Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

An informed accounting of those states "Most Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2019"

Tom Angell has this lengthy new Forbes piece setting forth his view of what states are worth watching for marijuana reform developments under the headline "These States Are Most Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2019." The states are listed in alphabetical order, so we do not really get a chance to question thie article's prognostication efforts. Here is a bit of the run up to the list, followed by just the states. Click through to the full article to see the full explanation of why each state makes this cut:

With the results of last month's midterm elections — which marijuana basically won — ten states have now legalized cannabis for adults, while 33 allow medical use. Those victories at the ballot box capped a year in which the fight to reform prohibitionist cannabis policies advanced significantly at the state, federal and international levels.

The tally of states that allow the use of marijuana is poised to jump in a big way again in 2019, largely because a slew of pro-legalization candidates for governor also won at the ballot box on Election Day — giving cannabis reform bills a huge boost toward being signed into law sooner rather than later.

"2019 could be a banner year for legalization via state legislatures," Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an email. "Several states across multiple regions of the country are strongly considering ending prohibition and regulating marijuana for adult use. A growing number of state lawmakers and governors are either getting behind these efforts or coming to the realization that they cannot hold them up much longer. The steady growth of public support we’ve been seeing around the country will likely translate into some major state-level victories for marijuana policy reform."

Here are the states that are most likely to legalize marijuana next year, in alphabetical order:

Connecticut

Illinois

Minnesota

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

Rhode Island

Vermont

Recent developments in New Jersey showcased that it is much easier for a state to talk about full legalization of marijuana than to actually get legislation in the books. Consequently, I will be surprised if more than one or two states on this list succeed in a getting full legalization enacted in the coming year. But id a big state like New York or Illinois were to get this done in short order, I do think it quite possible that a number of smaller states might find it easier to follow suit.

December 26, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Canada legalized marijuana...

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

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

4) State legislatures began taking legalization seriously...

5) The federal government legalized hemp...

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

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

"Legalized Pot Isn’t Going to Save Us"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times piece by Ginia Bellafante. Here are excerpts:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would push to make pot smoking — for fun — legal in New York State. It was quite a statement for a governor who had repeatedly questioned the wisdom before, calling it an enabler of more pernicious habits.  The “facts have changed,” he had said several months before, meaning really that the polling had changed — in October of 2017, support for the legalization of marijuana reached its highest point in five decades with nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed by Gallup expressing enthusiasm for the revision.

The governor made his argument deploying the progressive rhetoric he has turned to increasingly as his neoliberal leanings have become less politically expedient.  That rhetoric rightly maintains that legalization of the drug is essential to redressing injustices in a criminal justice system that has overwhelmingly penalized young men of color for carrying or smoking pot.

Two days after Mr. Cuomo made his commitments known, in fact, Brooklyn’s district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, asked a judge to obliterate more than two dozen past marijuana convictions; his office vacated open warrants for more than 1,400 people who had missed court dates for possession cases.  In the absence of such erasures on a broad scale, merely legalizing the drug would do nothing to remediate the damage inflicted on thousands of people ensnared in a legal universe that so severely handicaps them for doing what white people pull off with impunity.  This is why mayor Bill de Blasio followed the governor’s announcement with his own endorsements of legalization — this too a reversal — recommending that convictions for marijuana-related crimes be expunged automatically.

In previous eras, decriminalization had been championed largely by libertarians, who saw a lot of government waste in a system that needlessly locked people up, and by hippies, who just wanted to be left alone to get stoned.  It is only recently that pot has been widely imagined as an almost holy vessel of redemption, a cure-all for a full range of 21st century maladies — social division, chronic pain, chronic distraction, chronic boredom.  Leafly, a journal of cannabis news, describes Cinex, a particular weed strain as providing a “wired euphoria that feeds creativity” while making daily chores less of a “drag.”

Of course, lawmakers in New York are not primarily motivated by the desire to make our daily chores less of a drag.  They quickly suggested that taxing marijuana could fix the transit system, in need of $60 billion worth of repairs.  They invited us to envision a world in which pot really was a gateway — to more efficient infrastructure!

