Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, January 21, 2021

"Ensuring Marijuana Reform Is Effective Criminal Justice Reform"

The title of this article is the title of this new article that I wrote along with Alex Kreit that is now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

In less than a decade, marijuana legalization has gone from unthinkable to seemingly unstoppable.  This essay — written for a special issue on improving Arizona’s criminal justice system — discusses how Arizona should best advance marijuana legalization so that it can significantly improve Arizona’s criminal justice system.  Now that Arizona has legalized marijuana via ballot initiative, we do not wade too deeply into the arguments for and against legalization or the criminal justice impact inherent in the repeal of prohibition (such as reductions in marijuana arrests and sentences).  Instead, we focus on steps that Arizona policymakers and advocates who are interested in improving the criminal justice system can take to ensure that legalization best advances this goal.  First, we set the stage in Part I with a brief history of marijuana prohibition, its role in criminal enforcement today, and the movement to enact state legalization laws.  In Part II, we turn our attention to Arizona, beginning with a description of marijuana reform efforts in Arizona and key facets of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act.  We then provide recommendations for policymakers and other concerned parties about how to ensure modern marijuana reforms in Arizona (and elsewhere) can and should help build a reform infrastructure that could not only ensure record relief to redress past marijuana convictions but also address broader criminal justice issues that historically intersect with marijuana prohibition.

January 21, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Catching up on a remarkable political moment for marijuana reform with the help of Marijuana Moment

Monday, December 28, 2020

Update on the state of marijuana expungements in the Prairie State

Download (16)The Chicago Tribune has this new extended article details the status of expungement efforts in Illinois, and its full headline captures its themes: "Pot legalization was to bring expungements to many with records in Illinois. Numbers so far are low, but more are expected to be on the way."  Here are excerpts:

Marijuana legalization in Illinois came with grand plans for wiping clean many criminal records involving cannabis.  That aspect of the law was so important that on the eve of legalization on Jan. 1, 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people of low-level marijuana convictions.

Yet more than 700,000 cases could qualify for expungement, a process in which police and court records of arrests and convictions are cleared.  The process is crucial to giving people with such records a better chance at getting a job, an education and a place to live.

Now, almost one year after legalization took effect, few of those cannabis cases have been cleared. But officials say more expungements are on the way.  Under the legalization legislation, Illinois State Police were tasked with identifying by Jan. 1, 2021, those cases that occurred since 2013 that could be expunged automatically.  That amounts to some 47,000 cases, Toi Hutchinson, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s senior adviser on cannabis, said.  With the deadline just days away, state police said they would make an announcement about those expungements soon.

In Cook County, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx worked with a nonprofit tech company called Code for America to identify and clear 2,200 cases early this year.  But during the COVID shutdown of courts, that process was delayed for months. Now, prosecutors there plan to expunge another 11,000 cases early in 2021.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally also went to court to get about 1,900 cases expunged early in 2020. But in general, other counties have not taken such initiative.  Some are still waiting for state police to identify which cases are eligible. Lake County, for instance, the state’s attorney’s office knew of only two requests to vacate and expunge records, both of which were granted.

As a result, many people are still paying the price for having small amounts of marijuana that customers now buy routinely at pot shops.  On the production side, licensed cannabis companies are churning out tons of the plant, amounts that previously could have earned life sentences in prison.

Now, after months of delays in the process, in part because of the pandemic, advocates are trying to reboot parts of the state’s plan to clear convictions.  While only misdemeanor and the lowest level felony cases are eligible for automatic expungement, there remain an estimated 71,000 cases involving larger amounts of cannabis that don’t qualify for automatic expungement but are eligible to be cleared in court, advocates say.  Yet very few individuals have come forward seeking to clear their records, advocates say.  They blame lack of familiarity with the process by the public, courts and court clerks.

In response, a program called New Leaf is seeking to get people with pot convictions to come forward and get their slates wiped clean.  New Leaf brings together 20 nonprofit organizations to help people get through the sometimes difficult process, which can take months or years.  The program is being led by Illinois Legal Aid Online, which has step-by-step instructions for people to take part.  The effort is being funded by taxpayers through the nonprofit Illinois Equal Justice Foundation.

