Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Effective "2018 midterm report" with visuals on modern politics and policy of marijuana reform

The folks at PoliFact have this lengthy new piece under the headline "Marijuana legalization in 5 charts: A 2018 midterm report" that is worth reading in full. This infographic under the title "Potential $7 Billion Recreational Marijuana Tax Revenue, By State," highlighting revenue from marijuana reform is alone worth the click-through, and here are excerpts from the piece providing a glimpse at what the "5 charts" cover:

About two in three Americans now favor marijuana legalization, a record-high measure of public support for a drug the federal government still puts in the same category as LSD and heroin.

With a majority of states now permitting legal use in some form, and several states poised to relax their laws this November, we decided to take a graphical look at the country’s most popular illicit drug.

Changing attitudes

Experts pointed to a number of reasons to explain the dramatic shift in Americans’ opinion of marijuana legalization over a relatively short timespan....

State marijuana laws

American laws around marijuana are complicated....

State tax revenue

Taxing marijuana can yield a large pot of money for states. The data is still somewhat scarce given that legalization is still in its infancy....

Criminal justice

The country’s decades-long crackdown on drugs has had a disproportionate impact on minorities....

Social impact

Some experts said the pros of legalization far outweighed the cons, while others said it’s too early to tell....

October 28, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

"The Surprising Reach of FDA Regulation of Cannabis, Even after Descheduling"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted to SSRN authored by Sean O'Connor and Erika Lietzan. Here is its abstract:

As more states legalize cannabis, the push to “deschedule” it from the Controlled Substances Act is gaining momentum.  At the same time, the FDA recently approved the first conventional drug containing a cannabinoid derived from cannabis — cannabidiol (“CBD”) for two rare seizure disorders.  This would all seem to bode well for proponents of full federal legalization of medical cannabis. 

But some traditional providers are wary of drug companies pulling medical cannabis into the regular small molecule drug development system.  The FDA’s focus on precise analytical characterization and on individual active and inactive ingredients may be fundamentally inconsistent with the “entourage effects” theory of medical cannabis. Traditional providers may believe that descheduling cannabis would free them to promote and distribute their products free of federal intervention, both locally and nationally.  Other producers appear to assume that descheduling would facilitate a robust market in cannabis-based edibles and dietary supplements.  In fact, neither of these things is true.  If cannabis were descheduled, the FDA’s complex and comprehensive regulatory framework governing foods, drugs, and dietary supplements would preclude much of this anticipated commerce.

For example, any medical claims about cannabis would require the seller to complete the rigorous new drug approval process, the cost of which will be prohibitive for most current traditional providers.  Likely also unexpected to some, there is no pathway forward for conventional foods containing cannabis constituents, if those foods cross state lines.  And it will certainly come as a shock to many that federal law already prohibits the sale of dietary supplements containing CBD — including those already on the market.  In this article, we describe in detail this surprising reach of the FDA and then outline three modest — but legal — pathways forward for cannabis-based products in a world where cannabis has been descheduled.

October 27, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

SAM sets forth (awfully criminal) vision of a "pro-public health approach to state marijuana law reform"

I just today saw this new posting from the folks as Smart Approaches to Marijuana under the heading "SAM Model State Legislation." Here are excerpts:

The criminalization of marijuana has had a negative effect in society, with disproportionate harm to minority and disadvantaged populations. Therefore, we at SAM reject this dichotomy of commercialization and criminalization.  We pursue a middle ground that is aligned with scientific knowledge about the public health harms of marijuana.  

State marijuana laws should discourage the use of marijuana, get those who need help back on their feet, and ensure that those who get help are not penalized for their past mistakes.  Accordingly, SAM staff have put together several key points to be addressed in model legislation.  A pro-public health approach to state marijuana law reform should:

⁃ Provide alternatives to incarceration for personal use marijuana possession offenses, including citation instead of arrest, diversion programs, and appropriate fines that take into account economic means;

⁃ Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use;

⁃ Expand the use of conditional discharge by requiring its consideration;

⁃ Allow fines and cost of treatment to be waived for those without means;

⁃ Provide automatic expungement for first-time offenders who complete treatment or education program without further violations within one year;

⁃ Model penalties on Hawaii’s HOPE program for non-compliance with court-ordered treatment/recovery plan; and

⁃ Offer community services as an alternative to fines for those with severe financial hardship.

