Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Is South Dakota soon to become the first deep-red mainland state to fully legalize marijuana?

Growing-marijuana-south-dakota-600x250The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Marijuana Moment piece headlined "South Dakota Voters Support Medical And Recreational Marijuana Initiatives, New Opposition Poll Finds."  Here are excerpts:

A majority of South Dakota voters support separate initiatives to allow both medical and recreational marijuana that will appear on the state’s November ballot, according to a new poll funded by legalization opponents.

But when it comes to the proposed adult-use legalization amendment, opponents argue that there’s significant confusion over what it would accomplish, as most people who said they favor the measure cited therapeutic applications of cannabis as reasons they support the broad reform.

The statutory medical cannabis initiative would allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.  They could also grow at least three plants, or more if authorized by a physician.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which couldn’t be changed by the legislature if approved by voters, would legalize marijuana for adult use. People 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.

There’s strong support for each of the measures in the new prohibitionist-funded survey, which was conducted June 27-30 and announced in a press release on Thursday. Roughly sixty percent of South Dakota voters said they favor recreational legalization, while more than 70 percent said they back medical cannabis legalization, according to the No Way on A Committee, which didn’t publish detailed cross-tabs, or even specific basic top-line numbers, from the poll results.

The decision by the prohibitionist committee to release the results of a poll showing such broad support for legalization is an interesting one. Typically, ballot campaigns and candidates use polling results to demonstrate momentum, but perhaps the South Dakota group is seeking to sound the alarm and generate donations from national legalization opponents to help stop the measure. If South Dakota votes to legalize cannabis this November, that would signal that the policy can pass almost anywhere....

While the recreational measure might not have been crafted solely with patient access in mind, adults who want to use marijuana for therapeutic reasons would still stand to benefit from a regulated market — regardless of whether it’s a medical or adult-use model — so it’s possible that the survey results don’t demonstrate total confusion among those respondents. Plus, the constitutional amendment does contain language requiring the legislature to enact policies on medical cannabis as well—providing more robust constitutional protections for therapeutic use than the statutory measure alone would ensure.

Maine, Nevada and especially Alaska are arguably "reddish" or "red" states that have already fully legalized marijuana via ballot initiatives in years past. But South Dakota is really deep red, as in 2016 it voted for Donald Trump two-to-one over Hillary Clinton. If such a deep red state really does vote convincingly for full marijuana legalization, I think the prospects for federal reforms get a lot brighter no matter who is in charge at the federal level after this election.

September 22, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2020

Noticing the notable "red state" realities of marijuana reform ballot initiatives in 2020

Download (26)The Daily Beast has this new piece highlighting that the bulk of the marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot in 2020 are in so-called red states. The piece is fully headlined "Marijuana Is Making Its Mark on Ballots in Red States: Republican-led legislatures have opposed legalization measures, so proponents are going right to the voters." Here are excepts:

Montana and a handful of other states this fall [will] decide whether to legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Five of the six states with ballot questions lean conservative and are largely rural, and the results may signal how far America’s heartland has come toward accepting the use of a substance that federal law still considers an illegal and dangerous drug.

Since Colorado first allowed recreational use of marijuana in 2014, 10 other states have done the same. Most are coastal, left-leaning states, with exceptions like Nevada, Alaska and Maine. An additional 21 states allow medical marijuana, which must be prescribed by a physician.

This year, marijuana advocates are using the November elections to bypass Republican-led legislatures that have opposed legalization efforts, taking the question straight to voters. Advocates point to a high number of petition signatures and their own internal polling as indicators that the odds of at least some of the measures passing are good....

Mississippi and Nebraska voters will decide on medical marijuana measures. South Dakota will be the first state to vote on legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana in the same election.

Montana, Arizona and New Jersey, all medical marijuana states, will consider ballot measures in November to allow recreational sales, a move opponents consider evidence of a slippery slope....

The Marijuana Policy Project is helping to coordinate the Montana legalization effort. Its deputy director, Matthew Schweich, said the organization does so only when polling suggests at least half of voters would support the measure. “It’s becoming normalized for people,” Schweich said. “People know that other states are legalizing it and the sky has not fallen.”

