Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Spotlighting the still-challenging politics that surround the intersection of marijuana reform, criminal justice reform and racial inequities

Today's must-read for both marijuana reform and criminal justice reform fans is this lengthy new Politico article fully headlined "Racial Justice and Legal Pot Are Colliding in Congress: The latest fight over criminal justice reform is over allowing felons access to newly legal aspects of the cannabis industry. Lawmakers are getting woke — slowly." I recommend this piece is full, and here are some extended excerpts:

Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the [Farm] bill includes an amendment that would permanently remove hemp from the list of federally banned drugs like heroin and cocaine, freeing hemp from the crippling legal stigma that has made it economically unviable for the past four decades.  But that amendment also includes a little-noticed ban on people convicted of drug felonies from participating in the soon-to-be-federally-legal hemp industry.

Added late in the process, apparently to placate a stakeholder close to McConnell, the exception has angered a broad and bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, hemp industry insiders and religious groups who see it as a continuing punishment of minorities who were targeted disproportionately during the War on Drugs and now are being denied the chance to profit economically from a product that promises to make millions of dollars for mostly white investors on Wall Street....

[L]awmakers like McConnell, who have discovered the economic benefits of relaxing prohibitions on products such as hemp, have nevertheless quietly found ways, like the Farm Bill felon ban, to satisfy the demands of their anti-legalization constituents, to the chagrin of pro-cannabis lawmakers and activists. After POLITICO Magazine reported on the drug-crime felon ban in August, three senators — Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) — wrote to Senate leadership demanding the removal of the ban, citing its “disparate impact on minorities,” among other concerns.

“I think there’s a growing recognition of the hypocrisy and unfairness of our nation’s drug laws, when hundreds of thousands of Americans are behind bars for something that is now legal in nine states and something that two of the last three Presidents have admitted to doing,” Booker told POLITICO Magazine. “If we truly want to be a just and fair nation, marijuana legalization must be accompanied by record expungement and a focus on restorative justice.”...

[The] once-radical notion that felons ought to gain priority for entry into a newly legal industry — instead of being shut out — has quietly gained bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, albeit not among Republican leadership.  In the House, this mounting opposition to the continuing punishment of felons first cropped up in September when the Judiciary Committee passed its first pro-marijuana bill.  It would expand access to scientific study of the cannabis plant, a notion agreed-upon by marijuana’s supporters and detractors alike.  However, Democrats almost killed the bill because it included language that barred felons (and even people convicted of misdemeanors) from receiving licenses to produce the marijuana.

Felon bans are commonplace in legal marijuana programs.  Every state has some version of it, but most of them have a five- or 10-year limit.  But the felon bans in both the Senate’s Farm Bill and the House’s marijuana research bill are lifetime bans, and the House bill includes misdemeanors, too. “Any restriction on misdemeanors goes in the exact contrary direction of the Second Chance Act,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York), who will become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in January.  His criticism was echoed by Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), who sought to have the misdemeanor language struck from the bill until its sponsor, Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), promised to address that language when it comes to the House floor.

In the Senate, the movement to protect the legal marijuana trade has taken the form of the proposed bipartisan Gardner-Warren STATES Act, which would maintain the status quo of federal non-interference of state-legal programs that was upended when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo, an Obama-era document that outlined a hands-off approach to state-legal programs.  Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act would adopt California-style principles and apply them federally, going far beyond the STATES Act, removing marijuana from Schedule I (defined as having no medical value and a high risk of abuse) and eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana.  But unlike other pro-marijuana bills, it would also deny federal law-enforcement grants to states that don’t legalize marijuana; direct federal courts to expunge marijuana convictions; and establish a grant-making fund through the Department of Housing and Urban Development for communities most affected by the War on Drugs.

Booker’s bill has become popular among Senate Democrats.  Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren have signed on as co-sponsors — a list that looks a lot like a lineup of presumed candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.  “For too long, the federal government has propped up failed and outdated drug policies that destroy lives,” Wyden told POLITICO Magazine.  “The War on Drugs is deeply rooted in racism.  We desperately need to not only correct course, but to also ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted. People across America understand and want change. Now, Congress must act.”

