Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Congress passes marijuana research bill, the "Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act"

-1x-1With a Senate motion, the US Congress made some history today by passing a standalone piece of marijuana reform legislation.  Here are the basics from Politico:

The Senate passed a bill designed to expand medical marijuana research on Wednesday by unanimous consent. Passage of the legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in their respective chambers, signaled a new era in federal cannabis policy: It’s the first standalone marijuana-related bill approved by both chambers of Congress.  The House passed the bill in July, also by unanimous consent.

The bill, which will make it easier for scientists to conduct medical marijuana research and protect doctors who discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using the drug with patients, now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk....

Passage of the medical research bill by unanimous consent signals that perceptions about marijuana are changing.  While expanded research is arguably the most conservative action Congress could take on marijuana, it is something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.  The bill came close to passing in September, but was held up by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Cornyn lifted the hold earlier this week.

“After working on the issue of cannabis reform for decades, finally the dam is starting to break,” Blumenauer told POLITICO in a statement.  “At a time when more than 155 million Americans reside where adult-use of cannabis is legal at the state or local level and there are four million registered medical marijuana users with many more likely to self-medicate, it is essential that we are able to fully study the impacts of cannabis use.”

This Marijuana Moment article, headlined "Senate Sends Marijuana Research Bill To Biden’s Desk, With Schumer Saying He’s Having ‘Productive Talks’ On Broader Reform," highlights why this little bit of history might be a sign of things to come:

Just before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the floor that he is continuing to have “productive talks” about a broader package of cannabis reforms he hopes to pass before the end of the lame duck session.

In the meantime, while numerous marijuana measures have been filed and advanced in each chamber in recent sessions, reform has consistently stalled before reaching the president. But now, the “Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act” is just one signature away from historic enactment.

November 16, 2022 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, November 10, 2022

US House subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms at the Federal Level"

-1x-1Interestingly, on the morning of Election Day, the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform released this notice announcing that on "Tuesday, November 15, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. ET, the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will host a hybrid hearing titled 'Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms at the Federal Level'.” The next evening, this follow-up memo was released providing a lot more notable details about this notable congressional hearing (including a list of scheduled witnesses).  Here are excerpts:

On October 6, 2022, President Biden announced that he granted a pardon to everyone convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law and called for a review of how marijuana is scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Advocates for cannabis reform welcomed the President’s actions but continue to call for action in the legislative branch to decriminalize cannabis....

This hearing will be a bipartisan examination of the many benefits of decriminalization at the federal level, including: criminal justice reform, which will largely benefit communities of color, as well as the justice system more broadly; access for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs; and the ability for the legal cannabis industry to access financial services.

And this official website provides some more interesting background and also the expected witnesses. Here is a snippet:

On Tuesday, November 15, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. ET, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Nancy Mace, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, will hold a hybrid hearing to examine the many benefits of cannabis decriminalization at the federal level, including addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, improving treatment options for veterans, and allowing marijuana companies to access traditional banking services.

Marijuana arrests account for 43% of all drug arrests, and nine in ten of those marijuana arrests are for simple possession. Although Black and white people use cannabis at roughly the same rates, Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws, which carries life-altering implications for employment, housing, and education. Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level and expunging criminal convictions for possession would alleviate these burdens and allow for societal advancement.

Marijuana Moment has good coverage of this planned hearing in pieces here and here.

November 10, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2022

DEPC event: "Cannabis on the Ballot: Lessons Learned from the Marijuana Reform Movement"

I am pleased to spotlight a great Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) event taking place later this month focused on ballot initiatives as marijuana reform.  Here is how this event is described on this event page (where you can find this registration link):

Ever since California voters legalized medical marijuana via ballot initiative in 1996, many advocates in the U.S. have embraced direct democracy as a means to bypass reluctant legislatures to advance marijuana legalization and broader drug policy reforms.  But reforms advanced through ballot initiatives can raise distinct political and policy challenges, and recent initiatives have sometimes produced legal uncertainty about regulatory regimes and even new limits on the availability of direct democracy.

On the eve of another major election, please join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and our panel of experts as they discuss the pros and cons of efforts to enact and implement drug policy reforms via the ballot box and these efforts’ impact on direct democracy more generally.

Panelists:

Burrel Vann Jr., Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, School of Public Affairs, San Diego State University
Daniel Orenstein, Independent Researcher
Tamar Todd, Legal Director at New Approach PAC; Lecturer at Berkeley Law

Moderator:

Douglas A. Berman, Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law; Executive Director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center

October 13, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Senator Schumer finally to introduce his Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

Caoa-display.pngAs reported in this new Politico article, "Senate leaders are introducing sweeping legislation Thursday meant to lift federal prohibitions on marijuana more than 50 years after Congress made the drug illegal."  Here is more about a long-in-development, unlikely-to-become-law marijuana reform bill:  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would decriminalize weed on the federal level and allow states to set their own marijuana laws without fear of punishment from Washington.