An effort to legalize marijuana in rural, conservative states would have been an uphill battle even a few years ago. But several factors have worked toward changing attitudes there, Schweich said. They include a gradually increasing acceptance in red states of neighbors that have legalized recreational pot—and seeing the tax revenue that legal marijuana brings. But perhaps the biggest catalyst toward normalizing pot use is having an established medical marijuana program, Schweich said.

After 15 years, Montana’s medical cannabis program is firmly rooted and has survived several legislative attempts to restrict it or shut it down. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, more than 500 marijuana providers were serving 38,385 people as of July, which represents nearly 4 percent of the state’s population....

In Mississippi, 20 medical marijuana bills have failed over the years in the Statehouse. This year, 228,000 state residents signed petitions in support of a medical marijuana initiative to allow possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana to treat more than 20 qualifying medical conditions. In response, lawmakers put a competing measure on the ballot that would restrict marijuana use to terminally ill patients and require them to use only pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products.

Jamie Grantham, spokesperson for Mississippians for Compassionate Care, called the measure an effort by the state to split the vote and derail legalization efforts. “I’m passionate about this because it’s a plant that God made and it can provide relief for those who are suffering,” said Grantham, who described herself as a conservative Republican. “If this is something that can be used to help relieve someone’s pain, then they should be able to use it.”

But opposition is starting to build. Langton, the Mississippi Board of Health member, is working with Mississippi Horizon, a group fighting legalization. Langton said he opposes the original initiative because he believes it’s “overly broad” and would allow dispensaries within 500 feet of schools and churches. It could also put Mississippi on a path toward legalized recreational use, he said. He added: “They say that marijuana is a natural plant, but poison ivy is natural, too. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is good for you.”

September 7, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

New poll suggest Jersey a near lock to legalize marijuana

Download (2)This article from Marijuana Moment, headlined, "Nearly Seven-In-Ten New Jersey Voters Support Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure, Poll Finds," reports on a notable new poll suggesting that many members of the the Garden State are eager to vote to legalize marijuana.  Here are the details:

A supermajority of New Jersey voters say in a new poll that they support a marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot.  The survey, which was conducted by DKC Analytics and released on Tuesday, shows that 68 percent of respondents back the policy change.  That’s a seven percentage point increase compared to a separate poll on the issue released in April.

The survey also shows that voters support allowing social consumption lounges for cannabis, 50 percent to 38 percent.  Most respondents (56 percent) agreed that online ordering and home delivery for marijuana products would be a “good way to provide adults with access.”

Supporters of the legalization initiative were asked to select the reasons they hold that position.  Seventy percent said they feel a regulated system will curb the illicit market, 61 percent said it would generate tax revenue, 61 percent said regulations would ensure safer products, 60 percent said ending criminalization would save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to law enforcement, 57 percent said legalization would stimulate the economy and create jobs and 43 percent said cannabis is safer than alcohol....

Another supermajority (68 percent) said people with prior low-level cannabis convictions should be able to have their records expunged.  The same percentage of respondents said that marijuana tax revenue should go toward drug education and awareness programs.

“The polling results confirmed our belief that there is overwhelming support for the creation of a regulated, adult-use cannabis marketplace in New Jersey,” John Fanburg, an attorney at Brach Eichler, which commissioned the survey, said in a press release.  “Respondents supported it because it will create tremendous opportunity. It will create vitally needed new businesses, the state will receive significant tax revenues and illegal sales will be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated.  Voters see this as a win for everyone.”

As has historically been the case, people who identified as Democrats are more likely to support legalization (78 percent), but majorities of Republicans (57 percent) and independents (63 percent) also favor the policy change.

Another interesting finding was that most people who participated in the survey (57 percent) said they do not personally consume cannabis.  The poll involved phone interviews with 500 New Jersey likely voters from July 7-12.  ”The strong level of support for correcting this decades-old inequality, especially in the context of recent protests of inherent bias in law enforcement, should be well noted by our legislators who will be tasked with correcting this unfortunate consequence of the failed policy of prohibition,” Charles Gormally of Brach Eichler said.