December 28, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Notable NORML accounting of marijuana reform highlights in 2020

I just came across this recent posting titled "2020 NORML Victories," which serves as a kind of year-in-review  of marijuana reform highlights in 2020.  Folks should click through to see the particulars as discussed by NORML, but here are heading flagging big developments in this post:

Historic: House Of Representatives Passes Legislation Repealing Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Cannabis Retailers Are Acknowledged To Be “Essential Businesses”

2020 Election Was A Clean Sweep For Legalization Ballot Measures

Virginia Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession, Calls For Legalization

Tens Of Thousands Have Their Criminal Marijuana Records Expunged

Vermont Legalizes Retail Marijuana Access

I now see that NORML has this additional new accounting of the marijuana reform year that was under the headline "2020 Year in Review: NORML’s Top Ten Events in Marijuana Policy." Here are the listed events:

#1: Advocates Run the Table on Election Day

#2: House of Representatives Votes to Repeal Federal Marijuana Prohibition

#3: Tens of Thousands Have Their Marijuana Records Expunged

#4: Sales of Retail Cannabis Products Reach Historic Highs

#5: No Uptick in Youth Marijuana Use Following Legalization

#6: Vermont Lawmakers Legalize Retail Marijuana Access

#7: More Seniors Report Using Cannabis to Improve Their Quality of Life

8: Cannabis Retailers Designated as “Essential Businesses”

#9: Studies Show Off-The-Job Cannabis Use No Threat to Workplace Safety

#10: Virginia Ceases Arrests for Marijuana Possession

December 27, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How state marijuana legalization became a boon for corruption"

The title of this post is the headline of this great new lengthy Politico article, which is summarized by its subheadline: "By making local officials the gatekeepers for million-dollar businesses, states created a breeding ground for bribery and favoritism."  I recommend the piece in full, and here is a small taste:

In the past decade, 15 states have legalized a regulated marijuana market for adults over 21, and another 17 have legalized medical marijuana.  But in their rush to limit the numbers of licensed vendors and give local municipalities control of where to locate dispensaries, they created something else: A market for local corruption.

Almost all the states that legalized pot either require the approval of local officials – as in Massachusetts – or impose a statewide limit on the number of licenses, chosen by a politically appointed oversight board, or both. These practices effectively put million-dollar decisions in the hands of relatively small-time political figures – the mayors and councilors of small towns and cities, along with the friends and supporters of politicians who appoint them to boards.  And these strictures have given rise to the exact type of corruption that got [Fall River Mayor Jasiel] Correia in trouble with federal prosecutors.  They have also created a culture in which would-be cannabis entrepreneurs feel obliged to make large campaign contributions or hire politically connected lobbyists.

For some entrepreneurs, the payments can seem worth the ticket to cannabis riches.  For some politicians, the lure of a bribe or favor can be irresistible.

Correia’s indictment alleges that he extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies in exchange for granting them the local approval letters that are necessary prerequisites for obtaining Massachusetts licenses.  Correia and his co-conspirators — staffers and friends — accepted a variety of bribes including cash, more than a dozen pounds of marijuana and a “Batman” Rolex watch worth up to $12,000, the indictment charges.

December 27, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 5, 2020

"Cannabis Capitalism"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Paul Larkin now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Federal law treats cannabis as contraband, but more than 30 states allow it to be sold for medical or recreational use.  The industry has a unique, quasi-legal status that poses legal, political, and commercial challenges for member businesses.  States with legalized cannabis use allow parties to own the means of production and sale, but supervise the industry by using traditional regulatory tools such as licensing, product quality testing, and taxation.

Yet, those supply-side regulations are not likely to control the harms that cannabis overuse can generate.  Like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is a consumer good that can harm individual users and third parties.  Supply-side restrictions are also necessary to limit the number of people who overly consume marijuana.  States should assume responsibility for the sale of that product, just as many already do in the case of alcohol.  States should also decline to advertise their own sales of cannabis.  Finally, Congress should require states to assume those responsibilities as a condition of revising the federal Controlled Substances Act to lift the federal ban on cannabis sales.