The bill has been a long time coming — Schumer, along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) proposed a discussion draft more than a year ago — and its odds of passing in this Senate are slim. But the legislation will shape the conversation around cannabis legalization going forward and portions of it are likely to find their way into other bills that could pass before the end of the year.

The legislation includes both Democratic and Republican priorities: It expunges federal cannabis-related records and creates funding for law enforcement departments to fight illegal cannabis cultivation. It also establishes grant programs for small business owners entering the industry who are from communities disproportionately hurt by past drug laws, requires the Department of Transportation to research and develop a nationwide standard for marijuana-impaired driving, and restricts the marketing of cannabis to minors....

While marijuana legalization has spread rapidly across the U.S. over the past decade, Capitol Hill has not transitioned as quickly. Nineteen states now allow anyone at least 21 years old to possess and use the drug, and 37 states have established medical marijuana programs. National polls have consistently shown that roughly two-thirds of Americans back marijuana legalization, and support is even higher among younger voters.

But the votes aren’t yet there to pass Schumer’s bill on Capitol Hill. That’s in part because many lawmakers from states with legal markets don’t yet support substantial changes to federal law. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, for example, represents a state where weed is legal — Montana — and says he does not support federal decriminalization. A handful of other Democrats told POLITICO that they are against legalization or are undecided, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Schumer would need all Democrats, plus ten Republicans, to get the bill over the finish line.

Cannabis legalization advocates have had success in the past framing it with Republicans as a states’ rights issue, but some pro-decriminalization Republicans will likely be unhappy with the bill’s expungement of cannabis-related criminal convictions and its equity grant provisions.

Further complicating matters is that the House has twice passed its own sweeping marijuana legalization package, known as the Mariuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act. That legislation does not include much of the regulatory structure that’s part of the Senate bill, and also has a different tax rate....

Instead, some Democrats and Republicans are considering a smaller cannabis bill later this year that could see one or more provisions from the CAOA added to the SAFE Banking Act, a more widely-supported bill that would make it easier for banks to offer financial services to cannabis companies. That plan is still in the discussion stage and nothing formal has been decided.

Many of the changes added to the final Senate bill echo requests regularly made by Republicans. Law enforcement grants, a nationwide youth prevention campaign and traffic safety research all correspond to concerns that legalization skeptics have frequently raised. Schumer has met with Republicans — including Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus — in recent months to discuss where the two parties could potentially come together on weed legislation. Whether the changes will be enough to get enough Republicans on board, however, seems doubtful at this point.

Marijauna Moment's extensive coverage of this long-awaited news can be found here, and includes these additional details (and much more):

[T]he main thrust of the now-filed 296-page legalization bill closely resembles that of the earlier version, which weighed in at a mere 163 pages—though the senators highlighted a number of changes, which generally expand on the draft.

For example, there are revisions concerning cannabis industry workers’ rights, a federal responsibility to set an impaired driving standard, banking access, expungements and penalties for possessing or distributing large quantities of marijuana without a federal permit.

The bill would also create a new federal definition for hemp that would increase the permissible THC by dry weight to 0.7 percent from the current 0.3 percent, but also make it so all THC isomers would be included in that total, not just delta-9 THC.

July 21, 2022 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 13, 2022

Might some kind of "omnibus" federal marijuana reform bill get through Congress this year?

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting Marijuana Moment article headlined "New Details On Congressional Marijuana Omnibus Bill Emerge As Lawmakers Work For 60 Senate Votes."  Here are some of the intriguing particulars from an extended piece worth reading in full:

Two key congressmen made waves in the marijuana community on Thursday by disclosing that there are high-level talks underway about putting together a wide-ranging package of incremental marijuana proposals that House and Senate lawmakers believe could be enacted into law this year.  But multiple sources tell Marijuana Moment that issues under consideration go further than the banking and expungements reforms that were at the center of the public discussion that has emerged.

The dueling pushes for comprehensive legalization and incremental reform — a source of tension among advocates, lawmakers and industry insiders over many months — may actually result in something actionable and bipartisan by the end of the current Congress, those familiar with the bicameral negotiations say.  That said, no deal is set in stone and talks are ongoing.

In addition to the banking and expungements proposals that made waves when discussed publicly at a conference on Thursday by two key House lawmakers, there are also talks about attaching language from other standalone bills dealing with issues such as veterans’ medical cannabis access, research expansion, marijuana industry access to Small Business Administration (SBA) programs and broader drug sentencing reform....

Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) first publicly disclosed that there were discussions about crafting a bipartisan cannabis package at an International Cannabis Bar Association conference on Thursday, with Joyce revealing a recent meeting he had about the idea with Schumer.

Perlmutter, sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, said that his legislation to safeguard financial institutions that work with state-legal marijuana businesses would be part of the package under consideration, but he also said at the time that members are interested in including Joyce’s Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act to incentive state and local governments to expunge prior marijuana records, as well as proposals to provide veterans with access to medical cannabis and expand marijuana research.

