Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mapping out where marijuana campaigns are headed in 2020

Download (26)The Hill has this extended (and not surprising) article about where the marijuana reform movement is planning to go for the next round of ballot initiatives.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana backers plot ambitious campaign," and here are excerpts:

Advocates of legalizing medical and recreational marijuana are planning a wave of new ballot measures in coming years few years, buoyed by wins scored this year's midterm elections in swing and conservative states.

Supporters say they are likely to field measures in states like Ohio and Arizona in 2020, and potentially in Florida and North Dakota. They say plans are underway for initiatives to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota.

“2020 provides an opportunity to run medical marijuana and legalization campaigns across the country. Typically, presidential elections offer better turnout and a more supportive electorate,” said Matt Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “I’d be surprised if there weren’t a large number of initiatives being run — statutory, constitutional, legalization, medical marijuana. It’s going to be a big opportunity for our movement to build momentum.”...

“We won our first state outside of the coasts, and I think there’s a strong feeling that we’re sort of on the downhill of the tipping point,” said one strategist who has worked on legalization measures, who asked for anonymity to describe future plans....

The strategist said legalization backers have settled on a reliable formula that has generated success at the ballot box. The template includes language allowing adults to grow a small number of marijuana plants in their own home, banning advertising aimed at children and controlling potency of products like edibles that make it to market.

The measures [that failed previously] in North Dakota and Ohio did not closely follow that template; the Ohio measure, which did not earn support from the largest groups that back legalization campaigns, went so far as to parade a marijuana leaf mascot — named Bud — around campaign events before it went down in a crushing defeat.

Opponents of marijuana legalization said they have turned their focus to another provision typically found in successful ballot measures, one that allows counties and municipalities to ban pot shops even if recreational marijuana is legal statewide. “In all states with legalization, the majority of towns and cities that have voted have banned pot shops,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads the drug policy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization. “We … think we can get a majority of counties to opt out of pot shops in Michigan.”

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October showed 62 percent favor legalization — including majorities among Millennials, members of Generation X and the Baby Boomer generation. Drug legalization is one of the few issues where men take a more liberal stand than women. The Pew Research survey showed 68 percent of men, and just 56 percent of women, support legal pot.

The Utah measure that passed this year is especially notable, Schweich said, because the Republican-dominated state legislature is now likely to take up its own medical marijuana measure. That measure will likely be more conservative than the ballot proposition voters approved, but it will still mark the first time a conservative legislature has approved marijuana use. “You’re going to see a very conservative state adopt, via its legislature, a medical marijuana law,” he said. “We’ve really showed that any state, no matter how socially conservative it might be, can have medical marijuana.”

The legislative action in Utah is a prelude of what marijuana legalization backers hope becomes the next front in their fight. Not every state allows citizens to change laws via ballot measure; in some states, any change will be up to the legislature.

Two Democratic governors have indicated they would support legalization if the legislature forwards a bill to their desks. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) ran into opposition from some Democratic legislators during his first session in office but Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker (D) has said he supports legalization.

November 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Michigan's Gov-elect talking up mass marijuana expungements in wake of state's legalization vote

This local article, headlined "Whitmer will consider forgiving marijuana crimes," highlights how there can be a quick connection between marijuana reform and criminal justice reform.  Here are the details as reported from the state up north:

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer will pursue executive action or legislation to free inmates and expunge criminal records for those convicted of marijuana crimes that will become legal under the state's pending recreational marijuana law, she indicated Wednesday.

“I think that the people of Michigan have said that for conduct that would now be legal, no one should bear a lifelong record for that conduct,” Whitmer said in her first press conference since winning election over Republican Bill Schuette on Tuesday night.

Voters approved Proposal 1 to legalize adult marijuana possession and set up a system to license businesses.

Whitmer will replace GOP Gov. Rick Snyder on Jan. 1 and “will start taking a look at (marijuana crime expungement) and making some decisions and taking some action early next year,” she said.

The East Lansing Democrat supported Proposal 1, which will allow adults over the age of 21 to carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants for personal use.  Those provisions are set to take effect by early December, while licensing retail shops could take more than a year.

Spokesman Zack Pohl said “a legislative solution is probably the most likely avenue” for expunging low-level marijuana convictions.  Whitmer will work with a Republican-controlled Legislature, and it’s not yet clear whether lawmakers will have any appetite to take up the issue.

“I think it’s a little unclear still in Michigan law what the governor’s authority is to expunge convictions for marijuana crimes, but... she thinks the people have spoken, and people who are serving sentences for a crime that’s now legal deserve some sort of remedy,” Pohl said.

November 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A first accounting of how "Marijuana Won The Midterm Elections" in 2018

Tom Angell has this new Forbes piece under the headline "Marijuana Won The Midterm Elections."   His accounting of marijuana's victory goes beyond just the statewide ballot initiatives, and here are excerpts (with links from the original and my highlighting of state names):

Michigan voters approved a ballot measure making their state the first in the midwest to legalize cannabis.  Missouri approved an initiative to allow medical marijuana, as did Utah.

Voters in several Ohio cities approved local marijuana decriminalization measures, and a number of Wisconsin counties and cities strongly approved nonbinding ballot questions calling for cannabis reform.

While North Dakota's long-shot marijuana legalization measure failed, cannabis also scored a number of big victories when it came to the results of candidate races. When new pro-legalization governors take their seats next year, marijuana bills in several states will have a good chance of being signed into law. 

In Illinois, Democrat J.B. Pritzker won the governor's race after making marijuana legalization a centerpiece of his campaign.  "We can begin by immediately removing one area of racial injustice in our criminal justice system," he said during his primary night victory speech earlier this year. "Let's legalize, tax and regulate marijuana."

Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim Walz (D) wants to "replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms."

Michigan voters who supported the state's marijuana legalization measure will have an ally in the incoming governor, Gretchen Whitmer (D), who supported the initiative and is expected to implement it in accordance with the will of the people. She has called cannabis an "exit drug" away from opioids

In New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who won the governor's race, said legalizing marijuana will bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy."

In New York, while easily reelected Gov Andrew Cuomo (D) had previously expressed opposition to legalization, he more recently empaneled a working group to draft legislation to end cannabis prohibition that the legislature can consider in 2019, a prospect whose chances just got a lot better in light of the fact that Democrats took control of the state's Senate.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers supports decriminalizing marijuana and allowing medical cannabis, and says he wants to put a full marijuana legalization question before voters to decide.  He ousted incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday.

States that already have legalization elected new governors who have been vocal supporters and will likely defend their local laws from potential federal interference. California's Gavin Newsom, Colorado's Jared Polis, Maine's Janet Mills and Nevada's Steve Sisolak, all Democrats, fit that bill.   Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), also a legalization supporter, was reelected in her state, which ended prohibition in 2014.