December 5, 2020 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 30, 2020

"Preventing Industry Abuse of Cannabis Equity Program"

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

"Trends in Adolescent Treatment Admissions for Marijuana in the United States, 2008–2017"

126027997_3443829359064341_5275240354102147479_n-768x1005The title of this post is the title of this notable new publication from the CDC's Preventing Chronic Disease series authored by Jeremy Mennis.  (Hat tip Marijuana Moment.)  Here are the highlights and action sections that conclude the piece (with some sentences highlighted):

Highlights

The map, visually dominated by blue tones, clearly shows that adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana declined in most of states.  The mean annual admissions rate for all states declined over the study period by nearly half, from 60 (admissions per 10,000 adolescents) in 2008 to 31 in 2017, with state admissions rate slopes ranging from −0.42 to 0.19 (median = –0.28).  State admissions rates in 2008 ranged from fewer than 1 to 218 (median = 52); in 2017 they ranged from fewer than 1 to 167 (median = 21). Admissions rates increased over the study period in only 7 states, 6 of which (excepting North Dakota) have relatively low mean admissions rates (states colored lighter orange).  Low mean admissions rates tend to occur in a loose band extending from the Southwest through the South, Appalachia, and into parts of New England.  All 12 states in the high mean admissions rate class sustained admissions declines, with 10 of those states having declines in the steepest category (states colored darkest blue).  Consistent with prior research on medical marijuana and adolescent marijuana use (12), medical legalization status does not appear to correspond to treatment admission trends.  Notably, however, 7 of 8 states with recreational legalization during the study period fall into the class with the steepest level of admissions decline.

Action

To our knowledge, this map is the first to illustrate state level trends in adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana, and the trends depicted can inform public health responses to changing marijuana laws.  Possible causes for the overall decline, and variations among states, in admissions trends include changes in attitudes toward marijuana, as well as differences among states in marijuana use and incidence of CUD, as well as in socioeconomic status, treatment availability, and health insurance (5).  Whatever the causes of the observed patterns, however, this research suggests that a precipitous national decline in adolescent treatment admissions, particularly in states legalizing recreational marijuana use, is occurring simultaneously with a period of increasing permissiveness, decreasing perception of harm, and increasing adult use, regarding marijuana (4,13).  These trends indicate the need for sustained vigilance in the prevention and treatment of youth CUD during this period of expanding marijuana legalization.

November 23, 2020 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 8, 2020

In what states (and how quickly) might we now see marijuana reform through the traditional legislative process?

I mentioned briefly in this post a few days ago that the big wins at the polls for marijuana reform in red and blue states nationwide will surely have all sorts of future reform echoes.  As the question in the title of this post flags, I am especially intrigued to watch, in the short term, developments in various states in which we might reasonably expect the traditional legislative process to now take up reform.

The most obvious answer to the question in the post title flows from the big win for full legalization reform in New Jersey.  That result, for reasons discussed a bit in this prior post, certainly should increase the likelihood of traditional legislative reforms neighboring New York and Pennsylvania and maybe even a few other mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.  I have also seen mentioned that New Mexico might be a lot more likely to move forward with reforms now that legalization prevailed in Arizona.  

But, of course, New Jersey ended up having a ballot initiative this election cycle because its legislature could not agree on a framework for legalization through the traditional legislative process.  New Jersey demonstrated in 2019 that even when a legislature has "the will" for marijuana reform, it might not always readily find "the way."  So even if legislatures in New York and other states now seriously commit themselves to full legalization, turning that kind of commitment into completed legislation can still prove challenging.

One final element to consider here are states that seem likely to have state legalization ballot initiatives in the works for 2022.  In states like Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma and a few others, I wonder if legislatures might have the wisdom and foresight to consider moving forward with reform through the (somewhat controllable) legislative process rather than just allowing reform to be defined by the (advocate controlled) ballot initiative process.  Interesting times.

November 8, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Some (too early) speculations on the (uncertain) future of marijuana reform after big state wins Election Night 2020

Ballot-map-type2-minAs of Wednesday morning after a very long 2020 Election Night, there is a lot which remains uncertain politically, but one matter is quite clear: marijuana reform is very popular all across the United States.  As noting in this post last night, marijuana reform ballot initiatives prevails by pretty large numbers in states as diverse as Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota.   This Politico article, headlined "1 in 3 Americans now lives in a state where recreational marijuana is legal," provides some political context:

New Jersey and Arizona, with 8.9 million and 7.3 million residents, respectively, are the biggest wins for advocates this year.  Legalization in New Jersey is expected to create a domino effect for legalization in other large East Coast states, including Pennsylvania and New York.

