Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, November 12, 2021

"Maximizing Social Equity as a Pillar of Public Administration: An Examination of Dispensary Licensing in Pennsylvania"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new preprint authored by Lee Hannah, Daniel Mallinson and Lauren Azevedo. (Note: This research received supported from the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, which I help direct.)   Here is the paper's abstract:

Public administration upholds four key pillars for administrative practice: economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and social equity.  The question arises, however, how do administrators balance these often-competing priorities when implementing policy?  Can the values which contributed to administrative decisions be measured? 

This study leverages the expansion of medical cannabis programs in the states to interrogate these questions.  Focusing on the awarding of dispensary licenses in Pennsylvania affords the ability to determine the effect of social equity scoring on license award decision, relative to criteria that represent the other pillars of public administration.  The results show that safety and business acumen were the most important determining factors in the awarding of licenses, both effectiveness and efficiency concerns. Social equity does not emerge as a significant determinant.

November 12, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Menthols and Racial Capitalism: A History of Tobacco Profiteering in Black Urban Spaces"

Download (11)The title of this post is the title of an exciting event sponsored by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  Here is a description of the event from this registration page:

Long seen by the tobacco industry as a consumer segment of consumers ripe for exploitation, urban communities of color have endured vicious decades of deceit and disregard for their health as the targets of menthol cigarette advertising.  Menthols comprise some 30 percent of a shrinking tobacco market in the United States.

As the industry and its supporters in public office move to protect their profits from a federal ban, Dr. Wailoo offers a detailed account of how advertising firms explicitly capitalized on poverty, alienation, and drug use to carve a menthol market out of urban space.   This effort, which started in the 1950s and lasted decades, followed the tobacco industry’s false framing of menthol cigarettes as a safer, even healthful alternative for smokers beginning in the 1920s. 

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center for a moderated discussion with Professor Keith Wailoo, author of Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette, Dr. Amy Fairchild, dean of The Ohio State University College of Public Health, and DEPC Visiting Assistant Professor Sarah Brady Siff.

Again, registration for this event is available at this link.

October 11, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 27, 2021

"Fair Lending for Cannabis Banking Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece authored by Benjamin Seymour now on SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This Comment offers a fair lending solution to promote racial equity in federal cannabis banking reform: amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to ensure individuals previously arrested, charged, or convicted for selling, cultivating, or possessing marijuana will not therefore be precluded from loans to start legal cannabis businesses. Given disparities in the criminal enforcement of marijuana laws, this amendment would provide racial justice benefits, while also encouraging entrepreneurship.  As a market-based social justice effort, this amendment offers a bipartisan approach to one of the most vexing and contentious issues in marijuana banking reform.

This Comment briefly surveys the federal statutes that have led to an under-banked cannabis industry and discusses the costs of cash for marijuana businesses.  It then examines prior reforms proposed by academics, executive-branch officials, and legislators.  Finally, this Comment explores the racial equity concerns that these proposals fail to address and develops a fair lending approach for justice in marijuana banking reform.

August 27, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

"Cannabis as Treatment for Chronic Pelvic Pain in Women: An Opportunity for the Cannabis Wellness Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Jamie Feyko, a rising 3L 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:  

In a healthcare landscape that routinely ignores women’s pain, many women turn to cannabis to manage their otherwise debilitating chronic pelvic pain caused by conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.  This paper explores how the Controlled Substances Act wrongly characterized cannabis as having “no medicinal value” and the effects this federal illegality still has on women seeking alternative pain management therapies for chronic pelvic pain.  Additionally, this paper explains why and how cannabis helps relieve such pain through discussing the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD on the body’s inflammatory response and the body’s endocannabinoid system.  Women, as the leading consumers in our society, have expressed a need and a desire for products that provide relief from chronic pelvic pain and increase sexual pleasure.  The 2018 Farm Bill opened the doors to CBD businesses looking to break into the women’s sexual and reproductive wellness market.  The market for women-centric CBD pain relief and sexual enjoyment is far from saturated, and this paper encourages those in the CBD industry (or those looking to enter the industry) to take note.

July 20, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Highlighting all the great content in BULR's issue on "Marijuana Law 2020: Lessons From the Past, Ideas for the Future"

Sunday, June 27, 2021

"Seeds of Change: Strategies to create an equitable cannabis industry"

Download (9)The title of this post is the title of this notable new report authored by Janessa Bailey with Leafly.  I recommend the full report's explanation, accounting and scoring of various aspect of social equity in cannabis reform.  Here is how the report gets started:

Over the past decade, cannabis legalization has offered new economic opportunities to hundreds of thousands of people across the United States.  But those opportunities have not been extended to all Americans.