Speaking of the federal government, when it comes to congressional races, one of the main impediments to cannabis reform on Capitol Hill won't be around in 2019.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who as chairman of the House Rules Committee, has systematically blocked every single proposed marijuana amendment from reaching a floor vote this Congress, is now out of a job after having lost his reelection bid to Democrat Colin Allred.

And the fact that the Democrats, who have been much more likely than Republicans to support cannabis reform legislation than GOP members, retook control of the chamber means that the chances of ending federal prohibition sooner rather than later just got a lot better.  Last month, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) published what he called a  "Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana" in which he laid out a detailed, step-by-step plan for Democrats to enact the end of federal cannabis prohibition in 2019.  It's not clear whether Democratic leaders will embrace the idea, but a look at polling on the issue should give them the sense that marijuana reform is a popular issue with bipartisan support....

That said, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has championed legalizing hemp, he does not support broader marijuana law reform and seems unlikely to bring far-reaching cannabis bills to a vote without substantial pressure.

But President Trump earlier this year voiced support for pending legislation that would respect the right of states to implement their own marijuana laws.  If Democrats pass that bill or similar proposals out of the House, the president's support could be enough to get it through the Senate, where a number of GOP members have already endorsed ending federal prohibition. 

November 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Another election with marijuana reform as a big winner in (most) ballot initiatives

In recent history, elections in 2012 and 2016 have been arguably the most consequential for the modern marijuana reform movement.  But every election cycle is important in its own way, and the 2018 season is no different as three of four statewide marijuana initiatives appear to have passed on this election night (and this follows a medical marijuana initiative passing in Oklahoma in mid-2018).  Specifically:

Michigan voters have approved Proposition 1 providing for legalization of recreational marijuana use.

Missouri voters have approved Amendment 2 providing for legalization of medical marijuana use.

Utah voters have approved Proposition 2 providing for legalization of medical marijuana use.

But, North Dakota voters have rejected Measure 3 providing for legalization of recreational marijuana use.

November 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 5, 2018

"Where marijuana is on the ballot Tuesday — and where it’s most likely to win"

Total-Funds-rev-768x405The title of this post is the headline of this effective new Washington Post piece, which gets started this way:

It has been a big year for marijuana policy in North America. Mexico’s supreme court overturned pot prohibition last week, while Canada’s recreational marijuana market officially opened its doors in October.

Stateside, recreational marijuana use became legal in Vermont on July 1, Oklahoma voters approved one of the country’s most progressive medical marijuana bills in June, the New York Department of Health officially recommended legalization to the governor and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands legalized recreational use.

Now, legalization advocates are hoping to build on these successes with a number of statewide ballot measures up for consideration Tuesday, including full recreational legalization in two states and medical marijuana in two more. Here’s a rundown of what the measures say and where the polling on them stands.

Michigan: Recreational use....

North Dakota: Recreational use....

Missouri: Medical use....

Utah: Medical use....

UPDATE: The folks over at Marijuana Majority have this interesting accounting of monies spent in these campaigns under the headline "Marijuana Ballot Initiative Campaigns Raised $12.9 Million, Final Pre-Election Numbers Show." Here is how the piece starts:

2018 has been a banner year for marijuana ballot initiatives. Voters in two states are considering legalizing recreational use, while those in another two states will decide whether to allow medical cannabis.

In the lead-up to the election, committees supporting or opposing these initiatives have raised a total of $12.9 million in cash and in-kind services over the past two years to convince those voters, Marijuana Moment’s analysis of the latest campaign finance records filed the day before Election Day shows.

On the day final ballots are cast and tallied, here’s where funding totals now stand for the various cannabis committees, both pro and con, in the four states considering major modifications to marijuana laws.

November 5, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 2, 2018

New Hampshire commission produces massive study report on marijuana legalization

Download (25)As reported in this local article, a "commission studying marijuana legalization in New Hampshire released its 264-page report with 54 recommendations that form a potential blueprint should state legislators pursue bills to legalize cannabis for adult, recreational use."  Here is a partial summary of the massive report from the press piece:

Though it takes no position on legalization, the commission produced a framework for marijuana legalization, starting with recommending lawmakers refer to it as cannabis.

Recommendations mirror some practices in the eight states that have legalized recreational pot. They include limiting possession to 1 ounce for adults (21+) and up to 5 grams of concentrate, prohibiting public indoor or outdoor consumption, allowing towns and cities an "opt-in" provision, and banning marijuana smoking lounges or in a similar restaurant or business.

Marijuana legalization could generate up to $58 million for the state. But that is the high end, notes Rep. Patrick Abrami, the commission chairman. The report cites low end range being $15.2 million to $26.9 million, and the high range being $32.7 million to $57.7 million.

It recommends creation of a “pathway” for existing therapeautic cannabis centers, which are now non-profit by law, to become for-profit organizations -- with the intent that they may enter the “adult use” market. Any proposed home cultivation should limit six plants (three mature) per person, with that limit going to 12 plans (six mature) per household.

The full report is available at this link, and here is a portion of its extended executive summary:

Despite a number of states legalizing cannabis, many important issues remain unresolved as New Hampshire contemplates legalization.  New Hampshire banks may still be reluctant to have banking relationships with marijuana businesses because of the federal position, potentially making any commercialization a cash-only industry. Many companies are working on a roadside marijuana sobriety test similar to the breathalyzer, but there is still no certified device to detect marijuana impairment. Workplace issues surrounding marijuana use and impairment are impacting businesses in states that have legalized and states that have not.  Revenue is necessary to fund public education campaigns key to safe use and to fund substance misuse prevention and treatment.  There is a need to fund and conduct research and data collection to monitor effects on health, driving while impaired, workplace safety, crime rates, usage rates, school performance, and impacts on quality of life and the NH state brand.  Vaping marijuana products has become wide-spread among our middle school, high school, and college students and needs to be addressed.  All of these facts are indisputable and viewed as such by all Commission members....

Finally, speakers from every legalized state warned that for every positive claim about marijuana, there is a negative claim that can be made.  We found this to be true and decided to carefully select high quality peer reviewed studies to present in this report rather than draw conclusions.  The studies are grouped into four categories; health, relationship to opioid misuse, youth and young adult use, and public safety. For each topic, multiple studies with abstracts are presented.  The Commission thought it important that the executive and legislative branch of NH government as well as all the citizens of NH hear both sides of the marijuana legalization argument. Therefore, the studies are further classified as those in support of legalization and those opposed to legalization.

