Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

"The Cannabis Effect on Crime: Time-Series Analysis of Crime in Colorado and Washington State"

Justice_quarterly_front_and_The title of this post is the title of this notable new research by multiple authors just now published in the journal Justice Quarterly.  Here is its abstract and part of its conclusions:

Abstract

Previous studies based on relatively weak analytical designs lacking contextualization and appropriate comparisons have reported that the legalization of marijuana has either increased or decreased crime.  Recognizing the importance for public policy making of more robust research designs in this area during a period of continuing reform of state marijuana laws, this study uses a quasi-experimental, multi-group interrupted time-series design to determine if, and how, UCR crime rates in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize marijuana, were influenced by it.  Our results suggest that marijuana legalization and sales have had minimal to no effect on major crimes in Colorado or Washington.  We observed no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in these states....

Conclusions

Authors of previous studies (Berenson, 2019; NHIDTA, 2016; Smart Approaches to Marijuana. (2018) argue that legalization is associated with an increase in crime.  Our results suggest that cannabis laws more broadly, and the legalization of recreational marijuana more specifically, have had minimal effect on major crime in Colorado or Washington State.  We observed virtually no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational marijuana legalization or retail sales on violent or property crime rates, except for a significant decline of burglary rates in Washington.  There were some immediate increases in crime at the point of legalization, but these did not result in long-term effects.  It is difficult to study trends for less serious crimes, as the UCR only includes arrest data for these offenses and not offenses known.  Though NIBRS data presents an attractive alternative, not all of Washington is NIBRS compliant and many of the agencies that are reporting NIBRS data have not done so for a long enough period of time pre-legalization for time series modeling to be examined.  Still, the results related to serious crime are quite clear: the legalization of marijuana has not resulted in a significant upward trend in crime rates.  Our results are robust in that we examined the first two states to legalize marijuana and compared them to states with no marijuana laws at all.  Moreover, we estimated our models in a variety of manners, including models with different interruption points, single-group interrupted time series analyses, and as a set of pooled cross-sectional models. None of our models revealed long term effects of marijuana legalization on serious crime rates.

In concert with recent research results from Makin et al. (2019), our results from Colorado and Washington suggest that legalization has not had major detrimental effects on public safety.  Having said this we would caution that it would also be premature to suggest that legalization renders substantial increases in public safety, as the rates of most crimes remained steady in this study in the post-legalization period and because crime is not the only measure of public safety.  Additional work is needed to examine the effect of legalization on other public safety outcomes, including public and mental health measures.

October 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Measuring the Criminal Justice System Impacts of Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Using State Data"

Thanks to this posting at Marijuana Moment, I just now saw a study with the same title as the title of this post.   This study, which was authored by Erin Farley and Stan Orchowsky and was supported "using funding from the National Institute of Justice, between the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Justice Research and Statistics Association," sought "to address three research questions: (1) What are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on criminal justice resources in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon?; (2) What are the impacts on criminal justice resources in states that border those that have legalized marijuana? This includes Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas; and (3) What are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on drug trafficking through northern and southwest border states?  This includes Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington."

Notably, the paper highlights that state Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) "were unable to provide the requested information" to answer these questions as a result of the fact that the requested data "did not exist because they were not being tracked or they were being tracked/collected but were not readily available because they were not being reported in any systematic way to a centralized agency." Data limitations notwithstanding and subject to other caveats about analytical challenges, the report ends noting "some general conclusions can be offered based on the analyses of the quantitative and qualitative data presented here."  Here are excerpts from these conclusions:

First, it indeed seems to be the case that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana results in fewer marijuana related arrests and court cases.  Whether we look at arrests or court case filings for possession or distribution, marijuana related offenses seem to have decreased in Oregon and Washington since legalization of recreational use. In most cases, these decreases appear to have started well before legislation was enacted, perhaps reflecting changes in law enforcement policies and practices in anticipation of the coming policy changes.

Interviews with law enforcement officials, though based on the perceptions of only a small number of respondents, provided insight into a number of concerns with regard to legalization of marijuana, including the potency of marijuana products, increased marijuana use among youth, and increases in incidents of drugged driving.  All of these anecdotal “findings” may potentially be verified empirically, provided that law enforcement agencies collect the requisite data and make it available for analysis. It should also be noted that several of the law enforcement officers interviewed indicated that methamphetamine and heroin were much larger problems for their agencies than was marijuana.