But those four issues — banking, expungements, research and veterans — noted earlier by Law360, are only part of what’s on the table, sources who have been involved in the negotiations but requested anonymity, told Marijuana Moment on Friday.  They stressed, however, that a deal has not yet been reached and talks are tentative at this point.

Another possible component that lawmakers have discussed including in the omnibus legislation would be a proposal to give cannabis businesses access to SBA loans and services that are available to every other industry. It’s a reform that Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) in particular has consistently advocated for, including in a recent letter to the head of SBA.

While it’s not clear what stage the negotiations over the prospective marijuana package is at, a congressional source said that Rosen has spoken with Schumer about her interest in advancing the issue as he’s worked to navigate the congressional cannabis waters.

“These talks are very serious,” a source involved in criminal justice reform said. “I would say this is one of the most serious bipartisan, bicameral conversations that we’ve seen occur in our time in this space.”

To be clear, Senate leadership isn’t giving up the push for the broader CAOA legalization bill at this point.  Nor is Perlmutter fully conceding passing the SAFE Banking Act on a sooner timetable, either as standalone legislation or as part of a large-scale manufacturing bill called the America COMPETES Act that’s currently in a bicameral conference committee....

Other sources told Marijuana Moment that they’ve been involved in conversations about potentially adding to the in-progress cannabis package language that would provide for record sealing of federal misdemeanor convictions, as would be prescribed under the standalone Clean Slate Act from Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE).  It’s the type of reform that presumably would not compromise GOP support given the widespread recognition that offenses like simple possession should not lead to long-term consequences like the loss of access to housing and job opportunities.

June 13, 2022 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 7, 2022

"Reimagining U.S. Drug Policy Post-Pandemic"

As mentioned in a prior post, the tail end of a busy semester means I can now catch up on posting a lot of recently produced papers that are part of the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. To that end, the title of this post is the title of this paper authored by Samuel DeWitt, a third-year student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Here is its abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic caused increased drug use and a widespread decline in mental health throughout American society.  Yet, despite the unprecedented pandemic, society as a whole has shown an impressive ability to adapt to new ways of living, suggesting that a dramatically different version of America is not only possible, but achievable.  Domestic drug policy, which has needlessly prohibited and criminalized a vast array of drugs since the early 1900s, is an area ripe for a similar dramatic change.  This paper explores how the pandemic, combined with concurrent events including a change in Federal Administration and nationwide protests against systemic racism, presents an opportunity for our country to rethink its long-standing drug prohibition on a national scale.

May 7, 2022 in Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Student presentation examining application of immigration laws in wake of marijuana reforms

Immigration-and-Marijuana-2-1024x683A big group of Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar students are scheduled to present this week on the research topics of their choice.   As I often mention, before their presentations, students are expected to provide in this space some background on their topic and links to some readings or other relevant materials.  The first new topic for this coming week's presentations is to be focused on immigration laws .   Here is how the student describes the topic and some background readings:

Abstract:

This project attempts to raise the profile of and build solidarity among disparate groups on the issue of considering how immigration law should be amended or enforced in the wake of the move towards legalization, whether on a state-by-state or federal level.  The final product will consist of a paper that goes into detail on perspectives and policy rationales for amending the INA to remove marijuana from disparate political perspectives -- those who are already committed to immigrants' rights, those who are already committed to marijuana legalization, and those who are hostile to both. 

For the first group, it's fairly self-explanatory: marijuana use is a deportable offense for immigrants whether or not it is legal, which makes little sense in the era of marijuana reform.  For legalization supporters, I focus on economic developments and social justice.  Allowing immigrants into the group of people who could purchase and use marijuana would both bring more revenue into the market and create a new group of folks who could work in both agricultural and retail ends of the business. Further, given the divisive history of the connections between marijuana criminalization and immigration, noncitizens should be a key consideration in legalization legislation and regulation just as social equity programs are now for women and other minoritized people.  Finally, for those who aren't familiar or amiable to either perspective, the paper dives into arguments about job creation, notions of justice and fairness, and the assertion that supporting minoritized individuals such as immigrants and people of color is beneficial for all members of the U.S. 

After writing the paper, I will be developing a series of issue factsheets based on the arguments and categories above to garner support for solutions to the above issues, such as encouraging readers to support certain bills, state and district level reforms to the criminal justice process, organizations doing work on this issue. 

Background reading:

Law Review Student Comment (2015): "Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences"

Law Review Student Note (2021): "The Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization on Legal Permanent Residents: Why Descheduling Marijuana at the Federal Level Should Be a High Priority"

Press article providing historical context (2019): "The Surprising Link Between U.S. Marijuana Law and the History of Immigration"

Advocacy group report detailing the personal harm of the current deportation laws and scale of the issue (2015): "A Price Too High - US Families Torn Apart by Deportations for Drug Offenses"

April 12, 2022 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Latest Gallup poll indicates that over two-thirds of Americans still support making marijuana legal

Jtiyq89cqucedlbn0lhb5gThis new release from Gallup, headlined "Support for Legal Marijuana Holds at Record High of 68%," reports on the latest result of its polling on marijuana reform. Here are the details:

More than two in three Americans (68%) support legalizing marijuana, maintaining the record-high level reached last year.

