Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, April 12, 2019

"The Canna(business) of Higher Education"

The title of this post is the title of this paper just posted to SSRN and authored by Shelby Slaven, who is a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Here is the paper's abstract:

While the idea of legalizing cannabis for adult use is gaining on acceptance among the public, the past and current policies on both, the state and federal level, have resulted in dearth of research on the efficacy of cannabis for therapeutic purposes as well as possible societal and health consequences of recreational use.  Institutes of higher education are best positioned not only to reform research on the substance, but to train a generation of cultivators, distributors, and healthcare professionals, and while doing so address some of the historical harms perpetrated by the policies of the War on Drugs.  Students are seeking out ways to capitalize on a growing market and remedying past discrimination should be a top priority.  This paper first provides an overview of cannabis legalization as it stands today, the political efforts that got it here, and those that will move it forward.  It then discusses institutes of higher education and the efforts to bring cannabis into the classroom.  Lastly, this paper argues that Historically Black Colleges and Universities can provide education, training, and a foot in the door for Black individuals who have suffered harsher criminal penalties in the name of the war on crime.

April 12, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting racial and regional differences in modern marijuana reform dynamics

I am very sad that presentations in my my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar have wrapped up, but that reality gives me a bit more time and space here to catch up on the marijuana law, policy and reform stories that most catch my eye.  One such important story that I missed a few weeks ago comes here from Stateline under the headline "African-Americans Missing Out on Southern Push for Legal Pot."  I recommend the extended article in full, and here are some excerpts:

Medical cannabis laws typically lay out the conditions for which the drug may be prescribed. But the laws in Arkansas and Florida — the only Southern states that have legalized medical cannabis — don’t cover sickle cell disease, which causes acute pain and disproportionately affects African-Americans. The bills advancing in Tennessee and Kentucky also exclude that condition. Three states that have legalized medical but not recreational cannabis — Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania — allow sickle cell disease patients to use it....

Black legalization advocates also fear that even if medical cannabis becomes legal, white politicians won’t regulate licensing and permitting in a way that ensures equitable opportunities for people of color. “Without that, it’ll be more of the same,” said Dr. Felecia Dawson, a board-certified physician who closed her Georgia-based OB-GYN practice to focus on advocating for medical cannabis. “Legislators will keep people of color ... from the benefits of cannabis.”

Nationally, research suggests that medical marijuana use is more common among whites with high incomes, perhaps in part because of the long history of racial disparity in drug enforcement....

Every Southern state by 2016 had legalized the treatment of a limited number of conditions using CBD oil. As public support increased, so did lawmakers’ willingness to expand the list of eligible conditions. But some conditions that affect minority populations at higher rates than white ones — such as sickle cell disease, which affects 73 in 1,000 African-Americans at birth compared with 3 whites, according to federal estimates — are not included in proposals currently making their way through several Southern statehouses.

In a 2017 hearing co-hosted by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, following a ballot initiative that had legalized medical cannabis, advocates wore “Diversity for All” T-shirts to emphasize the drug’s importance to minority residents. “We know that such diseases as hypertension, sickle cell, neuropathy and so on are more predominant in blacks,” Casey Caldwell, a black cannabis advocate, said at the hearing.

“It is safe to say that African-American communities would benefit the most,” she added. “In the past, pharmaceutical drugs have been priced so high that [we] have to make a decision whether or not they should eat or whether they should purchase medication.”

Those concerns echoed what Dee Dawkins-Haigler, a former Democratic Georgia representative who headed the state’s Black Caucus, said in 2015 about the initial absence of black people among the state’s 17 appointees to the Commission on Medical Cannabis. The Black Caucus eventually fought to get sickle cell disease added to the list of conditions eligible for CBD oil....

In Florida, black farmers initially cried foul at being shut out of the state’s multibillion-dollar cannabis trade over policies that required license holders to have operated for 30 straight years. According to Roz McCarthy, founder of the Florida-based advocacy group Minorities for Medical Marijuana, the state’s law lacked the teeth needed to ensure that medical cannabis license holders adhered to requirements to ensure diversity in hiring. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said that state law “does not require medical marijuana treatment centers to report the race or ethnicity of its owners.”

McCarthy said, “We’re trying to push lawmakers to understand that they have the ability and the power to ensure exclusionary practices don’t happen. Barriers are there. But the opportunity to reduce barriers is also there.”

April 12, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 8, 2019

A deep dive into expungement efforts in conjunction with marijuana reforms

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear I am excited for the first of the last four student presentations planned for this coming week in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar.  Of course, I am excited about the work of all my students, but this wee we have a student focused on a topic on which I have done some writing, namely expungement practices.    Here is how my student has summarized this topic, along with the background readings she has provided:

States that have chosen to decriminalize or legalize marijuana have, in most places, chosen to enact a specific marijuana expungement scheme within the bill that legalizes marijuana or separately.  The expungement schemes offer a way for some to shed the hurtful effects of collateral consequences from a marijuana misdemeanor or felony. 

As we come closer to legalizing marijuana on the federal level, the question of how to repair for the harms done by the War on Drugs and how best to expunge records will continue to be visited.  The collateral consequences have consequences of their own and the War on Drugs helped fuel mass incarceration and racist policing practices. Robust and broad reforms will be needed to repair for the extensive damage to the criminal justice system, something marijuana legalization isn’t equipped to do wholly on its own. But the current expungement schemes, with filing fees, waiting periods and other hurdles, don’t set a good example as we head toward nationwide legalization.

Links to readings and background materials:

"Federal Collateral Consequences for Marijuana Convictions", Marijuana Policy Project paper explaining some of the federal collateral consequences resulting from marijuana convictions

"Drug offenders in American prisons: The critical distinction between stock and flow", Brookings piece by Jonathan Rothwell highlighting difference between stock and flow of drug prisoners which highlights that there are many more drug convictions than violent offense convictions. 

"Why you can’t blame mass incarceration on the war on drugs", Vox article by German Lopez disputing Michelle Alexander’s "drug war" explanation for mass incarceration while explaining why the path to ending mass incarceration is complicated.

“Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices” by Douglas Berman

“High Time for Criminal Justice Reform: Marijuana Expungement Statutes in States with Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana Laws” by Alana Rosen

Links to Expungement Schemes:

Colorado Expungement 

California Expungement

Connecticut Bill - Bill for legalization in state's house judiciary committee 

April 8, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Will the new, reintroduced version of the STATES Act be able to get even a hearing in Congress?

