Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

"Understanding Social Equity"

The title of this post is the title of this significant new digital book put together by Chris Nani now available via SSRN.  I am proud to be able to say Chris is a former student who has been doing amazing work in the cannabis space since his time in law school (including the development of a great tool for judging social equity programs available as "Social Equity Assessment Tool for the Cannabis Industry").   In his new book, Chris has assembled short and effective essays from more than a dozen experts; here is the book's SSRN abstract: 

Understanding Social Equity is a compilation of viewpoints from various authors with diverse backgrounds.  From attorneys, policy analysts, and journalists to advocates, business owners, and social equity applicants, my goal was to provide as many perspectives as possible – some of which may conflict with other authors to provide regulators a wide range of respected opinions about social equity programs.  Together, we believe this compilation can be used as a guide for drafters and regulators when determining minute details about how they would like to create or improve their social equity program.

The goal of this book can further be defined into four objectives:

 ●  Educate regulators on what social equity programs are and their importance.

 ●  Why certain criteria should be used to define social equity applicant eligibility.

 ●  An analysis of prior social equity programs.

 ●  Key factors for social equity programs.

I was quite honored that Chris asked me to author an essay for this book. My contribution is titled simply "Tracking Social Equity," and here is how it begins:

Chris Nani, in the first sentence of his preface to this volume, defines social equity programs as those that “seek to remediate and help individuals, families, and communities harmed by the War on Drugs.”  Behind this crisp definition of social equity programs stands a series of complicated questions about just who should be the focal point for remediation and help and how these programs should be oriented and assessed.  By starting to unpack these questions, we can begin to appreciate just why these programs are so important in principle and so challenging in practice.

July 7, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, 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)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is marijuana reform really a "Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use"?

EJ3gu5eWsAEdEfSThe question in the title of this post is drawn from the headline of this great new Atlantic piece by Edward-Isaac Dovere fully titled "The Marijuana Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use: Legalizing marijuana is extremely popular. So why won’t Joe Biden embrace the idea?".  Here are extended excerpts from an interesting piece worth reading in full:

Democratic political consultants dream of issues like marijuana legalization. Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of it, polls show.  So are independents. A majority of Republicans favor it now too. It motivates progressives, young people, and Black Americans to vote. Put it on the ballot, and it’s proved a sure way to boost turnout for supportive politicians. It’s popular in key presidential-election states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Virginia. There’s no clear political downside — although marijuana legalization motivates its supporters, it doesn’t motivate its opponents. For the Democratic presidential nominee, the upsides of supporting it would include energizing a very committed group of single-issue voters and making a major move toward criminal-justice reform and the Bernie Sanders agenda.

Joe Biden won’t inhale.

Democrats eager for Biden to support legalization have theories about why he won’t.  His aides insist they’re all wrong.  It’s not, they say, because he’s from a generation scared by Reefer Madness. It’s not, they say, because he spent a career in Washington pushing for mandatory minimum sentencing and other changes to drug laws.  It’s definitely not, according to people who have discussed the policy with him, because he’s a teetotaler whose father battled alcoholism and whose son has fought addiction, and who’s had gateway-drug anxieties drilled into him.  With legalization seeming such an obvious political win, all that’s stopping Biden, current and former aides say, is public health.  He’s read the studies, or at least, summaries of the studies (campaign aides pointed me to this one).  He wants to see more.  He’s looking for something definitive to assure him that legalizing won’t lead to serious mental or physical problems, in teens or adults....

If Biden really has his eyes on public health, he should think about how many Black people end up in jail for marijuana sale and possession, argues Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba — a young Black progressive who oversaw local decriminalization in his city in 2018....  Alternatively, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, says Biden should think about how legalization could raise tax revenue in the post-pandemic economy of state budget deficits....

Amid the criticism that Biden hasn’t taken a definitive stance on legalization, it’s easy to lose track of how far ahead he is of any other major-party presidential nominee in history in terms of changing marijuana policy.  He’d decriminalize use, which would mean fines instead of jail time, and move to expunge records for using.  He’d remove federal enforcement in states that have legalized the drug.  That’s further, by far, than Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, has gone.  Biden would move marijuana off as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same category as heroin, but would not take it off the illegal-drugs schedule entirely, so that federal law would treat it the way it does alcohol or nicotine....

“As science ends up with more conclusive evidence regarding the impact of marijuana, I think he would look at that data. But he’s being asked to make a decision right now. This is where the science guides him,” Stef Feldman, Biden’s policy director, explained to me....  There isn’t some conclusive study about health effects that Biden is ignoring, but one is also not likely to emerge anytime soon.  And though they insist this is all about health, other ripples from legalization are on the minds of institutionalists like Biden and his close advisers: trade deals that require both sides to keep marijuana illegal would have to be rewritten, half a century of American pressure on other countries about their drug policies would be reversed, and hard-line police unions would have to be convinced that he wasn’t just giving in to stoners. 

