Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program: Online Survey of Consumer Satisfaction"

Image-of-report-1024x585The title of this post is the title of this new report authored by Nicholas Maxwell, who this summer served as a Research Fellow at Harm Reduction Ohio and who put together this report in conjunction with Ohio State's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (which I help run).   The report will be one of a number of topics discussed at this DEPC event tonight, and here is its "summary and key findings":

An online survey of more than 600 Ohioans, most of whom reported being regular users of marijuana, revealed immense dissatisfaction with the Ohio medical marijuana system.  Consumers were surveyed on a range of topics, from their marijuana consumption habits to their experience with the Ohio MMCP.  The price of medical marijuana in Ohio was the primary driver of consumer dissatisfaction.  Contributing to this dissatisfaction was also reported inconvenience of registering for the program and traveling the sometimes-significant distance to the nearest dispensary.  The vast majority of respondents stated that they preferred to purchase marijuana from medical dispensaries, but reported that Ohio’s existing medical marijuana regime presented significant barriers that deterred them from doing so.
  • 78% of 647 surveyed Ohioans reported a qualifying condition under the medical marijuana program.  Most respondents reporting a qualifying condition reported that they had chronic, severe, or intractable pain, which is consistent with the population of Ohio enrolled in its medical marijuana program.

  • 81% of the 505 people who reported a qualifying condition also reported that they currently use marijuana.

  • Only 45% of the 407 people who reported a qualifying condition and to be currently using marijuana have received a doctor’s recommendation under the MMCP.

  • 67% of all 647 respondents reported being “very dissatisfied” or “somewhat dissatisfied” with the Ohio medical marijuana program, with only 16.7% of people reporting being somewhat or very satisfied.

  • 87% of all 647 respondents indicated preference for purchasing marijuana from a legal dispensary if product was similarly priced to product available via the unregulated market.

  • On average, people were willing to pay a 16.9% price premium to buy marijuana at legal dispensaries instead of the unregulated market.  At current levels, the premium stands at more than 100%.

September 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"Oregon death is 2nd linked to vaping, 1st tied to pot shop"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP article, which started this way:

Public health officials in Oregon said Wednesday that a person who recently died of a severe respiratory illness had used an electronic cigarette containing marijuana oil from a legal dispensary, the second death linked to vaping nationwide and the first tied to a vaping product bought at a pot shop.

Officials have not determined what sickened the middle-aged adult, whether the product was contaminated or whether they may have added something to the liquid in the device after buying it, said Dr. Ann Thomas with the Oregon Health Authority.

Thomas declined to name the brand of the product or the dispensary during the investigation and said it's the only case of vaping-related illness or death in Oregon that authorities know about.  "Our investigation has not yielded exactly what it is in this product," Thomas said.  "At this point, some of the other states have more data than us."

As of last week, 215 possible cases of severe lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes had been reported by 25 states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The battery-powered vaping devices can be used to inhale a flavored nicotine solution or a solution infused with marijuana oil.

Illinois officials on Friday reported what they consider the first death in the nation linked to vaping after the person contracted a serious lung disease.  They didn't say if the e-cigarette contained marijuana oil or just nicotine. Health officials in some states have said a number of people who got sick had vaped products containing THC, the compound that gives marijuana its high.

That's a critical distinction in the Oregon case, according to the American Vaping Association, which has blamed the recent spate of lung illnesses on illegal vape pens that contain THC.

Wisconsin public health officials said late last month that 89% of the people they interviewed who became sick reported using e-cigarettes or other vaping devices to inhale THC.

In New York state, 32 cases of vaping-related illness have been reported, with a "vast majority" involving people who vape illicit marijuana.  None has involved medical marijuana products sold in compliance with state law.

New York officials are focusing their investigation on an additive used in black-market vape oils made from vitamin E.  A state health department spokeswoman said a lab has found "high levels" of vitamin E acetate in "nearly all" the marijuana samples involved.