Supportstates-copy-300x300The question in the title of this post was my reaction of this news out of Congress as reported here by Marijuana Moment:

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) filed the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, appearing alongside cosponsors Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) at a press conference. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed the Senate version of the bill.... The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect people complying with state legal cannabis laws from federal intervention, and the sponsors are hoping that the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the bill will advance it through the 116th Congress.

“I’ve been working on this for four decades. I could not be more excited,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. While other legislation under consideration such as bills to secure banking access for cannabis businesses or study the benefits of marijuana for veterans are “incremental steps that are going to make a huge difference,” the STATES Act is “a landmark,” he said....

The congressman said it will take some time before the bill gets a full House vote, however. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) recently suggested that the legislation would advance within “weeks,” but Blumenauer said it will “be a battle to get floor time” and he stressed the importance of ensuring that legislators get the chance to voice their concerns and get the answers they need before putting it before the full chamber. “We want to raise the comfort level that people have. We want to do it right,” he said. “There’s no reason that we have to make people feel like they’re crowded or rushed.”...

Asked whether he’d had conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about moving cannabis bills forward this Congress, Blumenauer said there’s been consistent communication between their offices and that the speaker is “very sympathetic” to the issue and “understands the necessity of reform.”

There are 26 initial cosponsors — half Democrats and half Republicans—on the House version. Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) are among those supporters. The previous version ended the 115th Congress with 45 cosponsors.

On the Senate side, there are 10 lawmakers initially signed on: Warren and Gardner, along with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rand Paul (R-KY)....

For the most part, the latest versions of the legislation are identical to the previous Congress’s bills, though there are two exceptions. Previously, there was a provision exempting hemp from the definition of marijuana, but that was removed—presumably because it is no longer needed in light of the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop.

The bigger change is that the new version contains a section that requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the “effects of marihuana legalization on traffic safety.” Among other data points, the office would be directed to collect info on “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries in States that have legalized marihuana use, including whether States are able to accurately evaluate marihuana impairment in those incidents.” A report on those effects would be due one year after the law is enacted.

This article in Roll Call, headlined "Marijuana bill could help Cory Gardner’s re-election chances. Will Senate GOP leaders get behind it?," provides some more insights into the politics in play. Here are excerpts:

The bill’s sponsors are confident the bill can pass — if it comes up for a vote. “If we get it on the floor of the Senate, it passes,” said Gardner. “If we get it on the floor of the House, it passes.”...

Gardner acknowledged the bill will have a harder time in the GOP-controlled Senate than in the Democrat-led House, saying he was working to convince Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham to advance the bill and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to eventually allow it to come to a floor vote. Graham, asked about the bill, said he hadn’t thought about marking it up. “I’m not very excited about it,” the South Carolina Republican said....

Gardner is up for re-election in 2020 in a state that legalized recreational marijuana, and allowing him a legislative win could help the GOP retain control of the Senate. On the other hand, Republican leadership may be loath to give some Democratic co-sponsors running in 2020 — whether for re-election or the presidency — political victories.

If Congress passes the proposal, Gardner said President Donald Trump will sign it. “The president has been very clear to me that he supports our legislation,” Gardner said. “He opposed the actions that were taken by the Attorney General [Jeff Sessions] to reverse the Cole memorandum and believes we have to fix this.” The Cole memorandum is Justice Department guidance against prosecuting federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it.

April 5, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

More encouraging expungement news out of California cities thanks to proactive district attorneys

In my article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," I gave justified credit to work being done at the state and local level in California to ensure marijuana reform is operationalized  as a form of criminal justice reform.  I am pleased to see this work continuing, especially as described in this news release from the LA DA titled "Los Angeles, San Joaquin County District Attorneys Announce Code for America Partnership to Reduce, Clear Cannabis Convictions."  Here is how the release starts:

District Attorneys Jackie Lacey of Los Angeles County and Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County joined with Code for America today to announce a cutting-edge, criminal justice reform partnership to automatically clear more than 50,000 eligible cannabis convictions under Proposition 64.

The two counties are among the first in California to take part in Code for America’s pilot program that proactively identifies convictions that qualify for resentencing or dismissal under the voter-approved initiative in November 2016.

“We have partnered with Code for America to take on this monumental effort in the state’s most populous county,” District Attorney Lacey said. “As technology advances and the criminal justice system evolves, we as prosecutors must do our part to pursue innovative justice procedures on behalf of our constituents. This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future. Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefitting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past. We are grateful to Code for America for bringing its technology to our office.”

“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” said Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We have a responsibility to right these wrongs by utilizing the latest innovations in technology, such as Code for America’s Clear My Record initiative, to ensure that people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs get the second chance they deserve.”

“Since the passage of Propositions 47 and 64, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the Public Defender’s Office and the Superior Court, have worked collaboratively to successfully implement the law in a timely and efficient manner,” said San Joaquin County Public Defender Miriam Lyell in joint statement with District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “We have seen firsthand the capabilities of the Clear My Record tool to facilitate the record clearing process and provide a much-needed service to our community, restoring families along with tremendous cost savings to the People of the State of California. This powerful tool represents the best of public-private partnerships: harnessing the power of technology to create new pathways of opportunity for members of our community with convictions.”

“In the digital age, automatic record clearance is just common sense,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director, Code for America. “Thanks to the leadership of District Attorneys Lacey and Salazar, we’ve shown how records clearance can and should be done everywhere. When we do this right, we show that government can make good on its promises, especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been denied jobs, housing and other opportunities despite the passage of laws intended to provide relief. Clear My Record changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the state and the nation.”

Both offices have been working with Code for America since July 2018 to develop a system that examines cannabis convictions. There is estimated to be approximately 50,000 eligible convictions in Los Angeles County. There are an additional 4,000 eligible convictions in San Joaquin County.

Recognizing that California’s record clearance process was not designed for the digital age, this historic partnership demonstrates a growing momentum for technology-assisted record clearance in California. It builds on last month’s announcement that Code for America’s Clear My Record technology helped San Francisco dismiss and seal more than 8,000 cannabis convictions.

