Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, April 12, 2021

"Nowhere to Now, Where? Reconciling Public Cannabis Use in a Public Health Legal Framework"

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

States continue to legalize recreational cannabis, but most have heavily restricted where consumption of newly licit cannabis is permitted.  Every legalizing state has thus far prohibited open, outdoor public use, either limiting lawful use to private property or allowing a small number of licensed indoor venues for consumption outside of public view, an approach borrowed from alcohol control.  In contrast, some non-U.S. jurisdictions have adopted a tobacco control approach, allowing limited outdoor public use while prohibiting indoor public use.  Each approach presents individual and population health risks that reflect the complex intersection of health, social inequities, and community norms.

Cannabis consumers face uncertain but potentially significant health risks from use, and the relative availability of use locations also implicates existing inequities in policing practices and housing.  Those who do not use cannabis but are exposed to others’ use face possible harms from secondhand smoke and from intoxicated behavior, with such risks likely to be inequitably distributed due to existing employment and housing patterns.  Communities as a whole also face risks, including that changing cannabis norms may increase use prevalence or intensity and that concentration of cannabis outlets in under-resourced communities may prove as detrimental as the concentration of other disfavored businesses has been.

Each public use approach carries attendant risks, but a regulatory framework based on the tobacco control model best balances the protection of public health and the promotion of equity and social justice.  This model recognizes the parallels between cannabis and tobacco (in addition to those between cannabis and alcohol).  This approach also provides a pathway to mitigating the public health risks of cannabis legalization by leveraging an approach that has proven effective at reducing secondhand exposures and denormalizing smoking behavior in the tobacco context.

April 12, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

With New Mexico now officially the latest legalizer of marijuana, which state might be next?

Marijuana-new-mexicoAs reported in this new Hill piece, "New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) on Monday signed legislation to legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana in the state, as well as to expunge the records of people with prior, low-level cannabis convictions." Here is more:

"The legalization of adult-use cannabis paves the way for the creation of a new economic driver in our state with the promise of creating thousands of good paying jobs for years to come,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.  “We are going to increase consumer safety by creating a bona fide industry.  We’re going to start righting past wrongs of this country’s failed war on drugs.  And we’re going to break new ground in an industry that may well transform New Mexico’s economic future for the better,” Lujan Grisham said.

The governor noted that the sentencing component of the law could impact up to tens of thousands of New Mexicans, and make possible the potential early release of low-level convicted cannabis offenders who are currently incarcerated.

The governor’s signature launches an administrative process that will culminate in the launch of commercial sales for adults no later than April 1, 2022. Issuing licenses to conduct commercial cannabis activity will begin no later than Jan. 1, 2022.

Under the legislation, recreational marijuana sales would initially be taxed at 12 percent, eventually rising to 18 percent.  Medical marijuana would be exempt.  Adults over the age of 21 will be allowed to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis concentrates and 800 milligrams of infused edibles.  Home growers will be allowed six plants per person, with a cap of 12 plants per household....

The governor said legalization will generate needed tax revenue to help the state recover from the coronavirus pandemic. "As we look to rebound from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, entrepreneurs will benefit from this great opportunity to create lucrative new enterprises, the state and local governments will benefit from the added revenue and, importantly, workers will benefit from the chance to land new types of jobs and build careers,” Lujan Grisham said.

The legislation makes New Mexico the third state in recent weeks to pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill at the end of March, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) last week convinced lawmakers to move up the effective date of legalization by three years.

As the end of this article notes, 2021 has already been a banner year for marijuana legalization.  I am inclined to include New Jersey in the list of 2021 legalizing states (though perhaps the state formally came aboard the legalization train in 2020 when voters approved a ballot initiative that the state legislature operationalized in 2021). 

With three+ states already legalizing marijuana through traditional legislation, 2021 will go down as a historic year even without any other states (or the federal government) acting in this arena.  But this new Marijuana Moment article, headlined "Four More States Could Still Legalize Marijuana This Year After New Mexico, New York And Virginia," reviews the prospects for additional state action in the coming months in Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

April 12, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"American Edibles: How Cannabis Regulatory Policy Rehashes Prohibitionist Fears and What to do About It"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Jay Wexler and Connor Burns.  Here is its abstract:

Why can’t we buy a cannabis muffin with our morning coffee?  For much of the past century, the answer was simple: cannabis was illegal.  Now, however, with more and more states legalizing cannabis for adult use, the answer is far less clear.  Even in those states that have legalized cannabis, the simple action of buying and eating edibles at the same location has somehow remained a pipe dream despite consumer demand.  Digging a little deeper, we can see how contemporary alarmism, by rehashing the same prohibitionist rhetoric demonizing cannabis for over eighty years, has once again arisen with a new target: cannabis-infused edibles.  From journalists to policymakers to legal scholars, the rekindling of prohibitionist arguments against edibles has had real world impacts on the regulation of cannabis edibles, to the harm of all involved.

