Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

"Building a Better Marijuana Tax"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Carl Crow, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this latest paper's abstract:

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation legalizing adult possession and use of marijuana.  Of those twelve jurisdictions, only eight of those jurisdictions have active markets where the substance can be legally bought and sold, and each imposes a different taxation scheme on the flow of marijuana goods in the marketplace.  This paper analyzes each tax base and then proposes a bifurcated recreational marijuana tax scheme for states that are currently thinking about legalization: (i) tax flower, bud, and trim based on weight; and (ii) tax concentrates, edibles, oils, and other “distilled” marijuana products based on potency, currently measured by THC content.

The idea behind taxing by potency is two-fold: first, the state may pursue public health goals by nudging consumers away from high-potency forms of marijuana – and prevent producers from gravitating even more strongly toward high-potency goods; second, taxing by potency may help normalize the recreational use of marijuana by encouraging society to treat marijuana more like other legal drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes.  While no tax scheme is perfect, a hybrid weight/potency base combined with a sunset provision to allow further research on the area appears to be the ideal way to regulate marijuana at this moment in time.

September 8, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2020

Noticing the notable "red state" realities of marijuana reform ballot initiatives in 2020

Download (26)The Daily Beast has this new piece highlighting that the bulk of the marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot in 2020 are in so-called red states. The piece is fully headlined "Marijuana Is Making Its Mark on Ballots in Red States: Republican-led legislatures have opposed legalization measures, so proponents are going right to the voters." Here are excepts:

Montana and a handful of other states this fall [will] decide whether to legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Five of the six states with ballot questions lean conservative and are largely rural, and the results may signal how far America’s heartland has come toward accepting the use of a substance that federal law still considers an illegal and dangerous drug.

Since Colorado first allowed recreational use of marijuana in 2014, 10 other states have done the same. Most are coastal, left-leaning states, with exceptions like Nevada, Alaska and Maine. An additional 21 states allow medical marijuana, which must be prescribed by a physician.

This year, marijuana advocates are using the November elections to bypass Republican-led legislatures that have opposed legalization efforts, taking the question straight to voters. Advocates point to a high number of petition signatures and their own internal polling as indicators that the odds of at least some of the measures passing are good....

Mississippi and Nebraska voters will decide on medical marijuana measures. South Dakota will be the first state to vote on legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana in the same election.

Montana, Arizona and New Jersey, all medical marijuana states, will consider ballot measures in November to allow recreational sales, a move opponents consider evidence of a slippery slope....

The Marijuana Policy Project is helping to coordinate the Montana legalization effort. Its deputy director, Matthew Schweich, said the organization does so only when polling suggests at least half of voters would support the measure. “It’s becoming normalized for people,” Schweich said. “People know that other states are legalizing it and the sky has not fallen.”

An effort to legalize marijuana in rural, conservative states would have been an uphill battle even a few years ago. But several factors have worked toward changing attitudes there, Schweich said. They include a gradually increasing acceptance in red states of neighbors that have legalized recreational pot—and seeing the tax revenue that legal marijuana brings. But perhaps the biggest catalyst toward normalizing pot use is having an established medical marijuana program, Schweich said.

After 15 years, Montana’s medical cannabis program is firmly rooted and has survived several legislative attempts to restrict it or shut it down. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, more than 500 marijuana providers were serving 38,385 people as of July, which represents nearly 4 percent of the state’s population....

In Mississippi, 20 medical marijuana bills have failed over the years in the Statehouse. This year, 228,000 state residents signed petitions in support of a medical marijuana initiative to allow possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana to treat more than 20 qualifying medical conditions. In response, lawmakers put a competing measure on the ballot that would restrict marijuana use to terminally ill patients and require them to use only pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products.

Jamie Grantham, spokesperson for Mississippians for Compassionate Care, called the measure an effort by the state to split the vote and derail legalization efforts. “I’m passionate about this because it’s a plant that God made and it can provide relief for those who are suffering,” said Grantham, who described herself as a conservative Republican. “If this is something that can be used to help relieve someone’s pain, then they should be able to use it.”

But opposition is starting to build. Langton, the Mississippi Board of Health member, is working with Mississippi Horizon, a group fighting legalization. Langton said he opposes the original initiative because he believes it’s “overly broad” and would allow dispensaries within 500 feet of schools and churches. It could also put Mississippi on a path toward legalized recreational use, he said. He added: “They say that marijuana is a natural plant, but poison ivy is natural, too. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is good for you.”

September 7, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few of many prior COVID-cannabis related posts:

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

Friday, August 14, 2020

A classic, modern (or modern, classic) debate on "Should We Legalize Marijuana?"

Newsweek has brought together two leading voices in the marijuana reform conversation here under the headline  "Debate: Should We Legalize Marijuana? | Opinion."  Here is how the opinion editor sets up the discussion and links to the commentary:

Drug overdoses in America have inexplicably skyrocketed over the past five years. We are, it seems, facing terrible societal crises of mass despondency and lonely atomization. What's more, the stuff peddled to kids today, more potent in terms of THC level than ever before, ain't exactly your grandpa's weed from Woodstock. But on the other hand, surely the War on Drugs has been an abject failure, needlessly ruining lives and locking up youngsters who wouldn't otherwise have a chance at success in live. And as American public opinion shifts, is it finally time to fully legalize recreational marijuana?