November 2, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Colorado Division of Criminal Justice publishes huge new report on "Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado"

CDPS Banner Image (Grey)As detailed in this press release, on Friday October 26, the "Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Office of Research and Statistics ... released 'Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado,' a report that compiles and analyzes data on marijuana-related topics including crime, impaired driving, hospitalizations and ER visits, usage rates, effects on youth, and more."  Here a partial summary of the 250+ page report via parts of the press release:

DATA HIGHLIGHTS:

CRIME

Data suggests that law enforcement and prosecutors are aggressively pursuing cases against black market activity.  The quantity of cases filed for serious marijuana-related crimes has remained consistent with pre-legalization levels, however organized crime cases have generally increased since 2008.

  • Felony marijuana court case filings (conspiracy, manufacturing, distribution, and possession with intent to sell) declined from 2008 to 2014, but increased from 2015 through 2017.

    • The most recent increase in filings might be in part because legislation changed the legal indoor plant count, providing law enforcement agencies with greater clarity and tools to increase their enforcement of black market activity.

    • Felony filings in 2017 (907) were still below 2008 filings (1,431).

  • Filings in organized-crime cases followed a similar pattern, with a dip in 2012 and 2013 followed by a significant increase since 2014.

    • There were 31 organized crime case filings in 2012 and 119 in 2017.

  • Filings for juveniles under 18 remain at the same level as pre-legalization.

DUI & TRAFFIC FATALITIES
The impact of marijuana consumption on the safety of drivers is a major focus, as any fatality on our roadways is a concern. More data about the impairing effects of marijuana and more consistent testing of drivers for marijuana are needed to truly understand the scope of marijuana impairment and its relation to non-fatal crashes.

  • The number of trained Drug Recognition Experts increased from 129 in 2012 to 214 in 2018, a 66% increase. Thousands of additional officers have been trained in Advanced Roadside Impairment Detection.

  • Colorado State Patrol (CSP) DUI cases overall were down 15% from 2014 to 2017.

  • The percentage of CSP citations with marijuana-only impairment has stayed steady, at around 7%. The percentage of CSP citations with any marijuana nexus rose from 12% in 2012 to 17% in 2016, then dropped to 15% in 2017.

  • About 10% of people in treatment for a DUI self-reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse, compared to 86% who report alcohol as their primary drug of abuse.

  • The percent of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for Delta-9 THC at the 5ng/mL level decreased from 11.6% in 2016 to 7.5% in 2017.

  • The number of fatalities where a driver tested positive for any cannabinoid (Delta 9 or any other metabolite) increased from 55 (11% of all fatalities) in 2013 to 139 (21% of all fatalities) in 2017....

HOSPITALIZATIONS & ER VISITS
These are critical data points so we can track harmful exposure to children, inappropriate usage, and other drivers of marijuana-related hospitalizations.These and related data points prompted legislative and regulatory developments between 2014 and 2016, including child-resistant packaging requirements, requirements for edibles to be marked with a universal symbol so they can be identified even outside their packaging, limitations on the total amount of active THC in an individual retail marijuana edible, and prohibitions on the manufacturing and sales of edibles in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit.

  • Rates of hospitalization with possible marijuana exposures increased steadily from 2000 through 2015.

  • Human marijuana exposures reported to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center increased significantly from pre-legalization to 2014, then flattened out from 2014-2017.

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE & ACHIEVEMENT
New data points are helping us gain a better understanding of school discipline; overall the state is not seeing an impact of recreational marijuana use on high school graduation and drop-out rates.

  • The total number of suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement referrals for any reason has remained consistent post-legalization.

  • Marijuana was the most common single reason for school expulsions (22%) and law enforcement referrals (24%) in the 2016-17 school year, the first full year where marijuana was reported separately as a reason for disciplinary action.

  • Graduation rates are up and drop-out rates are down since 2012.  The Graduation rate rose steadily from a 10-year low point of 72 percent in the 2009-2010 school year to 79 percent in the 2016-2017 school year. Over that same time period, the drop-out rate decreased from 3.1 percent to 2.3 percent.

YOUTH USAGE & ATTITUDES (12-17 years)
Surveys show Colorado is not experiencing an increase in youth usage of marijuana. Preventing negative impacts on youth has been a focus of various state efforts, including public education campaigns that raise awareness about the health and legal consequences of teen marijuana use. The Marijuana Impacts report compiles and analyzes data previously released in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) to examine trends related to youth usage and impacts.

  • The youth marijuana rate reported via NSDUH for the 2015/16 school year (9.1%) was the lowest it’s been since 2007/08 (9.1%).

  • According to HKCS, the proportion of high school students reporting using marijuana ever in their lifetime or reporting past 30-day use remained statistically unchanged from 2005 to 2017.

  • According to HKCS, the proportion of students trying marijuana before age 13 went down from 9.2% in 2015 to 6.5% in 2017.

  • Alcohol was the most common substance students reported using at any point in their lives (59%) followed by e-cigarettes (44%) and then marijuana (35%).

October 29, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Marijuana midterms: Why legal weed advocates think 'all the pieces are coming together' this year"

Images (16)The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new NBC News article, which carries this summary subhead: "Four states have marijuana measures on the ballot in November, and a Democratic Congress could make it easier for more states to relax drug laws." With exactly two weeks until Election Day 2018, I like the phrase "marijuana midterms," and here are excerpts from the lengthy press piece:

As polls show record support for marijuana legalization, advocates say the midterm elections could mark the point of no return for a movement that has been gathering steam for years. "The train has left the station," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a leading marijuana reform advocate in Congress. "I see all the pieces coming together... It's the same arc we saw two generations ago with the prohibitions of alcohol."

Voters in four states will weigh in on ballot initiatives to legalize weed for recreational or medical use next month, while voters everywhere will consider giving more power to Democrats, who have increasingly campaigned on marijuana legalization and are likely to advance legislation on the issue if they win back power in Congress and state capitals.... Politically, the issue has gone from a risible sideshow to a mainstream plank with implications for racial justice and billions of dollars in tax revenue. "Politicians embraced it because it's actually good politics,” said Blumenauer. “They can read the polls.”...

But opponents say advocates are ignoring the backlash that rapid legalization has created, including from some surprising corners, like the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, which is set to announce Tuesday its opposition to a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana in Michigan, the most significant of this year's referendums. Michigan already has a robust medical marijuana industry, but voters could decide to fully legalize the drug for recreational use on Nov. 6. A recent survey commissioned by The Detroit Free Press found 55 percent of voters supported the measure, compared to 41 percent who opposed it.

Meanwhile, North Dakota voters will also have a chance to legalize recreational marijuana in one of the most conservative states in the country, two years after 64 percent of voters approved its medical use during the 2016 election. Advocates are less hopeful about their prospects this year, though a pro-legalization group released a poll this weekend claiming a narrow 51 percent of likely voters approve of the measure.

Utah, a deep red state with some of the strictest alcohol rules in the country, is considering a medical marijuana initiative, which polls suggest is favored to succeed, even though most of the state’s political and religious leaders oppose it.