Recent polling shows that Americans agree with Wyden — to a point.  There is a widespread acceptance of legalizing marijuana.  Gallup has been tracking this number since 1969, when only 12 percent of Americans believed in legalizing it; in October, Gallup put the number at 64 percent, the highest ever number recorded.  Pew says it is 62 percent, also its highest number ever. 

But there is far less acceptance of the idea that the War on Drugs has had an adverse impact on poorer, minority communities, or that there should be some form of compensation in terms of prioritized access to the new industry. A  poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, a progressive DC-based polling firm, earlier this year on the “Politics of Marijuana Legalization in 2018 Battleground Districts” found that 62 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed agreed with the idea “we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed War on Drugs.”  However, when the pollsters added a racial component to this message — whether the respondents felt that the marijuana prohibition “unfairly target[s] and destroy[s] minority communities” — only 40 percent found that message to be “very convincing.”...

[M]any members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been slow to support marijuana legalization. But the CBC finally made its position on this issue clear in June when its 48-member caucus voted in an “overwhelming majority” to support policies beyond mere decriminalization: “Some of the same folks who told African Americans ‘three strikes and you’re out’ when it came to marijuana use and distribution, are now in support of decriminalizing the drug and making a profit off of it,” CBC Chairman Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat from Louisiana said at the time. “The Congressional Black Caucus supports decriminalizing marijuana and investing in communities that were destroyed by the War on Drugs…” 

Arguments for legalizing marijuana haven’t been entirely persuasive to sway many in the conservative black community, but re-framing it in the context of civil rights has brought many around to this new way of thinking. “What is moving conservative black and brown folks is this idea that we’re on the horizon of marijuana legalization,” according to Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance. “So the idea is in order to do this in a way that is equitable and fair, you have to start on the front end of alleviating racially biased consequences of prohibition while we’re legalizing — and that means expungement, re-sentencing, community re-investment, and looking at where marijuana tax revenue can go, and getting rid of barriers to the industry.”

Now that Democrats have won control of the House, co-founder of the Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), is poised to implement his blueprint for how the House under Democratic leadership would legalize marijuana at the federal level.  Racial justice is front-and-center in that plan.  The memo he sent to Democratic leadership reads in part, “committees should start marking up bills in their jurisdiction that would responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap — the gap between federal and state marijuana laws — before the end of the year. These policy issues… should include: Restorative justice measures that address the racial injustices that resulted from the unequal application of federal marijuana laws.”

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

November 18, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ohio judge finds unconstitutional state law requiring some medical marijuana licenses go to minority-owned businesses

Hopegrown-ohio-cannabis-programAs reported in this local article, this week "a Franklin County judge threw out a state law requiring that at least 15 percent of cultivation licenses go to businesses owned or controlled by African Americans, Asians, American Indians, Hispanics or Latinos." Here is more on the ruling and reactions thereto:

The Ohio Department of Commerce, the state agency that awards cultivation licenses, will have to decide whether to comply with Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles A. Schneider’s Thursday decision and award provisional cultivation licenses to white-owned businesses that scored higher in the review process -- including Greenleaf Gardens, LLC, which challenged the constitutionality of the law in court. Greenleaf Gardens had planned for a large-scale medical marijuana grow operation in Geauga County.

The state could also decide whether to throw out previously awarded licenses to two minority-owned and -controlled businesses that scored lower, although Greenleaf’s attorney wrote in court filings the company did not want that. Commerce can also appeal the decision to a higher court. “We are reviewing the judge’s ruling and considering next steps,” said Kerry Francis, the Department of Commerce’s spokeswoman.

Schneider’s decision only affects part of Ohio’s medical marijuana law, and leaves the rest of it intact.

Greenleaf CEO David Neundorfer said he’s pleased with the court’s ruling. The company has licenses in other parts of the nascent medical marijuana program....