In the nine years since Colorado and Washington first legalized marijuana for all adults, we’ve learned that past inequities and current barriers aren’t erased by simply declaring cannabis legal.

The systems of discrimination built into 80 years of prohibition won’t be erased by hope and wishful thinking. Their dismantling requires proactive steps on the part of state and municipal policymakers.

Cannabis is the nation’s fastest-growing industry.  As of June 2021, 38 states have some form of legalized cannabis, with 19 states and Washington, DC, allowing legal use for all adults.  The $18.3 billion dollar industry now supports 321,000 full-time American jobs, and cannabis entrepreneurship and employment have exploded over the past five years.

But as legalization and the growing cannabis industry have expanded, it has become increasingly clear that opportunities in cannabis are not fairly accessible to all Americans.

Seeds of Change offers eight strategies to create a fair and equitable cannabis industry, assesses each legal adult-use state on its implementation of those strategies, and illuminates the often-hidden barriers that contribute to the current disparities in cannabis.

In other words: Here’s what’s needed, here’s how legal states are doing, and here’s why these strategies are necessary.

June 27, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Expanding how we think about social equity in the cannabis space

I flagged in this post the great Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) event that took place earlier this month titled "Social Equity 2.0: Expanding Horizons."  Though I may be a bit biased, I think this 90-minute event was a terrifically interesting discussion of different ways to think about equity in the marijuana reform space  But do not take my word for it, and everyone can now watch the full event via the video link on this page.  In addition, Alyson Martin of Cannabis Wire authored this effective review of the panel discussion under the headline "What’s the Future of Cannabis Equity?"  Here is how the review gets started:

Today, there is no uniformity in how states with legal cannabis approach equity. In other words, within the state-by-state patchwork of cannabis laws, there exists an equity patchwork, though lessons learned are emerging. 

Last week, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law hosted regulators and policymakers to discuss how cannabis law reform and subsequent rules can be centered on equity and can “lift” communities harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of prohibition. Panelists discussed how regulators can achieve economic empowerment and restorative justice, and how best to reinvest in communities. 

Prior related posts on prior related events:

June 22, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Connecticut on verge of becoming 18th state to fully legalize marijuana (and fifth state in 2021)

Connecticut-recreational-legalization-scaledAs reported in this local article, headlined "A bill legalizing marijuana cleared the Connecticut House of Representatives on Wednesday; the measure could receive final approval in the Senate on Thursday," it looks like the Nutmeg State is now getting very close to legalizing marijuana fully for adult use.  Here are the basics:

Following more than seven hours of debate, the Connecticut House of Representatives avoided a threatened gubernatorial veto and approved a revised bill that would legalize marijuana in the state.

The measure cleared the House by a largely party-line vote of 76 to 62. Twelve Democrats joined all but one Republican -- Rep. Rick Hayes of Putnam -- in voting no. The bill could come up for a final vote in the Senate as soon as Thursday.

“Connecticut’s time has finally come,” declared Rep. Steven Stafstrom, a Democrat from Bridgeport, who helped shepherd the bill through the House. “We take the next step as this chamber in recognizing the war on drugs has failed us and the criminalization of cannabis was the wrong course of action for our state and for our nation.”

Rep. Juan Candelaria, a New Haven Democrat who has been advocating for the legalization of cannabis for years, said the bill has one of the nation’s strongest social equity provisions. “We’re able to repair the wrongs of the past and ensure that these communities who have been disproportionately impacted are made whole,’' Candelaria said.

The sweeping, 300-page bill, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, contains a number of provisions, from setting limits on THC content to funding programs to address addiction and mental health. But for many lawmakers, the most vexing part of the legislation is the equity section, which is designed to provide those hurt by the criminalization of cannabis would have an expedited opportunity to enter the potentially lucrative market.

Paul Mounds, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff, said an earlier version of the bill did “not meet the goals laid out during negotiations when it comes to equity and ensuring the wrongs of the past are righted.”

At a briefing before the debate began, House Speaker Matt Ritter said most members of the Democratic caucus are comfortable removing the language Lamont finds objectionable. After all, he said, it was not part of the original bill that lawmakers crafted in coordination with Lamont’s office.

The bill’s equity provision was a key sticking point, but it wasn’t the only issue some lawmakers found objectionable. Republicans expressed opposition to the very notion of a legal marijuana market, saying it would lead to a rise in crime, a spike in addiction and a host of other societal ills. Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said his criticism of the measure is based on science. He cited a study by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that found marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds rose in states that legalized cannabis. “Youth use will increase,’' he said.

Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, noted that much of the marijuana debate focused on equity and the marijuana marketplace. “I know there are good people in this chamber,’' she said. “I know this is motivated by wanting to right the wrongs of the past ... please, this is not the way.”...