Our efforts to address the second question, regarding border states, were limited by the lack of availability of data in these states.  Nevertheless, for the data we examined, we saw no evidence that marijuana legalization had an impact on indicators in border states. Marijuana-related arrests and charges did not increase in either the state as a whole or, in the case of Nebraska, in counties that directly border the state that legalized marijuana, after legalization. It is possible that additional indicators or a longer follow-up time period might reveal impacts in these states and localities.  The few interviews we conducted in one border state (Nebraska) suggested increases in the potency of marijuana and in incidents of driving under the influence of marijuana. Again, these are perceptions that should be verified by future research.

The third question, related to drug trafficking, was particularly challenging to address.  Relatively few individuals were charged with trafficking in the data we examined, and it is difficult to identify other indicators of trafficking in state and local data.  However, in the data we did examine we found no indications of increases in arrests related to transportation/trafficking offenses.  Interview results suggested that drug trafficking had indeed increased in some states, including border states. Again, it is possible that different indicators, examined over a longer period of time, might reveal impacts of marijuana legalization on drug trafficking.

October 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Cannabis Legalization: Dealing with the Black Market"

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

This paper discusses how states that have legalized the recreational use of cannabis are struggling to subdue the black market.  One of the goals of legalization was to defeat the black market and create a safer legal market for cannabis products.  However, the black market still persists today, and in many states, it is actually dominating the legal market.  This paper analyzes several reasons why consumers choose the black market, and it discusses several advantages black-market producers have over the legal market.  Finally, this paper offers several possible solutions to this problem, such as working with the black market and decreasing barriers to entry in the legal market.

Prior student papers in this series:

October 7, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Noticing how some major cannabis players are responding to vaping crisis

I have notices a number of new stories and reports about a number of marijuana reform groups and marijuana industry players responding to the recent worrisome vaping illnesses and deaths.  Here is a partial round-up:

From Americans For Safe Access, "ASA Creates Patient-Focused Recommendations in Light of the Vaping Crisis"

From Marijuana Policy Project, "Nation’s Largest Marijuana Policy Reform Group Releases Report on Cannabis Vaping Regulations"

From Marijuana Moment, "Hundreds Of Companies Sign Letter Calling For Marijuana Descheduling To Prevent Vaping Injuries"

October 3, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

"Contribution of Marijuana Legalization to the U.S. Opioid Mortality Epidemic: Individual and Combined Experience of 27 States and District of Columbia"

The title of this post is the title of this new forthcoming research article authored by Archie Bleyer and Brian Barnes.  Here is its abstract:

Background

Prior studies of U.S. states as of 2013 and one state as of 2015 suggested that marijuana availability reduces opioid mortality (marijuana protection hypothesis).  This investigation tested the hypothesis with opioid mortality trends updated to 2017 and by evaluating all states and the District of Columbia (D.C.).

Methods

Opioid mortality data obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were used to compare opioid death rate trends in each marijuana-legalizing state and D.C. before and after medicinal and recreational legalization implementation and their individual and cumulative aggregate trends with concomitant trends in non-legalizing states.  The Joinpoint Regression Program identified statistically-significant mortality trends and when they occurred.

Results

Of 23 individually evaluable legalizing jurisdictions, 78% had evidence for a statistically-significant acceleration of opioid death rates after medicinal or recreational legalization implementation at greater rates than their pre-legalization rate or the concurrent composite rate in non-legalizing states.  All four jurisdictions evaluable for recreational legalization had evidence (p <0.05) for subsequent opioid death rate increases, one had a distinct acceleration, and one a reversal of prior decline.  Since 2009-2012, when the cumulative-aggregate opioid death rate in the legalizing jurisdictions was the same as in the non-legalizing group, the legalizing group′s rate accelerated increasingly faster (p=0.009).  By 2017 it was 67% greater than in the non-legalizing group (p<0.05).

Conclusions

The marijuana protection hypothesis is not supported by recent U.S. data on opioid mortality trends.  Instead, legalizing marijuana appears to have contributed to the nation′s opioid mortality epidemic.

October 1, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Rocky Mountain HIDTA releases sixth annual report on "impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Programs (HIDTAs) are, as explained here, a special kind of drug-enforcement task force that was "created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [and] provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States." The Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been especially focused on marijuana reform in Colorado, and it has produced regular annual reports around this time under the title "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact." Volume six of that report, which runs around 70 pages and was just release, can be accessed at this link.

Here are excerpts from the report's executive summary highlighting some of coverage:

Section I: Traffic Fatalities & Impaired Driving

  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 109 percent while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 31 percent.
  • Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 115 people killed in 2018....

Section II: Marijuana Use

Since recreational marijuana was legalized:

  • Past month marijuana use for ages 12 and older increased 58 percent and is 78 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • Adult marijuana use increased 94 percent and is 96 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
  • College age marijuana use increased 18 percent and is 48 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.
  • Youth marijuana use decreased 14 percent and is 40 percent higher than the national average, currently ranked 6th in the nation.

