Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Tobacco historian makes case for why and how "Marijuana Reform Should Focus On Inequality"

The quoted part of the title of this post is the headline of this new Atlantic commentary authored by Sarah Milov.  The piece caught my eye in part because the piece's author, a history professor at the University of Virginia, is also the author of an interesting sounding new book, The Cigarette: A Political History.  Here are some excerpts from this new Atlantic commentary:

Especially because Americans of color have borne the brunt of the drug war, they deserve to share in the marijuana boom now taking hold across the country.  And if America’s long history with another smokable intoxicant — tobacco — is any guide, government rules will decide who can profit from growing the crop.  At the moment, though, those rules favor well-connected corporate growers rather than independent farmers, much less independent farmers of color....

Making up for the brutal inequalities of the drug war should be a major goal of marijuana reformers — but so far, the reality isn’t working out that way.  state that reforms its marijuana laws must decide how it will allocate production rights.  Right now, states severely restrict the number of licenses awarded to cannabis growers, ensuring corporate domination of the industry.  In New York, where medical marijuana is legal, just 10 companies own licenses to cultivate and dispense marijuana.  Competition is fierce over the licenses, which can sell for tens of millions of dollars — even before an ounce of marijuana is sold.  For this reason, licenses tend to go to well-financed pot conglomerates that own cultivation facilities in multiple states.

That outcome should not come as a surprise.  A federally supported program set rules for tobacco growers from the Great Depression until early this century.  Its history suggests that production regulations, when done right, can be a powerful tool to spread wealth — but also that, when done wrong, they are a highly efficient way of excluding people from an industry....

But for all its flaws, the tobacco program succeeded at what it was meant to do: endowing a designated class of Americans with a way of life that buoyed entire regional economies.  Because of strict production restrictions, tobacco farms were among the smallest for any staple commodity, which forestalled the consolidation of farms and an exodus of residents from rural areas.  And there were many tobacco farmers in the middle stratum of the farm income ladder, and relatively few at the top.  Small tobacco farms could still provide for a decent standard of living because tobacco was a high-value crop.  Growing even a small amount could be lucrative.  In 1980, an acre of cigarette tobacco was worth $2,700, as opposed to $150 for corn or $250 for soybeans.  “There is absolutely nothing on this Earth that can compete with tobacco money,” a USDA economist told The Washington Post in 1980.  Except, he added, “illegal smoking material.”...

Now that “illegal smoking materials” are legal in many states, the licensure system for marijuana cultivation is poised to replicate some of the oligopolistic features of the tobacco program, while thwarting its genuinely redistributive ones.  Instead of charging would-be cannabis growers for the privilege of growing, states should award licenses to a larger number of applicants from communities that have been hit hard by the War on Drugs.  Much as small-scale tobacco farms anchored entire communities across the Southeast, cannabis cultivation on a human scale, rather than a corporate one, can build wealth within communities of color where opportunities to amass property have been denied—  frequently at the hands of the government.

Indeed, the excesses of the drug war aren’t the only reason to enact more inclusive policies for marijuana farming.  U.S. agricultural policy, too, has throughout its history been skewed against African Americans.  When black farmers have availed themselves of government programs, they have frequently found discrimination and, ultimately, dispossession.

But those same tools can be put to work in the opposite direction.  The tobacco program was devised to address the emergency of the Great Depression, and it did so in a way that sustained the livelihoods and communities of a targeted group of Americans.  The effects of the War on Drugs are no less severe for communities of color, and the need for opportunity is no less urgent.

October 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"Achieving Diversity in the Marijuana Industry: Should States Implement Social Equity into Their Regimes?"

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

As states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, in medical or recreational form, a new legal market is forming. As more and more companies begin to profit off the legalization of marijuana it begs the question: who is reaping the economic benefits of legalization?  Following decades of the War of Drugs, minority communities have been particularly devastated.  Consequently, states who have legalized marijuana both recreationally and medically have a duty to ensure equal access for the minority communities who were disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. 