I have a hard time considering this outline a "pro-public health" approach to state marijuana law reform given how heavily it still seems to lean on criminalization. For example, the first point suggesting "alternatives to incarceration for personal use marijuana possession offenses" suggests that any and all forms or marijuana distribution still should be subject to punishment in the form of incarceration. Repeated reference to "fines" and "offenders" and "penalties" likewise connotes operationalize this "reform" through the criminal justice system.  Especially because entanglement with the criminal justice system rarely, if ever, advances public health, I am deeply disappointed by the fact that "SAM Model State Legislation" is really pretty close to existing criminal prohibition models and not all reflective of what a true "pro-public health approach" would really seem to involve.

October 24, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Latest Gallup polling reports yet another record-high level of support for marijuana legalization in US

Atnixz8w2kguea_rrm-a7qAs reported in this new posting from Gallup, "Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, another new high in Gallup's trend over nearly half a century.  The latest figure marks the third consecutive year that support on the measure has increased and established a new record."  Here is more:

Legalizing the use of pot was an unpopular idea when Gallup first asked Americans about it in 1969 -- just 12% at that time said it should be made legal.  Support grew in the 1970s but stagnated in the 20% range until the new millennium, when momentum for legalization picked up again.  Since 2000, support for legalizing marijuana has trended steeply upward, reaching majority support for the first time in 2013 -- a year after Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational use of marijuana via ballot initiatives, making them the first states to do so.  Marijuana use continues to be illegal at the federal level.

The Oct. 1-10 Gallup poll was conducted before Canada last week became the second country in the world to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In the U.S., voters in four states are voting this year on measures to allow for recreational or medical use of marijuana....

Gallup found last year that a slim majority of Republicans supported legal marijuana for the first time, and this year's figure, 53%, suggests continued Republican support.  Views that pot should be legalized have also reached new peaks this year among Democrats (75%) and independents (71%). Democrats reached majority-level support for legalization in 2009, and independents did so in 2010.

Among Americans aged 55 and older, views that marijuana should be legalized now surpass the majority level, with 59% support, up from 50% last year. Meanwhile, solid majorities of younger adults have supported legalization for several years.  Support is strongest among adults aged 18 to 34, at 78%, while nearly two in three adults aged 35 to 54 (65%) approve of legalizing marijuana.

In 2009 and 2010 -- before any state had legalized pot -- support for legalization reached the majority level in only one U.S. region -- the West, at 56%.  And in most polls since, residents in the West, along with Eastern residents, have led the remaining regions in favoring legalized pot.

But attitudes about legalization have changed more recently: In 2017 and 2018, support for legalization of marijuana is about even in the East (67%), Midwest (65%), South (65%) and West (65%).

Like support for gay marriage -- and in prior years, interracial marriage -- support for marijuana legalization has generally only expanded, even if slowly, over the course of multiple decades -- raising the question of where the ceiling in support might be.  As the percentage of Americans who favor legalizing pot has continued to grow, so has the number of states that have taken up legislation to allow residents to use the substance recreationally. States that permit use of medical marijuana are even more prevalent in the U.S. than states allowing recreational pot are.

After this year's elections, recreational pot use could be allowed in two more states, depending on what voters decide in North Dakota and Michigan.  Both of these states border Canada, whose adult residents now have access to legal marijuana nationwide.  Meanwhile, state lawmakers in New Jersey are moving closer to passing legislation to legalize pot, and neighboring New York might not be far behind after the state's health department conducted a study that led to its recommendation that marijuana be legal.

But even as many states take action to legalize pot, to date, no Midwestern or Southern states permit legal recreational use -- though medicinal marijuana is allowed in a few of these states.  Now that public support is consistent across U.S. regions, legalization could spread to new areas in the future.

October 22, 2018 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"The Impact of Cannabis Access Laws on Opioid Prescribing"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN authored by Benjamin J. McMichael, R. Van Horn and W. Kip Viscusi. Here is its abstract:

While recent research has shown that cannabis access laws can reduce the use of prescription opioids, the effect of these laws on opioid use is not well understood for all dimensions of use and for the general United States population.  Analyzing a dataset of over 1.3 billion individual opioid prescriptions between 2011 and 2017, which were aggregated to the individual provider-year level, we find that recreational and medical cannabis access laws reduce the number of morphine milligram equivalents prescribed each year by 6.9 and 6.1 percent, respectively.  These laws also reduce the total days supply of opioids prescribed, the total number of patients receiving opioids, and the probability a provider prescribes any opioids net of any offsetting effects.  Additionally, we find consistent evidence that cannabis access laws have different effects across types of providers and physician specialties.