September 5, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"Not in my backyard? Not so fast. The effect of marijuana legalization on neighborhood crime"

The title of this post is the title of this new research appearing in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics authored Jeffrey Brinkman and David Mok-Lamme. Here is its abstract:

This paper studies the effects of marijuana legalization on neighborhood crime and documents the patterns in retail dispensary locations over time using detailed micro-level data from Denver, Colorado.  To account for endogenous retail dispensary locations, we use a novel identification strategy that exploits exogenous changes in demand across different locations arising from the increased importance of external markets after the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.  The results imply that an additional dispensary in a neighborhood leads to a reduction of 17 crimes per month per 10,000 residents, which corresponds to roughly a 19 percent decline relative to the average crime rate over the sample period.  Reductions in crime are highly localized, with no evidence of spillover benefits to adjacent neighborhoods.   Analysis of detailed crime categories provides insights into the mechanisms underlying the reductions.

September 4, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 2, 2019

How could and should we track and assess the impact of many thousands of marijuana conviction expungements?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent New York Times article headlined "About 160,000 People in New York to See Their Marijuana Convictions Disappear."  The article come on the heels of news of significant expungements in other big  states like California and Illinois.  Here are some excerpts from this piece:

Even as states across the country have legalized marijuana, potentially opening the door to a multibillion dollar industry, the impact of marijuana criminalization is still being felt by people — mostly black and Hispanic — whose records are marked by low-level convictions related to the drug.

But on Wednesday, New York began the process of expunging many of those records, as part of a new state law to reduce penalties associated with marijuana-related crimes, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed. “For too long communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana and have suffered the lifelong consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.

Under the new law, which was passed in June and took effect on Wednesday, about 160,000 people with marijuana convictions in the state will have those convictions cleared from their record, according to a spokeswoman for the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Of those people, 10,872 people with convictions in New York City will have no criminal records in the state, the spokeswoman said.  In the rest of the state, an additional 13,537 people will have no criminal records in New York once these convictions are wiped from their record, the spokeswoman said.

Sealing these records would ensure that a person’s marijuana-related conviction would not come up in most background checks, state officials said.  A method for expunging the records, which has never been done in New York, is still being developed, the officials said.  The process could take up to a year, a spokesman for the State Office of Court Administration, Lucian Chalfen, said.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group, said the number of people who would have their records cleared could be many times higher than the number cited by the state; the alliance cited figures showing that between 1990 and 2018, 867,701 arrests were made in New York State for low-level marijuana offenses....

The move to reduce fines and clear people’s records has been embraced by advocates of criminal justice reform, many of whom said criminal penalties for using marijuana fell disproportionately on black and Hispanic residents....

In February, a study from John Jay College found that “blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to whites.”

Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an advocacy group, said he embraced expunging low-level offenses, but not full legalization.... Mr. Sabet said he wanted to see marijuana possession likened to driving over the speed limit. “It’s something discouraged,” he said, “but it’s not something that is going to destroy your life if you’re caught doing it.”

The data in this article indicates that the vast majority of New Yorkers who will benefit from marijuana expungement will still have criminal records because of other convictions. I cannot help but wonder if and how expungement of marijuana convictions for these individuals will prove as beneficial as it might to the smaller number of persons who will have an entirely clean record following expungement of marijuana convictions.  In addition, the Drug Policy Alliance here spotlights that the number of persons with marijuana arrest records is much higher than the number of persons with marijuana convictions.  It is unclear whether and how arrest records will be addressed and whether and how the arrest/conviction difference may shape the impact of a expungement.  Put another way, this article indirectly highlights how many questions necessarily arise in conjunction with bold expungement efforts.

In my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I make the case for using marijuana revenues to help build an institutional infrastructure for helping to remediate the various harms from the war on drugs.   I believe something like a "Commission on Justice Restoration" is so badly needed because it is essential for expungement efforts and other like reforms to be followed by research to assess exactly which policies and practices are most effective at minimizing and ameliorating the undue collateral consequences too often faced by people with criminal convictions.  To date, there is very little empirical research on expungement programs and their impact (though the leading research is generally encouraging).  With so much activity now in this space thanks to marijuana reform, I think we really need a research program that tries to keep up with policy developments so that we can best identify and replicate best practices.