This paper examines social equity regimes throughout the country and how states have attempted to induce minority participation in the marijuana industry.  It analyzes the arguments for and against social equity regimes.  The primary goal of this article is to address the arguments against social equity regimes in the marijuana industry, and induce states to implement common sense, economical regimes that give equal and just opportunities to those in the minority community.

Prior student papers in this series:

September 24, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | 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 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)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Two notable new stories of marijuana's still notable criminal justice footprint

Throughout most of the Unites States, millions of Americans are able to "legally" buy and sell marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.  (Of course, I put "legally" in quotes because all these activities are violations of federal law, but the laws and practices of states and localities define enforcement realities.)  Given all the "legal" marijuana activity, it can be dangerously easy to forget that the criminalization of marijuana is still a significant criminal justice reality for a significant number of individuals.  But these two new stories about arrests in two states provides an important reminder of this reality:

From the Washington Post, "Marijuana arrests in Va. reach highest level in at least 20 years, spurring calls for reform."  An excerpt: 

Nearly 29,000 arrests were made for marijuana offenses in Virginia last year, a number that has tripled since 1999, according to an annual crime report compiled by the Virginia State Police. Marijuana busts account for nearly 60 percent of drug arrests across Virginia and more than half of them were among people who were under 24, according to the data. The vast majority of cases involved simple possession of marijuana....

The Virginia Crime Commission found that 46 percent of those arrested for a first offense for possession of marijuana between 2007 and 2016 were African Americans, who represent about only 20 percent of Virginia’s population....

In Virginia, a first conviction for possessing marijuana is a misdemeanor that can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Subsequent arrests can result in up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. A defendant’s driver’s license is also revoked for six months for a drug conviction. The Virginia Crime Commission study found that only 31 people were in jail in July 2017 solely for a conviction of possessing marijuana in the state. The libertarian Cato Institute estimated Virginia spent $81 million on marijuana enforcement in 2016.

From Wisconsin Watch, "Blacks arrested for pot possession at four times the rate of whites in Wisconsin." An excerpt:

Almost 15,000 adults in Wisconsin were arrested in 2018 for marijuana possession, a 3% increase from 2017, according to data from the state Department of Justice.  Prison admissions in Wisconsin for marijuana also were higher in 2016 for black individuals than for whites, according to the state Department of Corrections. Some experts believe this disparity can be attributed to policing practices in low-income neighborhoods that tend to have more residents of color....

Under state law, possession of marijuana of any amount for a first-time offense can lead to up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Any offense after that is classified as a felony and can result in a sentence of three and a half years in prison with a maximum fine of $10,000. 

I want to believe that recently increases in marijuana arrests are mostly a product of increased marijuana activity and not an extra focus on marijuana enforcement. But whatever the reason, I sincerely wonder if anyone sincerely believes that all of the time, money and energy expended for all these marijuana arrests serves to enhance justice or safety in these jurisdictions.

Cross-posed at SENTENCING LAW AND POLICY.

July 20, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"Tribal Cannabis: Balancing Tribal Sovereignty and Cooperative Enforcement"

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

The cannabis industry remains a difficult space to navigate for Native Americans both because of the continued federal ban on cannabis and the extra layer of laws and regulations on tribal land, as well as the potential for continued stigma arising from their involvement in an industry that was until recently considered illegal at all levels of government.  Because of the complex jurisdictional circumstances which arise within tribal land, tribes are left with pioneering strategies on implementing a successful cannabis business alone – whether that be growing, wholesaling, selling on tribal land, or all three.  At the same time, Native American tribes have many competitive advantages – they have water rights and access to power, they own land, and they have a historical and cultural tie to cannabis and natural healing. 

This article discusses several short term and long term steps that Native American tribes should undertake once a state in which a tribe is located legalizes medical marijuana in order to ready themselves to take advantage of an economic opportunity in the form of a cannabis industry should it arise including gaining community support and amending tribal codes, establishing a compact and setting up protections from outside investors, and seek long term legislative fixes such as opt-out provisions in the CSA.

Prior student papers in this series:

July 11, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 8, 2019

US House Subcommittee hearing scheduled on "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaI am quite intrigued and pleased that this week the US House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing titled "Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform."  The official notice of the hearing is here, and the event will be conducted by the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary and will take place on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at 10:00am in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC.