Not all of the opponents were Republicans. Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a moderate Democrat from Westport, said he has long struggled with marijuana legalization. “This is a tough vote,’' Steinberg said. “Frankly no state to date has done well in their first pass in introducing marijuana. ... I’m still uncomfortable. I fully expect we will be back next year and the year after that making needed changes to ensure safety and reliability and equity.” Steinberg introduced and later pulled an amendment that would have barred “home grown” cannabis in Connecticut. He ultimately voted yes on the bill....

Debate over the question of social equity unfolded over the past few days, creating chaos at the Capitol and at one point, throwing the fate of legalization into question. The earlier version of the bill backed by Lamont contained a geographic definition of equity, giving preference to people from cities that have borne the brunt of the war on drugs. But late Tuesday, right before the Senate was scheduled to vote on the bill, the equity provision was changed to include people with prior marijuana convictions.

At a press conference Wednesday, Jason Rojas, the House majority leader who helped craft the legislation, said it makes sense to him that people who have been hurt by the criminalization of cannabis are among those who are first in line for a license. “I think it’s appropriate to consider someone’s criminal history in terms of defining an equity applicant,” Rojas said. Ritter, however, echoed some of Lamont’s concerns. “Do I think that you should get a leg up because you got pinched [for] marijuana at 19 at Wesleyan? No, I don’t,” he told reporters before the House session began.

The marijuana legalization effort has stalled for at least five years at the Capitol. But this year, it appeared to have fresh momentum and Lamont’s strong support. Despite that, the bill only came up for debate in the Senate for the first time last week. The Senate approved the bill but because time ran out before the House could vote, the legislature convened in a special session this week to take up the bill.

June 17, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

"Achieving Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Samuel DeWitt, 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:  

As legal cannabis begins to infiltrate most American states and public support grows for federal legalization, the national discussion has shifted from if cannabis should be legalized to how it should be legalized.  A significant part of this debate has centered around the need to use cannabis legalization to address the lasting harm done to communities of color through federal prohibition.  A fair and just framework for the legal cannabis industry cannot be achieved without sufficient efforts to foster social equity within the industry and to right the wrongs done by decades of prohibition.  While most states with legal cannabis have recognized this issue and have taken some steps to address it, state action as a whole has been mostly ineffective and does not adequately reflect the scale of the problem.  This paper argues that broad federal action is needed to achieve true social equity in the cannabis industry, action that goes beyond recognizing the problems and works to change the stigma surrounding drug use and its historical relation to communities of color.

June 9, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

DEPC event: "Social Equity 2.0: Expanding Horizons"

Social-Equity-2.0-Expanding-Horizons_for-socialI am pleased to spotlight another great Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) event taking place next week titled "Social Equity 2.0: Expanding Horizons."  This is how this event, which is on June 9 at 1pm EDT, is described on this page (where you can register):

Despite enthusiasm from policymakers and hard work by government regulators, many feel that the promise of social equity in the cannabis industry remains elusive.  The obstacles are numerous, ranging from legal challenges, to difficulties with implementation, to weak policy provisions.  Is it time to rethink cannabis social equity?

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center for a virtual event that brings together a panel of experts who are imagining a different framework to achieve the goal of healing the harms of past prohibition and lift communities affected by the War on Drugs.  Panelists will discuss ways to expand the horizons of how we achieve social equity.

 

Panelists:
Douglas A. Berman, executive director, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center
Amber Marks, lawyer and lecturer, Queen Mary University of London
Cat Packer, executive director, Department of Cannabis Regulation, City of Los Angeles
Dan Riffle, policy analyst on substance abuse treatment and prevention, District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health

 

Moderator:
Shaleen Title, distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, and vice-chair, Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition

Prior related posts on prior related event:

June 2, 2021 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Equity getting lots of attention, but still much work to do, as social justice becomes centered in marijuana reform efforts

Social-Equity-2.0-Lessons-from-the-States_for-video2I flagged in this post the great Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) event that took place last week titled "Social Equity 2.0: Lessons From Recent State Developments."  Though I may be a bit biased, I think this 90-minute event was a spectacular review by spectacular speakers of the importance and the challenges of centering social justice and equity issues in modern marijuana reform.  But do not take my word for it, and everyone can now watch the full event via the video link on this page.  In addition, Jimi Devine at The Village Voice did this thorough review of the panel discussion under the headline "The Time Has Come for Cannabis Equity." Here is how the review gets started:

As cannabis legalization enters its newest phase with social equity dominating the conversation, Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law hosted an advocate and regulator-packed panel to map out a path to Social Equity 2.0.

