alcohol. But, as the question in this post title reveals, I am not knowledgeable enough about the public health literature to say for sure that these trends ought to be applauded.

January 23, 2020 in Food and Drink, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Illinois Gov pardons more than 11,000 people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes

Images (2)As reported in this local article, "On the day before recreational cannabis becomes legal in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he was pardoning more than 11,000 people who had been convicted of low-level marijuana crimes." Here is more:

“When Illinois’ first adult use cannabis shops open their doors tomorrow, we must all remember that the purpose of this legislation is not to immediately make cannabis widely available or to maximize product on the shelves, that’s not the main purpose, that will come with time,” Pritzker said to a crowd at Trinity United Church of Christ on the Far South Side. “But instead the defining purpose of legalization is to maximize equity for generations to come.”

Pritzker, who has touted the social equity elements of the recreational pot law he signed this summer, was joined Tuesday by state, county and local leaders including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who has already begun the process of clearing the records of those with low-level marijuana convictions in her jurisdiction.

The 11,017 people pardoned by Pritzker will receive notification about their cases, all of which are from outside Cook County, by mail. The pardon means convictions involving less than 30 grams of marijuana will be automatically expunged.

Pritzker and other elected officials said they believe Illinois is the first state to include a process for those previously convicted of marijuana offenses to seek relief upon legalization of cannabis. “This is justice,” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton. “And this is what equity is all about, righting wrongs and leveling the playing field.”...

Officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands of people with marijuana-related convictions in Illinois who could be eligible for relief. Those with criminal convictions can get a copy of their criminal record and start the process, though many of the cases will be automatically expunged by the state in the next couple of years.

The Illinois State Police are searching criminal records to identify eligible cases, which are then sent to the state’s Prisoner Review Board. After the board reviews the cases, the names of those eligible for relief are sent to the governor’s office to be considered for pardon. After Pritzker issues the pardon, the attorney general’s office automatically files petitions on the person’s behalf to expunge the records.

State’s attorney offices across the state are also being notified of eligible cases, which can then be vacated by a local judge. In Cook County, prosecutors are working with California-based Code for America to search for convictions involving less than 30 grams of cannabis. Those cases have resulted in both misdemeanor and Class 4 felony convictions....

Individuals with cases involving 30 to 500 grams of cannabis can also be eligible for relief, but the process won’t be automatic, instead requiring the person to file motions to vacate the conviction, according to the governor’s office.

While a pardon forgives a conviction, an expungement erases it from the public record. When a judge vacates a conviction, it overturns it as if it never happened. When a case is expunged, the case is hidden from public view, but it could be viewed by law enforcement if they obtained a court order.

Many of the elected officials noted that enforcement of marijuana-related offenses have disproportionately affected minorities. The Rev. Michael Pfleger, of St. Sabina Church on the South Side, said the elected officials on the stage had done their job, but it would be up to business leaders in the new industry to provide financial mobility for those individuals. “Employ these individuals," Pfleger said to the crowd. “Give them a job.”

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., of the 27th Ward, noted that a pardon for an armed robbery conviction decades ago changed his life and allowed him to serve in public office. He invoked Martin Luther King Jr.'s words to describe how he felt when his record was expunged and how others might feel when they hear news of the pardons. “Free at last,” Burnett said. “Free at last. Thank God almighty, they are free at last.”

December 31, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

US House Judiciary Committee to hold mark up of MORE Act proposing federal decriminalization of marijuana on Nov 20

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiAs detailed in this press release, "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) [Monday] announced the Committee will hold a markup on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 of H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), comprehensive legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, reassess marijuana convictions, and invest in local communities. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the companion bill in the Senate."  Here is more about MORE moving forward legislatively:

Ahead of the markup, on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, Chairman Nadler, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and additional Members of Congress, will hold a press conference to highlight the legislation.

"Our marijuana laws disproportionately harm individuals and communities of color, leading to convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote." said Chairman Nadler. "Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana.  It’s now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level. That’s why I introduced the MORE Act, legislation which would assist communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of these laws. I am grateful for the leadership of Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Blumenauer, as well as other Members of Congress who have helped pave the way for this important measure. I look forward to moving this legislation out of the House Judiciary Committee, making it one step closer to becoming law."

