Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, January 4, 2019

Spotlighting enduring challenges making marijuana social equity programs work

Oakland-cannabis-licensing-social-equity-program-attorney-advertisingStateline has this new piece, headlined "‘Cannabis Equity’ Runs Into Roadblocks," which highlights that good implementation, and not just good intentions, must be part of modern marijuana social equity programs.  Here are excerpts:

Now, as more states legalize recreational marijuana and the federal government moves away from incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, several cities in California are trying to atone for decades of drug enforcement that fell disproportionately upon minorities.

They’ve created what are known as cannabis equity programs, meant to welcome more minority and low-income entrepreneurs into the now-legal industry. The programs provide business development, loan assistance and mentorships to eligible owners. Hundreds have applied in the past year. But “pot equity” has struggled with growing waitlists, and some participants allege that the programs aren’t fair to the people they’re meant to be helping....

The goal of “cannabis equity” is to lower the barriers to entry into the legal cannabis industry for people who were disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of marijuana. The programs base eligibility on a variety of factors, including marijuana convictions, residency in a heavily policed district and income.

Today, several city partnership programs require that established, non-equity businesses provide an equity business with space for several years rent-free. In exchange, the non-equity company receives faster processing for city approvals. Cities such as Sacramento plan to waive up to tens of thousands of dollars in application and permit fees for eligible cannabis businesses.

But pot equity has struggled to get going. Understaffing in San Francisco’s cannabis office has left a growing waitlist of applicants, and the city doesn’t expect to begin approving businesses until sometime in 2019, said Nicole Elliott, director of San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis. She could not be more specific on timing.

Some applicants argue that the waiting period has allowed other businesses to get an unfair head start. In Oakland, some pot equity businesses claim their incubator partners never followed through on the requirement to provide them with business development assistance or a space to operate....

Creating a program to atone for decades of unjust policing — on top of building the framework for a newly legal cannabis industry — is no easy task. Oakland is setting up a $3 million fund to provide additional capital assistance to pot equity businesses, Brooks said, but it remains unclear when the fund will become available.

San Francisco applicants have raised the same issue, said Elliott, the director of San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis. The office set up an investment fund to provide financial assistance to cannabis businesses, such as low-interest loans. But the city has yet to allocate money to the fund, Elliott said.

She said San Francisco will likely receive part of the $10 million that the state set aside for local cannabis equity programs in September, which could go toward the city’s cannabis investment fund. “There are equity applicants that need money now,” Elliott said. “We will advocate aggressively for that state funding.”

As of mid-December, San Francisco had 227 applicants that qualify for the equity program. Of those, about 110 want to join the city’s incubator partnership program and receive waived permit fees. Elliott said the city will begin approving applicants next year, but she could not say when. Applicants have criticized the lengthy timeline.

San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis, which just added two new staff members to bring the total to five, is tasked with reviewing permit applications and facilitating the equity program. Elliott said adding even more staff would speed things up. In the meantime, the city has established a partnership with the Bar Association of San Francisco to provide pro bono legal assistance to equity program participants.

Malcolm Mirage, an equity applicant in San Francisco, said the long wait has caused him to burn through capital at an alarming rate.  He partnered with MedMen, a household name in the cannabis industry that is publicly traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange.

MedMen agreed to provide business development aid and an incubation space for one of Mirage’s businesses. The company also helped him negotiate leases on two other spaces, and he struck a deal that gave him six months of free rent to obtain his permits and become operational.

Mirage figured that was plenty of time. But those six months came and went, and he’s now paying expensive leases on spaces that sit empty.  “I got out of jail for selling weed and now I’m trying to do this legally,” Mirage told Stateline.  “But I’m drowning right now. My businesses are going to be in a tremendous amount of debt if the city can’t get these licenses out in the next six months.”

January 4, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Notable review of where Colorado marijuana tax revenues are going

CD31POTTAXCASHFUNDThe Denver Post has a notable new series of article looking at tax revenues from its marijuana industry. Here are links to the pieces, with an interesting passage from each within:

Part 1: "Pot money helps schools, but not as much as you might think."

There has been some real impact since recreational marijuana showed up:

  • Dozens of new roofs for crumbling schools across the state.
  • Sprinklers in buildings built decades before they existed.
  • Security systems in an age of concern for student safety.
  • Additional classrooms to alleviate relentless overcrowding.
  • New gyms to replace dilapidated ones.
  • New schools because older ones are unsafe to enter.

