Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously upholds employer obligation to reimburse medical marijuana for workplace injury

The New Jersey Supreme Court yesterday issued a unanimous decision that serves as a reminder of just some of the legal questions that continue arising amid continued marijuana reforms.  Specifically, in Vincent Hager v. M&K Construction, No. A-64-19 (N.J. Apr. 13, 2021) (available here), the top NJ court ruled that medical marijuana expenses were fairly covered under the state's workers' compensation act and that the federal Controlled Substances Act did not preclude or preempt the employer's reimbursement obligations.  Here is how the extended opinion gets started:

Vincent Hager injured his back in a work-related accident in 2001 while employed by M&K Construction (M&K).  For years thereafter, Hager received treatment for chronic pain with opioid medication and surgical procedures to no avail.  In 2016, he enrolled in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program both as a means of pain management and to overcome an opioid addiction.  Thereafter, a workers’ compensation court found that Hager “exhibit[ed] Permanent Partial Total disability” and ordered M&K to reimburse him for the ongoing costs of his prescription marijuana (the Order).  The Appellate Division affirmed.

Before us, M&K contends that New Jersey’s Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act (Compassionate Use Act or the Act) is preempted as applied to the Order by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Compliance with the Order, M&K claims, would subject it to potential federal criminal liability for aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy.  M&K also asserts that medical marijuana is not reimbursable as reasonable or necessary treatment under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA).  Finally, M&K argues that it fits within an exception to the Compassionate Use Act and is therefore not required to reimburse Hager for his marijuana costs.

We conclude that M&K does not fit within the Compassionate Use Act’s limited reimbursement exception.  We also find that Hager presented sufficient credible evidence to the compensation court to establish that the prescribed medical marijuana represents, as to him, reasonable and necessary treatment under the WCA.  Finally, we interpret Congress’s appropriations actions of recent years as suspending application of the CSA to conduct that complies with the Compassionate Use Act.  As applied to the Order, we thus find that the Act is not preempted and that M&K does not face a credible threat of federal criminal aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy liability.  We therefore affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

April 14, 2021 in Court Rulings, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

"New Market Entrants and Uncertain Drug Policy in the United States"

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

This article covers two substances that are becoming particularly prevalent in consumer markets across the country, Delta-8 THC and kratom.  It introduces each substance and provides an analysis of the legal landscape that each substance currently faces in the United States, including an overview of relevant statutory law and regulatory efforts at both the federal and state level.  Finally, the article provides policy concerns that legislatures and regulatory agencies should take into consideration when approaching the regulation of these substances, as well as, other novel substances that share similar qualities.

April 11, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Notable new group, the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, seeks to advance end of marijuana prohibition

Cannabis-freedom-allianceAs discussed in this new Politico piece, headlined "Koch, Snoop Dogg join forces to push marijuana legalization," there is another notable new advocacy group focused on marijuana reform.  Here is how the Politico article gets started:

What do you get when weed-loving rapper Snoop Dogg, right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and criminal justice reform advocate Weldon Angelos walk into a Zoom room?   The Cannabis Freedom Alliance, a new coalition launching Tuesday that could change the dynamics of the marijuana legalization debate, as first reported by POLITICO.

The organization includes Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers; the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank; marijuana trade organization the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce; and The Weldon Project, a nonprofit that advocates for the release of individuals incarcerated for marijuana offenses.

The movement for marijuana legalization has long been dominated by left-leaning organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  And despite a handful of congressional Republicans supporting the issue, most legalization proponents in Congress are Democrats.  “We can’t cut with one scissor blade.  We need Republicans in order to pass [a legalization bill],” said Angelos, founder of the Weldon Project. Angelos served 13 years of a 55-year sentence for marijuana trafficking charges, and got a full pardon from former President Donald Trump last December.

The background: The idea for the Cannabis Freedom Alliance sprouted from a Zoom call between Angelos, Snoop Dogg and Koch last summer.  Koch expressed support for legalizing all drugs, to the surprise of Angelos. “I had known that his position on drugs was very libertarian,” Angelos said. “I just didn't know that he supported the legalization of all drugs.”

Angelos connected with the Koch network for its help in advocating for legalization at the federal level, which he believes is now more important than ever with Democrats in control of Congress. Prior to flipping the Senate, then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a barrier to any marijuana legislation coming to the floor. But now with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushing the issue as a priority, a marijuana bill could very well come up for a vote. “We need 10 to 12 Republican senators,” Angelos said. “With Koch’s influence, I think that's likely a possibility.”

The website for the Cannabis Freedom Alliance is available here, and its one-page Statement of Principles can be found here. (Disclosure: The Ohio State University's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC), which I help run, was founded with a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, and a long time ago I served as co-counsel for Weldon Angelos as he pursued relief through a 2255 motion.  But I have never met Snoop Dogg.)

April 6, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Senate majority leader shrewdly emphasizing "freedom" in his push for federal marijuana reform

11119_Weed_Legalize_Freedom_Decal_Sticker_DM__26064.1538472841.1280.1280The federal marijauan reform bill that passed through the US House late last year was the "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act" (the MORE Act).  But the marijuana reform bill that Senator Chuck Schumer first introducted in the US Senate in 2018 was called the "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act."  I find the names of these bills particularly notable upon seeing this new Politico interview with now-majority-leader Schumer headlined "Schumer: Senate will act on marijuana legalization with or without Biden."  As highlighted by these excerpts, Senator Schumer seem especially eager to play up the freedom theme in explaining his reasons for supporting reform (my ephasis added):

Schumer: In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition.  I'm sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved.  When a few of the early states — Oregon and Colorado — wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up.  Drug use would go up.   Everything bad would happen.

The legalization of states worked out remarkably well.  They were a great success.  The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.

I think the American people started speaking with a clear message — more than two to one — that they want the law changed.  When a state like South Dakota votes by referendum to legalize, you know something is out there.

Was there a specific moment or a specific experience that you can point to and say, “This is when I started to see this issue differently?”