South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi, while much smaller, are significant in another way: As red states, the passage of marijuana measures illustrates the shift in Republican sentiment toward marijuana.

The impact of these ballot measures will be felt in Congress, especially if Democrats regain control of the Senate.  If all the measures ultimately pass, a third of House members will represent states where marijuana is legal, as will a fourth of the Senate.  If Democrats end up in control of both chambers next year, expect those legal state lawmakers to be called upon to vote on significant changes to federal marijuana policy — including removing all federal penalties for using it.

As of this writing, it is still unclear who will be in the White House for the next four years, but it seems increasing clear that Democrats will not be in control of the Senate.  This reality leads me to speculate that, despite the big 2020 state ballot wins, it will still be quite challenging for Congress to move forward with any significant federal statutory marijuana reforms.  Whether to pursue a modest or major form of federal reform already divides Democratic lawmakers in various ways, and I doubt that Republican leadership in the Senate will be eager to prioritize or even advance various bills on this topic.  If the person in the White House decides he wants to focus on this issue, these political realities could surely change.  But, at this moment, it seems to me unlikely that a large number of lawmakers at the federal level will be keen to prioritize these matters in the short term.

But continued non-action at the federal level could actually make even more space for state-level reforms to continue apace.  As the Politico excerpt highlights, the outcome in New Jersey should increase the likelihood of traditional legislative reforms in states like New York and Pennsylvania and maybe other northeast states.  Also, the big ballot wins in red states in 2020 also makes even more likely that there will be ballot initiatives for full legalization or medical marijuana reform in a half-dozen or more states in the coming years.  Just off the top of my head, I count Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma as all real possibilities for state initiatives perhaps as early as 2022.

November 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Marijuana and other drug reforms have a big night across the nation

Though it may be a bit too early to declare all the ballot initiatives winners, as of this writing just before the end of Election Day 2020, it seems as though every marijuana reform initiative and all the other drug reform initiatives on ballots today are going to pass.  Specifically, as now reported on this Marijuana Moment tracking page, here is what I am seeing:

Full marijuana legalization:

Arizona: 60% in favor

Montana: 60% in favor

New Jersey:  67% in favor

South Dakota: 53% in favor

 

Medical marijuana legalization:

Mississippi: 69% in favor

South Dakota: 69% in favor

 

Psychedelic decriminalization/legalization:

Oregon: 55% in favor

Washington DC: 77% in favor

 

Drug Decriminalization:

Oregon: 59 % in favor

November 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"From Medical to Recreational Marijuana: Lessons for States in Transition"

The title of this post is the title of this exciting and timely new report authored by Dexter Ridgway and Jana Hrdinova of The Ohio State University's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  (The full glossy version of the report is at this link, an SSRN version can be found at this link.)  Here is the report's abstract:

As of October 2020, eleven states and the District of Columbia have undergone a transition from medical to adult-use marijuana regimes navigating the creation of a new industry within a complex and incongruous legal framework.  The collective experience of these states has created a wealth of lessons for other states that might legalize adult-use marijuana in the future.  Yet not much has been written about the process of transition and how states managed the creation and implementation of the regulatory framework for an emerging industry.

This report, which draws on interviews with current and former government officials, aims to fill this gap by documenting lessons learned and decision-making behind the policies that shaped the recreational landscape in four states: Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and Oregon.  The purpose of this research is to provide actionable and concrete advice to states that are transitioning, or are planning for a transition, from a medical marijuana regime to an adult-use or recreational framework.  The report highlights major decision points states face in their transitions and the pros and cons of each choice, lessons learned gathered from the participants in our study, and a short discussion of major challenges each state had to face with their respective programs.y 

November 3, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United 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)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"Drug Reforms on the 2020 Ballot"

6a00d83451574769e20263e96fedc3200b-320wiThe title of this post is the title of this great new web resource put together by the folks I have the honor to work with at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.  The resource collects and organizes information and links about the significant number of drug policy reforms proposals appearing on state ballots this election cycle.  Here is introduction to the detailed state-by-state materials:

A closer look at drug policy reform decisions voters will make during the 2020 election

On election day 2020, voters will decide more than the next United States President.  Drug policy and enforcement reforms will appear on numerous state-level ballots.  Five states have qualifying initiatives that attempt to legalize marijuana for medical or adult-use consumption, including some states that will ask voters to decide on multiple pathways to a legal market.  And marijuana reform is not the only drug-related issue on ballots. Initiatives in a few states and Washington, D.C. will ask voters to modify existing sentencing laws, decriminalize all drugs, or legalize psychedelics for adult-use and therapeutic reasons.