"Our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past for far too long. As states continue to modernize how we regulate cannabis, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies are fair, equitable, and inclusive," said Congresswoman Lee. "As Co-Chair of the bipartisan Cannabis Caucus, I am pleased to see Chairman Nadler and the Judiciary Committee take this historic step in marking up the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act. I’m pleased that this critical bill includes key tenets from my own legislation to right the wrongs of the failed and racist War on Drugs by expunging criminal convictions, reinvesting in communities of color through restorative justice, and promoting equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry. I applaud Chairman Nadler for his leadership and look forward to seeing this bill move out of committee."

Tuesday Press Conference on MORE Act

Date: November 19, 2019

Time: 11:00 a.m.

Location: Rayburn House Office Building Room 2237, Washington, D.C.  Live stream: https://www.facebook.com/HouseJudDems/

Wednesday Markup of the MORE Act

Date: November 20, 2019

Time: 10:00 a.m.

Location: Rayburn House Office Building Room 2141, Washington, D.C. Live stream: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVvv3JRCVQAl6ovogDum4hA

 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.  
  • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
  • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
  • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry. 

The full text of the MORE Act is available at this link.  Based on my email traffic, I know a lot of marijuana reform groups are very excited about this legislative development.  But I will await news that the full House will be voting on the bill, as well as some indication that the Senate might be interested in taking up any marijuana reform proposals, before thinking that federal reform is anywhere close to becoming a reality.

As noted in this prior post when the MORE Act was first introduced, I am excited that the  most comprehensive federal marijuana reform bill to be getting attention includes a provision (Section 5) establishing a "Cannabis Justice Office" within the within the federal Office of Justice Programs.  In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.  Though this proposed Cannabis Justice Office is not exactly what I had in mind, I am thrilled to see a major reform bill focus on creating an infrastructure for continued emphasis on justice and equity issues.

Prior related post:

New Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act envisions creating a Cannabis Justice Office

November 19, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Notable new poll explores Americans' views on CBD and marijuana

This new Politico piece reports on this interesting new polling that seems to me to present the deepest accounting of (shallow?) views on a range of cannabis related issues.  Here is part of the Politico piece: 

Americans now think marijuana is much less harmful than alcohol, tobacco or e-cigarettes, according to new polling results from POLITICO and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health released Monday. Just 1 in 5 Americans believe marijuana is very harmful to people who use it. Twice as many said the same about alcohol, 52 percent characterized e-cigarettes as very harmful and 80 percent said tobacco cigarettes are very harmful....

The poll shows marijuana largely has avoided a perception hit following nearly 2,000 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, including at least 37 deaths. The most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 80 percent of vaping products linked to lung problems contained THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana. Most of the vaping products tied to the outbreak were bought on the black market, although a handful of deaths have been tied to products purchased through state-legal marijuana dispensaries. The poll was conducted in early October, at least a month after news broke of health issues associated with vaping....

The market for CBD products has exploded since hemp was legalized under the 2018 farm bill, with Americans using it to treat everything from back pain to cancer. But despite widespread use, many Americans don't know what it is.

Nearly half of respondents indicated they weren’t familiar with CBD. Yet CBD is widely seen by the general public as a benign substance. Only 8 percent of total adults polled and 5 percent of those familiar with CBD said they think it is very harmful.

A majority of people familiar with CBD said they want little to no interference or regulation by the federal government. Only half of those who knew what CBD was thought the Food and Drug Administration should regulate the safety of products that contain it. The FDA is wrestling with how it should regulate the rapidly growing industry.

Of consumers familiar with CBD, 55 percent said they should be able to buy it over the counter if they think it‘s effective for them — whether or not a clinical trial has proven that it actually is. And more than 3 out of every 5 CBD users say they’d consider using their favorite products even if the FDA found that the product doesn’t actually help in the way it claims to....

While 67 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents support federal marijuana legalization, only 45 percent of Republicans are on board. That translates to 62 percent of Americans supporting federal legalization, a huge leap from the 44 percent of Americans who thought legalization was a good idea in 2009...

But when it comes to CBD, there is no partisan divide. According to the Harvard poll, 13 percent of Republicans and Democrats indicated they use CBD products. In addition, 83 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans think it should be sold in drugstores like CVS or Walgreens. The real CBD divide is generational: 21 percent of adults under 30 use it, versus 11 percent of adults over 65.