This Article explores contemporary cannabis edibles regulation using historical, scientific, and legal frameworks to explain why current edibles regulation is so problematic, and what to do about it.  By delving into the history of cannabis prohibition, this Article shows how the very same arguments propping up prohibitionist edibles policies are rooted in bad-faith arguments made decades ago that themselves were merely thin veils for racism.  Applying this historical perspective and a rational understanding of contemporary cannabis edibles, this Article explores how states have used prohibition-inspired regulations to address two main concerns — overconsumption and inadvertent consumption — and how such regulations need to be revisited and revised.  This Article then argues that social consumption sits at the crux of edibles regulation, and that states must implement social consumption imminently to address the harms that current regulations do not address, or even worse, perpetuate.

April 7, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 1, 2021

New Mexico on the verge of marijuana legalization only hours after New York legalized

New-mexico-300x199Though we sometimes have to wait until 4/20 for a lot of marijuana discussions, this week is proving historic as the New Mexico legislature last night passed two big marijuana reform bills just hours after New York's Governor officially signed that state's historic marijuana legalization bill (NY basics here).  This AP piece, headlined "New Mexico primed to join US recreational pot wave," reports on the basic details of the new laws just passed in the Land of Enchantment (yes, that is the official NM nickname):

New Mexico is joining a wave of states that are legalizing recreational marijuana as its Democrat-dominated Legislature sent a package of cannabis bills Wednesday to a supportive governor. Lawmakers used a marathon two-day legislative session to push through marijuana legalization for adults over 21 and a companion bill that automatically erases many past marijuana convictions, overriding skeptical Republicans.

By signing the bills, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would extend legal recreational pot sales in the American Southwest by April 2022, when the New Mexico legislation kicks in, and join 16 states that have legalized marijuana, mostly through direct ballot initiatives. California and Colorado were among the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana, with Arizona becoming one of the latest in the region to follow suit earlier this year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a legalization bill Wednesday, and a proposal in Virginia is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The New Mexico initiative would reconsider criminal drug sentences for about 100 prisoners, and give the governor a strong hand in licensing the industry and monitoring supplies.

New Mexico flirted with cannabis legalization in the 1990s, when then-Gov. Gary Johnson challenged taboos against decriminalization in defiance of Republican allies. The state’s medical marijuana program founded in 2007 has attracted more than 100,000 patients. The Legislature was reticent to legalize until now. Several hardline opponents of legalization in the state Senate were voted out of office by Democrats in 2020 primary elections, in a shift that paved the way for Wednesday’s historic vote.

Under the advancing legalization package, New Mexico would levy an initial excise tax on recreational marijuana sales of 12% that eventually rises to 18%. That’s on top of current gross receipts on sales that range from roughly 5% to 9%. Possession of up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana would cease to be a crime, and people would be allowed six plants at home — or up to 12 per household. The reforms would eliminate taxes on the sales of medical marijuana and seek to ensure adequate medicinal supplies.

“The United States of America is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to this,” said Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, lead sponsor of the legalization bill. “This bill begins to repair the harms of prohibition.”

State oversight would largely fall to the governor-appointed superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department that would issue licenses for a fee to marijuana-related businesses. The agency initially would have the authority to limit marijuana production levels by major producers — a lever over market supplies and pricing.... The legalization bill creates a cannabis control division to oversee 10 types of industry licenses. Those include micro-licenses with low annual fees for small producers to grow up to 200 marijuana plants and also package and sell their products.

Bill sponsor Martinez says that provides an important measure of equity, within a bill designed to support communities that suffered from criminalization of marijuana and tough policing. Past drug convictions don’t automatically disqualify applicants for marijuana business licenses. The odor of marijuana or suspicion of possession are no longer legal grounds to stop, detain or search people.