A while back — I can't remember the exact year — I was in Denver.  I just started talking to people, not just elected officials, but just average folks.

[They said] it benefited the state, and [didn’t] hurt the state.  There were tax revenues, but people had freedom to do what they wanted to do, as long as they weren't hurting other people.  That's part of what America is about.  And they were exultant in it.

Perhaps because it plays well to my libertarian instincts, I find this focus on "freedom" to be appealing and shrewd as a central part of a pitch for federal marijuana reforms.  I find the freedom focus appealing because I like the general notion that the federal government generally ought not be prohibiting personal freedoms, and especially ought not be using the weighty tools of the federal criminal justice system to advance prohibitions, unless and until we can be generally confident that federal prohibition is doing more good than harm.

Perhaps more importantly, I find the freedom focus shrewd because it lines up with a lot of the smaller-government rhetoric, past and present, often coming from GOP policians and activists.  Whether it is the congressional Freedom Caucus or opposition to gun control or COVID rules or a host of other issues, there are lots of Republican who loudly claim to be ever eager to shrink the size and power of the federal government in order to increase the freedom of individuals (and/or states and localities). Against this political backdrop, I think Senator Schumer is already trying to position any vote against federal marijuana reform as a vote against freedom.

April 3, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 1, 2021

New Mexico on the verge of marijuana legalization only hours after New York legalized

New-mexico-300x199Though we sometimes have to wait until 4/20 for a lot of marijuana discussions, this week is proving historic as the New Mexico legislature last night passed two big marijuana reform bills just hours after New York's Governor officially signed that state's historic marijuana legalization bill (NY basics here).  This AP piece, headlined "New Mexico primed to join US recreational pot wave," reports on the basic details of the new laws just passed in the Land of Enchantment (yes, that is the official NM nickname):

New Mexico is joining a wave of states that are legalizing recreational marijuana as its Democrat-dominated Legislature sent a package of cannabis bills Wednesday to a supportive governor. Lawmakers used a marathon two-day legislative session to push through marijuana legalization for adults over 21 and a companion bill that automatically erases many past marijuana convictions, overriding skeptical Republicans.

By signing the bills, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would extend legal recreational pot sales in the American Southwest by April 2022, when the New Mexico legislation kicks in, and join 16 states that have legalized marijuana, mostly through direct ballot initiatives. California and Colorado were among the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana, with Arizona becoming one of the latest in the region to follow suit earlier this year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a legalization bill Wednesday, and a proposal in Virginia is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The New Mexico initiative would reconsider criminal drug sentences for about 100 prisoners, and give the governor a strong hand in licensing the industry and monitoring supplies.

New Mexico flirted with cannabis legalization in the 1990s, when then-Gov. Gary Johnson challenged taboos against decriminalization in defiance of Republican allies. The state’s medical marijuana program founded in 2007 has attracted more than 100,000 patients. The Legislature was reticent to legalize until now. Several hardline opponents of legalization in the state Senate were voted out of office by Democrats in 2020 primary elections, in a shift that paved the way for Wednesday’s historic vote.

Under the advancing legalization package, New Mexico would levy an initial excise tax on recreational marijuana sales of 12% that eventually rises to 18%. That’s on top of current gross receipts on sales that range from roughly 5% to 9%. Possession of up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana would cease to be a crime, and people would be allowed six plants at home — or up to 12 per household. The reforms would eliminate taxes on the sales of medical marijuana and seek to ensure adequate medicinal supplies.

“The United States of America is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to this,” said Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, lead sponsor of the legalization bill. “This bill begins to repair the harms of prohibition.”

State oversight would largely fall to the governor-appointed superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department that would issue licenses for a fee to marijuana-related businesses. The agency initially would have the authority to limit marijuana production levels by major producers — a lever over market supplies and pricing.... The legalization bill creates a cannabis control division to oversee 10 types of industry licenses. Those include micro-licenses with low annual fees for small producers to grow up to 200 marijuana plants and also package and sell their products.

Bill sponsor Martinez says that provides an important measure of equity, within a bill designed to support communities that suffered from criminalization of marijuana and tough policing. Past drug convictions don’t automatically disqualify applicants for marijuana business licenses. The odor of marijuana or suspicion of possession are no longer legal grounds to stop, detain or search people.

Legalization bill co-sponsor Rep. Deborah Armstrong says New Mexico will respond to early pitfalls of legalization in other states as it mandates child-proof packaging for marijuana products. Public health advocates condemned provisions that allow public consumption lounges for recreational cannabis, citing the dangers of second-hand smoke and vapor to workers and patrons.

Lawmakers discarded a Republican-sponsored bill from Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell that emphasized low taxes in an effort to stamp out illicit weed and would have provided low-cost licenses to small pot farmers by linking fees to the number of plants in cultivation. Local governments cannot prohibit pot businesses but can regulate locations and hours of operation, under the proposal. Bill sponsors say that sheriffs and police want consistency from town-to-town on rules and enforcement.

Republican state Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs voted against legalization and said she was amazed that legislative colleagues would support the freedom to buy mind-altering drugs amid New Mexico’s struggles with poverty and opioid overdoses. “I just think it’s terribly unfair to impose this kind of significant change in our way of life and areas of the state that clearly do not welcome this,” Kernan said.

April 1, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

New York to be the very latest (and one of the very biggest) states to legalize recreational marijuana

New-York-MarijuanaAs detailed in this Bloomberg article, headlined "New York Moves to Become Second Largest Pot Market In U.S.," a very big state is about to make marijuana use legal. Here are just some of the highlights:

New York moved toward creating the nation’s second-largest market for legal marijuana when the state Legislature passed Tuesday a bill that would impose special pot taxes and allow the licensing of dispensaries.

The measure (S.854A /A.1248A) would allow cannabis storefronts to open as soon as next year, and would let home growers start cultivating their own pot. It would limit the number of licenses for large corporations, and impose sales and excise taxes that are estimated to eventually bring in about $350 million a year.