To gain a better understanding of what this election could mean for drug policy across the U.S., the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) has developed a list of key ballot initiatives reaching voters in 2020.  Read on for a list of initiatives we will be watching this November in the areas of marijuana legalizationpsychedelics, and criminal justice.

Plus, don’t miss our post-election event Drug Policy Implications of the 2020 Elections on November 16, 2020. Our panel of experts will discuss the 2020 election results and what they are likely to mean for drug enforcement and policy at both the state and federal level.

October 28, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Vermont now on path to be latest state allowing marijuana sales and also to automatically expunge past convictions

Vermont-Marijuana-LegalizationRoughly 32 months ago, as noted in this prior post from January 2018, the Green Mountain State became the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana through an act of a state legislature rather than by voter initiative (and Vermont was then the ninth state overall to legalize use).   But that original law contained no provisions for the commercial sale of marijuana, and it took until this fall for sales to be legalized and regulated in the state (and now Vermont is then the eleventh state overall to legalize sales).   This Marijuana Moment article, headlined "Vermont Governor Allows Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill To Take Effect Without His Signature," effectively provides the details on the latest reforms that also include another related criminal justice development (which I strongly believe should go hand-in-hand with any reforms):

The governor of Vermont announced on Wednesday that he will allow a bill to legalize marijuana sales in the state to take effect without his signature. He also signed separate legislation to automate expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

While Vermont legalized personal possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants for adults in 2018, retails sales have remained prohibited. But now with Gov. Phil Scott’s (R) decision not to veto the new cannabis commercialization bill, a tax-and-regulate system will finally be implemented.

Differing versions of the marijuana sales proposal passed each chamber before being reconciled in a bicameral conference committee last month.  The legislature then approved the finalized proposal and sent it to Scott’s desk.  The governor had been noncommittal about his plans for the legislation — even up until the day before the signature deadline — and had hinted that he was even considering vetoing the bill.  But he ultimately gave legal cannabis supporters a win by deciding not to block the reform.

In the conference committee, legislators worked fastidiously to ensure that Scott’s stated concerns about the policy change were largely addressed.  Those issues primarily related to impaired driving, taxes and local control.  But after the legislature advanced a finalized form, Scott threw advocates for a loop, stating that while he appreciated the legislative process that the bill went through, certain racial justice groups had raised concerns with his office about the extent to which the proposal addressed social equity in the cannabis industry for communities historically targeted by the war on drugs.  There was some suspicion that the governor was using that pushback as an excuse to veto S. 54....

In the end, however, he stood out of the way and took no proactive action.  “However, there is still more work to be done to ensure the health and safety of our kids and the safety of our roadways—we should heed the public health and safety lessons of tobacco and alcohol,” Scott wrote in a letter to lawmakers announcing his decision. “Further, I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history which requires us to address systemic racism in our governmental institutions. We must take additional steps to ensure equity is a foundational principle in a new market.”...

It’s possible that there was some political calculus involved in the decision to let the bill go into law despite his concerns, as his reelection challenger, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D), is a vocal advocate for legalization and has raised the issue in recent appearances.  Zuckerman stressed in a debate last week that while he agrees with the sentiment that more needs to be done to ensure racial justice, an imperfect bill can be improved upon, and the legislature has plenty of time to finesse the details before legal cannabis sales launch.  He also noted that separate legislation providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions, which Scott signed on Wednesday, would complement the restorative justice provisions of the tax-and-regulate bill.

A coalition of Vermont civil rights and criminal justice reform groups including the state’s ACLU chapter released a statement on Sunday that says while they shared concerns about the limitations of the social equity components of the marijuana commerce bill, they felt it could be built upon and wanted the governor to sign it, in addition to the expungements legislation....

Under the tax-and-regulate bill, a new Cannabis Control Commission will be responsible for issuing licenses for retailers, growers, manufacturers, wholesalers and labs. The body will also take over regulation of the state’s existing medical cannabis industry from the Department of Public Safety.  A 30 percent THC limit will be imposed on cannabis flower, while oils could contain up to 60 percent THC.  Flavored vape cartridges will be banned.  Local jurisdictions will have to proactively opt in to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their area. Municipalities will also be able to establish their own regulations and municipal licensing requirements....