Based solely on the title given to this hearing, I would expected it to be focused principally on racial disparities in arrests and on other racialized aspects of the enforcement of marijuana prohibitions.   But the official witness list for the hearing shows that two of the four scheduled witnesses are doctors while another is the CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation.   One scheduled witness who does work in the criminal justice, Marilyn Mosby, the chief prosecutor for Baltimore City, surely can and will speak to racial justice issue in the application of marijuana laws.  But I am not entirely sure the other witnesses will be focused on racial justice specifically or just the need for reform generally.

Kyle Yeager at Marijuana Moment has this helpful review of what we might expect from the witnesses and the significance of this event.  Here are excerpts:

Given the backgrounds of these individuals, it seems apparent that committee members will be discussing not whether the U.S. should end federal cannabis prohibition, but will focus primarily on how to do it.

Witnesses [will] include Malik Burnett, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who previously served as the Washington, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, where he helped lead a successful ballot initiative campaign to legalize cannabis in the nation’s capital in 2014.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced in January that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases and would work to clear the records of certain individuals with prior marijuana convictions, is also being invited to testify.

David Nathan, a physician and board president of the pro-legalization group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), will also appear before the committee. He told Marijuana Moment that he looks “forward to discussing the evidence-based health effects of cannabis, the failure of prohibition, the inadequacy of decriminalization, and the public health and social justice benefits of effective regulation.”...

Finally, Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, will be the minority witness—which is noteworthy in and of itself, as Levine advocates for legalization, while one might expect the minority Republican party to invite someone who shares an opposing perspective on ending prohibition. “I cannot comment on what has not been announced publicly by the committee, but I would welcome the opportunity to share the perspective of our members,” Levine, who previously served as a staffer for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We are especially well positioned to discuss the challenges arising from the inconsistency between state and federal cannabis laws.”...

While lawmakers aren’t expected to vote on any particular bill at the hearing, it will nonetheless be one of the most significant congressional developments on marijuana reform to date.

July 8, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Spotlighting (and following) the social equity and justice provisions in new Illinois "Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act"

As everyone likely knows by now, Illinois this week became the eleventh state to fully legalize adult use of marijuana and the first state to do so with regulated sales through the regular legislative process.  But what I did not full realize until reading this local press article, headlined "Countdown begins to Jan. 1 after Pritzker signs bill making marijuana legal in Illinois," are all the particulars of the major social equity and justice provisions in the new law.  Here are the basics:

The most unusual and far-reaching aspect of the bill is its “social equity” component.  It calls for 25% of tax money for grants to fund neighborhood improvement projects in poor minority areas.  Proposals are to be chosen by a board led by Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton.

In addition, anyone with a marijuana arrest for under 30 grams would have the case automatically cleared, while the governor will pardon convictions for up to 30 grams. Prosecutors and individuals may petition the courts to expunge convictions for amounts between 30 and 500 grams.

The state will also provide lower licensing fees, low-interest loans and preference in awarding licenses to social equity applicants, defined as those from areas most affected by the war on drugs, or having criminal records eligible for expungement.

“What we are doing here is about reparations,” state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from Peoria, said. “Black and brown people have been put at the very center of this policy.”

Regular readers know that I think marijuana reform can and should be an impactful form of criminal justice reform, and I have authored an article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," which urges jurisdictions to earmark a portion of marijuana revenues to devote to improving the criminal justice system.  In my article, I specifically advocate for the creation of a new criminal justice institution, which I call a Commission on Justice Restoration, to be funded by the taxes, fees and other revenues generated by marijuana reforms and to be tasked with proactively working on policies and practices designed to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for all people with past criminal convictions.  Though Illinois has not quite created a new criminal justice infrastructure through its "Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act," it merits a good star in my book for achieving more on this front than any other jurisdiction to date.

But, as wise folks say in a variety of settings, effective implementation of the law can often be even more important than its initial reform.  Anyone and everyone seriously interesting in social equity and justice should be seriously interested in following how this law plays out in the months and years ahead.