November 5, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 4, 2019

"Has the 'M' word been framed? Marijuana, cannabis, and public opinion"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Robert Mikos and Cindy Kam.  Here is its abstract:

Over the past two decades, a growing cadre of US states has legalized the drug commonly known as “marijuana.”  But even as more states legalize the drug, proponents of reform have begun to shun the term “marijuana” in favor of the term “cannabis.”  Arguing that the “M” word has been tainted and may thus dampen public support for legalization, policy advocates have championed “cannabis” as an alternative and more neutral name for the drug.  Importantly, however, no one has tested whether calling the drug “cannabis” as opposed to “marijuana” actually has any effect on public opinion.

Using an original survey experiment, we examine whether framing the drug as “marijuana” as opposed to “cannabis” shapes public attitudes across a range of related topics: support for legalization of the drug, moral acceptance of its use, tolerance of activities involving the drug, perceptions of the drug’s harms, and stereotypes of its users. Throughout each of our tests, we find no evidence to suggest that the public distinguishes between the terms “marijuana” and “cannabis.”  We conclude with implications of our findings for debates over marijuana/cannabis policy and for framing in policy discourse more generally.

November 4, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

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

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

As president, Bernie will:

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

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

Vacate and expunge all past marijuana-related convictions.

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

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Cannabis Legalization in State Legislatures: Public Health Opportunity and Risk"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Daniel Orenstein and Stanton Glantz now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Cannabis is widely used in the U.S. and internationally despite its illicit status, but that illicit status is changing.  In the U.S., 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis, and 11 states and D.C. have legalized adult use cannabis.  A majority of state medical cannabis laws and all but two state adult use laws are the result of citizen ballot initiatives, but state legislatures are beginning to seriously consider adult use legislation.  From a public health perspective, cannabis legalization presents a mix of potential risks and benefits, but a legislative approach offers an opportunity to improve on existing legalization models passed using the initiative process that strongly favor business interests over public health.

To assess whether state legislatures are acting on this opportunity, this article examines provisions of proposed adult use cannabis legalization bills active in state legislatures as of February 2019 to evaluate the inclusion of key public health best practices based on successful tobacco and alcohol control public health policy frameworks. Given public support for legalization, further adoption of state adult use cannabis laws is likely, but legalization should not be viewed as a binary choice between total prohibition and laissez faire commercialization.  The extent to which adult use cannabis laws incorporate or reject public health best practices will strongly affect their impact, and health advocates should work to influence the construction of such laws to prioritize public health and learn from past successes and failures in regulating other substances.

October 21, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Tobacco historian makes case for why and how "Marijuana Reform Should Focus On Inequality"

The quoted part of the title of this post is the headline of this new Atlantic commentary authored by Sarah Milov.  The piece caught my eye in part because the piece's author, a history professor at the University of Virginia, is also the author of an interesting sounding new book, The Cigarette: A Political History.  Here are some excerpts from this new Atlantic commentary:

Especially because Americans of color have borne the brunt of the drug war, they deserve to share in the marijuana boom now taking hold across the country.  And if America’s long history with another smokable intoxicant — tobacco — is any guide, government rules will decide who can profit from growing the crop.  At the moment, though, those rules favor well-connected corporate growers rather than independent farmers, much less independent farmers of color....

Making up for the brutal inequalities of the drug war should be a major goal of marijuana reformers — but so far, the reality isn’t working out that way.  state that reforms its marijuana laws must decide how it will allocate production rights.  Right now, states severely restrict the number of licenses awarded to cannabis growers, ensuring corporate domination of the industry.  In New York, where medical marijuana is legal, just 10 companies own licenses to cultivate and dispense marijuana.  Competition is fierce over the licenses, which can sell for tens of millions of dollars — even before an ounce of marijuana is sold.  For this reason, licenses tend to go to well-financed pot conglomerates that own cultivation facilities in multiple states.

That outcome should not come as a surprise.  A federally supported program set rules for tobacco growers from the Great Depression until early this century.  Its history suggests that production regulations, when done right, can be a powerful tool to spread wealth — but also that, when done wrong, they are a highly efficient way of excluding people from an industry....