At the same time, Missouri voters will consider three separate and competing medical marijuana ballot initiatives. The situation has frustrated advocates and could confuse voters, especially because it's unclear what will happen if they approve more than one next month.

Meanwhile, Vermont's state legislature earlier this year legalized cannabis, though not for commercial sale, and New York and New Jersey could be next, as lawmakers in both states are actively considering the issue....

Progressive Democrats like Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Texas Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, have adopted marijuana legalization as a central plank of their campaigns by tying the issue to criminal justice reform, citing the disproportionate number of African-Americans arrested for the drug even though usage is common among whites.  In one of the biggest applause lines of his stump speech, O’Rourke — a longtime advocate of marijuana reform dating back to his days on the El Paso City Council — asks supporters who will be the last person of color incarcerated for possessing something that is now legal for medical use in a majority of states.

But a growing number of more mainstream Democrats have adopted the policy too, like J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire hotel magnate running for governor of Illinois, and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, who beat a progressive Bernie Sanders-style challenger in the Democratic primary.  “Democrats have really jumped on this as a way of galvanizing their voters,” said Michael Collins, the interim director of the pro-legalization group Drug Policy Action. “If you're on the more moderate side of the party and you want to show your progressive bona fides, you go to marijuana, because it's not as controversial an issue as, say eliminating ICE,” the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency....

But Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the Obama administration on drug policy who runs a group that opposes marijuana legalization, says advocates are overstating the inevitability of their side.  “I don't think this is a done deal at all,” he said, noting that his group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, has raised more money this year than any year in its history.  “Ironically, the more legalization rolls out, as recklessly as it is, the more support we get.”  Polls showing sky-high support for legalization can be misleading, Sabet argues, because they use vague wording that can lead respondents to conflate decriminalization with a full-blown recreational system that allows for storefront dispensaries.

Some of the most vocal opposition, he said, has come from African-American organizations, who express concern that the commercialization of the marijuana industry has primarily benefited white entrepreneurs even though communities of color have borne the brunt of the drug war.  "This really isn't about social justice, it's about a few rich white guys getting rich," Sabet said, noting that the black caucus in the New Jersey state legislature has helped stall Murphy's legalization effort in New Jersey.

Proponents acknowledge the racial disparities in the marijuana industry, and some, like Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, has advocated a legalization regime that would benefit black and brown weed entrepreneurs.

Either way, if Democrats win back the House, advocates say Congress could advance a number of reform bills that have been blocked by the Republican majority. Some, like a bill to exempt states that have legalized marijuana from federal restrictions and another to allow marijuana businesses to use banks, have numerous Republican co-sponsors and could pass both chambers of Congress today — if only leaders allowed lawmakers to vote on them, advocates say.

October 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Will Canada's legalization of marijuana impact coming legalization votes in Michigan and North Dakota and elsewhere in US?

319030_87b0d3e2e5596a530b55b4f110aa6dbc440af205.png_facebookThe question in the title of this post is my domestic reaction to the big international marijuana reform news of Canadian marijuana legalization efforts becoming a reality.  This new Politico article, headlined "Members of Congress, businesses push for homegrown weed," reports on some of the US echoes of what has transpired in the country up north this week, and here are excerpts:

Washington just got some major peer pressure to embrace the bong.  Its vast northern neighbor Canada legalizes the retail sale of marijuana nationwide Wednesday.  The Canadian cannabis sector is already estimated to be worth $31 billion and upstart marijuana companies have soared on the New York Stock Exchange.

But America’s patchwork of state laws — and federal ban on marijuana — put American pot companies at a high disadvantage. It's unclear whether the push to liberalize U.S. marijuana laws will get very far: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared war on marijuana, though his efforts have been dampened by a not-so-hostile White House.  Yet Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said last week that the White House plans to address cannabis reform following the midterms.

Rohrabacher's efforts are bolstered by a chorus of congressional and business voices calling on the Trump administration to respond with an “America First” policy on pot. A publicly traded U.S. cannabis company bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday with a message to President Donald Trump: Canada will take over the U.S. marijuana market if we don't legalize soon....

A bipartisan group of American lawmakers fumed last month when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency gave the green light to importing Canadian marijuana for research purposes. The 15 lawmakers, many of them representing states that have legalized recreational cannabis, protested to the DEA and Sessions that dozens of American companies already requested permission to produce marijuana for study.  They wrote that allowing the University of California, San Diego, one of the applicants, to import marijuana capsules from Canada-based Tilray, Inc., was “adding insult to injury.”

Noting that Trump had issued a "Buy American" executive order, the lawmakers urged the administration to ensure that the domestic need for cannabis research be met by American institutions. The concerns are not just limited to medicinal marijuana. Recreational use is gaining a foothold in U.S. states.  Voters in North Dakota and Michigan will vote on ballot initiatives on legalization on Election Day.

Already, nine states and the District of Columbia, have legalized pot, and 31 others allow medical marijuana. “I think it frankly cries out for a federal solution,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), now challenging Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for her Senate seat, told POLITICO.  “And this is tough stuff — this is hard stuff to talk about — because I’m a law-and-order congressman, but it’s impossible to ignore what’s going on. … If the federal government itself doesn’t do something to sort of at least provide the banking system that allows for greater oversight and regulation, I think we’re just setting ourselves up for a bit of a rogue industry rather than a highly regulated one.”

Though this piece is focused on federal US policies, I am especially interested in the reality that the two states voting on full legalization this election cycle both border Canada. I have been thinking that voters in the (bluish) state of Michigan were on a path toward legalization even before these developments in Canada, but I have also been guessing that voters in the (deep red) state of North Dakota were not going to be ready to vote for full legalization. But maybe developments up north could change these dynamics among the voters

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Go (mid)west, young activist, go see marijuana reform's destiny in 2018 election cycle

Download (2)The title of this post is my weak attempt to make a play on the phrase "Go West, young man" to capture Manifest Destiny concepts combined now with this new AP article about marijuana reform efforts this election year.  The AP piece is headlined "Marijuana backers look for Midwest breakthrough in November," and here are excerpts:

Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

Meantime, Missouri and Utah will weigh medical marijuana, which is permitted in 31 states after voters in conservative Oklahoma approved such use in June. Even if Utah’s initiative is defeated, a compromise reached last week between advocates and opponents including the Mormon church would have the Legislature legalize medical marijuana.

“We’ve kind of reached a critical mass of acceptance,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan assistant professor of health management and policy. She said the country may be at a “breaking point” where change is inevitable at the federal level because so many states are in conflict with U.S. policy that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin. “Generally, people either find a therapeutic benefit or enjoy the substance and want to do so without the fear of being a criminal for using it,” Haffajee said....