The references to Code for America’s work in San Francisco is both timely and a bit dated. I say that because of this recent tweet by the SF DA:

April 4, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Examining the development of cannabis churches and religious freedom

The last of four exciting presentations planned this week for my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar concerns the intersection of marijuana use and religion claims.  Here is how my student describes her project along with her selected background reading:

Since its founding, religious freedom has remained a core value of the United States.  Recently, small groups of individuals have tried to apply this core value to the use of cannabis, specifically with establishing “cannabis churches.”  These churches offer congregants a space to come together as a community and consume cannabis as a way to experience a new level of spirituality.  Cannabis churches have popped up in both states where recreational consumption is legal (in Colorado, for example) and in states where recreational consumption is illegal (Indiana). 

In Colorado, the founders of the International Church of Cannabis have been charged with public consumption.  In Indiana, the founder of the First Church of Cannabis asserts that his church is protected under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  As more cannabis churches are established in other states, the main question that church founders will need to answer is whether the use of cannabis is a sincerely held religious belief deserving of protection.

Links:

• "Cannabis Churches and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act"

• "Future of public pot smoking in Denver may be impacted as International Church of Cannabis co-founder heads to court Tuesday"

•  "About Us" page for the International Church of Cannabis

• "How The First Church of Cannabis Got Serious"

• "Smoking Cannabis Is Not Covered Under Religious Freedoms Law, Says Indiana Judge"

April 3, 2019 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Federal scheduling and research challenges for cannabis and psychedelics

The second of four student presentation this coming week in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar will focus on  federal scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act and the research and market realities impacted by the placement of marijuana in Schedule I.  Here is how my student has summarized his topic, along with the background readings he has provided:

The placement of cannabis in Schedule I practically prevents comprehensive and meaningful research into its medical applications and potential harms.  The federal government cites cannabis' placement in Schedule I as the reason rigorous research must be conducted before it can be rescheduled, but places restrictions on its research, because of its schedule, that are nearly impossible to overcome.  Is there an alternative pathway to federal cannabis legalization, or at least rescheduling, so that more meaningful research can be conducted? 

My presentation will examine U.S. drug scheduling, looking at the criteria and examples of substances in each schedule.  I will then provide an overview of the FDA research model by which new drugs come to market, contrast it with the type of research conducted on cannabis, and discuss why meaningful, rigorous research into cannabis is so difficult.  With this background, I will discuss the findings of a former UK drug-policy adviser that suggests substantial rescheduling is necessary, and how these findings helped initiate research into other Schedule I drugs.  Finally, I will provide an overview of research into other Schedule I substances, particularly psychedelics, and how this research may accelerate the rescheduling or federal legalization of cannabis so that its impact on health may be studied more effectively.

Background Resources:

March 31, 2019 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Minority Cannabis Business Association engages OSU College of Law 3L Chris Nani to evaluate social equity efforts in Los Angeles

Download (3)I am always so very excited when students here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law get so very excited about marijuana law and policy.  One such student whose work I have spotlighted here is Christopher Nani, who took my marijuana seminar back in Fall 2017 and has been doing amazing work in this space ever since.  In addition to getting articles published at the Cannabis Law Report discussing federal tax treatment of cannabis businesses (see prior posts here and here) and co-hosting a podcast focused on business development in the cannabis industry (called Cannabiz with Canna-Chris), Chris has produced this notable article detailing a "Model Social Equity Equation for the Cannabis Industry."  

I describe Chris' article as notable in part because the Minority Cannabis Business Association took note of the work, and MCBA has now engaged Chris to use his equation to "score"  Los Angeles.  This press release, titled "MCBA Engages in Case Study to Rate Efficacy of Los Angeles’ Social Equity Program," explains:

The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) announced plans to take a score of social equity policies implemented by the city of Los Angeles intended to increase diversity in the burgeoning cannabis industry.  Partnering with the MCBA on this effort is Chris Nani, an Ohio State Law student who recently released a similar study that focused on these equity policies in three other California cities.

The results of Nani’s preliminary study had outcomes for Sacramento, San Francisco and even the much-lauded Oakland program that didn’t fully meet the intent of those policies, and underlines the necessity of reassessment once these programs have been implemented.  As one of the largest markets in California, Los Angeles is an important influencer in the industry and will serve as an example for future efforts on this topic.

“We are excited to see municipalities across the country starting to implement social equity programs as a way to reinvest in communities that for decades have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs,” says Kayvan Khalatbari, MCBA’s Board Chair. “Now we need to ensure their intended outcomes are being met.  If they’re not, we need to reexamine those policies and work on them until we get it right. We must develop an effective and repeatable model.”

The case study will utilize an “Equity Equation”, which provides a scored assessment to rate the effectiveness of municipal social equity programs based on 10 separate factors, all of which have been determined to play a major role in the ultimate success or failure of these policies.  One factor commonly cited as a barrier to entry for people of color to find a place in the cannabis industry, regardless of policies in place, is a lack of available capital.

“Social equity programs are an important progression for the cannabis industry,” says Chris Nani. “As new markets come online and use Los Angeles as a model in their own programming, it’s critical that we understand what is working and what is not.  The equation I developed is meant to grade the efficacy of these programs and offer suggestions for improvement.  I look forward to working with lawmakers, social equity applicants and MCBA to work towards improving these policies across the country.”

March 27, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2019

"The Effect of Marijuana Use on American Veterans with PTSD, and How the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Ought to Respond"

The title of this post is the title of a presentation to be made by one of my students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this coming week.  Here is part of his explanation of his topic and links to some background reading:

Because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is required to follow all federal laws, the VA is prohibited from prescribing, recommending, or assisting veterans in obtaining marijuana.  While veterans may discuss marijuana use with VA providers, VA doctors cannot help their patients participate in a state medical marijuana program and veterans cannot obtain reimbursement funding through the VA when they seek medical marijuana from state programs.

The inability of the VA to prescribe or recommend marijuana to American veterans with PTSD denies former service members an opportunity to receive treatment that many veterans not only want, but which also has the potential to be safer than the VA’s history of doling out addictive prescription drugs such as opioids, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety pills.  PTSD is a serious disease that is relatively common among combat veterans — it causes varying symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thought about a triggering event.

