Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, October 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

California officially makes expungement automatic for past marijuana offenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Award Licenses Based On Competency And Business Acumen.

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

5.  Establish Parameters For Local Governments.

6.  Regulations Based On Evidence And Allowing Alternative Approaches.

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

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Taxation and Market Power in the Legal Marijuana Industry"

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

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

Monday, July 30, 2018

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

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

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

Michigan

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

New Jersey

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

North Dakota

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

New York

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

Oklahoma

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

Delaware

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pennsylvania auditor issues report extolling benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Michigan press suggesting state has a lot to learn from the Colorado marijuana reform laboratory

MIvotersRec_BEver since Election Night 2012 once it was clear that voters in Colorado and Washington were eager to pioneer a new approach, my thinking about marijuana reform always gravitates back to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famous description of the virtues of federalism in terms of a state being able to, "if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."  Part of serving as an effectively "laboratory" in this context, of course, is having result from a "novel social and economic experiments" that other states can seek to learn from.  

The point of this post prelude is to compliment a big new series of articles in the Detroit Free Press a few months before Michigan voters will be asked to decide whether to embrace full marijuana legalization in the state.  The lead article in this series, the first of those linked below, sets up the start of its learn and compare coverage with this note: "With Michigan having nearly double the population of Colorado — 9.9 million to 5.6 million — and an already well-established market of 289,205 medical marijuana cardholders, both supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana wonder (and worry) whether Michigan is on the same path as Colorado."

What Michigan needs to learn from Colorado's legalized marijuana

5 things I found surprising about legal marijuana in Colorado

How Michigan's marijuana proposal differs from Colorado law

Legalize marijuana? Advice for Michigan from Colorado

I recommend all the pieces in this series, but the "5 surprising things" piece has these not-so-surprising questions from a reporter after a Denver visit (click through for the "answers" though I have reprinted the final one)

Where’s the fire?

Where’s the money?

Where’s the advertising?

Where are the baggies?

Where, oh where, is the outrage or the joy?

Marijuana has become second nature for Colorado: Everyone seems kind of blasé about the proliferation of pot in the state. No one seems particularly up in arms about the legalization or overjoyed by the success of the business. The state bureaucrats say it’s too early to say whether the presence of legal weed is a nightmare or a boon for the state’s economy and the police say there’s not much difference — and not much of a spike in crashes — between a driver impaired by booze or one high on marijuana. The businesspeople are happy with their still relatively new industry, but plagued by the uncertainty of how marijuana is treated by the federal government.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Could North Dakota(!?!) fully legalize marijuana via ballot initiative this year?

Download (16)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent posting at Marijuana Moment titled "How North Dakota Could Fully Legalize Marijuana In November. Here are excerpts:

Under an effort that has so far gone mostly unnoticed by drug policy reform observers across the country, North Dakota voters could have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would fully legalize marijuana and create a pathway to exonerations for those with past cannabis convictions.

Just two years ago, North Dakota voters passed a medical marijuana legalization measure with 64 percent support.  But the program’s rollout hasn’t been smooth — leaving prospective patients without access to dispensaries and barred from home cultivation — and so a small team of anti-prohibition organizers at Legalize ND decided to write a new initiative to help patients and adults consume and grow cannabis freely.

The organization hasn’t received financial backing from national advocacy groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance, Eric Owens Sr., who wrote the initiative, told Marijuana Moment in an interview.  Instead, it’s relied on a steady flow of grassroots support and word-of-mouth to collect signatures in support of the measure.  Owens said Legalize ND has collected more than 16,000 signatures so far, but the group is expecting to turn in about 20,000 to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office on July 9.

The state requires 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. The signatures must first be verified before the initiative officially qualifies. “We’re thousands over the required amount,” Owens said.  “When people talk about grassroots, this really, legitimately was grassroots. Nobody was there because nobody cared about us in North Dakota.”...

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Legalize ND, which is expecting to face opposition from one of the largest employers in the state, Sanford Health, as well as the highway patrol and the prosecutors association.  That said, internal polling from the organization indicates strong support for the initiative, Owens said.  “We don’t have money to fight them with TV or radio, we’re just going to be common sense and let people know through social media.  The people — plain and simple — they got screwed out of their medical marijuana and they want revenge.”

Though North Dakota might not seem the most likely contender to become one of the next states to fully legalize marijuana, voters elsewhere have already delivered cannabis reform surprises in 2018: Oklahomans approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana [in late June]....