Prior related posts:

June 26, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Race Based Statutes at Play with Cannabis: Cultivating a Process for Weeding Out the Competition"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Tyrus Hudson.  This paper is the seventh in an on-going series of student papers supported by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The first six  papers in this series are linked below.)  Here is this latest paper's abstract:

The ongoing battle between federal and state cannabis laws have created a perplexing realm of ambiguity for legislatures tasked with establishing drug policy.  In the midst of this intricate conflict lies another issue that is wreaking havoc throughout the legalized cannabis marketplace.  With federal and state governments failing to administer concrete guidance by virtue of lacking to establish policies which govern concurrently and in a harmonious manner, laws have been enforced on both the federal and state levels, that are negatively impacting various minority groups and their potential to capitalize on the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

This article will examine the arguments for, and against, current and proposed legislation that impacts licensure for minority groups trying to enter the legalized cannabis marketplace.  Particularly, this article will address the primary obstacles that most negatively affect minorities and the specific role that each barrier has played in preventing minority entrepreneurs from becoming business owners and seizing the opportunity to cash in on this new lucratively flourishing agricultural business that is taking the nation by storm.  While not much research has been conducted on the topic of minority business owners obtaining licenses to operate in the legalized cannabis market, the primary goal of this article is to stimulate dialogue and encourage further research into the impact that legalizing cannabis is having on minority business owners trying to establish themselves as legitimate participants in this up-and-coming industry.

Prior student papers in this series:

June 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Fitting headlines mark the many challenges of the next era of modern marijuana reforms

There is so much media coverage of so many marijuana related issues that I barely have time to keep up with my reading, let alone blog about all the interesting stories.  (E.g., I keep meaning to blog about the New York Times Magazine's CBD cover story.)  But in the last day, I saw three lengthy and connected stories that relate to the intersection of marijuana reform, politics and social justice that seems to have come now to define the realities and challenges of this space.  The headlines of the three pieces help capture the themes:

In addition to recommending all these pieces, I will seek to summarize them by just saying it has always been clear to me that effective and sound legal reform in this space is very, very hard and calls for lots and lots of folks working very, very hard to get it as right as possible from the outset and then continuing to work very, very hard to assess and refine reform regimes. 

May 20, 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Interesting data on marijuana arrests in DC after 2014 legalization initiative

Ready_for_production-mj_line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

"The Canna(business) of Higher Education"

The title of this post is the title of this paper just posted to SSRN and authored by Shelby Slaven, who is a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Here is the paper's abstract:

While the idea of legalizing cannabis for adult use is gaining on acceptance among the public, the past and current policies on both, the state and federal level, have resulted in dearth of research on the efficacy of cannabis for therapeutic purposes as well as possible societal and health consequences of recreational use.  Institutes of higher education are best positioned not only to reform research on the substance, but to train a generation of cultivators, distributors, and healthcare professionals, and while doing so address some of the historical harms perpetrated by the policies of the War on Drugs.  Students are seeking out ways to capitalize on a growing market and remedying past discrimination should be a top priority.  This paper first provides an overview of cannabis legalization as it stands today, the political efforts that got it here, and those that will move it forward.  It then discusses institutes of higher education and the efforts to bring cannabis into the classroom.  Lastly, this paper argues that Historically Black Colleges and Universities can provide education, training, and a foot in the door for Black individuals who have suffered harsher criminal penalties in the name of the war on crime.

April 12, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting racial and regional differences in modern marijuana reform dynamics

I am very sad that presentations in my my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar have wrapped up, but that reality gives me a bit more time and space here to catch up on the marijuana law, policy and reform stories that most catch my eye.  One such important story that I missed a few weeks ago comes here from Stateline under the headline "African-Americans Missing Out on Southern Push for Legal Pot."  I recommend the extended article in full, and here are some excerpts:

Medical cannabis laws typically lay out the conditions for which the drug may be prescribed. But the laws in Arkansas and Florida — the only Southern states that have legalized medical cannabis — don’t cover sickle cell disease, which causes acute pain and disproportionately affects African-Americans. The bills advancing in Tennessee and Kentucky also exclude that condition. Three states that have legalized medical but not recreational cannabis — Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania — allow sickle cell disease patients to use it....