September 2, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 30, 2019

"Harm Reduction Policing: From Drug Law Enforcement to Protection"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article just published via the journal Contemporary Drug Problems and authored by Tobias Kammersgaard.  Here is its abstract:

Several drug policy researchers have noted that the concept of harm reduction could be applied to the field of drug policing in order to assess the negative consequences and potential benefits of policing in this area.  However, the application of harm reduction principles to drug policing has only been realized to a limited extent in the current responses to drug use and markets.  Accordingly, studies that empirically investigate already existing policing practices, which might be described as operating within such a harm reduction framework, are relatively scarce.

In order to address this gap, this article provides an investigation of how policing of an open drug scene has been organized in Denmark since drug possession has been partly decriminalized, following the introduction of drug consumption rooms in Copenhagen.  The policing of this open drug scene was investigated through document analysis, interviews, and observations with a patrolling police officer.  The article argues that decriminalization has resulted in a shift in the “logics” of policing by enabling the production of an alternative “governable identity” for the drug-using subject, where people who use drugs could more readily be perceived as citizens with rights rather than just as offenders.  Accordingly, in this new logic, the violence and victimization experienced by marginalized people who use drugs could more readily be identified as proper objects for police action.  The study contributes to our knowledge of how the police can become potential allies rather than adversaries in harm reduction initiatives and broader public health concerns.

August 30, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

US Surgeon General issues new health advisory on "Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain"

Screen+Shot+2018-09-14+at+4.43.10+PMThis morning, the federal government weighed in on the health risks of marijuana reforms through this new extended US Surgeon General advisory headed "Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain."  Here is how it gets started and some key passages (with lots of cites to research removed):

I, Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of safety of marijuana endanger our most precious resource, our nation’s youth.

Background

Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.  It acts by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including euphoria, intoxication, and memory and motor impairments.  These same cannabinoid receptors are also critical for brain development.  They are part of the endocannabinoid system, which impacts the formation of brain circuits important for decision making, mood and responding to stress....

The risks of physical dependence, addiction, and other negative consequences increase with exposure to high concentrations of THC7 and the younger the age of initiation. Higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis.  Edible marijuana takes time to absorb and to produce its effects, increasing the risk of unintentional overdose, as well as accidental ingestion by children and adolescents.  In addition, chronic users of marijuana with a high THC content are at risk for developing a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which is marked by severe cycles of nausea and vomiting.

This advisory is intended to raise awareness of the known and potential harms to developing brains, posed by the increasing availability of highly potent marijuana in multiple, concentrated forms.  These harms are costly to individuals and to our society, impacting mental health and educational achievement and raising the risks of addiction and misuse of other substances.  Additionally, marijuana use remains illegal for youth under state law in all states; normalization of its use raises the potential for criminal consequences in this population.  In addition to the health risks posed by marijuana use, sale or possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law notwithstanding some state laws to the contrary.

Marijuana Use during Pregnancy

Pregnant women use marijuana more than any other illicit drug.  In a national survey, marijuana use in the past month among pregnant women doubled (3.4% to 7%) between 2002 and 201712. In a study conducted in a large health system, marijuana use rose by 69% (4.2% to 7.1%) between 2009 and 2016 among pregnant women.  Alarmingly, many retail dispensaries recommend marijuana to pregnant women for morning sickness.

Marijuana use during pregnancy can affect the developing fetus. THC can enter the fetal brain from the mother’s bloodstream and may disrupt the endocannabinoid system, which is important for a healthy pregnancy and fetal brain development. Moreover, studies have shown that marijuana use in pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes, including lower birth weight.  The Colorado Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System reported that maternal marijuana use was associated with a 50% increased risk of low birth weight regardless of maternal age, race, ethnicity, education, and tobacco use....

Marijuana Use during Adolescence

Marijuana is also commonly used by adolescents, second only to alcohol.  In 2017, approximately 9.2 million youth aged 12 to 25 reported marijuana use in the past month and 29% more young adults aged 18-25 started using marijuana.  In addition, high school students’ perception of the harm from regular marijuana use has been steadily declining over the last decade.  During this same period, a number of states have legalized adult use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, while it remains legal under federal law.  The legalization movement may be impacting youth perception of harm from marijuana.