Section III: Public Health

  • The yearly number of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 54 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).
  • The yearly number of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 101 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2013 compared to 2017).

As I have noted before, the these RMHIDTA "Impact" reports are clearly exclusively interested in emphasizing and lamenting any and all potential negative impacts from marijuana reform in Colorado while deemphasizing and mariginalizing any and all potential positive impacts. This bias toward emphasizing the negative and ignoring positive impacts is most obvious in terms of the report's (almost non-existant) discussion of the economic development and tax revenues resulting from legalization. Jobs created by marijuana reform are not mentioned anywhere in the report, and a short discussion of tax revenues in the final sections of the report highlights only what a small portion of the overall state tax revenue is represented by marijuana taxes.

But, as I have also said before, despite these reporting biases, this report still usefully assembles lots of data and usefully represents the latest, greatest effort by the law enforcement community to make the case that marijuana reform in Colorado is a failed experiment.  Serious students of marijuana law and policy should take the time to review what this report says and how it is saying what it is saying, while also keeping in mind what data is not here assembled.

September 18, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Exploring the intersection of police work and marijuana (and marijuana reform)

This past week bought two notable news pieces on the ever-important and ever-dynamic intersection of policing and marijuana.  Here are headlines, links and small excerpts:

From the AP, "In era of legal pot, can police search cars based on odor?":

Sniff and search is no longer the default for police in some of the 33 states that have legalized marijuana.  Traditionally, an officer could use the merest whiff of weed to justify a warrantless vehicle search, and whatever turned up — pot, other kinds of illegal drugs, something else the motorist wasn’t allowed to have — could be used as evidence in court.

That’s still true in the minority of states where marijuana remains verboten.  But the legal analysis is more complicated in places where pot has been approved for medical or adult use, and courts are beginning to weigh in.  The result is that, in some states, a police officer who sniffs out pot isn’t necessarily allowed to go through someone’s automobile — because the odor by itself is no longer considered evidence of a crime.

From the New York Times, "Officers Said They Smelled Pot. The Judge Called Them Liars.":

Police officers can often justify a search with six words: “I smelled an odor of marijuana.” Courts in New York have long ruled if a car smells like marijuana smoke, the police can search it — and, according to some judges, even the occupants — without a warrant.

But in late July, a judge in the Bronx said in a scathing opinion that officers claim to smell marijuana so often that it strains credulity, and she called on judges across the state to stop letting police officers get away with lying about it. “The time has come to reject the canard of marijuana emanating from nearly every vehicle subject to a traffic stop,” Judge April Newbauer wrote in a decision in a case involving a gun the police discovered in car they had searched after claiming to have smelled marijuana.

September 16, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

"Fatal crashes in the 5 years after recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington"

The title of this post is the title of this new research by multiple authors published in the November 2019 issue of the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention.  Here is its abstract:

Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, but the effects of legalization on motor vehicle crashes remains unknown. Using Fatality Analysis Reporting System data, we performed difference-in-differences (DD) analyses comparing changes in fatal crash rates in Washington, Colorado and nine control states with stable anti-marijuana laws or medical marijuana laws over the five years before and after recreational marijuana legalization.  In separate analyses, we evaluated fatal crash rates before and after commercial marijuana dispensaries began operating in 2014.

In the five years after legalization, fatal crash rates increased more in Colorado and Washington than would be expected had they continued to parallel crash rates in the control states (+1.2 crashes/billion vehicle miles traveled, CI: -0.6 to 2.1, p = 0.087), but not significantly so.  The effect was more pronounced and statistically significant after the opening of commercial dispensaries (+1.8 crashes/billion vehicle miles traveled, CI: +0.4 to +3.7, p = 0.020).  These data provide evidence of the need for policy strategies to mitigate increasing crash risks as more states legalize recreational marijuana.

September 15, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Politico rides with the high times with new cannabis newsletter

Main_1547760102-Cheech-Marin-Tommy-Chong-Signed-High-Times-Magazine-Cover-16x20-Photo-Beckett-COA-PristineAuction.comOld folks like me remember when one had to track down a hard copy of an issue of High Times in order to read about marijuana and policy reform.  But times sure have changed, and the latest media marker of modern high times may be the new newsletter that was rolled out today by Politico,  a highly respected inside-the-beltway media outlet covering politics and policy.  This newsletter is described this way:

This newsletter launches at a historic moment for marijuana and cannabis policy.  Marijuana is legal on some level in 33 states but illegal at the federal level, creating a bewildering and complex web of legal, regulatory and business questions that even the most expert policy makers and lawyers struggle to answer.