July 29, 2020 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"County-Level Differences in Support for Recreational Cannabis on the Ballot"

Cdxa_47_2.coverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new paper in the journal Contemporary Drug Problems authored by Lindsey Beltz, Clayton Mosher and Jennifer Schwartz.  Here is its abstract:

Cannabis is traversing an extraordinary journey from an illicit substance to a legal one, due in part to an unprecedented wave of bottom-up law reform through successful citizen ballot initiatives.  Yet, even in states that have legalized recreational cannabis, there is substantial geographic variability in support of cannabis legalization. Geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization is impactful (e.g., county moratoriums/bans) yet poorly understood.

This paper demonstrates the consequences of county-level population demographics, sociopolitical factors, and community differences in experience with criminalization of cannabis possession for understanding county-level variation in support of recreational cannabis law reform on (un)successful ballot measures in California (2010), Colorado (2012), Washington (2012), and Oregon (2014). 

OLS regression analyses of nearly 200 counties indicate that differences in racial and ethnic composition (% Black, Hispanic), political affiliation (% Republican), past criminalization, gender composition, and higher education level of residents all predict county-level variation in support for liberalization of cannabis law.  Stronger Republican political leanings and/or higher percentages of Black or Hispanic residents were associated with reduced support, whereas higher education, male sex composition, and greater past criminalization were associated with increased support for cannabis legalization across counties. Religiosity and rurality were inconsequential as predictors of county-level voting patterns favoring recreational cannabis.  The substantial geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization has significant implications for policy implementation and effectiveness.

July 8, 2020 in Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Reviewing direct democracy marijuana/drug reform initiatives as we celebrate America's birthday

Download (11)Kyle Jaeger has this helpful and timely piece at Marijuana Moment discussing the state of direct democracy marijuana and drug reform campaigns in the states. The piece is headlined "As Signature Deadlines Approach, Here’s Where Marijuana And Drug Policy Reform Campaigns Stand," and is worth a full read. Here are highlights:

Several drug policy reform campaigns are in the final stretch as deadlines to submit signatures for proposed ballot initiatives loom this week and next.

While the coronavirus pandemic dealt serious blows to marijuana, psychedelics and other drug reform groups in jurisdictions across the country, forcing some to end their campaigns, activists in Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. are still in the game, with some running against the clock to turn in enough valid signatures to qualify and others now waiting for officials to validate petitions they’ve already submitted. That’s in addition to measures that have already qualified for November ballots in states like Mississippi, New Jersey and South Dakota.

The proposed ballot measures would accomplish everything from legalizing cannabis to decriminalizing psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Here’s a status update on where they stand:

Arizona  Deadline: July 2

Smart & Safe Arizona is a campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot, and it seems to be in good shape to qualify....

Idaho  Deadline: TBD

While the original deadline to submit signatures for an initiative to legalize medical marijuana passed on May 1, a federal judge recently ruled that the state must make accommodations for a separate non-cannabis ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response to it. Activists feel the ruling will also apply to the marijuana measure....

Nebraska  Deadline: July 3

Activists behind an initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state turned in 182,000 raw signatures on Thursday — well more than the 121,669 valid submissions needed to qualify for the ballot....

Oregon  Deadline: July 2

A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes already submitted signatures that they feel will qualify them for the ballot....

Washington, D.C.  Deadline: July 6

Washington, D.C. activists are continuing to collect signatures for a proposed measure to make enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities....

Here’s the status of other drug policy campaigns that have either succeeded or failed so far this year:

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced on Tuesday that a campaign to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand substance misuse treatment has qualified for the ballot.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

Mississippi activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana initiatives—one to legalize the plant for adult use and another stipulating that individuals must be 21 or older to participate — for the November ballot.  The state is currently validating those submissions.

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas will not qualify for the ballot this year, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.

Activists behind an initiative to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand access to treatment services in Washington State said last week that they will no longer be pursuing the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they are seeking to enact the policy change through the legislature during the next session starting January 2021.

An effort to place a psilocybin legalization measure on California’s ballot ended after the coronavirus pandemic presented petitioning difficulties and officials didn’t agree to a request to allow electronic signature gathering.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

North Dakota activists ended their push to place a marijuana legalization measure on the 2020 ballot and will instead seek qualification for 2022.