The Tri-State was well represented on the panel. Incoming New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission chair Dianna Houenou spoke to how the issue had been embedded from the start in her new state agency. Minority Cannabis Business Association President Jason Ortiz spoke about the current effort in Connecticut to put equity front and center in the conversation.

The pair were joined by Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker’s senior advisor for cannabis control, Toi Hutchinson, and former Massachusetts Cannabis Commission member Shaleen Title. Both have championed the issue in their respective states over the years. Politico’s Natalie Fertig led the conversation.

Meanwhile, I have see a lot more significant coverage of equity issues in all sorts of distinct media in recent weeks. Here is a sampling:

From the AP, "Marijuana social equity: Seeds planted but will they grow?"

From Brookings, "State cannabis reform is putting social justice front and center"

From MJBizDaily, "New York’s marijuana social equity program eyed as possible game changer"

From Self, "What Will It Take to Build a Truly Equitable Cannabis Industry?"

May 6, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Effective coverage of marijuana expungement efforts and work still to do

Marijuana-record-relief-map.4.29.21-1024x890The PBS News Hour has this great new and lengthy piece about marijuana expungement laws and practices under the headline "As more states legalize marijuana, people with drug convictions want their records cleared."  Regular readers know I have long been invested in these issues  (see my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"), and I am especially pleased that folks at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center worked with folks at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center to create the national map found in the PBS piece and reprinted here.  I recommend the PBS piece in full, and here are some excerpts:

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana over the last nine years, and industry advocates have applauded measures to de-stigmatize the substance and bring major revenue to state coffers.  But for people with lingering drug convictions like Michael, the news has raised more questions about what legalization means for their criminal records.

Currently in Virginia, “you have to go through all these hoops and loopholes to actually have an expungement,” Michael said.  This may soon change.  Like many other states that recently legalized marijuana, Virginia lawmakers included provisions in their legislation that over several years will allow for the automatic expungement of certain marijuana convictions, meaning people like Michael may one day see their records cleared without having to petition to do so.

Such measures signal a broader effort by lawmakers to right the wrongs of the war on drugs, a decades-long campaign by federal and state governments to crack down on use of illegal drugs that also helped incarceration balloon in the U.S.  States have begun to legalize substances like marijuana that have disproportionately imprisoned Black and brown Americans over the last 50 years, affecting their access to employment, education and housing.  Racial justice advocates argue that state legislatures should not consider legalization bills unless they include proposals to help people easily expunge their records, as well as eliminate some of the barriers to entry Americans of color face when looking for work in the cannabis industry.

But just as states did not legalize recreational marijuana overnight, the lingering effects of the war on drugs are not likely to quickly disappear.  Though Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pushed to make cannabis legal in the state by the beginning of July, for example, many expungement provisions in the legalization and record-sealing laws are not set to take full effect until 2025 as state police and courts need time to update their computer systems and processes.

As a result, many Americans with marijuana charges on their records are currently living in a grey area, cautiously optimistic about the wave of legalization taking place but unclear what it means for their future.  “[Politicians] are making strides toward being really liberal and legalizing [weed], and that’s cool, but at the same time I served 10 years for this,” said Harry Kelso, another Virginia resident who served time in prison for possession and distribution.  “So at some point, I feel like I deserve some reparations.”...

Pauline Quirion, director of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) & Re-Entry Project at Greater Boston Legal Services and an adviser to Mass CultivatED program participants, said she thinks it’s a good sign when she works with clients seeking to seal or expunge their records because it means they’re focused on securing a career.  She said that the adverse effects of a criminal record are evident from their experiences with the job search process. “Some clients have applied for like 200 jobs and they’re rejected, but they keep applying,” she said.  “So you have to have a lot of stamina to find employment.”...

David Schlussel, an expert on marijuana expungement with the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, said recent efforts to pass laws to expunge marijuana records in states such as Virginia, New Mexico, and Arizona signal a greater awareness of the harmful impact cannabis continues to have on communities targeted by the criminal justice system.  He said that when states first began legalizing recreational marijuana 10 years ago, they rarely considered legislation that would help people clear their records.  Campaign messaging to promote the new laws in states such as Colorado and Washington was usually driven by consumerism and tax benefits rather than racial justice.  Schlussel said this began to change as lawmakers began to emphasize the necessity of racial justice in marijuana reform in their messages to voters, which in turn gave it more political capital.

More than 20 states have passed reforms related to marijuana expungement, Schlussel said, with outcomes ranging from automatic pardons for a broad range of offenses to the possibility of expungement for a narrower set of charges.  But once these laws are on the books, states could very well face challenges getting a variety of marijuana charges expunged, he added.  While states like New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico recently passed bills to automatically expunge a wide range of marijuana offenses from people’s records, others have pursued approaches that are resource-intensive and still include a number of hurdles for people who want their offenses cleared.