Realistically, marijuana isn’t a priority right now for the campaign.  Legalization is at once too small an issue for Biden’s tiny team to focus on and too large an issue to take a stand on without fuller vetting.  And it comes with a frustration among people close to Biden, who point out that liberals talk about trusting science on everything from climate change to wearing masks — and, notably, wanted vaping restricted because the health effects were unclear — but are willing to let that standard slide here because they want marijuana to be legal.

Biden’s compromise: going right to the edge of legalization, while appointing a criminal-justice task force for his campaign whose members have each supported at least some approach to legalization.  But that sort of signaling doesn’t get people to the polls.  “Being cute is fine. Being bold is motivating,” Ben Wessel, the director of NextGen America, a group focused on boosting political involvement among younger voters, told me.

“If Biden said he wants to legalize marijuana tomorrow, it would help him get reluctant young voters off the fence and come home to vote for Biden — especially Bernie [Sanders] supporters, especially young people of color who have been screwed by a criminal-justice system that treats them unfairly on marijuana issues,” Wessel told me.  Publicly supporting marijuana legalization would be an easy, attention-grabbing move, and might help many Sanders diehards get past the fact that he’s not where they want him to be on the rest of their candidate’s democratic-socialist agenda. 

In 2018, top Democrats credited a legalization ballot initiative in Michigan with boosting turnout and producing the biggest blue wave in the country — winning races for governor, Senate, attorney general, and secretary of state, along with flipping two congressional seats and multiple state-legislature seats.  A ballot initiative is expected for the fall in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and possibly Montana.  Anyone who believes — hopefully, or out of cynical political calculation — that Biden will announce some big change in his thinking, aides told me, will be disappointed. 

I really like lots of aspects of this commentary, and I generally believe support for marijuana reform is a sound and significant political strategy these days.  But, as this piece highlights, when Biden's opponent is Donald Trump, it will still be easy for Biden to claim to be the most reform-minded candidate.  And while support for full legalization might attract younger voters, it also will attract hard questions about whether Biden would support legalizing other drugs.  By saying he will follow the research and the science, Biden can appear both wise and flexible on an issue that can still generate more heat than light.

Moreover, I think the political calculations can be a bit more nuanced here if one thinks about swing states and swing voters.  A number of potential swing states, ranging from Georgia and North Carolina to Iowa and Ohio and Wisconsin (and Texas?), are not states with a track record of significant voter support for full marijuana legalization.  Perhaps even more importantly, key voting blocks like suburban women and older white men are the populations that have generally been most resistant to marijuana reforms.   Though I still think support for major marijuana reforms would be a political plus for Biden, I do not think it is obviously a "superweapon" being left on the sidelines.

July 6, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Noticing how marijuana reform now intersects with religious leaders

Im-199484The Wall Street Journal had this recent lengthy article exploring the intersection of marijuana reforms and religious leaders.  The piece is headlined "The Word of God in the Age of Legal Marijuana" and this subheadline highlights it themes: "As more believers begin to tolerate legalization, current and former religious leaders find themselves in the middle of a debate over health, race and law enforcement."  Here are excerpts:

When it comes to marijuana legalization ... some faith leaders ... are weighing the damage the drug can do against the number of people, especially people of color, sent to prison because of it, and the benefits it can provide those in physical pain.

Polls suggest that public tolerance of the drug has gone mainstream, even in religious communities.  A September survey by the Pew Research Center found that 67% of the 2,480 Americans asked spoke in favor of legalizing cannabis, up from 31% in 2000.  The survey found a majority in favor among several religious denominations.  Even evangelicals polled slightly in favor, with 50% saying yes and 49% no....

Plenty of absolutists remain among American clergy.  Dr. Russell Moore is an evangelical theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination’s public-policy arm.  He’s also a prominent marijuana critic.

He stands against legalization or decriminalization because he says marijuana is neither medicine nor a harmless recreational drug, and pro-legalization forces are backed by a profit-driven industry.  He calls marijuana legalization “unwise and even disastrous.”  Dr. Moore, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn., says he has counseled people with various addictions, including marijuana.  He says he sees religious leaders on the front lines of fighting marijuana and the harm it does to families, children and young adults.  “Most of the young evangelicals I know seek to minister to friends who have been harmed by marijuana culture,” he says.  “This isn’t theoretical to them at all.”

But other religious leaders find themselves in a position that would have seemed unthinkable in decades past.  Like Dr. Moore, Pastor Jamal Bryant is a clergyman with a large following and a share of critics that comes with that kind of profile.  He leads New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, an Atlanta-area African-American megachurch with 10,000 parishioners and an online viewership of more than 90,000.  It hosted the funeral of Coretta Scott King.

The pastor has created a line of cannabidiol (also known as CBD) oil-based products called Canna Blessed, organized as an LLC in Georgia.  Selling small amounts of the substance can be legal — it contains no THC, an ingredient in marijuana that provides a high.  CBD has been shown to be helpful in treating some conditions, including certain types of epilepsy, according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization.