But there have also been dozens of other similar projects statewide that have gone unfunded because not enough dollars are allocated to handle them all. 

Part 2: "Legalization raised a slew of money for main streets and other local public projects."

While the public’s attention has focused on the roughly quarter-billion dollars a year in marijuana-related revenue that flows into state coffers, the burgeoning marijuana business also has brought a bonanza in tax revenue for dozens of municipal and county governments.

Nobody comprehensively tracks the local figures, but as Colorado marks the five-year anniversary of legalization a Denver Post analysis fleshed out a large part of the picture based on available data: In 2017, at least $71 million was collected from recreational marijuana via local taxes and the “share-backs” provided by the state, which now returns a tenth of the total raised by its own 15 percent special marijuana sales tax.

Part 3: "Almost half of Colorado’s marijuana money can go wherever lawmakers wish."

Marijuana Tax Cash Fund ... is the largest pool of marijuana tax revenue in the state. Colorado collected $251 million during fiscal year 2017-2018, and 49 percent of that went into the Marijuana Cash Tax Fund. Three funds that support K-12 education received a collective $98 million, $16.7 million went to local governments and $12.4 million went into the general fund.

State law technically allows the General Assembly to appropriate its tax fund money for any purpose, but state legislators created a set of “allowable purposes” such as mental health treatment, marijuana research and law enforcement training and to provide services to school-age children. Each year, lawmakers tinker with the cash fund by running bills to create new grants and by adjusting how much marijuana money, if any, goes into programs they created in previous years.

January 1, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

An informed accounting of those states "Most Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2019"

Tom Angell has this lengthy new Forbes piece setting forth his view of what states are worth watching for marijuana reform developments under the headline "These States Are Most Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2019." The states are listed in alphabetical order, so we do not really get a chance to question thie article's prognostication efforts. Here is a bit of the run up to the list, followed by just the states. Click through to the full article to see the full explanation of why each state makes this cut:

With the results of last month's midterm elections — which marijuana basically won — ten states have now legalized cannabis for adults, while 33 allow medical use. Those victories at the ballot box capped a year in which the fight to reform prohibitionist cannabis policies advanced significantly at the state, federal and international levels.

The tally of states that allow the use of marijuana is poised to jump in a big way again in 2019, largely because a slew of pro-legalization candidates for governor also won at the ballot box on Election Day — giving cannabis reform bills a huge boost toward being signed into law sooner rather than later.

"2019 could be a banner year for legalization via state legislatures," Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an email. "Several states across multiple regions of the country are strongly considering ending prohibition and regulating marijuana for adult use. A growing number of state lawmakers and governors are either getting behind these efforts or coming to the realization that they cannot hold them up much longer. The steady growth of public support we’ve been seeing around the country will likely translate into some major state-level victories for marijuana policy reform."

Here are the states that are most likely to legalize marijuana next year, in alphabetical order:

Connecticut

Illinois

Minnesota

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

Rhode Island

Vermont

Recent developments in New Jersey showcased that it is much easier for a state to talk about full legalization of marijuana than to actually get legislation in the books. Consequently, I will be surprised if more than one or two states on this list succeed in a getting full legalization enacted in the coming year. But id a big state like New York or Illinois were to get this done in short order, I do think it quite possible that a number of smaller states might find it easier to follow suit.

December 26, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Effective accounting of Top 5 marijuana reform developments in 2018 (with a couple extra added for emphasis)

German Lopez has this effective Vox piece serving as a kind of marijuana reform year in review under the headlined "5 moments that show 2018 was marijuana legalization’s biggest year yet: From Canada to Michigan to California, marijuana legalization had a very big year." Here are excerpts from the start of the piece with his top 5 listing as it appears therein:

When we look back, 2018 may be the year in which marijuana legalization really won.

Canada legalized marijuana, defying international treaties (which the US is also a part of) that prohibit fully legalizing cannabis.

After legalizing marijuana in 2016, California opened the world’s biggest fully legal pot market in early 2018.

Michigan became the first state to legalize pot in the Midwest.

State legislatures, particularly New York, New Jersey, and Vermont, began taking legalization more seriously. And while Congress didn’t legalize pot at the federal level, it did legalize industrial hemp.