Leaving aside for a moment whether these ambitions are all too utopian, it is easy to see what is problematic about legislators relying on our escapist pleasures to perform some of the most necessary functions of government.  In 1951, for example, the federal excise tax on cigarettes was raised to help finance the Korean War. Given that the previous year had produced five separate epidemiological studies confirming the growing suspicion that smokers were more likely to contract lung cancer than nonsmokers, 1951 might have been a good time to mandate warning labels on cigarette packaging but, as it happened, that would take another 14 years to accomplish.

The enthusiasm for revising the legal status of pot around the country has for the most part obscured any debate about consequences to public health.  That pot is regarded as relatively harmless is troubling, because much of what we know about it is based on studies conducted nearly 50 years ago at a time when what was consumed was much less potent than it is now.

Within the academic community, Jonathan P. Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon, has been a leading voice warning of marijuana’s attendant dangers.  As he has put it, beyond the fact that pot use has been correlated with a wide variety of negative outcomes in terms of physical and mental health, the real issue is that more than half of marijuana is consumed by people who are high more than half of all their waking hours. Pot shouldn’t be dismissed simply because it won’t kill you.

Mr. Caulkins’s research also shows us who is likely to bear these health burdens to a disproportionate degree — and it is not snowboarders in Vail.  Looking at a decade’s worth of federal surveys on drug use, he and a partner determined that Americans with a household income of less than $20,000 accounted for close to 30 percent of all marijuana use, even though they make up less than 20 percent of the population.

One fantasy that advocates of legalization have is that changes in the law will energize a redistribution of wealth, not only because tax revenue from pot sales can be funneled to various worthy causes but also because the poor will reap new entrepreneurial opportunities — in every neighborhood a Stringer Bell....

I asked Mark Kleiman, of the Marron Institute at New York University and one of the most sought-after experts on drug policy in the country, what the future looked like. He foresaw a world in which pot, legal in ever more states and eventually at the national level, will get cheaper and cheaper.  The expected tax windfalls would become less likely, unless pot is taxed at the level of potency rather than sale price.  The trend toward vaping means there will be greater demand for oil, and if you can melt everything down for oil, pot will be less expensive to produce, because at that point you can grow it like corn.

“You can produce all the intoxicant used in a year on 40,000 acres,” Mr. Kleiman said. “That’s 20 family farms in Iowa.” Eventually a joint could cost a nickel; Nabisco will take over edibles. “You will have pot grown in Iowa, processed by Cargill and sold by Amazon,” Mr. Kleiman said. “No one will make money except Jeff Bezos, who always makes money.”

December 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 21, 2018

"How Legalizing Marijuana Is Securing the Border: The Border Wall, Drug Smuggling, and Lessons for Immigration Policy"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting and timely new Cato Institute policy analysis authored by David J. Bier.  Here is its executive summary:

President Trump has repeatedly cited drug smuggling to justify a border wall. Because it is difficult to conceal, marijuana is the main drug transported between ports of entry where a border wall would matter.  However, Border Patrol seizure figures demonstrate that marijuana flows have fallen continuously since 2014, when states began to legalize marijuana.  After decades of no progress in reducing marijuana smuggling, the average Border Patrol agent between ports of entry confiscated 78 percent less marijuana in fiscal year (FY) 2018 than in FY 2013.

As a result, the value of all drugs seized by the average agent has fallen by 70 percent since FY 2013.  Without marijuana coming in between ports of entry, drug smuggling activity now primarily occurs at ports of entry, where a border wall would have no effect.  In FY 2018, the average inspector at ports of entry made drug seizures that were three times more valuable overall than those made by Border Patrol agents between ports of entry — a radical change from 2013 when Border Patrol agents averaged more valuable seizures. This is because smugglers bring mainly hard drugs through ports. By weight, the average port inspector seized 8 times more cocaine, 17 times more fentanyl, 23 times more methamphetamine, and 36 times more heroin than the average Border Patrol agent seized at the physical border in early 2018.

