Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 6, 2020

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

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

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

Joe Biden won’t inhale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 6, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona  Deadline: July 2

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

Idaho  Deadline: TBD

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

Nebraska  Deadline: July 3

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

Oregon  Deadline: July 2

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

Washington, D.C.  Deadline: July 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Noticing how marijuana reform now intersects with religious leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 8, 2020

"Why Marijuana Legalization Funds The Police"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The full text of the letter can be read here.

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

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"Reconsidering Federal Marijuana Regulation"

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 1, 2020

Is anyone closely tracking state or national marijuana arrest data during this coronavirus era?

20170927_weedThough I have been thinking about the question in the title of this post for a few weeks now, this new Marijuana Moment article finally got me to work on this post.   The piece is titled "Thousands Of Constituents Urge Governors To Deprioritize Marijuana Enforcement Amid Coronavirus," and here are excerpts:

The marijuana reform group NORML is leading an effort to encourage states to deprioritize the enforcement of cannabis criminalization amid the coronavirus pandemic.  So far, more than 4,000 constituents across the country have participated in the organization’s action campaign launched on Wednesday by sending messages to their governors, urging them to take steps to minimize the spread of the virus by avoiding unnecessary marijuana arrests.

NORML created customized email blasts to supporters in all 39 states that have yet to legalize marijuana for adult use.  Each one contains a link to a suggested prewritten letter asking the governor to abide by the group’s public health recommendations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Beyond deprioritizing marijuana enforcement, the organization said states should also drop existing charges for nonviolent cannabis violations “in order to reduce non-essential interactions,” review and release those currently incarcerated for marijuana convictions and waive pending probation requirements for cannabis-related cases.

Though I am unaware of any proclamations that formally call for police and prosecutors to deprioritize marijuana enforcement, it is my sense that functionally a lot of police and other law enforcement are deprioritizing all sorts of low-level criminal enforcement. For example, this local article on plummeting arrest rates notes:

In some places, police leaders have been frank about ordering officers to cease arresting for low-level crimes. In some places, prosecutors are refusing to pursue such cases. For example, Philadelphia police have been ordered to avoid arrests for crimes like drug offenses and burglaries. Instead, they are issuing warrants to be processed once the health crisis abates, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

Similarly, consider this local piece from Indiana: "The sheriff’s office is making fewer arrests to combat the spread of disease, [Jay County Sheriff] Ford said. For those charged with most non-violent misdemeanors and drug-related Level 6 felonies, court summons are being issued instead of them being arrested."  And this piece from Austin, Texas with some more specifics: "Austin posted the fewest number of arrests in the month of March for at least four years....  Some of the largest declines include a 75% drop in traffic warrant arrests, to 33 arrests this March from 132 arrests in March 2019.  A similar drop was also seen in the number of those arrested and charged with possession of marijuana."

I am not knocking NORML for seeking a  formal call for police and prosecutors to deprioritize marijuana enforcement, but I am really interest in seeing whatever data might be available concerning just how much enforcement is currently afoot.  My guess is relatively little, though still arguably a lot more than is healthy or just during these weird and uncertain times.

Eventually, but likely at least a few years from now, we will get official FBI arrest data for 2020 and we will all surely see a wide array of notable "COVID" craters.  I sure hope someone might be collecting and assessing the marijuana arrest data a lot sooner.

May 1, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

"How weed became 'whatever': Leagues are ditching old policies"

MlbAs a time with no actual sports, it is nice to have a good excuse to check out ESPN's website where one now finds this very lengthy article sharing the title of this post. The lengthy piece is worth reading in full, and here are excerpts (with my emphasis added):

The marijuana stigma that plagued [Ricky] Williams' NFL career is eroding, if not gone entirely from an enforcement standpoint.  In January, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.  Now, of the 123 teams across MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL, 50 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal (40.6%). Another 51 teams play in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal (41.5%).  That's 82% of teams (101 of 123) that are playing in cities where a player can walk down the street, go into a dispensary, and legally purchase either recreational or medicinal marijuana -- just like they were buying a six pack of beer.

The only states in which any of the four major pro league teams play where there are no broad laws legalizing marijuana are Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Sports leagues have adapted.  Last year, we wrote about the NHL's marijuana approach -- predicated on treatment, not punishment -- which at the time was the most progressive in professional sports.  Today?  It's actually the norm.