Gallup has documented increasing support for legalizing marijuana over more than five decades, with particularly sharp increases occurring in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2013, a majority of Americans, for the first time, supported legalization.

As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana.

Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion. While most Democrats (83%) and political independents (71%) support legalization, Republicans are nearly evenly split on the question (50% in favor; 49% opposed). Weekly and semiregular attendees of religious services are split on the issue as well, while those who attend infrequently or never are broadly supportive of legalizing marijuana.

November 4, 2021 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Great early coverage of US Senate Leader Chuck Schumer's "discussion draft" of new Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiSince nearly the start of this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with  Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker , has been talking up the introduction in the US Senate of a new comprehensive federal marijuana reform bill.   That talk has suggested that reform efforts from these Democratic Senators would be similar to, but still quite distinct from, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, that has moved forward in the House of Representatives in recent years.

Today, in mid July 2021, these Senators have scheduled a press conference to unveil what is being described as a "discussion draft" of a lengthy federal bill titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA).  The full text of this CAOA "discussion draft" is available here and it runs 163 pages(!).  In other words, CAOA give marijuana reform advocates (and opponents) a whole lot to discuss.  Helpfully, the cannabis press core is already doing great job covering the basic:

From Marijuana Moment, "Here Are The Full Details Of The New Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill From Chuck Schumer And Senate Colleagues."  Excerpt:

Perhaps the most immediately consequential provision would be a requirement that the attorney general to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.  But it’s important to keep in mind that this legislation—like other federal legalization bills moving through Congress—would not make it so marijuana is legal in every state. The proposal specifically preserves the right of states to maintain prohibition if they way. It stipulates, for example, that shipping marijuana into a state where the plant is prohibited would still be federally illegal.

However, the measure would make it clear that states can’t stop businesses from transporting cannabis products across their borders to other states where the plant is permitted.  FDA would be “recognized as the primary federal regulatory authority with respect to the manufacture and marketing of cannabis products, including requirements related to minimum national good manufacturing practice, product standards, registration and listing, and labeling information related to ingredients and directions for use,” according to the summary.

From Politico, "Schumer launches long-shot bid for legal weed." Excerpt:

The discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act includes provisions that cater to both “states rights” Republicans and progressive Democrats. While the proposal seeks to remove all federal penalties on weed, it would allow states to prohibit even the possession of cannabis — along with production and distribution — a nod to states’ rights.  It would also establish funding for a wide range of federal research into everything from drugged driving to the impact cannabis has on the human brain. The measure aims to collect data about traffic deaths, violent crime and other public health concerns often voiced by Republican lawmakers.

On the flip side, the proposal also includes provisions that are crucial to progressives.  That includes three grant programs designed to help socially or economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as those hurt by the war on drugs and expungements of federal non-violent cannabis offenses.  States and cities also have to create an automatic expungement program for prior cannabis offenses to be eligible for any grant funding created by the bill.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

July 14, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

"Comparing Permissive Illegality Frameworks in Denmark and the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Alexa Askari, a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:  

This paper compares the foundations of the Christiania commune in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the origins of the United States war on drugs, both phenomena of the anti-hippie sentiment of the 1970s.  While the Danish took a relatively lax approach to the commune’s cannabis-related activities, in the U.S. crackdowns were widespread and disproportionately impacted people of color.  Today, Christiania remains the focal point of the Danish cannabis trade, while the United States has become a patchwork of varying state-level permissive regimes fundamentally in conflict with federal prohibition.  How both countries’ relationships with cannabis will continue to develop ultimately depends on the political will of those in power.

May 12, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Guest-post: "Tax Provisions in State Constitutions May Hinder Marijuana Legalization Efforts"

6a00d83451574769e20224df387165200bI was very pleased to have received the following guest post content from Professor  Andrew D. Appleby of Stetson University College of Law:

Although the recreational marijuana movement has gained momentum at the state level, several states may be unable to legalize recreational marijuana because of tax limitations in their state constitutions.  A primary motivation for legalization is increased tax revenue, and every state that has legalized recreational marijuana also taxes it.  Many states, however, have broad constitutional provisions designed to make tax increases more difficult, most notably provisions that require supermajority approval to create or increase any tax.  There appears to be a third wave of these tax supermajority provisions proliferating. Florida voters approved a constitutional provision in 2018 and several other states, including New York in 2021, have considered supermajority approval provisions.  These provisions have several unintended consequences, as discussed in my forthcoming article, "Designing the Tax Supermajority Requirement."