The human brain continues to develop from before birth into the mid-20s and is vulnerable to the effects of addictive substances.  Frequent marijuana use during adolescence is associated with changes in the areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation.  Deficits in attention and memory have been detected in marijuana-using teens even after a month of abstinence.  Marijuana can also impair learning in adolescents.  Chronic use is linked to declines in IQ, school performance that jeopardizes professional and social achievements, and life satisfaction.  Regular use of marijuana in adolescence is linked to increased rates of school absence and drop-out, as well as suicide attempts. 

August 29, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Code for America helping with automatic marijuana expungement efforts in Illinois

6a00d8341bfae553ef0224e03a3680200d-320wiAs previously noted in posts here and here, the folks at Code for America have been putting their tech expertise to good use in California to aid that state with its marijuana offense expungement efforts.  Now, as reported in this local article from Chicago, the Code folks are going to be doing the same in Illinois.  The article is headlined "Thousands of weed convictions will be automatically expunged in Cook County: ‘We are righting the wrongs of the past’." Here are excerpts:

Tens of thousands of cannabis convictions will be automatically expunged under a partnership between a tech nonprofit and Cook County prosecutors, part of an effort State’s Attorney Kim Foxx characterized as “righting the wrongs of the past.”  Foxx said the collaboration with Code for America would help atone for prosecutors’ role in an overzealous “war on drugs.”

“It is prosecutors who were part of the war on drugs, we were part of a larger ecosystem that believed that in the interest of public safety, that these were convictions that were necessary to gain,” Foxx said at a news conference Tuesday.  “In the benefit of hindsight and looking at the impact of the war on drugs, it is also prosecutors who have to be at the table to ensure that we are righting the wrongs of the past.”...

Under its partnership with the county, the California-based Code for America will automate the process for Cook County convictions involving amounts smaller than 30 grams.  Such offenses include misdemeanors as well as Class 4 felonies, the lowest category of felony in Illinois.  Code for America’s program will sift through state and county data to identify which records are eligible for the expungement, then complete paperwork for prosecutors to submit to judges, who can formally throw out the convictions.  Code for America is a not-for-profit that will begin the work at no cost to the county, said Jennifer Pahlka, the group’s founder and executive director.

The county hopes to begin the automated process as soon as possible, even ahead of Jan. 1 when marijuana legalization takes effect.  Foxx wants the automatic expungements to apply to as many convictions as far back as possible, though she acknowledged the process may be difficult for older, nondigitized records.  Foxx said she has been in talks with other county authorities to prepare for the anticipated flood of expungements, including the possibility of setting up a separate court call for judges to formally vacate the convictions en masse....

Expunged records will not appear on routine background checks, potentially making it easier for affected people to find jobs and housing.  The expunged marijuana convictions also will not appear in law enforcement databases.  The automatic expungements will require no work on the part of the affected citizens, who will get a letter from the Circuit Court clerk’s office informing them their conviction has been tossed out.

Marijuana cases that were charged along with other offenses will not be eligible for the automated program.  Anyone hoping to expunge those convictions would have to go through the normal process.

Code for America has previously worked with prosecutors in San Francisco, where a pilot program helped them “clear” thousands of convictions dating back to 1974, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón told the Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday.  More than 9,000 convictions were affected, with Code for America handling about 8,000.  Misdemeanors were thrown out and felonies were reduced to misdemeanors, Gascón said. 

The biggest hurdle for Cook County will likely be getting conviction data in a form that Code for America can use, Gascón said.  But once that is done, “literally, you will be clearing out hundreds and hundreds of records per minute.”

Expunging convictions frees people from what Gascón called a “paper prison” that affects people’s lives after they have fulfilled their sentences.  “That marginalizes people in so many different ways,” he said.  “Going through this process will begin to repair the harm that we as a society have been doing to people for so long.”