Given these trends, a border wall or more Border Patrol agents to stop drugs between ports of entry makes little sense.  State marijuana legalization starting in 2014 did more to reduce marijuana smuggling than the doubling of Border Patrol agents or the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing did from 2003 to 2009.  As more states — particularly on the East Coast — legalize marijuana in 2019, these trends will only accelerate.  The administration should avoid endangering this success and not prosecute state-legal sellers of marijuana.  This success also provides a model for addressing illegal immigration.  Just as legalization has reduced the incentives to smuggle marijuana illegally, greater legal migration opportunities undercut the incentive to enter illegally.  Congress should recognize marijuana legalization’s success and replicate it for immigration.

December 21, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

If legalized, the City would seek to:

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

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

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

Prez Trump signs Farm Bill, officially legalizing hemp, which means a notable statement from the FDA Commissioner

Fda-gottlieb-1600b-e1503939617409a whole lot, but there are lots of complications as to what this means for the development of products using parts of the cannabis plant.  Right after the Farm Bill was signed into law, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released this lengthy statement highlighting some of these complications.  Here are excerpts:

Today, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 was signed into law. Among other things, this new law changes certain federal authorities relating to the production and marketing of hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.), and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low (less than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis) concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These changes include removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it will no longer be an illegal substance under federal law.

Just as important for the FDA and our commitment to protect and promote the public health is what the law didn’t change: Congress explicitly preserved the agency’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and section 351 of the Public Health Service Act. In doing so, Congress recognized the agency’s important public health role with respect to all the products it regulates. This allows the FDA to continue enforcing the law to protect patients and the public while also providing potential regulatory pathways for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds.

We’re aware of the growing public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including cannabidiol (CBD). This increasing public interest in these products makes it even more important with the passage of this law for the FDA to clarify its regulatory authority over these products. In short, we treat products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds as we do any other FDA-regulated products — meaning they’re subject to the same authorities and requirements as FDA-regulated products containing any other substance. This is true regardless of the source of the substance, including whether the substance is derived from a plant that is classified as hemp under the Agriculture Improvement Act. To help members of the public understand how the FDA’s requirements apply to these products, the FDA has maintained a webpage with answers to frequently asked questions, which we intend to update moving forward to address questions regarding the Agriculture Improvement Act and regulation of these products generally.

In view of the proliferation of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived substances, the FDA will advance new steps to better define our public health obligations in this area. We’ll also continue to closely scrutinize products that could pose risks to consumers. Where we believe consumers are being put at risk, the FDA will warn consumers and take enforcement actions.

In particular, we continue to be concerned at the number of drug claims being made about products not approved by the FDA that claim to contain CBD or other cannabis-derived compounds. Among other things, the FDA requires a cannabis product (hemp-derived or otherwise) that is marketed with a claim of therapeutic benefit, or with any other disease claim, to be approved by the FDA for its intended use before it may be introduced into interstate commerce. This is the same standard to which we hold any product marketed as a drug for human or animal use. Cannabis and cannabis-derived products claiming in their marketing and promotional materials that they’re intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of diseases (such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, psychiatric disorders and diabetes) are considered new drugs or new animal drugs and must go through the FDA drug approval process for human or animal use before they are marketed in the U.S. Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the law, but also can put patients at risk, as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective. This deceptive marketing of unproven treatments raises significant public health concerns, as it may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.

Additionally, it’s unlawful under the FD&C Act to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce, or to market CBD or THC products as, or in, dietary supplements, regardless of whether the substances are hemp-derived. This is because both CBD and THC are active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs and were the subject of substantial clinical investigations before they were marketed as foods or dietary supplements. Under the FD&C Act, it’s illegal to introduce drug ingredients like these into the food supply, or to market them as dietary supplements. This is a requirement that we apply across the board to food products that contain substances that are active ingredients in any drug.

We’ll take enforcement action needed to protect public health against companies illegally selling cannabis and cannabis-derived products that can put consumers at risk and are being marketed in violation of the FDA’s authorities. The FDA has sent warning letters in the past to companies illegally selling CBD products that claimed to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure serious diseases, such as cancer. Some of these products were in further violation of the FD&C Act because they were marketed as dietary supplements or because they involved the addition of CBD to food.

While products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds remain subject to the FDA’s authorities and requirements, there are pathways available for those who seek to lawfully introduce these products into interstate commerce. The FDA will continue to take steps to make the pathways for the lawful marketing of these products more efficient....