The NFL ratified a new CBA in March with a drug policy quite similar to the NHL model.  The NFL significantly raised the threshold for positive tests (from 35 nanograms to 150) and eliminated its previous window of testing, which spanned from April to August to the first two weeks of training camp. In other words, if players want to smoke weed in the offseason, they are free to do so.  But most importantly: Players are no longer suspended solely for marijuana.  If a player were to test positive, his case is reviewed by a panel of medical experts who determine if the player needs medical treatment.  "Certainly, we see that society is changing its views, but views only change because key facts become more and more obvious to the people who make policy," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said.

MLB and its union negotiated a new drug policy in December 2019 following Tyler Skaggs' death.  While the new policy added testing for opioids, fentanyl and cocaine, plus synthetic weed -- with positive tests being referred to a treatment board -- cannabinoids were taken off the league's drugs of abuse list.  That wasn't a huge deal for MLB players, who were only previously tested for marijuana if there was "reasonable cause."  It was, however, monumental for minor leaguers, who were regularly tested and faced steep fines and suspensions -- including a 50-game ban for a first-time offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for the third strike.  "The way the league had the rules set up, it was ridiculous," said longtime MLBPA agent Joshua Kusnick.  "I can't even imagine how many guys' careers were ruined over marijuana. I personally had clients whose careers were derailed because of it.  If you were a fringy prospect and you were popped for marijuana, you were released because teams didn't want to deal with it.  And if you were released, you couldn't serve your suspension.  So who is going to sign you if you had 50 games to wait?"

The NBA's policy has remained the same -- and is now actually the harshest in North American professional sports.  A first positive test means a player must enter the marijuana program.  The second positive test calls for a $25,000 fine.  The third infraction is a five-game suspension, and five more games are added to each ensuing violation (10 games for a fourth positive test, 15 games for a fifth, etc.).  However, the NBA does not test players during the offseason, and the union and league agreed to not test players during the league's coronavirus hiatus.

April 30, 2020 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Congressional Cannabis Caucus makes bipartisan call for state-legal cannabis businesses to be included in next COVID relief package

As detailed in this letter, a bipartisan group of US representatives are urging House Leadership to include state-legal cannabis businesses in COVID-19 relief efforts.  Here are excerpts from the two-page missive addressed to Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy:

As you draft the next COVID-19 relief bill, we write to ask that you address one of the shortcomings of the CARES Act — the exclusion of state-legal cannabis businesses and their employees. The COVID-19 crisis response demands the full participation of the American people, businesses, and workforce.  However, without relief, a very large population is left without the means to execute the required public health measures and continue to provide financially for their families.

The state-legal cannabis industry is a major contributor to the U.S. economy and workforce, employing over 240,000 workers across 33 states and four territories, and generating $1.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2019.1,2 As states respond to the COVID-19 crisis by shuttering businesses to mitigate the virus’ spread, jurisdictions across the country have recognized cannabis businesses as “essential.”  Essential businesses, in many places, can operate during the pandemic provided they abide by required public health safety measures.  Like other businesses with continued operations, cannabis businesses have met the moment by preserving access to treatment for patients with chronic conditions, donating protective clothing, and manufacturing equipment for medical use.  However, unlike other small businesses, cannabis businesses are not eligible for the CARES Act programs.

State-legal cannabis businesses need access to CARES Act programs to ensure they have the financial capacity to undertake the public health and worker-focused measures experts are urging businesses to take.  This includes access to and participation in SBA’s loan programs — financial support that is designed to pay workers, group health care benefits, and family or sick leave. Current SBA policies prevent cannabis businesses from accessing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), EIDL grants, or SBA loan forgiveness – programs intended to help businesses fight COVID-19 in safe and equitable ways....

Given the nature of the epidemic, we must ensure that everyone has the capacity to carry out the recommended public health and worker-focused measures.  Without doing that, we risk undercutting the public health efforts nationwide.  We ask that House leadership include provisions to allow state-legal cannabis businesses and the businesses who work with this industry to access the critical support they need during this unprecedented time.