Pastor Bryant wants to sell Canna Blessed in church bookstores.  If THC products became legal in Georgia, he would be open to selling them, too.  “I’m not telling you God said for you to take it,” he says. But if it helps someone in the choir manage a health condition, he says the church should provide it.

Pastor Jamal Bryant says that by entering the cannabis industry he can model generational wealth for his church, congregation and community.  He insists he won’t be “getting zooted on the roof of the church” or giving out cannabis as communion.  Instead he says he wants to raise awareness about holistic medicine and entrepreneurial opportunities he intends to model for his church community. “That would really begin a larger conversation that we really need to have,” he says. “And I don’t think it can happen until it’s in our faces.”

Rev. Alexander Sharp, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy in Chicago, views the question in more political terms.  He supports adult recreational use and criminal-justice reform.  And since the drug can relieve pain, he argues that legalization is an act of compassion and mercy — one that follows the example of Jesus Christ.  “The only thing that made Jesus really angry were the Pharisees that were hypocrites,” he says.  “And there are pharisaical attitudes in those who oppose drug use.”

Rev. Sharp hopes to witness an end to the war on drugs.  He believes regulation and education are the best responses to human vices, but also says the most compelling argument is for social justice.  “You can pick your numbers according to your state, but African-Americans and Latinos are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses,” he says.

June 30, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 17, 2020

"The 'Free Market' for Marijuana: A Sober, Clear-Eyed Analysis of Marijuana Policy"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by H. Justin Pace.  Here is its abstract:

Marijuana is prohibited at the federal level.  At the same time, states are not only decriminalizing marijuana but attempting to provide a regulatory apparatus for its sale. This has created a unique business environment.  In some ways there is a true “free market” for marijuana in states where it has been legalized — free, that is, of the legal and financial infrastructure available to fully licit businesses in America.

Contracts may not be enforceable because they lack a legal purpose.  Relief in bankruptcy court may not be available, either as a debtor or as a creditor.  Use of a legal entity to limit liability and take advantage of entity personhood may be impracticable.  Federal money laundering and other laws effectively restrict access to the banking system, forcing marijuana businesses to operate as purely cash businesses.  The USPTO refuses to register federal marks related to marijuana.  Marijuana businesses face challenges in obtaining competent legal counsel to guide them through a market free on one hand regulated on the other.

The odd legal posture has implications for considering marijuana policy through an economic lens.  Any analysis of marijuana externalities should consider any additional externalities created by that odd legal posture.  An analysis of policy options for mitigating negative externalities should also factor in the additional costs for marijuana businesses due to this “free market.”  The uncertainty, from a policy perspective, counsels in favor of applying heuristics when considering policy options: this paper offers three and applies each.

This is the first paper to use this situation to examine the value offered by our legal and financial infrastructure.  An inability to use it hurts marijuana businesses in very real ways.  But, at the same time, marijuana businesses are able to operate — to thrive even — nonetheless.  That infrastructure is both more and less valuable than is appreciated, and in surprising ways.  Ultimately, this paper advocates federal action that facilitates a continued incremental, state-by-state approach to marijuana reform.

May 17, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 9, 2020

"Weeding Out Injustice: Amnesty for Pot Offenders"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Mitchell Crusto that I just came across and that was recently published in the Spring 2020 issue of the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly.  Here is its abstract:

There are a growing number of States that have legalized marijuana, challenging the view that marijuana is a dangerous drug.  These States are taking positions relative to both the retroactivity of the new laws and to amelioration of past offenses, which arguably contradict United States Supreme Court decisions on the retroactivity of changes in substantive criminal standards.  And, many States recognize that past marijuana laws have greatly contributed to the problems related to a broken criminal justice system, including mass incarceration and racial disparities, particularly to the devastation of communities of color.

In response to these legal developments, this Article advances the normative claim that past pot offenders are entitled to retroactive amelioration, in States that have legalized marijuana.  This Article argues that such retroactive amelioration has deep support in constitutional provisions and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  Moreover, it suggests that, due to large numbers of offenders, over a long period of time, retroactive amelioration is best achieved through the use of amnesty.

May 9, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

"How weed became 'whatever': Leagues are ditching old policies"

MlbAs a time with no actual sports, it is nice to have a good excuse to check out ESPN's website where one now finds this very lengthy article sharing the title of this post. The lengthy piece is worth reading in full, and here are excerpts (with my emphasis added):

The marijuana stigma that plagued [Ricky] Williams' NFL career is eroding, if not gone entirely from an enforcement standpoint.  In January, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.  Now, of the 123 teams across MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL, 50 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal (40.6%). Another 51 teams play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (41.5%).  That's 82% of teams (101 of 123) that are playing in cities where a player can walk down the street, go into a dispensary, and legally purchase either recreational or medicinal marijuana -- just like they were buying a six pack of beer.