These provisions impact recreational marijuana in several ways.  Most state tax supermajority provisions apply only to the legislative process, so many states are forced to use the voter approval process for marijuana legalization efforts.  Prior to 2021, only two states had legalized recreational marijuana through the legislative process.  Neither state has a tax supermajority requirement, and neither state would have satisfied the requirement.  Vermont was unable to include a tax provision in its initial legalization bill and needed to enact a separate tax statute two years later.  Three states legalized recreational marijuana through the legislative process in 2021.  None of the legislation passed with two-thirds supermajority approval.

Recreational marijuana is still divisive in many states for many reasons, particularly as it remains illegal federally, so achieving supermajority approval is difficult.  Even in politically liberal states, recreational marijuana legalization voter initiatives have passed by narrow margins.  In the 2016 election year, for example, the Massachusetts initiative passed with 53% of the vote and the California initiative garnered only 57% approval.  Four states legalized recreational marijuana through ballot initiatives in 2020.  Only New Jersey achieved supermajority approval, and just barely, with 67% voting in favor.  South Dakota, which has a tax supermajority provision and “one subject” provision in its constitution, had its legalization initiative declared unconstitutional, with the South Dakota Supreme Court currently considering the appeal.

Florida is also grappling with constitutional hurdles in its marijuana legalization efforts, as the Florida Supreme Court struck down a proposed ballot measure because of misleading language.  Even if the measure were to appear on the ballot, Florida has an additional tax supermajority provision that requires two-thirds supermajority approval for voters to amend the constitution to create or increase a tax.  The experiences in South Dakota and Florida illustrate how tax supermajority provisions have the unintended consequence of impeding recreational marijuana efforts.

May 10, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

"Cannabis Croynism"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report just released by the Government Accountability Institute.  Here is part of the report's executive summary:

Cannabis legalization in the United States has come a long way . In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use only.  This past November, five more states legalized marijuana, and 47 of the 50 states now allow its recreational or medical use.  While governments this Spring were imposing lockdowns and closures of most businesses, churches and schools to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, marijuana dispensaries joined pharmacies and liquor stores as “essential businesses” that must remain open in California.

While he was the first governor to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, Governor Gavin Newsom of California kept marijuana available.  Other states would soon follow: Thirty states in total that issued statewide stay-at-home orders would allow dispensaries of some kind, including recreational, to remain open.

While some claim that cannabis dispensaries were truly as important as pharmacies, which also remained open during statewide lockdowns, other factors may have contributed to this decision.  Whatever its medicinal and recreational benefits, cannabis has evolved into a nearly $21 billion industry that lobbies, pressures, and rewards politicians who look out for it.

In August 2019, the FBI announced it was investigating public corruption in the cannabis industry through pay-to-play bribery schemes. This announcement came at a time when the debate in the United States over the pros and cons of legalizing pot had mostly concluded. Officials in many states have routinely ignored federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana, effectively giving regulatory authority over marijuana to individual states.

There are now far more states where marijuana is fully legal than where it is illegal.  Twelve states have decided through referendum, and two states through legislative action, to legalize recreational use of marijuana.  Just three states – Nebraska, Kansas, and Idaho – still prohibit any use of marijuana, while the remaining forty-seven states have opted for legalization in some form.

With this new authority, state officials must now create specific regulations.  Where states have approved legal marijuana, politicians must make licensing rules for detailing which businesses may distribute such products, and who may purchase them. As with any new market, laws and regulations inevitably will pick the winners and losers in this emerging industry, whose value may be as high as $35 billion by 2025.

As with any economic activity regulated by the government, affected businesses seek an advantage by hiring insiders who have access to those close to the regulatory process.  They also make campaign contributions to well-positioned politicians.

And while most cannabis-related regulatory and legislative action is happening at the state level, some national level political figures have leveraged their positions to make money from cannabis legalization.  For example, in 2017, Paul Pelosi Jr., the son of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was named Chairman of the Board of Directors of Freedom Leaf, Inc., a consulting firm advising the budding marijuana industry.  The following year, the company entered the CBD distribution business, while Pelosi purchased more than $100,000 in company stock.

Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who staunchly opposed legalizing marijuana in Congress, is now bullish on the industry.  “This is one of the most exciting opportunities you’ll ever be part of,” he says in a video announcing his new National Institute for Cannabis Investors.  “Frankly, we can help you make a potential fortune.”  Boehner stands to earn an estimated $20 million if his group succeeds in persuading the federal government to legitimize marijuana.

Still, for now, the states are where most of the action on marijuana distribution is found, and where the greatest threat of political corruption exists.  The Government Accountability Institute (GAI), whose mission is to expose cronyism, reviewed the process related to legalizing marijuana in seven states.  For each state we reviewed, GAI focused on identifying the relationships between policy decisions that benefited advocates of marijuana legalization and the transfer of money and other benefits from marijuana-related businesses and lobbyists to elected officials.

While each state possessed a unique set of circumstances related to legalizing marijuana, our research found striking similarities in how cronyism in these states occurred.  For example, in several states, elected officials and government employees made decisions that ultimately benefited them financially.