This week, of Law Enforcement Action Partnership debates Dr. Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana on one of the perennial questions facing the American populace. We hope you enjoy the detailed, lively exchange.

As is often the case, these two advocates make their arguments eloquently and effectively. Franklin stresses the myriad criminal justice harms and inequities that have resulted from marijuana prohibitions; Sabet stresses the myriad public health risks and inequities that may result from marijuana legalization and commercialization.  Most of their points are sound, and I often think the crux of the marijuana reform debate turns on one's perspective on whether one is more concerned with documented criminal justice harms and inequities from prohibition or with potential public health risks and inequities that may result from marijuana legalization and commercialization.

August 14, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thorough review of "Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana"

1563932774784Regular readers surely know of my appreciation for all the work done at Marijuana Moment to cover all sorts of marijuana issues, and this recent posting on the record on Senator Kamala Harris highlights why that resource does so much more than anyone else on this front.  Specifically, the posting goes on and on, because Harris has a long record, and here is how the coverage gets started (with links from the original):

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice presidential running mate, the campaign announced on Tuesday.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s choice to join him on the ticket has evolved significantly on marijuana policy over her career.  Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.

It remains to be seen whether she will push Biden in the same direction, as the former vice president has maintained opposition to ending marijuana prohibition despite supermajority support among Democrats.

While Harris, a former attorney general of California, made marijuana reform a major component of her criminal justice platform when she unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, she’s been less vocal about the issue since dropping out in December 2019.

Convincing Biden to come around seems like a steep task in any case.  Some advocates suspect that the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee voted against an amendment to add legalization as a 2020 party plank specifically because it’s at odds with the presumptive nominee’s agenda.  Biden has drawn the line at decriminalizing marijuana possession, expunging past convictions, modest federal rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization and letting states set their own policies.

But it remains the case that Harris is the chief Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act — a comprehensive piece of legalization legislation that includes various social equity and restorative justice provisions.  Advocates will be watching to see if she continues to advocate for the reform move as she’s on-boarded to the Biden campaign.

The senator indicated in July that she doesn’t plan to push the presumptive presidential nominee on the issue.

Here’s a deeper look at where Harris stands on marijuana [click through to see it all]:

August 13, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Another example of stark racial disparity in marijuana enforcement in a northern city headed by an African-American police chief

Chief Hawkins headshotA couple of years ago, I noted in this post a local press piece from Minneapolis reporting on low-level marijuana stings being stopped after an extreme racial disparity was revealed ("46 of 47 arrested were black").   I thought this story was notable not only because of the extreme disparity in arrests, but also because this took place in a northern city and one in which the new police chief was African-American. 

Of course, two years later, Minneapolis is a key location for the intersection of policing and racial justice due to the needless killing of George Floyd.  But this lengthy local story from another northern city headed by an African-American police chief highlights that stark racial disparity in marijuana enforcement is still often the norm, not the exception  The piece is headlined "In Albany, marijuana arrests fall almost entirely on Black residents," and here are excerpts:

Last year, New York Civil Liberties Union lawyers released a report that showed police in Albany County overwhelmingly arrested minorities for low-level marijuana violations.  At the time, police insisted they did not target minorities and Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins vowed to examine what was behind the disparity in his city.

But a year later, a Times Union review of Albany police data from July 9, 2019, to July 9, 2020, shows little has changed. The city's police department made arrests or wrote tickets for marijuana-related offenses 134 times, ranging from violation-level tickets to felony-level possession arrests.  According to the department’s data, 97 percent of the time, those arrested or ticketed were Black.  Only four white people were charged with marijuana offenses during the time period despite nationwide evidence that shows Black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

Hawkins said violent-crime and quality-of-life investigations drive many of the arrests, but his vow to conduct an in-depth investigation of the matter was sidetracked by the department's need to focus on matters connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

The arrests are happening nearly two years after District Attorney David Soares said he would no longer prosecute minor marijuana arrests when it is the only charge a defendant faces.  The data shows that the majority of the arrests were for low-level offenses, either violations or low-level misdemeanors.  Seventy six of the 134 incidents were for unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation.  Twenty-five arrests were for felony amounts of marijuana, which is at least 8 ounces of the drug.

Debora Brown-Johnson, president of the Albany NAACP branch, said the organization had a conversation with the police department about its approach to marijuana cases after the NYCLU study was released last year.  Last week, she said the organization remains concerned and the issue is something Mayor Kathy Sheehan needed to address. “Questions still exist, what’s going on here, is this a targeted group?” she said....

In an interview, Hawkins said a more in-depth examination of the department’s marijuana enforcement had been delayed while the city confronts difficulties with the pandemic but he defended the way his officers enforced the laws around marijuana possession.  Hawkins said all of the felony-level arrests and many of the other citations were connected with police investigations into violent crime or “major” quality-of-life issues related to drug use and sales.  “It’s always concerning when you see that all of the arrests were black males,” said Hawkins, who is Black. “It’s not surprising to me that when we’re concentrating on addressing violent crime … we’re going to pull in some marijuana-related issues.”

