Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Federal judge finds Walmart unlawfully discriminated under state law against Arizona medical marijuana patient

As reported in this local article, headlined "Judge Rebukes Arizona Walmart for Firing Employee With Medical-Marijuana Card," a federal court last week issued a notable ruling on behalf of a medical marijuana patient in Arizona. Here are the basics:

An Arizona Walmart location terminated an employee in 2016 who held a valid medical-marijuana card after a drug test came back positive. But now a federal judge has ruled that because Walmart could not prove the employee was impaired at work, the company violated the nondiscrimination provision in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

In a significant decision that recognized a private right of action for employment discrimination under the AMMA, Arizona U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg said last week that Walmart was not justified in firing the worker based on the company's idea that marijuana metabolites in her urine meant she must have been impaired at work.

Whitmire's attorney Joshua Carden, who runs a Scottsdale-based law firm, said Teilborg's decision is "the first of its kind in Arizona."

"No court has officially decided whether a private right-of-action exists under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, so that was a big part of the decision," Carden told Phoenix New Times on Tuesday.

Before she was fired, Carol Whitmire had worked at Walmart stores in Show Low and Taylor for about eight years. On May 21, 2016, while working as a customer service supervisor at the Taylor Walmart, a bag of ice fell on Whitmire's wrist while she was leveling the bags, according to the lawsuit. The injury led to an urgent care visit and a drug test, pursuant to Walmart policy. Whitmire’s urine tested positive for marijuana metabolites.

A medical-marijuana cardholder for approximately the last five years, Whitmire smokes marijuana before bed to treat her shoulder pain and arthritis, and as a sleep aid, according to court records. She says she never brought marijuana to work or reported to the job impaired.

After the wrist injury, Whitmire informed the Walmart human resources department and the urgent care clinic that she holds a medical-marijuana card. She continued working until July 4, when she was suspended as a result of the urine sample. Her manager fired Whitmire on July 22 because of the positive result of the drug test, the complaint says.

In March 2017, Whitmire filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the civil rights division of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Three months later, she sued Walmart in federal court in Phoenix, alleging wrongful termination and discrimination in violation of the AMMA, the Arizona Civil Rights Act, and Arizona worker's compensation law.

In his decision last week, first reported by Law360, Teilborg granted partial summary judgment to Whitmire for her claim of discrimination under the AMMA. The judge, however, denied Whitmire’s claims alleging discrimination under the Arizona Civil Rights Act and retaliatory termination under Arizona employment protection and worker’s compensation laws.

The court will make a decision regarding damages or Whitmire's potential reinstatement in May, her attorney said. Under the AMMA, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate in hiring or firing based on a patient's "positive drug test for marijuana components or metabolites, unless the patient used, possessed or was impaired by marijuana on the premises of the place of employment or during the hours of employment."

In court, Walmart denied wrongfully terminating or discriminating against Whitmire, and said the company's drug testing policy is lawful and protected under Arizona's Drug Testing of Employees Act (DTEA). But Teilborg wrote that in the absence of expert testimony establishing that Whitmire's drug test shows she was impaired at work because of marijuana she smoked the night before, Walmart "is unable to prove that Plaintiff’s drug screen gave it a ‘good faith basis’ to believe Plaintiff was impaired at work."

Walmart could not meet the burden of proving that the urine sample after the accident “sufficiently establishes the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana in a scientifically sufficient concentration to cause impairment,” the judge wrote.

The full 50+ page ruling in Whitmire v. Walmart is available at this link. As the press report notes, the key to the ruling is the patient protective language in the the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Consequently, this ruling does not provide protection to medical marijuana patients outside the state. But the ruling is still notable and another recent example of lower courts growing more comfortable recognizing and enforcing rights under state law on behalf of some marijuana users in some settings.

February 14, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal court rulings, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

House Subcommittee to hold hearing on Feb. 13 on "Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses"

Tomorrow afternoon, as detailed on this official webpage, the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions of the US House Committee on Financial Services will have hearing on the topic of banking access for cannabis businesses. One focal point for the hearing is consideration of draft legislation, the "Secure And Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019" or the "SAFE Banking Act of 2019," which is designed to allow marijuana-related businesses in states with existing regulatory structures to access the banking system. 

In addition to being the first-ever congressional hearing on banking for marijuana businesses, I sense this is the first of a series of possible effects by the Democratic-controlled House to move forward on various possible federal legislative reforms.  A few days ago, Click the Committee produced this Memorandum providing background, and here is the scheduled "Witness List":

  • The Honorable Fiona Ma, California State Treasurer
  • Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), Baltimore City & Maryland State Police Departments, and Executive Director, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP)
  • Ms. Rachel Pross, Chief Risk Officer, Maps Credit Union, on behalf of Credit Union National Association (CUNA)
  • Mr. Gregory S. Deckard, President, CEO and Chairman, State Bank Northwest, on behalf of Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA)
  • Mr. Corey Barnette, Owner, District Growers Cultivation Center & Metropolitan Wellness Center

 

UPDATE: Here now are links to all of the written testimony of witnesses at this hearing:

February 12, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Interesting (and disappointing?) numbers from Washington after Gov promised to pardon thousands with prior marijuana convictions

As reported in this post last month, Washington Govornor Jay Inslee started 2019 by making much of his plans to pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession charges.  But this new local article, headlined "Inslee pardons 13 marijuana convictions, as lawmakers consider expunging hundreds of thousands more," reports on just a trickle rather than a wave of pardon grants.  Here are the interesting details:

In the month since Gov. Jay Inslee offered pardons to thousands of people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses, just 13 have received the official act of forgiveness. But a more sweeping proposal in the state Legislature may be gaining momentum, offering the potential clearing of criminal records for hundreds of thousands of others.

Inslee, a second-term Democrat who is publicly mulling a presidential run, announced his Marijuana Justice Initiative to fanfare in early January at a cannabis-industry conference, citing the disproportionate impact of drug-law convictions on people of color and lingering harm to employment and housing prospects.