Local political commentator Rob Fort predicted in a column this week that “barring some major problem with the petitions this issue should be on the ballot.”

I still think is was a very big deal that last week voters in deep-red Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a broad medical marijuana ballot initiative (details here and here). But if voters in deep-red North Dakota were to this year approve a recreational marijuana reform initiative, I suspect that even folks like Jeff Sessions and Kevin Sabet would see the political inevitability of nationwide marijuana reforms.

Of course, with limited funding and significant in-state opposition, I would be inclined to predict that a full ballot initiative would fail in North Dakota. Polls generally show roughly a 50/50 split on support for full legalization among more conservative voters, whereas medical marijuana is usually support 3 to 1 in this group. But I have to think a very thoughtful campaign could stress not only the thwarting of the will of the voters on medical marijuana, but also the coming of full legalization regimes in Canada (which is just a couple of hours drive from just about every major ND city). Perhaps a kind of "Blame Canada" campaign could help carry a full legalization initiative in this unique context.

July 2, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer introduces "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act"

220px-Chuck_Schumer_official_photoAs reported in this press release, "Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today formally introduced new legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level."  Here is more from the press release, with its links to the proposed legislation:

Specifically, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively decriminalizing it at the federal level.  The legislation allows states to continue to function as laboratories of democracy and ultimately decide how they will treat marijuana possession.  The legislation, however, does not change federal authorities’ ability to prevent trafficking from states where marijuana is legal to states where is not.  The bill also preserves the federal government’s ability to regulate marijuana advertising -- just as it does tobacco -- so that advertisers cannot target children.  Schumer has long advocated for states’ rights when it comes to medical marijuana.

Leader Schumer’s new legislation also takes steps to help communities that have been disproportionally affected by our current marijuana laws.  The bill includes authorization of grant programs designed to encourage states and local governments to allow individuals to seal or expunge marijuana possession conviction records, and it creates a new funding stream to help ensure that women and minority entrepreneurs have access to the new marijuana industries in their states.  The bill also makes new investments in research to fully understand the effect of THC on both driving and public health – particularly in adolescents.  

Leader Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).... 

A fact sheet on the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. The full text of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. A section-by-section summary of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be found here.

Specifically, Leader Schumer’s new legislation would:

  • Decriminalize Marijuana: The legislation would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by descheduling it, which means removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970;
  • Respect States’ Rights: The legislation would maintain federal law enforcement’s authority to prevent marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not;
  • Level The Economic Playing Field: The legislation would establish dedicated funding streams to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses that would be determinant on a reasonable estimate of the total amount of revenue generated by the marijuana industry;
  • Ensure Public Safety: The legislation would authorize $250 million over five years for targeted investments in highway safety research to ensure federal agencies have the resources they need to assess the pitfalls of driving under the influence of THC and develop technology to reliably measure impairment;
  • Invest In Public Health: The legislation would invest $500 million across five years for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work in close coordination with the Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to better understand the impact of marijuana, including the effects of THC on the human brain and the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for specific ailments;
  • Protect Children: The legislation would maintain the Department of Treasury’s authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does tobacco advertising to ensure the marijuana businesses aren’t allowed to target children in their advertisements. The bill also allows the agency to impose penalties in the case of violations;
  • Incentive sealing and Expungement programs: The legislation authorizes grant programs to encourage state and local governments to administer, adopt, or enhance expungement or sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions. The bill provides $100 million over five years to the DOJ to carry out this purpose. 

This is big news not only because it provides still further evidence that "establishment Democrats" are now fully behind federal marijuana reform, but also because Senator Schumer is positioned to be the House majority leader if Democrats retake control of the Senate in either 2018 or 2020. If that happens, Senator Schumer presumably would be most interesting in having his version of marijuana reform considered first among all the competing bills now floating about.

June 27, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lots of big marijuana reform news emerging from the Big Apple

DownloadThis local article sums up some developing marijuana reform news from New York that seems likely to have national ripples:

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill are expected to announce a new plan Tuesday on how police deal with people caught with marijuana. Sources tell CBS2 that police will soon issue a summons instead of making an arrest. It applies to people smoking or in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported.

“The goals are to reduce unnecessary arrests, which is something we’ve been doing overall — 100,000 fewer arrests overall in 2017 than 2013, crime going down consistently in that time frame. We want to build on that,” de Blasio said on NY1. But sources say there will exceptions, which include if the person is on parole or probation or behind the wheel and an arrest would be at the discretion of the officer.