Legalization bill co-sponsor Rep. Deborah Armstrong says New Mexico will respond to early pitfalls of legalization in other states as it mandates child-proof packaging for marijuana products. Public health advocates condemned provisions that allow public consumption lounges for recreational cannabis, citing the dangers of second-hand smoke and vapor to workers and patrons.

Lawmakers discarded a Republican-sponsored bill from Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell that emphasized low taxes in an effort to stamp out illicit weed and would have provided low-cost licenses to small pot farmers by linking fees to the number of plants in cultivation. Local governments cannot prohibit pot businesses but can regulate locations and hours of operation, under the proposal. Bill sponsors say that sheriffs and police want consistency from town-to-town on rules and enforcement.

Republican state Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs voted against legalization and said she was amazed that legislative colleagues would support the freedom to buy mind-altering drugs amid New Mexico’s struggles with poverty and opioid overdoses. “I just think it’s terribly unfair to impose this kind of significant change in our way of life and areas of the state that clearly do not welcome this,” Kernan said.

April 1, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

New York to be the very latest (and one of the very biggest) states to legalize recreational marijuana

New-York-MarijuanaAs detailed in this Bloomberg article, headlined "New York Moves to Become Second Largest Pot Market In U.S.," a very big state is about to make marijuana use legal. Here are just some of the highlights:

New York moved toward creating the nation’s second-largest market for legal marijuana when the state Legislature passed Tuesday a bill that would impose special pot taxes and allow the licensing of dispensaries.

The measure (S.854A /A.1248A) would allow cannabis storefronts to open as soon as next year, and would let home growers start cultivating their own pot. It would limit the number of licenses for large corporations, and impose sales and excise taxes that are estimated to eventually bring in about $350 million a year.

The legislation would set in motion automatic expungement of records for people with previous convictions for activities that would no longer be criminalized when marijuana is legalized for use by adults 21 and older.

The Senate voted for the measure 40-23. The Assembly cleared the bill by a vote of 100-49. Both chambers’ votes were largely along party lines.... Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has said he will sign the bill, which he negotiated with lawmakers in a handshake deal last week.

Once New York’s program is fully rolled out, it’s anticipated to generate tens of thousands of jobs and about $4.2 billion in sales, surpassing Washington state and trailing only California, which had about $4.4 billion in sales last year.

Several lawmakers in both houses, mainly Republicans, brought up concerns with people under the influence of marijuana driving or going to work and using heavy machinery. “This legislation will be a liability,” said state Sen. Mario R. Mattera (R). “Our contractors are against this, the building trades are against this.”

Mattera, who voted “no” on the bill, also expressed concern over the dangers of drug use, particularly for youth. He described experiencing this problem in his own family, and called marijuana a “gateway” drug. “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

The legislation includes two kinds of new taxes: a 13% sales tax, with the money raised divided between the state (9%) and localities (4%), plus a distributor excise tax of as much as 3 cents per milligram of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, using a sliding scale based on the type of product and its potency.

Tax revenue would be used to run and oversee the state cannabis program, with the remaining money divided between programs that try to help people rebuild their lives after marijuana possession arrests, as well as their communities. The revenue would also go to education and drug treatment in the state. Cities, towns, and villages would have until the end of this year to opt out from having dispensaries and pot cafes in their communities.

Up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate would be legally permitted for personal possession outside of the home. Up to 5 pounds of cannabis will be allowed in a private residence, as long as it’s in a secure location out of the reach of those under age 21, according to the bill.

The proposal allows for the personal cultivation of cannabis, with an adult 21 or older permitted to have up to three mature plants and three immature plants. Per household, the limit would be six of each kind of plant. Home cultivation would become legal in six months for medical marijuana patients and legal for others no later than 18 months after the first shops open, dependent upon state regulations....

The bill would allow pot delivery services, with each licensee able to have the equivalent of up to 25 full-time employees. And it would allow for on-site pot consumption, as long as the cannabis cafes aren’t within 500 feet of a school, or 200 feet from a house of worship.

New York lawmakers also baked social and economic equity proposals into the legislation. A single company wouldn’t be allowed to handle all parts of a recreational transaction — cultivation, processing, distributing, and dispensing — with the exception of micro businesses. A cultivator or processor would be barred from having a direct or indirect financial interest in a retail dispensary.