The legislation would set in motion automatic expungement of records for people with previous convictions for activities that would no longer be criminalized when marijuana is legalized for use by adults 21 and older.

The Senate voted for the measure 40-23. The Assembly cleared the bill by a vote of 100-49. Both chambers’ votes were largely along party lines.... Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has said he will sign the bill, which he negotiated with lawmakers in a handshake deal last week.

Once New York’s program is fully rolled out, it’s anticipated to generate tens of thousands of jobs and about $4.2 billion in sales, surpassing Washington state and trailing only California, which had about $4.4 billion in sales last year.

Several lawmakers in both houses, mainly Republicans, brought up concerns with people under the influence of marijuana driving or going to work and using heavy machinery. “This legislation will be a liability,” said state Sen. Mario R. Mattera (R). “Our contractors are against this, the building trades are against this.”

Mattera, who voted “no” on the bill, also expressed concern over the dangers of drug use, particularly for youth. He described experiencing this problem in his own family, and called marijuana a “gateway” drug. “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

The legislation includes two kinds of new taxes: a 13% sales tax, with the money raised divided between the state (9%) and localities (4%), plus a distributor excise tax of as much as 3 cents per milligram of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, using a sliding scale based on the type of product and its potency.

Tax revenue would be used to run and oversee the state cannabis program, with the remaining money divided between programs that try to help people rebuild their lives after marijuana possession arrests, as well as their communities. The revenue would also go to education and drug treatment in the state. Cities, towns, and villages would have until the end of this year to opt out from having dispensaries and pot cafes in their communities.

Up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate would be legally permitted for personal possession outside of the home. Up to 5 pounds of cannabis will be allowed in a private residence, as long as it’s in a secure location out of the reach of those under age 21, according to the bill.

The proposal allows for the personal cultivation of cannabis, with an adult 21 or older permitted to have up to three mature plants and three immature plants. Per household, the limit would be six of each kind of plant. Home cultivation would become legal in six months for medical marijuana patients and legal for others no later than 18 months after the first shops open, dependent upon state regulations....

The bill would allow pot delivery services, with each licensee able to have the equivalent of up to 25 full-time employees. And it would allow for on-site pot consumption, as long as the cannabis cafes aren’t within 500 feet of a school, or 200 feet from a house of worship.

New York lawmakers also baked social and economic equity proposals into the legislation. A single company wouldn’t be allowed to handle all parts of a recreational transaction — cultivation, processing, distributing, and dispensing — with the exception of micro businesses. A cultivator or processor would be barred from having a direct or indirect financial interest in a retail dispensary.

A state Cannabis Control Board and Office of Cannabis Management would be required to take small businesses into consideration and prioritize “social and economic equity” applicants from communities disproportionately impacted when marijuana was illegal. Priority for licenses also would go to those who make less than 80% of their county’s median income, and those convicted in the past of a marijuana-related offense.

The bill sets a goal of allocating half of the adult-use licenses to a minority- or woman-owned business, distressed farmers, service-disabled veterans, or “social and economic equity” applicants. The state would also create business incubator programs for social equity applicants, make low- and zero-interest loans available to them, and would be permitted to waive their licensing fees, according to the bill.

March 30, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 22, 2021

Seeking more information and input on teaching about marijuana reform and drug issues in law school

Teaching-Drugs-report-coverI have been privileged to have the opportunity to teach a seminar on marijuana reform nearly every year at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law since way back in Fall 2013.  This opportunity in part helped lead to (a) the creation of this blog in 2013, (b) the establishment of The Ohio State University's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) in 2017, and (c) the publication of the text Marijuana Law and Policy by Carolina Academic Press in 2020. 

More broadly, teaching a seminar on marijuana reform multiple times over the last decade has been so interesting (and a lot of fun).  Recent years have brought historic policy changes expressed in formal laws and market practices, in Ohio and nationwide, and law students have brought great energy and insights into the classroom as we work together to figure out the realities of the past, present and future of reform. (Some of the great work by students in my more recent marijuana reform seminars now appear in the DEPC's student paper series).    

When I started teaching my marijuana reform class in 2013, I was not surprised to learn that there were few other courses like it and I knew I would need to assemble my own materials for classroom use.  But now there are three law school texts dedicated to this topic (and another focused on illegal drugs), and yet it still seems as though there are relatively few classes in the typical law school curriculum focus on either the "war on drugs" generally or the changing legal landscapes of marijuana policy in particular.

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center has been engaged since its founding on how law schools currently approach these issues and to identify how drug policy and law could be better incorporated into law school curricula.  In a April 2019 workshop, DEPC assembled 20+ legal scholars who work in this space to begin identifying law school courses currently taught and the primary obstacles to teaching this subject matter.   Most recently, DEPC conducted a third survey of all accredited law schools in the U.S. on this topic.  The results show that the vast majority of law schools do not teach courses touching on drugs or the evolving legal structures around cannabis, and this is true even for law schools located in states with legalized cannabis markets.  (I am pleased  that the Moritz College of Law is an exception, and I sincerely believe both law faculty and law students would benefit greatly from more attention to these issues in the law school curricula.)

In an effort to support more law schools offering law course dealing with drug-related issues and marijuana reform topics, DEPC has created this ever-developing website to host teaching resources, reports, course information and other content. As we continue to build out these resources, we’d like to get feedback as well as build a community of instructors teaching in this area.

Do you teach (or would like to teach) a law course touching on drugs or the legal structures around cannabis?  Tell us about yourself and share your interest in future programing.  Take the short survey at go.osu.edu/teaching-drugs-survey.

March 22, 2021 in Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Marijuana use still proving hurdle to working in White House despite Prez Biden's advocacy for reform

6054e3359505d732ff68aa75_o_U_v2As reported in this Daily Beast piece,"dozens of young White House staffers have been suspended, asked to resign, or placed in a remote work program due to past marijuana use, frustrating staffers who were pleased by initial indications from the Biden administration that recreational use of cannabis would not be immediately disqualifying for would-be personnel, according to three people familiar with the situation." Here is more:

The policy has even affected staffers whose marijuana use was exclusive to one of the 14 states — and the District of Columbia — where cannabis is legal.  Sources familiar with the matter also said a number of young staffers were either put on probation or canned because they revealed past marijuana use in an official document they filled out as part of the lengthy background check for a position in the Biden White House.