Together, these developments represented a tidal wave for legalization — a massive shift that’s making legal pot look more and more inevitable across the country.

Here are the five major stories of marijuana legalization this year, and why they matter.

1) Canada legalized marijuana...

2) California opened the world’s biggest legal marijuana market...

3) Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize pot...

4) State legislatures began taking legalization seriously...

5) The federal government legalized hemp...

This top five list strikes me as sound, though I think the federal legalization of hemp should find a place higher on the list and I have a few additions that I think could reasonably compete for a top five spot. First, I think it very significant that serious medical marijuana reforms were enacted by ballot initiative with strong majorities in 2018 in the very red states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. Senators in very red states will be able to stop or limit or shape any future federal marijuana reforms, so having red states come into the reform fold is so very important for the fate and future of federal reform efforts. Second, and perhaps worth of a coming future post, arguably the biggest story of 2018 was a non-story, namely the decision in January of (now former) Attorney General Sessions to repeal the Cole memo shaping federal marijuana enforcement and then the failure of the new Sessions memo amounting to much of anything. I was not too worried that all that much would come from repeal of the Cole memo, but that so little resulted still strikes me as another telling sign of the state of marijuana reform as we close out 2018.

December 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Mayor de Blasio Calls for Fair Cannabis Legalization That Promotes Equity and Opportunity for All"

Pr607-18The title of this post is the title of this lengthy press release from the office of the Mayor of New York City.  Here are excerpts from the release and links to related documents:

Mayor Bill de Blasio today endorsed the safe and fair legalization of cannabis in New York.  The Mayor also released his Task Force report on Cannabis Legalization, which calls for a strong, public health-focused regulatory framework and the empowerment of local government to prevent corporate greed, foster small businesses and meet the demands of New York City communities.  The report also places great emphasis on the need to ensure that any marijuana industry in New York City right the wrongs of the past and promotes economic opportunity....

The report, A Fair Approach to Marijuana, was produced by the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, which was convened in July 2018 to identify the goals and challenges that should guide the City’s preparations for potential legalization.

The recommendations are centered on local development, equity, public health and a wholesale departure from the failed war on drugs.  These include the automatic expungement of criminal records for conduct that would be legalized – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases; educational resources for youth, educators, consumers, health care workers; the elimination of routine testing as prerequisite to social service benefit eligibility and the prohibition of pre-employment and random testing, with some narrow exceptions.

It also calls for balancing State regulatory structures with local authority to permit licensed consumption sites, determine business density restrictions to avoid over-concentration and allow localities to restrict or prohibit home cultivation. The report also makes recommendations to prevent big business from market domination by instituting a licensing system that would create opportunities for small businesses.

If legalized, the City would seek to:

  • Establish an Equitable Licensing System: Create local licensing programs, regulate public places of consumption, regulate home and commercial cultivation and manufacturing, and regulate home delivery services.
  • Preserve Communities: Establish zoning and area restrictions for cannabis businesses, as well as restrictions on the density to determine how the location of cannabis businesses can best fit into the fabric of its communities.
  • Protect Public Health: Enforce age limits of 21 and over with civil rather than criminal penalties to violations of cannabis regulations to the greatest extent possible consistent with public safety.
  • Right Historic Wrongs: Recommend automatic expungement of criminal records relating to conduct that may be legalized, including personal use and possession of certain quantities – subject to notice and opportunity by District Attorneys’ Offices to raise objections in specific cases.
  • Ensure Product Safety: Recommend statewide standards for product safety, labeling and packaging, marketing, and advertising, as well as a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system accessible to State and local regulators and financial institutions serving cannabis-related businesses.
  • Put Small Businesses First: Work with State authorities to reduce the risk of market domination by big businesses and foster sustainable growth, in part, by restricting businesses from owning and controlling each stage of the supply chain, which may otherwise be owned by different, specialized businesses.
  • Create Equal Opportunity: Participate in a dual state-local licensing structure that will permit the City to pursue its own innovations to promote economic opportunities created by this new market, subject to the minimum standards set by the State.
  • Ease Access to Capital: Advocate for legislation expressly providing that banking and professional services for cannabis-related businesses do not violate State law.
  • Make Fair Investments: Allocate tax revenue, licensing fees, and other sources of financing to administer the new industry and support cannabis businesses and workers, with a focus on target populations and community reinvestment.
  • Build Local Businesses: Develop an incubator program to provide direct support to equity applicants in the form of counseling services, education, small businesses coaching, and compliance assistance.