February 9, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

How many House Republicans are going to vote in support of the MORE Act?

Capitolpot-largeA few months ago there was lots of excitement about the announced plans for the US House of Representatives to vote on H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE Act).  But House leadership put off the vote until after the 2020 election, and now excitement is growing again as a vote is being discussed again.  This new Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week," provides an effective accounting of where matters stand.  Here is how it starts:

A key House committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing to advance a bill to federally legalize marijuana toward a full floor vote, which could then happen as soon as Thursday. Meanwhile, leaders in the chamber are proposing an amendment that would make several changes to the cannabis legislation.  Among the most significant revisions would be to the tax-related provisions of the bill.

The Rules Committee’s move to take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act follows Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announcement that the chamber would be holding a floor vote on the bill before the end of the year. 

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill, transmitted it to Rules with the series of modifications—many of them technical in nature. But beyond the tax changes, the newly proposed language also reaffirms the regulatory authority of certain federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clarifies that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.  Other members of the House are likely to file proposed amendments as well, though the Democratic majority of the Rules panel will determine which ones can be made in order for floor votes later this week.

Because there is zero chance that the MORE Act will move forward in the Senate during this Congress, this House vote may seem mostly symbolic.  (Indeed, this new Politico piece, headlined "Why the next Congress is unlikely to legalize marijuana," highlights why marijuana reform is likely to remain an uphill battle in the Senate even in 2021 and beyond.)  But Jacob Sullum has this new Reason piece, headlined "Will a Historic House Vote on Marijuana Legalization Nudge Biden Toward More Ambitious Reforms?," which rightly suggests the vote could have an impact on Joe Biden and the work of the incoming Biden Administration.  As Sullum puts it, any "historic House vote to repeal [the federal marijuana] ban would allow him to go further than he has so far without sacrificing his cherished reputation as a moderate."

I share Sullum's view that the House lame-duck vote on the MORE Act could prove to be consequential, though my take is that the answer to the question in the title of this post could and likely will prove to be the most important part of the story (perhaps along with how many Democrats vote against the MORE Act).  If the MORE Act passes with only D support, the discourse over federal marijuana reforms is likely to remain quite partisan for the months and years to come.  But if more than a handful of GOP Representatives vote for the MORE Act, it will become that much easier for reform advocates to portray future federal efforts as bipartisan.

Notably, Florida GOP Rep, Matt Gaetz was one of the original 29 co-sponsors of the MORE Act.  The Act now has 120 co-sponsors, but Rep. Gaetz is still the only GOP Rep among that number.  My understanding is that there may be a few more GOP Reps who would ultimately vote for the MORE Act.  But without more than just token GOP support, I doubt even a passing vote on the MORE Act will be as consequential as many reformers might hope.

 

December 1, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

How might partisan perspectives on marijuana reform evolve as we enter a new political era?

Wee poll partisansIn this post four years ago, right after then Prez-elect Donald Trump had named then-Senator Jeff Sessions to be his first Attorney General, I highlighted various political and practical reasons why I did not expect AG Sessions or the broader Trump Administration to dramatically thwart the state-driven momentum toward marijuana reform.  I think that post has aged pretty well, as marijuana reform proved in the 2020 election cycle to be quite popular in blue, purple and red states.   Results in in Arizona, which voted on full legalization initiatives in both 2016 and 2020, is perhaps especially informative: marijuana legalization was voted down 51% to 49% in 2016, and then was approved 60% to 40% in 2020.

Notably, as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions perhaps hoped to slow the state marijuana reform momentum by rescinding in early 2018 the Justice Department's "hands off" enforcement memos of the Obama era (basics here and here).  But that move, by triggering backlash of various sorts and not really amounting to much, may have actually helped the state-level reform cause.  And, of course, AG Sessions was fired before the end of the year, and the 2018 election cycle brought important initiative reforms in the midwest and western states of Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah.  Whenever the definitive history of modern US marijuana reform gets written, it will be valuable to note that Prez Trump, by essentially ignoring the issue for his entire time in office, allowed bipartisan momentum for reform to continue growing at the state level.

I am ruminating about these realities in reaction to seeing this piece from Gallup earlier this week headlined "Support for Legal Marijuana Inches Up to New High of 68%."  Here are excerpts:  

Americans are more likely now than at any point in the past five decades to support the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. The 68% of U.S. adults who currently back the measure is not statistically different from last year's 66%; however, it is nominally Gallup's highest reading, exceeding the 64% to 66% range seen from 2017 to 2019....

The latest data are from a Sept. 30-Oct. 15 poll, conducted before the election that saw marijuana legalization proposals on the ballot in several states. Voters in all of these states -- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota -- authorized the legal use of recreational marijuana in the Nov. 3 election.  They join 11 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing pot for recreational purposes.  Additionally, voters in Mississippi and South Dakota join 33 states and the District of Columbia in passing laws legalizing or decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes....