In Arizona, where recreational marijuana recently became legal, expungement is possible but not automatic.  Julie Gunnigle, who ran unsuccessfully for Maricopa County attorney in the fall, said clearing Arizonans’ records is dependent on the support of county attorneys and the state’s attorney general, making it subject to the whims of politicians who may not necessarily be inclined to clear a broad swath of charges.  Although Gunnigle praised the “first-of-its-kind” expungement law that recently passed along with legalization, she added that “it is now going to be incumbent on leaders to find the folks who are eligible or those who are eligible to come forward and file these petitions if they want to get justice.”

May 4, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Equity in Cannabis Agriculture"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article now available via SSRN and authored by Ryan Stoa. Here is its abstract:

Cannabis legalization is celebrated by many as a long-overdue rectification of a drug policy that has oppressed and incarcerated vulnerable people and communities for decades.  But as the legalization era continues and the legal cannabis industry starts to take shape, legalization advocates and industry stakeholders must reckon with a sobering reality: the benefits of legalization are not being equitably shared, and vulnerable communities that were hit the hardest during the war on drugs are not well represented in legal cannabis markets.

This reality is as true for stakeholders of cannabis agriculture as it is for other sectors of the cannabis industry.  As the first step in the supply chain, the cultivation of cannabis sets the tone for the industry as a whole.  A well-regulated, equitable, and sustainable cannabis agriculture industry has significant catalytic potential for downstream market participants.  Unfortunately, however, the cannabis agriculture industry suffers from many equity shortfalls.

This Essay will explore three of these shortfalls: (1) access to agricultural lands and start-up capital, (2) cultivation licenses and state distribution of benefits, and (3) labor standards and farmworker protections.  While there are many more equity issues facing cannabis agriculture, this Essay shines a light on these three while identifying areas of concern for future research.  It is clear that stakeholders of cannabis agriculture, including regulators and business owners, can and should prioritize equity and participation in the development of their industry.

May 4, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

DEPC event: "Social Equity 2.0: Lessons From Recent State Developments"

Social-Equity-2.0-Lessons-from-the-States_for-socialI am pleased to spotlight a great Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) event taking place tomorrow afternoon titled "Social Equity 2.0: Lessons From Recent State Developments."  This is how this event is described on this page (where you can register):

In recent years, social equity has become a routine part of conversations surrounding cannabis legalization.  Yet, despite the stated goals of political leaders and various efforts of multiple states, challenges with implementing robust social equity programs persist.

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center for a virtual panel event that brings together experts from states whose recent cannabis legalizations include social equity provisions.  Panelists will discuss their state’s experience, lessons learned, and focus areas for federal legislators and regulators as they begin considering cannabis legalization nationwide.

 

Speakers:
Dianna Houenou, senior policy advisor and associate counsel, Office of the Governor, State of New Jersey, and incoming chair, New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission
Toi Hutchinson, senior advisor for cannabis control, Office of the Governor, State of Illinois
Jason Ortiz, president, Minority Cannabis Business Association, and board member, Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Shaleen Title, distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, and vice-chair, Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition

Moderator:
Natalie Fertig, federal cannabis policy reporter, POLITICO

April 27, 2021 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

"Inequitable Marijuana Criminalization, COVID-19, and Socioeconomic Disparities: The Case for Community Reinvestment in New York"

PSP_DPA-report-cover-231x300The title of this post is the title of this notable new report released today by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Public Science Project at the Graduate Center, CUNY.  Here are parts of the 30-page report's executive summary:

The prevalence of substantial racial disparities in marijuana arrests is well established.  In 2018, New York City Comptroller Stringer released a report documenting how disparities in marijuana policing fall along both racial and socioeconomic lines.  This research expands upon that work in two important ways:

1. We explore whether the same disparities occurred in other areas of New York State, including Syracuse, New Rochelle, and Buffalo.

2. We additionally analyzed social vulnerability and COVID-19 rates to assess whether the communities who have been most impacted by marijuana policing are also disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.

New York City, New Rochelle, Syracuse, and Buffalo were selected to present a holistic picture of marijuana prohibition, racial inequities in arrests, and health disparities across the state. The four case studies are all in the top seven largest cities in New York State and were chosen to represent different regions within the state, as well as economic, educational, and racial diversity.

In each city we identified the zip codes with the highest and lowest rates of marijuana-related arrests and compared averages between the two groups on a number of indicators.  For ease of reading, we use the terms “high marijuana arrest zip codes” and “low marijuana arrest zip codes” to refer to these groupings.  However, there were two exceptions to this procedure.  First, due to New Rochelle’s small size, there were not enough zip codes to generate averages, so the data presented reflects the single zip codes with the highest and lowest arrest rate. Second, as the NYPD data on marijuana arrests is organized by precinct rather than zip code, we analyzed the data for New York City by precinct. 