In recent months, violence in the city has spiked but there has been no corresponding rise in marijuana arrests.  Since June 13, the department has written one marijuana citation, for a violation-level offense on July 26.  From the department’s data it is difficult to make connections between specific arrests and investigation into major crimes or shootings.  Of the 134 arrests and citations, 117 are related to calls for a crime in progress, according to the data, but the statistics give no indication of what crimes were being committed or investigated.

Hawkins said the areas with more marijuana citations are locations where police are receiving more calls for service, such as West Hill, Arbor Hill and the South End. According to patrol-zone-level data, 30 percent of the marijuana citations and arrests happened in the area bordered by Central Avenue, Judson Avenue and Lark Street, which includes parts of Arbor Hill and West Hill.  It is unclear if the tickets result in any meaningful prosecutions.  Last summer the state decriminalized the possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana. The maximum penalty is $50 for possessing less than 1 ounce of pot and a maximum of $200 for between 1 and 2 ounces.

After Soares' office said it would no longer prosecute cases where the sole charge was possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana, the Sheriff’s Department said it would stop writing possession tickets.  The city police department, however, decided to continue to make those arrests.  The department has had conversations about how to handle low-level possession tickets and Hawkins said officers were not out on patrol looking for minor marijuana crimes.  “We’re not stopping young men in the community and writing them minor possession of marijuana tickets, it’s just not happening,” he said. “I’m not seeing that these young men are being targeted but it’s concerning to me that that they are the ones who are impacted by this.”

Though the stark racial disparity in the Albany data on marijuana enforcement is what rightly generates headlines here, the story is also a revealing account for how marijuana enforcement ends up embedded in and connected to other aspects of policing even when states and localities have made significant decriminalization efforts.

August 4, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

New poll suggest Jersey a near lock to legalize marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 11, 2020

"Why Won’t Democrats Just Come Out for Legalizing Marijuana?"

Joe-biden-marijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the title of this new commentary at The Nation authored by John Nichols. The piece is in the same vein as the one noted here asking why Joe Biden won't embrace legalization.  Here are excerpts:

Some political issues are hard to wrestle with.  Some are easy.  Legalizing marijuana is easy.

A Pew Research Center survey found last fall that Americans back legalization by a 67-32 margin.  The numbers spike among Democrats, 78 percent of whom favor ending this form of prohibition.  But there’s also majority support — 55 percent — among Republicans.  Among voters under age 30, support for legalization is sky-high.

Enthusiasm for legalization extends far beyond the large number of Americans who are recreational users of marijuana to include millions of people who recognize, as does the American Civil Liberties Union, that “Marijuana Legalization Is a Racial Justice Issue.”...

When the [Democratic] party’s task force on criminal justice reform released its policy recommendations this week, legalization was off the agenda.  That was just one example of the caution that permeates the 110-page document submitted to the Democratic National Committee’s platform drafters by the six task forces that were set up in May by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his chief rival for the party’s nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders....

There’s criticism of mass incarceration and a good proposal to restrict federal funding for states that maintain cash bail systems. But there’s no plan to abolish the scandal-plagued Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency or to defund the police with an eye toward establishing new law enforcement models that strive for public safety and justice....

Color of Change senior director of criminal justice campaigns Scott Roberts told Politico that Biden “still seems to embrace kind of a law-and-order lite.” That was certainly the case when it came to upending marijuana laws.

The commission rejected legalization — the popular position backed by Sanders. Instead, it stuck to the more cautious approach that’s been maintained by Biden, a supporter of the drug war during his own Senate years who has softened some but not all of his old positions. Instead of legalization, the commission proposed to “decriminalize marijuana use,” reschedule cannabis on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and leave it to the states to decide about legalization.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws concluded that the proposal “is out of step with public opinion [and] would do little to mitigate the failed policy of federal prohibition.”

“It is impractical at best and disingenuous at worst for the Biden campaign to move ahead with these policy proposals. Rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act would continue to make the federal government the primary dictators of cannabis policy, and would do little if anything to address its criminal status under federal law,” explained Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law.  “Rescheduling marijuana is intellectually dishonest. Just as cannabis does not meet the strict criteria of a Schedule I controlled substance, it similarly does not meet the specific criteria that define substances categorized in schedules II through V.”

Why didn’t the commission simply endorse the Marijuana Justice Act, which has been introduced by New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker in the Senate and House Democrats Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna?  Sanders supports the measure, as do two of Biden’s vice presidential prospects, Warren and Senator Kamala Harris.  The answer is that Biden has a long history of opposing legalization — going so far in his resistance to the idea that, last year, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested that the former vice president was employing “Reagan-era talking points.”

Prior related post:

Is marijuana reform really a "Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use"?