His pardon offer was limited to people with otherwise clean records who had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction between 1998 and Dec. 5, 2012, the effective date of the voter-approved marijuana legalization Initiative 502.

About 3,500 people are estimated to be eligible for pardons under Inslee’s plan. As of Wednesday, 160 had applied, but the vast majority did not meet the eligibility conditions, said Tip Wonhoff, the governor’s deputy general counsel. After an initial rush of interest in the pardons, “it’s been a little slower than I thought,” he said.

For those who have qualified, however, the pardons have come as welcome relief. Taneesa Dunham, of Walla Walla, leapt at the chance to reverse her marijuana conviction from 2005....

Last month, Dunham’s mother saw a newspaper article about Inslee’s pardon offer and called to read the article to her. “I was jumping up and down with joy the entire time she was reading it. I immediately went to the website and filled [the application] out,” she said. A pardon signed by Inslee soon arrived in the mail. Although Dunham’s conviction remains in court records, the pardon is listed, too.

Dunham said her criminal record, while minor, had made it difficult for her to get a job as she’d had to report it on employment applications, and she worried her daughter’s school would exclude her from field trips. A recreational marijuana user in her 20s, she says she now uses cannabis medicinally for help with a back injury that has left her on disability. “I am just really glad it is legal now so nobody has to go through what I had to go through, and the courts and the cops can go after the real drug dealers and leave the potheads alone,” she said.

Chris Tilzer, of Covington, also was pardoned by Inslee for a pot-possession conviction in 2006 after Bellevue police cited him for smoking in a park. He served one day in jail, according to court records. “I was working and it could have caused me problems if they would have found out about it,” he said, adding that the blemish on his record has since complicated some international travel plans.

Tilzer now works in the cannabis industry and said he appreciates Inslee’s effort, but the state should do much more. “The amount of people who meet the qualifications is not going to really help anybody — not that many people,” he said.

Such relief could be on the way. Sponsors of legislation that would allow hundreds of thousands of people with minor marijuana convictions to expunge their records say the proposal could have a better chance this year than in the past. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, has introduced a similar bill every year since 2013 without success, but says this year’s version, House Bill 1500, could break through. “It just seems like there is a lot more momentum this year than any of the past times I have taken a run at it,” he said, noting support from Inslee, the state’s cannabis industry and organized labor.

HB 1500 would allow anyone with prior convictions for adult misdemeanor marijuana possession to apply to courts for a vacation of those convictions. The courts would be required to grant the requests.

The Washington State Patrol has estimated 226,027 misdemeanor marijuana convictions would qualify for vacation under the proposal. Fitzgibbon noted the number of people eligible might be less than that as some have multiple convictions.

The proposal has drawn criticism from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, whose policy director, James McMahan, testified against it during a public hearing Tuesday before the House Public Safety Committee. “It is a relevant and influential point with us that at the time these convictions were imposed it was illegal. It was against our law. And we as a government and as a society said this is not OK,” McMahan said, noting that some of the misdemeanor convictions had been pleaded down from felonies.

But Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, the prime sponsor of an identical companion measure, Senate Bill 5605, said the Legislature needs to repair damage done by decades of marijuana arrests that disproportionately affected minority communities. Before legalization, black people were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite being no more likely to use marijuana, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is disappointing, but not at all surprising, that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs cannot get behind trying to forgive and forget hundreds of thousands of low-level past marijuana offense. But I am not sure if I am disappointed to learn that so few past offenses are being addressed by Gov Inslee's pardon plan as perhaps the relative inefficacy of that program is playing a role in the legislative push for a much broader expungement statute.

Some of many prior related posts:

February 10, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, February 8, 2019

An effective, reader-friendly primer on "Making Marijuana Legal In New York State"

Download (20)The on-going discussion and debate over marijuana legalization in the Empire State is worth watching closely for numerous reasons, particularly because there is good reason to expect that just about every state in the Northeast would follow New York's lead on any big reforms.   It has also been interesting to see how many valuable reports and other materials have been coming from various governmental players as the discussion moves forward.  I have linked below some prior posts to some prior documents, and this post highlights this new short report from the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) titled simply "Making Marijuana Legal In New York State."  The report's introduction includes these paragraphs:

New York State lawmakers are debating whether to legalize the most widely used illegal drug in the United States, marijuana,and how to do so responsibly. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 44 percent of the population over age 12 (nearly 118 million people) have tried marijuana in their lifetime. Twenty-two million used marijuana in the past month.... 

This report is not a discussion on whether marijuana should be legalized.Rather, it is a review of the challenges and opportunities that may be presented to counties if state lawmakers decide on legalization. Moving marijuana out of the unregulated black market will impact public health,public safety, criminal justice, the economy, and the environment in New York State’s counties. 

What follows is a usefully straight-forward and reader-friendly account of many of the most important issues to consider in the debate over legalization. Folks very familiar with debates over marijuana reform will likely not find anything too surprising in this document, but I was still pleased and impressed to see NYSAC, given its stated mission to "represent, educate and advocate for New York's counties and the thousands of elected and appointed county officials who serve the public," doing such a nice job in this space.

Some prior related posts:

February 8, 2019 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new lobbying group, National Cannabis Roundtable, to be chaired by former US House Speaker John Boehner

LogoWhen Acreage Holdings last year announced that former Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner was now on its board of advisors, I was unsure whether Boehner was really interested in being a serious advocate for marijuana reform or was mostly to be a high-profile figurehead in this space. But in November, as noted here, Boehner penned a Wall Street Journal commentary headlined "Washington Needs to Legalize Cannabis." And today comes news that John Boehner is to be the Chair of a new industry lobbying ground calling itself the National Cannabis Roundtable.