Greenleaf Gardens sued after the Department of Commerce announced recipients of the provisional cultivation licenses, nearly a year ago. It received the 12th highest score among cultivation applicants but did not receive one of the 12 licenses for a large-scale cultivator. The department instead gave licenses to two lower scoring applicants, Parma Wellness Center, LLC and Harvest Grows, LLC.

The Department of Commerce argued it was following Ohio’s medical marijuana law, including provisions the Ohio General Assembly created that not less than 15 percent of cultivator, processor or laboratory licenses be given to entities owned and controlled by Ohio residents who are members of an economically disadvantaged group. The law lists each racial and ethnic group and states that “owned and controlled” means at least 51 percent of the business or business stock is owned by people in the groups....

Harvest Grows argued in a brief that Ohio for nearly 40 years has remedied discrimination in government licensing through set-asides for minority businesses. Hundreds of studies have shown that without the set-asides, “government funds have been, and will be, used in a discriminatory fashion.” It noted that blacks are more than four times more likely than non-minorities to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though studies show marijuana use is almost the same. “The legislature knew about these issues when it created the 15 percent set-aside at issue in this case," Harvest Grows wrote.

The judge, however, sided with Greenleaf Gardens. Schneider relied on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case that said a way to examine these issues is by looking at whether there is a compelling governmental interest for racial classification and whether the set-aside is narrowly tailored to achieve the goal.

Schneider wrote that there is a lack of “sufficient evidence of a government compelling interest" because the only evidence the legislature considered were marijuana crime arrests. He wrote that the state didn’t look at arrest rates for racial groups outside of blacks and Latinos, and discrimination in arrest rates and marijuana businesses are different....

The marijuana law’s provisions were different from specifications in Ohio’s Minority Business Enterprise Program, he concluded. And other states' encouragement of minority businesses in their medical marijuana programs were different from Ohio’s, such as Illinois giving minority businesses more points during scoring, not after scoring.

“If the legislature sought to rectify the elevated arrest rates for African Americans and Latinos/Hispanics possessing marijuana, the correction should have been giving preference to those companies owned by former arrestees and convicts, not a range of economically disadvantaged individuals, including preferences for unrelated races like Native Americans and Asians,” he wrote.

The full opinion in Pharmacann Ohio v. Ohio Department of Commerce, 17-CV-10962-Grant-SJ (Ohio Common Pleas Nov. 15, 2018), is available here:  Download Pharmacann v. Ohio 17-CV-10962-Grant-SJ

November 16, 2018 in Court Rulings, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Gender and the Politics of Marijuana"

QuarterlyThe title of this post is the title of this interesting new research in the journal Social Science Quarterly authored by Laurel Elder and Steven Greene.  Here is its abstract:

Objectives

The objectives of this study were to understand why, even though women are more liberal than men on a broad range of issues, when it comes to the increasingly prominent issue of marijuana legalization, the direction of the gender gap is reversed, with women more conservative than men.

Methods

Relying on a 2013 Pew survey — unique for the extensiveness of its marijuana questions, including marijuana usage — we explore and attempt to explain the nature of this unusual gender gap.  We test several hypotheses rooted in the different life experiences of women and men.

Results

We find that women's role as mothers cannot explain this gap, and that mothers are in fact no different from those without children in terms of their support for marijuana policy, as well as their reported use of marijuana.  The greater religiosity of women does play a prominent role in the gender gap on marijuana policy, but does not account for the full difference of opinion between women and men.  Our findings suggest that men's greater propensity relative to women to use marijuana is a major driver behind the gender gap.

Conclusions

Not only are attitudes on marijuana legalization likely to continue to liberalize, but as marijuana legalization and marijuana use become normalized, rather than viewed as immoral and dangerous behavior, the existing gender gap should shrink.