But for all its flaws, the tobacco program succeeded at what it was meant to do: endowing a designated class of Americans with a way of life that buoyed entire regional economies.  Because of strict production restrictions, tobacco farms were among the smallest for any staple commodity, which forestalled the consolidation of farms and an exodus of residents from rural areas.  And there were many tobacco farmers in the middle stratum of the farm income ladder, and relatively few at the top.  Small tobacco farms could still provide for a decent standard of living because tobacco was a high-value crop.  Growing even a small amount could be lucrative.  In 1980, an acre of cigarette tobacco was worth $2,700, as opposed to $150 for corn or $250 for soybeans.  “There is absolutely nothing on this Earth that can compete with tobacco money,” a USDA economist told The Washington Post in 1980.  Except, he added, “illegal smoking material.”...

Now that “illegal smoking materials” are legal in many states, the licensure system for marijuana cultivation is poised to replicate some of the oligopolistic features of the tobacco program, while thwarting its genuinely redistributive ones.  Instead of charging would-be cannabis growers for the privilege of growing, states should award licenses to a larger number of applicants from communities that have been hit hard by the War on Drugs.  Much as small-scale tobacco farms anchored entire communities across the Southeast, cannabis cultivation on a human scale, rather than a corporate one, can build wealth within communities of color where opportunities to amass property have been denied—  frequently at the hands of the government.

Indeed, the excesses of the drug war aren’t the only reason to enact more inclusive policies for marijuana farming.  U.S. agricultural policy, too, has throughout its history been skewed against African Americans.  When black farmers have availed themselves of government programs, they have frequently found discrimination and, ultimately, dispossession.

But those same tools can be put to work in the opposite direction.  The tobacco program was devised to address the emergency of the Great Depression, and it did so in a way that sustained the livelihoods and communities of a targeted group of Americans.  The effects of the War on Drugs are no less severe for communities of color, and the need for opportunity is no less urgent.

October 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"100 Years Since Prohibition: Legacy for the War on Drugs"

The title of this post is the title of a talk by Harvard University Professor Lisa McGirr being hosted tomorrow by the The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. Here is the event description:

In her latest book, The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr revises our understanding of the Prohibition years.  The 1920s were not just about gin joints and Jazz; McGirr emphasizes, instead, the serious and long-lasting legacies of the ban on alcohol.  McGirr charts how the ban built the edifice of the federal penal state, fueled the Ku Klux Klan’s power, reshaped politics, and served as a dress rehearsal for the much larger and longer-lasting war on drugs.

For those in the central Ohio area, it is not too late to register for this event at this link.

October 3, 2019 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

US House of passes SAFE Banking Act by a vote of 321-103, but Senate vote still seems unlikely

Safe-banking-horizontal-1-800x419As reported in this MarketWatch piece, headlined "House passes cannabis-banking bill, but getting Senate’s OK still looks tricky," one piece of significant federal marijuana reform moved a step forward today.  Here are the details:

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives late Wednesday voted to pass a bill protecting banks that work with the marijuana industry, but some analysts are warning that the measure isn’t likely to become law in 2019 as it faces a tough road in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The chances of enactment this year for the bill — known as the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act — have risen to 1 in 3, up from 1 in 5, reckons Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners. Those still aren’t great odds, however.  “We remain skeptical for now,” Katz said in a note before the House vote, though he added that the chances could get better “if we see meaningful signals from the Senate in the next few weeks.”

The bill aims to give clarification to banks and credit unions that serve cannabis companies with, for instance, business accounts for bill paying. Currently, financial institutions face legal problems because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, even as more states legalize it.  Lobbyists have emphasized that many cannabis businesses end up “unbanked” and operating largely in cash, and that makes them targets for robberies and other crimes.

Influential Republican Sen. Mike Crapo gave some hope to the SAFE Banking Act’s supporters earlier this month, as the Senate Banking Committee chairman told Politico that he wanted to hold a committee vote before the year’s end on a cannabis banking bill. There are no additional details on the potential timing for such a vote, said a spokeswoman for the Idaho lawmaker on Monday.  Crapo had sounded noncommittal on the issue at a July hearing.