The medical research in this arena has reached mixed findings.  While some researchers have found that the use of medical marijuana by veterans with PTSD has positive results, other studies suggest that marijuana use by those with PTSD may actually make symptoms worse.  There simply has not been enough controlled studies to conclusively state whether marijuana is beneficial for those with PTSD.  Nonetheless, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence by veterans suggesting that their use of marijuana has improved, or in some cases eliminated, symptoms associated with their PTSD.  Fortunately, the first clinical trial of marijuana for American veterans with PTSD is currently underway in Colorado.  My presentation will suggest that we need more controlled clinical trials such as this to further identify whether marijuana could (or should) truly be used as a remedy for veterans with PTSD.

* Medical journal article, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" (discussing what PTSD is and various treatment options, including cannabis).

* Medical journal article, "Use and effects of cannabinoids in military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder"(reviewing several studies and noting that while there is a need for more randomized and controlled studies, some PTSD patients report benefits in terms of reduced anxiety and insomnia and improved coping ability).

* Medical journal article, "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Cannabis Use Characteristics among Military Veterans with Cannabis Dependence" (exploring the negative effects of treating PTSD with marijuana and finding that individuals with PTSD may have a particularly difficult experience when attempting to quit marijuana).

* Medical journal article, "Marijuana and other cannabinoids as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: A literature review" (explaining that conclusions cannot yet be drawn about the therapeutic effects of marijuana and related cannabinoids for PTSD; suggesting that rapidly changing legal landscape will permit promising clinical research).

* Medical journal article, "A review of medical marijuana for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: Real symptom re-leaf or just high hopes?" (finding some positive data for use of marijuana for PTSD but also noting conflicting findings and limits of studies conducted thus far).

* Report on study, "Marijuana for Symptoms of PTSD in U.S. Veterans" (first clinical trial of marijuana for PTSD in American veterans underway).

* Recent Weedmaps article, "Marijuana Study Findings Could Hold Promise for Veterans With PTSD" (noting that MAPS study mentioned above could pave the way toward an FDA-approved prescription medicine; anecdotal evidence of veteran using black market rather than expensive medical marijuana program in CA)

March 25, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Spotlighting "a hazy cannabis stalemate" after Baltimore State’s Attorney says she will stop prosecuting these cases and police resist change

This new CityLab article by Ethan McLeod reports on the notable state of marijuana affairs in the city of Baltimore. The Full headline and subheadline provides the basics: "For Weed Arrests in Baltimore, It’s Catch-and-Release Season: Baltimore prosecutors won’t charge people for marijuana possession, but police are still making arrests. Result: a hazy cannabis stalemate." Here is an excerpt from the story, with links from the original:

Mosby’s move added Baltimore to a growing list of cities where prosecutors are dropping cannabis offenses en masse and moving to purge thousands of conviction and charges. From New York to Philadelphia to Houston to St. Louis and elsewhere, these efforts share a common goal: Reduce enforcement of drug laws proven to largely target African Americans, and free up resources for prosecutors and cops to focus on more serious crimes.

In most cities, district and state’s attorneys are pursuing these reforms with the cooperation—albeit sometimes grudging—of police and city leaders. Even if they lack enthusiastic endorsements from police, they’re already working with officials and police departments that have instructed officers to hand out tickets or criminal summonses in lieu of arrests for possession (often of around an ounce).

But not in Baltimore. Here, police have pledged to keep following the letter of the law, which states that possessing anywhere from 10 grams to 50 pounds of cannabis is a misdemeanor statewide—and using cannabis arrests as a means to an end. “Arresting people for marijuana possession is an infrequently used, but sometimes important, law enforcement tool as we focus on violent crime and violent criminals in Baltimore,” BPD’s chief spokesman Matt Jablow said in an emailed statement.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh isn’t on board with the policy, either: She’s said that she supports the principle behind Mosby’s move, but that “those who deal illegal substances fuel criminality in our neighborhoods which leads to violence.” Pugh called on prosecutors and police to craft a singular approach to possession, but has been silent on advocates’ subsequent calls to push BPD to cease arrests.

All this is happening in a city whose struggles with corruption and violent crime have made it the focus of growing national attention. The city also has a new police commissioner, former New Orleans police superintendent Michael Harrison. He recently told city council members he’s met with Mosby about their conflicting policies and insisted that the BPD has been de-prioritizing possession arrests since decriminalization of up to 10 grams took effect in 2014. (Arrest data, however, shows hundreds are still being arrested annually, almost all of them black, and the same pattern goes for citations.)

“Our policies align with the law, and the law didn’t change,” Harrison told council members. And, he argued, even if possession is nonviolent in nature, “it doesn’t always mean that a person caught with simple possession of marijuana is a nonviolent offender.”

Like other prosecutors charting the cannabis-decriminalization course, including Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner and St. Louis’s Kim Gardner, Mosby has drawn varied criticism for the policy. Defense attorneys have argued that without BPD buy-in, the pledge amounts to “virtue signaling” by Mosby, whose prosecutors can elevate cases to possession with intent to distribute—a crime they’re still pursuing—at their discretion. Vacating and expunging the cases has already proven to be challenging for her office, given that many of them included charges other than possession. Dropping them could have unintended repercussions, as for someone who violated probation because of a weed arrest.

More broadly, Mosby’s policy risks exacerbating the rift that has grown between her and BPD since her high-profile decision to charge six officers in the killing of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died in police custody in April 2015. Three of those officers were acquitted; charges were dropped for the rest. (Mosby’s office did not respond to requests for comment from CityLab.)

Prior related post:

Baltimore State’s Attorney says no more prosecutions of marijuana possession offenses

March 22, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Noting the latest polling numbers favoring marijuana reform

This Business Insider article, headlined "A record 61% of Americans now want weed to be legalized across the US, with support rising in every age group," report on the latest notable poll numbers concerning marijuana reform. Here are excerpts:

A record 61% of Americans say pot should be legalized, according to the respected General Social Survey.  The poll, which has tracked support for legal marijuana since 1973, found that approval reached an all-time high across all age groups, US regions, and political affiliations in 2018.

The numbers reflect how attitudes toward the drug are shifting across the nation. While the majority of Americans want the legalization of cannabis now, only 16% did in 1987 and 1990, the years with the joint-lowest support....

Though support grew across all age brackets, it remains the highest among 18- to 34-year-olds, the survey found.  More than 70% of young Americans say they want pot to be legal, while only 42% of interviewees over 65 say the same.