It should also be noted that some foods are derived from parts of the hemp plant that may not contain CBD or THC, meaning that their addition to foods might not raise the same issues as the addition of drug ingredients like CBD and THC. We are able to advance the lawful marketing of three such ingredients today. We are announcing that the agency has completed our evaluation of three Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notices related to hulled hemp seeds, hemp seed protein and hemp seed oil and that the agency had no questions regarding the company’s conclusion that the use of such products as described in the notices is safe. Therefore, these products can be legally marketed in human foods for these uses without food additive approval, provided they comply with all other requirements and do not make disease treatment claims.

Given the substantial public interest in this topic and the clear interest of Congress in fostering the development of appropriate hemp products, we intend to hold a public meeting in the near future for stakeholders to share their experiences and challenges with these products, including information and views related to the safety of such products.

December 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

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

The National Cannabis Economy

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

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

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

Going Forward

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

Conclusion

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

December 20, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Employment and labor law issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 17, 2018

New commentary assails "The Medical Marijuana Delusion"

Download (29)Paul J. Larkin, Jr., who is a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, has this notable new commentary titled "The Medical Marijuana Delusion." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Contemporary society also does not trust the unregulated backyard, in-home, or agricultural production and distribution of medications.  To protect the public against snake-oil salespeople and other charlatans, Congress enacted the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FDCA), the Drug Amendments of 1962, and scores of complementary laws.  Those statutes are critically important features of today’s public health regulatory programs. They prohibit, using criminal penalties, the distribution of a new drug in interstate commerce, unless the FDA Commissioner has previously found that it is “safe” and “effective” for its intended use. These laws empower FDA to carefully and strictly regulate and oversee the production of medicines intended for human consumption — and drugs cannot be disguised in food to avoid regulation, because FDA regulates food too. Those laws reflect an 80-year consensus that the nation should leave to the professional, scientific judgment of experts — physicians, biochemists, and the like — the question of which drugs can be created and used for therapeutic purposes by educated, trained, and licensed physicians — not “budtenders.”...

To be sure, the belief that marijuana could have legitimate therapeutic benefits has a basis in science.  FDA has found that a few cannabinoids — that is, biologically active constituents of cannabis — can have positive medical benefits, and FDA has approved the manufacture and distribution of synthetic forms of those substances to treat disease, most recently the spasticity caused by rare, severe forms of childhood epilepsy.  There might be other therapeutically useful cannabinoids as well. Regulators and scientists should conduct the necessary research to learn if that is true.

But the states that have authorized marijuana to be smoked for medical purposes have simply taken the law into their own hands.  Since 1996, more than 30 states have permitted marijuana to be smoked for medical purposes, despite the fact that FDA has never approved marijuana for medical use and there is no FDA-approved medicine that is smoked.  The reason is that there are serious, adverse, and undeniable health risks associated with smoking any agricultural product.  Since 1964, U.S. Surgeons General have consistently found that smoking tobacco is dangerous.  Congress finally agreed in 2009 by passing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which empowers FDA to regulate cigarettes. Smoking marijuana carries many of the same risks as smoking tobacco, so no FDA Commissioner could legitimately treat marijuana in a unique manner.

Much of the debate over marijuana legalization has been misguided — intentionally so.  Legalization’s advocates have urged states to adopt medical marijuana laws to ease the suffering of the afflicted and dying.  In so doing, the medical marijuana movement has played on the compassion that Americans feel toward people about to traverse the River Styx or who are in such pain or distress that they would gladly make that crossing now.  State approval of marijuana for medical purposes, however, is proof that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

The real question is whether lawmakers should revise federal law to allow marijuana to be used for recreational purposes, just as alcohol and tobacco can be so used today.  If Americans are to honestly debate marijuana use, the debate must be over its utility as a recreational drug, not as medicine, and who should regulate its potential uses — the FDA Commissioner or the U.S. Attorney General.  The United States has followed the wrong approach to marijuana regulation for 80 years.  It is time to get it right.

December 17, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why are so many countries now saying cannabis is OK?"

MJ-World-Legality-InfographicThe title of this post is the headline of this effective recent piece by John Collins of the London School of Economics written for the BBC. Here are excerpts:

Around the world attitudes towards the use of cannabis are shifting. Mexico's new government plans to legalise recreational cannabis use, as does the incoming government of Luxembourg. Meanwhile, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is considering a referendum on what its approach should be....