In some cases, staffers were informally told by transition higher-ups ahead of formally joining the administration that they would likely overlook some past marijuana use, only to be asked later to resign.  “There were one-on-one calls with individual affected staffers — rather, ex-staffers,” one former White House staffer affected by the policy told The Daily Beast. “I was asked to resign.”...

In response to this news story, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted out on Friday an NBC News report from February stating that the Biden administration wouldn’t automatically disqualify applicants if they admitted to past marijuana use.  Psaki said of the hundreds of people hired in the administration, only five who had started working at the White House are “no longer employed as a result of this policy.”

Psaki didn’t note how many had been disqualified for a White House job before actually starting, nor did she note how many were suspended or relegated to remote work, but she did send an additional statement to The Daily Beast on Friday. “In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use.  While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated,” Psaki said.

The White House said in February it intended — for some candidates — to waive the requirement that all potential appointees in the Executive Office of the President be able to obtain a “top secret” clearance.  The rules about past marijuana use and eligibility for the clearance vary, depending on the agency: For the FBI, an applicant can’t have used marijuana in the past three years; at the NSA, it’s only one.  The White House, however, largely calls its own shots, and officials at the time told NBC News that as long as past use was “limited” and the candidate wasn’t pursuing a position that required a security clearance, past use may be excused.

Asked about the policy and its effect on the administration’s staffing Thursday night, a White House spokesperson disputed the number of affected staff, but said the Biden administration is “committed to bringing the best people into government — especially the young people whose commitment to public service can deepen in these positions,” and noted that the White House’s approach to past marijuana use is much more flexible than previous administrations....

Some of these dismissals, probations and remote work appointments could have potentially been a result of inconsistencies that came up during the background-check process, where a staffer could have, for example, misstated the last time they used marijuana.  The effect of the policy, however, would be the same: The Biden White House would be punishing various staffers for violating thresholds of past cannabis use that would-be staffers didn’t know about....

The Biden administration has attempted to modernize the White House’s personnel policy as it relates to past marijuana use, which has disproportionately affected younger appointees and those from states where marijuana has been decriminalized or legalized. (Marijuana, of course, remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.) The number of allowable instances of past marijuana use was increased from the Trump and Obama administrations — a reflection of the drug’s widespread use — and the White House approved limited exemptions for candidates whose positions don’t require security clearances.  Those employees, like all those at the White House, must commit to not using marijuana while serving in the federal government and must submit to random drug testing.

The president, however, remains the final authority on who can receive a clearance, and the chief executive can overrule agency judgments on eligibility, as President Donald Trump did when he granted his son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret clearance over the objections of the intelligence community and his own counsel.

March 19, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Employment and labor law issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 13, 2021

"Legal Strategy During Legal Uncertainty: The Case of Cannabis Regulation"

The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN authored by W. Michael Schuster and Robert C. Bird. Here is its abstract:

Overcoming its checkered past and stringent regulation, cannabis is quickly becoming a highly lucrative consumer product.  Accompanying this rapid decriminalization is crippling legal uncertainty, as vague statutory language, sporadic backsliding, presidential indecision, and inconsistent enforcement have introduced substantial and unnecessary legal and compliance risks.  This combination of a novel industry and its ambiguous legal environment is not only ripe for reform, but also illuminates how firms can respond strategically to high levels of legal uncertainty.

After a review of the controversial history of cannabis and the legal uncertainty that pervades the industry, the manuscript shows how uncertainty drives firms to pursue risky legal strategies.  This manuscript shows that firms under the stress of uncertainty respond by either aggressively leveraging their legal knowledge to capture value or attempting to circumvent the legal environment altogether.  Both pathways of legal strategy impose unnecessary volatility on cannabis firms.

The manuscript then highlights how legal uncertainty drives legal strategy in a discrete legal environment – the federal government’s refusal to register marks for goods that are illegal under federal law—including most cannabis goods.  We uncover five distinct legal strategies used by cannabis firms, with each strategy responding to a different combination of legal uncertainties.  Finally, eschewing an unrealistic proposal for immediate uniformity, we propose pragmatic and achievable reforms that would significantly reduce legal uncertainty for firms while not upsetting further the already chaotic legal environment of cannabis regulation.

March 13, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 4, 2021

"Interstate Commerce in Cannabis"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Robert Mikos now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

A growing number of states have authorized firms to produce and sell cannabis within their borders, but not across state lines. Moreover, many of these legalization states have barred nonresidents from owning local cannabis firms. Thus, while cannabis commerce is booming, it remains almost entirely intrastate.  This Essay provides the first analysis of the constitutionality of state restrictions on interstate commerce in cannabis.  It challenges the conventional wisdom that the federal ban on marijuana gives legalization states free rein to discriminate against outsiders in their local cannabis markets.  It also debunks the justifications states have proffered to defend such discrimination, including the notion that barring interstate commerce is necessary to forestall a federal crackdown on state-licensed cannabis industries.

The Essay concludes that the restrictions legalization states now impose on interstate commerce in cannabis likely violate the Dormant Commerce Clause (DCC).  The Essay also examines the ramifications of this legal conclusion for the future of the cannabis market in the United States. It suggests that without the barriers that states have erected to protect local firms, a new breed of large, national cannabis firms concentrated in a handful of cannabis-friendly states is likely to dominate the cannabis market.  This development could dampen the incentive for new states to legalize cannabis and further diminish minority participation in the cannabis industry.  To address these concerns, congressional legislation may be necessary, because individual states have only limited capacity to shape the national market and the firms that compete therein.