The announcement comes as the New York State Health Department is also set to issue a recommendation to legalize marijuana state-wide, six months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the department to study the effects of legalizing marijuana. “We have neighboring states that have legal marijuana. When those facts change, we need to look at things differently,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. “That’s the decision, at this point, to have a regulated legal marijuana program for adults.”

While the report has not yet been finalized, Zucker said its authors reached their conclusion after a thorough review of the legal, medical and social implications of legalization. “We looked at the pros, we looked at the cons,” Zucker said. “When we were done we realized that the pros outweighed the cons.”

Though a new NYC arrest policy could have a real impact real quickly, I see the forthcoming report by the New York State Health Department to be especially notable and perhaps quite consequential.  I would be inclined to expect a state health department to be concerned about the public health consequences of legalization and to see potential health "cons" to generally outweigh other "pros."  I think that if the New York State Health Department articulates the pros and cons of full legalization in a powerful way that really speaking to public health and safety issues, this forthcoming report could become a template for marijuana reform advocacy in a lot of areas beyond New York.

June 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"High on Crime? Exploring the Effects of Marijuana Dispensary Laws on Crime in California Counties"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research now available via SSRN authored by Priscillia Hunt, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula and Gabriel Weinberger. Here is its abstract:

Regulated marijuana markets are more common today than outright prohibitions across the U.S. states.  Advocates for policies that would legalize marijuana recreational markets frequently argue that such laws will eliminate crime associated with the black markets, which many argue is the only link between marijuana use and crime.  Law enforcement, however, has consistently argued that marijuana medical dispensaries (regulated retail sale and a common method of medical marijuana distribution), create crime in neighborhoods with these store-fronts.

This study offers new insight into the question by exploiting newly collected longitudinal data on local marijuana ordinances within California and thoroughly examining the extent to which counties that permit dispensaries experience changes in violent, property and marijuana use crimes using difference-in-difference methods.  The results suggest no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime.  We find a negative and significant relationship between dispensary allowances and property crime rates, although event studies indicate these effects may be a result of pre-existing trends.  These results are consistent with some recent studies suggesting that dispensaries help reduce crime by reducing vacant buildings and putting more security in these areas.  We also find a positive association between dispensary allowances and DUI arrests, suggesting marijuana use increases in conjunction with impaired driving in counties that adopt these ordinances, but these results are also not corroborated by an event study analysis.

June 16, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Detailing the growth (and growing pains) of Alaska's recreational marijuana regime in its largest city

Marijuana_retail_sales_taxesThis local article, headlined "Anchorage considers increasing marijuana sales tax as consumers clamor for cannabis," provides an effective report on the continued development of the marijuana regime in the biggest city of the only deep-red state that has legalized recreational marijuana use.  Here are excerpts:

The Municipality of Anchorage is looking to bump up its marijuana sales tax, citing a "tremendous" amount of resources it has spent working with the city's fledgling cannabis industry.  Meanwhile, consumers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars on legal weed in Anchorage since stores opened in December 2016.

Alaska's largest city has a 5 percent cannabis sales tax in place.  An ordinance introduced at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday evening would increase that to 7 percent.  At its current rate, Anchorage's sales tax is expected to bring in $3.5 million this year.  If the 2 percent tax increase passes, an additional $1.4 million in revenue is expected each calendar year, according to the municipality.

A gram of legal marijuana averages around $18 in Anchorage, according to the municipality.

Chris Schutte, director of Anchorage's Office of Economic and Community Development, said the city is requesting the tax increase for two reasons: City departments are spending more money working with the industry than anticipated, and the city has a limited time frame in which to raise taxes.

Schutte said various departments were spending "tremendous resources" to work with marijuana business applicants, some of whom are "brand-new entrepreneurs in a brand-new industry."

"We didn't realize that there would be a lot of (pre-application work) done with the industry … nor did we fully think through all of the things that have to occur after that's done," Schutte said.  More money from taxes would help recoup those costs, Schutte said. He said there are 22 pot shops paying taxes to the city.

The second factor is that the deadline to tweak the tax is July 1, Schutte said.  After that, the city would need to wait two years to seek an increase in taxes.

Anchorage's first marijuana shop opened in late December 2016. In the next 14 months — from January 2017 to March 2018 — consumers spent $36.8 million at Anchorage pot shops, according to municipality data.  The city collected $1.8 million in sales taxes for the same time frame.  In March, the most recent month for which data is available, the municipality collected $216,715 in sales taxes from roughly $4.3 million worth of marijuana products.

Since legal marijuana sales began in Alaska in Oct. 2016, consumers have spent upwards of $100 million at pot shops statewide, according to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office....