What has led one country after another to move towards a relaxation of their laws and, in many cases, outright legalisation?

It was only in 2012 that Uruguay announced it would be the first country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis use. In large part, the move was aimed at replacing links between organised crime and the cannabis trade with more accountable state regulation.

Later the same year, voters in Washington State and Colorado became the first in the US to support legalisation of the drug for non-medical use. Under President Barack Obama, a critic of the US-led war on drugs, the US government stepped back from enforcing federal laws and effectively gave states a green light to explore alternatives....

The tide has crept across the Americas, with Canada legalising the sale, possession and recreational use of cannabis nationwide in October.

That Mexico will legalise marijuana seems a virtual certainty. The new government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has introduced a bill that would legalise its medical and recreational use, while the country's supreme court recently ruled an absolute ban on recreational use unconstitutional.

Other countries are pushing ahead. Although the sale of cannabis remains illegal, possession of small amounts is no longer a crime in countries including Brazil, Jamaica and Portugal. In Spain it is legal to use cannabis in private, while the drug is sold openly in coffee shops in the Netherlands. Still more countries allow the use of medicinal cannabis.

Around the world, there are many more countries where change is under way:

In the UK, doctors have been allowed to prescribe cannabis products since November

South Korea has legalised strictly-controlled medical use, despite prosecuting residents for recreational use overseas

A death sentence given to a young man selling cannabis oil has stirred debate about legalisation in Malaysia

South Africa's highest court legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places

Lesotho became the first African country to legalise the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes

Lebanon is considering the legalisation of cannabis production for medical purposes, to help its economy....

With countries worldwide moving towards some form of legalisation, others are rushing to catch up. Often, as in many parts of Latin America, governments want their farmers to have access to the potentially lucrative medicinal cannabis markets that are developing.

Corporations have also expressed interest. For example, Altria, which owns cigarette brands including Marlboro, has made a $1.86bn (£1.46bn) investment in a Canadian cannabis company. Over time, as the US demonstrates, it is quite possible that the medical trade could quite easily morph into recreational sales - potentially opening up an even bigger market.

One immediate obstacle is that cannabis for recreational purposes cannot be traded across borders. Countries can only import and export medicinal cannabis under a licensing system supervised by the International Narcotics Control Board.

Farmers in countries such as Morocco and Jamaica may have a reputation for producing cannabis, but they can't access markets that domestic producers sometimes struggle to supply - as happened in Canada following legalisation....

Governments that want to move towards legalisation face a challenge: steering a course between uncontrolled legalisation and hard prohibition. Poorly-regulated industry and mind-altering substances are not a combination about which many societies would feel comfortable. But it seems a virtual certainty that more countries will change their approach to cannabis in the coming decades. As such, domestic and international rules will need to catch up.

December 15, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

In praise of lots of great reporting on drug issues (including marijuana) at Filter

FilterRegular readers are accustom to my regular shout-outs to the website Marijuana Moment for its continued  effective coverage of all sorts of marijuana news and stories.  In addition to my continued affinity for that resource, in recent months a newcomer to the scene is garnering my attention because of its broader coverage of the intersection of a range of drug issues and their intersection with criminal justice and social justice concerns.  This new resource is Filter, which launched in September, is based in NYC, and says its "mission is to advocate through journalism for rational and compassionate approaches to drug use, drug policy and human rights." 

Here are links to just some of Filter's marijuana coverage followed by some interesting pieces on broader drug issues: 

December 14, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Marijuana Federalism's Time Has Come"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new commentary at Reason authored by Ron Paul, a former congressman for Texas, and father of Senator Rand Paul. Here is an excerpt:

Today, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana while ten have legalized recreational marijuana.  The majority of Americans now live in states where some type of marijuana is legal.  Further proof of changing attitudes is that in 2016, Donald Trump's stated support for respecting state's authority over marijuana policy not only did not damage his campaign, it did not even cost him support from the religious right.