In Michigan, surveys show the public’s receptiveness to marijuana legalization tracks similarly with nationwide polling that finds about 60 percent support, according to Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project was the driving force behind successful legalization initiatives in other states and has given at least $444,000 for the Michigan ballot drive. “The electorate is recognizing that prohibition doesn’t work. There’s also a growing societal acceptance of marijuana use on a personal level,” said Matthew Schweich, the project’s deputy director. “Our culture has already legalized marijuana. Now it’s a question of, ‘How quickly will the laws catch up?’” added Schweich, also the campaign director for the Michigan legalization effort, known as the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Midwest voters have considered recreational legalization just once before, in 2015, when Ohio overwhelmingly rejected it. Supporters said the result was more back lash against allowing only certain private investors to control growing facilities than opposition to marijuana.

Proponents of Michigan’s measure say it would align with a new, strong regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses and add roughly $130 million annually in tax revenue, specifically for road repairs, schools and municipalities. Military veterans and retired police officers are among those backing legalization in online ads that were launched Tuesday.

Critics say the Michigan proposal is out of step and cite provisions allowing a possession limit of 2.5 ounces (71 grams) that is higher than many other states and a 16 percent tax rate that is lower. Opponents include chambers of commerce and law enforcement groups along with doctors, the Catholic Church and organizations fighting substance abuse....

In North Dakota, legalization faces an uphill battle. No significant outside supporters have financed the effort, which comes as the state still is setting up a medical marijuana system voters approved by a wide margin two years ago.

The medical marijuana campaign in predominantly Mormon Utah, which has received $293,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, was jolted last week when Gov. Gary Herbert said he will call lawmakers into a special postelection session to pass a compromise deal into law regardless of how the public vote goes.

Medical marijuana also is on the ballot in Missouri and while the concept has significant support, voters may be confused by its ballot presentation. Supporters gathered enough signatures to place three initiatives before voters. Two would change the state constitution; the third would amend state law. If all three pass, constitutional amendments take precedence over state law, and whichever amendment receives the most votes would overrule the other.

An organizer of one amendment, physician and attorney Brad Bradshaw, said it is unclear if having three initiatives could split supporters so much that some or all of the proposals fail. “A lot of people don’t really even have this on the radar at this point,” he said. “They’re going to walk into the booth to vote and they’re going to see all three of these and say, ‘What the heck?’ You just don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

October 10, 2018 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Could the feds really be gearing up for a criminal crackdown on Colorado's state-compliant marijuana businesses?

Bob-troyer-dojThe question in the title of this post is the one I have been thinking about since, Bob Troyer, the US attorney for the District of Colorado, authored this Denver Post commentary under the headline "It’s high time we took a breath from marijuana commercialization." Here are some key excerpts from the piece, with a few lines emphasized:

In 2012 we were told Colorado would lead the nation on a grand experiment in commercialized marijuana. Six years later — with two major industry reports just released and the state legislature and Denver City Council about to consider more expansion measures — it’s a perfect time to pause and assess some results of that experiment.

Where has our breathless sprint into full-scale marijuana commercialization led Colorado?  Well, recent reports from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, from Denver Health, from Energy Associates, from the Colorado Department of Revenue and from the City of Denver should be enough to give everyone in this race pause.

Now Colorado’s youth use marijuana at a rate 85 percent higher than the national average.  Now marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up by 151 percent.  Now 70 percent of 400 licensed pot shops surveyed recommend that pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness.  Now an indoor marijuana grow consumes 17 times more power per square foot than an average residence.  Now each of the approximately one million adult marijuana plants grown by licensed growers in Colorado consumes over 2.2 liters of water — per day.  Now Colorado has issued over 40 little-publicized recalls of retail marijuana laced with pesticides and mold.

And now Colorado has a booming black market exploiting our permissive regulatory system — including Mexican cartel growers for that black market who use nerve-agent pesticides that are contaminating Colorado’s soil, waters, and wildlife....

As the U.S. attorney leading other U.S. attorneys on marijuana issues, I have traveled the country and heard what people are saying about Colorado. Do they tout Colorado’s tax revenue from commercialized marijuana? No, because there’s been no net gain: marijuana tax revenue adds less than one percent to Colorado’s coffers, which is more than washed out by the public health, public safety, and regulatory costs of commercialization.

Do they highlight commercialization’s elimination of a marijuana black market? No, because Colorado’s black market has actually exploded after commercialization: we have become a source-state, a theater of operation for sophisticated international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations from Cuba, China, Mexico, and elsewhere.

Do they promote our success in controlling production or containing marijuana within our borders? No, because last year alone the regulated industry produced 6.4 metric tons of unaccounted-for marijuana, and over 80,000 black market plants were found on Colorado’s federal lands.

Does the industry trumpet its promised decrease in alcohol use? No, because Colorado’s alcohol consumption has steadily climbed since marijuana commercialization. How about the industry’s claim that marijuana will cure opioid addiction? No, a Lancet study found that heavy marijuana users end up with more pain and are more likely to abuse opioids....

I’m not sure the 55 percent of Coloradans who voted for commercialization in 2012 thought they were voting for all this.

These impacts are why you may start seeing U.S. attorneys shift toward criminally charging licensed marijuana businesses and their investors.  After all, a U.S. attorney is responsible for public safety.

My office has always looked at marijuana solely through that lens, and that approach has not changed. But the public safety impacts of marijuana in Colorado have.  Now that federal enforcement has shot down marijuana grows on federal lands, the crosshairs may appropriately shift to the public harms caused by licensed businesses and their investors, particularly those who are not complying with state law or trying to use purported state compliance as a shield.

We should pause and catch our breath before racing off again at the industry’s urging. Let’s call it “just say know.” Let’s educate ourselves about the impacts of commercialization. Let’s reclaim our right as citizens to have a say in Colorado’s health, safety, and environment. Unfettered commercialization is not inevitable. You have a say.

I read this commentary as a warning of sorts, particularly to undercut the notion that some businesses may have that simply possessing a license from the state insulates them from federal prosecution.  In many ways, even when the Cole Memo was in place, that was not true.  But I sense from this piece that there is a growing concern about the way some in the licensed industry are operating, and this idea is made even clearer in this Westword piece with a Q&A with Mr. Troyer and this AP piece with additional quotes.

Were I involved in a Colorado marijuana business now, I would give particular attention to this statement from the AP piece: "'You can do plenty of harm to the community and still be in compliance with state law because those laws have a lot of loopholes and they're very permissive,' Troyer said." Specifically, if I was running a Colorado marijuana business, I would be spending a lot more time trying to document how my business was helping, rather than harming, the community (as well as, of course, documenting compliance with state laws).