Majorities of most demographic subgroups of Americans support legalizing marijuana, including by gender, age, education and household income.  Yet there is considerable variation in the extent of support within each group, as men, younger adults, college graduates and those in households with incomes of at least $100,000 are more likely than their counterparts to favor legalization....

Most politically left-leaning and middle-of-the-road Americans remain supportive of legalizing marijuana, while less than half of those who lean right favor it.  Over eight in 10 Democrats and liberals, and more than seven in 10 independents and moderates, back legalization, but just under half of Republicans and conservatives do.

Views of legalization also differ greatly depending on frequency of attendance at religious services.  A slim majority of those who say they attend weekly oppose legalization. Yet, about three in five of those who attend nearly weekly or monthly, and about four in five who attend less frequently, favor legalizing marijuana.

The 83% of Democrats and 72% of independents who prefer legalization are the highest readings in the trend for both groups, but Republicans' current 48% is down slightly from slim majorities in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

One could seek to draw lots of political lessons, past and future, from these data.  For now I am content to just capture this polling snapshot while also recalling that social and political views on marijuana have been quite variable over time throughout US history.  Anyone who thinks certain trends are inevitable, either short- or long-term, has not learned some of the key lessons from our history.

November 11, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Vermont now on path to be latest state allowing marijuana sales and also to automatically expunge past convictions

Vermont-Marijuana-LegalizationRoughly 32 months ago, as noted in this prior post from January 2018, the Green Mountain State became the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana through an act of a state legislature rather than by voter initiative (and Vermont was then the ninth state overall to legalize use).   But that original law contained no provisions for the commercial sale of marijuana, and it took until this fall for sales to be legalized and regulated in the state (and now Vermont is then the eleventh state overall to legalize sales).   This Marijuana Moment article, headlined "Vermont Governor Allows Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill To Take Effect Without His Signature," effectively provides the details on the latest reforms that also include another related criminal justice development (which I strongly believe should go hand-in-hand with any reforms):

The governor of Vermont announced on Wednesday that he will allow a bill to legalize marijuana sales in the state to take effect without his signature. He also signed separate legislation to automate expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

While Vermont legalized personal possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants for adults in 2018, retails sales have remained prohibited. But now with Gov. Phil Scott’s (R) decision not to veto the new cannabis commercialization bill, a tax-and-regulate system will finally be implemented.

Differing versions of the marijuana sales proposal passed each chamber before being reconciled in a bicameral conference committee last month.  The legislature then approved the finalized proposal and sent it to Scott’s desk.  The governor had been noncommittal about his plans for the legislation — even up until the day before the signature deadline — and had hinted that he was even considering vetoing the bill.  But he ultimately gave legal cannabis supporters a win by deciding not to block the reform.

In the conference committee, legislators worked fastidiously to ensure that Scott’s stated concerns about the policy change were largely addressed.  Those issues primarily related to impaired driving, taxes and local control.  But after the legislature advanced a finalized form, Scott threw advocates for a loop, stating that while he appreciated the legislative process that the bill went through, certain racial justice groups had raised concerns with his office about the extent to which the proposal addressed social equity in the cannabis industry for communities historically targeted by the war on drugs.  There was some suspicion that the governor was using that pushback as an excuse to veto S. 54....

In the end, however, he stood out of the way and took no proactive action.  “However, there is still more work to be done to ensure the health and safety of our kids and the safety of our roadways—we should heed the public health and safety lessons of tobacco and alcohol,” Scott wrote in a letter to lawmakers announcing his decision. “Further, I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history which requires us to address systemic racism in our governmental institutions. We must take additional steps to ensure equity is a foundational principle in a new market.”...

It’s possible that there was some political calculus involved in the decision to let the bill go into law despite his concerns, as his reelection challenger, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D), is a vocal advocate for legalization and has raised the issue in recent appearances.  Zuckerman stressed in a debate last week that while he agrees with the sentiment that more needs to be done to ensure racial justice, an imperfect bill can be improved upon, and the legislature has plenty of time to finesse the details before legal cannabis sales launch.  He also noted that separate legislation providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions, which Scott signed on Wednesday, would complement the restorative justice provisions of the tax-and-regulate bill.

A coalition of Vermont civil rights and criminal justice reform groups including the state’s ACLU chapter released a statement on Sunday that says while they shared concerns about the limitations of the social equity components of the marijuana commerce bill, they felt it could be built upon and wanted the governor to sign it, in addition to the expungements legislation....

Under the tax-and-regulate bill, a new Cannabis Control Commission will be responsible for issuing licenses for retailers, growers, manufacturers, wholesalers and labs. The body will also take over regulation of the state’s existing medical cannabis industry from the Department of Public Safety.  A 30 percent THC limit will be imposed on cannabis flower, while oils could contain up to 60 percent THC.  Flavored vape cartridges will be banned.  Local jurisdictions will have to proactively opt in to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their area. Municipalities will also be able to establish their own regulations and municipal licensing requirements....