In this year's elections, medical marijuana was legalized in the conservative states of Utah and Oklahoma while recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan.  Texas Representative Pete Sessions' use of his powerful position as chair of the House Rules Committee to block legislation prohibiting federal government from jailing sick people for the "crime" of using medical marijuana in accordance with their state laws may have played a role in his defeat.  Voters, especially young voters, are increasingly turned off by conservatives who favor individual liberty and federalism when it comes to guns and Obamacare but favor a federal police state when it comes to marijuana.

Ironically, the other drug warrior to lose his government job this month is also named Sessions.  Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was very devoted to the war on marijuana. He revoked Obama-era policy prohibiting federal prosecution of individuals using marijuana in compliance with laws in their states.

Sessions resignation gave President Trump the ability to appoint an attorney general who agrees with his support for marijuana federalism.  Unfortunately, Trump's pick to replace Sessions, William Barr, was a staunch supporter of the war on drugs when he previously served as attorney general from 1991-1993.  Congress should make sure Mr. Barr will respect states' authority to set their own marijuana policies before confirming him.

Congress should protect states right to nullify federal anti-marijuana laws by passing the STATES Act.  Introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the bill is supported by conservative Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) and libertarians like my son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R).  The STATES Act enjoys true bipartisan support and advances the cause of limited, constitutional government.

The federal war on marijuana failed to reduce marijuana use.  It did succeed in expanding the federal police state and shredding large parts of the Bill of Rights.  Fortunately, the majority of Americans ejected the inane policy of locking people up for using a non-government approved drug.  President Trump and Congress can side with this pro-Constitution majority by making sure the next Attorney General is a consistent supporter of the 10th Amendment and by passing the STATES Act.

December 14, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Remarkable big picture look at global diseases attributable to alcohol and drug use

Download (24)I just came across this morning this remarkable article published this month in The Lancet Psychiatry titled "The global burden of disease attributable to alcohol and drug use in 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016." The array of data in the article is fascinating (and overwhelming), and here is its summary:

Background

Alcohol and drug use can have negative consequences on the health, economy, productivity, and social aspects of communities. We aimed to use data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2016 to calculate global and regional estimates of the prevalence of alcohol, amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, and opioid dependence, and to estimate global disease burden attributable to alcohol and drug use between 1990 and 2016, and for 195 countries and territories within 21 regions, and within seven super-regions. We also aimed to examine the association between disease burden and Socio-demographic Index (SDI) quintiles.

Methods

We searched PubMed, EMBASE, and PsycINFO databases for original epidemiological studies on alcohol and drug use published between Jan 1, 1980, and Sept 7, 2016, without language restrictions, and used DisMod-MR 2.1, a Bayesian meta-regression tool, to estimate population-level prevalence of substance use disorders. We combined these estimates with disability weights to calculate years of life lived with disability (YLDs), years of life lost (YLLs), and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) for 1990–2016. We also used a comparative assessment approach to estimate burden attributable to alcohol and drug use as risk factors for other health outcomes.

Findings

Globally, alcohol use disorders were the most prevalent of all substance use disorders, with 100·4 million estimated cases in 2016 (age-standardised prevalence 1320·8 cases per 100000 people, 95% uncertainty interval [95% UI] 1181·2–1468·0). The most common drug use disorders were cannabis dependence (22·1 million cases; age-standardised prevalence 289·7 cases per 100000 people, 95% UI 248·9–339·1) and opioid dependence (26·8 million cases; agestandardised prevalence 353·0 cases per 100000 people, 309·9–405·9). Globally, in 2016, 99·2 million DALYs (95% UI 88·3–111·2) and 4·2% of all DALYs (3·7–4·6) were attributable to alcohol use, and 31·8 million DALYs (27·4–36·6) and 1·3% of all DALYs (1·2–1·5) were attributable to drug use as a risk factor. The burden of disease attributable to alcohol and drug use varied substantially across geographical locations, and much of this burden was due to the effect of substance use on other health outcomes. Contrasting patterns were observed for the association between total alcohol and drug-attributable burden and SDI: alcohol-attributable burden was highest in countries with a low SDI and middlehigh middle SDI, whereas the burden due to drugs increased with higher SDI level.

Interpretation

Alcohol and drug use are important contributors to global disease burden. Effective interventions should be scaled up to prevent and reduce substance use disease burden.

