Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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

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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)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"Growing Marijuana Industry Struggles To Attract Employees Of Color"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new NPR piece.  Here are excerpts:

As marijuana becomes legal around the country, blacks and Latinos are often left out of new business opportunities. Advocates say people of color are often reluctant to join the growing legal marijuana economy because they were targeted far more often than whites during the war on drugs. Studies show members of such communities were arrested and jailed for illegal marijuana use far more often than whites.

As Massachusetts developed laws for legal marijuana, officials wrote what they claimed was a first-in-the-nation Social Equity Program explicitly to give members of those communities a leg up. But this part of the state law isn't working — next to no black or Latino candidates have applied for licenses in Massachusetts.

They're scared of the government. "They're scared of the government, man," said Sieh Samura, an outspoken cannabis activist. "This is still a new thing. And there's taxes, there's the government, there's all kinds of things, you know. Just because people say it's legal ... it's not welcoming for everybody."

Studies show that blacks and Latinos nationwide have been arrested and incarcerated for cannabis and other drug crimes at at least four times the rate of whites. The long-term effects of the war on drugs launched in the 1970s are still evident in many communities of color.

So, the city of Somerville, Mass., passed an ordinance requiring that 50 percent of recreational marijuana licenses go to black and Latino applicants. "We want to make sure that everyone has a real authentic opportunity to participate in that economy in the future," said Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. "If not, we start to lose the fabric and soul of our community. And then social inequity becomes greater, becomes vaster, and we can't allow that to happen. We're a pro-growth community, but we want to make sure regular folks are able to participate in that."...

To be a model for others, Samura and his wife Leah created a recreational marijuana business called 612 Studios. For months they've been coming to a massive marijuana cultivation facility in Milford, Mass., to participate in The Sira Accelerator, a 12-week program designed to get more people of color into the industry by doing everything from raising money, to helping with marketing, packaging and distribution.

This program is run by Sira Naturals, which grows marijuana and creates products for its own medical dispensaries and some other recreational businesses. Mike Dundas, Sira Naturals' CEO, said the company wants to help longtime marijuana advocates, like the Samuras, or folks who have been dabbling in the illegal pot market. "We see our program, the Sira Accelerator, as sort of offering a hand to those who've been operating — and have skill and passion and dedication to cannabis products — in the illicit marketplace, to come to the regulated side, to get on the books and help facilitate the start of their businesses," said Dundas.

In return for the advice and counsel, Sira takes just under a 10 percent stake in the new company. Sira also hopes the accelerator will help it open a recreational shop in Somerville, where it already runs one of three medical dispensaries. The company can't get a recreational license until black or Latino entrepreneurs do because of the city's ordinance. Dundas, who is white, admits he's scrambling to find and mentor people of color who want to open businesses in Somerville to ensure that his company can open a retail shop of its own.

Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies with the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said there have been lots of attempts around the country to help candidates from black and Latino communities, but none have worked. "None of the states have the kind of diversity that we would like to see in the cannabis industry," she said....

"States moving forward are going to look at what happened in Massachusetts," O'Keefe said, "why such good intentions didn't end up bearing as much fruit and as much diversity in the industry as was intended."

UPDATE: Not long after this posting I saw that USA Today has an even fuller discussion of these issues in this new article headlined "Drug laws have historically been racist. Marijuana activists are helping minority dealers go legal." Here is a small piece of a long article worth reading in full:

The war on drugs has for decades disproportionately devastated minority communities by punishing people like Blunt and creating a cycle of poverty, incarceration and limited employment options, legal and social justice experts say.

Now, lawmakers and legalization advocates across the country are demanding not just cannabis legalization but remedies to address decades of demonstrably racist policing, from laws that automatically expunge criminal records for marijuana dealing and possession to policies that would give minority communities assistance in building cannabis businesses....

For many marijuana legalization activists, it's now up to local governments to diversify the legal pot industry by clearing conviction records and handing out subsidies. If white men have unfairly benefited from marijuana legalization, then it's only fair that minority communities be given extra help now because they suffered more, the thinking goes.

"We actually do have to overcorrect," said Kassandra Frederique, 32, the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is lobbying to legalize marijuana in the Empire State. "People from our communities, black and brown communities, were the one first ones to be criminalized. Why shouldn’t we be the first ones to benefit?"

February 21, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

In Virginia city, local judges refuse to allow prosecutor to drop marijuana charges

As reported in this local article, headlined "Norfolk judges unite to block prosecutor from dropping marijuana cases," a fascinating tussle has broken out as an elected prosecutor tries to move away from criminally prosecuting marijuana offenders.  Here are the details:

The judges on the city’s top court have decided to block Norfolk’s chief prosecutor from essentially decriminalizing marijuana possession, a setback he’s thinking about appealing to the state Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, prosecutors under Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood went to court for at least the third time to try to drop or dismiss misdemeanor marijuana charges. Prosecuting people for having marijuana disproportionately hurts black people and does little to protect public safety, he’s said.

For the third time, a judge rebuffed them, and told prosecutors she’s not alone, but joined by her seven colleagues. “We are of one mind on this,” Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall said.

The decisions adds to the confusion about whether it’s OK to have a small amount of weed in the city. Norfolk police have said they will continue to cite people for misdemeanor marijuana possession as they’ve always done. Circuit Court judges appear determined to make sure offenders are tried, even if the commonwealth’s attorney refuses to prosecute them....

In 2016 and 2017, more than 1,560 people have been charged with first- or second-offense marijuana possession, prosecutor Ramin Fatehi told the judge in court Tuesday. Of them, 81 percent were black in a city that’s 47 percent white and 42 percent black.