To see the entire report of the Mayor's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, click here. To see a quick cannabis fact sheet, click here.

December 20, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

New York Gov Cuomo reportedly has a plan for legalizing marijuana in the Empire State

Weed-3The New York Post is reporting here that "Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget address next year could be smokin’."  Here is what is meant:

Aides said Tuesday the governor will introduce a plan for legalizing recreational marijuana, possibly as part of his executive budget.  “The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use cannabis — and the best way to do that is to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” said Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens.

“That’s why Governor Cuomo launched 17 listening sessions in cities across the state to give every community in every corner of New York the opportunity to be heard. Now that the listening sessions have concluded, the working group has begun accessing and reviewing the feedback we received and we expect to introduce a formal comprehensive proposal early in the 2019 legislative session.”

A study released in May by city Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated that legalizing marijuana could create a $3.1 billion market in New York state.  Imposing excise taxes on weed — similar to levies on cigarettes and booze — could generate $436 million in new state tax revenues and $336 million in additional city tax revenue, the report said.   Some advocates want the new taxes dedicated to the MTA.

Another key issue that’s being discussed is whether to expunge the records of New Yorkers who were arrested for marijuana possession when they were young — a disproportionate number of them are black and Latino.

In August, the governor appointed a 20-member task force to draft legislation to regulate cannabis following a report by his Health Department that gave the green light to legalizing pot. The group has been holding hearings and soliciting opinions.

Numerous other issues also need to be addressed, including: How many outlets would be permitted to sell marijuana, and will be cannabis be sold in smokeable form?   Under the state’s current medical marijuana program, patients are prescribed pot in pill and ointment form.

One lawmaker long involved in marijuana legalization efforts said cannabis should be sold in smokeable form, with limitations.  “The law ought to allow smoking of cannabis, with rules similar to limits on where you can smoke tobacco — but not necessarily the same,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan)....

The push for pot legalization is a reversal for Cuomo, who once dismissed weed as a “gateway drug.”  But earlier this year, he called for a study of legalization after neighboring Massachusetts legalized cannabis. Meanwhile, new New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is finalizing a proposed law to legalize weed in the Garden State.  The most recent New Jersey bill being debated calls for a 12 percent tax on pot sales — a standard 6.625 percent sales and a 5.375 marijuana tax.  Murphy initially sought a 25 percent tax.

Law-and-order types said Cuomo and the Democrat-run Legislature are making a mistake. Legalizing weed was never a priority during GOP control of the state Senate — but the Democrats won the majority in the Novembers election and are more supportive.   “I guess it’s not a gateway drug anymore,” state Conservative Party chairman Mike Long said sarcastically.

December 11, 2018 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)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

NYC Comptroller advocates for New York to pursue an "Equitable Cannabis Industry"

Hqdefault (1)New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer first caught my attention six months ago when he produced this notable  report titled "Estimated Tax Revenues from Marijuana Legalization in New York." Today, Comptroller Stringer has my attention again with this notable new 15-page report titled "Addressing the Harms of Prohibition: What NYC Can do to Support an Equitable Cannabis Industry." I recommend the document in full, and here is part of its introductory section:

Over the last several decades, the prohibition of cannabis has had devastating impacts on communities in New York City, extending beyond incarceration to often long-lasting economic insecurity: damaged credit, loss of employment, housing, student loans, and more.  Today, thousands of New Yorkers, overwhelmingly Black and Latinx, continue to endure the untold financial and social costs of marijuana-related enforcement, despite steps to decriminalize.

As New York joins neighboring jurisdictions in moving closer to legalizing cannabis for adult use, the State and the City must take action to ensure that the communities who have been most harmed by policies of the past are able to access the revenue, jobs, and opportunities that a regulated adultuse marijuana program would inevitably generate.

While the creation of a legal market brings the promise of new wealth, the uneven enforcement of marijuana policies in New York specifically and the lack of diversity in the cannabis industry generally foreshadow potential inequities in who will benefit — and, indeed, who will profit — from a legal adult-use cannabis industry. In anticipation of future legalization, this report, by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, offers a new neighborhood-by-neighborhood look at cannabis enforcement and charts a roadmap for building equity into the industry....