 

July 11, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"County-Level Differences in Support for Recreational Cannabis on the Ballot"

Cdxa_47_2.coverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new paper in the journal Contemporary Drug Problems authored by Lindsey Beltz, Clayton Mosher and Jennifer Schwartz.  Here is its abstract:

Cannabis is traversing an extraordinary journey from an illicit substance to a legal one, due in part to an unprecedented wave of bottom-up law reform through successful citizen ballot initiatives.  Yet, even in states that have legalized recreational cannabis, there is substantial geographic variability in support of cannabis legalization. Geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization is impactful (e.g., county moratoriums/bans) yet poorly understood.

This paper demonstrates the consequences of county-level population demographics, sociopolitical factors, and community differences in experience with criminalization of cannabis possession for understanding county-level variation in support of recreational cannabis law reform on (un)successful ballot measures in California (2010), Colorado (2012), Washington (2012), and Oregon (2014). 

OLS regression analyses of nearly 200 counties indicate that differences in racial and ethnic composition (% Black, Hispanic), political affiliation (% Republican), past criminalization, gender composition, and higher education level of residents all predict county-level variation in support for liberalization of cannabis law.  Stronger Republican political leanings and/or higher percentages of Black or Hispanic residents were associated with reduced support, whereas higher education, male sex composition, and greater past criminalization were associated with increased support for cannabis legalization across counties. Religiosity and rurality were inconsequential as predictors of county-level voting patterns favoring recreational cannabis.  The substantial geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization has significant implications for policy implementation and effectiveness.

July 8, 2020 in Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is marijuana reform really a "Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use"?

EJ3gu5eWsAEdEfSThe question in the title of this post is drawn from the headline of this great new Atlantic piece by Edward-Isaac Dovere fully titled "The Marijuana Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use: Legalizing marijuana is extremely popular. So why won’t Joe Biden embrace the idea?".  Here are extended excerpts from an interesting piece worth reading in full:

Democratic political consultants dream of issues like marijuana legalization. Democrats are overwhelmingly in favor of it, polls show.  So are independents. A majority of Republicans favor it now too. It motivates progressives, young people, and Black Americans to vote. Put it on the ballot, and it’s proved a sure way to boost turnout for supportive politicians. It’s popular in key presidential-election states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Virginia. There’s no clear political downside — although marijuana legalization motivates its supporters, it doesn’t motivate its opponents. For the Democratic presidential nominee, the upsides of supporting it would include energizing a very committed group of single-issue voters and making a major move toward criminal-justice reform and the Bernie Sanders agenda.

Joe Biden won’t inhale.

Democrats eager for Biden to support legalization have theories about why he won’t.  His aides insist they’re all wrong.  It’s not, they say, because he’s from a generation scared by Reefer Madness. It’s not, they say, because he spent a career in Washington pushing for mandatory minimum sentencing and other changes to drug laws.  It’s definitely not, according to people who have discussed the policy with him, because he’s a teetotaler whose father battled alcoholism and whose son has fought addiction, and who’s had gateway-drug anxieties drilled into him.  With legalization seeming such an obvious political win, all that’s stopping Biden, current and former aides say, is public health.  He’s read the studies, or at least, summaries of the studies (campaign aides pointed me to this one).  He wants to see more.  He’s looking for something definitive to assure him that legalizing won’t lead to serious mental or physical problems, in teens or adults....

If Biden really has his eyes on public health, he should think about how many Black people end up in jail for marijuana sale and possession, argues Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba — a young Black progressive who oversaw local decriminalization in his city in 2018....  Alternatively, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, says Biden should think about how legalization could raise tax revenue in the post-pandemic economy of state budget deficits....

Amid the criticism that Biden hasn’t taken a definitive stance on legalization, it’s easy to lose track of how far ahead he is of any other major-party presidential nominee in history in terms of changing marijuana policy.  He’d decriminalize use, which would mean fines instead of jail time, and move to expunge records for using.  He’d remove federal enforcement in states that have legalized the drug.  That’s further, by far, than Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, has gone.  Biden would move marijuana off as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same category as heroin, but would not take it off the illegal-drugs schedule entirely, so that federal law would treat it the way it does alcohol or nicotine....

“As science ends up with more conclusive evidence regarding the impact of marijuana, I think he would look at that data. But he’s being asked to make a decision right now. This is where the science guides him,” Stef Feldman, Biden’s policy director, explained to me....  There isn’t some conclusive study about health effects that Biden is ignoring, but one is also not likely to emerge anytime soon.  And though they insist this is all about health, other ripples from legalization are on the minds of institutionalists like Biden and his close advisers: trade deals that require both sides to keep marijuana illegal would have to be rewritten, half a century of American pressure on other countries about their drug policies would be reversed, and hard-line police unions would have to be convinced that he wasn’t just giving in to stoners. 

Realistically, marijuana isn’t a priority right now for the campaign.  Legalization is at once too small an issue for Biden’s tiny team to focus on and too large an issue to take a stand on without fuller vetting.  And it comes with a frustration among people close to Biden, who point out that liberals talk about trusting science on everything from climate change to wearing masks — and, notably, wanted vaping restricted because the health effects were unclear — but are willing to let that standard slide here because they want marijuana to be legal.

Biden’s compromise: going right to the edge of legalization, while appointing a criminal-justice task force for his campaign whose members have each supported at least some approach to legalization.  But that sort of signaling doesn’t get people to the polls.  “Being cute is fine. Being bold is motivating,” Ben Wessel, the director of NextGen America, a group focused on boosting political involvement among younger voters, told me.