October 21, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"Alabama’s War on Marijuana: Assessing the Fiscal and Human Toll of Criminalization"

Cover-page-228x300The title of this post is the title of this impressive new report released this past week by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  This posting provides an overview of the 50+-page report, and here are portions of the executive summary:

In Alabama, a person caught with only a few grams of marijuana can face incarceration and thousands of dollars in fines and court costs.  They can lose their driver’s license and have difficulty finding a job or getting financial aid for college. 
This war on marijuana is one whose often life-altering consequences fall most heavily on black people – a population still living in the shadow of Jim Crow. Alabama’s laws are not only overly harsh, they also place enormous discretion in the hands of law enforcement, creating an uneven system of justice and leaving plenty of room for abuse.
This year in Etowah County, for example, law enforcement officials charged a man with drug trafficking after adding the total weight of marijuana-infused butter to the few grams of marijuana he possessed, so they could reach the 2.2-pound threshold for a trafficking charge.
Marijuana prohibition also has tremendous economic and public safety costs. The state is simply shooting itself in the pocketbook, wasting valuable taxpayer dollars and adding a tremendous burden to the courts and public safety resources.
This report is the first to analyze data on marijuana-related arrests in Alabama, broken down by race, age, gender and location. It includes a thorough fiscal analysis of the state’s enforcement costs. It also exposes how the administrative burden of enforcing marijuana laws leaves vital state agencies without the resources necessary to quickly test evidence related to violent crimes with serious public safety implications, such as sexual assault.  The study finds that in Alabama:
The overwhelming majority of people arrested for marijuana offenses from 2012 to 2016 – 89 percent – were arrested for possession. In 2016, 92 percent of all people arrested for marijuana offenses were arrested for possession.
Alabama spent an estimated $22 million enforcing the prohibition against marijuana possession in 2016 – enough to fund 191 additional preschool classrooms, 571 more K-12 teachers or 628 more Alabama Department of Corrections officers. 
Black people were approximately four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession (both misdemeanors and felonies) in 2016 – and five times as likely to be arrested for felony possession.  These racial disparities exist despite robust evidence that white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.2
• In at least seven law enforcement jurisdictions, black people were 10 or more times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In 2016, police made more arrests for marijuana possession (2,351) than for robbery, for which they made 1,314 arrests – despite the fact that there were 4,557 reported robberies that year.
The enforcement of marijuana possession laws creates a crippling backlog at the state agency tasked with analyzing forensic evidence in all criminal cases, including violent crimes. As of March 31, 2018, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences had about 10,000 pending marijuana cases, creating a nine-month waiting period for analyses of drug samples. At the same time, the department had a backlog of 1,121 biology/DNA cases, including about 550 “crimes against persons” cases such as homicide, sexual assault and robbery....
And, as the human toll discussed throughout this report falls disproportionately on black people, legalization offers an opportunity to begin to address the disproportionate harms that Alabama’s criminal justice system causes to its African-American population.  It’s time for Alabama to join an increasing number of states in taking a commonsense, fiscally responsible approach to marijuana policy. 

October 20, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Could Weed Be Federally Legal in 2019?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Canada has plans for mass pardons of low-level marijuana offenders in conjunction with legalization reforms

As my various in-box fill up with stories about the start of marijuana legalization in Canada, this particular piece garnered my attention given my work on the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice reform: "Feds to announce plan to pardon Canadians convicted of simple possession of pot." Here are the basics:

The federal government will announce on Wednesday morning that it intends to proceed with a plan to grant pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges.

Sources have confirmed to CTV News that the government intends to issue pardons, and not record expungements or amnesty, for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, as that will be legal as the new recreational legalization regime comes into force at midnight tonight....

The pardons won't be granted immediately, but ministers are expected to outline options that could be used to facilitate the pardon process, and potential ways to expedite the sometimes protracted endeavor. One option could be an application-based approach, where people would have to fill out a form to qualify.

Asked about pardons on the Hill earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we’re going to be working on that as I’ve said, as soon as the day of legalization comes into force.”

NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession convictions. By his estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians that carry personal possession charges for marijuana.

October 17, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Trends in Publications on Medical Cannabis from the Year 2000"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new article in the journal Population Health Management authored by Yulia Treister-Goltzman, Tamar Freud, Yan Press, and Roni Peleg.  Here is its abstract:

Widespread use of cannabis as a drug and passage of legislation on its use should lead to an increase in the number of scientific publications on cannabis.  The aim of this study was to compare trends in scientific publication for papers on medical cannabis, papers on cannabis in general, and all papers between the years 2000 and 2017.  A search of PubMed and Web of Science was conducted.