Survey takers in the Midwest are most in favor, at 68%. While support was lowest in the South, more than half of respondents there still said marijuana should be legalized.

On the political spectrum, Democrats (69%) and independents (66%) were largely in favor of legalizing weed.  Only 42% of Republicans agreed, but support among them has been growing steadily over the years. In 2012, only a third of Republican voters wanted cannabis to be legal.

March 21, 2019 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Native Americans & Cannabis: History, Religion, Fraud, & the Future"

The title of this post is the title of a presentation to be made by one of my students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this coming week.  Here is part of her explanation of her topic and links to some background reading:

   Native Americans have a tricky and unique history with cannabis. Indians have always used “teaching plants.” And almost every single ceremonial herb used by Indians has been illegal at some point in the United States: salvia, peyote, mullen, mints, and sage.  In particular, cannabis is more controversial, given its growing popularity in the United States by non-Natives.  Cannabis is considered a sacred herb in many tribes, but not all tribes.  For example, the First Nation tribe uses it in rituals, some tribes claim great visionaries used it with their sacred pipes, and other tribes, such as the Dakota and Lakota tribes, state that their medicine men have never used cannabis as a part of their ceremonies.

   There has recently been a rise in "cannabis churches,” with the most controversial church, the Oklevueha Native American Church, leading such controversy.  The church was founded by James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney.  Mooney claims to have native American ancestry, but does not have any official tribal affiliation.  The church is comparable to the fundamentalist mormons: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not condone of affiliate itself with fundamentalist mormons, and the National Council of Native American churches released a statement, advising the public that it does not “condone the activities of the illegitimate organization.”  This complicates Indian history, as some tribes may wish to use it as a sacrament, and others use the Oklevueha church as a scapegoat and a reason to ban cannabis on its tribes.

   U.S. courts have previously ruled that cannabis being used as a religious sacrament does not give tribes the right to use it.  Overall, my goal is to: 1) explain the history of peyote, ayahuasca, and cannabis in Native American culture; 2) describe the use, or lack thereof, of cannabis and how it differs from tribe to tribe; 3) describe the rise of “cannabis churches” generally, with a focus on the Oklevueha Native American Church, and the legal troubles they have faced; 4) the legal argument to allow Indian churches to use cannabis as a sacrament or a ritual herb, and the legal argument to prohibit Indian churches from using cannabis as a sacrament or a ritual herb; and 5) the potential implications which it would have on tribes in the future.

 

Background Resources:

 

March 19, 2019 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Is the NHL the future of marijuana in pro sports?"

Download (11)The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable recent ESPN article that a terrific student of mine made sure I did not miss.  Here is how the lengthy piece gets started and an excerpt reviewing the NHL's notable approach to positive drug tests:

Player X is in the NHL.  After home games, he has a routine . Typically, he'll meet a few teammates at a local restaurant for a late dinner.  He likes to order steak after games -- medium rare, with a side salad and mashed potatoes.  Then he'll go home.

Player X sometimes has a hard time unwinding; it was a day of unbounded stimulation.  He woke up and arrived at the rink for a morning skate and meetings, went home to nap, returned to the arena for warm-ups (bright lights and eardrum-blasting music), then exerted his body for 20-something sub-one-minute shifts during which he shoves, sprints, reaches, shoots, gets hit and sometimes bleeds on the ice.  By the time he gets home at night, he needs something to ease the process of getting to bed.  So he'll often reach for his weed pen and take a few hits.  "Just to relax," he says.  "Honestly, it's the easiest and most natural way for me to fall asleep and be ready for the next day."

Because Player X is on a Western Conference team based in a state in which there are broad laws legalizing marijuana, he knows he's not doing anything wrong.  Actually, he's doing what he estimates thousands of others who live in his city do every night as well.

And because he plays in the NHL -- and not, say, the NFL, NBA or MLB -- he knows he won't be punished.

Society's views on marijuana are evolving -- fast.  On Oct. 16, Canada became the largest country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana.  Coupled with results from the midterm elections in the United States, this is the landscape: Of the 31 teams in the NHL, 28 play in states where players have access to legal marijuana, whether it is for medicinal or recreational purposes.  That's the highest percentage (90.3) of any of the major four North American pro leagues, but hardly an anomaly.

This might surprise you: Of the 123 teams across MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL, 45 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal (36.6 percent). Another 56 play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (45.5 percent).  That's a whopping 82 percent of teams (101 of 123) that are playing in areas where their employees can legally purchase either medicinal or recreational marijuana....

Dr. Dave Lewis and Dr. Brian Shaw are the physicians who run the NHL and NHLPA's joint Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (SABH) Program.  If they determine Player X's test features "abnormally high levels" of THC, they flag it.  The veil of anonymity is then lifted, and the two doctors will contact Player X.  They can recommend he enters the SABH, in which they'll develop an individualized treatment plan for him. Neither the NHL nor NHLPA needs to know that he's in the program.

The league won't punish Player X at all for his test. If he chooses to enter the SABH, Dr. Lewis and Dr. Shaw have the power to levy fines, suspensions or other penalties if conditions are breached.  However, the player is not required to enter the program if he doesn't want to.

"The thing that we're really looking for is if there's a guy that has an issue or a problem and he needs help -- that's what we're trying to capture in that program," says longtime NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider, now a senior executive at the NHLPA . "I do think it has worked very well.  We have a tremendous amount of faith in the doctors that run the program.  Confidentiality in that program is of the utmost importance."

I have long thought it notable (and not a mere coincidence) that the "whitest" major sports league, the NHL, has the most tolerant approach to marijuana and other drugs.  This ESPN article does not focus on racial issues, but rather is focused on the possibility that other major sports leagues could be attracted to the treatment-oriented marijuana policies in the NHL.  I certainly like that idea, but I am not sure why this kind of public-health approach to marijuana use ought to only benefit elite athletes.  We have used punitive models for dealing with drug use and abuse for so long, the idea that a person would not get punished by his employer for a position drug test seem surprising when it should be the norm.  