November 14, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Owning Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by John G. Sprankling now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Legal marijuana is the fastest-growing industry in the United States.  Tens of thousands of new businesses have arisen to meet the demand created by over 34 million Americans who use marijuana.  And the millions of pounds of marijuana grown, processed, and sold this year will generate more than $11 billion in revenue.  This industry is premised on the assumption that marijuana ownership will be protected by law.  But can marijuana be owned?  This Article is the first scholarship to explore the issue.

Federal law classifies marijuana as contraband per se in which property rights cannot exist.  Yet the Article demonstrates that marijuana can now be owned under the law of most states, even though no state statute or decision expressly addresses the issue.  This conflict presents a fundamental question of federalism: Can property rights exist under state law if they are forbidden by federal law?  The Article explains why federal law does not preempt state law on marijuana ownership.

This creates a paradox: state courts and other state authorities will protect property rights in marijuana, but their federal counterparts will not.  The Article analyzes the challenges that this hybrid approach to marijuana ownership poses for businesses and individuals.  It also examines the fragmented status of marijuana ownership in the interstate context, where business transactions involve states with conflicting approaches to the issue.

November 11, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Billy Williams, US Attorney for Oregon, appointed to chair Attorney General’s Marijuana Working Group

Easily lost amidst big election news and the resignation of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was this Justice Department press release, dated Wednesday, November 7, 2018, titled "Deputy Attorney General Names U.S. Attorney Williams Chair of National Marijuana Working Group."  Here is part of the text:

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein today named Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, chair of the Attorney General’s Marijuana Working Group.  The working group is part of the Attorney General Advisory Committee’s (AGAC) Controlled Substances Subcommittee.

“I am honored to be named chair of the Marijuana Working Group and look forward to working with Attorney General Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and my fellow U.S. Attorneys on this important policy area,” said U.S. Attorney Williams.  “From our statewide summit in February to the release of our district enforcement strategy this summer, we’ve learned a lot from stakeholders representing many diverse interests.  There is one thing everyone agrees on: a broad need for stronger regulation.  This working group provides a valuable forum for sharing ideas and learning from the experiences of others in an effort to develop innovative, multi-district enforcement strategies to address the many impacts of a nascent industry.”

The day of this press release was the day that Jeff Sessions resigned as Attorney General, so Chair Williams can no longer "look forward to working with Attorney General Sessions." But this appointment still seems notable and important because US Attorney Williams has been playing an active role in trying to enhance regulatory control of the marijuana industry in his home state of Oregon. I have blogged about his efforts, and a series of posts which reveal some of his views on these matters can be found linked below. Interesting times.

Prior related posts:

November 10, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan: Recreational use....

North Dakota: Recreational use....

Missouri: Medical use....

Utah: Medical use....

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Former House Speaker John Boehner says "Washington Needs to Legalize Cannabis"

This afternoon former Speaker of the House John Boehner published this new Wall Street Journal commentary headlined "Washington Needs to Legalize Cannabis."  Though Boehner's support for marijuana reform has been well-known now for at least six months, this piece on the eve of a big election in a conservative newspaper still seems quite noteworthy.

November 4, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 2, 2018

Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci says he thinks Prez Trump is "going to legalize marijuana ... after the midterms"

As covered here by Marijuana Moment, today brings a notable comment about marijuana reform from a notable former insider:

President Trump will push for marijuana legalization after the upcoming elections, according to former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci.

“I do. I think he’s going to legalize marijuana,” Scaramucci told Succeed.com founder Charles Peralo in an interview this week. “I think he’s waiting for after the midterms. I think he’s on the side of legalization.”

Whether Scaramucci is basing his prediction on a hunch or insider knowledge is unclear. He might have only lasted 10 days at the White House, but he still claims to talk with the president on occasion. In any case, “The Mooch,” as he is known, did not respond to a Marijuana Moment request for clarification via Twitter DM....

Trump said earlier this year that he’s inclined to support a bipartisan congressional bill that would let states implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

The Mooch isn’t alone in his belief. Last month, marijuana-friendly Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said in an interview that cannabis reform would be on the White House agenda after the midterms and that legislation would be in the works “as early as spring of 2019.”