“If Biden said he wants to legalize marijuana tomorrow, it would help him get reluctant young voters off the fence and come home to vote for Biden — especially Bernie [Sanders] supporters, especially young people of color who have been screwed by a criminal-justice system that treats them unfairly on marijuana issues,” Wessel told me.  Publicly supporting marijuana legalization would be an easy, attention-grabbing move, and might help many Sanders diehards get past the fact that he’s not where they want him to be on the rest of their candidate’s democratic-socialist agenda. 

In 2018, top Democrats credited a legalization ballot initiative in Michigan with boosting turnout and producing the biggest blue wave in the country — winning races for governor, Senate, attorney general, and secretary of state, along with flipping two congressional seats and multiple state-legislature seats.  A ballot initiative is expected for the fall in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and possibly Montana.  Anyone who believes — hopefully, or out of cynical political calculation — that Biden will announce some big change in his thinking, aides told me, will be disappointed. 

I really like lots of aspects of this commentary, and I generally believe support for marijuana reform is a sound and significant political strategy these days.  But, as this piece highlights, when Biden's opponent is Donald Trump, it will still be easy for Biden to claim to be the most reform-minded candidate.  And while support for full legalization might attract younger voters, it also will attract hard questions about whether Biden would support legalizing other drugs.  By saying he will follow the research and the science, Biden can appear both wise and flexible on an issue that can still generate more heat than light.

Moreover, I think the political calculations can be a bit more nuanced here if one thinks about swing states and swing voters.  A number of potential swing states, ranging from Georgia and North Carolina to Iowa and Ohio and Wisconsin (and Texas?), are not states with a track record of significant voter support for full marijuana legalization.  Perhaps even more importantly, key voting blocks like suburban women and older white men are the populations that have generally been most resistant to marijuana reforms.   Though I still think support for major marijuana reforms would be a political plus for Biden, I do not think it is obviously a "superweapon" being left on the sidelines.

July 6, 2020 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 (0)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Reviewing direct democracy marijuana/drug reform initiatives as we celebrate America's birthday

Download (11)Kyle Jaeger has this helpful and timely piece at Marijuana Moment discussing the state of direct democracy marijuana and drug reform campaigns in the states. The piece is headlined "As Signature Deadlines Approach, Here’s Where Marijuana And Drug Policy Reform Campaigns Stand," and is worth a full read. Here are highlights:

Several drug policy reform campaigns are in the final stretch as deadlines to submit signatures for proposed ballot initiatives loom this week and next.

While the coronavirus pandemic dealt serious blows to marijuana, psychedelics and other drug reform groups in jurisdictions across the country, forcing some to end their campaigns, activists in Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. are still in the game, with some running against the clock to turn in enough valid signatures to qualify and others now waiting for officials to validate petitions they’ve already submitted. That’s in addition to measures that have already qualified for November ballots in states like Mississippi, New Jersey and South Dakota.

The proposed ballot measures would accomplish everything from legalizing cannabis to decriminalizing psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Here’s a status update on where they stand:

Arizona  Deadline: July 2

Smart & Safe Arizona is a campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot, and it seems to be in good shape to qualify....

Idaho  Deadline: TBD

While the original deadline to submit signatures for an initiative to legalize medical marijuana passed on May 1, a federal judge recently ruled that the state must make accommodations for a separate non-cannabis ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response to it. Activists feel the ruling will also apply to the marijuana measure....

Nebraska  Deadline: July 3

Activists behind an initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state turned in 182,000 raw signatures on Thursday — well more than the 121,669 valid submissions needed to qualify for the ballot....

Oregon  Deadline: July 2

A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes already submitted signatures that they feel will qualify them for the ballot....

Washington, D.C.  Deadline: July 6

Washington, D.C. activists are continuing to collect signatures for a proposed measure to make enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities....

Here’s the status of other drug policy campaigns that have either succeeded or failed so far this year:

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced on Tuesday that a campaign to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand substance misuse treatment has qualified for the ballot.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

Mississippi activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana initiatives—one to legalize the plant for adult use and another stipulating that individuals must be 21 or older to participate — for the November ballot.  The state is currently validating those submissions.

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas will not qualify for the ballot this year, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.

Activists behind an initiative to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand access to treatment services in Washington State said last week that they will no longer be pursuing the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they are seeking to enact the policy change through the legislature during the next session starting January 2021.

An effort to place a psilocybin legalization measure on California’s ballot ended after the coronavirus pandemic presented petitioning difficulties and officials didn’t agree to a request to allow electronic signature gathering.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

North Dakota activists ended their push to place a marijuana legalization measure on the 2020 ballot and will instead seek qualification for 2022.

July 4, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Noticing how marijuana reform now intersects with religious leaders

Im-199484The Wall Street Journal had this recent lengthy article exploring the intersection of marijuana reforms and religious leaders.  The piece is headlined "The Word of God in the Age of Legal Marijuana" and this subheadline highlights it themes: "As more believers begin to tolerate legalization, current and former religious leaders find themselves in the middle of a debate over health, race and law enforcement."  Here are excerpts:

When it comes to marijuana legalization ... some faith leaders ... are weighing the damage the drug can do against the number of people, especially people of color, sent to prison because of it, and the benefits it can provide those in physical pain.