April 17, 2020 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Student presentation exploring "Intersectionality of Sports and Marijuana"

As I mentioned in this recent post, students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are now "taking over" my class by making presentations on research topics of their choice. The COVID-19 crisis means my resilient students are doing their presenting online,  and students are still providing in this space background on their topic and links to some relevant materials before they present.  Another coming presentation will focus on sports (remember those?), and here is how my student has described his topic along with background readings he has provided:

For my paper, I will be discussing the intersectionality of Sports and Marijuana.  I will primarily focus on athletes, both past and present, being used as a vehicle in leading the charge for reforming marijuana in their respective sports, but also in America.  Athletes of past have had influences on a variety of societal issues and inequalities, and I will compare some of the past actions to how athletes of today can affect marijuana.  I will also focus on the new agreements in both the MLB and NFL regarding their stance on marijuana, and what impact that will have on the reformation of sports.  I will conclude my paper by predicting what the future of sports’ stance will have on the reformation of America.  Below are a few links I’ve read over which I will be using in my paper:

"Politics and Sports: A Long and Complicated Relationship"

"If you thought sports were ever separate from politics, think again"

"'All my best games I was medicated': Matt Barnes on his game-day use of marijuana"

"Miami Heat: Sports, Race and the Murder of Trayvon Martin"

April 8, 2020 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Pandemic upends pot legalization: Ballot campaigns and cannabis bills get pushed aside during public health crisis"

Download (8)The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Politico article, and here are excerpts:

What was supposed to be a banner year for marijuana legalization is becoming a bust.

Advocates are pushing ballot referendums in nearly a dozen states, from Idaho to New Jersey. Governors and state lawmakers who failed to pass legalization last year — most notably in New York — vowed that 2020 would be different. But social distancing has put ballot drives on pause and state lawmakers are overwhelmed with addressing the crisis at hand.

“People are scared. They don’t want to touch a pen or paper,” said Melissa Fults, executive director of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform. “All we can do is sit and wait.”

So even with marijuana sales spiking, the coronavirus pandemic is crippling marijuana legalization efforts on the state level — and campaigns on all kinds of other issues, too. “The coronavirus has impacted every signature drive on every issue across the country,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.

Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared that marijuana legalization would be a “top priority” earlier this year, abandoned the initiative when his state emerged as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. “Too much [to deal with], too little time,” Cuomo said when asked about marijuana legalization during a recent press briefing.

A few states are poised to vote on marijuana referendums: New Jersey voters will decide whether to allow recreational marijuana sales in November, and Mississippians are expected to face two competing medical marijuana referendums.

But some ballot campaigns have abandoned this year’s plans and are eyeing 2022, and advocates are unsure what will happen to legalization bills with dozens of legislative sessions suspended or postponed. Even anti-legalization advocates are not cheering these developments. “Obviously this isn’t the reason we would want legalization measures to be set back,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Lives are on the line.”

Nearly a dozen marijuana legalization ballot campaigns were angling for a spot on the 2020 ballot until coronavirus-related orders made it nearly impossible for canvassers to collect signatures. "[Circulating petitions] contributes to the public health problem," said Schweich. "There’s no playbook on how to do a signature drive during a pandemic."

Of all the legalization ballot campaigns still collecting signatures, Smart and Safe Arizona is perhaps the best positioned to succeed. It filed early and collected more than 300,000 signatures to date, well beyond the 238,000 verified signatures it needs by July 2 to qualify. Ballot campaigns typically submit more than the required number of signatures since a good portion generally can’t be verified by government officials. “Marijuana is in very good shape even with the lockdown order. We’d like to collect more,” said Stacy Pearson, a spokesperson for the campaign.

For other campaigns facing July deadlines, including Arkansas and Nebraska, advocates hope to get back out in the field in May. “[We] had already started hiring canvassers when this whole coronavirus thing happened,” said Tommy Garrett, a former Republican state senator in Nebraska who now serves as chairman of ADOPT, a statewide coalition that aims to reduce state property taxes and legalize medical marijuana....

The Arizona campaign recently joined three other ballot initiatives in filing a petition to the Arizona Supreme Court to allow them to use e-signatures. Advocates are looking into whether they can email people to find out if they are willing to sign a petition if it were dropped off outside their front door so they could use their own pens to sign it. The person could then leave the signed petition outside their door to be collected.

Arkansans for Cannabis Reform plans to work with two other campaigns on separate issues to help each other. The idea is to have canvassers for each campaign carry the petitions for all three signature drives. They’re discussing ways to safely collect signatures, such as having people drive up to canvassers to sign a petition while remaining in their cars. “We’re just going to have to get really creative,” Fults said.

Meanwhile, other recreational legalization campaigns are all but dead, including those in Missouri and Oklahoma. Medical marijuana legalization campaigns in Idaho and North Dakota have both expressed plans to focus their efforts on making the 2022 ballot instead.

"Coronavirus is taking up all the oxygen in the room," said Andrew Freedman, senior vice president at the public affairs firm Forbes Tate Partners. "People are just going to go home when all the essential business is passed." States with marijuana bills including Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut all shifted their priorities as coronavirus cases surged....