The overall number of scientific publications in PubMed increased 2.5-fold.  In contrast, the number of publications on cannabis increased 4.5-fold and the number of publications on medical cannabis increased almost 9-fold.  The number of publications on medical cannabis in Web of science increased even more (10-fold).  The most significant number of publications was in the field of psychiatry.  In the fields of neurology and cancer treatment there was a significant increase in the years 2011–2013. There was a rise in the number of publications on children and the elderly after 2013.  The specific indications with the largest number of publications were HIV (261), chronic pain (179), multiple sclerosis (118), nausea and vomiting (102), and epilepsy (88).  More than half of the publications on medical cannabis originated from the United States, followed by Canada.  More than 66% of the publications were original studies. 

The spike in the number of scientific publications on medical cannabis since 2013 is encouraging.  In light of this trend the authors expect an even greater increase in the number of publications in this area in coming years.

October 16, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 15, 2018

"States’ Rights and Federal Wrongs: The Misguided Attempt to Label Marijuana Legalization Efforts as a 'States’ Rights' Issue"

The title of this post is the title of this short article by Paul Larkin on SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Advocates for liberalization of the federal statutes outlawing cannabis have argued that the issue whether and how to regulate marijuana should be left to the states to decide.  Yet, we do not allow states to decide whether to prohibit other controlled substances, such as heroin, and there is no good reason to put marijuana in a separate category. Since the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act became law in 1938 the nation has authorized the Food and Drug Administration to decide which drugs to approve for therapeutic use.

We do not make those decisions the subject of a referendum because the decision requires the expert scientific judgment of professionals in medicine and biochemistry, not the moral judgment of the populace.  Congress should re-examine how federal law regulates marijuana, but Congress should be guided by the judgment of the FDA as to the costs and benefits of liberalizing marijuana use.

October 15, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Go (mid)west, young activist, go see marijuana reform's destiny in 2018 election cycle

Download (2)The title of this post is my weak attempt to make a play on the phrase "Go West, young man" to capture Manifest Destiny concepts combined now with this new AP article about marijuana reform efforts this election year.  The AP piece is headlined "Marijuana backers look for Midwest breakthrough in November," and here are excerpts:

Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

Meantime, Missouri and Utah will weigh medical marijuana, which is permitted in 31 states after voters in conservative Oklahoma approved such use in June. Even if Utah’s initiative is defeated, a compromise reached last week between advocates and opponents including the Mormon church would have the Legislature legalize medical marijuana.

“We’ve kind of reached a critical mass of acceptance,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan assistant professor of health management and policy. She said the country may be at a “breaking point” where change is inevitable at the federal level because so many states are in conflict with U.S. policy that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin. “Generally, people either find a therapeutic benefit or enjoy the substance and want to do so without the fear of being a criminal for using it,” Haffajee said....

In Michigan, surveys show the public’s receptiveness to marijuana legalization tracks similarly with nationwide polling that finds about 60 percent support, according to Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project was the driving force behind successful legalization initiatives in other states and has given at least $444,000 for the Michigan ballot drive. “The electorate is recognizing that prohibition doesn’t work. There’s also a growing societal acceptance of marijuana use on a personal level,” said Matthew Schweich, the project’s deputy director. “Our culture has already legalized marijuana. Now it’s a question of, ‘How quickly will the laws catch up?’” added Schweich, also the campaign director for the Michigan legalization effort, known as the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Midwest voters have considered recreational legalization just once before, in 2015, when Ohio overwhelmingly rejected it. Supporters said the result was more back lash against allowing only certain private investors to control growing facilities than opposition to marijuana.

Proponents of Michigan’s measure say it would align with a new, strong regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses and add roughly $130 million annually in tax revenue, specifically for road repairs, schools and municipalities. Military veterans and retired police officers are among those backing legalization in online ads that were launched Tuesday.

Critics say the Michigan proposal is out of step and cite provisions allowing a possession limit of 2.5 ounces (71 grams) that is higher than many other states and a 16 percent tax rate that is lower. Opponents include chambers of commerce and law enforcement groups along with doctors, the Catholic Church and organizations fighting substance abuse....

In North Dakota, legalization faces an uphill battle. No significant outside supporters have financed the effort, which comes as the state still is setting up a medical marijuana system voters approved by a wide margin two years ago.