The separate expungements bill would make it so those with convictions for marijuana possession of up to two ounces, four mature plants and eight immature plants prior to January 2021 would have their records automatically cleared.  Those who receive expungements would be notified by mail.

October 11, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Is South Dakota soon to become the first deep-red mainland state to fully legalize marijuana?

Growing-marijuana-south-dakota-600x250The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Marijuana Moment piece headlined "South Dakota Voters Support Medical And Recreational Marijuana Initiatives, New Opposition Poll Finds."  Here are excerpts:

A majority of South Dakota voters support separate initiatives to allow both medical and recreational marijuana that will appear on the state’s November ballot, according to a new poll funded by legalization opponents.

But when it comes to the proposed adult-use legalization amendment, opponents argue that there’s significant confusion over what it would accomplish, as most people who said they favor the measure cited therapeutic applications of cannabis as reasons they support the broad reform.

The statutory medical cannabis initiative would allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.  They could also grow at least three plants, or more if authorized by a physician.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which couldn’t be changed by the legislature if approved by voters, would legalize marijuana for adult use. People 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.

There’s strong support for each of the measures in the new prohibitionist-funded survey, which was conducted June 27-30 and announced in a press release on Thursday. Roughly sixty percent of South Dakota voters said they favor recreational legalization, while more than 70 percent said they back medical cannabis legalization, according to the No Way on A Committee, which didn’t publish detailed cross-tabs, or even specific basic top-line numbers, from the poll results.

The decision by the prohibitionist committee to release the results of a poll showing such broad support for legalization is an interesting one. Typically, ballot campaigns and candidates use polling results to demonstrate momentum, but perhaps the South Dakota group is seeking to sound the alarm and generate donations from national legalization opponents to help stop the measure. If South Dakota votes to legalize cannabis this November, that would signal that the policy can pass almost anywhere....

While the recreational measure might not have been crafted solely with patient access in mind, adults who want to use marijuana for therapeutic reasons would still stand to benefit from a regulated market — regardless of whether it’s a medical or adult-use model — so it’s possible that the survey results don’t demonstrate total confusion among those respondents. Plus, the constitutional amendment does contain language requiring the legislature to enact policies on medical cannabis as well—providing more robust constitutional protections for therapeutic use than the statutory measure alone would ensure.

Maine, Nevada and especially Alaska are arguably "reddish" or "red" states that have already fully legalized marijuana via ballot initiatives in years past. But South Dakota is really deep red, as in 2016 it voted for Donald Trump two-to-one over Hillary Clinton. If such a deep red state really does vote convincingly for full marijuana legalization, I think the prospects for federal reforms get a lot brighter no matter who is in charge at the federal level after this election.

September 22, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 5, 2020

"Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Law Enforcement and Crime: Final Report"

Images (13)The title of this post is the title of this lengthy new report, which was made possible by funding from the National Institute of Justice and which digs deeply into law enforcement and crime experiences after Washington state legalized marijuana. The study covers lots of important ground in thoughtful and diverse ways, and here are part of its lengthy abstract:

In 2012 the citizens of Washington State, via Initiative 502, legalized possession of a small amount of cannabis by adults.  On July 1, 2014 licensed retail outlets in Washington opened with a regulated and monitored product. The effects that this legalization would have on crime and law enforcement in the state were open questions.  In this National Institute of Justice-funded study we employed a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches geared toward addressing these questions. Research partners and participants included municipal, county, state and tribal law enforcement agencies representing 14 state, urban, suburban, rural, and tribal organizations in Washington the neighboring state of Idaho, as well as law enforcement professionals from 25 additional agencies and organizations.  Focus group, joint, and individual interviews involved 153 justice system officials that included sworn officers from three multi-agency drug task forces and one gang task force....  We constructed case study profiles and assessed qualitative (focus groups, interviews) and quantitative (Uniform Crime Reporting Program or UCR, calls for service records, and body/dash camera footage) data regarding how police practices and strategies, and crime itself, have been affected by legalization in Washington, and how that watershed decision in Washington has changed policing in adjacent border areas....