July 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"Coronavirus Upends Marijuana, Psychedelics And Drug Reform Ballot Measures"

Download (26)The title of this post is the headline of this new Forbes piece by Tom Angell highlighting one way that the COVID-19 crisis seems certain to slow the drug law reform momentum heading into November.  Here are the details:

Marijuana and drug policy reform advocates came into 2020 believing it would be a big — and perhaps unprecedented — year for legalization and decriminalization measures on state ballots. From California to Missouri to Oregon, they had high hopes for placing far-reaching initiatives before voters in November.

But many of those efforts have been severely impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has made mass signature gathering to qualify ballot measures all but impossible as public health and government officials have urged social distancing measures.

Here’s a look at the growing list of ballot initiatives on cannabis and broader drug reforms that have been effectively halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

California

Separate campaigns to amend California’s legal marijuana program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are calling on officials to allow them to collect ballot signatures digitally instead of in-person due to the health risks of the the latter traditional route amid the pandemic. So far those requests seem to have been ignored.

Missouri

Activists in Missouri announced that they have “no practical way” of collecting enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization measure before voters amid the pandemic and are now considering shifting their focus to the 2022 election.

Nebraska

A campaign working to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the November ballot is temporarily suspending signature gathering efforts during the coronavirus outbreak “out of an abundance of caution.”

Oregon

Activists behind a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs and expand treatment services using current marijuana tax revenue has halted in-person signature collection efforts. That said, the campaign says it has almost enough to qualify and so is urging supporters to download, print, sign and mail petitions to help. Also in Oregon, a separate team of advocates working to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms has also suspended mass signature collection efforts despite similarly having almost enough to ensure ballot access. They are asking people who want to sign to fill out an online form so that petitions can be mailed to them.

Washington, D.C.

Activists in the nation’s capital were hoping to give voters a chance to decide on a measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics—including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine — in November.  But they, like their colleagues in states across the country, have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person signature collection virtually impossible. They’ve asked for a change in the law to allow for electronic petition signing, but officials have demurred, and so the campaign is now exploring a plan to mail petitions to supporters who would then collect signatures from their immediate family members and close friends.

Beyond the ballot, the coronavirus outbreak has also impeded efforts to advance marijuana reform bills through state legislatures in place like Connecticut, New York and Vermont as sessions have been largely halted due to health concerns.

But ... in South Dakota, separate measures to legalize marijuana and allow medical cannabis have already qualified for the state’s November ballot.... In Mississippi, the state certified that advocates collected a sufficient number of signatures to place a medical marijuana legalization question before voters.... In New Jersey, the legislature voted late last year to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot.  And in Arizona, activists announced last week that they have already collected more signatures than needed to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the ballot — though they have not yet been submitted to and verified by the state.

This accounting leave out Ohio, where a campaign for full legalization of marijuana was just getting launched when COVID-19 started shutting down the state. I suspect still other states and localities may have had similar nascent efforts shut down as well.

March 31, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 6, 2020

Eager to include discussion of notable tax allocation provision in new Ohio marijuana reform initiative as part of "A Fresh Take on Cannabis Regulation"

As highlighted in prior posts here and here, a serious effort to get a serious marijuana legalization initiative to Ohio voters in November 2020 is in the works.  Though this Ohio 2020 ballot initiative, titled "An Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol," still has an uphill climb to even make it to the ballot, I will likely be discussing some of its mostinteresting provisions in a variety of fora in the months ahead.  And today the forum will be at the University of Cincinnati where I have the honor of participating in the College of Law's Corporate Law Symposium titled "A Fresh Take on Cannabis Regulation."

On my panel today, I plan to discuss some of the topics I first covered in my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," exploring ways that  marijuana reform intersects with criminal justice concerns.  In that article, among other points, I urge jurisdictions to earmark a portion of marijuana revenues to improving the criminal justice system and I specifically advocate for the creation of a new criminal justice institution, which I call a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to help remedy some of the harms of the war on drugs. 