October 4, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Prediction of hundreds of millions in tax revenues for Michigan if citizens vote for marijuana legalization

Infographic Individual ChartsThis local article, headlined "Estimated tax haul from marijuana sales would grow to $134 million per year," reports on a report on tax revenues being predicted if Michigan were this fall to become the 10th in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana. Here are some details:

By the time Michigan’s recreational marijuana market is fully fleshed out, $134.5 million in tax revenues will be flowing into the state’s coffers annually. But there’s a big caveat: Michigan voters will first have to pass a ballot proposal on Nov. 6 to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

The figures for state tax revenues — from the 6-percent sales tax and a 10-percent excise tax — come from VS Strategies, a Colorado-based cannabis consulting firm hired by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is spearheading the campaign to legalize pot in Michigan. “We’re estimating $520 million in taxes from 2020-24,” said Andrew Livingston, a policy analyst with VS Strategies. “By 2023, Michigan will reach maturity with sales of just under $1.5 billion (for both medical and recreational marijuana).”

The revenues from recreational use will grow from $53.7 million in the first year to $134 million by the time the market matures, he said. When you add in the 6 percent sales tax and 3 percent excise tax on medical marijuana sales, the tax revenues jump another $40 million, according to the VS estimates.

The numbers are based on estimates of nearly 1 million Michiganders who have said that they’ve used marijuana in the past month and who could be expected to buy marijuana on a regular basis. Another 3.5 million people in Michigan have said they have used marijuana in their lifetime. The total number of marijuana users includes 300,000 people who are registered as medical marijuana users, Livingston said. Michigan’s tax rate is far lower than many of the other nine states that have legalized pot for recreational use... Michigan’s proposed rate is lower than other states in order to be more competitive and to attract more people to the state’s budding marijuana market, coalition spokesman Josh Hovey said.

The first $20 million in tax revenues for each of the first two years would go to research into the effects of marijuana use on different health ailments, including PTSD in veterans. Of the remainder, 35 percent would go toward roads, 35 percent to schools and 30 percent to the counties and communities that allowed marijuana businesses in their towns.

But the projected tax revenues, even when the market is fully established, fall well below the taxes generated in Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, which collected $247.3 million in taxes in 2017.

Livingston said the Western states have higher numbers of users and he doesn’t expect Michigan to exceed those numbers. According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health done for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2016, about 14.4 percent of Colorado’s population, or 727,000 people, used marijuana in the past month while 8.9 percent of Michigan’s population, or 886,000 people, used marijuana in the past month. “Mountain states have always led the rates of past-month consumption,” he said.

Michiganders shouldn’t just look at the tax revenues coming in from marijuana legalization, said Scott Greenlee, director of Healthy and Productive Michigan, a group opposing the ballot proposal. “What impact would it have in Michigan with a $57-billion budget? It’s just not that significant,” he said. “And then we have to deal with the unintended consequences of fighting increased addiction. I wonder if there would be anything left for Michigan other than a bad policy that will affect the state for decades to come.”

He said the 35 percent of tax revenues that would go toward improving Michigan’s roads would be a drop in the bucket for the state’s 120,000 miles of roads. “According to MDOT, the cost to improve roads is about $1 million per lane,” Greenlee said. “In their best case scenario, 35 miles of one lane of roads would be improved thanks to this new tax.”

Hovey said the coalition never promised that the marijuana tax revenues would be a cure-all for Michigan’s budget woes. “This will help fund the state’s most important needs. And we’ll be saving millions in wasted costs of continuing to enforce the prohibition of marijuana laws,” he said. “And I think the majority of the state’s residents would agree that our roads need more revenue.”

October 3, 2018 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 1, 2018

California officially makes expungement automatic for past marijuana offenses

ImagesAs reported in this USA Today piece, headlined "Landmark California marijuana legislation gives residents chance to 'reclaim their lives'," last night finalized some exciting news for those eager to see marijuana reform greatly impact criminal justice reform. Here are details:

Hailed by advocates as a chance for people to “reclaim their lives,” a new California law will soon make it easier for people with past marijuana convictions to get their records expunged completely, or their sentences significantly reduced.  Assembly Bill 1793 – passed by overwhelming majority in the California state Legislature and signed into law Sunday night by Gov. Jerry Brown – will streamline a previously tedious process that made it difficult for residents with a prior cannabis-related conviction to clear their names.

“This is transformative,” said Rodney Holcombe of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based national organization that advocates for human rights-driven drug policies. “This creates an opportunity for people to reclaim their lives."

California is not the first state to retroactively allow those with cannabis convictions a chance to reduce or completely remove their past; that distinction goes to Oregon, which legalized recreational weed in 2014.  Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, plus the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego, have laws similar to Oregon’s, where individuals convicted of some marijuana-related crimes – like possession, cultivation or manufacturing – can work to get their records sealed or expunged.

But California is the first state to automate the system, which lawmakers and bill supporters hope will be a game-changer for thousands of residents who have limited access to student loans, housing and jobs because of their criminal records.  The Judicial Council of California estimates at least 218,000 residents would benefit from the new law.  “The failed war on drugs has, in so many ways, wreaked havoc, damage, pain and anguish on so many Californians,” said Assemblymember Ron Bonta, D-Oakland, who proposed the measure. “This is where government can step in and make it better.”

Pot convictions disproportionately affect communities of color, according to a 2016 study from the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance.  That study found that while white people consume marijuana at similar rates to black people – and more than Latinos – communities of color are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for low-level marijuana possession infractions.  In 2010, for example, black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people nationwide.

The measure is California's latest effort to help those with marijuana charges move on with their lives.  Two years ago, Californians passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over and allowed for those with criminal convictions to request to have their records erased.  But the process was lengthy and convoluted, requiring people to petition the courts to reduce their sentence for prior convictions, back when cannabis was illegal.  It could also be an expensive process, with costs spanning court fees, hiring a lawyer (to walk people through paragraphs of confusing legal jargon) and time spent away from work and home....

The Drug Policy Alliance tries to educate the public on what it calls “collateral consequences,” the side effects that stem from a sometimes decades-old conviction, Holcombe said.  Those collateral consequences can include not being able to acquire student loans, find meaningful employment or access good housing, among other issues.

Under the new law, the state will do the work to clean up people's records – even if they didn’t know they were eligible.  Some individuals will be able to completely clear their record, while others will see their crimes significantly reduced.  Possession with the intent to sell, for example, will now be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Here's how it will work: Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of Justice has seven months to review all marijuana cases and send potential petitions to county district attorneys.  DAs will have one year to challenge or grant the petition to change residents' marijuana-related convictions.  Priority will be given to those currently serving time.  “Prop. 64 provided redemption and rehab and a chance to rebuild those lives – these expungement and reductions are a big part of that,” Bonta said.  “I wanted to make sure that the promise in Prop. 64 was kept.”...