The medical marijuana campaign in predominantly Mormon Utah, which has received $293,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, was jolted last week when Gov. Gary Herbert said he will call lawmakers into a special postelection session to pass a compromise deal into law regardless of how the public vote goes.

Medical marijuana also is on the ballot in Missouri and while the concept has significant support, voters may be confused by its ballot presentation. Supporters gathered enough signatures to place three initiatives before voters. Two would change the state constitution; the third would amend state law. If all three pass, constitutional amendments take precedence over state law, and whichever amendment receives the most votes would overrule the other.

An organizer of one amendment, physician and attorney Brad Bradshaw, said it is unclear if having three initiatives could split supporters so much that some or all of the proposals fail. “A lot of people don’t really even have this on the radar at this point,” he said. “They’re going to walk into the booth to vote and they’re going to see all three of these and say, ‘What the heck?’ You just don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

October 10, 2018 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Latest Pew polling data shows continuing increase in support for marijuana legalization

FT_18.10.05_marijuana_US-public-opinion-1969-2018bThis new Pew piece, headlined "About six-in-ten Americans support marijuana legalization," reports on the latest polling numbers on support for marijuana reform. Here are the details:

About six-in-ten Americans (62%) say the use of marijuana should be legalized, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The share of U.S. adults who support marijuana legalization is little changed from about a year ago – when 61% favored it – but it is double what it was in 2000 (31%).

As in the past, there are wide generational and partisan differences in views of marijuana legalization. Majorities of Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%) and Baby Boomers (54%) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Members of the Silent Generation continue to be the least supportive of legalization (39%), but they have become more supportive in the past year.

Nearly seven-in-ten Democrats (69%) say marijuana use should be legal, as do 75% of independents who lean toward the Democratic Party. Republicans are divided, with 45% in favor of legalizing marijuana and 51% opposed. Still, the share of Republicans saying marijuana should be legal has increased from 39% in 2015. Independents who lean toward the Republican Party are far more likely than Republicans to favor marijuana legalization (59% vs. 45%)....

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than half the states (31) – plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico – have legalized it for medical purposes. Marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

The list of states that have legalized marijuana could expand this November.  Voters in Michigan and North Dakota will decide whether to allow recreational use, while those in Missouri and Utah will decide on medical use.  In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert announced this month that he would call a special session in November to debate a different medical marijuana proposal, regardless of how the ballot measure turns out.

October 9, 2018 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 6, 2018

"Marijuana skeptics fear 'de facto legalization' in states"

Download (22)The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Politico article discussing the politics and practicalities surrounding the relationships between medical marijuana reform and marijuana industry developments.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

With nine states, and the District of Columbia, now allowing the recreational use of cannabis — and more in the pipeline — advocates on both sides of the issue say that medical cannabis programs are increasingly functioning as a Trojan horse for de facto legalization in the 40 states where the politics of legalization aren’t quite ripe yet. And that’s rapidly changing the political and policy dynamics surrounding the emerging industry....

Medicinal marijuana has, indeed, been a driving force for legalization in other states. California’s decision 20 years ago to become the first state to approve the sale of legal medicinal marijuana paved the way for the Golden State to become, as of this year, the world’s largest legal recreational cannabis market. Now, with polls showing public support for medical cannabis in the U.S. at around 90 percent, medical marijuana proponents have shifted their gaze to more conservative states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisiana, or towards enlarging existing medical marijuana programs in places like New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

And while medicinal advocates insist their efforts are simply meant to help patients, opponents say that’s laughable. “There’s a marijuana industry making all sorts of medical claims that, if they were pharma companies, they’d probably be jailed,” said Kevin Sabet, the president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes recreational use policies. “It’s not this bright line between medical and recreational. And there should be a bright line.”...

“This doesn’t have anything to do with cancer patients, or folks with epilepsy, this is about the expansion of the marijuana industry,” he said. “The worst kept secret about most medical marijuana programs is that they often act as de facto legalization. With the expansion of programs in New Jersey or other states, this is often tied to the marijuana industry’s interest to expand the user pool and make money.”

Marijuana proponents don’t necessarily disagree. The growing acceptance of medical cannabis has helped eliminate the stigma around recreational use, multiple sources told POLITICO. We’re far from the days of “Reefer Madness.” “When you have a situation in a state like California, where there are cannabis stores in your neighborhood; when you can see what that looks like, and how much it’s different from the unregulated criminal market; when you can see the effects of businesses moving into storefronts that generate jobs and tax revenue,” then it’s far easier to change the minds of fearful or skeptical consumers — and political leaders — about legalization, says Tom Angell, publisher of Marijuana Moment, one of the nation’s leading trackers of developments and news in the cannabis industry....