Against that backdrop, I was especially intrigued by an interesting provision for taxing and spending the tax revenue appearing in new Ohio marijuana legalization ballot initiative. Specifically, Section 12(E)(5) of the proposed Ohio constitutional amendment provides:

The General Assembly may enact a special sales tax to be levied upon marijuana and marijuana products sold at retail marijuana stores or other entities that may be authorized to sell marijuana or marijuana products to consumers and, if such a sales tax is enacted, shall direct the Department to establish procedures for the collection of all taxes levied.  Provided, at least one-quarter of the revenue raised from any such sales tax shall be placed in a special fund and used to establish a Commission on Expungement, Criminal Justice, Community Investment, and Cannabis Industry Equity and Diversity, which shall provide recommendations regarding the allocation of the remaining revenue in the fund; at least one-half of the revenue raised from any such sales tax shall be allocated to the State Local Government Fund or any successor fund dedicated to a similar purpose; and at least one-tenth of the revenue raised from any such sales tax shall be returned to the municipal corporations or townships in which the retail sales occurred in proportional amounts based upon the sales taxes remitted.

Though I think the the Commission on Expungement, Criminal Justice, Community Investment, and Cannabis Industry Equity and Diversity (CECJCICIED?) is a very clumsy name, I this it is a very good idea and I am quite excited to see a marijuana reform proposal that includes a means for building needed criminal justice infrastructure with the proceeds of marijuana taxes.

Prior related post:

March 6, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Ohio 2020 ballot initiative, "An Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol," officially filed

As noted in this post, last week news broke that  there was in the works a serious attempt to bring a full marijuana legalization initiative to Ohio voters in 2020.  This local press piece, headlined "Ohio 2020 recreational marijuana legalization measure filed: 5 things to know," report on that effort and (some of) what we all need to know.  Here are excerpts:

The latest effort to legalize marijuana in Ohio stems from frustration with Ohio's nearly four-year-old medical marijuana law. Supporters of the measure include at least two medical marijuana businesses, a medical marijuana patient, a mother of twins with autism – a condition excluded from the program – and advocates for recommending cannabis in place of opioids.

Supporters of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment turned in the petition summary language and an initial 1,000 signatures to the Ohio attorney general on Monday. This is the first step in a months-long process to qualify for the November ballot. The constitutional amendment would allow adults over age 21 to buy, possess, consume and grow limited amounts of marijuana....

Tom Haren, a Northeast Ohio attorney representing supporters, said there were several catalysts in the medical program that led to the new adult use measure. "If you're a patient in Ohio, it's hard to participate in Ohio's medical marijuana program," said Haren, who has also represented medical marijuana licensees. "We were promised a program that worked." Haren confirmed Pure Ohio Wellness, a cultivator and dispensary operator in Springfield and Dayton, and Galenas, a small-scale grower in Akron, are backing the measure. Haren said other medical marijuana businesses support it but declined to name them on Monday.

The Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association, which represents 14 Ohio companies, is not supporting the measure. “We’re focused on the medical program and at this time are not backing a recreational initiative,” association associate director Thomas Rosenberger said.

The purchase and possession limit in the amendment is 1 ounce, with no more than 8 grams of concentrate. Adults could grow up to six plants (limit of three flowering plants) in an enclosed area – home grow is not allowed in the medical marijuana program. The state's nascent medical marijuana program would remain in place, and state officials would have to ensure patients still have access to products.

The amendment wouldn't change laws against driving under the influence of marijuana or employers' rights to prohibit employee marijuana use....

The 118 medical marijuana licensees could operate as recreational businesses on July 1, 2021, according to the amendment. The Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees medical marijuana growers, processors and testing labs, would also regulate the entire recreational marijuana program.

The agency could issue more licenses, but the number of licenses would be capped until 2026. Retail stores would be capped at about 200. Cultivation would be limited to a total of 1.5 million square feet of growing space among all licensees. For comparison, the state's 19 large-scale and 13 small-scale medical marijuana growers are licensed to cultivate 514,000 square feet.

Local governments could limit the number, location and business hours of marijuana businesses and could ban them altogether. Licenses would be awarded if the applications comply with the rules and regulations; Ohio's medical marijuana business licenses were awarded after a months-long application scoring process....

The amendment doesn't set a tax rate – that would likely violate an anti-monopoly amendment passed by voters in 2015 to block ResponsibleOhio's recreational marijuana measure. Lawmakers could set a special sales tax for recreational marijuana.