March 15, 2019 in Employment and labor law issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Latest polling data shows overwhelming support for medical marijuana reform and notable age gap in support for full legalization

The results of the latest Quinnipiac University national poll with questions on marijuana reform can be found at this link, and here is how the results on these questions are summarized:

Legalized Marijuana

American voters say 60 - 33 percent "the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S." There is a very small gender gap, but a wide age gap:

  • Voters 18 to 34 years old support legalized marijuana 85 - 12 percent;
  • Voters 35 to 49 years old support it 63 - 30 percent;
  • Voters 50 to 64 years old support it 59 - 35 percent;
  • Voters over 65 years old are divided on legalized marijuana as 44 percent support it, with 49 percent opposed.

Voters support medical marijuana, if a doctor prescribes it, 93 - 5 percent.

American voters support erasing criminal records for marijuana possession 63 - 29 percent.  Republicans are divided as 45 percent support erasing records, with 47 percent opposed. Every other listed party, gender, education, age and racial group supports erasing criminal records.

"The baby boomers say no to the drug that helped define an era, while the millennials say bring it on," [Tim] Malloy [assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll] said. "In between are enough voters to rubber stamp legalizing marijuana for recreation as well as medical reasons."

The results on these questions are here also broken down by gender, education levels and racial background.  Interestingly, there is no real gender gap on these questions in this latest poll, but there is a small racial gap on a few of the questions.

March 7, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Senator Cory Booker introduces "Marijuana Justice Act of 2019"

D0frrINXQAI1noaAs reported in this press release, US Senator Cory Booker has joined with a number of other Democrats to formally introduce his social-justice-oriented federal marijuana reform bill.  Here are comments from the bill's sponsors (many of whom are running for President) from the press release, as well as some particulars and a link to the full bill:

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), today reintroduced their landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

"The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it's been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals," said Booker.  "The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level."

"But it's not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana.  We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs.  And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time.  The end we seek is not just legalization, it's justice."

"The War on Drugs has destroyed lives, and no one continues to be hurt more than people of color and low-income communities," said Wyden. "There is a desperate need not only to correct course by ending the failed federal prohibition of marijuana, but to right these wrongs and ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted."

"Millions of Americans' lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities," said Gillibrand. "Currently, just one minor possession conviction can take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail down the road.  It is shameful that my son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana, and legalizing marijuana is an issue of morality and social justice.  I'm proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation's failed drug policies."

"As I said during my 2016 campaign, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year," said Sanders. "Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives negatively impacted because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change. We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs."

"Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color. It's time to change that," said Harris. "Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American."

"Marijuana should be legalized, and we should wipe clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, public health and safety at risk." said Warren.

"This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century. It's past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind." said Bennet....

The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color. Beyond removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances - making it legal at the federal level - the bill would also automatically expunge the convictions of those who have served federal time for marijuana use and possession offenses, and it would reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund. This community reinvestment fund could be used for projects such as job training programs, re-entry services, and community centers.

The bill would also incentivize states through the use of federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color.

By going further than simply rescheduling marijuana with expungement and community reinvestment, Booker, Lee, and Khanna's bill is the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever to be introduced in Congress.

The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge's review of marijuana sentences.

Full text of the bill is here.

The Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 looks nearly identical to the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, so prior commentary of the MJA as in prior posts here and here remain germane.

February 28, 2019 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"All 2020 presidential candidates now support marijuana legalization efforts — even the Republicans"

Download (2)The title of this post is the title of this recent Boston Globe piece. Here are excerpts:

When it comes to marijuana, Elizabeth Warren of 2012 would probably not recognize Elizabeth Warren of 2019.

Seven years ago, Warren opposed legalization. In 2015, the US senator from Massachusetts said she was “open” to it. In 2016, she said, she voted for it privately at the ballot box. Now she’s one of marijuana’s top cheerleaders on Capitol Hill, championing a measure to protect the pot industry in states where it’s legal.

Warren’s evolution is not unique — in fact, 2020 will see the first US presidential race in which every candidate, at least so far, favors some path to legalization.

All 12 official Democratic candidates, as well as the potential Republican hopeful and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, told the Globe they now support full nationwide legalization, Canada-style. President Trump, meanwhile, has said he supports states’ rights to legalize.

“There’s been a tremendous evolution — marijuana legalization, if you look back, was really something for fringe candidates,” said John Lapp, a Democratic national campaign strategist.“It’s just not very controversial at all now.”

For Democrats, especially, being for cannabis legalization might be as much of a litmus test in 2020 among voters as is being for abortion rights. But they must face their past stances with honesty, political strategists say. In 2008, now-US Senator Kamala Harris touted her high conviction rates for drug dealers as a district attorney, and Joe Biden, the former vice president — who is likely to run, but hasn’t announced — was long an evangelist for the war on drugs.

A quarter-century ago, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton did damage control by saying he tried pot while he was a Rhodes scholar in England, but “didn’t inhale.” Running in 2007, Barack Obama found it politically acceptable to admit he had smoked marijuana as a young man, and “the point was to inhale” — but he called it “a mistake.”’...

Now politicians, particularly Republicans, have a more politically safe way of supporting cannabis: by advocating for states’ rights, said Steve Fox, a cannabis lobbyist with VS Strategies. “At this point, the greatest driving factor at the federal level is simply the fact that it’s legal in so many states,” Fox said.

To combat the rising momentum, the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana is producing a guide for candidates that it says will be backed by medical associations. “Candidates will have a simple choice: They can either follow the pot lobby or they can follow the science,” said executive director Kevin Sabet....

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has made legalization a core part of his presidential campaign, said his position has much more to do with addressing racial disparities in policing than it does with freedom for recreational use. “I am pleased to see public sentiment moving as it is, but I have an approach to marijuana legalization that sees it as a justice issue and not just as an adult-use issue,” Booker said. “The damage that the enforcement and prohibition has done to our country is outrageous, unacceptable, and violates our values.”...

In New Hampshire this election cycle, candidates are likely to be asked about marijuana, as the Legislature there moves toward possibly passing legalization this year. Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, has vowed to veto such a measure.

But don’t expect many candidates to focus their campaigns on marijuana. It’s not just safe now — it’s too safe. To stand out in a crowded field, Lapp recommends that a candidate take on affordable health care, immigration, or college debt — “something where there’s some upside and downside, some passion and some risk. I’m just not sure that’s the case with marijuana anymore.”