This new local press piece and this National Cannabis Roundtable website is all I can find about this new group right now, but the press piece provides a flavor of the group's commitments:

The former lawmaker will also serve as an advisor, not a registered lobbyist, for the roundtable, Boehner said during a phone call with reporters Friday. Boehner said the roundtable will promote changes to federal law that make it easier to research cannabis and for regulated cannabis businesses to operate. Federally, marijuana is an illegal Schedule 1 controlled substance, alongside heroin and LSD, is not a top priority for the group....

But Boehner said removing cannabis from Schedule I of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act is not the group's top priority. "It would clearly be a big goal, but I think there are other steps that need to be taken along the way before we get to that," he said....

Boehner said the roundtable's members represent every aspect of the cannabis supply chain, including growers, processors, retailers, wellness centers, investors, entrepreneurs, and publicly traded companies.

The National Cannabis Roundtable website has the following sentences under the heading "Our Mission"

The legal cannabis boom promises to contribute billions of dollars to the US economy over the next decade - creating jobs, advancing new health science and adding momentum to criminal justice reform.

The National Cannabis Roundtable promotes common sense federal regulation, tax equality and financial services reform and supports changing federal law to acknowledge states’ rights to regulate and manage cannabis policy.

I like the reference to "adding momentum to criminal justice reform" in the first sentence, though the second sentence and other factors leads me to suspect that National Cannabis Roundtable will not have criminal justice reform as a focal point of its work.

Prior related posts:

February 8, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

More on the forces that have shaped views on marijuana

Download (6)In this post last month, I blogged  this interesting new paper, titled ""How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?", which was recently published in Social Science Research and was authored by Jacob Felson, Amy Adamczyk and Christopher Thomas. I am not pleased to see that the authors of this research have this new piece at The Conversation under the headline "Why do so many Americans now support legalizing marijuana?". Here are excerpts (with links from the original) from this reader-friendly account of their interesting research:

American views on marijuana have shifted incredibly rapidly. Thirty years ago, marijuana legalization seemed like a lost cause. In 1988, only 24 percent of Americans supported legalization.

But steadily, the nation began to liberalize. By 2018, 66 percent of U.S. residents offered their approval, transforming marijuana legalization from a libertarian fantasy into a mainstream cause. Many state laws have changed as well. Over the last quarter-century, 10 states have legalized recreational marijuana, while 22 states have legalized medical marijuana.

So why has public opinion changed dramatically in favor of legalization? In a study published this February, we examined a range of possible reasons, finding that the media likely had the greatest influence....

What has likely made the biggest difference is how the media has portrayed marijuana. Support for legalization began to increase shortly after the news media began to frame marijuana as a medical issue....

In the 1980s, the vast majority of New York Times stories about marijuana were about drug trafficking and abuse or other Schedule I drugs. At that time, The New York Times was more likely to lump marijuana together in a kind of unholy trinity with cocaine and heroin in discussions about drug smuggling, drug dealers and the like.

During the 1990s, stories discussing marijuana in criminal terms became less prevalent. Meanwhile, the number of articles discussing the medical uses of marijuana slowly increased. By the late 1990s, marijuana was rarely discussed in the context of drug trafficking and drug abuse. And marijuana had lost its association with other Schedule I drugs like cocaine and heroin in the New York Times. Gradually, the stereotypical persona of the marijuana user shifted from the stoned slacker wanting to get high to the aging boomer seeking pain relief....

As Americans became more supportive of marijuana legalization, they also increasingly told survey researchers that the criminal justice system was too harsh.

In the late 1980s, the “war on drugs” and sentencing reform laws put a large number of young men, often black and Latino, behind bars for lengthy periods of time. As Americans started to feel the full social and economic effects of tough-on-crime initiatives, they reconsidered the problems with criminalizing marijuana.

Because support for the legalization of marijuana and concerns about the harshness of the criminal justice system changed at about the same time, it’s difficult to know what came first. Did concern about the harshness of the criminal justice system affect support for legalization – or vice versa?

By contrast, the cause and effect is clearer with respect to the media framing of marijuana. The news media’s portrayal of marijuana began to change shortly before the public did, suggesting that the media influenced support for the legalization of marijuana.

Prior related post:

"How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?"

February 7, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, February 4, 2019

A month's worth of interesting headlines and stories ... from just last week

"Should Physicians Recommend Replacing Opioids With Cannabis?"

Download (3)The title of this post is the title of this short new "Viewpoint" piece authored by Keith Humphreys and Richard Saitz and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Recent state regulations (eg, in New York, Illinois) allow medical cannabis as a substitute for opioids for chronic pain and for addiction.  Yet the evidence regarding safety, efficacy, and comparative effectiveness is at best equivocal for the former recommendation and strongly suggests the latter — substituting cannabis for opioid addiction treatments is potentially harmful.  Neither recommendation meets the standards of rigor desirable for medical treatment decisions.

Recent systematic reviews identified low-strength evidence that plant-based cannabis preparations alleviate neuropathic pain and insufficient evidence for other types of pain.  Studies tend to be of low methodological quality, involve small samples and short-follow-up periods, and do not address the most common causes of pain (eg, back pain).  This description of evidence for efficacy of cannabis for chronic pain is similar to how efficacy studies of opioids for chronic pain have been described (except that the volume of evidence is greater for opioids with 96 trials identified in a recent systematic review).

The evidence that cannabis is an efficacious treatment for opioid use disorder is even weaker.  To date, no prospective evidence, either from clinical trials or observational studies, has demonstrated any benefit of treating patients who have opioid addiction with cannabis.

Substituting cannabis for opioids is not the same as initiating opioid therapy.  There are no randomized clinical trials of substituting cannabis for opioids in patients taking or misusing opioids for treatment of pain, or in patients with opioid addiction treated with methadone or buprenorphine.  In addition to surveys of patients who use medical cannabis, the other types of studies prompting a move to cannabis to replace opioids are population-level reports stating that laws allowing medical cannabis use are followed by fewer opioid overdose deaths than expected.  The methodological concern with such studies is that correlation is not causation.  Many factors other than cannabis use may affect opioid overdose deaths, such as prescribing guidelines, opioid rescheduling, Good Samaritan laws, incarceration practices, and availability of evidence-based opioid use disorder treatment and naloxone....

