Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, June 10, 2021

"Data, Damn Lies, and Cannabis Policy: Reefer Madness and the Methodological Crimes of the New Prohibitionists"

The title of this post is the title of this article published earlier this year in the journal Critical Criminology and authored by Jon Heidt and Johannes Wheeldon.  Here is its abstract:

The rapid pace of cannabis legalization in North America has provoked a backlash that is predictable and discouraging.  The New Prohibitionists, distinct but related to their predecessors, the Old Prohibitionsists, have offered scholarship rife with conceptual errors, methodological flaws, and practical oversights.  While their advice would likely hasten that which they seek to decrease, they overlook the costs of returning to practices associated with prohibition.  To counter simplistic research interpretations and ill-considered policy, we present a critically informed research program on cannabis and crime based on previous scholarship.  Our work is designed to apply replacement discourse and refocus research to withstand the tendency for justice systems to subvert, rather than embrace, reform.  Cannabis legalization has been decades in the making and serious questions remain for proponents, opponents, and policymakers.  Society, however, will be far worse off if the mistakes of reefer madness are repeated.

June 10, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Array of marijuana reforms move forward in array of states

When I started this blog nearly eight years ago, it was often pretty big (and blogworthy) news whenever any single state would move forward with any kind of marijuana reform in the usual legislative process.  Back then, adult-use reform by traditional legislation was almost unthinkable and only a few state legislatures had enacted modest medical programs via standard legislation (as opposed to a ballot initiative).  But fast forward less than a decade, and here is a round-up of news accounts of notable legislative developments in just the first week of June 2021:

"Connecticut state Senate approves recreational marijuana bill in a 19-17 vote. House expected to take up bill before adjournment."

"Legalizing marijuana in Delaware: State lawmakers take another shot"

"Louisiana lawmakers pass bill to decriminalize marijuana"

"Mississippi Senate weighs in on medical cannabis legalization"

"Nevada Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Marijuana Consumption Lounges"

"N.C. bill to legalize medical marijuana picking up support"

"Medical marijuana law changes get through Pennsylvania House"

Of course, all this mid-year action comes on the heels of already historic legislative developments in the first part of 2021 with four states (New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Virginia) legalizing adult-use of marijuana and one deep south state (Alabama) legalizing medical marijuana through the traditional legislative process.  

June 8, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

DEPC event: "Social Equity 2.0: Expanding Horizons"

Social-Equity-2.0-Expanding-Horizons_for-socialI am pleased to spotlight another great Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) event taking place next week titled "Social Equity 2.0: Expanding Horizons."  This is how this event, which is on June 9 at 1pm EDT, is described on this page (where you can register):

Despite enthusiasm from policymakers and hard work by government regulators, many feel that the promise of social equity in the cannabis industry remains elusive.  The obstacles are numerous, ranging from legal challenges, to difficulties with implementation, to weak policy provisions.  Is it time to rethink cannabis social equity?

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center for a virtual event that brings together a panel of experts who are imagining a different framework to achieve the goal of healing the harms of past prohibition and lift communities affected by the War on Drugs.  Panelists will discuss ways to expand the horizons of how we achieve social equity.

 

Panelists:
Douglas A. Berman, executive director, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center
Amber Marks, lawyer and lecturer, Queen Mary University of London
Cat Packer, executive director, Department of Cannabis Regulation, City of Los Angeles
Dan Riffle, policy analyst on substance abuse treatment and prevention, District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health

 

Moderator:
Shaleen Title, distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, and vice-chair, Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition

Prior related posts on prior related event:

June 2, 2021 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Rounding up some recent marijuana news and reform notes as the calendar turns

The Memorial Day weekend serves as the unofficial start to summer and today is the official start of June, and so I figured it was a good time to catch up with a bunch of recent notable stories from major outlets that I have not found time to blog about recently.  So here goes:

From CNBC, "Uber and the delivery war could be headed to cannabis dispensaries"

From Forbes, "Republican Voter Suppression Is Canceling Marijuana Legalization"

From Pew Research Center, "Religious Americans are less likely to endorse legal marijuana for recreational use"

From Politico, "Why Covid rules on liquor, pot and telemedicine might last past the pandemic"

From the New York Times, "Why the Pandemic Was a Breakout Moment for the Cannabis Industry"

From the New York Times, "Yes, Pot Is Legal. But It’s Also in Short Supply."

From NPR, "After 50 Years, U.S. Opens The Door To More Cannabis Crops For Scientists"

From the Wall Street Journal, "Positive Marijuana Tests Are Up Among U.S. Workers"

 

Also, the always great Marijuana Moment has these two notable recent op-eds:

By Shaleen Title, "Congress Only Has One Chance To Legalize Marijuana The Right Way"

By Matthew Schweich, "The War On Ballot Initiatives Has Marijuana In The Crosshairs"

June 1, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Could reintroduction of MORE Act in US House actually make federal marijuana reform less likely?

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is my initial reaction and worry in response to this press release from the office of House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler.  Here are some basics from the release:

Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

"Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace," said Chairman Nadler. "I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. I want to thank my colleagues, Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Hakeem Jeffries, and Nydia Velázquez for their contributions to this legislation, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we work to get this legislation signed into law."...

Following efforts led by states across the nation, the MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level. The bill also aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life. The MORE Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders....