The only states in which any of the four major pro league teams play where there are no broad laws legalizing marijuana are Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Sports leagues have adapted.  Last year, we wrote about the NHL's marijuana approach -- predicated on treatment, not punishment -- which at the time was the most progressive in professional sports.  Today?  It's actually the norm.

The NFL ratified a new CBA in March with a drug policy quite similar to the NHL model.  The NFL significantly raised the threshold for positive tests (from 35 nanograms to 150) and eliminated its previous window of testing, which spanned from April to August to the first two weeks of training camp. In other words, if players want to smoke weed in the offseason, they are free to do so.  But most importantly: Players are no longer suspended solely for marijuana.  If a player were to test positive, his case is reviewed by a panel of medical experts who determine if the player needs medical treatment.  "Certainly, we see that society is changing its views, but views only change because key facts become more and more obvious to the people who make policy," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said.

MLB and its union negotiated a new drug policy in December 2019 following Tyler Skaggs' death.  While the new policy added testing for opioids, fentanyl and cocaine, plus synthetic weed -- with positive tests being referred to a treatment board -- cannabinoids were taken off the league's drugs of abuse list.  That wasn't a huge deal for MLB players, who were only previously tested for marijuana if there was "reasonable cause."  It was, however, monumental for minor leaguers, who were regularly tested and faced steep fines and suspensions -- including a 50-game ban for a first-time offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for the third strike.  "The way the league had the rules set up, it was ridiculous," said longtime MLBPA agent Joshua Kusnick.  "I can't even imagine how many guys' careers were ruined over marijuana. I personally had clients whose careers were derailed because of it.  If you were a fringy prospect and you were popped for marijuana, you were released because teams didn't want to deal with it.  And if you were released, you couldn't serve your suspension.  So who is going to sign you if you had 50 games to wait?"

The NBA's policy has remained the same -- and is now actually the harshest in North American professional sports.  A first positive test means a player must enter the marijuana program.  The second positive test calls for a $25,000 fine.  The third infraction is a five-game suspension, and five more games are added to each ensuing violation (10 games for a fourth positive test, 15 games for a fifth, etc.).  However, the NBA does not test players during the offseason, and the union and league agreed to not test players during the league's coronavirus hiatus.

April 30, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Student presentation on "Marijuana Stocks"

As students "take over" my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar through presentations on research topics of their choice, I continue to enjoy hearing about (and posting here about) their selected topics. The third presentation slated for this week will focus on marijuana stocks. Here is part of the student's description of the issue and some background readings he has flagged:

While the market for investors is nearly impossible to predict, as the Covid-19 pandemic is currently demonstrating, certain industries seem to be “recession proof” and are viewed as “safer” investments. One such industry is the “sin” industry.  Stocks that fall under this category include tobacco, alcohol, weapons, gambling, sex, and most importantly, marijuana.  While many of these industries have been publicly traded on major US stock exchanges for decades, the first marijuana stock was not traded until February 27, 2018.  Thus, the industry is still in its infancy with many questions left unanswered.  I will focus on three areas of law impacting marijuana stocks: 1) the Controlled Substance Act, 2) taxes, and 3) fraud. Further, the history of marijuana stocks in the US, the potential outlook for marijuana stocks in the future, and my opinion on which marijuana stock will be the most successful will be discussed.

Fabian Gorsler, A Marijuana Company is Listed on the U.S. Stock Exchange for the First Time, Highsnobiety (Feb. 27, 2018).

Casey W. Baker, Marijuana’s Continuing Illegality and Investors’ Securities Fraud Problem: The Doctrines of Unclean Hands and IN PARI Delicto, 12 J. Bus. Entrepreneurship & L. 93 (2019).

Erin Fuchs, The Legal Risk of Investing in Weed is ‘Remote’ and ‘Theoretical’, Yahoo Finance (Nov. 3, 2018).

April 15, 2020 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

"Charlotte Figi, 13-year-old Coloradan whose CBD journey inspired medical marijuana reform, dies of COVID-19"

This is really sad

Charlotte Figi, the young Colorado Springs girl whose battle with Dravet syndrome inspired changes to medical marijuana laws, has died of complications from the coronavirus, according to a nonprofit organization co-founded by her mother. She was 13 years old.

Realm of Caring, the nonprofit that focuses on medical cannabis research and education, attributed Figi’s death to “COVID-19 complications” in a Facebook post. A message posted to the Facebook page of Charlotte’s mother, Paige Figi, on behalf of the Figi family says, “Charlotte is no longer suffering. She is seizure-free forever.”

Neither El Paso County nor state health officials have publicly announced the death of a 13-year-old Coloradan due to COVID-19; Charlotte would be the youngest person to date to die in Colorado in connection with the coronavirus.

Charlotte was one of Colorado’s many medical marijuana refugees, whose family moved to the state following the legalization of cannabis. From the time she was an infant, she suffered from frequent and severe seizures because of Dravet syndrome, including many that required hospitalization. But at age 5, Paige Figi gave her cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis known more commonly as CBD, and Charlotte’s condition changed overnight.