California, which legalized the sale of recreational marijuana this past Jan. 1, essentially wrote the blueprint for moving from medicinal marijuana to full-scale legalization. The state’s cannabis market is expected to reach $5.1 billion in the next year — and $25 billion by 2026. That booming business potential on both the medical and recreational side has made it an attractive investment for Canadian companies like CannaRoyalty Corporation, which this year acquired a crowd of California-based cannabis firms that include FloraCal Farms, an “ultra-premium cannabis producer,” Oakland-based Alta Supply, a medical cannabis firm; Kaya Management, a vaporizer manufacturer, as well as RVR, a “large-scale distributor” of both medical and recreational cannabis....

Already, the immediate challenges of transitioning from legal medical to recreational markets have resulted in a flood of legislation aimed at addressing concerns and regulations in the U.S. Angell says that his publication, Marijuana Moment, tracked a whopping 863 bills in Congress related to cannabis this year alone. And along with that legislation has come a parade of “stakeholders invested in keeping legalization in effect — and eroding prohibition on the state and federal level.” That includes lobbyists, industry representatives, attorneys and innovators. What their growing numbers show is that “it will be increasingly hard for opponents to push back on the green wave,” he said.

With tens of thousands of Americans now employed in both the medical and recreational segments of the industry, and billions of dollars being generated in tax dollars for local and state governments, it’s no wonder that “so many ambitious politicians jumping in front of this issue,’’ Angell said. They’re not going back, he predicts: “There are too many people invested in legalization now.”

October 6, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Could the feds really be gearing up for a criminal crackdown on Colorado's state-compliant marijuana businesses?

Bob-troyer-dojThe question in the title of this post is the one I have been thinking about since, Bob Troyer, the US attorney for the District of Colorado, authored this Denver Post commentary under the headline "It’s high time we took a breath from marijuana commercialization." Here are some key excerpts from the piece, with a few lines emphasized:

In 2012 we were told Colorado would lead the nation on a grand experiment in commercialized marijuana. Six years later — with two major industry reports just released and the state legislature and Denver City Council about to consider more expansion measures — it’s a perfect time to pause and assess some results of that experiment.

Where has our breathless sprint into full-scale marijuana commercialization led Colorado?  Well, recent reports from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, from Denver Health, from Energy Associates, from the Colorado Department of Revenue and from the City of Denver should be enough to give everyone in this race pause.

Now Colorado’s youth use marijuana at a rate 85 percent higher than the national average.  Now marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up by 151 percent.  Now 70 percent of 400 licensed pot shops surveyed recommend that pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness.  Now an indoor marijuana grow consumes 17 times more power per square foot than an average residence.  Now each of the approximately one million adult marijuana plants grown by licensed growers in Colorado consumes over 2.2 liters of water — per day.  Now Colorado has issued over 40 little-publicized recalls of retail marijuana laced with pesticides and mold.

And now Colorado has a booming black market exploiting our permissive regulatory system — including Mexican cartel growers for that black market who use nerve-agent pesticides that are contaminating Colorado’s soil, waters, and wildlife....

As the U.S. attorney leading other U.S. attorneys on marijuana issues, I have traveled the country and heard what people are saying about Colorado. Do they tout Colorado’s tax revenue from commercialized marijuana? No, because there’s been no net gain: marijuana tax revenue adds less than one percent to Colorado’s coffers, which is more than washed out by the public health, public safety, and regulatory costs of commercialization.

Do they highlight commercialization’s elimination of a marijuana black market? No, because Colorado’s black market has actually exploded after commercialization: we have become a source-state, a theater of operation for sophisticated international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations from Cuba, China, Mexico, and elsewhere.

Do they promote our success in controlling production or containing marijuana within our borders? No, because last year alone the regulated industry produced 6.4 metric tons of unaccounted-for marijuana, and over 80,000 black market plants were found on Colorado’s federal lands.

Does the industry trumpet its promised decrease in alcohol use? No, because Colorado’s alcohol consumption has steadily climbed since marijuana commercialization. How about the industry’s claim that marijuana will cure opioid addiction? No, a Lancet study found that heavy marijuana users end up with more pain and are more likely to abuse opioids....