A state Cannabis Control Board and Office of Cannabis Management would be required to take small businesses into consideration and prioritize “social and economic equity” applicants from communities disproportionately impacted when marijuana was illegal. Priority for licenses also would go to those who make less than 80% of their county’s median income, and those convicted in the past of a marijuana-related offense.

The bill sets a goal of allocating half of the adult-use licenses to a minority- or woman-owned business, distressed farmers, service-disabled veterans, or “social and economic equity” applicants. The state would also create business incubator programs for social equity applicants, make low- and zero-interest loans available to them, and would be permitted to waive their licensing fees, according to the bill.

March 30, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 22, 2021

New Jersey becomes officially the (lucky?) 13th state to fully legalize marijuana for adult use

New-jerseyAs reported in this local article, "New Jersey on Monday officially became the 13th state to legalize marijuana, as Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law three bills putting into effect a ballot question overwhelmingly supported by voters last year." Here is more about a big deal long in development that finally became a reality:

New Jersey the first state in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic to eschew decades of arrests in favor of a program that would stop tens of thousands of arrests per year and kickstart a brand new cannabis industry that could be an economic boom for the state and region.  Currently, the only other states on the East Coast to legalize weed are Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts.

"New Jersey's broken, indefensible marijuana laws — which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures, disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise — are no more," Murphy said in a press conference.  "In their place are laws that will usher in a new industry, based on equity, which will reinvest dollars into communities — laws which promote both public health by promoting safe cannabis products and public safety by allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes.  And yes, we are fulfilling the will of the voters by allowing adult use cannabis, while having in place common sense measures to deter its use among kids," Murphy added.

The laws signed Monday allow the possession and use of marijuana by anyone over 21 years old within the state of New Jersey, who can have up to 6 ounces of weed on them without facing any penalty.  The laws also allow the purchase and sale of legal weed at state-licensed dispensaries, though it could be well over a year before recreational sales even began.

Some marijuana offenses will remain criminal, including drug distribution and growing cannabis plants without a license.  New Jersey is the only state with legal weed that doesn't allow at least its medical marijuana patients to grow, and joins Washington as the only states without some recreational home grow.  "We're going to go with the bills I just signed.  We'll leave it at that," Murphy said, deflecting a question about home grow.  "I appreciate the folks who have reached out on that front, but we're going to go with what we've got."...

The bill signings on Monday morning capped off three months of legislative debate over the rules and regulations for legal weed, most recently a weeks-long stalemate over penalties for marijuana users under the age of 21.  More than two-thirds of New Jersey voters backed a marijuana ballot question in November, but the constitutional amendment put forth by the referendum could not take effect until such rules and regulations were in place.

In New Jersey, the campaign to legalize marijuana was largely pursued as a social justice-driven mission.  The “vote yes” campaign, NJ CAN 2020, was led by officials from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, who ran digital advertisements — live events were dismissed due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic — educating voters on the negative effects of a simple low-level marijuana possession arrest and the millions in tax dollars spent on prosecuting such cases....

According to crime data from the FBI, New Jersey police departments made over 33,000 arrests for marijuana in 2017, the 9th highest marijuana arrest rate per capita in the country, according to the ACLU.  And in New Jersey, Black people were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite similar usage rates among races, the ACLU said.

“The failed War on Drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities and hurting families in New Jersey and across our nation," U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said in a statement. "Today is a historic day."

Even Murphy, in his 2017 gubernatorial campaign, ran on a platform that included legalizing marijuana under a banner of social justice.  But advocates feared that such a mission had been lost in the shuffle since Election Day, as Murphy and legislative leaders negotiated the enabling legislation required to put the ballot question into action.

The ballot question’s constitutional amendment, for example, simply stated that the drug would be taxed at the state sales tax rate, currently 6.625%, to provide revenue for the state budget and defray the costs of police departments training officers to detect drugged drivers.

But advocates said that such a plan completely left out the largely Black communities where marijuana laws had been disproportionately enforced for decades.  The result was a unique two-tax structure that would send about 60% of tax revenue and 100% of revenue from a new “social justice user fee” to one of 20 “impact zones,” as decided by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the authority which will oversee not just legal weed for recreational use but the state’s growing medical marijuana program....

On Monday, lawmakers finally ended a six-week stalemate over how the state will penalize underage marijuana users, sending Murphy a “clean-up” bill designed to complement the pair already passed by the Legislature in December.  Those bills left open a major contradiction, with one stating that possessing marijuana under 21 years old was illegal while the other stated that no person — without age restriction — could face penalty for possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana.