Some advocates are hoping the crisis bodes well for legalization efforts in the long run, as states face revenue decimated by the crisis. "[Cannabis businesses] are taxed heavily,” said Richard Acosta, CEO of Subversive Real Estate Acquisition REIT, a cannabis-focused real estate investment operation. “The economic slowdown makes cannabis legalization at the state and federal level more attractive.”

Oklahoma Republican state Rep. Scott Fetgatter recently said he plans to introduce legislation to establish a taxed, regulated recreational marijuana market, arguing it could bring in $100 million per year in revenue and help with a budget crunch expected because of the health crisis.

But until the worst is over, lawmakers likely will be consumed with more urgent matters. Legislative leaders in Connecticut, who had been discussing marijuana legalization matters with Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont, are now working with the governor on a coronavirus stimulus package. The session has been postponed until at least April 13.

A medical marijuana legalization bill was chugging along in Kentucky’s legislature with a 65-30 vote in the Republican-dominated House. Now, the bill is languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee as the legislature swerved to deal with the state budget amid the coronavirus crisis.

Some prior COVID-cannabis related posts:

April 8, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"Coronavirus Upends Marijuana, Psychedelics And Drug Reform Ballot Measures"

Download (26)The title of this post is the headline of this new Forbes piece by Tom Angell highlighting one way that the COVID-19 crisis seems certain to slow the drug law reform momentum heading into November.  Here are the details:

Marijuana and drug policy reform advocates came into 2020 believing it would be a big — and perhaps unprecedented — year for legalization and decriminalization measures on state ballots. From California to Missouri to Oregon, they had high hopes for placing far-reaching initiatives before voters in November.

But many of those efforts have been severely impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has made mass signature gathering to qualify ballot measures all but impossible as public health and government officials have urged social distancing measures.

Here’s a look at the growing list of ballot initiatives on cannabis and broader drug reforms that have been effectively halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

California

Separate campaigns to amend California’s legal marijuana program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are calling on officials to allow them to collect ballot signatures digitally instead of in-person due to the health risks of the the latter traditional route amid the pandemic. So far those requests seem to have been ignored.

Missouri

Activists in Missouri announced that they have “no practical way” of collecting enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization measure before voters amid the pandemic and are now considering shifting their focus to the 2022 election.

Nebraska

A campaign working to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the November ballot is temporarily suspending signature gathering efforts during the coronavirus outbreak “out of an abundance of caution.”

Oregon

Activists behind a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs and expand treatment services using current marijuana tax revenue has halted in-person signature collection efforts. That said, the campaign says it has almost enough to qualify and so is urging supporters to download, print, sign and mail petitions to help. Also in Oregon, a separate team of advocates working to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms has also suspended mass signature collection efforts despite similarly having almost enough to ensure ballot access. They are asking people who want to sign to fill out an online form so that petitions can be mailed to them.

Washington, D.C.

Activists in the nation’s capital were hoping to give voters a chance to decide on a measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics—including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine — in November.  But they, like their colleagues in states across the country, have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person signature collection virtually impossible. They’ve asked for a change in the law to allow for electronic petition signing, but officials have demurred, and so the campaign is now exploring a plan to mail petitions to supporters who would then collect signatures from their immediate family members and close friends.

Beyond the ballot, the coronavirus outbreak has also impeded efforts to advance marijuana reform bills through state legislatures in place like Connecticut, New York and Vermont as sessions have been largely halted due to health concerns.

But ... in South Dakota, separate measures to legalize marijuana and allow medical cannabis have already qualified for the state’s November ballot.... In Mississippi, the state certified that advocates collected a sufficient number of signatures to place a medical marijuana legalization question before voters.... In New Jersey, the legislature voted late last year to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot.  And in Arizona, activists announced last week that they have already collected more signatures than needed to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the ballot — though they have not yet been submitted to and verified by the state.

This accounting leave out Ohio, where a campaign for full legalization of marijuana was just getting launched when COVID-19 started shutting down the state. I suspect still other states and localities may have had similar nascent efforts shut down as well.

March 31, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Advocacy groups urge ceasing of cannabis arrests and release of cannabis offenders during COVID-19 outbreak

As detailed in this press release, the "Last Prisoner Project and other organizations are urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for non-violent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, the organizations are calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced." Here is more:

The Marijuana Policy Project, Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have sent a letter calling for these actions to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.