February 28, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Two interesting new articles about the early operation of Ohio's medical marijuana program

OHIO-HERBAL-CLINIC-DOCTORS-OFFICE-OHIO-MEDICAL-MARIJUANA-CARD--300x300Two Ohio papers had two interesting new article about early developments in the operation of Ohio's still-new medical marijuana program.  Here are headlines, links and excerpts:

From the Akron Beacon Journal, "Ohio medical marijuana recommendations coming from clinics, not family doctors"

If you know someone who has received a recommendation to use medical marijuana, odds are the recommendation didn’t come from a family doctor or primary-care physician. The vast majority of recommendations in Ohio come from clinics that employ doctors solely to evaluate patients for medical marijuana, say people familiar with the industry....

“Marijuana-specific clinics fill a huge need,” said Dr. Joel Simmons, who runs the Ohio Herbal Clinic, a Near East Side cannabis clinic. While the clinics, many of which have out-of-state owners, have some critics, patient advocates say primary-care doctors are the ideal source for marijuana recommendations.

Those doctors better understand a patient’s needs and medical history, said Mary Jane Borden, co-founder of the Ohio Rights Group, which advocates for users of medicinal cannabis. When Ohio lawmakers wrote the state’s medical-marijuana law, they hoped that family physicians would be writing most recommendations, Borden said....

Clinics charge between $125 and $200 for an evaluation, which insurance won’t cover.  Because the clinics don’t negotiate with insurance companies, they clinics can charge whatever they want, said Emilie Ramach, founder and CEO of Compassionate Alternatives, a Columbus-based nonprofit agency that helps patients pay for medicinal cannabis.  Several clinic doctors, including Simmons, said they do their best to keep their prices reasonable.

From the Columbus Dispatch, "High prices keep many Ohioans out of legal cannabis market"

As Ohio’s medical marijuana industry finally takes off, some patients and advocates are griping about costs that put it out of reach for many people.  A steep price tag stems partly from the lack of competition, as Ohio only has seven dispensaries spread throughout the state, mostly in rural areas, experts said.  Costs are expected to drop as more dispensaries open and the industry finds its footing.

In the meantime, patients openly acknowledge buying the drug on the black market while they wait for prices to come down.  And without insurance to cover the expense, some worry that low-income people might never be able to afford medical cannabis....

Several local patients said using marijuana has improved their quality of life, but they must stretch their budgets to pay for it or buy it on the street.  “I’m not using as much as I probably need to be using,” said Mary Alleger, 31, of Reynoldsburg, who said she uses cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ongoing pain from a botched medical procedure.

Katherin Cottrill, 33, of Newark, has worked with the patient advocacy organization Ohio Rights Group to acquire a medical marijuana card, but said current costs keep her from even getting started.  “I would have to pay $200 to $250 (just to get a recommendation),” Cottrill said.  “And then I have to drive to a dispensary and pay $50. It’s unreasonable for me to even try.”...

Just under 3 grams of medical marijuana costs about $50. Cannabis clinics charge between $125 and $200, and the state charges $50 in fees.  Marijuana is cheaper on the street, patients said.

“On the black market you can buy an ounce for $200,” said Robert Doyle, 61, of Newark, who has a medical marijuana card but still buys the drug on the street due to the cost.  There are about 28 grams in an ounce.  Doyle said he’s visited dispensaries in Michigan with prices comparable to the black market, making him confident that Ohio’s costs will eventually fall....

But even if prices drop, clinic costs and fees will remain a barrier for some, Cottrill said.  “What about low-income people who are desperately seeking medication?” she said. “They can’t even afford to pay $50 to get their card registered.”

February 26, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"Growing Marijuana Industry Struggles To Attract Employees Of Color"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new NPR piece.  Here are excerpts:

As marijuana becomes legal around the country, blacks and Latinos are often left out of new business opportunities. Advocates say people of color are often reluctant to join the growing legal marijuana economy because they were targeted far more often than whites during the war on drugs. Studies show members of such communities were arrested and jailed for illegal marijuana use far more often than whites.

As Massachusetts developed laws for legal marijuana, officials wrote what they claimed was a first-in-the-nation Social Equity Program explicitly to give members of those communities a leg up. But this part of the state law isn't working — next to no black or Latino candidates have applied for licenses in Massachusetts.

They're scared of the government. "They're scared of the government, man," said Sieh Samura, an outspoken cannabis activist. "This is still a new thing. And there's taxes, there's the government, there's all kinds of things, you know. Just because people say it's legal ... it's not welcoming for everybody."

Studies show that blacks and Latinos nationwide have been arrested and incarcerated for cannabis and other drug crimes at at least four times the rate of whites. The long-term effects of the war on drugs launched in the 1970s are still evident in many communities of color.

So, the city of Somerville, Mass., passed an ordinance requiring that 50 percent of recreational marijuana licenses go to black and Latino applicants. "We want to make sure that everyone has a real authentic opportunity to participate in that economy in the future," said Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. "If not, we start to lose the fabric and soul of our community. And then social inequity becomes greater, becomes vaster, and we can't allow that to happen. We're a pro-growth community, but we want to make sure regular folks are able to participate in that."...

To be a model for others, Samura and his wife Leah created a recreational marijuana business called 612 Studios. For months they've been coming to a massive marijuana cultivation facility in Milford, Mass., to participate in The Sira Accelerator, a 12-week program designed to get more people of color into the industry by doing everything from raising money, to helping with marketing, packaging and distribution.

This program is run by Sira Naturals, which grows marijuana and creates products for its own medical dispensaries and some other recreational businesses. Mike Dundas, Sira Naturals' CEO, said the company wants to help longtime marijuana advocates, like the Samuras, or folks who have been dabbling in the illegal pot market. "We see our program, the Sira Accelerator, as sort of offering a hand to those who've been operating — and have skill and passion and dedication to cannabis products — in the illicit marketplace, to come to the regulated side, to get on the books and help facilitate the start of their businesses," said Dundas.

In return for the advice and counsel, Sira takes just under a 10 percent stake in the new company. Sira also hopes the accelerator will help it open a recreational shop in Somerville, where it already runs one of three medical dispensaries. The company can't get a recreational license until black or Latino entrepreneurs do because of the city's ordinance. Dundas, who is white, admits he's scrambling to find and mentor people of color who want to open businesses in Somerville to ensure that his company can open a retail shop of its own.

Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies with the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said there have been lots of attempts around the country to help candidates from black and Latino communities, but none have worked. "None of the states have the kind of diversity that we would like to see in the cannabis industry," she said....

"States moving forward are going to look at what happened in Massachusetts," O'Keefe said, "why such good intentions didn't end up bearing as much fruit and as much diversity in the industry as was intended."

UPDATE: Not long after this posting I saw that USA Today has an even fuller discussion of these issues in this new article headlined "Drug laws have historically been racist. Marijuana activists are helping minority dealers go legal." Here is a small piece of a long article worth reading in full:

The war on drugs has for decades disproportionately devastated minority communities by punishing people like Blunt and creating a cycle of poverty, incarceration and limited employment options, legal and social justice experts say.

Now, lawmakers and legalization advocates across the country are demanding not just cannabis legalization but remedies to address decades of demonstrably racist policing, from laws that automatically expunge criminal records for marijuana dealing and possession to policies that would give minority communities assistance in building cannabis businesses....

For many marijuana legalization activists, it's now up to local governments to diversify the legal pot industry by clearing conviction records and handing out subsidies. If white men have unfairly benefited from marijuana legalization, then it's only fair that minority communities be given extra help now because they suffered more, the thinking goes.

"We actually do have to overcorrect," said Kassandra Frederique, 32, the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is lobbying to legalize marijuana in the Empire State. "People from our communities, black and brown communities, were the one first ones to be criminalized. Why shouldn’t we be the first ones to benefit?"

February 21, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 18, 2019

"High Time for Criminal Justice Reform: Marijuana Expungement Statutes in States with Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana Laws"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Alana Rosen now available via SSRN.  Here is the paper's abstract:

As states continue to legalize or decriminalize recreational marijuana, there is a chasm within our society. One segment of the population can use, possess, transport, and cultivate marijuana without fear of prosecution.  Another segment of the population suffers from the collateral consequences of previous marijuana-related offenses.  This Article argues that any state that enacts marijuana legalization or decriminalization statutes should automatically include an expungement provision that clears the criminal record of individuals who engaged in activities now deemed lawful under the new legalization and decriminalization laws.

This Article proposes model language for an expungement statute that serves as a guide for legislators, judges, and attorneys.   The proposed expungement statute will help individuals obtain access to opportunities and benefits now denied them because of their marijuana-related criminal records including employment, professional licenses, financial aid, public housing, travel abroad, firearms’ purchases, the right to vote, and jury service.  Changes to the law will also benefit communities that have been disproportionately targeted by the War on Drugs and marijuana prohibition.

Regular readers surely know from my repeated mention of my article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," that I am especially interested in how marijuana reform is now intersecting with criminal justice concerns and should advance criminal justice reform efforts. I am so pleased to see another article on this topic, and I hope to soon see many more. I do not think this issue can get too much attention.

February 18, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

In Virginia city, local judges refuse to allow prosecutor to drop marijuana charges

As reported in this local article, headlined "Norfolk judges unite to block prosecutor from dropping marijuana cases," a fascinating tussle has broken out as an elected prosecutor tries to move away from criminally prosecuting marijuana offenders.  Here are the details:

The judges on the city’s top court have decided to block Norfolk’s chief prosecutor from essentially decriminalizing marijuana possession, a setback he’s thinking about appealing to the state Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, prosecutors under Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood went to court for at least the third time to try to drop or dismiss misdemeanor marijuana charges. Prosecuting people for having marijuana disproportionately hurts black people and does little to protect public safety, he’s said.

For the third time, a judge rebuffed them, and told prosecutors she’s not alone, but joined by her seven colleagues. “We are of one mind on this,” Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall said.

The decisions adds to the confusion about whether it’s OK to have a small amount of weed in the city. Norfolk police have said they will continue to cite people for misdemeanor marijuana possession as they’ve always done. Circuit Court judges appear determined to make sure offenders are tried, even if the commonwealth’s attorney refuses to prosecute them....

In 2016 and 2017, more than 1,560 people have been charged with first- or second-offense marijuana possession, prosecutor Ramin Fatehi told the judge in court Tuesday. Of them, 81 percent were black in a city that’s 47 percent white and 42 percent black.

This “breeds a reluctance on the part of African Americans, particular young African American men, to trust or cooperate with the justice system,” according to a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office memo announcing the policy changes. “Such prosecution also encourages the perception that the justice system is not focusing its attention on the legitimately dangerous crimes that regrettably are concentrated in these same communities.”

On Tuesday, Hall denied Fatehi’s motion to dismiss charges against Zemont Vaughan. The 24-year-old Norfolk man, who is black, had been convicted in a lower court in October, but on Tuesday, he went to the higher Circuit Court to appeal that conviction.

Prosecutors’ motions to dismiss or drop charges are typically formalities. They don’t generally like giving up on cases, so when they make what amounts to an admission of defeat, judges almost always grant them. Not this time.

Hall told Fatehi she and the other seven judges think the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney is trespassing on the state legislature’s territory: making laws. The judge said Fatehi made an “extremely compelling case” with his statistics on racial disparities, but should pitch it to lawmakers in Richmond.

“I believe this is an attempt to usurp the power of the state legislature,” Hall said. “This is a decision that must be made by the General Assembly, not by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.”

Fatehi countered: Underwood is exercising the executive power voters gave him when they elected him the city’s top prosecutor. Part of the job is prosecutorial discretion, or deciding which laws should be enforced, especially since he has a limited amount of resources. In contrast to the misdemeanor possession charges, Underwood’s lawyers will keep prosecuting people accused of trafficking or dealing marijuana. “This is an exercise of our discretion,” Fatehi said.

Fatehi said Underwood is thinking about asking the state Supreme Court to reverse the judges’ decisions, adding that he’s “very close” to making a decision.

Lots can be said on the substance of the decisions being made by the city prosecutor and city judges in this case, but I will be content for now (1) to note that broad prosecutorial discretion in charging (and not charging) is the norm, and (2) to wonder aloud how prosecutions could or would move forward in these cases if city prosecutors refuse to be involved.  And, finally, this story highlights yet again how disparate marijuana enforcement seems to be everywhere and how interesting legal issues surrounds all kinds of modern marijuana reform efforts.

February 17, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)