For opioid use disorder, there is concern that the New York State Health Commissioner has defined opioid addiction to include people being treated with US Food and Drug Administration – approved, efficacious, opioid agonist medications, as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.  Methadone and buprenorphine treatment reduces illicit opioid use, blood-borne disease transmission, criminal activity, adverse birth outcomes, and mortality.  Discontinuing such medications increases the risk of return to illicit opioid use, overdose, and death.  The suggestion that patients should self-substitute a drug (ie, cannabis) that has not been subjected to a single clinical trial for opioid addiction is irresponsible and should be reconsidered....

Cannabis and cannabis-derived medications merit further research, and such scientific work will likely yield useful results.  This does not mean that medical cannabis recommendations should be made without the evidence base demanded for other treatments. Evidence-based therapies are available.  For chronic pain, there are numerous alternatives to opioids aside from cannabis.  Nonopioid medications appear to have similar efficacy, and behavioral, voluntary, slow-tapering interventions can improve function and well-being while reducing pain.

For the opioid addiction crisis, clearly efficacious medications such as methadone and buprenorphine are underprescribed.  Without convincing evidence of efficacy of cannabis for this indication, it would be irresponsible for medicine to exacerbate this problem by encouraging patients with opioid addiction to stop taking these medications and to rely instead on unproven cannabis treatment.

February 4, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

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

1548786086089As reported in this local article, "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday her office would cease prosecuting people for possessing marijuana regardless of quantity or criminal history." Here is more:

Calling the move monumental for justice in Baltimore, Mosby also requested the courts vacate convictions in nearly 5,000 cases of marijuana possession. “When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” Mosby said, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”

Mosby follows district attorneys in Manhattan and Philadelphia who have scaled back or outright ended marijuana prosecutions. Maryland lawmakers decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014.

But she also stood alone, politically: No police and no other city officials joined her at the announcement. Hours later, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her support for Mosby’s plan.

Mosby aims to formalize marijuana policies already in practice. A report released Tuesday by her office shows city prosecutors dropped 88 percent of marijuana possession cases in Baltimore District Court since 2014 — 1,001 cases. [This report is available at this link.]

Still, convictions have saddled thousands in Baltimore with criminal records and frustrated their job searches, Mosby said. The marijuana arrests have disproportionately affected minority neighborhoods in Baltimore. Nationwide, African-Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. The ratio jumps to six times more likely in Baltimore, prosecutors wrote in the report.

Such arrests squander scarce police resources, Mosby said, noting 343 people were killed in Baltimore in 2017. Police closed nearly one-third of those cases. Last year, 309 people were killed and police closed closer to one-quarter. “No one,” Mosby said, “thinks spending resources to jail people for marijuana is a good use of our limited time and resources.”

But it remains unclear how the policy will play out in the streets. Mosby made her announcement at the nonprofit Center for Urban Families in West Baltimore while surrounded by her staff, marijuana advocates and neighborhood activists. Police leaders weren’t there....

The department is run by a former agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Gary Tuggle; he is interim commissioner. He said his officers wouldn’t quit arresting people for possessing marijuana. “Baltimore Police will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession unless and until the state legislature changes the law regarding marijuana possession,” he said in a statement....

Police leaders have long said they are focused on violent crime and marijuana arrests aren’t a priority. But officers routinely use marijuana as reason to search the pockets or car of someone suspected in more serious crimes....

Mosby has pledged to continue to prosecute anyone suspected of selling marijuana. She said her office would take cases to court when police find evidence of drug sales, such as baggies and scales....

In nearby Baltimore County, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he had no plans to quit prosecuting marijuana cases. Most first-time offenders are placed in a treatment program in the county, he said.

Mosby also urged state legislators to support a bill that would empower her office to vacate criminal convictions in everything from corrupt cop cases to marijuana prosecutions. The current procedures require action from both prosecutors and defense attorneys to vacate a conviction.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed papers for marijuana cases dating back to 2011 to be vacated — about 1,000 in Circuit Court and nearly 3,800 in District Court. Judges would rule on the requests.

The press release, titled "Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Cases, Says Prosecutions Provide No Public Safety Value And Undermine Public Trust In Law Enforcement," discusses the essentials of the policy announced by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby,

January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

AG-nominee Bill Barr reiterates (with nuance) commitment to non-enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition in reform states

AG-Candidate-William-Barr-Just-Stated-His-Position-on-Marijuana__FocusFillWzExNzAsNjU4LCJ5Iiw2MV0Tom Angell has this effective Forbes report, headlined "Trump Attorney General Pick Puts Marijuana Enforcement Pledge In Writing," spotlighting that the next US Attorney General has made clear his inherent commitment to respecting state-level marijuana reforms. Here are the details:

William Barr, President Trump's nominee to serve as the next U.S. attorney general, made headlines earlier this month when he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing not to "go after" marijuana companies that comply with state laws.

Now, in response to written questions from senators, Barr is putting that pledge on paper, in black and white. He's also calling for the approval of more legal growers of marijuana for research, and is acknowledging that a recent bill legalizing hemp has broad implications for sale of cannabis products.

"As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum," he wrote, referring to Obama-era cannabis enforcement guidance that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.

That said, Barr isn't committing to formally replacing the Cole Memo, which generally directed federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana laws, with new guidance reiterating the approach. "I have not closely considered or determined whether further administrative guidance would be appropriate following the Cole Memorandum and the January 2018 memorandum from Attorney General Sessions, or what such guidance might look like," he wrote in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). "If confirmed, I will give the matter careful consideration."

And Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, says it would be even better if Congress got around to addressing the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws. "I still believe that the legislative process, rather than administrative guidance, is ultimately the right way to resolve whether and how to legalize marijuana," he wrote in a compilation of responses delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday.