The state of Alaska has a flat-rate excise tax of $50 per ounce of bud or flower, and $15 per ounce of trim (parts of the plant like leaves or stems).  Growers pay the state tax.

Some local municipalities — like Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage — have put an additional sales tax on top, which is levied on the retail side.  Anchorage is allowed to increase its tax rate every two years by up to 2 percent.  The tax rate is capped at 12 percent.

June 13, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

New York City Bar Association issues report supporting proposed New York marijuana legalization law

Logo-nyc-blueThe New York City Bar Association's Committee on Drugs and the Law released this notable 11-page report today (also available here), which starts and ends this way:

The New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Drugs and the Law (“the Committee”) respectfully submits this report examining and approving the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana for adult non-medical use in New York State and providing support for A.3506-B/S.3040-B (“the Legislation”), which would create a system for the production, distribution, and adult non-medical use of marijuana.  We also recommend, if feasible, minor revisions to the Legislation, as noted herein.  The Committee also takes this opportunity to express its support for the policy of ending criminalization of marijuana, and for taxing and responsible regulation of marijuana...

The Committee on Drugs and the Law supports this Legislation to create a legal, regulated market for adult non–medical use of marijuana in New York State.  New York was the first state to turn away from alcohol Prohibition in 1923, and the Committee hopes the state will show similar leadership on this analogous issue, whether through this Legislation or another vehicle.  Marijuana prohibition is a costly and ineffective policy that has not succeeded in eliminating marijuana use. The failed policy has devastated families and communities, eroded respect for the law, and strained police-citizen relations.  Accordingly, the Committee applauds this Legislation and urges its adoption. Further, regardless of the vehicle, the Committee supports state and federal legislative and policy changes that reduce or eliminate criminalization of marijuana and that permit, tax, and regulate the production, distribution, and adult use of marijuana.

I think it somewhat amusing (and I suppose a bit depressing) that the conclusion of this document notes that New York "turn[ed] away from alcohol Prohibition" only three years after federal Prohibition became effective in January 1920. We are now 48 years since the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 gave marijuana the prohibition treatment and New York has still not yet gotten around to turning away.

June 11, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

President Donald Trump suggests he supports new STATES Act effort to reform federal marijuana prohibition

Tom Angell has this notable breaking news in a new Marijuana Moment posting:

President Trump said on Friday that he “really” supports new marijuana legislation filed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” he said when asked about the bill by reporters during an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn as he prepared to board Marine One to head to G-7 summit in Canada.

“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” he said. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

The bill, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from its provisions. It would also protect banks that work with legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.

Critically, there is a very big difference between "end[ing] up supporting" a piece of proposed legislation and actively championing it. Especially with various leaders in Congress seemingly actively opposed to any major (or even minor) federal marijuana reforms, I am not optimistic about the prospects of this bill unless and until it has Prez Trump actively campaigning for it. But, for political reasons, maybe he ultimately will.

Prior related post:

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

June 8, 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 (1)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

Ccc_SQUAREAs reported in this press release, titled "Gardner, Warren, Joyce and Blumenauer Unveil Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies," today has brought a big interesting new federal marijuana reform proposal. Here are the details via the press release (with links from the original):

U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) today introduced the bicameral, bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) to ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.  The bill also extends these protections to Washington D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely. 

Forty-six states currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing marijuana or marijuana-based products - and Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and a number of tribes have similar laws.  As states developed their own approaches to marijuana enforcement, the Department of Justice issued guidance to safeguard these state actions and ensure practical use of limited law enforcement resources. However, this guidance was withdrawn earlier this year, creating legal uncertainty, threatening public health and safety, and undermining state regulatory regimes....

Ignoring the ability of states, territories, and tribes to determine for themselves what type of marijuana regulation works best comes with real costs. Legitimate businesses that comply with state laws are blocked from access to basic banking services.  Illicit markets often spring up and local law enforcement must divert resources needed elsewhere.  Thousands of people are prosecuted and locked up in our criminal justice system. Qualified scientists and state public health departments struggle to conduct basic and epidemiological research or spur medical advances, and the fundamental nature of state and tribal sovereignty is violated.  As more states, territories, and tribes thoughtfully consider updates to marijuana regulations, often through voter-initiated referendums, it is critical that Congress take immediate steps to safeguard their right to do so by passing the STATES Act.