We found that marijuana legalization has not had an overall consistently positive or negative effect on matters of public safety.  Instead, legalization has resulted in a varied set of outcomes, including: concern about youth access to marijuana and increased drugged driving, a belief that there is increased cross border transference of legal marijuana to states that have not legalized, reports that training and funding for cannabis-related law enforcement activities have been deficient given the complex and enlarged role the police have been given, and the persistence of the complex black market.  On the “positive” front, legalization appears to have coincided with an increase in crime clearance rates in several areas of offending and an overall null effect on rates of serious crime.  Importantly, the legalization of marijuana has reduced the number of persons brought into the criminal justice system by non-violent marijuana possession offenses.  The police were also greatly concerned about how to best handle the detection and documentation of marijuana-related impairment in both commercial vehicle operations and traffic incidents.  The state has adopted the Target Zero goal of no traffic fatalities by 2030 and the legalization of marijuana and the privatization of liquor sales have combined to make accomplishment of this worthy goal extremely difficult.

Our research methodology necessarily included a number of limitations that would prevent the wholesale generalization of the results.  For instance, most of the data was collected from one state (Washington) which was one of the two “pioneer” states involved in legalization in this country.  Furthermore, the calls for service data were obtained from a limited number of agencies and are likely not generalizable to the entire state, much less the country.  The crime data is extracted from the UCR database (as not all of Washington was National Incident Based Reporting System [NIBRS] compliant for all years under study) is known to suffer from a number of limitations, including: undercounting of some crimes, a lack of contextual information about criminal activity, and missing incidents not reported to the police.  While the calls for service data address some limitations of the UCR database (for instance, calls for service data are better suited for the analysis of minor crimes), these data still do not address the limitation that only incidents reported to the police are analyzed.  Put simply, if legalization resulted in a shift in criminal behavior that was not reported to the police, our quantitative analyses would be incapable of detecting it.  Similarly, the body-worn camera (BWC) analysis was exploratory in nature and the data represent two agencies that are geographically and organizationally disparate.  As an exploratory component, these results are not generalizable.

The qualitative findings of this study offer insight into the lived experiences of officers, deputies, troopers, trainers, supervisors, administrators, and prosecutors, and are not without their limitations.  Our qualitative data are limited by issues of generalizability (they may not represent the opinions of law enforcement professionals more broadly) and potentially be issues of selection bias (it is possible that those with the strongest opinions were perhaps most likely to volunteer to participate in focus groups and interviews).  As with any research design employing purposive sampling, these results are not generalizable.  They do not represent the lived experiences of all law enforcement officers or justice system representatives, nor adequately capture the totality of the lived experiences of this study’s participants.... These results emphasized and sought to document experiences pre- and post-legalization. While we made every effort to restrain our analysis to issues involving cannabis legalization effects on law enforcement and crime, our participants, as reflected in our findings, often gravitated towards broader frustrations involving police resourcing, training, and prosecutorial practices.  Lastly, while our qualitative data is wellsuited for capturing the perceptions of police officers, they are also limited in this regard.  Police perceptions of legalization may be skewed and not reflective of the broader process of legalization.

September 5, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pennsylvania Gov advocating for full legalization to aid economic recovery amidst COVID pandemic

In this post back in March, I wondered aloud "In a post-COVID economy, will job creation and tax revenue from marijuana reform become irresistible?".  Five months later, I am sad that we are not yet to a "post-COVID" era, but can still note this new piece at Marijuana Moment revealing a prominent development serving as a kind of answer to my question.  The piece is headlined "Pennsylvania Governor Calls For State-Run Marijuana Sales To Boost Economy Amid Coronavirus," and here are excerpts:

The governor of Pennsylvania is calling on lawmakers to legalize marijuana to aid the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — and he’s floating the idea that the state itself would sell the cannabis to consumers.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) talked about his plan to address the COVID-19 crisis and included legalization prominently in his agenda. Tax revenue from marijuana sales could help “supplement” relief loans provided by the federal government, he said.  Asked about the prospects of advancing legalization legislation through a Republican-controlled legislature, the governor said, “I think there was some appetite for it before and my hope is that with the pandemic and the hit that we’ve taken to revenues that there might be a little more interest in it right now.”...