March 4, 2021 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

US Senate caucus releases notable new report, "Cannabis Policy: Public Health and Safety Issues and Recommendations"

1521137948824As reported in detail via this Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "Senate Marijuana Report Highlights Legalization’s Popularity And Risks, While Criticizing DEA Research Barriers," this notable new report on marijuana policies was released today by the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.  Here is part of the story:

A U.S. Senate drug caucus released a report on Wednesday that recognizes broad voter support for marijuana legalization and expresses criticism of existing policies that inhibit research into cannabis, taking direct aim at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) role in impeding studies.  But because of what they see as the risks of cannabis use, lawmakers also want the federal government to consider recommending THC caps on state-legal products.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) co-chair the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, which released the document, and neither are generally viewed as allies of the legalization movement.  The report, which was first reported by Politico, largely focuses on the need to boost research into the effects of cannabis, with members voicing concern about issues such as impaired driving, THC potency and marijuana use by vulnerable populations. At the same time, however, it acknowledges the “increasing popularity” of legalization and outlines some of the benefits of enacting the policy change.

“Despite its increasing popularity—91 percent of Americans believe cannabis should be legalized for either medical or recreational purposes—cannabis remains illegal at the federal level,” it says. “Nonetheless, the U.S. cannabis industry is thriving. Cultivation and sales have largely shifted from Mexican cartels to U.S.-based businesses operating in licit, state markets (though a sizeable [sic] black market remains).”

“Experts estimate the licit cannabis market employs more than 200,000 individuals and will produce as much as $24 billion in profits 2025, nearly $9 billion of which will be from medical cannabis sales,” the caucus wrote.

The report discusses at length the need for further research into marijuana and points to a number of barriers — including the Drug Enforcement Administration’s position on international treaties — that have stymied studies into the plant. Members wrote that because “cannabis may hold both promise and peril” it is “imperative to increase the research base associated with cannabis, and that this research should be used to guide future policy so that appropriate regulations can be put in place to mitigate any negative public health consequences.”...

Overall, the report identifies five issues around marijuana policy and offers corresponding recommendations. It is far from universally favorable to cannabis reform—with much discussion on risks associated with impaired driving and youth consumption, for example—but it reflects how the rhetoric around marijuana is continuing to evolve in Congress, even in traditionally conservative panels like the one that produced the new document.

“Despite growing acceptance and accessibility of this drug and its derivatives, there is still much we don’t know about the effects of marijuana usage,” Cornyn said in a press release. “It’s critical for policymakers to understand the public safety implications of increased marijuana use before diving in to the complex and difficult job of changing federal policy, and it is my hope that this report will help inform these important policy decisions in the future.”

Feinstein said that she hopes the report will “speed final passage” of a marijuana research bill she introduced alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in February. She said the legislation, an earlier version of which cleared the Senate toward the end of last year but which was not merged with a separate House-passed bill in time to be enacted, would mark “an important step to ensure that Congress is well-informed about this policy area.”

March 3, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Hampshire Supreme Court rules hurt worker can be reimbursed by state for medical marijuana

As reported in this AP article, a "man who was prescribed medical marijuana to help with back pain has won a second victory in his legal battle over whether workers’ compensation insurance can reimburse him for the cost, the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined Tuesday."  Here is more:

The court ruled in favor of Andrew Panaggio, saying “we are not persuaded” by the state’s arguments that an insurance carrier, under the federal Controlled Substances Act, could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a marijuana possession crime if it has to reimburse Panaggio.  In 2019, the court had ruled that a state labor appeals board was wrong to determine that workers’ compensation insurance couldn’t reimburse Panaggio.  But the federal law question was unresolved.

Panaggio had hurt his back at work and was approved by the state Department of Health and Human Services to participate in a therapeutic cannabis program in 2016.  He used the medical marijuana to treat ongoing pain and sought reimbursement through workers’ compensation....

The New Hampshire court noted Tuesday that other courts have considered whether the Controlled Substances Act preempts a state order requiring medical marijuana reimbursement, and that the results are mixed.  In a 2018 case in Maine, the state supreme court ruled against a paper mill worker who was disabled after being hurt on the job in 1989.  But last year, in New Jersey, an appeals court ruled that a contractor must reimburse a former employee for the cost of medical marijuana that he uses to treat pain from a work-related injury.

At least five states have found medical marijuana treatment is reimbursable under their workers’ compensation laws, and other states have proposed similar laws, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance. Several states have passed laws excluding medical marijuana treatment from workers’ compensation reimbursement.

The full unanmous ruling from the Supreme Court of New Hampshire is available at this link.

March 3, 2021 in Court Rulings, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 1, 2021

AG-nominee Merrick Garland elaborates his views on marijuana prohibition enforcement

Senate-Supreme-Court-4-1609954094The folks at Marijuana Moment have this new lengthy piece, headlined "Biden AG Pick Restates Pledge To Respect State Marijuana Laws, In Writing," reporting on AG Merrick Garland's written responses to questions from Senators about marijuana enforcement. Here are some highlights:

President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as U.S. attorney general has reiterated in written testimony to multiple senators that he does not feel the Department of Justice should be using its resources to prosecute people who are acting in compliance with state marijuana laws....

“I do not think it the best use of the Department’s limited resources to pursue prosecutions of those who are complying with the laws in states that have legalized and are effectively regulating marijuana,” he said in response to a question from Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) about how he would navigate the federal-state marijuana policy conflict. “I do think we need to be sure, for example, that there are no end runs around the state laws by criminal enterprises, and that access is prohibited to minors.”

That view is consistent with policies put into place under Obama — known as the Cole memorandum — and then rescinded by President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

Pressed on whether he generally supports efforts to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, the attorney general nominee didn’t give a specific answer but gave an answer focused solely on the harms of current punitive policies.

“Criminalizing the use of marijuana has contributed to mass incarceration and racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” he wrote, “and has made it difficult for millions of Americans to find employment due to criminal records for nonviolent offenses.”...