The letter is available at this link, and here are excerpts:

[W]e are imploring you to curtail arrests for non-violent offenses, such as marijuana possession, cultivation, and sale until the country is better able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Similar actions have already been taken in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and nationally by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Many jurisdictions give police broad discretion to choose infractions and summonsed misdemeanors as alternatives to serious charges and arrests.  In addition, officers have wide discretion to merely provide warnings for minor offenses.  We encourage broad use of this flexibility in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to curtailing arrests, we are urging you to release cannabis offenders, along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced.  By significantly reducing the number of inmates in local jails and prisons, you can ultimately reduce the risk of the coronavirus being spread amongst inmates, staff, and the community.  Guards return to their families and communities after their shifts, as do prisoners upon their release.  The larger the number of individuals incarcerated, the greater the likelihood and possible scope of a related outbreak.  This puts prisoners, guards, and the larger community at risk as the communities grapple with this public health crisis. Significantly reducing the number of inmates is a necessary step to ensuring public health in the face of this crisis.

Many localities — including Baltimore; Suffolk County, Massachusetts; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; New Jersey; Los Angeles; and New York City — and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have already begun to release inmates incarcerated for non-violent, drug-related offenses with the understanding that infections in prisons and jails are rampant, and releasing inmates could save the lives of not only inmates but also the custodial, medical, and safety staff that serve them.

March 27, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

In a post-COVID economy, will job creation and tax revenue from marijuana reform become irresistible?

6b8d8e30-6f74-11ea-a7be-e45c6843ab56Even before we have a real handle on the public health tragedy created by the coronavirus in the US, the economic fallout is already profound as represented by just one headline this morning: "A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as the coronavirus slams economy."  The Chair of the Federal Reserve is now saying "We may well be in a recession,” and the Treasury Secretary has been talking about a possible 20% unemployment rate.  Though I do not know how extreme will be our economic struggle in the weeks and month ahead, I do know that advocates for marijuana reform are likely to waste no time stressing the potential job creation and tax revenue benefits from marijuana reform.  As this title of this post suggests, I cannot help but wonder if in many states, and maybe even at the federal level, an economic development argument for marijuana reform may start to become nearly irresistible.

I do not have the time right now to do a comprehensive review of pre-COVID press pieces and articles and reports making much of the varied potential economic benefits of marijuana reform.  But this haphazard collection of titles and links provides a flavor for what I expect we will be hearing a lot from marijuana reform advocates in the weeks and months ahead:

"The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Weed"

"Cannabis Is Becoming A Huge Job Creator"

"Using Marijuana Revenue to Create Jobs"

"Legal Marijuana Is A Boon To The Economy, Finds Study"

"Why Legalizing Marijuana Could Give the U.S. Economy a Big Boost"

"The Economic Effects of the Marijuana Industry in Colorado"

"The National Cannabis Economy"

"The marijuana industry looks like the fastest-growing job market in the country"

"The Other Green Jobs: Legal Marijuana and the Promise of Consumption-Driven Economic Development"

UPDATE:  I just saw this new Yahoo Finance article headlined "Coronavirus could accelerate US cannabis legalization."  Here are excerpts:

DataTrek Research’s Jessica Rabe writes in a note, “there’s a simple and effective solution for states and cities to help cover their huge budget shortfalls after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides: legalize recreational sales of marijuana.”...

“We’ve been thinking a lot about how life will change post-virus, and one big difference will be that state and local governments are going to encounter large unexpected tax receipt shortages,” Rabe wrote.  “That’s particularly true when it comes to sales and income taxes amid stressed consumer balance sheets and massive layoffs. And unlike the Federal government, states can’t print unlimited amounts of money.”

Legalization of cannabis for adults, Rabe points out, could be a really easy way to shore up tax basis without driving people out of state, as raising income tax might do. Already it has been successful at raising “hundreds of millions of dollars annually in states like Colorado,” she said. 

March 26, 2020 in Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noticing post-reform pattern of federal marijuana prosecutions ... and realizing what it really tells us about the modern drug war

Screen-Shot-2020-03-24-at-7.30.34-AM-1024x668Over at my sentencing blog, I noted here that the US Sentencing Commission this week released its national yearly data on federal sentencing for Fiscal Year 2019.  I am extremely pleased to see that Kyle Jaeger at Marijuana Moment has already drilled into this data in this post titled "Feds Prosecuted Even Fewer Marijuana Cases In 2019 As More States Legalize, New Data Shows."  Here are excerpts:

Federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined again in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a new report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Monday.