Black legalization advocates also fear that even if medical cannabis becomes legal, white politicians won’t regulate licensing and permitting in a way that ensures equitable opportunities for people of color. “Without that, it’ll be more of the same,” said Dr. Felecia Dawson, a board-certified physician who closed her Georgia-based OB-GYN practice to focus on advocating for medical cannabis. “Legislators will keep people of color ... from the benefits of cannabis.”

Nationally, research suggests that medical marijuana use is more common among whites with high incomes, perhaps in part because of the long history of racial disparity in drug enforcement....

Every Southern state by 2016 had legalized the treatment of a limited number of conditions using CBD oil. As public support increased, so did lawmakers’ willingness to expand the list of eligible conditions. But some conditions that affect minority populations at higher rates than white ones — such as sickle cell disease, which affects 73 in 1,000 African-Americans at birth compared with 3 whites, according to federal estimates — are not included in proposals currently making their way through several Southern statehouses.

In a 2017 hearing co-hosted by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, following a ballot initiative that had legalized medical cannabis, advocates wore “Diversity for All” T-shirts to emphasize the drug’s importance to minority residents. “We know that such diseases as hypertension, sickle cell, neuropathy and so on are more predominant in blacks,” Casey Caldwell, a black cannabis advocate, said at the hearing.

“It is safe to say that African-American communities would benefit the most,” she added. “In the past, pharmaceutical drugs have been priced so high that [we] have to make a decision whether or not they should eat or whether they should purchase medication.”

Those concerns echoed what Dee Dawkins-Haigler, a former Democratic Georgia representative who headed the state’s Black Caucus, said in 2015 about the initial absence of black people among the state’s 17 appointees to the Commission on Medical Cannabis. The Black Caucus eventually fought to get sickle cell disease added to the list of conditions eligible for CBD oil....

In Florida, black farmers initially cried foul at being shut out of the state’s multibillion-dollar cannabis trade over policies that required license holders to have operated for 30 straight years. According to Roz McCarthy, founder of the Florida-based advocacy group Minorities for Medical Marijuana, the state’s law lacked the teeth needed to ensure that medical cannabis license holders adhered to requirements to ensure diversity in hiring. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said that state law “does not require medical marijuana treatment centers to report the race or ethnicity of its owners.”

McCarthy said, “We’re trying to push lawmakers to understand that they have the ability and the power to ensure exclusionary practices don’t happen. Barriers are there. But the opportunity to reduce barriers is also there.”

April 12, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 8, 2019

A deep dive into expungement efforts in conjunction with marijuana reforms

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear I am excited for the first of the last four student presentations planned for this coming week in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar.  Of course, I am excited about the work of all my students, but this wee we have a student focused on a topic on which I have done some writing, namely expungement practices.    Here is how my student has summarized this topic, along with the background readings she has provided:

States that have chosen to decriminalize or legalize marijuana have, in most places, chosen to enact a specific marijuana expungement scheme within the bill that legalizes marijuana or separately.  The expungement schemes offer a way for some to shed the hurtful effects of collateral consequences from a marijuana misdemeanor or felony. 

As we come closer to legalizing marijuana on the federal level, the question of how to repair for the harms done by the War on Drugs and how best to expunge records will continue to be visited.  The collateral consequences have consequences of their own and the War on Drugs helped fuel mass incarceration and racist policing practices. Robust and broad reforms will be needed to repair for the extensive damage to the criminal justice system, something marijuana legalization isn’t equipped to do wholly on its own. But the current expungement schemes, with filing fees, waiting periods and other hurdles, don’t set a good example as we head toward nationwide legalization.

Links to readings and background materials:

"Federal Collateral Consequences for Marijuana Convictions", Marijuana Policy Project paper explaining some of the federal collateral consequences resulting from marijuana convictions

"Drug offenders in American prisons: The critical distinction between stock and flow", Brookings piece by Jonathan Rothwell highlighting difference between stock and flow of drug prisoners which highlights that there are many more drug convictions than violent offense convictions. 