August 27, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 26, 2019

"Cannabidiol (CBD) in the Therapeutics Industry"

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

Use of Cannabidiol (CBD) in the therapeutics industry has become increasingly popular in the last few years.  CBD rode into public consciousness on the coattails of three booming consumer trends: the herbal supplement industry, the anxiety economy, and the growing legitimate cannabis industry.  However, many uncertainties remain about the legality, safety, and quality of CBD.  The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production throughout the US, thereby removing hemp-derived CBD from Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-regulation.  However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still stakes a claim on regulating dietary supplements and food additives containing CBD.  The sudden legality of CBD, coupled with uncertainty as to its safety, quality, and effectiveness, means it is imperative for states to support research and impose sufficient regulatory oversight over CBD-infused products.

Prior student papers in this series:

August 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"DEA Announces Steps Necessary to Improve Access to Marijuana Research"

US._Dept_of_Justice_DEAThe title of this post is the title of this notable new Department of Justice press release.  Here is its full text:

The Drug Enforcement Administration today announced that it is moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medical research for marijuana in the United States. The DEA is providing notice of pending applications from entities applying to be registered to manufacture marijuana for researchers. DEA anticipates that registering additional qualified marijuana growers will increase the variety of marijuana available for these purposes.

Over the last two years, the total number of individuals registered by DEA to conduct research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, derivatives and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has increased by more than 40 percent from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January 2019. Similarly, in the last two years, DEA has more than doubled the production quota for marijuana each year based on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects.

“I am pleased that DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and across the Administration to improve research opportunities wherever we can.”

“DEA is making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research, and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps,” said DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon. “We support additional research into marijuana and its components, and we believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study.”

This notice also announces that, as the result of a recent amendment to federal law, certain forms of cannabis no longer require DEA registration to grow or manufacture. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018, changed the definition of marijuana to exclude “hemp”—plant material that contains 0.3 percent or less delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis. Accordingly, hemp, including hemp plants and cannabidiol (CBD) preparations at or below the 0.3 percent delta-9 THC threshold, is not a controlled substance, and a DEA registration is not required to grow or research it.

Before making decisions on these pending applications, DEA intends to propose new regulations that will govern the marijuana growers program for scientific and medical research. The new rules will help ensure DEA can evaluate the applications under the applicable legal standard and conform the program to relevant laws. To ensure transparency and public participation, this process will provide applicants and the general public with an opportunity to comment on the regulations that should govern the program of growing marijuana for scientific and medical research.

August 26, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

"The Pot Rush: Is Legalized Marijuana A Positive Local Amenity?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Diego Zambiasi and Steven Stillman recently published in Economic Inquiry.  Here is its abstract:

This paper examines the amenity value of legalized marijuana by analyzing the impact of marijuana legalization on migration to Colorado.  Colorado is the pioneering state in this area having legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational marijuana in 2012.  We test whether potential migrants to Colorado view legalized marijuana as a positive or negative local amenity.  We use the synthetic control methodology to examine in‐ and out‐migration to/from Colorado versus migration to/from counterfactual versions of Colorado that have not legalized marijuana.

We find strong evidence that potential migrants view legalized marijuana as a positive amenity with in‐migration significantly higher in Colorado compared with synthetic‐Colorado after the writing of the Ogden memo in 2009 that effectively allowed state laws already in place to be activated, and additionally after marijuana was legalized in 2013 for recreational use.  When we employ permutation methods to assess the statistical likelihood of our results given our sample, we find that Colorado is a clear and significant outlier.  We find no evidence for changes in out‐migration from Colorado suggesting that marijuana legalization did not change the equilibrium for individuals already living in the state.

August 25, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"What America's Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2006–2016"

Download (4)The title of this post is the title of this remarkable new RAND report authored by Gregory Midgette, Steven Davenport, Jonathan Caulkins and Beau Kilmer.  This webpage provides this account of what appears in the nearly 100-page full report:

Substance use and drug policy are clearly in the national spotlight. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that drug overdose deaths in 2018 exceeded 68,000, of which more than 47,000 involved opioids.  Although heroin, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) receive most of the attention, deaths involving methamphetamine and cocaine are both on the rise. In addition, more than 25 percent of the U.S. population lives in states that have passed laws that allow for-profit firms to produce and sell marijuana for nonmedical purposes to adults ages 21 and older.