 

April 8, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Drug Enforcement and Policy Center conducting new survey on COVID-19 impacts on cannabis industry

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center has just created a short new survey intended to help explore how COVID-19 is impacting the cannabis industry.  The survey link is here, and this is the basic set up:

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges across the United States, the crisis continues to affect every aspect of the economy.  In response to the pandemic, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide relief to small businesses across the country.

However, the cannabis industry is ineligible for the act’s benefits due to federal prohibition.  In addition, the particular challenges that small and minority-owned cannabis businesses face were not addressed in the early discussions about the industry’s ability to persevere throughout the crisis.

We want to hear from you.

In an effort to learn more about the issues cannabis businesses and consumers are experiencing during the pandemic, and how government entities could best address these issues, DEPC has created a 3-minute survey.

Please complete and share our survey with your networks.

Take the survey

April 1, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

In a post-COVID economy, will job creation and tax revenue from marijuana reform become irresistible?

6b8d8e30-6f74-11ea-a7be-e45c6843ab56Even before we have a real handle on the public health tragedy created by the coronavirus in the US, the economic fallout is already profound as represented by just one headline this morning: "A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as the coronavirus slams economy."  The Chair of the Federal Reserve is now saying "We may well be in a recession,” and the Treasury Secretary has been talking about a possible 20% unemployment rate.  Though I do not know how extreme will be our economic struggle in the weeks and month ahead, I do know that advocates for marijuana reform are likely to waste no time stressing the potential job creation and tax revenue benefits from marijuana reform.  As this title of this post suggests, I cannot help but wonder if in many states, and maybe even at the federal level, an economic development argument for marijuana reform may start to become nearly irresistible.

I do not have the time right now to do a comprehensive review of pre-COVID press pieces and articles and reports making much of the varied potential economic benefits of marijuana reform.  But this haphazard collection of titles and links provides a flavor for what I expect we will be hearing a lot from marijuana reform advocates in the weeks and months ahead:

"The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Weed"

"Cannabis Is Becoming A Huge Job Creator"

"Using Marijuana Revenue to Create Jobs"

"Legal Marijuana Is A Boon To The Economy, Finds Study"

"Why Legalizing Marijuana Could Give the U.S. Economy a Big Boost"

"The Economic Effects of the Marijuana Industry in Colorado"

"The National Cannabis Economy"

"The marijuana industry looks like the fastest-growing job market in the country"

"The Other Green Jobs: Legal Marijuana and the Promise of Consumption-Driven Economic Development"

UPDATE:  I just saw this new Yahoo Finance article headlined "Coronavirus could accelerate US cannabis legalization."  Here are excerpts:

DataTrek Research’s Jessica Rabe writes in a note, “there’s a simple and effective solution for states and cities to help cover their huge budget shortfalls after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides: legalize recreational sales of marijuana.”...

“We’ve been thinking a lot about how life will change post-virus, and one big difference will be that state and local governments are going to encounter large unexpected tax receipt shortages,” Rabe wrote.  “That’s particularly true when it comes to sales and income taxes amid stressed consumer balance sheets and massive layoffs. And unlike the Federal government, states can’t print unlimited amounts of money.”

Legalization of cannabis for adults, Rabe points out, could be a really easy way to shore up tax basis without driving people out of state, as raising income tax might do. Already it has been successful at raising “hundreds of millions of dollars annually in states like Colorado,” she said. 

March 26, 2020 in Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noticing post-reform pattern of federal marijuana prosecutions ... and realizing what it really tells us about the modern drug war

Screen-Shot-2020-03-24-at-7.30.34-AM-1024x668Over at my sentencing blog, I noted here that the US Sentencing Commission this week released its national yearly data on federal sentencing for Fiscal Year 2019.  I am extremely pleased to see that Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment has already drilled into this data in this post titled "Feds Prosecuted Even Fewer Marijuana Cases In 2019 As More States Legalize, New Data Shows."  Here are excerpts:

Federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined again in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a new report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Monday.

While drug cases still represent the second most common category of crimes in the federal criminal justice system, the data indicates that the bulk of those instances are related to methamphetamine trafficking, which has steadily increased over the past decade.

But for marijuana, a different kind of trend has emerged.  As more states have moved to legalize cannabis, federal prosecutions have consistently declined since 2012.   To illustrate the shift, marijuana trafficking cases represented the most common drug type that was pursued in 2012, with about 7,000 cases.  As of fiscal year 2019, those cases are now the second least common, with fewer than 2,000 cases.

Notably, the year of that peak, 2012, was when Colorado and Washington State became the first to legalize for recreational purposes.  Though the report doesn’t attempt to explain why cannabis cases are on the decline, advocates have postulated that state-level marijuana reform has helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products. “Twenty-five percent of the public now live in jurisdictions where the sale of marijuana to adults is legal,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Of course there will be a corresponding drop in the number of illegal sales.”