While drug cases still represent the second most common category of crimes in the federal criminal justice system, the data indicates that the bulk of those instances are related to methamphetamine trafficking, which has steadily increased over the past decade.

But for marijuana, a different kind of trend has emerged.  As more states have moved to legalize cannabis, federal prosecutions have consistently declined since 2012.   To illustrate the shift, marijuana trafficking cases represented the most common drug type that was pursued in 2012, with about 7,000 cases.  As of fiscal year 2019, those cases are now the second least common, with fewer than 2,000 cases.

Notably, the year of that peak, 2012, was when Colorado and Washington State became the first to legalize for recreational purposes.  Though the report doesn’t attempt to explain why cannabis cases are on the decline, advocates have postulated that state-level marijuana reform has helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products. “Twenty-five percent of the public now live in jurisdictions where the sale of marijuana to adults is legal,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Of course there will be a corresponding drop in the number of illegal sales.”

Another possibility is that evolving public opinion and state policies have contributed to a shift in perspective among prosecutors, who may no longer wish to prioritize enforcing cannabis prohibition in the era of legalization.  While all marijuana sales — even in states with legalization laws — remain federally prohibited, the Trump administration has in practice continued the Obama-era approach of generally not interfering with the implementation of local policies even though then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally rescinded a memo on the topic from the prior administration.

In any case, the new U.S. Sentencing Commission report also shows a broader decline in drug possession cases in general. In fact, the most significant reduction in crime category for 2019 was drug possession, which fell from 777 federal cases the previous year down to 563 — a 28 percent drop....  While marijuana trafficking cases decreased, the average sentence for a conviction increased by two months, from 29 to 31.  Overall, drug trafficking prosecutions did increase by about 1,000 cases in 2019, though again that’s largely attributable to an increase in methamphetamine-related prosecutions.

This discussion of new federal data — particularly the notion that state-level marijuana reforms "helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products — elides the important reality that ALL state-legal marijuana stores are stilled engaged in "illicit trafficking" under federal law.  I stress this point because there are more than 10,000 federally-illegal (and state-licensed) marijuana businesses in just the states of California and Oklahoma alone.  Save for limits in a spending rider (which Prez Trump has sought to disavow), the US Department of Justice could decide to prosecute many thousands of the out-in-the-open marijuana dealers (most of whom have given states all their marijuana dealing plans in writing in order to get a state license).

I make this point because I mean to stress that the major decline in federal marijuana prosecutions over the last decade does not demonstrate that there are fewer federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US.  Rather, it seems clear that there are now many more, and many more obvious, federal marijuana crimes taking place in the US, and there is also reason to fear that "fully illicit" marijuana activity (dealing that does not even comply with state laws) may not be in decline in any way.  And yet we see this marked decline in federal marijuana prosecutions simply because federal prosecutors, quite soundly in my view, simply believe it is an ever-less-good use of their time to be prosecuting all the marijuana offenders who continue to grow their drug-dealing businesses in plain view.  

March 26, 2020 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Advocacy groups urge governors to ensure "medical cannabis patients do not experience disrupted access to crucial medicine" during COVID crisis

I just saw that, earlier this week, an array of advocacy groups sent this short letter to the National Governors Association headed "Emergency Call To Action To Governors In States With Medical Cannabis Programs." Here is the heart of the letter (which also attaches a similar letter from last week from Americans for Safe Access):

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undersigned national drug policy, HIV/AIDS, and public health organizations write to all U.S. governors and medical cannabis program directors to amplify a letter sent last week by the nation’s leading medical cannabis and patient advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA).  We are joining their call for necessary, immediate actions and safeguards to ensure that medical cannabis patients do not experience disrupted access to crucial medicine.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have medical cannabis laws enacted and, cumulatively, these states serve over three million patients.  Medical cannabis patients often live with debilitating ailments, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain that significantly affect quality of life.  It is critical that policymakers and other decision makers who are working to address the current COVID-19 pandemic are also considering the public health consequences that will follow the decision to abruptly interrupt the legal supply chain for medical cannabis patients.  We are especially worried about vulnerable patients being unintentionally pushed to the unregulated market, where there will not be access to lab-tested, tightly controlled products.  This could endanger the health of those who rely on cannabis as medicine.

The undersigned organizations -- who support research and access to medical cannabis -- join ASA in calls for the recognition of medical cannabis as necessary medicine and for the recommendations below to be implemented to ensure that patients’ access to medicinal cannabis will continue.

March 25, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)