Polls suggest that public tolerance of the drug has gone mainstream, even in religious communities.  A September survey by the Pew Research Center found that 67% of the 2,480 Americans asked spoke in favor of legalizing cannabis, up from 31% in 2000.  The survey found a majority in favor among several religious denominations.  Even evangelicals polled slightly in favor, with 50% saying yes and 49% no....

Plenty of absolutists remain among American clergy.  Dr. Russell Moore is an evangelical theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination’s public-policy arm.  He’s also a prominent marijuana critic.

He stands against legalization or decriminalization because he says marijuana is neither medicine nor a harmless recreational drug, and pro-legalization forces are backed by a profit-driven industry.  He calls marijuana legalization “unwise and even disastrous.”  Dr. Moore, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn., says he has counseled people with various addictions, including marijuana.  He says he sees religious leaders on the front lines of fighting marijuana and the harm it does to families, children and young adults.  “Most of the young evangelicals I know seek to minister to friends who have been harmed by marijuana culture,” he says.  “This isn’t theoretical to them at all.”

But other religious leaders find themselves in a position that would have seemed unthinkable in decades past.  Like Dr. Moore, Pastor Jamal Bryant is a clergyman with a large following and a share of critics that comes with that kind of profile.  He leads New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, an Atlanta-area African-American megachurch with 10,000 parishioners and an online viewership of more than 90,000.  It hosted the funeral of Coretta Scott King.

The pastor has created a line of cannabidiol (also known as CBD) oil-based products called Canna Blessed, organized as an LLC in Georgia.  Selling small amounts of the substance can be legal — it contains no THC, an ingredient in marijuana that provides a high.  CBD has been shown to be helpful in treating some conditions, including certain types of epilepsy, according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization.

Pastor Bryant wants to sell Canna Blessed in church bookstores.  If THC products became legal in Georgia, he would be open to selling them, too.  “I’m not telling you God said for you to take it,” he says. But if it helps someone in the choir manage a health condition, he says the church should provide it.

Pastor Jamal Bryant says that by entering the cannabis industry he can model generational wealth for his church, congregation and community.  He insists he won’t be “getting zooted on the roof of the church” or giving out cannabis as communion.  Instead he says he wants to raise awareness about holistic medicine and entrepreneurial opportunities he intends to model for his church community. “That would really begin a larger conversation that we really need to have,” he says. “And I don’t think it can happen until it’s in our faces.”

Rev. Alexander Sharp, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy in Chicago, views the question in more political terms.  He supports adult recreational use and criminal-justice reform.  And since the drug can relieve pain, he argues that legalization is an act of compassion and mercy — one that follows the example of Jesus Christ.  “The only thing that made Jesus really angry were the Pharisees that were hypocrites,” he says.  “And there are pharisaical attitudes in those who oppose drug use.”

Rev. Sharp hopes to witness an end to the war on drugs.  He believes regulation and education are the best responses to human vices, but also says the most compelling argument is for social justice.  “You can pick your numbers according to your state, but African-Americans and Latinos are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses,” he says.

June 30, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2020

"California cities begin embracing cannabis in desperate search for cash"

The title of this post is the title of this recent notable Politico article. Here are excerpts:

California local governments scrambling to find tax revenues during the coronavirus pandemic are turning toward an industry they had considered taboo until now: cannabis.

It has been almost four years since voters legalized recreational marijuana in California, and nearly 70 percent of cities and counties have yet to embrace pot businesses because they see regulatory problems or have concerns about public safety and negative publicity.

But some, facing insurmountable budget gaps as unemployment rises to its worst level since the Great Depression, would now rather open their doors to cannabis than lay off more workers or cut services.  So far, a handful of cities have begun developing cannabis tax measures for the November ballot since voter approval is required to add local taxes.  It's a trend many in the industry expect to continue over the next month absent approval of a federal bailout for state and local governments....

San Bruno, a Bay Area city that two years ago banned marijuana businesses, is among the governments with a change of heart.  Last week, city council members voted unanimously to fund a tax measure and public education campaign, while voicing support for the idea of exploring an ordinance that would allow a dispensary or delivery service to open sometime next year.

According to projections from city officials, an operational cannabis shop could reduce San Bruno’s projected $8.2 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year by around $300,000. “It's not gonna solve our problems, but it's going to keep $300,000 that we desperately need to hire whomever it is to make our city better,” Councilmember Marty Medina said at the meeting.

The city of Montclair in San Bernardino County is facing a similar budget crunch as sales tax revenue has cratered following the temporary closure of its mall. There, city officials are considering proposals to repeal a marijuana ban and create regulations for commercial activity.  The plan could raise up to $2 million annually, according to City Manager Edward Starr.