Another possibility is that evolving public opinion and state policies have contributed to a shift in perspective among prosecutors, who may no longer wish to prioritize enforcing cannabis prohibition in the era of legalization.  While all marijuana sales — even in states with legalization laws — remain federally prohibited, the Trump administration has in practice continued the Obama-era approach of generally not interfering with the implementation of local policies even though then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally rescinded a memo on the topic from the prior administration.

In any case, the new U.S. Sentencing Commission report also shows a broader decline in drug possession cases in general. In fact, the most significant reduction in crime category for 2019 was drug possession, which fell from 777 federal cases the previous year down to 563 — a 28 percent drop....  While marijuana trafficking cases decreased, the average sentence for a conviction increased by two months, from 29 to 31.  Overall, drug trafficking prosecutions did increase by about 1,000 cases in 2019, though again that’s largely attributable to an increase in methamphetamine-related prosecutions.

This discussion of new federal data — particularly the notion that state-level marijuana reforms "helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products — elides the important reality that ALL state-legal marijuana stores are stilled engaged in "illicit trafficking" under federal law.  I stress this point because there are more than 10,000 federally-illegal (and state-licensed) marijuana businesses in just the states of California and Oklahoma alone.  Save for limits in a spending rider (which Prez Trump has sought to disavow), the US Department of Justice could decide to prosecute many thousands of the out-in-the-open marijuana dealers (most of whom have given states all their marijuana dealing plans in writing in order to get a state license).

I make this point because I mean to stress that the major decline in federal marijuana prosecutions over the last decade does not demonstrate that there are fewer federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US.  Rather, it seems clear that there are now many more, and many more obvious, federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US, and there is also reason to fear that "fully illicit" marijuana activity (dealing that does not even comply with state laws) may not be in decline in any way.  And yet we see this marked decline in federal marijuana prosecutions simply because federal prosecutors, quite soundly in my view, simply believe it is an ever-less-good use of their time to be prosecuting all the marijuana offenders who continue to grow their drug-dealing businesses in plain view.  

March 26, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

New Brookings paper envisions a "Cannabis Opportunity Agenda"

2020At Brookings, Makada Henry-Nickie and John Hudak have this interesting new brief as part of  its "Policy 2020" series titled "It is time for a Cannabis Opportunity Agenda." Here is the paper's executive summary:

The 2020 election season will be a transformative time for cannabis policy in the United States, particularly as it relates to racial and social justice.  Candidates for the White House and members of Congress have put forward ideas, policy proposals, and legislation that have changed the conversation around cannabis legalization.  The present-day focus on cannabis reform highlights how the War on Drugs affected targeted communities and how reform could ameliorate some of those wrongs.  The national conversation on cannabis stands at a pivotal inflection point that provides policymakers and legislators with an extraordinary opportunity to establish a policy context wherein inclusive economic opportunities can thrive in tandem with responsible investments to redress longstanding harms.

When Congress works to remedy a discriminatory past or to rectify decades of institutionalized bias, it has an obligation to thoroughly consider implicit and explicit hurdles to equity.  Nowhere is this deliberation more critical than in drug policy reform.  For decades, the criminalization of drugs led to foreclosed opportunities for people of color who were disproportionately victimized by unequal criminal enforcement.  In 2013, police officers were 3.73 times more likely to arrest people of color for cannabis possession than whites.  Arrest disparities were even more egregious in some communities where Blacks were 8.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.  The racist roots of the War on Drugs inflicted significant collateral damage on minority groups, saddling young men and women of color with drug convictions — often before age 30 — and setting them on a course of institutionalized disadvantage because of the crippling, collateral consequences of criminal records.

Today, amidst a thriving state-legal cannabis industry, the same people hurt most by the drug war face the greatest barriers to participating in the emerging cannabis economy.  As elected officials consider how to reform the nation’s cannabis laws and rectify these serious socioeconomic and racial issues, they must erase any ambiguity about the protections, corrective actions, and inclusive opportunities intended to reverse the generation-long ills of the War on Drugs.  We argue that 2020 is an opportune moment to design a comprehensive pragmatic Cannabis Opportunity Agenda: a set of policies that addresses the social harms of marijuana prohibition and seeks to rehabilitate impacted communities with a focus on equity, opportunity, and inclusion.

March 25, 2020 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, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Just some of the latest headlines highlighting how COVID-19 is changing the marijuana reform world

I suspect regular readers have an inkling for why I have not blogged in this space for a few weeks.  For this blogger, the new coronavirus world has meant a lot more time spent rescuing kids from shuttered colleges, gearing up for online classes, and lots of blogging at Sentencing Law & Policy about the impact of the virus on our criminal justice systems.  Because a lot of organizations and journalists spend a lot of time covering marijuana news, I have not tried to keep up here with all the ways in which the COVID-19 is changing the marijuana reform world.