To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and policies, policymakers need to know what is happening in the markets for these substances.  This report updates and extends estimates of the number of users, retail expenditures, and amount consumed from 2006 to 2016 for cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in the United States, based on a methodology developed by the RAND Corporation for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The report also includes a discussion of what additional types of data would help quantify the scale of these markets in the future, including the new types of information produced by the legalization of marijuana at the state level.

Key Findings

  • People who use drugs in the United States spent on the order of $150 billion on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in 2016. The marijuana market is roughly the size of the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined, and the size of the retail heroin market is now closer to the size of the marijuana market than it is to the other drugs.
  • After falling precipitously from 2006 to 2010, cocaine consumption's decline slowed by 2015. Results suggest there were 2.4 million individuals who used cocaine on four or more days in the past month in 2015 and 2016. Results also suggest that consumption grew in 2016 among a stable number of users as price per pure gram declined.
  • Heroin consumption increased 10 percent per year between 2010 and 2016. The introduction of fentanyl into heroin markets has increased the risk of using heroin.
  • From 2010 to 2016, the number of individuals who used marijuana in the past month increased nearly 30 percent, from 25 million to 32 million. The authors estimate a 24 percent increase in marijuana spending over the same period, from $42 billion to $52 billion.
  • Methamphetamine estimates are subject to the greatest uncertainty because national data sets do not do a good job of capturing its use. There was a steady increase in the amount of methamphetamine seized within the United States and at the southwest border from 2007 through 2016, and a commensurate increase in use over the 2010–2016 period.

Recommendations

  • For marijuana, household and student surveys could be updated to collect more information about the type and quantity of products consumed. Legalization is producing new types of information through state "seed-to-sale" tracking systems, market surveys, delivery services, loyalty card programs, and other sources. Figuring out how data from these new sources can be mined to develop insights about the markets should be a priority.
  • With respect to the other drugs, bringing back the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program or some version of it would be enormously useful, particularly if it included objective (biological) consumption measures.  For example, it is possible to detect fentanyl in urine specimens even if the user did not know he or she had consumed fentanyl because it appeared as an adulterant in some other drug.
  • Wastewater testing is another approach for estimating consumption that has received much more attention outside of the United States.  Although the utility of this method will depend on the type of substance examined, the science is advancing, is readily scalable, and could provide insights about drug consumption at the local level.

Notably, Chapter 5 is devoted to a discussion of marijuana use.

August 20, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Land of the Free, Home of the (Disgruntled) Brave: The Case for Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana"

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

Approximately 30 percent of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Over half of U.S. veterans struggle with chronic pain, and approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America.  For veterans currently seeking medical treatment through Veteran Affairs (VA), 50 percent of PTSD patients cannot tolerate or do not adequately respond to existing treatments of opioids, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressant medications.  While an overwhelming majority of veterans, about 83%, support the use medical marijuana, they remain unable to obtain their preferred course of treatment (or financial assistance for it) through the VA because the federal government prohibits VA health care providers from recommending MMJ.

This paper argues that veterans, especially those with PTSD, should be able to obtain a recommendation, and financial assistance, for medical marijuana from the VA. This is especially true in states with legal medical marijuana programs.  Veterans have recently been calling on lawmakers to help them in their time of need as they battle hosts of ailments such as PTSD, chronic pain, and opioid addiction.   The government's current policy, which has allowed thirty-three states to enact legal medical marijuana programs, yet does not allow veterans to obtain a MMJ recommendation from the VA, nor obtain financial assistance for this medication, is unacceptable.  This paper calls on researchers to continue to enhance our understanding of MMJ's effects on PTSD, and for lawmakers to step up and do the right thing — to give the veterans the medicinal treatment that they want, need, and deserve for laying it all out on the line for our freedoms.