But while Garland’s responses reflect a friendly attitude toward cannabis policy as far as advocates are concerned, he did say in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) about prosecutorial discretion that “the Executive Branch cannot simply decide, based on a policy disagreement, that it will not enforce a law at all.”

Another Grassley question noted Biden’s ongoing opposition to federal legalization and support for decriminalizing cannabis possession and expunging prior marijuana records. He asked whether Garland sees “any contradictions” in that policy stance.

“As I testified at my hearing, it is important to focus our attention on violent crimes and other crimes that greatly endanger our society, and prosecutions for simple marijuana possession are not an effective use of limited resources,” the judge replied. “As I testified, we have seen disparate treatment in these prosecutions that has had a harmful impact on people and communities of color, including stymied employment opportunities and social and economic instability.”

March 1, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

"Blowing Smoke at the Second Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Helen K. Sudhoff, a 3L at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  (This paper is yet another in the on-going series of student papers supported by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.)   Here is this paper's abstract:

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution codified the preexisting right to keep and bear arms, meaning the right was enshrined within the scope it was understood to have at its inception.  When enacted, the Second Amendment broadly protected the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, only restricting gun ownership for certain classes of people, such as the mentally ill or felons.  However, these historical restrictions never encompassed marijuana users or possessors.  Quite the opposite, many of the founding fathers grew or manufactured cannabis themselves.  Despite this discrepancy, the Federal Government enacted § 922(g) in the Gun Control Act prohibiting gun owners and applicants who are medical marijuana patients from owning or possessing a firearm.  Further, such individuals must voluntarily disclose their medical marijuana use to the government, restricting their right to keep and bear arms and implicating the Fifth Amendment’s Privilege Against Self-Incrimination.  This paper will explore the consequences of the enactment and continued enforcement of § 922 against an individual’s right to keep and bear arms while possessing or using medical marijuana in accordance with their state’s medical programs.

February 25, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 22, 2021

New Jersey becomes officially the (lucky?) 13th state to fully legalize marijuana for adult use

New-jerseyAs reported in this local article, "New Jersey on Monday officially became the 13th state to legalize marijuana, as Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law three bills putting into effect a ballot question overwhelmingly supported by voters last year." Here is more about a big deal long in development that finally became a reality:

New Jersey the first state in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic to eschew decades of arrests in favor of a program that would stop tens of thousands of arrests per year and kickstart a brand new cannabis industry that could be an economic boom for the state and region.  Currently, the only other states on the East Coast to legalize weed are Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts.

"New Jersey's broken, indefensible marijuana laws — which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures, disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise — are no more," Murphy said in a press conference.  "In their place are laws that will usher in a new industry, based on equity, which will reinvest dollars into communities — laws which promote both public health by promoting safe cannabis products and public safety by allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes.  And yes, we are fulfilling the will of the voters by allowing adult use cannabis, while having in place common sense measures to deter its use among kids," Murphy added.

The laws signed Monday allow the possession and use of marijuana by anyone over 21 years old within the state of New Jersey, who can have up to 6 ounces of weed on them without facing any penalty.  The laws also allow the purchase and sale of legal weed at state-licensed dispensaries, though it could be well over a year before recreational sales even began.

Some marijuana offenses will remain criminal, including drug distribution and growing cannabis plants without a license.  New Jersey is the only state with legal weed that doesn't allow at least its medical marijuana patients to grow, and joins Washington as the only states without some recreational home grow.  "We're going to go with the bills I just signed.  We'll leave it at that," Murphy said, deflecting a question about home grow.  "I appreciate the folks who have reached out on that front, but we're going to go with what we've got."...

The bill signings on Monday morning capped off three months of legislative debate over the rules and regulations for legal weed, most recently a weeks-long stalemate over penalties for marijuana users under the age of 21.  More than two-thirds of New Jersey voters backed a marijuana ballot question in November, but the constitutional amendment put forth by the referendum could not take effect until such rules and regulations were in place.

In New Jersey, the campaign to legalize marijuana was largely pursued as a social justice-driven mission.  The “vote yes” campaign, NJ CAN 2020, was led by officials from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, who ran digital advertisements — live events were dismissed due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic — educating voters on the negative effects of a simple low-level marijuana possession arrest and the millions in tax dollars spent on prosecuting such cases....

According to crime data from the FBI, New Jersey police departments made over 33,000 arrests for marijuana in 2017, the 9th highest marijuana arrest rate per capita in the country, according to the ACLU.  And in New Jersey, Black people were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite similar usage rates among races, the ACLU said.

“The failed War on Drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities and hurting families in New Jersey and across our nation," U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said in a statement. "Today is a historic day."

Even Murphy, in his 2017 gubernatorial campaign, ran on a platform that included legalizing marijuana under a banner of social justice.  But advocates feared that such a mission had been lost in the shuffle since Election Day, as Murphy and legislative leaders negotiated the enabling legislation required to put the ballot question into action.

The ballot question’s constitutional amendment, for example, simply stated that the drug would be taxed at the state sales tax rate, currently 6.625%, to provide revenue for the state budget and defray the costs of police departments training officers to detect drugged drivers.

But advocates said that such a plan completely left out the largely Black communities where marijuana laws had been disproportionately enforced for decades.  The result was a unique two-tax structure that would send about 60% of tax revenue and 100% of revenue from a new “social justice user fee” to one of 20 “impact zones,” as decided by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the authority which will oversee not just legal weed for recreational use but the state’s growing medical marijuana program....

On Monday, lawmakers finally ended a six-week stalemate over how the state will penalize underage marijuana users, sending Murphy a “clean-up” bill designed to complement the pair already passed by the Legislature in December.  Those bills left open a major contradiction, with one stating that possessing marijuana under 21 years old was illegal while the other stated that no person — without age restriction — could face penalty for possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana.

The resulting compromise, which passed the Legislature on Monday morning, put into place a three-tiered warning system for both underage marijuana and alcohol use. Both will be treated as virtually the same crime, with the most serious penalty capped at a simple referral to community service groups to teach the offender about substance abuse.  All civil penalties and fines, even from underage drinking citations, were removed.