I’m not sure the 55 percent of Coloradans who voted for commercialization in 2012 thought they were voting for all this.

These impacts are why you may start seeing U.S. attorneys shift toward criminally charging licensed marijuana businesses and their investors.  After all, a U.S. attorney is responsible for public safety.

My office has always looked at marijuana solely through that lens, and that approach has not changed. But the public safety impacts of marijuana in Colorado have.  Now that federal enforcement has shot down marijuana grows on federal lands, the crosshairs may appropriately shift to the public harms caused by licensed businesses and their investors, particularly those who are not complying with state law or trying to use purported state compliance as a shield.

We should pause and catch our breath before racing off again at the industry’s urging. Let’s call it “just say know.” Let’s educate ourselves about the impacts of commercialization. Let’s reclaim our right as citizens to have a say in Colorado’s health, safety, and environment. Unfettered commercialization is not inevitable. You have a say.

I read this commentary as a warning of sorts, particularly to undercut the notion that some businesses may have that simply possessing a license from the state insulates them from federal prosecution.  In many ways, even when the Cole Memo was in place, that was not true.  But I sense from this piece that there is a growing concern about the way some in the licensed industry are operating, and this idea is made even clearer in this Westword piece with a Q&A with Mr. Troyer and this AP piece with additional quotes.

Were I involved in a Colorado marijuana business now, I would give particular attention to this statement from the AP piece: "'You can do plenty of harm to the community and still be in compliance with state law because those laws have a lot of loopholes and they're very permissive,' Troyer said." Specifically, if I was running a Colorado marijuana business, I would be spending a lot more time trying to document how my business was helping, rather than harming, the community (as well as, of course, documenting compliance with state laws).

October 4, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Prediction of hundreds of millions in tax revenues for Michigan if citizens vote for marijuana legalization

Infographic Individual ChartsThis local article, headlined "Estimated tax haul from marijuana sales would grow to $134 million per year," reports on a report on tax revenues being predicted if Michigan were this fall to become the 10th in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana. Here are some details:

By the time Michigan’s recreational marijuana market is fully fleshed out, $134.5 million in tax revenues will be flowing into the state’s coffers annually. But there’s a big caveat: Michigan voters will first have to pass a ballot proposal on Nov. 6 to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

The figures for state tax revenues — from the 6-percent sales tax and a 10-percent excise tax — come from VS Strategies, a Colorado-based cannabis consulting firm hired by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is spearheading the campaign to legalize pot in Michigan. “We’re estimating $520 million in taxes from 2020-24,” said Andrew Livingston, a policy analyst with VS Strategies. “By 2023, Michigan will reach maturity with sales of just under $1.5 billion (for both medical and recreational marijuana).”

The revenues from recreational use will grow from $53.7 million in the first year to $134 million by the time the market matures, he said. When you add in the 6 percent sales tax and 3 percent excise tax on medical marijuana sales, the tax revenues jump another $40 million, according to the VS estimates.

The numbers are based on estimates of nearly 1 million Michiganders who have said that they’ve used marijuana in the past month and who could be expected to buy marijuana on a regular basis. Another 3.5 million people in Michigan have said they have used marijuana in their lifetime. The total number of marijuana users includes 300,000 people who are registered as medical marijuana users, Livingston said. Michigan’s tax rate is far lower than many of the other nine states that have legalized pot for recreational use... Michigan’s proposed rate is lower than other states in order to be more competitive and to attract more people to the state’s budding marijuana market, coalition spokesman Josh Hovey said.

The first $20 million in tax revenues for each of the first two years would go to research into the effects of marijuana use on different health ailments, including PTSD in veterans. Of the remainder, 35 percent would go toward roads, 35 percent to schools and 30 percent to the counties and communities that allowed marijuana businesses in their towns.

But the projected tax revenues, even when the market is fully established, fall well below the taxes generated in Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, which collected $247.3 million in taxes in 2017.

Livingston said the Western states have higher numbers of users and he doesn’t expect Michigan to exceed those numbers. According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health done for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2016, about 14.4 percent of Colorado’s population, or 727,000 people, used marijuana in the past month while 8.9 percent of Michigan’s population, or 886,000 people, used marijuana in the past month. “Mountain states have always led the rates of past-month consumption,” he said.

Michiganders shouldn’t just look at the tax revenues coming in from marijuana legalization, said Scott Greenlee, director of Healthy and Productive Michigan, a group opposing the ballot proposal. “What impact would it have in Michigan with a $57-billion budget? It’s just not that significant,” he said. “And then we have to deal with the unintended consequences of fighting increased addiction. I wonder if there would be anything left for Michigan other than a bad policy that will affect the state for decades to come.”