The resulting compromise, which passed the Legislature on Monday morning, put into place a three-tiered warning system for both underage marijuana and alcohol use. Both will be treated as virtually the same crime, with the most serious penalty capped at a simple referral to community service groups to teach the offender about substance abuse.  All civil penalties and fines, even from underage drinking citations, were removed.

February 22, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

"The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations: 2021 Update"

The title of this post is the title of this recent "Policy Analysis" from the folks at the Cato Institute.  This 40-page document was authored by Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard, Jeffrey Miron, and Erin Partin, and here is its executive summary:

In November 2012, Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives that legalized marijuana for recreational use under state law.  Since then, nine additional states (Alaska, Oregon, California, Nevada, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Illinois) plus the District of Columbia have followed suit, either by ballot initiative or legislative action.  Voters in four other states (New Jersey, South Dakota, Arizona, and Montana) approved state ballot measures legalizing marijuana for personal use in the November 2020 election.

Supporters and critics make numerous claims about state-level marijuana legalizations.  Advocates suggest that legalization reduces crime, raises tax revenue, lowers criminal justice expenditures, improves public health, increases traffic safety, and stimulates the economy.  Critics argue that legalization spurs marijuana and other drug or alcohol use, increases crime, diminishes traffic safety, harms public health, and lowers teen educational achievement.

In previous work, we found that the strong claims made by both advocates and critics are substantially overstated and in some cases entirely without support from existing legalizations; mainly, state legalizations have had minor effects.  This paper updates previous work to account for additional years of data and the increase in the number of states with legalized marijuana.  Our conclusions remain the same, but our assessments of legalization’s effects remain tentative because of limitations in the data.  The existing data nevertheless provide a useful perspective on what other states should expect from legalization or related policies.

February 11, 2021 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Virginia poised to become 16th state to fully legalize marijuana for adult use

Images (7)As reported in this local article, headlined "Marijuana will be legal in Virginia after historic vote, with dispensaries opening in 2024," the Old Dominion state is on track be become the newest marijuana reform state.  Here are the details:

Virginia, which for decades has sent thousands of people to jail for selling or using marijuana, is about to make it legal. In a historic shift for this traditionally conservative Southern state, the General Assembly voted Friday to allow its possession, manufacture and sale.

But while lawmakers in the House of Delegates and Senate agree on legalizing the substance, the chambers will have to work out differences in their proposed bills before a final version reaches Gov. Ralph Northam, who has signaled he will sign their legislation into law. Beginning in 2024, cannabis can be sold in regulated stores, with tax revenue going to pre-K and public health programs, addiction treatment and a fund to remedy the effects of the drug’s criminalization.

“There are more deaths from legal pharmaceuticals … sold at your local CVS and Walgreens that cause way more deaths than anything that marijuana — cannabis — will do,” said Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, stressing that the prosecution of marijuana use disproportionately harms Black and brown Virginians. “If you want to help marginalized communities, here is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to invest in those communities that have been decimated by the so-called war on drugs and to give us an economic leg up.”

A 2018 Daily Press investigation found Black Virginians were far more likely to be charged with marijuana possession and go to jail if convicted, even on a first offense. Half of those charged with first-offense possession were African American despite the state’s population being only about 20% Black, and despite surveys consistently showing white and Black people use marijuana at similar rates.

Under the Senate bill, passed Friday afternoon, simple possession would be legal starting in July, but retail sales would not start until 2024. The House of Delegates passed a similar bill earlier in the day.... Friday’s votes fell largely down party lines....

The state had already decriminalized marijuana last year. Being caught with up to an ounce of marijuana will land you a $25 civil fine, akin to a parking ticket. Before that, it could have resulted in a criminal conviction, a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for a first offense — and up to a year in jail for a second or subsequent offense. “It was a good first step, but more is needed,” Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said about last year’s change before Friday’s votes to legalize. “The (Senate) bill is the next step.”

From 2010 to 2018, there were almost 200,000 marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, and nearly 39,000 of those were in Hampton Roads, according to Old Dominion University’s 2019 State of the Region report.

About 68% of Virginia’s registered voters support legalizing marijuana, according to poll results released Tuesday by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University.

February 7, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 (1)

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)