“I would expect after the election we will sit down and we’ll start hammering out something that is specific and real,” the congressman said. 

November 2, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

New Hampshire commission produces massive study report on marijuana legalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Mexico Supreme Court says ban on recreational marijuana unconstitutional"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Reuters article.  Here are the interesting details:

Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that an absolute ban on recreational use of marijuana was unconstitutional, effectively leaving it to lawmakers to regulate consumption of the drug.

Announcing it had found in favor of two legal challenges filed against prohibition of recreational marijuana use, Mexico’s top court crossed the threshold needed to create jurisprudence: five similar rulings on the matter. That creates a precedent other Mexican courts will have to follow.

“This is a historic day,” Fernando Belaunzaran, an advocate of drug reform and member of the opposition leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), said.

The Supreme Court made its first ruling to allow a group of people to grow marijuana for personal use in November 2015. In a statement, the court said the ruling did not create an absolute right to use marijuana and that consumption of certain substances could still be subject to regulation. “But the effects caused by marijuana do not justify an absolute prohibition on its consumption,” it said.

The court ordered federal health regulator COFEPRIS to authorize people seeking the right to use marijuana to do so personally, “albeit without allowing them to market it, or use other narcotics or psychotropic drugs.” Congress would now have to act to regulate the use of marijuana in Mexico, Belaunzaran said.

November 1, 2018 in Court Rulings, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Various takes on politics of marijuana reform a week before the latest big election

Saturday, October 27, 2018

"The Surprising Reach of FDA Regulation of Cannabis, Even after Descheduling"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted to SSRN authored by Sean O'Connor and Erika Lietzan. Here is its abstract:

As more states legalize cannabis, the push to “deschedule” it from the Controlled Substances Act is gaining momentum.  At the same time, the FDA recently approved the first conventional drug containing a cannabinoid derived from cannabis — cannabidiol (“CBD”) for two rare seizure disorders.  This would all seem to bode well for proponents of full federal legalization of medical cannabis. 

But some traditional providers are wary of drug companies pulling medical cannabis into the regular small molecule drug development system.  The FDA’s focus on precise analytical characterization and on individual active and inactive ingredients may be fundamentally inconsistent with the “entourage effects” theory of medical cannabis. Traditional providers may believe that descheduling cannabis would free them to promote and distribute their products free of federal intervention, both locally and nationally.  Other producers appear to assume that descheduling would facilitate a robust market in cannabis-based edibles and dietary supplements.  In fact, neither of these things is true.  If cannabis were descheduled, the FDA’s complex and comprehensive regulatory framework governing foods, drugs, and dietary supplements would preclude much of this anticipated commerce.

For example, any medical claims about cannabis would require the seller to complete the rigorous new drug approval process, the cost of which will be prohibitive for most current traditional providers.  Likely also unexpected to some, there is no pathway forward for conventional foods containing cannabis constituents, if those foods cross state lines.  And it will certainly come as a shock to many that federal law already prohibits the sale of dietary supplements containing CBD — including those already on the market.  In this article, we describe in detail this surprising reach of the FDA and then outline three modest — but legal — pathways forward for cannabis-based products in a world where cannabis has been descheduled.

October 27, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Food and Drink, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

SAM sets forth (awfully criminal) vision of a "pro-public health approach to state marijuana law reform"

I just today saw this new posting from the folks as Smart Approaches to Marijuana under the heading "SAM Model State Legislation." Here are excerpts:

The criminalization of marijuana has had a negative effect in society, with disproportionate harm to minority and disadvantaged populations. Therefore, we at SAM reject this dichotomy of commercialization and criminalization.  We pursue a middle ground that is aligned with scientific knowledge about the public health harms of marijuana.  