But even as Barr reiterated that he wouldn't go after people and businesses that benefited from the Cole memo, he voiced criticism of policy directives like it and of the idea of legalization in general. "An approach based solely on executive discretion fails to provide the certainty and predictability that regulated parties deserve and threatens to undermine the rule of law," Barr wrote in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "If confirmed, I can commit to working with the Committee and the rest of Congress on these issues, including any specific legislative proposals. As I have said, however, I do not support the wholesale legalization of marijuana."

Nonetheless, legalization advocates were happy to see the nominee reiterating his non-enforcement pledge when it comes to state-legal businesses. "It’s positive to see Barr make the same commitments on marijuana enforcement in writing as he did in the hearings," Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. "My hope is that he sends this message to all federal prosecutors so that states are given space to reform their outdated, broken, racist marijuana laws, and the country can turn the page on prohibition."

January 29, 2019 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

"It’s High Time: A Common Sense Approach To Marijuana-Impaired Driving"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Reason Foundation authored by by Teri Moore and Adrian Moore. Here is part of its executive summary:

Recent wide-spread legalization of medical marijuana and, in many U.S. states, of recreational use of marijuana also, demands that officials must forge a just, coherent and effective law enforcement and legal response to marijuana-impaired driving. More and more states are legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, which demands policies toward marijuana-impaired driving that protect public safety without penalizing legal marijuana users who are sober at the time they drive.

Marijuana — or its more technical name, cannabis — and its effects are still quite literally under the microscope.  Cannabis containing high levels of THC is typically used recreationally, but may also have therapeutic applications. Because it is the psychoactive component in cannabis, THC is the cannabinoid that impairs driving, and is therefore the focus of this study.  This analysis examines the evidence on marijuana-impaired driving and lays the groundwork for a regulatory approach that is scientifically grounded, safetyminded and fair.

In the past 10 years, prevalence of alcohol use by drivers has fallen in the U.S., and use of marijuana has increased dramatically.  Alcohol’s composition and effects on drivers have been thoroughly studied over the years and are well understood. It’s tempting to use a similar approach to that used for alcohol — the only other legal intoxicant — and to build policies around per se standards.  But since cannabis body fluid levels don’t parallel impairment, that’s not a fair gauge of impairment as it is with alcohol. Indeed, it’s possible for some cannabis users to register above per se levels when completely sober.  It’s also tempting to use the easy idea of zero tolerance, but that’s not fair to sober drivers who still have measurable cannabis in their systems.

The only fair solution is for police to assess drivers for impairment as we now do for low blood-alcohol-content impaired drivers and drug-impaired drivers, and to conduct toxicology screens to corroborate that cannabis is present, rather than measuring irrelevant levels in body fluids.  Fortunately, screenings are less expensive, quicker and easier to do than measuring body fluid levels. It’s concerning that this means impairment will be assessed entirely by police officers, but that is the most just option currently available.  To address this concern, police should use dash- and bodycams to document impairing behavior — such as driving behavior leading to the traffic stop and impairing behavior on field sobriety tests — when possible.

January 24, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Are there any prop bets on when we might see a marijuana ad during a Super Bowl broadcast?

ImagesThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this USA Today story headlined "CBS rejects Super Bowl ad on benefits of medical marijuana."   (And if you do not know what prop bets are, here is a primer: "Prop bets popular for Super Bowl, but NFL wants them gone.")  Here are excepts from the ad story:

CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad that makes a case for medical marijuana. Acreage Holdings, which is in the cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensing business, said it produced a 60-second ad that shows three people suffering from varying health issues who say their lives were made better by use of medical marijuana.

Acreage said its ad agency sent storyboards for the ad to the network and received a return email that said: “CBS will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time.”

A CBS spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports that under CBS broadcast standards it does not currently accept cannabis-related advertising....

“We’re not particularly surprised that CBS and/or the NFL rejected the content,” Acreage president George Allen said. “And that is actually less a statement about them and more we think a statement about where we stand right now in this country.”...

“One of the hardest parts about this business is the ambiguity that we operate within,” Allen said. “We do the best we can to navigate a complex fabric of state and federal policy, much of which conflicts.”

Allen said the company had not decided whether to run its 60-second ad or a 30-second version when it learned that CBS would not accept any ads for medical marijuana. CBS is charging an average of $5.2 million for a 30-second ad in this year's game between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots on Feb. 3.

“It’s a public service announcement really more than it is an advertisement,” said Harris Damashek, Acreage’s chief marketing officer. “We’re not marketing any of our products or retail in this spot.”

An unfinished version of the 60-second ad introduces a Colorado boy who suffers from Dravet syndrome; his mother says her son would have dozens to hundreds of seizures a day and medical marijuana saved his life.  A Buffalo man says he was on opioids for 15 years after three back surgeries and that medical marijuana gave him his life back. An Oakland man who lost part of his leg in military service says his pain was unbearable until medical marijuana.

“The time is now,” say words on the screen near the end of the ad.  Then the screen shifts and viewers are asked to call on their representatives in the U.S. House and Senate to advocate for change.  Fine print at the bottom says the testimonials in the ad come from the experiences of the individuals and have not been evaluated by the FDA. The fine print also says marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance and medical use has not been approved in some states....

Acreage expects to post the ad online at some point so people can see it, even if they can’t see it on the Super Bowl. “It’s not quite ready yet,” Damashek said, “but we anticipate and look forward to getting the message out far and wide.”

I have to admit to being a bit suspect of the idea that the Acreage folks were really planning to spend $10 million to run "a public service announcement" during SuperBowl LIII.   Dare I speculate that they knew full well that their ad would be rejected, but also knew that simply asking and getting rejected would result in beneficial attention.  And I suppose I am now guilty of giving them some of this desired attention (but I am at least asking a fun question along the way).

Speaking of that question, I will answer by foolishly predicting that there will be a marijuana ad during Super Bowl LVI in February 2022.   