Prior student papers in this series:

August 15, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hemp reforms causing headaches for criminal marijuana enforcement

This local piece from Ohio reports on the interesting criminal justice echoes from hemp reforms playing out this summer in a number of states.  The piece is fully headlined "No, Ohio did not accidentally legalize marijuana. But a new hemp legalization law is causing problems for prosecutors."  Here are excerpts:

Ohio prosecutors are holding off on pursuing marijuana charges or are even throwing them out altogether after Ohio decriminalized hemp.

Hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants; what sets them apart is the amount of THC, an intoxicating compound, each contains. The problem: Crime labs at the local and state level are equipped with technology that measures the presence of THC -- but not the amount.

Hemp, by legal definition, is cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC. Anything more, and it's considered marijuana and illegal outside the confines of Ohio's highly regulated medical marijuana program.  “At least for the next several months, it’s the de facto legalization of marijuana because there’s no way for law enforcement to tell what’s legal and what’s not legal,” said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sent prosecutors a letter last week suggesting they hold off on marijuana crime indictments until the cannabis can be tested.  The state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation labs are in the process of buying and setting up testing equipment.  Yost's office suggested several out-of-state labs where law enforcement could send material until Ohio labs could run the test.  The state's three medical marijuana testing labs can perform the test, but need to first notify the Ohio Department of Commerce.  None had done so as of Friday.

Because of the new hemp law, signed last week, Columbus won't prosecute misdemeanor marijuana crimes and are dismissing pending cases.  The law could permanently change how the city handles misdemeanor marijuana crimes due to the cost of new equipment and testing and the city's newly reduced penalties for marijuana misdemeanors.

The holdup doesn't mean Ohioans found with marijuana have a "get out of jail free card."  Columbus city attorney Zach Klein noted that marijuana remains illegal and can still be a legal reason to stop and search someone.  Klein said driving under the influence of marijuana will still be prosecuted....

A wave of states, including Ohio, passed bills decriminalizing hemp this year following federal legalization by the 2018 Farm Bill. Law enforcement in several states are grappling with the same issue as Ohio.

Texas Department of Public Safety officers have been told to cite and release instead of arrest individuals suspected of misdemeanor marijuana crime, The Texas Tribune reported in July. Prosecutors in some parts of the state have dropped marijuana cases citing the inability to test for THC levels.

A prosecutor in Georgia's second largest county dismissed more than 100 marijuana cases this week after reaching a similar conclusion. Florida prosecutors are taking a mixed approach, with some dismissing all marijuana charges and other waiting for lab tests before filing charges in the first place.

August 12, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

"After the Grand Opening: Assessing Cannabis Supply and Demand in Washington State"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new RAND Research Report authored by Beau Kilmer, Steven Davenport, Rosanna Smart, Jonathan Caulkins and Gregory Midgette.  This 54-page report can be downloaded from this RAND webpage, which also sets out the research questions, an overview, key findings and a recommendation:

Research Questions

What types of cannabis products are produced and sold in Washington State?

What is the size of the cannabis market in Washington State three years after licensing cannabis production and sales for nonmedical purposes?

Overview

This report provides detailed information about state-legal cannabis production and sales in Washington, as well as insights about the total amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) obtained from legal and illegal sources by Washington residents.  Using data from Washington's traceability system, the authors estimate that approximately 26 metric tons (MT) of THC were sold in licensed retail stores in Washington from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.  About 18 MT were from flower, 6 MT from extracts for inhalation, and the remaining 1–2 MT from other products.  This 26 MT is more than double the amount of THC sold in licensed stores in the previous year. Calculating the total amount of THC obtained by residents via legal and illegal sources is difficult with existing data sources, but using additional data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and a survey of cannabis users in Washington, author calculations suggest that in the third year after implementing a regulatory system for cannabis, between 40 percent and 60 percent of THC obtained by state residents was likely purchased in Washington's state-licensed stores.  Learning more about why some residents are still obtaining cannabis products through other channels, what share of legal sales are to nonresidents, and the efficiency of various cannabis products at delivering THC and other cannabinoids would be fruitful areas for future analysis.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 26 MT of THC were sold in licensed retail stores in Washington from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.
  • About 18 MT were from flower, 6 MT from extracts for inhalation, and the remaining 1–2 MT from other products.
  • This 26 MT is more than double the amount of THC sold in licensed stores in the previous year.
  • Calculating the total amount of THC obtained by residents via legal and illegal sources is difficult with existing data sources, but using additional data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and a survey of cannabis users in Washington, author calculations suggest that in the third year after implementing a regulatory system for cannabis, between 40 percent and 60 percent of THC obtained by state residents was likely purchased in Washington's state-licensed stores.