"Why you can’t blame mass incarceration on the war on drugs", Vox article by German Lopez disputing Michelle Alexander’s "drug war" explanation for mass incarceration while explaining why the path to ending mass incarceration is complicated.

“Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices” by Douglas Berman

“High Time for Criminal Justice Reform: Marijuana Expungement Statutes in States with Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana Laws” by Alana Rosen

Links to Expungement Schemes:

Colorado Expungement 

California Expungement

Connecticut Bill - Bill for legalization in state's house judiciary committee 

April 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 1, 2019

"Can Legal Weed Counter Decades Of Discriminatory Drug Enforcement?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline given to this Connecticut public radio show which aired today.  I am very grateful to Professor Jenny Roberts, who was part of the show, for sending me the link to the show and also for providing this summary:

As you may know, Connecticut's proposed bill has some really interesting social justice/equity provisions – not only with expungement, but also with who will actually get the licenses in Connecticut.  The show also explored issues of how those affected negatively by drug laws over the years might now get funding, etc, to start a marijuana business. State Sen. Gary Winfield, who is sponsoring part of the legislation, is on the whole time and well worth a listen, and a Boston Globe journalist joined for one segment on the Massachusetts social equity situation.

Here is how the show's website describes the 50-minute segment:

With recreational marijuana on sale in Massachusetts, Connecticut lawmakers are looking at legalizing recreational cannabis more seriously than ever.  Meanwhile, research continues to show that the enforcement of drug laws in recent decades has disproportionately impacted communities of color.  This hour, we ask: if Connecticut legalizes recreational marijuana, can it do so in a way that corrects some of this history of discriminatory enforcement?

We talk with Judiciary co-Chair Senator Gary Winfield, who is calling for putting equity at the front of legalization efforts.  And we check in about how racial justice has — or hasn’t — come along with legalization in states that already have legal weed, from Massachusetts to California.

April 1, 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, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Minority Cannabis Business Association engages OSU College of Law 3L Chris Nani to evaluate social equity efforts in Los Angeles

Download (3)I am always so very excited when students here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law get so very excited about marijuana law and policy.  One such student whose work I have spotlighted here is Christopher Nani, who took my marijuana seminar back in Fall 2017 and has been doing amazing work in this space ever since.  In addition to getting articles published at the Cannabis Law Report discussing federal tax treatment of cannabis businesses (see prior posts here and here) and co-hosting a podcast focused on business development in the cannabis industry (called Cannabiz with Canna-Chris), Chris has produced this notable article detailing a "Model Social Equity Equation for the Cannabis Industry."  

I describe Chris' article as notable in part because the Minority Cannabis Business Association took note of the work, and MCBA has now engaged Chris to use his equation to "score"  Los Angeles.  This press release, titled "MCBA Engages in Case Study to Rate Efficacy of Los Angeles’ Social Equity Program," explains:

The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) announced plans to take a score of social equity policies implemented by the city of Los Angeles intended to increase diversity in the burgeoning cannabis industry.  Partnering with the MCBA on this effort is Chris Nani, an Ohio State Law student who recently released a similar study that focused on these equity policies in three other California cities.

The results of Nani’s preliminary study had outcomes for Sacramento, San Francisco and even the much-lauded Oakland program that didn’t fully meet the intent of those policies, and underlines the necessity of reassessment once these programs have been implemented.  As one of the largest markets in California, Los Angeles is an important influencer in the industry and will serve as an example for future efforts on this topic.

“We are excited to see municipalities across the country starting to implement social equity programs as a way to reinvest in communities that for decades have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs,” says Kayvan Khalatbari, MCBA’s Board Chair. “Now we need to ensure their intended outcomes are being met.  If they’re not, we need to reexamine those policies and work on them until we get it right. We must develop an effective and repeatable model.”

The case study will utilize an “Equity Equation”, which provides a scored assessment to rate the effectiveness of municipal social equity programs based on 10 separate factors, all of which have been determined to play a major role in the ultimate success or failure of these policies.  One factor commonly cited as a barrier to entry for people of color to find a place in the cannabis industry, regardless of policies in place, is a lack of available capital.