That all said, I think it useful to keep up with news in this space, if only to document how this historical moment is being captured in news stories and headlines.  So, as social distancing turns into lockdowns and as stimulus package proposals get closer to becoming law, here is a sampling:

From Boston.com, "Charlie Baker order lets medical marijuana shop stay open, but shuts down recreational sales"

From Business Insider, "Cannabis site Leafly just laid off nearly 40% of its workforce as coronavirus upends the marijuana industry"

From CNN Business, "Cannabis advocates to governors: Our businesses are 'essential'"

From Forbes, "Coronavirus Crisis Shows Marijuana Is ‘Essential’ And Mainstream"

From MLive, "Michigan is smoking more marijuana than any other state during coronavirus pandemic, survey says"

From Marijuana Business Daily, "Coronavirus outbreak could delay marijuana legalization along East Coast, other states"

From Marijuana Business Daily, "Adult-use cannabis sales plunge after briefly hitting new heights on coronavirus concerns"

From Marijuana Moment, "Marijuana Industry Pleads For Access To Federal Coronavirus Business Relief"

From Marijuana Moment, "Nebraska Medical Marijuana Campaign Suspended Due To Coronavirus"

From Westworld, "Ask a Stoner: Quarantining Proves We Should Grow Our Own"

UPDATEThese topics made the New York Times this afternoon: "Is Marijuana an ‘Essential’ Like Milk or Bread? Some States Say Yes"

March 24, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"The Controlled Substances Act at 50 Years" ... available for LIVESTREAMING

CSA at 50_socialThe title of this post is the title of this amazing conference taking place later this week (February 20-22, 2020) at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Phoenix, Arizona.  I have had the pleasure and honor of working with the amazing team at The Ohio State University's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (@OSULawDEPC ), along with the also amazing team at ASU's Academy for Justice (@Academy4Justice), to put together an amazing and diverse array of panels and workshops on all sorts of topics relating to the past, present and future of the CSA's development, implementation and enforcement.

The basic agenda for the event can be found at this page, which should alone make you want to register here.   I am especially pleased and excited by this list of speakers who are participating.  I do not think I could overstate the amount of wisdom and insight on drug laws and policies that will be assembled in Phoenix for this event.   And here is a brief overview from the event webpage:

Roughly a century ago, in response to growing concerns about drug use, the federal government enacted its first drug control law in the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914.  Subsequent decades saw Congress continue to pass drug control legislation and criminalize drug abuse, but by the 1960s there was growing interest in more medical approaches to preventing and responding to drug abuse.  Upon his election, President Richard Nixon prioritized the reduction of drug use: in rhetoric, he spoke of a so-called “war on drugs”; in policy, he pushed for a new comprehensive federal drug law in the form of The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), enacted as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

The CSA emerged from a widespread, bipartisan view that comprehensive legislation was needed to clarify federal drug laws, and its centerpiece was a comprehensive scheduling system for assessing and regulating drugs in five schedules defined in terms of substances’ potential for abuse and dependence, and possible medical use and safety.  In design, the CSA was intended to prioritize a scientific approach to drug prohibition and regulation by embracing a mixed law-enforcement and public-health approach to drug policy.  But in practice, the US Justice Department came to have an outsized role in drug control policy, especially as subsequent “tough-on-crime” sentencing laws made the CSA the backbone of a federal drug war in which punitive approaches to evolving drug problems consistently eclipsed public health responses.

Although the federal drug war has been controversial since its inception, the CSA’s statutory framework defining how the federal government regulates the production, possession, and distribution of controlled substances has endured.   As we mark a half-century of drug policy under the CSA, the Academy for Justice at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Drug Enforcement & Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law are together sponsoring a conference to look back on how the CSA has helped shape modern American drug laws and policies and to look forward toward the direction these laws could and should take in the next 50 years.

UPDATE: I am moving this post to the top of the page because this awesome conference starts soon and I can now provide this link with its own links to the livestream for each of the panels. I think every part of the conference will be amazing, but marijuana fans might be especially drawn to Friday (Feb 21) afternoon's "Town Hall on Marijuana in 2020: Legalization and Regulation" 3:30pm-4:30pm (Arizona Time). 

February 19, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Colorado marijuana sales hit a record $1.75 billion in 2019: Cannabis sales have now reached a total of $7.79 billion in the 6 years since legalization"

Growing-your-moneyThe title of this post is the full headline of this new Denver Post piece, which provides a reminder of how easy it is to identify (some) economic metrics that follow from marijuana reform. Here are the details:

Last year was the most lucrative 12 months for cannabis sales in Colorado since the state’s voters legalized recreational marijuana.  Medical and recreational cannabis sales hit a record $1.75 billion in 2019, up 13% from 2018, according to data from the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.  Marijuana tax collections also hit an all-time high, at more than $302 million in 2019.