February 22, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, February 15, 2021

On Presidents Day, coalition calls for Prez Biden to issue "a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S."

DownloadVia email, I learned of this notable new letter sent from coalition of public policy organizations, business groups and criminal justice reform advocates calling upon Prez Biden to use his clemency power on behalf of certain marijuana offenders.  Here is an extended excerpt from the letter:

Thank you for taking a strong leadership position in support of criminal justice reform in the United States.  The protests and civil unrest that dominated the news following the murder of George Floyd revealed historic levels of mistrust and eagerness for bold new leadership.  Our system is in urgent need of reform, and we appreciate the goals outlined by your administration.

President Biden, we urge you to clearly demonstrate your commitment to criminal justice reform by immediately issuing a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S.  In addition, all those who are federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws should be pardoned and their related sentences commuted.  Cannabis prohibition ruins lives, wastes resources, and is opposed by a large majority of Americans.  Two out of every three states in the U.S. have abandoned the federal government’s blanket prohibition and now provide safe and regulated access to cannabis for adults and/or those with qualifying medical conditions.  And Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has showcased the important role of clemency in achieving justice and equity with cannabis reforms through his recent work pardoning or expunging nearly half a million prior cannabis convictions.

Criminal histories related to cannabis can be particularly harmful for individuals, despite the change in laws in many states.  Convictions can seriously limit job opportunities, housing, and educational options.  Long after a person has gone through the legal system, the baggage of the war on marijuana continues to undermine that person’s life and diminish their prospects.  It is past time for the harm to stop.

In November 2019, during a Democratic Primary Debate, you stated: “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period.  And I think everyone – anyone who has a record – should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.”  You now are in a position to do just that through a categorical pardon grant.  Such grants are hardly unprecedented.  Presidents from both political parties have taken such action when circumstances warranted it.  In 1974, President Ford signed a proclamation granting conditional pardons to the Selective Service Act violators who did not leave the United States.  In 1977, President Carter issued categorical pardons to all Selective Service Act violators as a way to put the war and divisions it caused in the past.

While the war on cannabis impacts individuals of all races, a disproportionate number who enter the criminal justice system are people of color.  On your first day in office, you signed an executive order rightly stating that, “Our Nation deserves an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face.”  Today, the long-term harm of cannabis prohibition in communities of color throughout the country is profound. As we look to solutions to provide healing, the dangerous policing tactics that were developed to execute the war on marijuana, including no-knock warrants and other aggressive tactics, shock the nation and have led us to historic levels of mistrust. When a large majority of Americans no longer believe cannabis should be illegal, aggressive enforcement tactics quickly lose support.  A general pardon of all former and current federal non-violent cannabis offenders would be the kind of grand, ambitious, and impactful action that would effectively signal to marginalized communities that their suffering is seen and that the government seeks to remedy their harms.

February 15, 2021 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

"Cannabis Croynism"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report just released by the Government Accountability Institute.  Here is part of the report's executive summary:

Cannabis legalization in the United States has come a long way . In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use only.  This past November, five more states legalized marijuana, and 47 of the 50 states now allow its recreational or medical use.  While governments this Spring were imposing lockdowns and closures of most businesses, churches and schools to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, marijuana dispensaries joined pharmacies and liquor stores as “essential businesses” that must remain open in California.

While he was the first governor to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, Governor Gavin Newsom of California kept marijuana available.  Other states would soon follow: Thirty states in total that issued statewide stay-at-home orders would allow dispensaries of some kind, including recreational, to remain open.

While some claim that cannabis dispensaries were truly as important as pharmacies, which also remained open during statewide lockdowns, other factors may have contributed to this decision.  Whatever its medicinal and recreational benefits, cannabis has evolved into a nearly $21 billion industry that lobbies, pressures, and rewards politicians who look out for it.

In August 2019, the FBI announced it was investigating public corruption in the cannabis industry through pay-to-play bribery schemes. This announcement came at a time when the debate in the United States over the pros and cons of legalizing pot had mostly concluded. Officials in many states have routinely ignored federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana, effectively giving regulatory authority over marijuana to individual states.

There are now far more states where marijuana is fully legal than where it is illegal.  Twelve states have decided through referendum, and two states through legislative action, to legalize recreational use of marijuana.  Just three states – Nebraska, Kansas, and Idaho – still prohibit any use of marijuana, while the remaining forty-seven states have opted for legalization in some form.

With this new authority, state officials must now create specific regulations.  Where states have approved legal marijuana, politicians must make licensing rules for detailing which businesses may distribute such products, and who may purchase them. As with any new market, laws and regulations inevitably will pick the winners and losers in this emerging industry, whose value may be as high as $35 billion by 2025.

As with any economic activity regulated by the government, affected businesses seek an advantage by hiring insiders who have access to those close to the regulatory process.  They also make campaign contributions to well-positioned politicians.

And while most cannabis-related regulatory and legislative action is happening at the state level, some national level political figures have leveraged their positions to make money from cannabis legalization.  For example, in 2017, Paul Pelosi Jr., the son of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was named Chairman of the Board of Directors of Freedom Leaf, Inc., a consulting firm advising the budding marijuana industry.  The following year, the company entered the CBD distribution business, while Pelosi purchased more than $100,000 in company stock.

Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who staunchly opposed legalizing marijuana in Congress, is now bullish on the industry.  “This is one of the most exciting opportunities you’ll ever be part of,” he says in a video announcing his new National Institute for Cannabis Investors.  “Frankly, we can help you make a potential fortune.”  Boehner stands to earn an estimated $20 million if his group succeeds in persuading the federal government to legitimize marijuana.

Still, for now, the states are where most of the action on marijuana distribution is found, and where the greatest threat of political corruption exists.  The Government Accountability Institute (GAI), whose mission is to expose cronyism, reviewed the process related to legalizing marijuana in seven states.  For each state we reviewed, GAI focused on identifying the relationships between policy decisions that benefited advocates of marijuana legalization and the transfer of money and other benefits from marijuana-related businesses and lobbyists to elected officials.