Holcombe and the DPA are hopeful that if California's landmark law is successful, other states could adopt similar measures.  “Popular opinion has changed so much,” Holcombe said. “Lots of support has already been generated around the folks who have been convicted and are still burdened by these collateral consequences – and there’s growing interest in remedying that.”

Regular readers likely know of my affinity for this kind of reform based on my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices,"  which calls for jurisdictions to take an expansive approach to expungement when moving forward with marijuana prohibition reforms.   And I have blogged a lot about these issues here, as this partial sampling of some recent postings reveals:

October 1, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Notable groups set forth notable set of principles for marijuana reform as New Jersey debates legalization

Nj-potThe on-going debate over potential marijuana reform in New Jersey is continuing to generate lots of interesting and thoughtful discussion concerning just how states ought to approach legalizing and regulating marijuana.   In that vein, I was interested to see this recent press release from Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey titled "AFP-NJ Supports Principles for Safe and Responsible Marijuana Reform" in conjunction with this document titled "Seven Principles To Guide A Successful And Well-Regulated Marijuana Market." Here are parts of the press release:

Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey (AFP-NJ) ... announced that it has co-signed a set of principles with the Reason Foundation’s Drug Policy Project regarding the state’s effort to legalize marijuana. If passed, S- 2703, the New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Act would legalize possession and personal use of marijuana for New Jerseyans over the age of 21 and would create the Division of Marijuana Enforcement and licensing structure.

Erica Jedynak, State Director of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey issued the following statement in support of components of S- 2703:

“For too long, New Jerseyans have had their lives upended due to non-violent offenses like the recreational use of marijuana.  In partnership with the Reason Foundation’s Drug Policy Project, we encourage lawmakers to follow the policy principles outlined for a successful and well-regulated marijuana market.  These principles will help our state exercise its constitutional right to create a safely regulated marijuana market that spares generations of New Jerseyans from getting trapped in an endless and senseless cycle of incarceration.  While S-2703 is not perfect in its current form, it makes good strides toward reshaping our criminal justice system and bringing it into the 21st century.  Eventually, AFP-NJ hopes that a fully-realized effort to legalize recreational marijuana enhances public safety, provides second chances, and is free of cronyism and overregulation.”

Dr. Adrian Moore of Reason issued the following statement in support of components of S- 2703:

“As states move to legalize medical and adult use marijuana, it is vital that sensibly regulated free and competitive legal markets emerge to entirely replace black markets and all their ills.  We are focused on helping to learn and adopt best practices and informed understanding of how markets work to the legislative and regulatory process of legalizing marijuana.” 

The articulation of "Seven Principles To Guide A Successful And Well-Regulated Marijuana Market" makes for an interesting short read, and here are the listed "principles" without the accompanying paragraph of explanation:

1.  Recognize There Is A Limit To The Tax Burden The Industry Can Bear.

2.  Do Not Place Unnecessary Limits On The Number Of Licenses.

3.  Award Licenses Based On Competency And Business Acumen.

4.  Allow Business Owners To Operate Within A Scale And Structure They Can Manage.

5.  Establish Parameters For Local Governments.

6.  Regulations Based On Evidence And Allowing Alternative Approaches.

7.  Do Not Penalize People For Acts That Are No Longer Crimes.

September 27, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Taxation and Market Power in the Legal Marijuana Industry"

the title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Brett Hollenbeck and Kosuke Uetake. Here is its abstract:

In 2012 the state of Washington created a legal framework for production and retail sales of marijuana.  Eight other states have subsequently followed.  These states hope to generate tax revenue for their state budgets while limiting harms associated with marijuana consumption.  We use a unique dataset containing all transactions in the history of the industry in Washington to evaluate the effectiveness of different tax and regulatory policies under consideration by policymakers and study the role of imperfect competition in determining these results.

We document that overall demand is relatively inelastic, that restrictions on entry result in retailers with significant market power, and that cost shocks are more than fully passed through from retailers to consumers.  We combine these empirical estimates to calculate the relationship between revenue and the tax rate, the dead-weight loss of taxation and the share of the tax burden that falls on consumers and producers, each of which are significantly effect by imperfect competition. 

We find that despite having the nation's highest tax rate, Washington still has significant scope to increase revenues by raising the tax rate on retail marijuana sales.  That is, they are still on the upward sloping portion of the laffer curve.  The amount of revenue generated by a given tax increase is also significantly larger due to retailer market power than it would be under perfect competition.  We also find significant social costs of taxation, roughly 2 dollars are lost to consumers and producers for every dollar of tax revenue generated.

September 23, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

California legislature passes bill to require state to proactively identify marijuana cases eligible for relief under Prop 64

Regular readers know that I regularly spotlight my recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," because I am so very eager to encourage states to couple marijuana reform with sustained efforts to minimize and ameliorate undue collateral consequences for people with past criminal convictions.  In that article, I praise  California for standing out among marijuana reform states for its robust efforts to enable and ensure the erasure of past marijuana convictions.  And, as reported in this new NPR piece, headlined "California Measure Would Expunge Many Marijuana-Related Crimes," the California legislature merits some more praise:

California lawmakers have approved a measure requiring prosecutors to expunge convictions or reduce sentences for many marijuana-related convictions dating back decades. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown, according to the Associated Press.

The bill, passed by the state Senate on Wednesday by a 22-8 vote, would require the state's Department of Justice to review cases dating as far back as 1975 until 2016 to determine their eligibility.

Proposition 64, which was approved by California voters in 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, as The Associated Press notes, "When voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adult use of marijuana, they also eliminated several pot-related crimes. The proposition also applied retroactively to pot convictions, but provided no mechanism or guidance on how those eligible could erase their convictions or have felonies reduced to misdemeanors."

If it becomes law, it would put the burden for cleaning up those records on the state. If the bill goes into effect, state DOJ officials will have until July 1, 2019, to determine which cases are eligible for review and turn them over to the district attorney's office, which will have another year to make any objections....

NPR reported in December that more than 4,000 people had already petitioned the courts regarding their marijuana-related crimes. However, there are still many people who are unaware that they are eligible to petition for a review of their conviction. NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon in February on the subject. San Francisco took measures to expunge and reduce the convictions for possession and recreational use going back to 1975 because only 23 people in the city started the process themselves.

"The problem is that if you go through that process, you have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing. It's a very expensive and very cumbersome process," Gascon said in the interview. "[The] reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney," he said....

State law gives Brown 12 days from Wednesday to sign or veto the legislation or it becomes law without his signature.

August 24, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Catching up with recent state marijuana reform news and research via Marijuana Moment

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Which of these 6 states will be next to legalize marijuana?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Hill piece authored by Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  Here are excerpts from his accouting:

Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have legalized the adult possession and use of marijuana. In the coming months, some or all of these states will likely be joining them.