Revenue from marijuana would be split several ways:

  • 25% to a special fund for a Commission on Expungement, Criminal Justice, Community Investment, and Cannabis Industry Equity and Diversity
  • 50% allocated to the state's Local Government Fund
  • At least 10% must be returned to municipalities where retail sales occurred, proportional to the amount of sales

Equity in legal cannabis programs refers to ensuring African-Americans and members of other traditionally marginalized groups participate in the industry. African-Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU.

Ohio's attempt at equity in the medical marijuana program – awarding 15% of all licenses to minority-owned businesses – was found unconstitutional. The amendment requires the Department of Commerce to conduct a study into whether there has been discrimination in awarding medical marijuana licenses.

The attorney general has 10 days to review the petition language to make sure it's "fair and truthful" summary of the amendment. Most initiatives don't pass the first time. A bipartisan legislative panel led by the Ohio secretary of state will then decide whether the measure is one or more ballot issues. Then, supporters will have to have to collect at least 442,958 valid signatures of Ohio voters, including a certain percent in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties.

To do that before July 1 – the deadline for the November ballot – supporters will likely need to hire paid signature collectors. Recent statewide ballot issue campaigns have spent upwards of $3 million to collect signatures. Haren declined to name investors or sources funding the campaign. "We expect it will be funded by a diverse set of folks including people with licenses as well as folks outside the licensing," Haren said.

The full text of the the ballot initiative, titled "An Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol," is available at this link.  Once I get a chance to read the text in full, I suspect I will have a lot more to say about how this proposal seek to make marijuana fully legal in the Buckeye State.

Prior related post:

March 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ballot initiative pursuing 2020 vote on full marijuana legalization in Ohio now in the works

Images (12)Throughout the first part of 2019, I thought it quite likely that there would be at least an attempt to bring a full marijuana legalization initiative to Ohio voters in 2020.  But as 2019 marched forward and as I heard that some Ohio medical marijuana industry players were against such an effort, I concluded that the Buckeye voters were going to have to wait until at least 2022 to weigh in again on recreational marijuana.  But, to my surprise, this news broke this week: "Ohio petitioners want to put recreational marijuana on the fall ballot."  Here are the basics and some context:

Advocates of adult marijuana use, which includes some licensed Ohio medical marijuana companies, are working on letting citizens vote on recreational marijuana this fall.

But an initiative to bring a referendum before voters this November will face an uphill battle, as it may be challenging to collect the signatures needed by a July deadline to get a measure on this fall's ballot.  Presidential elections historically draw the greatest voter turnouts, which is why it makes sense strategically to bring out a marijuana legalization referendum at that time despite the time crunch.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, which says it's seen a copy of the petitions, the proposed constitutional amendment would "allow anyone 21 and older to buy, consume and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants."  Additionally, the Enquirer reported that "Ohio's existing medical marijuana businesses would have first dibs on the recreational market beginning in July 2021.  State regulators could decide to issue additional licenses."

Working on the initiative are reportedly Frantz Ward attorney Tom Haren and Mike Hartley, a Republican consultant based in Columbus.  Haren represents multiple marijuana companies in Ohio and is the executive vice president of the Ohio Hemp Association trade group.

Matt Close, executive director of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association, which includes about 15 members, said the trade group is aware of the petitions but is not backing any legalization measure, at least not yet. "From the association standpoint right now, we are not backing any sort of initiative," Close said. "We are trying to fix the current program."...  Nonetheless, while it's currently unclear who's supporting the legalization initiative, sources say the group does include some current Ohio medical marijuana license-holders.

According to the Ohio attorney general's office, a statewide total of 442,958 signatures would be required from at least 44 of the state's 88 counties to file a ballot initiative.  That number is particularly high because of the high voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election.  Petitions can be tricky because a number of signatures will inevitably be marked invalid.  Collecting nearly 443,000 valid signatures means petitioners would likely want to collect double the required number to be safe.  If initial petitions are filed with the state later this week, the initiative would have just four months to collect signatures before the July 1 deadline. A successful campaign would probably take several million dollars of financial support.

The last marijuana referendum brought before voters was Issue 3 in 2015.  While that would've established a recreational market, the amendment would've provided for only 10 cultivators chosen by backers of the bill, including '90s boy-band singer Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees.  Critics, including the state, which worried about losing control of the marijuana situation, framed Issue 3 as a monopoly on the lucrative cultivation business.  While not a literal monopoly, the idea was that one group of investors working together would effectively gain unilateral control over who would be allowed to grow medical pot and where in the Buckeye State.  That left many marijuana advocates unimpressed.