January 22, 2019 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

"If Weed Is Medicine, So Is Budweiser: Legalize marijuana, but don’t pretend it’s therapeutic."

Bach-peter_1The title of this post is the headline of this provocative Wall Street Journal commentary authored by Peter Bach, "a pulmonary physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York [who] directs the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes."  Here are excerpts:

Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, and another eight look likely to do so in 2019.  I favor the move but am troubled by the gateway to it: All these jurisdictions first passed laws permitting the use of “medical” marijuana.  We should set the record straight, lest young people (and old ones) think marijuana is good for you because it is wrongly labeled a medication.

Actual medicines have research behind them, enumerating their benefits, characterizing their harms, and ensuring the former supersedes the latter.  Marijuana doesn’t.  It’s a toxin, not a medicine.  It impairs judgment and driving ability.  It increases the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia.  Smoking it damages the respiratory tract.  A 2017 report from the National Academy of Medicine called the evidence for these harms “substantial.”

Claims that marijuana relieves pain may be true.  But the clinical studies that have been done compare it with a placebo, not even a pain reliever like ibuprofen.  That’s not the type of rigorous evaluation we pursue for medications.  What’s more, every intoxicant would pass that sort of test because you don’t experience pain as acutely when you are high.  If weed is a pain reliever, so is Budweiser.

Some advocates say marijuana is better than opiates for pain.  Yet while opiates have risks, there are no studies comparing them to marijuana, and untested claims in medicine don’t get the benefit of the doubt.  Testing such a hypothesis often disproves it.

Decades ago, several studies suggested that marijuana might relieve nausea in chemotherapy patients.  But again most compared it with a placebo, while a few compared it with older nausea treatments not used today. None were very convincing. More important, no study has compared marijuana to today’s Neurokinin-1 antagonists. While such treatments are sometimes ineffective, that shortcoming doesn’t impart efficacy on marijuana either.

In writing medical-marijuana laws, state lawmakers and initiative authors have gone well beyond pain and nausea control, lauding the plant as an effective treatment for a long list of conditions, including hepatitis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  Beyond the lack of data, what these conditions have in common isn’t biology, but modern medicine’s failure to treat them satisfactorily.  Heartbreaking as that is, marijuana isn’t the answer....

Marijuana belongs in the same category as alcohol and tobacco — harmful products that adults can choose to enjoy....  Decades passed before we took on smoking and drinking with education, labeling and other forms of regulation.  But it worked, and deaths from lung cancer, heart disease and alcohol-associated accidents are in sharp decline. We need this same approach with marijuana.  Acknowledging that it is not a medicine is a necessary first step.

I think it valuable and important to highlight ways in which many of the forms of the plant cannabis, at least right now, is not comparable to the kinds of medicines we access at a drug store.  But it is also important to highlight ways in which medical marijuana laws do not treat marijuana as comparable to other medicines. For starters, public and private health insurance systems general do not help cover the cost of marijuana used medicinally and there are all sorts of distinctive limits on the whos and hows of medical marijuana access.  In many ways, all modern medical marijuana laws are still just elaborate variations on the original law created by California in 1996, which simply created a limited exception to marijuana prohibition for those eager to try marijuana for various therapeutic purposes. Had marijuana never been criminalized, there would have been no need to seek exceptions from prohibition for medical uses (and, it bear recalling, there was much discussion and special laws around alcohol access for medical use during the Prohibition era).

January 20, 2019 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, January 14, 2019

"The mature stoner: why are so many seniors smoking weed?"

3000The title of this post is the title of this new Guardian piece.  I have reprinted some excerpts of the piece below,  though the piece does not make all that serious an effort to figure out whether and why marijuana may be proving more popular with the AARP crowd.  But, in all likelihood, I have flagged this piece because I wanted an excuse to reprint here the remarkably curious graphic that goes with it.  I am thinking that the old-looking television in the graphic is supposed to be showing Mr. Ed, but I cannot figure out what is up with the smiling clown.  In any event, here is some of the text that follows this trippy picture:

As attitudes towards cannabis shift, the fastest-growing group of users is over 50 – and marijuana’s popularity among seniors is beginning to change the American experience of old age.

Why are more seniors getting high? It might make more sense to ask: “Why not?” As adults reach retirement, they age out of drug tests and have far more time on their hands. Some feel liberated to abandon long-held proprieties.

Elegant vape pens and other attractive, discreet products have helped de stigmatize the drug among older Americans.  “Legalization seems to make non-users seem a little less scared of it, and perhaps less judgmental,” says Jo, a 56-year-old cannabis user who preferred not to use her real name.

The seniors using cannabis today aren’t your parents’ grandparents. The generation that camped out at Woodstock is now in its seventies. They’ve been around grass long enough to realize it’s not going to kill them, and are more open to the possibility it will come with health benefits....

Seniors’ affinity for weed is beginning to ripple across the US healthcare system. A 2016 study found that in states with access to medical marijuana, those using Medicare part D – a benefit primarily for seniors – received fewer prescriptions for other drugs to treat depression, anxiety, pain, and other chronic issues....

While some doctors have expressed concerns about seniors self-medicating with weed, virtually everyone agrees the public health consequences of opioids are far worse. And the most serious health concerns associated with marijuana, such as impaired brain development, tend to affect younger people.

For the industry, seniors’ newfound interest in cannabis is a business opportunity. The Colorado edibles company Wana Brands, among many others, sells cannabis products reminiscent of medicines familiar to seniors. Wana sells extended release capsules as well as products with different ratios of THC and CBD, which intoxicate users to different degrees and can have a variety of effects on ailments.

For someone who hasn’t seen a joint in 40 years, the modern dispensary can be a dizzying experience replete with dozens of products – topicals (lotions), tinctures, sprays – all promising to help you feel better, but also to get you stoned. Whether or not marijuana helps seniors to alleviate their conditions, many may enjoy a sense of control over their own wellbeing. Meanwhile, dispensaries in California and elsewhere cater to older clientele with discounts and shuttle busses. Dispensary owners like to brag about how many older women come in as evidence that they’re created an attractive and welcoming store.