State marijuana laws should discourage the use of marijuana, get those who need help back on their feet, and ensure that those who get help are not penalized for their past mistakes.  Accordingly, SAM staff have put together several key points to be addressed in model legislation.  A pro-public health approach to state marijuana law reform should:

⁃ Provide alternatives to incarceration for personal use marijuana possession offenses, including citation instead of arrest, diversion programs, and appropriate fines that take into account economic means;

⁃ Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use;

⁃ Expand the use of conditional discharge by requiring its consideration;

⁃ Allow fines and cost of treatment to be waived for those without means;

⁃ Provide automatic expungement for first-time offenders who complete treatment or education program without further violations within one year;

⁃ Model penalties on Hawaii’s HOPE program for non-compliance with court-ordered treatment/recovery plan; and

⁃ Offer community services as an alternative to fines for those with severe financial hardship.

I have a hard time considering this outline a "pro-public health" approach to state marijuana law reform given how heavily it still seems to lean on criminalization. For example, the first point suggesting "alternatives to incarceration for personal use marijuana possession offenses" suggests that any and all forms or marijuana distribution still should be subject to punishment in the form of incarceration. Repeated reference to "fines" and "offenders" and "penalties" likewise connotes operationalize this "reform" through the criminal justice system.  Especially because entanglement with the criminal justice system rarely, if ever, advances public health, I am deeply disappointed by the fact that "SAM Model State Legislation" is really pretty close to existing criminal prohibition models and not all reflective of what a true "pro-public health approach" would really seem to involve.

October 24, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Latest Gallup polling reports yet another record-high level of support for marijuana legalization in US

Atnixz8w2kguea_rrm-a7qAs reported in this new posting from Gallup, "Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, another new high in Gallup's trend over nearly half a century.  The latest figure marks the third consecutive year that support on the measure has increased and established a new record."  Here is more:

Legalizing the use of pot was an unpopular idea when Gallup first asked Americans about it in 1969 -- just 12% at that time said it should be made legal.  Support grew in the 1970s but stagnated in the 20% range until the new millennium, when momentum for legalization picked up again.  Since 2000, support for legalizing marijuana has trended steeply upward, reaching majority support for the first time in 2013 -- a year after Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational use of marijuana via ballot initiatives, making them the first states to do so.  Marijuana use continues to be illegal at the federal level.

The Oct. 1-10 Gallup poll was conducted before Canada last week became the second country in the world to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In the U.S., voters in four states are voting this year on measures to allow for recreational or medical use of marijuana....

Gallup found last year that a slim majority of Republicans supported legal marijuana for the first time, and this year's figure, 53%, suggests continued Republican support.  Views that pot should be legalized have also reached new peaks this year among Democrats (75%) and independents (71%). Democrats reached majority-level support for legalization in 2009, and independents did so in 2010.

Among Americans aged 55 and older, views that marijuana should be legalized now surpass the majority level, with 59% support, up from 50% last year. Meanwhile, solid majorities of younger adults have supported legalization for several years.  Support is strongest among adults aged 18 to 34, at 78%, while nearly two in three adults aged 35 to 54 (65%) approve of legalizing marijuana.

In 2009 and 2010 -- before any state had legalized pot -- support for legalization reached the majority level in only one U.S. region -- the West, at 56%.  And in most polls since, residents in the West, along with Eastern residents, have led the remaining regions in favoring legalized pot.

But attitudes about legalization have changed more recently: In 2017 and 2018, support for legalization of marijuana is about even in the East (67%), Midwest (65%), South (65%) and West (65%).

Like support for gay marriage -- and in prior years, interracial marriage -- support for marijuana legalization has generally only expanded, even if slowly, over the course of multiple decades -- raising the question of where the ceiling in support might be.  As the percentage of Americans who favor legalizing pot has continued to grow, so has the number of states that have taken up legislation to allow residents to use the substance recreationally. States that permit use of medical marijuana are even more prevalent in the U.S. than states allowing recreational pot are.

After this year's elections, recreational pot use could be allowed in two more states, depending on what voters decide in North Dakota and Michigan.  Both of these states border Canada, whose adult residents now have access to legal marijuana nationwide.  Meanwhile, state lawmakers in New Jersey are moving closer to passing legislation to legalize pot, and neighboring New York might not be far behind after the state's health department conducted a study that led to its recommendation that marijuana be legal.