Arrests and Race

The analysis suggests that similar disparities in marijuana policing are occurring in New York City, Syracuse, New Rochelle, and Buffalo.  In all four cities, marijuana arrests are disproportionately concentrated in communities of color.  In Syracuse, which reports the home zip code of those arrested, rather than where the arrest occurred, marijuana arrests disproportionately affect those who live in communities of color.  People of color are consistently over-represented in marijuana arrests, and areas with the highest marijuana arrest rates also tend to have proportionally larger populations of color.

Social Vulnerability Index

The Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) is a measure created by the Centers for Disease Control that uses 15 social factors (e.g. poverty, lack of vehicle access, crowded housing) in order to assess the ability of a community to prevent suffering and loss in the wake of disaster and disease.  As it is difficult to assess the numerous impacts of COVID-19 on a community, we compared SVI scores for the high and low marijuana arrest zip codes in each city.  High marijuana arrest areas consistently ranked higher on SVI scores than low marijuana arrest zip codes, indicating increased vulnerability during public health emergencies.

Median Household Income, Poverty, and SNAP

Across all four cities, the high marijuana arrest zip codes demonstrate more socioeconomic deprivation compared to the low marijuana arrest zip codes.  In each city, the average poverty rate was notably higher among the high marijuana arrest zip codes. High marijuana arrest zip codes consistently have nearly half the median household income of the low marijuana arrest zip codes (except for New Rochelle, where the disparity is even greater).  Across all four cities, the average percentage of families receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in high marijuana arrest zip codes was at least 3 times greater than in low marijuana arrest zip codes.

Homeownership, and Median Home Value

Socioeconomic disparities were also evident in housing.  In every city, we observed that high marijuana arrest zip codes had both lower rates of home ownerships and lower median home values than low marijuana arrest zip codes.

COVID-19 Rates and Health Insurance

Across all cities, we found higher average COVID-19 positivity rates among the high marijuana arrest zip codes compared to the low marijuana arrest zip codes.  However, it should be noted that we were unable to find data for three zip codes in Syracuse due to the lack of standardized reporting of COVID-19 data across New York State. Even so, the connection between racial and social inequities and COVID-19 has been thoroughly documented elsewhere.  We also found that, on average, a slightly larger percentage of people under 65 are uninsured among the high marijuana arrest areas than the low marijuana arrest zip codes.

Conclusion

Despite regional differences, New York City, New Rochelle, Syracuse, and Buffalo demonstrate similar trends.  People of color are over-represented in marijuana arrests, and high marijuana arrest zip codes are characterized by larger communities of color and greater socioeconomic deprivation.  There is also evidence to suggest that high marijuana arrest zip codes are more severely impacted by COVID-19.

March 17, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 30, 2020

"Preventing Industry Abuse of Cannabis Equity Program"

The title of this post is the title of this paper authored by Daniel G. Orenstein recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Enforcement disparities have pervaded the history of U.S. drug control laws, particularly regarding cannabis.  These disparities have systemically disadvantaged persons of color and other communities.  Responding to these inequities, some state cannabis legalization campaigns have emphasized social justice goals, and states and localities have adopted cannabis social equity programs directed toward communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.  These programs encourage and assist individuals from target communities in entering the legal cannabis industry by offering access to grants, loans, and technical assistance and providing priority or preference in licensure, a significant advantage in a competitive industry. 

Equity programs serve laudable goals but must be structured to mitigate the risk of corporate abuses that threaten public health.  The history of tobacco control in particular offers cautionary examples of how for-profit industries can infiltrate communities by leveraging targeted marketing, building political relationships, and operating disproportionately in underprivileged areas.  Equity programs’ focus on disadvantaged communities may inadvertently allow this damaging history to repeat in the cannabis industry to the detriment of the communities equity programs seek to help.  This Article explores pathways that could lead to industry abuse, surveys possible restrictions within a for-profit market, and assesses options for alternative market structures, including government monopoly, mandatory nonprofit status, and mandatory public benefit company status.  Among these options, compulsory public benefit status offers the best combination of current legal feasibility and advancement of social equity goals. 

November 30, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Noticing how marijuana reform contributes to regulator diversity even with much equity work ahead

Download (14)Because there has historically been a general lack of diversity in all sorts of government positions, I would guess that state administrators and regulators have not typically been an especially diverse bunch.  But, when Cat Packer in 2017 was appointed the first Executive Director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation, I started noticing the efforts in some quarters to try to ensure state and local marijuana regulators reflected more of the diversity of our great nation.  (Just some of a number of other notable regulators in this space include Toi Hutchinson in Illinois, Shaleen Title in Massachusetts, Marisa Rodriguez in San Francisco.)