For another recent press piece related to this topic, Forbes ran over the weekend this article headlined "Cannabis Club Fills Info Gap For California Seniors"

January 14, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission report explores treatment of opioid use disorder by using medical cannabis

MJIN_Maryland-MMJ-Logo-Web-500x281The debate over the relationship between the opioid crisis and marijuana reforms is so very interesting and, of course, so very important.  Advocates for and against marijuana reform seem ever eager to leverage the opioid crisis (and everything else) to support their prior conclusions about the virtues or vices of marijuana reform.  Against this backdrop, I think  information from non-partisans is especially valuable, and thus I was pleased to see this notable new report from the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission titled "Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder with Medical Cannabis."  I recommend the full report, which mostly just reports on the state of the law in many jurisdictions and research on these topics.  Here are excerpts:

Since 2016, at least nine states have considered legislation or regulations to allow medical cannabis as an opioid replacement therapy to help ease withdrawal symptoms and aid in relapse prevention....  In 2018, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York became the first states to expressly allow medical cannabis for the treatment of OUD. Each state permits the use of medical cannabis to treat OUD, but with significant restrictions....

From 2016-2018, at least seven state legislatures considered bills that would expressly add OUD to the list of medical cannabis qualifying conditions.  Of these, the majority rejected the legislation seeking to add OUD to the list of qualifying conditions.  [T]hree states – Hawaii, Maine, and New Mexico – passed legislation authorizing the use of medical cannabis to treat OUD; however, the State’s Governor vetoed the legislation in each instance following significant pressure from health care providers, health care organizations, and addiction specialists....

Data suggest that cannabis legalization reduces prescription opioid use by serving as an alternative pain treatment. Medical cannabis laws may also have downstream policy effects on reducing opioid-related hospitalizations, overdose deaths, and traffic fatalities. The following section examines existing literature on the association between medical cannabis and opioid use, including as a treatment for opioid use disorder....

[But] a study was published in the “To the Editor” section of JAMA Internal Medicine in September 2018, which found that the opioid-related overdose death rate was accelerating in states where medical and/or adult use cannabis laws had been implemented. Moreover, the death rate surpassed that of nonlegalizing states. The study reviewed opioid-related overdose death data from 2010 to 2016, and determined that the age-adjusted death rate was higher in states with cannabis legalization and that the age-adjusted death rate was increasing at a faster rate than in non-legalizing states. While several researchers have challenged the methodology of this study – including the inaccurate assessment of states that have legalized medical and adultuse cannabis – the results call attention to the need for further investigation of the association between cannabis legalization and opioid-related overdose deaths....

In December 2018, the Commission received two petitions requesting the addition of OUD to the list of medical cannabis qualifying conditions. If the Commission determines that either or both of these petitions are “facially substantial” then it must conduct a public hearing within the next 12 months to evaluate whether the medical condition or disease should be included in the list of qualifying conditions.  The Commission’s Research Committee, which includes two physicians, a scientist, addiction specialist, and horticulturist, is currently evaluating the petitions to determine whether they are facially substantial and require a public hearing. The Commission will provide the General Assembly with updates on the status of the OUD petitions, including information on any public hearings to consider adding OUD as a qualifying medical condition.

January 13, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Another exciting time to be discussing (too many) international, federal, state and local developments as I start fifth iteration of my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar

Download (1)I have lately been gearing up to start teaching today the fifth(!) iteration of my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  When I first started teaching this course, way back in Fall 2013, the prospect of significant marijuana reforms in Ohio seemed like a pipe dream (see what I did there!).  But here are just some of the notable headlines from some local Ohio outlets just this week:

The last of these links is, technically, a federal marijuana reform story.  But I included it here, and picked the lengthy title for this post, because I feel like this year I am "drinking out of a fire hose" even more than usual when teaching about Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform. In prior years, there were a few stories in a few jurisdictions to follow on a weekly basis; now it seems like there are important developments in dozens of jurisdictions every single day. I am extra exciting to see what topics are of special interests to my students, and blog readers will get to come along for the ride when student being their projects and presentations in a few months.

Exciting times!

January 10, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Malcolm Gladwell rightly highlights how much we do not know about marijuana (but still ignores what we know about prohibition)

Gladwell-malcolmMalcolm Gladwell has this new extended essay in The New Yorker asking "Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?".  The piece is somewhat focused on the forthcoming book by Alex Berenson (whose recent commentaries I have covered here and here), but it is most effective when it highlights that research on the public health consequences of marijuana remains incomplete and inconclusive.  Here is how the piece starts:

A few years ago, the National Academy of Medicine convened a panel of sixteen leading medical experts to analyze the scientific literature on cannabis. The report they prepared, which came out in January of 2017, runs to four hundred and sixty-eight pages. It contains no bombshells or surprises, which perhaps explains why it went largely unnoticed. It simply stated, over and over again, that a drug North Americans have become enthusiastic about remains a mystery.

For example, smoking pot is widely supposed to diminish the nausea associated with chemotherapy. But, the panel pointed out, “there are no good-quality randomized trials investigating this option.” We have evidence for marijuana as a treatment for pain, but “very little is known about the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States.” The caveats continue. Is it good for epilepsy? “Insufficient evidence.” Tourette’s syndrome? Limited evidence. A.L.S., Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s? Insufficient evidence. Irritable-bowel syndrome? Insufficient evidence. Dementia and glaucoma? Probably not. Anxiety? Maybe. Depression? Probably not.

Then come Chapters 5 through 13, the heart of the report, which concern marijuana’s potential risks. The haze of uncertainty continues. Does the use of cannabis increase the likelihood of fatal car accidents? Yes. By how much? Unclear. Does it affect motivation and cognition? Hard to say, but probably. Does it affect employment prospects? Probably. Will it impair academic achievement? Limited evidence. This goes on for pages.