While both San Bruno and Montclair are left-leaning cities where a majority of residents voted to approve the Prop. 64 legalization initiative in 2016, Republican-led jurisdictions where voters rejected the statewide measure are also starting to consider cannabis — to the surprise of industry observers.  Last month, councilmembers in Yucaipa asked city staff to begin looking into alternative revenue streams, including marijuana businesses, amid a 15 percent decline in sales tax revenue and increasing public safety costs. Republicans hold a 20-point registration advantage over Democrats in the San Bernardino County jurisdiction, where a majority voted against Prop. 64....

Calls for jurisdictions to dive into the legal market have even come from some of the highest levels of state leadership, with Treasurer Fiona Ma calling the tax revenues a potential “game changer” during a virtual round table last month....

Among the other jurisdictions that have already begun developing cannabis tax measures or have shown interest in doing so are Sonoma, Signal Hill, Wildomar, Lemon Grove and Yountville.  As in Yucaipa, one of the prevailing themes in council meetings elsewhere has been that their residents are sending tax dollars to neighboring jurisdictions by purchasing marijuana products from other cities with licensed stores or from the state’s robust illicit market.

Industry research firms BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research estimate that unlicensed operations brought in $8.7 billion in untaxed revenue in 2019, compared to the legal market's $3.1 billion.

According to Jackie McGowan, founder of Green Street Consulting, local leaders are also looking at nearby jurisdictions that have developed their cannabis markets and don’t want to be left behind.  Among those that have already allowed marijuana businesses, Monterey County is counting on $10.2 million in projected cannabis tax revenues to cover general fund shortfalls and avoid layoffs in the upcoming fiscal year and Santa Barbara County leaders believe $10.6 million in marijuana revenue will help offset coronavirus losses.

June 29, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Retroactive Legality: Marijuana Convictions and Restorative Justice in an Era of Criminal Justice Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this recent article authored by Deborah Ahrens on one of my favorite topics. Here is its abstract:

The last decade has seen the beginning of a new era in United States criminal justice policy, one characterized by a waning commitment to over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and a punitive War on Drugs as well as a growing regret for the consequences of our prior policies.  One of the central questions raised by this shifting paradigm is what to do about the millions of individuals punished, marked, and shunned as a result of policies we now regret.  This issue is particularly pointed for marijuana convictions, as the coexistence of strict regimes of collateral consequences for drug convictions and the active government promotion of a new cannabis economy present a stark and deeply racialized contrast.

This Article argues that, in states where marijuana has been legalized, our policy-making apparatus should acknowledge and move to redress both the failings of our prior system of drug regulation and the social and economic disparities in current law by embracing a concept of “retroactive legality.”  Retroactive legality is a framework in which we seek to restore those convicted of marijuana crimes to the rights and civic status they would have had if their conduct had never been illegal.  Such an approach would build upon the piecemeal expungement and pardon policies adopted or proposed in some of these jurisdictions but would reach substantially further, by incorporating those convicted of more serious offenses, putting the onus on the state to identify and clear such convictions, and declining to impose additional requirements and costs on those seeking to have their convictions retroactively legalized.

June 17, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 12, 2020

Nevada Gov announces plan to secure pardons for "tens of thousands of Nevadans previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana"

As reported by this tweet, the Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, has placed "a resolution on the Board of Pardons Commissioners agenda next week to provide relief to tens of thousands of Nevadans previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is no longer a crime in the State."   This Marijuana Moment article by Kyle Jaeger provides some context for this action and other notable recent gubernatorial activity in this arena:

Last year, the governor signed a bill providing people with cannabis convictions a means to petition the court for expungements, but this resolution would offer proactive pardons for anyone convicted of possession up to an ounce of marijuana.  

“The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime,” Sisolak said, referencing the state’s 2016 vote to legalize cannabis for adult use. “If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized.”

The board is set to meet on Wednesday, June 17. The agenda designates time for “a discussion that may include but not limited to the resolution regarding pardons for persons convicted of minor marijuana possession.”  While pardons don’t void convictions, they can restore rights such as the right to vote, own a firearm or serve on a jury.

The governors of Washington State and Illinois have both issued pardons for cannabis offenses since their states legalized the plant.

Meanwhile, other top state officials have recently made arguments that marijuana reform is a necessary civil rights issue that’s particularly important to pursue as a means of addressing racial inequities.  California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said last week that legalization was “about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.” 

The governor of Virginia said on Tuesday that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans.

June 12, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2020

"Why Marijuana Legalization Funds The Police"

The title of this post is the headline of this timely new Forbes piece worth reading in full.  Here are excerpts:

Bribing the cops is illegal, but not in politics.  Without paying off the cops, California might not have legalized recreational cannabis.

But now, four years later, with the legal industry struggling and police unable to protect legal merchants from either the illicit market or organized thieves, there’s serious doubt whether devoting tax revenue from marijuana sales to police budgets was smart politics.  And in light of calls to defund or cut police spending throughout the country, California’s experience is a warning for legalization efforts in other states.  Should police get a cut before education, healthcare, or disadvantaged communities shut out of the legal market?  And does law enforcement have any business making money off of legalization at all?