This “breeds a reluctance on the part of African Americans, particular young African American men, to trust or cooperate with the justice system,” according to a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office memo announcing the policy changes. “Such prosecution also encourages the perception that the justice system is not focusing its attention on the legitimately dangerous crimes that regrettably are concentrated in these same communities.”

On Tuesday, Hall denied Fatehi’s motion to dismiss charges against Zemont Vaughan. The 24-year-old Norfolk man, who is black, had been convicted in a lower court in October, but on Tuesday, he went to the higher Circuit Court to appeal that conviction.

Prosecutors’ motions to dismiss or drop charges are typically formalities. They don’t generally like giving up on cases, so when they make what amounts to an admission of defeat, judges almost always grant them. Not this time.

Hall told Fatehi she and the other seven judges think the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney is trespassing on the state legislature’s territory: making laws. The judge said Fatehi made an “extremely compelling case” with his statistics on racial disparities, but should pitch it to lawmakers in Richmond.

“I believe this is an attempt to usurp the power of the state legislature,” Hall said. “This is a decision that must be made by the General Assembly, not by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.”

Fatehi countered: Underwood is exercising the executive power voters gave him when they elected him the city’s top prosecutor. Part of the job is prosecutorial discretion, or deciding which laws should be enforced, especially since he has a limited amount of resources. In contrast to the misdemeanor possession charges, Underwood’s lawyers will keep prosecuting people accused of trafficking or dealing marijuana. “This is an exercise of our discretion,” Fatehi said.

Fatehi said Underwood is thinking about asking the state Supreme Court to reverse the judges’ decisions, adding that he’s “very close” to making a decision.

Lots can be said on the substance of the decisions being made by the city prosecutor and city judges in this case, but I will be content for now (1) to note that broad prosecutorial discretion in charging (and not charging) is the norm, and (2) to wonder aloud how prosecutions could or would move forward in these cases if city prosecutors refuse to be involved.  And, finally, this story highlights yet again how disparate marijuana enforcement seems to be everywhere and how interesting legal issues surrounds all kinds of modern marijuana reform efforts.

February 17, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Marijuana Enforcement in New York State, 1990-2017"

Logo (1)The title of this post is the headline of this notable new research brief produced by the Data Collaborative for Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  This brief provides lots of interesting data within this research project, and it starts with these four "key findings":

KEY FINDINGS

1.  The number and rate of arrests for marijuana possession were higher in 2017 than in 1990 for the State as a whole and for New York City, Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State but the number and rate of arrests were lower in 2017 than the peaks in New York City and Upstate Cities;

2.  In 2017, in New York City, the vast majority of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests (~93%) were for possession of marijuana in public view or public consumption whereas for the Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State, significant percentages of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests were for possession of between 25 grams to 8 ounces (~60% and ~30% respectively);

3.  At the state-level, 18-20 year-olds consistently had the highest rates of arrest for marijuana possession, mostly driven by the higher rates of arrest for this group in New York City, but there was more variability by age in Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State; and

4.  Across all three geographic areas, Blacks and Hispanics consistently had higher rates of arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession compared to Whites, these racial differences in arrest rates widened over the study period and, in 2017, the racial differences in arrest rates were wider for the Upstate Cities and the Rest of the State compared to New York City.

February 11, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

"In the age of luxury cannabis, it’s time to talk about Drug War reparations"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new commentary piece authored by Jenni Avins appearing in Quartz. I recommend the piece in full, here is its powerful start:

Since California legalized recreational cannabis in January 2018, pot enthusiasts in posh sections of Los Angeles can sleep easily with a few drops of CBD oil under the tongue. They can stroll into dispensaries such as MedMen, the chain touted as the “Apple store of weed,” which recently reported quarterly revenues of $20 million. On Venice Boulevard, shiny sedans toting surfboards drive past posters for Dosist vape pens and billboards for delivery services such as Eaze, a San Francisco-based startup that has raised some $52 million in venture capital.

In places like this, weed is chic. But just a few freeway exits away, in largely black and Latino neighborhoods where cannabis was aggressively policed for decades, people saddled with criminal convictions for possessing or selling the plant still fight to clear criminal records standing in the way of basic necessities: employment, a rental apartment, or a loan. Marijuana legalization and the businesses that profit from it are accelerating faster than efforts to expunge criminal records, and help those affected by them participate in the so-called “Green Boom.” And the legal cannabis industry is in danger of becoming one more chapter in a long American tradition of disenfranchising people of color.

Here is more:

As the US teeters at the tipping point for marijuana going mainstream, it’s increasingly apparent that people and communities who were disproportionately punished for its criminalization were wronged. It’s a cruel footnote to the story of the plant’s legalization that punishment for past involvement with cannabis can remain a bar to entry in the lucrative newly legal industry. Now, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, activists, and everyday consumers are asking what reparations for those wrongs might look like.

Here’s one idea that many agree on: Those disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs—largely, black and Latino communities—should be first in line to benefit from the Green Boom, whether as business owners or beneficiaries of programs funded by earnings from the business.

The US’s legal weed explosion is an incredible story of de-stigmatization, entrepreneurship, and opportunity. It’s also at risk of becoming a staggering tale of hypocrisy, greed, and erasure. But as a deep-pocketed industry with political momentum, American cannabis is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for what racial reparations could look like.

“This is about harnessing the industry to embody the work of repair,” said Adam Vine, the founder of Cage Free Cannabis, an organization that pushes for “drug war reparations” in the form of criminal record expungement, job fairs, voter registration, health care, and social equity programs. “Otherwise,” he said. “Legalization is just theft.”

Go read the rest.

January 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)