We need proper studies, the panel concluded, on the health effects of cannabis on children and teen-agers and pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers and “older populations” and “heavy cannabis users”; in other words, on everyone except the college student who smokes a joint once a month.

Gladwell later provides some context for how we should approach modern marijuana reform in light of all this uncertainty:

Drug policy is always clearest at the fringes. Illegal opioids are at one end.  They are dangerous.  Manufacturers and distributors belong in prison, and users belong in drug-treatment programs.  The cannabis industry would have us believe that its product, like coffee, belongs at the other end of the continuum. “Flow Kana partners with independent multi-generational farmers who cultivate under full sun, sustainably, and in small batches,” the promotional literature for one California cannabis brand reads.  “Using only organic methods, these stewards of the land have spent their lives balancing a unique and harmonious relationship between the farm, the genetics and the terroir.”   But cannabis is not coffee.  It’s somewhere in the middle.   The experience of most users is relatively benign and predictable; the experience of a few, at the margins, is not.  Products or behaviors that have that kind of muddled risk profile are confusing, because it is very difficult for those in the benign middle to appreciate the experiences of those at the statistical tails. Low-frequency risks also take longer and are far harder to quantify, and the lesson of “Tell Your Children” and the National Academy report is that we aren’t yet in a position to do so.  For the moment, cannabis probably belongs in the category of substances that society permits but simultaneously discourages.  Cigarettes are heavily taxed, and smoking is prohibited in most workplaces and public spaces.  Alcohol can’t be sold without a license and is kept out of the hands of children.  Prescription drugs have rules about dosages, labels that describe their risks, and policies that govern their availability. The advice that seasoned potheads sometimes give new users — “start low and go slow” — is probably good advice for society as a whole, at least until we better understand what we are dealing with.

I am not inclined to dispute much of what Gladwell has to say in this piece especially when he stresses uncertainty, but I am again eager to highlight what he ignores about the certain harms of prohibition. Notably, we still send a whole lot of drug users to prison rather than to treatment programs because of the "drug war" approach to criminalizing drug prohibitions, and we still arrest a whole lot of marijuana users. Moreover and even more importantly, the certain harms of marijuana prohibition are borne disproportionately by people of color and the poor.

I am supportive of a "start low and go slow” approach to the commercialization of marijuana based on all the uncertainty that Gladwell is eager to stress. But given the certain harms of prohibition and who is disproportionately subject to them, I do not think we can end the criminalization of marijuana soon enough.

January 8, 2019 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Washington Gov promises to pardon thousands of past marijuana offenders

As reported in this AP article, "More than six years after the state legalized the adult use of marijuana, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday he plans to pardon thousands of people convicted of small-time possession charges — the latest in a series of moves by states and cities to ease the burdens people face from having minor criminal records for using pot." Here is more about this encouraging news:

The Democrat, who is mulling a 2020 presidential run, made the announcement at a cannabis industry summit in SeaTac, south of Seattle.  Inslee said he was creating an expedited process that would allow about 3,500 people to apply for and receive a pardon without having to hire a lawyer or go to court.

"We have people who have this burden on their shoulders from a simple, one-time marijuana possession from maybe 20 years ago, and that's impeding the ability of people to live their lives," Inslee said in an interview.  "It can damage their ability to get financing for a home; it can damage their ability to get financing for colleges, even simple things like going on a field trip with your kids. "We should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal," he said.

Several states allow for expunging or sealing marijuana convictions, but obtaining such relief has typically been onerous, requiring a lawyer or court appearances. As more states have eased marijuana laws or followed the lead of Washington and Colorado in legalizing recreational pot use since 2012, some cities, counties and states have simplified the process of clearing convictions.

Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and some local prosecutors in New York City, where marijuana remains illegal, are clearing old marijuana convictions en masse, and a new law in California requires prosecutors to erase or reduce an estimated 220,000 pot convictions.

Inslee's plan appears to be the first that creates a streamlined process for pardoning misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions statewide, though Michigan's governor-elect, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, has suggested she will consider doing so. In Washington, people will be able to use a simple form on the governor's website to ask for a pardon of a single conviction dating as far back as 1998. To be eligible, people must have been convicted as an adult, and the conviction must be the only one on their record....

Automatically clearing past convictions or making it easy for people to request pardons is a racial justice issue, considering that blacks and other minorities have historically been arrested for marijuana at disproportionate rates, said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The governor is sending a strong message here about the ameliorative steps that must be taken to address those injustices," Clarke said. "I hope there are other states that will follow the governor's lead here."

Inslee cited racial justice as one of his motivations in launching the program, which he called the Marijuana Justice Initiative. He said his office did not have data on how many of the 3,500 people eligible for pardons are minorities, and he said he considered it a good first step to start with clearing a single conviction. "Maybe there will be another step later on," he said.

January 6, 2019 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Spotlighting enduring challenges making marijuana social equity programs work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

"How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?"

Images (4)The title of this post is the title of this interesting new paper published in Social Science Research and authored by Jacob Felson, Amy Adamczyk and Christopher Thomas.  Here is its abstract:

Since the late 1990s public opinion about cannabis legalization has become drastically more liberal, and some states have begun to legalize cannabis for recreational use.  Why have attitudes changed so much?  Prior research has considered a few of the reasons for this change, but this is the first comprehensive and empirically-based study to consider the wide range of potential causes for how and why this happened. 

We use data from the General Social Survey, National Study of Drug Use and Health, and word searches from the New York Times.  We find that attitudes largely liberalized via intracohort changes.  Most Americans developed more liberal views, regardless of their race and ethnicity, gender, education, religious or political affiliation, or religious engagement.  Changes in cannabis use have had minimal effects on attitudes, and legalization of cannabis has not prompted attitude change in neighboring states.  As to root causes, evidence suggests that a decrease in religious affiliation, a decline in punitiveness, and a shift in media framing all contributed to changing attitudes.

January 3, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)