Recommendation

  • Learning more about why some residents are still obtaining cannabis products through other channels, what share of legal sales are to nonresidents, and the efficiency of various cannabis products at delivering THC and other cannabinoids would be fruitful areas for future analysis.

August 11, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 9, 2019

"The Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization and Dispensing on Opioid Mortality"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article recently published in the journal Economic Inquiry authored by Nathan Chan, Jesse Burkhardt and Matthew Flyr.  Here is its abstract:

This study documents how the changing legal status of marijuana has impacted mortality in the United States over the past two decades.  We use a difference‐in‐difference approach to estimate the effect of medical marijuana laws (MML) and recreational marijuana laws (RML) on fatalities from opioid overdoses, and we find that marijuana access induces sharp reductions in opioid mortality rates.  Our research corroborates prior findings on MMLs and offers the first causal estimates of RML impacts on opioid mortality to date, the latter of which is particularly important given that RMLs are far more expansive in scope and reach than MMLs.

In our preferred econometric specification, we estimate that RMLs reduce annual opioid mortality in the range of 20%–35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids.  In further analysis, we demonstrate how RML impacts vary among demographic groups, shedding light on the distributional consequences of these laws. Our findings are especially important and timely given the scale of the opioid crisis in the United States and simultaneously evolving attitudes and regulations on marijuana use.

August 9, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"The short-run effects of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Jesse Burkhardt and Chris Goemans.  Here is its abstract:

The recent legalization of marijuana in several states has led to increased public interest regarding the effect of legalization on crime.  Yet, there is limited empirical evidence relating the legalization of marijuana use and distribution to criminal activity.  This paper uses a difference-in-differences design to estimate the effect of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime rates in Denver, Colorado. 

We find that the opening of dispensaries actually decreases violent crime rates in above median income neighborhoods, an important finding in light of increased political debate surrounding legalization.  We also find robust evidence that non-marijuana drug-related crimes decrease within a half-mile of new dispensaries but do not simultaneously increase within a half-mile to mile of new dispensaries, with one possible explanation being that legal marijuana sales and hard drug sales are local substitutes.  Finally, in line with previous research, we find that vehicle break-ins increase up to a mile away from new dispensaries.

Cross-posted at SENTENCING LAW AND POLICY.

August 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 5, 2019

"State Of The States Report: An Analysis Of Medical Cannabis Access In The United States"

The title of this post is the title of this huge new version of an annual report produced by Americans for Safe Access. Here is part of the introductory letter from Steph Sherer, the President and Founder of ASA, at the start of the 178-page report:

Each year, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) analyzes, summarizes, and critiques legislation and regulations as they become law and develops this report to assess how these programs are serving the needs of patients.  In 2014, when we first started writing this report, only 22 states were analyzed and graded.  Now, six years later, we are analyzing 47 states in over 50 categories surrounding Patient Rights and Civil Protection from Discrimination, Access to Medicine, Ease of Navigation, Functionality of the Program, and Consumer Safety and Provider Requirements.

Through this report, ASA also recommends how states can improve programs, and we take great pride in knowing that these recommendations are frequently followed and incorporated by regulators and policymakers.  While we are excited to see the number of states with medical cannabis programs increase, we know this patchwork of laws is not working to provide access to everyone who needs this medicine.  Patients can still not travel to other states with their medicine, and some states only offer protections that cover a small subset of patients using a certain type of medicine.  The types of medicine available, method of administration, purchase limits, training requirements for staff, labeling requirements, etc. are different depending on the state that you are lucky, or unlucky, enough to live in.

August 5, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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