December closed out the year with strong sales totaling more than $144 million, up 6.7% compared to the previous year.  But that wasn’t the biggest month of 2019; instead, August topped the calendar year with $173 million in sales.  All told, Colorado marijuana sales now have hit $7.79 billion since recreational sales began in 2014.

Truman Bradley, the newly appointed executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said the revenue increases in Colorado track with expectations. “People are moving from the unregulated market to the regulated market,” Bradley said. “As reefer madness goes away, as the stigmatism of cannabis reduces and people come over to the regulated market, I would expect that trend to continue.”

Since January 2014, Colorado’s cannabis industry has generated $1.21 billion in tax revenue.  Those taxes are allocated to the state’s public education fund, which covers initiatives such as the Colorado Department of Education’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) fund; the state general fund, which covers agencies’ expenses; and the marijuana tax fund, which benefits programs related to substances abuse and treatment, health research, youth education and more.  Tax revenues also benefit local governments.

In recent posts (here and here and here) and in my marijuana seminar, I have been exploring in various ways what might be the proper metrics for assessing medical marijuana reform regimes.  This new data from Colorado, in turn, prompts similar questions about assessing recreational reform regimes.   I am inclined to believe these numbers represent positive economic realities like increased employment, wealth and valuable wealth reallocation via taxes.  But public health experts might see these numbers as representing negative health trends and they might also perhaps demonstrate problematic wealth reallocation from the vulnerable to the already privileged.

February 19, 2020 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 (0)

Monday, January 27, 2020

"A Brief Global History of the War on Cannabis"

Cover-2I have started another semester of my Marijuana Law and Policy seminar at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and early in the semester I spend considerable time exploring the history of all sort of drug laws (including, of course, those dealing with alcohol and so-called harder drugs).  Thus, I was very pleased this week to see this new extended posting at the MIT Press Reader authored by Ryan Stoa (the author of “Craft Weed”).  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts from the start and end of the great piece:

Before the war on drugs put marijuana farmers firmly in its crosshairs, cannabis was being grown openly and with commercial success on every continent on earth, much as it had been for centuries.

This ancient and extensive history of cannabis farming has given rise to the idea that prohibitions put in place in the mid-20th century were the first of their kind — a whirlwind of racial, political, and economic forces that successfully used marijuana prohibition as a pretext for suppression.  By contrasting prohibition with our ancient history of cannabis farming, some historians make our modern-day drug laws appear irregular and shortsighted....

Yet, while unprecedented in scope, the United States’ war on drugs was not the first of its kind. The reality is that marijuana has been controversial for almost as long as humans have been farming it. Many societies throughout history have banned cannabis cultivation and use. What many of these crackdowns and prohibitions have in common is social and economic inequality, or a distrust of the unknown. When members of a minority or lower class embrace marijuana use, the ruling class moves to outlaw marijuana as a form of suppression and control. Marijuana is perceived to be a threat to the order of society, and stamping it out naturally begins with a prohibition on cultivation.

What many of these crackdowns and prohibitions have in common is social and economic inequality, or a distrust of the unknown.  As a case in point, the ancient Chinese might have been the first cannabis farmers — and, as far as we know, were the first to write about psychoactive marijuana — and yet they may also have been the first to reject it as a socially acceptable drug.  The rise of Taoism around 600 BCE brought with it a cultural rejection of intoxicants.  Marijuana was then viewed as antisocial, and derisively dismissed by one Taoist priest as a loony drug reserved for shamans.  The sentiment persisted into the modern era — to this day, marijuana struggles to disassociate itself with the stained history of opium in China....

The historical record illustrates that while many regions of the world have tolerated or embraced marijuana farming in the past, plenty of others have seen authorities attempt to exterminate farmers and their crops.  Targeting the first step in the supply chain is a logical starting point for prohibitionists, and marijuana’s role as an agent of religious, political, or economic change has long made it a threat to the established social order.

Our marijuana-farming ancestors of the past could have told us, based on experience, that when prohibitionists come after cannabis, they will do so in predictable ways. They will use rhetoric to associate the plant with violence, depravity, and other more dangerous drugs, as the European temperance movement did in France and Great Britain.  They will use a militarized show of force to eradicate crops, persecute farmers, and dissuade the next generation from growing marijuana, as the Ottomans did in Egypt.  They will portray marijuana users as religious extremists or dangerous minorities, as Pope Innocent VIII did in Europe, Sunni Muslims did in the Middle East, or white South Africans did in South Africa.  The best-case scenario, they might say, is that the authorities will turn a blind eye to the unstoppable forces of supply and demand, much as the Portuguese did in Brazil or the British did in India.

In telling us this, our marijuana-farming ancestors might as well have been writing the playbook for the 20th-century war on drugs.  The cannabis prohibition era in the United States did not invent this “greatest hits” collection of tactics that prohibitionists have been using for centuries; it simply brought them all together in one place, and injected them with more financial and military resources than any prohibition movement in history has ever seen.

January 27, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)