These stories came to mind as I saw this story out of New Jersey from The Root, headlined "America Has Yet to Achieve Racial Equity in Cannabis Reform. New Jersey Is Hoping Dianna Houenou Can Change That."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

[A] third of Americans (more than 111 million total) now live in states where adults can legally purchase pot.  But although reform is sweeping the nation, with dispensaries popping up everywhere from Oakland and Denver to Baltimore and Chicago, America’s “green rush” has yet to substantially uplift the communities most harmed by the country’s devastating “war on drugs.”  Instead, white business-owners and large corporations have disproportionately benefited from cannabis reform, prompting fresh concerns about what the future of marijuana legalization holds for the Black and Latinx communities who suffered the most from America’s punitive drug policies.

New Jersey hopes to change that narrative.  On Friday morning, Gov. Phil Murphy appointed Dianna Houenou, a senior advisor with an extensive background in criminal justice reform, to lead the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will be charged with shaping the state’s cannabis laws and ensuring that the communities devastated by the New Jersey’s drug policies reap the benefits of the burgeoning industry.

“Dianna has been a critical voice for social justice and equity on my team for the past year and a half after spending several years working on the fight to legalize marijuana with the ACLU,” Gov. Murphy told The Root in a statement. “Her commitment to doing what is right and to leaving no one behind has powered our criminal justice reform agenda, and I am immensely proud that she will be continuing that commitment as Chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission.”

“Since day one, we have said that the legalization of recreational marijuana must prioritize the communities marginalized and decimated by the failed War on Drugs,” Murphy added.  “I know that Dianna is the perfect person to lead our state’s effort to create a marketplace for recreational marijuana that is equitable, fair, and inclusive of all communities.”...

New Jersey is the most populous of all the states that legalized recreational marijuana this week, and the first state in the mid-Atlantic to do so — leading Pennsylvania and New York, where lawmakers have long discussed legalization but have disagreed on how to do so.  In New York, a major part of that disagreement has stemmed from questions around equity and accessibility.  Nationwide, Black and Latinx Americans aren’t leading cannabis operations in significant numbers, nor have they been leading regulation or law-making efforts....

Working to make cannabis reform equitable will be no small task for Houenou and the commission, particularly in a state like New Jersey, where, despite similar rates of marijuana usage, Black people are 3.45 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people.  As recently as 2016, the Garden State spent $669.3 million to enforce restrictive drug policies, “despite the grave racial inequities in fuels,” writes Insider New Jersey.

Because the country has yet to really get equity in the cannabis industry right, Houenou will be leading New Jersey into uncharted territory.  But if successful, the state could very well be a model for the region and the country at large.

Houenou isn’t going it alone.  She has the full support of Gov. Murphy, who made marijuana legalization a signature part of his 2017 election campaign.  She also understands that making cannabis reform truly equitable will be a holistic process requiring education, advocacy and buy-in from a variety of stakeholders, from law enforcement to those who lost years of their lives to drug prohibition policies.  For her and the commission, equity won’t be an afterthought, as it has been in other places.  “We really are looking to make sure that equity is built into a regulated structure at the onset,” she said.

Houenou stresses that under her leadership, nothing would be off the table for the commission.  This includes policies already existing in other places, including prioritizing permits for those who live in neighborhoods impacted by harsh drug policies, as well as individuals who have been entangled in the court system specifically for cannabis offenses. But she’s also interested in exploring — and breaking down — other barriers to entry and ensuring that revenue from these burgeoning businesses goes back into Black communities.

November 8, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Noticing how hemp reform indirectly became criminal justice reform in Texas

JzOybXdocQLWjml-800x450-noPadLong-time readers know that my focus on marijuana reform began with, and is still situated deeply within, my eagerness for criminal justice reforms.   And though I remain concerned that the marijuana reform movement and broader debate still fails give enough attention to criminal justice issues, I always like seeing new stories of how the movement can have criminal justice reform success even in unexpected ways.  One such story can be found in Texas, as reported here by Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment under the headline "Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet In Texas After Hemp Legalization, New State Data Shows." Here are details:

Marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, new state data shows, and that trend seems connected to the legalization of the plant’s non-intoxicating cousin hemp.

While marijuana remains illegal in Texas, the policy change around hemp in mid-2019 created complications for law enforcement since the two forms of the cannabis crop are often indistinguishable to the naked eye. Police have said that, because of this, they can’t consistently charge people without conducting lab analyses of seized cannabis for THC content.