“Social equity programs are an important progression for the cannabis industry,” says Chris Nani. “As new markets come online and use Los Angeles as a model in their own programming, it’s critical that we understand what is working and what is not.  The equation I developed is meant to grade the efficacy of these programs and offer suggestions for improvement.  I look forward to working with lawmakers, social equity applicants and MCBA to work towards improving these policies across the country.”

March 27, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Native Americans & Cannabis: History, Religion, Fraud, & the Future"

The title of this post is the title of a presentation to be made by one of my students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this coming week.  Here is part of her explanation of her topic and links to some background reading:

   Native Americans have a tricky and unique history with cannabis. Indians have always used “teaching plants.” And almost every single ceremonial herb used by Indians has been illegal at some point in the United States: salvia, peyote, mullen, mints, and sage.  In particular, cannabis is more controversial, given its growing popularity in the United States by non-Natives.  Cannabis is considered a sacred herb in many tribes, but not all tribes.  For example, the First Nation tribe uses it in rituals, some tribes claim great visionaries used it with their sacred pipes, and other tribes, such as the Dakota and Lakota tribes, state that their medicine men have never used cannabis as a part of their ceremonies.

   There has recently been a rise in "cannabis churches,” with the most controversial church, the Oklevueha Native American Church, leading such controversy.  The church was founded by James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney.  Mooney claims to have native American ancestry, but does not have any official tribal affiliation.  The church is comparable to the fundamentalist mormons: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not condone of affiliate itself with fundamentalist mormons, and the National Council of Native American churches released a statement, advising the public that it does not “condone the activities of the illegitimate organization.”  This complicates Indian history, as some tribes may wish to use it as a sacrament, and others use the Oklevueha church as a scapegoat and a reason to ban cannabis on its tribes.

   U.S. courts have previously ruled that cannabis being used as a religious sacrament does not give tribes the right to use it.  Overall, my goal is to: 1) explain the history of peyote, ayahuasca, and cannabis in Native American culture; 2) describe the use, or lack thereof, of cannabis and how it differs from tribe to tribe; 3) describe the rise of “cannabis churches” generally, with a focus on the Oklevueha Native American Church, and the legal troubles they have faced; 4) the legal argument to allow Indian churches to use cannabis as a sacrament or a ritual herb, and the legal argument to prohibit Indian churches from using cannabis as a sacrament or a ritual herb; and 5) the potential implications which it would have on tribes in the future.

 

Background Resources:

 

March 19, 2019 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Minority Cannabis Business Association produces new "Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance"

There is much discussion in marijuana reform circles about how states and localities can best ensure the new growing marijuana industry develops in a diverse, socially equitable way. The latest effort to advance this agenda comes from the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), which has now released this interesting new "Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance." Here is part of the preface of this model ordinance:

This Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance (“Model Ordinance”) is intended to be used by municipalities that have adopted ordinances to regulate, zone and license local cannabis businesses, or are currently considering draft ordinances to do so.  As such, this Model Ordinance does not include recommended provisions for general license types (other than to add license types that lower barriers to entry or mitigate on-going criminalization of cannabis consumption), nor does it include detailed zoning and land use provisions.  The drafters of this model ordinance assume those provisions are already incorporated within the adopting municipality’s general licensing ordinance, and that the general licensing ordinance already reflects the particular circumstances of its local community.

We also assumed that the types of licenses which may be available, and the general regulatory framework surrounding cannabis businesses will be largely predetermined by the state in which the adopting local jurisdiction sits.  As such, the Model Ordinance contains only those provisions necessary to create a baseline framework for adopting and advancing social equity in the cannabis industry as official public policy -- a “minimum viable product” designed to be broadly adopted and tailored as necessary by each adopting jurisdiction.  Prevailing political realities in each jurisdiction will vary, and the Model Ordinance includes bolded and bracketed substantive terms that may be revised as necessary....