While each state possessed a unique set of circumstances related to legalizing marijuana, our research found striking similarities in how cronyism in these states occurred.  For example, in several states, elected officials and government employees made decisions that ultimately benefited them financially.

February 9, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 8, 2021

State judge declares South Dakota ballot iniative legalizing marijuana invalid for covering "multiple subjects"

This AP article, headlined "South Dakota judge strikes down voter-approved measure legalizing marijuana," reports on a notable state ruling from the Mount Rushmore State.  Here are the basics:

A South Dakota judge on Monday struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana.  Circuit Judge Christina Klinger ruled the measure approved by voters in November violated the state’s requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject.

Lawyers on both sides have said they expect the issue to be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

Two law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, sued to block legalization by challenging its constitutionality.  Miller was effectively acting on behalf of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who had opposed the effort to legalize pot.

Lawyers for the law enforcement officers argued that the ballot initiative violated a rule that constitutional amendments must only address one subject.  They also said that by giving the Department of Revenue the power to tax and regulate marijuana, it improperly elevated the department to a fourth branch of state government.

Lawyers defending legalization dismissed those arguments and said the lawsuit was an effort to overturn the results of a fair election.  About 54 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana.  Possessing small amounts of marijuana would have become legal on July 1, but that will not happen unless a higher court overturns the ruling.

The full ruling is available at ths link.

February 8, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Virginia poised to become 16th state to fully legalize marijuana for adult use

Images (7)As reported in this local article, headlined "Marijuana will be legal in Virginia after historic vote, with dispensaries opening in 2024," the Old Dominion state is on track be become the newest marijuana reform state.  Here are the details:

Virginia, which for decades has sent thousands of people to jail for selling or using marijuana, is about to make it legal. In a historic shift for this traditionally conservative Southern state, the General Assembly voted Friday to allow its possession, manufacture and sale.

But while lawmakers in the House of Delegates and Senate agree on legalizing the substance, the chambers will have to work out differences in their proposed bills before a final version reaches Gov. Ralph Northam, who has signaled he will sign their legislation into law. Beginning in 2024, cannabis can be sold in regulated stores, with tax revenue going to pre-K and public health programs, addiction treatment and a fund to remedy the effects of the drug’s criminalization.

“There are more deaths from legal pharmaceuticals … sold at your local CVS and Walgreens that cause way more deaths than anything that marijuana — cannabis — will do,” said Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, stressing that the prosecution of marijuana use disproportionately harms Black and brown Virginians. “If you want to help marginalized communities, here is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to invest in those communities that have been decimated by the so-called war on drugs and to give us an economic leg up.”

A 2018 Daily Press investigation found Black Virginians were far more likely to be charged with marijuana possession and go to jail if convicted, even on a first offense. Half of those charged with first-offense possession were African American despite the state’s population being only about 20% Black, and despite surveys consistently showing white and Black people use marijuana at similar rates.

Under the Senate bill, passed Friday afternoon, simple possession would be legal starting in July, but retail sales would not start until 2024. The House of Delegates passed a similar bill earlier in the day.... Friday’s votes fell largely down party lines....

The state had already decriminalized marijuana last year. Being caught with up to an ounce of marijuana will land you a $25 civil fine, akin to a parking ticket. Before that, it could have resulted in a criminal conviction, a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for a first offense — and up to a year in jail for a second or subsequent offense. “It was a good first step, but more is needed,” Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said about last year’s change before Friday’s votes to legalize. “The (Senate) bill is the next step.”

From 2010 to 2018, there were almost 200,000 marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, and nearly 39,000 of those were in Hampton Roads, according to Old Dominion University’s 2019 State of the Region report.

About 68% of Virginia’s registered voters support legalizing marijuana, according to poll results released Tuesday by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University.

February 7, 2021 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 1, 2021

Key Democratic Senators pledging to soon "release a unified discussion draft" to advance "comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the 117th Congress"

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiThere is notable marijuana reform news from Capitol Hill today, well covered by this Marijuana Moment piece headlined "Democratic Senate Leaders Announce Steps To Federally Legalize Marijuana In 2021."  Here are the basics:

Three leading champions of marijuana reform in Congress said on Monday that the issue will be prioritized in the new Democratic Senate this year and that they plan to release draft legislation in the coming weeks to begin a conversation about what the federal policy change will look like.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a joint statement that ending cannabis prohibition “is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country,” but that alone “is not enough.”...

This is a narrative that’s been building in recent months, with Schumer saying on several occasions both before and after the election that he would work to move reform legislation with his new power to control the Senate floor agenda. Since Democrats secured a majority in the chamber, the stage is set for action....

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has spent decades working to end marijuana prohibition and is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a press release that he’s encouraged that Senate’s new majority is “prepared to move forward together on comprehensive cannabis legislation.” He added that the House-passed Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to legalize marijuana “is a great foundation” for reform in the 117th Congress. The new legislation would likely be referred to Wyden’s panel, the Senate Finance Committee, for consideration once introduced....

Recent comments from the Schumer, the majority leader, indicate that whatever bill is filed will likely include components of multiple pieces of legislation from the last Congress, which he said are actively being merged....

Already in 2021, two congressional marijuana bills have been filed: one to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act and another to prevent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from denying veterans benefits solely because they use medical marijuana in compliance with state law.

Read the full joint statement on Senate marijuana reform priorities below:

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued the following joint statement regarding comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the 117th Congress:

“The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color.  Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.

“We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies.  The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority.

“In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations. Getting input from stakeholder group will be an important part of developing this critical legislation.”

I am pleased to see this reform effort moving forward, and it will be especially interest to see when this unified discussion draft will be released and what provisions it will include. I am inclined to guess that the draft will be public sometime in late March or early April (I hope not on 4/20), and that the draft will look somewhat like, but not exactly like, the MORE bill that made it through the House last year. Interesting times

February 1, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)