This newsletter offers a sneak preview of what we will do for our Pro subscribers starting next month.  Our mission for Pro readers is to cover these policy issues with passion and expertise, to deliver exclusive news and analysis, and to report on cannabis from a neutral, unbiased point of view.  We come to this issue with no pre-cooked narrative about what should happen on cannabis policy.  Our stories will focus on what POLITICO Pro does best: explaining policy issues and the politics behind them and delivering the news in an easy to digest format so that you can use our content to make business decisions.

And here are two new stories from the Politico team about happenings inside and outside the Beltway:

"Why the most pro-marijuana Congress ever won’t deal with weed":

This could be a big moment for marijuana and Congress. But Democrats are fighting Democrats over whether to focus on social justice issues or industry priorities like banking. Marijuana advocates are divided among themselves over whether to push for full legalization or settle for less far-reaching legislation.  And many Republicans — some of whom are seeing the benefits of cannabis legalization in their home states — are still decidedly against any legalization on the national level, even for medicinal uses.

At the same time that Congress is in gridlock, there is growing national support for cannabis, which is illegal at the federal level but at least partially legal in 33 states.  In addition, public opinion is shifting rapidly, with nearly two-thirds of Americans supporting legalization according to Gallup — double the level of support two decades ago.  That’s led to a steadily growing number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who represent states with legal cannabis markets, making them more sympathetic toward legislation aimed at helping the burgeoning industry — which brought in roughly $10 billion in sales last year.

These conflicts between state and federal law have created a rash of problems for cannabis companies, including lack of access to banking services, sky-high federal tax rates and bewildering questions about exactly what business practices are legal.

"How marijuana is poised for a North American takeover":

The United States is feeling some North American peer pressure to get in on the cannabis boom.  Producers in Canada, where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational uses, are already planning for a future where pot is a globally traded commodity, and some are setting themselves up to profit if it is legalized in the U.S.

In Mexico cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes, and the landscape could shift further: The country's new president, whose party controls a majority in the national legislature, sent a proposal to the Mexican Senate late last year to legalize recreational use.

September 9, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Hemp legalization is slippery slope, and that’s OK"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Columbus Dispatch commentary authored by Benton Bodamer, who is a member of the law firm Dickinson Wright and teaches a Cannabiz course here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Regulators and law enforcement have a wildly impractical task in attempting to regulate companies, plants and products using a distinguishing factor (hemp vs. marijuana) that is both arbitrary and mutable.  There are no federal guidelines on how dry cannabis must be to test for THC, nor guidelines for the stage of cultivation or processing at which testing should occur.  As cannabis dries, the THC content increases and that process can continue after harvest and testing.  This means that temperature changes during transportation could turn “hemp” into “marijuana” unless we have a federally standardized testing and transportation procedure and methodology, which we do not.

CBD and THC can be extracted from both federally noncompliant marijuana and federally legal hemp.  If it is the exact same substance at the molecular level, should we really care?

In the face of federal illegality, draconian tax burdens, Wild West banking and competition from black market illegal operations, the state-compliant cannabis industry in America has managed to build a base of sophisticated investors, informed customers, medical professionals and even Republican supporters (gasp!), cultivating a promising industry that has generated millions of tax dollars and thousands of jobs. This industry persists in 33 states (and growing) because the vast majority of the country knows that the federal law is wrong and largely unenforced....

When laws are irrational we lose faith in civil institutions.  The cannabis industry is filled with “efficient illegality,” meaning noncompliance meets with little risk of federal enforcement against state-compliant businesses. F ederal prosecutorial dollars for action against state-compliant cannabis businesses are throttled through federal legislative restraints and 33 states have now decided that they would rather generate tax dollars from cannabis than spend tax revenue persecuting its nonthreatening uses.  Continuing the charade of federal illegality is doing far more harm to public perception in the value of laws and law enforcement than full-scale legalization with sensible federal, state, and local regulation would do.

There’s a simple answer to the confusion over “hemp” and “marijuana,” and it’s one that happens to reflect popular opinion.  It’s time to fully legalize the cannabis plant and the cannabinoids extracted from it and build a data-driven industry from the existing state-sanctioned marketplaces.  The sooner we stop pretending that century-old uninformed hysteria constitutes a sound public health policy, the sooner we can heal and grow (cannabis) together.

September 6, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Marijuana Use during Pregnancy

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

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

Marijuana Use during Adolescence

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Code for America helping with automatic marijuana expungement efforts in Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

"Cannabidiol (CBD) in the Therapeutics Industry"

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

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

Prior student papers in this series:

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

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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

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

Research Questions

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

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

Overview

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

Key Findings

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

Recommendation

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

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