But even as many states take action to legalize pot, to date, no Midwestern or Southern states permit legal recreational use -- though medicinal marijuana is allowed in a few of these states.  Now that public support is consistent across U.S. regions, legalization could spread to new areas in the future.

October 22, 2018 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Could Weed Be Federally Legal in 2019?"

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Rolling Stone article that effectively summarizes the lengthy memo circulated yesterday by Representative Earl Blumenauer written to House Democratic Leadership outlining his plan to legalize cannabis in the next Congress.  Here are excerpts from the article:

In honor of Canada’s first day with legal adult-use marijuana, an optimistic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sent a letter to House Democratic leadership Wednesday outlining a plan to advance federal legalization measures with the goal of federally legalizing cannabis by the end of 2019. “Congress is out of step with the American people and the states on cannabis,” he wrote. “There is no question: cannabis prohibition will end. Democrats should lead the way.”

Blumenauer’s plan would begin as early as next January, when he says the key to advancing some of the 37 cannabis bills sitting in Congress is to have the individual issues evaluated by the distinct congressional committees. For example, the House Judiciary Committee could hold a hearing on descheduling marijuana; the House Veterans Affairs Committee could hold a hearing on veterans’ access to medical pot; the House Financial Services Committee could discuss the current barring of cannabis businesses from federally backed banks; and the House Ways and Means Committee could have a hearing on the unequal taxation of pot businesses.

Additionally, Blumenauer writes that these committees should start “marking up bills in their jurisdiction[s] that would responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap — the gap between federal and state marijuana laws,” using examples like the protection of employment, protection of private property from civil asset forfeiture and the removal of barriers to marijuana research. He also includes, most importantly, the need to “address the racial injustices that resulted from the unequal application of federal marijuana laws” — or, in other words, a social-justice element that could begin to correct the racist tide of the 40-year-old War on Drugs.

By August, Blumenauer believes, the House can pass a package of marijuana laws to address these concerns, and the bills can move to the Senate. The Oregon representative hopes that, given the increasing public support for marijuana — he cites a poll that 69 percent of registered voters support legalizing pot — the public will be able to pressure the senior body of Congress into passing the bill....

On a call with reporters, Blumenauer said that he believes key members of the prohibitionist movement — including Texas Rep. Pete Sessions and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan — won’t be returning next session, and with those opponents gone, the cannabis movement will be able to advance. He has been speaking with senior members of the committees, he said, and is confident that some will be able to get these specific areas of cannabis law on the agenda next year. “The outline is ambitious,” Blumenauer admitted. “It’s aspirational, but it’s entirely within our capacity.”

October 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Canada has plans for mass pardons of low-level marijuana offenders in conjunction with legalization reforms

As my various in-box fill up with stories about the start of marijuana legalization in Canada, this particular piece garnered my attention given my work on the intersection of marijuana reform and criminal justice reform: "Feds to announce plan to pardon Canadians convicted of simple possession of pot." Here are the basics:

The federal government will announce on Wednesday morning that it intends to proceed with a plan to grant pardons to Canadians who have past simple possession charges.

Sources have confirmed to CTV News that the government intends to issue pardons, and not record expungements or amnesty, for cases of possession of 30 grams or less, as that will be legal as the new recreational legalization regime comes into force at midnight tonight....

The pardons won't be granted immediately, but ministers are expected to outline options that could be used to facilitate the pardon process, and potential ways to expedite the sometimes protracted endeavor. One option could be an application-based approach, where people would have to fill out a form to qualify.

Asked about pardons on the Hill earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “we’re going to be working on that as I’ve said, as soon as the day of legalization comes into force.”

NDP MP Murray Rankin tabled a private member’s bill earlier this month that pushed for the expungement of records of anyone who carries a criminal record for past minor, non-violent pot possession convictions. By his estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians that carry personal possession charges for marijuana.

October 17, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)