H.B. 523 followed in 2016 as a way for lawmakers to create a strictly regulated medical marijuana industry after seeing a recreational industry nearly willed into existence. Former Gov. John Kasich eventually signed that bill to little fanfare.  Medical marijuana sales in Ohio started in January 2019.  The state saw $58.3 million in total sales in that first year, a good deal less than comparable markets in their inaugural years.

I am very much looking forward to seeing the details of the petition, which should be out this week or next, and also seeing of the organizers will have the resources to collect the signatures needed to actually get the petition to the ballot. Stay tuned.

February 26, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

"11 states where you might be voting on major marijuana reforms this November"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Salon article that seems to effectively review where marijuana reform initiatives already have qualified, or might still qualify, for the ballot in fall 2020.  Here is the wind up and the essentials (click through for lots of details and lots of links):

It's tough to push a legalization bill through the state legislative process. A single recalcitrant committee head can kill a bill, and even committed proponents can fail to reach agreement, squabbling over issues such as taxation, which agencies will have regulatory power, and ensuring social justice in the industry. And so the bill ends up dying. Of the 11 states that have so far legalized marijuana, only Illinois and Vermont have done it via the legislature, and in Vermont, they only legalized possession and cultivation, not a taxed and regulated market.

It could be different this year because 2020 is an election year, and that means residents of a number of states will or could have a chance to vote directly on whether to legalize marijuana without having to wait for the politicos at the statehouse to ratify the will of the people..... While there are serious prospects for legalization at the statehouse in a handful of state this year — think ConnecticutNew MexicoNew York, and Rhode Island — a number of other states are seeing marijuana legalization or medical marijuana initiative campaigns get underway, and several states in each category have already qualified for the ballot.  That an initiative campaign is underway is no guarantee it will make it onto the ballot — a well-funded legalization initiative in Florida just came up short on signatures for this year — but it is a signal that it could be.  Here's where things stand on 2020 marijuana reform initiatives as of mid-February.

States where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot

New Jersey....

South Dakota....

States where marijuana legalization could be on the ballot

Arizona....

Arkansas....

Missouri.... 

Montana. ...

Nebraska....

North Dakota....

Oklahoma.... 

States where medical marijuana will be on the ballot

Mississippi....

South Dakota....

States where medical marijuana could be on the ballot

Idaho....

Nebraska....

Come November, will we see how many of these efforts come to fruition, but we should be adding at least a state or two to the ranks of both the medical marijuana states and the legalization states — and that's not counting what occurs at statehouses around the country.

February 18, 2020 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 13, 2019

"Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Dustin Marlan now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Psychedelics are powerful psychoactive substances which alter consciousness and brain function.  Like cannabis, psychedelics have long been considered prohibited Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.   However, via the powerful psychological experiences they induce, psychedelics are now being shown to be viable therapeutic alternatives in treating depression, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses, and even to enhance the well-being of healthy individuals.

In May 2019, Denver, Colorado became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) — a potential major shift in the War on Drugs. Ballot initiatives for the decriminalization of psilocybin and similar substances are now reaching voters in other cities and states.  What principles might justify this decriminalization — eliminating criminal penalties for, at a minimum, the use and possession — of psilocybin and other psychedelics?

This Article provides background on psychedelics and a historic overview of the laws surrounding them.  It then considers several potential justifications for decriminalizing psychedelics: (1) medical value; (2) religious freedom; (3) cognitive liberty; and (4) identity politics.  Lastly, the Article proposes a reframed justification rooted in principles of social justice. 

September 13, 2019 in Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Interesting data on marijuana arrests in DC after 2014 legalization initiative

Ready_for_production-mj_line

The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia has this notable new report titled "Racial Disparities In D.C. Policing: Descriptive Evidence From 2013–2017," which includes a section on marijuana arrests. Here is what this report reports (with some added emphasis):

Passed in 2014, Initiative 71 made it legal for people to possess, use, grow, and share small quantities of marijuana.  The law does not authorize individuals to consume marijuana in public or sell the drug to other people.  As a result, public consumption and distribution remains illegal.