The Drafting Committee finalized this version of the Model Ordinance after incorporating input received on two previous working drafts.  The First Discussion Draft was previously circulated in October 2018 and presented to the attendees of the MCBA Policy Summit, as well as the members of the MCBA Policy Committee and the MCBA Board of Directors.  Their input was incorporated by the Drafting Committee into the Second Discussion Draft. The Second Discussion Draft was circulated for input to the MCBA Board of Directors, the NCIA Policy Council staff, Drug Policy Alliance staff as well as other select stakeholders for additional input before being finalized. Finally, please note that this Model Ordinance is intended to be a living documents, and one that can be continually improved upon. The Drafting Committee invites any and all input on the Model Ordinance, and expects to publish updated versions of the Model Ordinance periodically.

Interestingly, though the heart of the Model Ordinance is a social equity program, these heading from the model proposal show that more is covered than just business issues:

Section 1: Short Title

Section 2: Cannabis Social Equity Program

Section 3: Good Faith Effort for Equity in Employment

Section 4: Community Benefits Agreement

Section 5: Community Reinvestment Fund

Section 6: Record Change Provisions

Section 7: No Additional Restrictions Allowed on Entry Into the Cannabis Industry

Section 8: Data Collection

Section 9: Lowest Law Enforcement Priority

Section 10: Permitting Social Consumption Lounges

Section 11: Eliminating Suspicionless Drug Testing

March 12, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Latest polling data shows overwhelming support for medical marijuana reform and notable age gap in support for full legalization

The results of the latest Quinnipiac University national poll with questions on marijuana reform can be found at this link, and here is how the results on these questions are summarized:

Legalized Marijuana

American voters say 60 - 33 percent "the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S." There is a very small gender gap, but a wide age gap:

  • Voters 18 to 34 years old support legalized marijuana 85 - 12 percent;
  • Voters 35 to 49 years old support it 63 - 30 percent;
  • Voters 50 to 64 years old support it 59 - 35 percent;
  • Voters over 65 years old are divided on legalized marijuana as 44 percent support it, with 49 percent opposed.

Voters support medical marijuana, if a doctor prescribes it, 93 - 5 percent.

American voters support erasing criminal records for marijuana possession 63 - 29 percent.  Republicans are divided as 45 percent support erasing records, with 47 percent opposed. Every other listed party, gender, education, age and racial group supports erasing criminal records.

"The baby boomers say no to the drug that helped define an era, while the millennials say bring it on," [Tim] Malloy [assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll] said. "In between are enough voters to rubber stamp legalizing marijuana for recreation as well as medical reasons."

The results on these questions are here also broken down by gender, education levels and racial background.  Interestingly, there is no real gender gap on these questions in this latest poll, but there is a small racial gap on a few of the questions.

March 7, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 2, 2019

"Achieving Equity in the Marijuana Industry: Should State's Implement Social Equity Provisions into their Regimes?"

As mentioned in a recent post, this time of year students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are advancing research projects/papers around topics of their choosing, and they are starting to gear up for in-class presentations.  The presentation includes the requirement that they provide for posting here materials/links with background reading and information for the discussion they will lead.  This coming week a student will be discussing the topic that serves as the title of this post, and here is his description of his plans:

I will examine how minorities have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs and the consequences we still face today as a result of this enforcement.  I will focus on the regimes that various states have put in place to address social equity, proposals states/localities are currently facing, the challenges of implementing these types of regimes, and what I consider the best solution to the social equity issue.  Below are sources for the presentation: the first two examine why social equity regimes are necessary; the next three discuss regimes in place and the issues they have faced.

  1. Trevor Hughes, New Marijuana Laws in 2019 Could Help Black and Drug Dealers go Legal, USA Today (Feb. 21, 2019)

  2. Janell Ross, Legal Marijuana Made Big Promises on Racial Equity – and Fell Short, NBC News (Dec. 31, 2018) .

  3. State Medical Marijuana Social Equity Plan Comparison

  4. Laura Hancock, Judge Tosses Ohio Medical Marijuana License Requirements for Minority GroupsCleveland.com (Nov. 16, 2018) 

  5. Celene Adams, Challenges – and Controversy – Swirl Around Marijuana Social Equity Programs in California, Marijuana Business Daily (Nov. 29, 2018)

March 2, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)