Unlike Colorado and all other legal markets, however, Wolf is suggesting that lawmakers pursue a state-run cannabis model.  “The proposal is, that for people that people over 21 years of age, I think we have a state store system that would be an ideal way to distribute it,” he said.  “But I think it’s also a way that the state could actually get some tax revenue from something that people are evidently already doing.”

The governor also acknowledged that tax revenue from marijuana sales wouldn’t occur immediately, but he stressed the need to implement regulations quickly so that they can begin collecting those dollars as soon as possible.  According to an outline of the plan, 50 percent of that tax revenue “would be earmarked for historically disadvantaged businesses.”

“Along with the call to the General Assembly to pass legislation legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, the governor proposes that a portion of the revenue be used to further restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of marijuana criminalization,” it states.  “Also, the governor wants the General Assembly to pursue criminal justice reform policies that restore justice for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses.”...

Shortly after the governor announced that he is embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model as Wolf is now proposing. With this new plan, Wolf is also aligning himself with a majority of Senate Democrats, who sent him a letter last month, arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to state shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) announced that he would be introducing a revised legalization bill for the session. The lawmaker, who filed a similar bill last year, wrote that his proposal will be “the most comprehensive and well-vetted legislation providing for a legal adult-use cannabis industry.” It would also provide for expungements and releasing people from prison for non-violent drug offenses.

Outside of Pennsylvania, other leaders are recognizing that taxing and regulating marijuana can provide a much-needed economic boost amid the coronavirus pandemic. In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said in May that the state needs to explore every option for economic relief, and that includes passing cannabis legalization.  The governor of New Jersey said last month that legalizing cannabis could simultaneously help the state recover economically from crisis while also promoting racial justice.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was asked in May about whether marijuana legalization could serve as a tool for economic recovery and he expressed support for the proposal, stating that while the legislature hasn’t yet accomplished the policy change, “I believe we will” down the line.

A few of many prior COVID-cannabis related posts:

August 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few of may prior related posts:

August 9, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

New poll suggest Jersey a near lock to legalize marijuana

Download (2)This article from Marijuana Moment, headlined, "Nearly Seven-In-Ten New Jersey Voters Support Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure, Poll Finds," reports on a notable new poll suggesting that many members of the the Garden State are eager to vote to legalize marijuana.  Here are the details:

A supermajority of New Jersey voters say in a new poll that they support a marijuana legalization referendum that will appear on the November ballot.  The survey, which was conducted by DKC Analytics and released on Tuesday, shows that 68 percent of respondents back the policy change.  That’s a seven percentage point increase compared to a separate poll on the issue released in April.

The survey also shows that voters support allowing social consumption lounges for cannabis, 50 percent to 38 percent.  Most respondents (56 percent) agreed that online ordering and home delivery for marijuana products would be a “good way to provide adults with access.”

Supporters of the legalization initiative were asked to select the reasons they hold that position.  Seventy percent said they feel a regulated system will curb the illicit market, 61 percent said it would generate tax revenue, 61 percent said regulations would ensure safer products, 60 percent said ending criminalization would save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to law enforcement, 57 percent said legalization would stimulate the economy and create jobs and 43 percent said cannabis is safer than alcohol....

Another supermajority (68 percent) said people with prior low-level cannabis convictions should be able to have their records expunged.  The same percentage of respondents said that marijuana tax revenue should go toward drug education and awareness programs.

“The polling results confirmed our belief that there is overwhelming support for the creation of a regulated, adult-use cannabis marketplace in New Jersey,” John Fanburg, an attorney at Brach Eichler, which commissioned the survey, said in a press release.  “Respondents supported it because it will create tremendous opportunity. It will create vitally needed new businesses, the state will receive significant tax revenues and illegal sales will be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated.  Voters see this as a win for everyone.”

As has historically been the case, people who identified as Democrats are more likely to support legalization (78 percent), but majorities of Republicans (57 percent) and independents (63 percent) also favor the policy change.

Another interesting finding was that most people who participated in the survey (57 percent) said they do not personally consume cannabis.  The poll involved phone interviews with 500 New Jersey likely voters from July 7-12.  ”The strong level of support for correcting this decades-old inequality, especially in the context of recent protests of inherent bias in law enforcement, should be well noted by our legislators who will be tasked with correcting this unfortunate consequence of the failed policy of prohibition,” Charles Gormally of Brach Eichler said.

July 29, 2020 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)