The SAFE Banking Act “has been sweetened for Republicans,” Katz said. One provision would prevent the return of Operation Choke Point, an Obama-era program that Crapo mentioned at the July hearing and that involved investigating banks for doing business with payday lenders and firearms dealers. Another new provision aims to protect financial firms that serve the hemp industry, which is a force in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But McConnell continues to look like he could serve as a big roadblock to the bill. He described marijuana last year as hemp’s “illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace.” “There’s a line of thinking that McConnell could go along with a pot banking bill to help Republicans in the 2020 elections,” Katz said.  “The tough re-election prospects of Republican Sen. Cory Gardner [a co-sponsor of the bill] of marijuana-friendly Colorado are often cited.  But the benefit to Republicans, especially in the West and South, of supporting a bill that’s at least superficially pro-marijuana, is debatable.”

At the other end of the political spectrum, the bill had faced opposition ahead of Wednesday’s House vote from several progressive groups, such as the Center for American Progress, the American Civil Liberties Union and others.  In a letter to top House Democrats, the groups criticized the efforts to advance a bill that just addresses banking issues, but does not help “communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition,” yet have been “shut out” of the growing industry.  Their concerns didn’t end up stopping the House from passing the measure.

Wednesday’s vote happened under a suspension of House rules that limited debate and meant that two-thirds of the lawmakers present and voting needed to back the measure.  The vote tally was announced as 321 in favor vs. 103 against....

Many players in the cannabis industry say banking-related legislation will become law at some point in the next few years, even if 2019 doesn’t bring the action that they hope to see.  “I’m fairly confident that either the SAFE Act or STATES Act will be passed,” said Rob DiPisa, co-chair of law firm Cole Schotz’s Cannabis Law Group. “I think the industry has come too far.  The cat’s out of the bag, and it’s not going to disappear, so banking needs to happen.”

September 25, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

More notable coverage of marijuana enforcement challenges thanks to hemp legalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent related posts:

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

Friday, August 23, 2019

"Restorative justice must begin with America’s pot POWs"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Peter Maguire.  Here are excerpts: 

Last month, American lawmakers, marijuana policymakers and industry leaders held a hearing on Capitol Hill about the future of marijuana legalization.  While there was clear bipartisan support and even discussion of “restorative justice” for minorities adversely affected by the war on drugs, conspicuously absent was any discussion of sentence relief for those Americans still serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for nonviolent marijuana offenses.

If lawmakers and the leaders of this fledgling industry who hope to profit from legalization do not support retroactive sentence relief for these pot prisoners of war, the legal cannabis industry will have neither integrity nor credibility.  True restorative justice can only begin with clemency for those Americans serving life sentences for marijuana.  There were no allegations of violence in the cases of the white, black and Latino men serving life for marijuana, yet all will likely die in prison.

Leopoldo Hernandez-Miranda, a 78-year-old Cuban fisherman, has served 26 years while Anthony Kelly, 46, has served 20 years (for barely an ounce of pot).  Less than two months ago, wheelchair-bound 62-year-old Michael Pelletier, who served 12 years, was denied compassionate release by the Bureau of Prisons. Kenny Kubinski, 72, a decorated Vietnam veteran with three purple hearts and a bronze star, has served 27 years for marijuana conspiracy and a cocaine charge that he vehemently denies.

Claude DuBoc and Albert Madrid, both over 70 years old, have served over 20 years. Marijuana smuggler John Knock was extradited from France in January 1999 and charged with an unproven conspiracy that was concocted by a U.S. attorney in Florida.  After Knock’s co-conspirators, also facing life sentences, testified against him in exchange for immunity, he was sentenced to two life terms plus 20 years.  DuBoc, Knock’s co-conspirator pleaded guilty on the advice of his lawyer, F. Lee Bailey.  DuBoc cooperated with the government and surrendered approximately $100 million in cash and assets. The smuggler received a life sentence and lawyer Bailey went to prison rather than surrender $20 million of his client’s stock....

On the other hand, co-conspirator Julie Roberts surrendered through a high-profile lawyer, shrewdly negotiated a plea deal, testified against all of her former compatriots and helped the government recover assets.  Although she too was facing a life sentence, Roberts did not spend a single night in prison....

The United States declared a war on drugs in 1973, and it has been fraught with contradictions and crippled by hypocrisy and unrealistic policy objectives.  Forty-plus years and massive expenditure later, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world and a racially imbalanced, two-tiered judicial system under which black teens caught with a handful of crack rocks do hard time in state prisons while the bankers who launder Mexican cocaine cartels’ blood-stained billions simply pay fines.