December 9, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"A New Revenue Source for Mass Transit: Legalizing and Taxing Cannabis"

The title of this post is the title of this notable report authored by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at NYU.  Here is part of its introduction:

The centrality of the subways to the life of New York is the very reason why the public is alarmed about the condition of mass transit.  The Citizens Budget Commission has systematically analyzed the failure of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to maintain a state of good repair and the need for fundamental reform of the MTA’s capital spending processes.  A new plan, “Fast Forward,” has been proposed to improve accessibility, deploy new technologies, update signals, and acquire 21st century subway cars.

Clearly, increased fares and congestion pricing are insufficient to deal with the long-term financial needs of the subway system.  This report argues that the subways need a dedicated revenue source with the potential for growth in future decades — one that does not divert funds from other public services, and that has yet to be tapped by the state and local government.  The legalization of recreational cannabis offers New York State a unique opportunity to generate a new revenue stream dedicated to mass transit.

December 5, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Navigating cannabis legalization 2.0"

The title of this post is the title of this new Hill commentary authored by Beau Kilmer and Mark A.R. Kleiman. Here are excerpts:

With Michigan legalizing marijuana earlier this month, nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population now lives in states that passed ballot initiatives to allow businesses to produce and sell cannabis. And with a new Gallup poll showing that two in three Americans support legalizing cannabis use, other states are sure to follow, likely building pressure to change federal laws.

What’s harder to predict is what legalization will look like. Legalization is not a simple yes-or-no decision, and its consequences for health, public safety and social equity will be shaped by choices about production, prices and the enforcement of regulations.

As the next round of states debate legalization, they would do well to contemplate allowing state governments to control the wholesale prices and linking the price of cannabis to its potency....

High-potency illicit cannabis typically costs more than $10 per gram. The average legal-market prices in Washington and Colorado (after taxes) are now well below that, with highly potent but less fancy “bargain bud” available, with quantity discounts, for less than $3 per gram. Since even a bargain gram of cannabis flower in legalization states contains about 150 milligrams of THC—where 20 milligrams is an intoxicating dose for an occasional user—the cost of getting stoned in those states is less than a couple of dollars. That’s lower than the cost of getting drunk.

Lower prices won’t matter much to casual users, who don’t spend all that much on cannabis. But they can matter to the millions of daily or near-daily users, who account for about 80 percent of total consumption. For some of these individuals, cannabis has become a problem in their lives. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates 4 million Americans met clinical criteria for a cannabis use disorder in 2017. Access to cheaper, more potent products probably won’t help them.

Of course, lower prices also matter to producers of cannabis. Low prices mean low wages for workers and potential bankruptcy for all but the most efficient producers, with craft-scale production driven out by industrial farming and “mom and pop” retailing driven out by sellers with big budgets for marketing. This price drop is a problem for those who want the legal cannabis market to provide economic opportunities for the individuals and communities that have been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition.

One approach for preventing this steep decline in prices—and making it easier to control the price—is for the government to set minimum prices. (Many states already set minimum prices for tobacco and some jurisdictions also set them for alcohol). Those minimum prices, and the taxes collected by the state, could be based on THC content, just as federal taxation of distilled spirits is based on the level of alcohol....

As long as cannabis legalization is driven by voter initiatives, these rather complicated ideas are likely to be non-starters. If you’re running an initiative drive, anything that can’t be explained to a voter in 30 seconds is usually a problem. However, some states have begun to contemplate legalization through the traditional legislative process, which might give subtlety a chance.

National-level legalization, when and if it happens, would require an act of Congress. But if state-level legalization following the current model leads to the growth of large-scale economically powerful cannabis enterprises, that new industry might have the political muscle to freeze the existing model in place. For most commodities, good policy means bringing consumers the lowest possible price. That’s not true when it comes to “cannabusiness.”

December 5, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Holiday-season, marijuana-reform headline round-up

The holiday last week and busy times at the end of a semester (and lots of sentencing reform activity) has put a crimp in my blogging lately.  But this slow down on the blog does not reflect a slow down in marijuana reform news, and so I will try to catch up here with a few headlines and links to stories that highlight, yet again, that it is always a busy season in the arena of marijuana reform:

November 28, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)