 The legislation has been endorsed by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Safe Access, Americans for Tax Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign for Liberty, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cooperative Credit Union Association, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Liberty, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Massachusetts Bankers Association, the Maine Credit Union League, the Mountain West Credit Union Association, the National Cannabis Bar Association, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the New Federalism Fund,NORML, the Northwest Credit Union Association, R Street, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

 The STATES Act:

  • Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that - as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections - its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to marijuana activities.
  • Clearly states that compliant transactions are not trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction.
  • Removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under the CSA.
  • The following federal criminal provisions under the CSA continue to apply:
    • Prohibits endangering human life while manufacturing marijuana.
    • Prohibits employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations.
  • Prohibits the distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.
  • Prohibits the distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

A fact sheet about the legislation is available here, and the full bill text is available here.

June 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 18, 2018

US Attorney for Oregon issues detail memorandum to detail federal marijuana enforcement priorities in the state

Download (12)As reported in this new pres article, there is interesting news out of Oregon concerning federal marijuana enforcement.  Here are the details (with my emphasis added):

Federal prosecutors will target the illicit marijuana market, organized crime, outlaw grows and operations that "pose a substantial risk of violence" under new guidelines for cannabis enforcement in Oregon made public Friday.

Billy Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, issued the guidelines in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision earlier this year to scrap an Obama-era policy that largely tolerated marijuana in states where the drug is legal. The memo represents the first marijuana policy announcement by a U.S. attorney in a state that's home to a legal market since the Sessions' move.

Williams' enforcement priorities in some ways represent a continuation of the approach under President Obama, such an emphasis on overproduction and trafficking, protecting minors and going after organized crime.

After hearing from property owners across the state upset about the cannabis industry's drain on natural resources, Williams also singled out pesticide use on illegal growing operations and consumption of large amounts of water without "proper authorization" as additional priorities. Gov. Kate Brown has pressed Williams to pledge he won't go after legal marijuana businesses, but he said, "I will not make broad proclamations of blanket immunity from prosecution to those who violate federal law."

"I am not going to advise clients to shutter their businesses and I frankly don't think this will change anyone's view on investment," said Dave Kopilak, a Portland lawyer who advises cannabis businesses. "I don't think this will have a chilling effect on the investment side of things. It could have been worse," he added. "It could have been better, but this is definitely down the middle of the road and a continuation of what we have done for years."

Williams makes clear that he remains frustrated with the state's failure to contain production. He called for state regulators to collect "comprehensive and accurate data" on the scope of marijuana production and distribution and chided officials for not devoting enough resources to oversee and enforce their own regulations.

A state audit earlier this year found that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the agency charged with regulating legal marijuana, lacks "robust" monitoring and enforcement controls to track the $480 million industry, making illegal sales difficult to detect. An analysis done last year concluded that the state remains a top source for black market marijuana. That report, which the Oregon State Police and the governor later discredited as outdated, also found marijuana production in Oregon far outpaces demand.

Williams said he has pressed state officials ever since about the status of that report. "I have asked repeatedly, 'Will we see a final report?' and I have never gotten an answer," he said. "I had been told a year ago that there were multiple drafts of that report and then I just stopped hearing about it."

On Friday, State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton told The Oregonian/OregonLive that his agency does not plan to issue any analysis of marijuana data or trends. He said he expects that work to be completed by the federally funded regional High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. Williams said he also has told the governor's senior policy adviser on marijuana, Jeff Rhoades, that he'd like to see limits on licenses for marijuana producers and retailers. He said Rhoades has told him that officials want to encourage black market operators to enter the legal arena. "I don't understand that thinking," Williams said, "because that is not occurring."

Williams called the flood of cannabis out of state a top priority, saying large amounts of Oregon-grown marijuana have been seized in 30 states. "There can be no doubt that there is significant overproduction of marijuana in Oregon," Williams said in his memo. "As a result, a thriving black market is exporting marijuana across the country, including to states that have not legalized marijuana under their state laws." Williams said in addition to criminal prosecution, his office will use asset forfeiture, civil litigation and administrative enforcement to carry out his priorities.

The full four-page memo from US Attorney Williams is available at this link, and I share the view that this is a "down the middle of the road" approach being adopted for prosecution priorities that largely echoes many aspects of the now-repealed Cole Memo.  What I find especially notable and interesting is the seeming disinterest of some in Oregon concerning possible  tighter regulation of its legalized marijuana industry.  In some respects, it seems action by US Attorney Williams may be more a reaction to local concerns about local failing than a reflection of any particular policy direction coming from the Justice Department in DC.

Prior related posts:

May 18, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)