The separate expungements bill would make it so those with convictions for marijuana possession of up to two ounces, four mature plants and eight immature plants prior to January 2021 would have their records automatically cleared.  Those who receive expungements would be notified by mail.

October 11, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pennsylvania Gov advocating for full legalization to aid economic recovery amidst COVID pandemic

In this post back in March, I wondered aloud "In a post-COVID economy, will job creation and tax revenue from marijuana reform become irresistible?".  Five months later, I am sad that we are not yet to a "post-COVID" era, but can still note this new piece at Marijuana Moment revealing a prominent development serving as a kind of answer to my question.  The piece is headlined "Pennsylvania Governor Calls For State-Run Marijuana Sales To Boost Economy Amid Coronavirus," and here are excerpts:

The governor of Pennsylvania is calling on lawmakers to legalize marijuana to aid the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — and he’s floating the idea that the state itself would sell the cannabis to consumers.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) talked about his plan to address the COVID-19 crisis and included legalization prominently in his agenda. Tax revenue from marijuana sales could help “supplement” relief loans provided by the federal government, he said.  Asked about the prospects of advancing legalization legislation through a Republican-controlled legislature, the governor said, “I think there was some appetite for it before and my hope is that with the pandemic and the hit that we’ve taken to revenues that there might be a little more interest in it right now.”...

Unlike Colorado and all other legal markets, however, Wolf is suggesting that lawmakers pursue a state-run cannabis model.  “The proposal is, that for people that people over 21 years of age, I think we have a state store system that would be an ideal way to distribute it,” he said.  “But I think it’s also a way that the state could actually get some tax revenue from something that people are evidently already doing.”

The governor also acknowledged that tax revenue from marijuana sales wouldn’t occur immediately, but he stressed the need to implement regulations quickly so that they can begin collecting those dollars as soon as possible.  According to an outline of the plan, 50 percent of that tax revenue “would be earmarked for historically disadvantaged businesses.”

“Along with the call to the General Assembly to pass legislation legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, the governor proposes that a portion of the revenue be used to further restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of marijuana criminalization,” it states.  “Also, the governor wants the General Assembly to pursue criminal justice reform policies that restore justice for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses.”...

Shortly after the governor announced that he is embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model as Wolf is now proposing. With this new plan, Wolf is also aligning himself with a majority of Senate Democrats, who sent him a letter last month, arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to state shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) announced that he would be introducing a revised legalization bill for the session. The lawmaker, who filed a similar bill last year, wrote that his proposal will be “the most comprehensive and well-vetted legislation providing for a legal adult-use cannabis industry.” It would also provide for expungements and releasing people from prison for non-violent drug offenses.

Outside of Pennsylvania, other leaders are recognizing that taxing and regulating marijuana can provide a much-needed economic boost amid the coronavirus pandemic. In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said in May that the state needs to explore every option for economic relief, and that includes passing cannabis legalization.  The governor of New Jersey said last month that legalizing cannabis could simultaneously help the state recover economically from crisis while also promoting racial justice.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was asked in May about whether marijuana legalization could serve as a tool for economic recovery and he expressed support for the proposal, stating that while the legislature hasn’t yet accomplished the policy change, “I believe we will” down the line.

A few of many prior COVID-cannabis related posts:

August 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thorough review of "Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana"

1563932774784Regular readers surely know of my appreciation for all the work done at Marijuana Moment to cover all sorts of marijuana issues, and this recent posting on the record on Senator Kamala Harris highlights why that resource does so much more than anyone else on this front.  Specifically, the posting goes on and on, because Harris has a long record, and here is how the coverage gets started (with links from the original):

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice presidential running mate, the campaign announced on Tuesday.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s choice to join him on the ticket has evolved significantly on marijuana policy over her career.  Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.

It remains to be seen whether she will push Biden in the same direction, as the former vice president has maintained opposition to ending marijuana prohibition despite supermajority support among Democrats.

While Harris, a former attorney general of California, made marijuana reform a major component of her criminal justice platform when she unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, she’s been less vocal about the issue since dropping out in December 2019.

Convincing Biden to come around seems like a steep task in any case.  Some advocates suspect that the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee voted against an amendment to add legalization as a 2020 party plank specifically because it’s at odds with the presumptive nominee’s agenda.  Biden has drawn the line at decriminalizing marijuana possession, expunging past convictions, modest federal rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization and letting states set their own policies.

But it remains the case that Harris is the chief Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act — a comprehensive piece of legalization legislation that includes various social equity and restorative justice provisions.  Advocates will be watching to see if she continues to advocate for the reform move as she’s on-boarded to the Biden campaign.

The senator indicated in July that she doesn’t plan to push the presumptive presidential nominee on the issue.

Here’s a deeper look at where Harris stands on marijuana [click through to see it all]:

August 13, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 6, 2020

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

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

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

Joe Biden won’t inhale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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