This month, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for marijuana and hashish smuggling, terminally ill Calvin Robinson was granted a compassionate release from prison.  While this is a step in the right direction, it still falls far short of justice.  Vietnam veteran Kubinski put it best: “Now I am a POW of another war with no clear mission. This time I am the enemy of the country I love and had sacrificed for.”

August 23, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Terrific new Pew issue brief highlights hazy nature of marijuana revenue for states

The fine folks at Pew have this very fine new brief about state marijuana tax revenues titled "Forecasts Hazy for State Marijuana Revenue."  I recommend this 16-page document (which is also available on-line here) for many reasons, and here is its astute conclusion:

Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana expected a new revenue source for states, but market uncertainties continue to challenge revenue forecasters and policymakers.  The difficulty in forecasting revenue is compounded by the fact that states have only recently begun to understand the recreational marijuana market: the level of consumer demand for recreational marijuana products, the types of users and how much they might pay for the drug, and competition with the black market.  States have learned some lessons but continue to grapple with unknowns.

While forecasters and budget staff gain more information, state officials can avoid budget shortfalls and keep program funding stable by being prudent in how they use these new collections.  States should be careful to distinguish between marijuana revenue’s short-term growth and long-term sustainability.  While these new dollars can fill immediate budget needs, they may prove unreliable for ongoing spending demands.  Policymakers should look to other, more familiar sin taxes for lessons on how to manage marijuana tax revenue most effectively.

August 21, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Is hemp really now going to become the number three crop in Ohio and can marijuana stay illegal if it does?

83b51efd-e309-441e-9f11-e3ada1158628-CBD_SeltzerI do not blog all that much about hemp reforms, even though I find them quite interesting and important, largely because I do not know that much about agriculture or about all the different ways the hemp plant might be used.  But this local article concerning Ohio hemp developments prompted both the question in the title of this post and some broader thoughts about the relationship between help developments and marijuana reform.  First, some excerpts from the article:

Gov. Mike DeWine signed Ohio's hemp legalization bill, Senate Bill 57, into law on Tuesday at the Ohio State Fair. The law takes effect immediately, freeing all embargoes on CBD inventory and moving hemp-derived cannabidiol off Ohio’s controlled substances list. It also means Ohio State University and other colleges can grow the state's first hemp this summer....

The law immediately allows hemp-derived CBD to flow into the state, but it will be a while before hemp can be commercially grown or processed in the Buckeye State. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue federal rules for hemp cultivation and processing in the coming weeks. In addition to CBD from hemp flowers, the plant is also harvested for its fiber and seed.

Ohio agriculture officials have six months to draft Ohio’s rules and regulations, which will then be submitted to the feds for approval. The goal: Have everything in place so farmers can get seeds in the ground next spring.... Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda said the agency does not plan to limit the number of licenses issued to cultivate or process hemp.

Pelanda said the agency plans to craft regulations to ensure farmers plant seeds that are certified to be low in THC – hemp is defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC. “We want to make sure that Ohio has the very best hemp program in the nation,” Pelanda told The Enquirer.

Ohio is the 46th state to allow hemp farming. A big part of Ohio’s program will be research, which will begin right away. Ohio State University plans to buy about 2,000 hemp plants in the next week. Gary Pierzynski, associate dean for research and graduate programs at OSU's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said it’s too late to plant with the goal of harvesting. But Pierzynski hopes this first crop at four locations will position them for good research on growing methods, plant diseases, pests and more next year.

Industry analysts predict the U.S. hemp market will grow from about $4.6 billion to more than $26 billion by 2023. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation has said hemp has the potential to be Ohio's No. 3 crop behind corn and soybeans.

The bill leaves the details of Ohio’s hemp program – like who can grow it and how much licenses will cost – to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Those rules will be shaped by experts, lobbyists and public comment periods. Hours after Senate Bill 57 passed, a new hemp industry lobbying group was announced. Backing the group: Ian James and Jimmy Gould, who led the unsuccessful 2015 effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio. Since Issue 3 failed, James and Gould have invested in hemp, in addition to obtaining licenses for medical marijuana businesses here.

Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, who has been tapped to lead the organization, said the association will serve businesses who are involved at several levels of the industry and who have “big ideas.” “Our goal is to make sure those restrictions aren’t prohibitive,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of farmland in Ohio and there has to be opportunities for everyone.”

The group joins others that pushed the bill along including the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which largely represents CBD businesses, and the Ohio Hemp Association, comprised of Ohio businesses and entrepreneurs that want to grow hemp or manufacture hemp products.

Queen City Hemp has been gearing up to put its CBD Seltzer water back on the shelves at local retailers, including Hemptations and Clifton Natural Foods.  A large part of the Cincinnati-based manufacturer’s inventory of CBD-infused seltzer water was confiscated from those retailers and destroyed by the local health department during their crackdown in February, according to president and co-founder Robert Ryan.

A number of national chain stores are already selling CBD products across the country.  Kroger, the nation's largest grocery retailer, announced in June it would sell hemp-derived CBD creams, balms and other topical products in nearly 1,000 stores in 17 states – but not its home state of Ohio.  That will change with the new law, but a Kroger spokeswoman said it was too early to provide details.

As this article highlights for Ohio, many folks here and throughout the nation with an affinity for marijuana reform are involved with hemp reform and the hemp industry.  If (when?) this crop becomes a huge part of agriculture in Ohio and elsewhere, I suspect these these folks are likely to use their clout and their money to push for reforms regarding other types of cannabis plants.  Similarly, if folks in Ohio and throughout the nation get used to seeing CBD sodas on many store shelves and CBD creams when shopping for soap, it seems ever more likely that they will start to view many forms of cannabis more benignly. 

July 30, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

New Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act envisions creating a Cannabis Justice Office

Download (5)I was pleased to hear reports about, and then see an email describing, a notable new federal marijuana reform bill being proposed by notable federal officials.   The email from the House Judiciary Democratic Press was titled "Nadler & Harris Introduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation."  Here are excerpts:

Today, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)  introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted,” said Chairman Nadler. “Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color. It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior. I’m proud to sponsor the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. I want to acknowledge the partnership in developing this legislation with my colleagues, Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well as the contributions of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Nydia Velazquez.”

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. I am thrilled to work with Chairman Nadler on this timely and important step toward racial and economic justice.”

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions.  This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life.  Immigrants will also benefit from the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, as they will no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.  
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

Along with Nadler and Harris, co-sponsors of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act include U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); in the U.S. House of Representatives, cosponsors Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), were particularly instrumental in developing this bill.  Other House cosponsors include Matt Gaetz (R-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Debra A. Haaland (D-NM), Ro Khanna (D-CA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, 4thMVMT, ACLU, California Minority Alliance, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The full text of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act is available at this link, and I especially what to note that Section 5 of the bill includes a provision for establishing within the federal Office of Justice Programs a new office call the "Cannabis Justice Office."  In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.  Though this proposed Cannabis Justice Office is not exactly what I had in mind, I am really excited to see any major reform bill focus on creating a justice infrastructure for continued emphasis on justice and equity issues.

July 23, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"Tribal Cannabis: Balancing Tribal Sovereignty and Cooperative Enforcement"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Patricia Danielle Cortez, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is the eighth in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The first seven  papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

The cannabis industry remains a difficult space to navigate for Native Americans both because of the continued federal ban on cannabis and the extra layer of laws and regulations on tribal land, as well as the potential for continued stigma arising from their involvement in an industry that was until recently considered illegal at all levels of government.  Because of the complex jurisdictional circumstances which arise within tribal land, tribes are left with pioneering strategies on implementing a successful cannabis business alone – whether that be growing, wholesaling, selling on tribal land, or all three.  At the same time, Native American tribes have many competitive advantages – they have water rights and access to power, they own land, and they have a historical and cultural tie to cannabis and natural healing. 

This article discusses several short term and long term steps that Native American tribes should undertake once a state in which a tribe is located legalizes medical marijuana in order to ready themselves to take advantage of an economic opportunity in the form of a cannabis industry should it arise including gaining community support and amending tribal codes, establishing a compact and setting up protections from outside investors, and seek long term legislative fixes such as opt-out provisions in the CSA.

Prior student papers in this series:

July 11, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related prior post:

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

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