According to data released last week by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), that appears to have led to a significant decline in marijuana arrests.   In 2018, there were about 63,000 marijuana [arrests in total] in the state [data here] — and that went down to just over 45,000 arrests in 2019 [data here].

Prosecutors have dismissed hundreds of low-level cannabis cases since hemp was legalized. And state officials announced in February that labs wouldn’t be performing testing in misdemeanor cases, with DPS saying it “will not have the capacity to accept those.” Cannabis manufacturing arrests also dropped significantly since hemp’s legalization — from about 2,700 in 2018 to about 1,900 in 2019.

Municipalities across the state have jumped at the chance to push through local cannabis reforms in recent months. The El Paso City Council approved a measure in May that encourages police to issue citations for low-level marijuana cases instead of making arrests.  In January, the Austin City Council approved a resolution aimed at ending arrests for simple cannabis possession. The city’s police department said in July that they “will no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor ‘possession of marijuana’ offenses, unless there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony.”

A cite-and-release program in San Antonio led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of arrests for small amounts of marijuana, according to data released by the local police department....

Last year, the House voted to approve a decriminalization bill that would’ve made possession of one ounce or less of cannabis punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time, but it filed to advance to a Senate floor vote by the end of the session.

I am not sure the significant reduction in arrests for marijuana possession in Texas in 2019 can or should be wholly or even mostly attributed to hemp reform, but hemp reform was likely one of a number of factors that played an important contributing role.  And, as I have highlighted in some prior posts here and here, it will be fascinating to follow 2020 arrest data to see how the health challenges of COVID and the moral challenge of calls for racial justice might be impacting marijuana prohibition's continued enforcement in Texas and nationwide.

But, to make sure an important reality is not lost, we ought not lose sight of the fact that even at reduced arrest rates in 2019, on average well over 100 people were being arrested every single day in Texas for merely possessing marijuana.  (And, as we see everywhere, blacks were greatly over-represented among those arrested: though only about 12% of the Texas population is black, over 30% of those arrested for possessing marijuana in Texas in 2019 were black.)

September 10, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Is the Black Lives Matter movement now significantly advancing the marijuana reform movement?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Politico piece.  The headline, "Black Lives Matter movement sparks 'collective awakening' on marijuana policies," and the start of the piece suggests the answer to the question is yes:

States and cities across the country have overhauled their marijuana policies in recent months, propelled by the Black Lives Matter protests over racial inequality and police brutality.

Since protests began in early June, many states and municipalities have adopted new cannabis regulations. Nashville, Tenn., stopped prosecuting minor marijuana possession cases.  Portland, Ore., redirected all cannabis tax revenue away from the Portland Police Bureau.  Colorado’s Legislature passed a long-stalled proposal to address social equity and scrap old marijuana convictions, and Sonoma County, Calif., and New York state expanded their programs to erase cannabis criminal records....

Cannabis was legalized in Colorado almost eight years ago, but without a social equity program or the expungement of cannabis-related convictions.  Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Singer first pushed for expungement of cannabis records in 2014 and has pressed for marijuana possession charges to be wiped ever since.

But Singer said it was the protests around racial justice that finally got the proposal to the governor’s desk with strong bipartisan support — the social equity and expungements bill only garnered one “no” vote in the state Senate.  Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill into law at the end of June.

But as the article continues, it becomes less clear if anything really big is changing with marijuana reform as racial justice gets more attention:

[M]any of the states and cities that did change their marijuana policies were already moving in that direction. Nashville spent the last six years reducing the number of marijuana arrests, before the protests motivated District Attorney General Glenn Funk to stop prosecuting possession entirely.  Portland was already reassessing where cannabis tax revenue was directed, and the “defund the police” movement provided the catalyst for the city council to change the budget. In many of these cases, conversations around racial justice simply pushed legislation over the finish line in a jurisdiction that was already working on it.

And it’s clear that the racial justice conversation has not convinced the most vocal skeptics.  In Pennsylvania, for example, the state lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police is not changing its anti-legalization position.  Even some Democratic lawmakers in the state remain unconvinced about the current legalization effort, despite the demonstrations....

On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear that racial justice protests have affected the motivation to pass marijuana policy reform.  While many of the issue’s most prominent advocates have been silent on federal legalization in the last two months, House leaders are now considering a vote on the MORE Act — which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge some records — sometime this fall....

In June, Congress tried to reach an agreement on police reform.  The House passed a sweeping policing bill largely along partisan lines.  Senate Republicans introduced a more modest package of reforms, which Senate Democrats ultimately killed because it did not go far enough.  Missing from either chamber’s proposal was anything that would overhaul federal marijuana policies. Even many of the most ardent champions of marijuana legalization as criminal justice reform were silent.

A few of may prior related posts:

August 9, 2020 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)