Together, the report findings show that the neighborhoods most impacted by prohibition are among the most economically insecure and disenfranchised in the city.  It is precisely these New Yorkers then — those to whom the benefits of legalization should be targeted — who are most likely to face barriers to accessing opportunities in the industry, in particular financing. In addition to reinvesting tax revenue from legalization in these disproportionally impacted communities, steps should therefore be taken to equip those impacted by prohibition to secure the funding and other resources needed to become cannabis licensees.  This report recommends that the City, in partnership with the State, develop a robust cannabis equity program to direct capital and technical assistance to impacted communities interested in participating in the adult-use industry.

December 6, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, 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, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"Navigating cannabis legalization 2.0"

The title of this post is the title of this new Hill commentary authored by Beau Kilmer and Mark A.R. Kleiman. Here are excerpts:

With Michigan legalizing marijuana earlier this month, nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population now lives in states that passed ballot initiatives to allow businesses to produce and sell cannabis. And with a new Gallup poll showing that two in three Americans support legalizing cannabis use, other states are sure to follow, likely building pressure to change federal laws.

What’s harder to predict is what legalization will look like. Legalization is not a simple yes-or-no decision, and its consequences for health, public safety and social equity will be shaped by choices about production, prices and the enforcement of regulations.

As the next round of states debate legalization, they would do well to contemplate allowing state governments to control the wholesale prices and linking the price of cannabis to its potency....

High-potency illicit cannabis typically costs more than $10 per gram. The average legal-market prices in Washington and Colorado (after taxes) are now well below that, with highly potent but less fancy “bargain bud” available, with quantity discounts, for less than $3 per gram. Since even a bargain gram of cannabis flower in legalization states contains about 150 milligrams of THC—where 20 milligrams is an intoxicating dose for an occasional user—the cost of getting stoned in those states is less than a couple of dollars. That’s lower than the cost of getting drunk.

Lower prices won’t matter much to casual users, who don’t spend all that much on cannabis. But they can matter to the millions of daily or near-daily users, who account for about 80 percent of total consumption. For some of these individuals, cannabis has become a problem in their lives. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates 4 million Americans met clinical criteria for a cannabis use disorder in 2017. Access to cheaper, more potent products probably won’t help them.

Of course, lower prices also matter to producers of cannabis. Low prices mean low wages for workers and potential bankruptcy for all but the most efficient producers, with craft-scale production driven out by industrial farming and “mom and pop” retailing driven out by sellers with big budgets for marketing. This price drop is a problem for those who want the legal cannabis market to provide economic opportunities for the individuals and communities that have been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition.

One approach for preventing this steep decline in prices—and making it easier to control the price—is for the government to set minimum prices. (Many states already set minimum prices for tobacco and some jurisdictions also set them for alcohol). Those minimum prices, and the taxes collected by the state, could be based on THC content, just as federal taxation of distilled spirits is based on the level of alcohol....

As long as cannabis legalization is driven by voter initiatives, these rather complicated ideas are likely to be non-starters. If you’re running an initiative drive, anything that can’t be explained to a voter in 30 seconds is usually a problem. However, some states have begun to contemplate legalization through the traditional legislative process, which might give subtlety a chance.

National-level legalization, when and if it happens, would require an act of Congress. But if state-level legalization following the current model leads to the growth of large-scale economically powerful cannabis enterprises, that new industry might have the political muscle to freeze the existing model in place. For most commodities, good policy means bringing consumers the lowest possible price. That’s not true when it comes to “cannabusiness.”

December 5, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Holiday-season, marijuana-reform headline round-up

The holiday last week and busy times at the end of a semester (and lots of sentencing reform activity) has put a crimp in my blogging lately.  But this slow down on the blog does not reflect a slow down in marijuana reform news, and so I will try to catch up here with a few headlines and links to stories that highlight, yet again, that it is always a busy season in the arena of marijuana reform:

November 28, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mapping out where marijuana campaigns are headed in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan: Recreational use....

North Dakota: Recreational use....

Missouri: Medical use....

Utah: Medical use....

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 2, 2018

New Hampshire commission produces massive study report on marijuana legalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2018

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

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

DATA HIGHLIGHTS:

CRIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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