Michigan

Voters this November will decide the fate of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. If passed, the voter-initiated measure will permit those over the age of 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates, while also licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales....

New Jersey

Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana use and sales in the Garden State — a pledge he reiterated in his 2019 budget address when he stated, “[T]he only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults. … [F]rom the standpoint of social justice, and from the standpoint of protecting our kids and lifting up our communities, I could not arrive at any other conclusion."...

North Dakota

Proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana in North Dakota recently turned in over 19,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to place a measure before voters this November. State officials must certify 13,452 of those signatures in order to qualify the measure for the 2018 electoral ballot.... In 2016, nearly two-thirds of state voters approved a ballot measure regulating medical cannabis access. However, state officials have yet to make the program operational. Activists have acknowledged that regulators' failure to swiftly implement the 2016 measure was the impetus for the 2018 campaign.

New York

Ongoing legislative efforts to reform the Empire State’s marijuana laws received a significant boost this month when a state-commissioned study issued by the New York Department of Health called for the plant’s legalization....

Oklahoma

Sooner State voters in June approved one of the nation’s most liberal medical cannabis access laws, and they may have the opportunity to enact even broader reforms this fall. Days away from an August 8th deadline, local activists are estimated to be just a few thousand signatures shy of meeting statewide requirements to place an adult use legalization measure on the November ballot.

Delaware

Sixty-one percent of Delaware voters believe cannabis ought to be legal for those over the age of 21. And a majority of state representatives agree with them. In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year.

As I see it, full legalization is only likely in Michigan this year, though it is possible the New Jersey legislature will get this done before too long. If New Jersey does enact full legalization, that would increase the odds of neighboring New York and Delaware moving forward with legalization. But the odds still seem long to me for lots more full legalization states until the 2020 cycle. That major election year I expect we could see full legalization votes in at least a half dozen states, including big ones like Arizona, Florida and Ohio

July 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New data from Washington state shows dramatic drop in felony marijuana cases after legalization

Download (18)It should not be surprising to see a significant drop in felony marijuana prosecutions after a jurisdiction legalizes the drug.  But this new local article reporting on data from Washington highlights how dramatic the drop has been in one state.  The article is headlined "After Legalization, A Nearly 90 Percent Drop In Marijuana Felony Convictions," and here are excerpts (with a few sentences emphasized):

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington state in 2012 resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of people sentenced for marijuana-related felonies, according to an analysis conducted for public radio by the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council.

Between June 2008 and December 2009, the analysis showed, there were 1,312 offenses committed that resulted in felony sentences for the manufacture, delivery or possession with the intent to deliver marijuana. By contrast, during an 18 month period following the opening of recreational marijuana stores in 2014, there were just 147 marijuana-related crimes that resulted in felony level sentences--a nearly 90 percent decrease....

The sharp drop in felony-level marijuana sentences in Washington is not a surprise to Tom McBride, the executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. In an email, McBride said a decline in prosecutions was "expected" and "desired" by the public. He added that legalization had also made it more difficult to establish probable cause in delivery to minors or black market marijuana-related cases "because presence, odor, etc of marijuana can be legal or not."

Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, also said the reduction in prosecutions was to be expected. But he added that a de-emphasis on marijuana enforcement, in part because of the rise in heroin and fentanyl cases, was resulting in more black market marijuana grows with ties to organized crime. “We need to direct more resources to the illicit [marijuana] grows that we are seeing across the state,” Strachan said in an email.

Of the 1,312 felony marijuana sentences that stemmed from offenses committed between June 2008 and December 2009, the vast majority, 1,217, were for first-time offenses, 76 were for subsequent offenses, 17 were for marijuana-related felonies in a school zone and two were for delivery or possession in a correctional facility.

By contrast, between December 2014 and June 2016, after marijuana stores opened, the number of marijuana crimes resulting in felony sentences for a first offense dropped to 145, there were no sentences for subsequent offenses or for selling marijuana in a school zone, and just one felony sentence related to marijuana in a correctional facility.

The Caseload Forecast Council, which helps the state plan for growth in entitlements, picked those particular date ranges to account for several factors including: the time lapse between the date of an offense and the date of the sentencing, and the length of time between when I-502 passed and the start of retail sales.

Data showing sentences for misdemeanor level marijuana crimes was not immediately available.

I think it especially notable that this data reveals how many first offenders were being brought into the criminal justice system prior to marijuana reform for felony offenses. But I would love to also see (a) what kinds of sentences felony offenders were getting both before and after legalization, as well as (b) prosecutions and sentences for misdemeanor marijuana offenses both before and after legalization. These felony data provides one snapshot of how marijuana reform impacts the criminal justice footprint of one part of the war on drugs, but a lot more data (and time) is needed to fully take stock of what a difference legalization laws can make.

July 25, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pennsylvania auditor issues report extolling benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana

Press-release-placeholderLate last week the Auditor General of Pennsylvania released this notable report on “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana” that reads a bit more like an advocacy group's document than something that would emerge from a state government office.  But, as this press release about the report reveals, the Auditor General of PA seems real eager to have access to a new revenue source:

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said Pennsylvania is missing out on $581 million per year in revenue by not regulating and taxing marijuana — money that could fund critical initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives. “Repeated polls have shown that a majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legalized.  In Pennsylvania, it’s 56 percent,” DePasquale said during a news conference with Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.

“Today, I’m releasing a special report that shows the staggering amount the state could reap in tax revenue if legislators simply did what their constituents want them to do: regulate and tax marijuana for adult use.”

The 14-page special report, “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana,” compiles national research data, which show that an average of 8.38 percent of the commonwealth’s adults (21 and older) currently use marijuana at least monthly — a total of 798,556 adults. In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, adult users spend an average of $2,080 annually.  If Pennsylvania’s 798,556 adult users spent the same amount, they would create a $1.66 billion retail industry.

Assuming Pennsylvania taxed the growth, cultivation and sale of marijuana at 35 percent, the state would collect roughly $581 million in tax revenue annually. If Allegheny and Philadelphia counties were allowed to add 1-2 percent local tax, they could collect an additional $3.8 million and $6.9 million, respectively. “Imagine what that $581 million could mean for Pennsylvanians,” DePasquale said.  “Not only would it help balance the state budget, but it would also mean increases to initiatives that affect Pennsylvanians’ lives, such as greater access to opioid treatment and better health care access for veterans and children.”

DePasquale became the first statewide elected official to endorse regulating and taxing marijuana in March 2017. “With our neighboring states all looking at legalizing marijuana, now is the time for Pennsylvania to do the same,” DePasquale continued. “Legislators must act now so that we can be competitive and not lose potential revenue to other states.”

July 23, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)