The marijuana statute became effective in February 2015 and, that year, the overall number of arrests for marijuana-related offenses plummeted, from 1,747 arrests in 2014 to just 216 arrests in 2015.  The drop was largely driven by the reduction in arrests for marijuana possession.

However, while arrests for marijuana possession remained low, the number of arrests for public consumption of marijuana has been steadily increasing, particularly for Black people.  After marijuana legalization, consumption arrests briefly declined before starting to rise, increasing from 79 arrests in 2015 to 217 in 2017.  Arrests for that offense are racially skewed: even though white and Black D.C. residents use marijuana at similar rates, Black individuals comprised 80% of the individuals arrested for marijuana consumption from 2015–2017.

This disparity could stem from officers’ racial bias.  Alternatively, the disparity could be the result of another statute that makes it illegal to do in public what is legal to do in private — thereby penalizing those who have less access to private property.  These explanations could also work in tandem. No matter the cause, the consequence of the current marijuana regime is that Black people are ensnared in the criminal justice system at disproportionate rates for what the D.C. government agrees is a minor offense.

I understand the continued concern, as expressed here, that even after marijuana legalization "Black people are ensnared in the criminal justice system at disproportionate rates."  But I think the dramatic decline in the total number of marijuana arrests is the much bigger story and one that cannot be emphasized too much.  Because even the most minor of drug convictions or even just arrest can have profound impact on all sorts of future employment, schooling and housing opportunities, a yearly reduction of 1500 arrests means (somewhat invisible) yearly improvements in 1500 lives (and all those touched by those lives) thanks to marijuana reform.

May 15, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Late votes lead to surprise passage of Denver's initiative to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms

Despite early vote counts suggesting a close defeat of a Denver initiative to decriminalize hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms, the final vote count showed that the initiative squeaked out a victory.  This local article, headlined  "Denver first in U.S. to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms," provides the details:

Denver is poised to become the first city in the nation to effectively decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms.

After closing an early vote deficit Tuesday night and early Wednesday, final unofficial results posted late in the afternoon showed a reversal of fortune — with Initiative 301 set to pass narrowly with 50.6 percent of the vote. The total stands at 89,320 votes in favor and 87,341 against, a margin of 1,979. The Denver Elections Division will continue accepting military and overseas ballots, but typically those numbers are small. Results will be certified May 16....

Denver’s vote has attracted national attention. While efforts are afoot to get psilocybin-related measures on the ballot in Oregon and California in 2020, Denver hosted the first-ever U.S. popular vote on the matter, according to organizers. An earlier effort in California last year failed to qualify for the ballot.

Though Initiative 301 attracted no organized opposition, critics of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana lamented the prospect of Denver blazing yet another trail they see as misguided and potentially harmful. The measure essentially tells police to look the other way on adult psilocybin use....

Supporters extolled emerging research showing potential health benefits with psychedelic mushrooms. The measure likely was put over the top by younger voters, who tend to cast their ballots closer to or on Election Day, even though all registered voters receive their ballots in the mail about three weeks earlier.

Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin “breakthrough therapy” designation for its potential to help with treatment-resistant depression, a status that speeds up the development and review process for a medicine containing the substance.

As written, I-301 directs police via ordinance to treat enforcement of laws against possession of psilocybin mushrooms as their lowest priority.

It’s similar to decriminalization measures approved by Denver voters for marijuana years before Colorado’s Amendment 64 won statewide approval....

Psychedelic mushrooms still would remain illegal to buy, sell or possess, with the latter crime a felony that carries a potential punishment of up to a year in prison and a fine. But Initiative 301 backers hope to lower the risk users face of getting caught with mushrooms.

Past marijuana efforts are instructive, though. Denver voters signed off on decriminalization measures in 2005 and 2007, but that didn’t stop police from enforcing the law — though drug law-liberalization advocates say the public discussion prompted by the ballot initiatives helped pave the way for statewide legalization in 2012.

May 8, 2019 in Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mapping out where marijuana campaigns are headed in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan: Recreational use....

North Dakota: Recreational use....

Missouri: Medical use....

Utah: Medical use....

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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