He said the 35 percent of tax revenues that would go toward improving Michigan’s roads would be a drop in the bucket for the state’s 120,000 miles of roads. “According to MDOT, the cost to improve roads is about $1 million per lane,” Greenlee said. “In their best case scenario, 35 miles of one lane of roads would be improved thanks to this new tax.”

Hovey said the coalition never promised that the marijuana tax revenues would be a cure-all for Michigan’s budget woes. “This will help fund the state’s most important needs. And we’ll be saving millions in wasted costs of continuing to enforce the prohibition of marijuana laws,” he said. “And I think the majority of the state’s residents would agree that our roads need more revenue.”

October 3, 2018 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 1, 2018

California officially makes expungement automatic for past marijuana offenses

ImagesAs reported in this USA Today piece, headlined "Landmark California marijuana legislation gives residents chance to 'reclaim their lives'," last night finalized some exciting news for those eager to see marijuana reform greatly impact criminal justice reform. Here are details:

Hailed by advocates as a chance for people to “reclaim their lives,” a new California law will soon make it easier for people with past marijuana convictions to get their records expunged completely, or their sentences significantly reduced.  Assembly Bill 1793 – passed by overwhelming majority in the California state Legislature and signed into law Sunday night by Gov. Jerry Brown – will streamline a previously tedious process that made it difficult for residents with a prior cannabis-related conviction to clear their names.

“This is transformative,” said Rodney Holcombe of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based national organization that advocates for human rights-driven drug policies. “This creates an opportunity for people to reclaim their lives."

California is not the first state to retroactively allow those with cannabis convictions a chance to reduce or completely remove their past; that distinction goes to Oregon, which legalized recreational weed in 2014.  Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, plus the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego, have laws similar to Oregon’s, where individuals convicted of some marijuana-related crimes – like possession, cultivation or manufacturing – can work to get their records sealed or expunged.

But California is the first state to automate the system, which lawmakers and bill supporters hope will be a game-changer for thousands of residents who have limited access to student loans, housing and jobs because of their criminal records.  The Judicial Council of California estimates at least 218,000 residents would benefit from the new law.  “The failed war on drugs has, in so many ways, wreaked havoc, damage, pain and anguish on so many Californians,” said Assemblymember Ron Bonta, D-Oakland, who proposed the measure. “This is where government can step in and make it better.”

Pot convictions disproportionately affect communities of color, according to a 2016 study from the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance.  That study found that while white people consume marijuana at similar rates to black people – and more than Latinos – communities of color are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for low-level marijuana possession infractions.  In 2010, for example, black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people nationwide.

The measure is California's latest effort to help those with marijuana charges move on with their lives.  Two years ago, Californians passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over and allowed for those with criminal convictions to request to have their records erased.  But the process was lengthy and convoluted, requiring people to petition the courts to reduce their sentence for prior convictions, back when cannabis was illegal.  It could also be an expensive process, with costs spanning court fees, hiring a lawyer (to walk people through paragraphs of confusing legal jargon) and time spent away from work and home....

The Drug Policy Alliance tries to educate the public on what it calls “collateral consequences,” the side effects that stem from a sometimes decades-old conviction, Holcombe said.  Those collateral consequences can include not being able to acquire student loans, find meaningful employment or access good housing, among other issues.

Under the new law, the state will do the work to clean up people's records – even if they didn’t know they were eligible.  Some individuals will be able to completely clear their record, while others will see their crimes significantly reduced.  Possession with the intent to sell, for example, will now be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Here's how it will work: Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of Justice has seven months to review all marijuana cases and send potential petitions to county district attorneys.  DAs will have one year to challenge or grant the petition to change residents' marijuana-related convictions.  Priority will be given to those currently serving time.  “Prop. 64 provided redemption and rehab and a chance to rebuild those lives – these expungement and reductions are a big part of that,” Bonta said.  “I wanted to make sure that the promise in Prop. 64 was kept.”...

Holcombe and the DPA are hopeful that if California's landmark law is successful, other states could adopt similar measures.  “Popular opinion has changed so much,” Holcombe said. “Lots of support has already been generated around the folks who have been convicted and are still burdened by these collateral consequences – and there’s growing interest in remedying that.”

Regular readers likely know of my affinity for this kind of reform based on my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

October 1, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)