Eager to sell regulating and taxing cannabis to uneasy suburban and conservative voters, the authors of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, offered the state’s powerful law-enforcement lobbies a gift.  Twenty percent of the promised $1 billion in annual tax revenue legalization would create was earmarked for “public safety.” Legalization advocates heard an earful from growers and merchants eager to go legal — why reward the crews that had spent decades trying to arrest them? — but it was sold as necessary and practical electoral strategy. And from a public-safety standpoint, the gambit worked — sort of.  Though the cop lobbies opposed the measure anyway, they also didn’t run a massive scare campaign. On Election Day 2016, AUMA won more than 57 percent of the vote....

Similar tactics have been employed elsewhere.  California’s generosity was notable only in its size. Marijuana legalization has meant money for American police everywhere the social experiment’s been tried....  In Nevada, pot taxes help pay the police to “enforce” the measure (along with, one assumes, other laws).  In Colorado, cannabis taxes fund diversion and addiction-recovery programs, which are administered by the police.  In Portland, Oregon, most of a special 3 percent city tax on cannabis, part of which was meant to help jump-start minority entrepreneurs, somehow ended up in the police budget, infuriating local lawmakers who thought the cash would go to minority entrepreneurs....

Either Arizona, New Jersey, or maybe New Mexico or New York will be the next state to legalize cannabis for adults.  All need money, badly.  And in all states, elected officials and policymakers have suggested cannabis could provide that money.  This is the ATM argument for legalization.  But anyone running those campaigns will now have a harder sell promising cash to cops — at all, and not just up front.

As for California, lawmakers are now in a bind.  “I can think of a lot of betters uses of those funds,” said Matt Kumin, a San Francisco-based lawyer who advocated for Prop. 64’s passage.  In the coronavirus pandemic, with millions of Americans going untested for COVID-19 symptoms and millions more out of work, he’s not the only one.

Redirecting legalization money away from police budgets will require modifying the voter-approved legalization law.  This can probably be done by the state Legislature, but not without a fight. “The cops use blackmail, threaten, and practice low enforcement activity if pols threaten their budgets,” Kumin added.  Hints of this were underway before the pandemic and the protests.  In December, an effort to cut local weed taxes in Oakland, where Goldsberry and other merchants paid a 10 percent local tax on top of state taxes, in order to stimulate the industry was opposed — by the local police union.

Defunding the police will be a lengthy and divisive political project.  Whether legalization should fund the police in the first place may be a question settled much sooner.

June 8, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general urge Congress to include banking access for marijuana businesses in COVID relief bills

As reported in this press release from earlier this week from the Colorado Attorney General, "a bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territorial Attorneys General [on Tuesday urged]  Congress to pass as part of upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (H.R. 1595) or similar measures that would give legal marijuana-related businesses access to the federal banking system."  Here is more from the press release:

Under existing law, federal regulators prohibit financial institutions from providing services to marijuana businesses in states where medical or retail marijuana sales are legal. Forcing legal businesses to operate as cash-only operations poses serious safety threats, creating targets for violent and white-collar crime. The SAFE Banking Act permits marijuana-related businesses in states and territories with existing regulatory structures to access the federal banking system.

The SAFE Banking Act has widespread, bipartisan support with 206 cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House passed the bill in September 2019. The HEROES Act relief legislation, which the House approved last week, also included the language of the SAFE Banking Act.

In their letter, the Attorneys General note that the COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on problems that the SAFE Banking Act is intended to remediate, including health and safety concerns stemming from frequent and large cash exchanges.

The full text of the letter can be read here.

Also released with this letter ws this effective report from the Attorney General Alliance Cannabis Project titled "Solving An Untenable Situation: The Public Health and Safety Rationale Behind The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act."

May 21, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"Reconsidering Federal Marijuana Regulation"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Paul J. Larkin, Jr. available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) prohibits the cultivation and distribution of marijuana by placing it in a category (Schedule I) reserved for drugs that are unhelpful and dangerous.  In so doing, the CSA approached this problem from the wrong direction.  People use drugs for medical or recreational purposes, and each one requires a separate legal scheme.

Medical Marijuana Use: For more than 50 years, Congress has entrusted to the Commissioner of Food and Drugs the decision whether a particular drug is “safe” and “effective” and therefore can be sold throughout the nation.  The reason is that those decisions require the scientific expertise of professionals in the fields of medicine, biochemistry, and the like, not the legal knowledge of Justice Department lawyers or the moral sensibilities of the electorate.  Congress should leave to the judgment of the FDA Commissioner the decision how federal law should regulate medical-use marijuana.

Recreational Marijuana Use: American society permits alcohol and tobacco to be sold under regulation.  For alcohol, the Twenty-First Amendment empowers states to decide whether and how to sell liquor without much room for supplementary federal regulation.  For tobacco, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 authorizes the FDA Commissioner to regulate the distribution of tobacco products.  Congress should consider whether to follow the same approach here.  There are various factors relevant to that decision.  For example, long-term marijuana use can lead some users to become dependent on, or addicted to, the drug, or to suffer serious mental disorders, such as psychosis.  Legalizing recreational marijuana use also will increase the number of roadway accidents attributable to cannabis intoxication. Whether the benefits of recreational marijuana use outweigh those harms is the question that Congress should answer.

May 5, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)