In the 116th Congress, Chairman Nadler led the House of Representatives in passing the MORE Act by a bipartisan vote of 228 to 164.

Because the MORE Act is a very ambitious bill, it has lots of support from many advocacy groups and long-time supporters of marijuana reform. But because the MORE Act is a very ambitious bill, it got no traction in the Senate in the last Congress and there is little reason to be confident it will get any traction in the Senate in this Congress. 

This Politico article last month, headlined "Senate Democrats split over legalizing weed; Several told POLITICO they’re opposed to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's legalization push," highlighted that not even all Senate Democrats are inclined to support federal marijuana legalization.  That article also rightly noted that there are some particular provisions in the MORE Act that are especially likely to turn off libertarian-leaning GOP Senators who might be inclined to support another kind of federal reform.

Because I have never work on the hill, I am not sure if a bill like the MORE Act with little chance of actual passage can still help advance the reform cause.  But I am sure that the current President and the current Congress seem generally disinclined to do anything all that big in this arena.  The MORE Act is not only big, but it also presents the possibility of indirectly thwarting smaller efforts garnering needed support and momentum going forward.

In this post last month, I suggested that Senator leader Chuck Schumer may have a shrewd view of how best to advance marijuana reform legislation in his chamber.  But I remain worried that there really is neither a will nor a way for big federal marijuana reforms like the MORE Act to become law anytime soon. 

May 28, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 17, 2021

Alabama Gov signs medical marijuana legislation just days after Mississippi Supreme Court blows up medical marijuana initiative

As detailed by these recent stories and headlines, it has been an interesting time lately with respect to marijuana reform in the deep south:

From the Yellowhammer State, "Gov. Kay Ivey signs Alabama medical marijuana law"

From the Magnolia State, "Mississippi Supreme Court overturns medical marijuana Initiative 65"

There are interesting and important facets to both of these stories, but together they serve as a terrific reminder of just how dynamic and unpredictable marijuana reforms can be on any number of legal and political fronts.  But for the historic stigma (as well as persistent federal prohibition), I suspect lots and lots of prominent folks would be writing lots and lots of books and articles about what we can and should be learning from modern marijuana reform movements for all sort of other social and policy arenas.

May 17, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Notable new GOP bill for ending federal marijuana prohibition

6a00d8341bfae553ef0223c85155dc200c-320wiIn a post last month, titled "Senate majority leader shrewdly emphasizing "freedom" in his push for federal marijuana reform," I explained why I viewed Senator Chuck Schumer's focus on "freedom" in his marijuana reform pitch to be appealing and shrewd given that it lines up with a lot of the smaller-government rhetoric often coming from GOP politicians and activists.  Consequently, I was not surprised to see this past week that part of the pitch for a notable new GOP-sponsored bill to end federal marijuana prohibition includes an emphasis on greater liberty for individuals and states concerning marijuana practices.   

This new 14-page marijuana reform bill is available at this link, and it is formally titled the "Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act."  This press release from Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14), one of the sponsors, provides these details:

Through his work with the Cannabis Caucus and his position on the House Appropriations Committee, Joyce has helped lead the effort to reform the federal government’s outdated approach to cannabis and protect the rights of states across the country, like Ohio, that have voted to implement responsible cannabis policies. Specifically, the Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses and Medical Professionals Act, which has been applauded by several organizations, would:

  • Remove cannabis from the Federal Controlled Substances Act.
  • Direct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to issue rules to regulate cannabis modeled after the alcohol industry within one year of enactment.
  • Create a federal preemption to protect financial institutions and other businesses in non-cannabis legal states so that they can service cannabis companies.
  • Allow the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to prescribe medical cannabis to veterans.
  • Direct the National Institutes of Health to conduct two studies on cannabis as it pertains to pain management and cannabis impairment and report to Congress within two years of enactment.

And here is some of the media coverage that provides a review of this bill:

May 15, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Guest-post: "Tax Provisions in State Constitutions May Hinder Marijuana Legalization Efforts"

6a00d83451574769e20224df387165200bI was very pleased to have received the following guest post content from Professor  Andrew D. Appleby of Stetson University College of Law:

Although the recreational marijuana movement has gained momentum at the state level, several states may be unable to legalize recreational marijuana because of tax limitations in their state constitutions.  A primary motivation for legalization is increased tax revenue, and every state that has legalized recreational marijuana also taxes it.  Many states, however, have broad constitutional provisions designed to make tax increases more difficult, most notably provisions that require supermajority approval to create or increase any tax.  There appears to be a third wave of these tax supermajority provisions proliferating. Florida voters approved a constitutional provision in 2018 and several other states, including New York in 2021, have considered supermajority approval provisions.  These provisions have several unintended consequences, as discussed in my forthcoming article, "Designing the Tax Supermajority Requirement."

These provisions impact recreational marijuana in several ways.  Most state tax supermajority provisions apply only to the legislative process, so many states are forced to use the voter approval process for marijuana legalization efforts.  Prior to 2021, only two states had legalized recreational marijuana through the legislative process.  Neither state has a tax supermajority requirement, and neither state would have satisfied the requirement.  Vermont was unable to include a tax provision in its initial legalization bill and needed to enact a separate tax statute two years later.  Three states legalized recreational marijuana through the legislative process in 2021.  None of the legislation passed with two-thirds supermajority approval.

Recreational marijuana is still divisive in many states for many reasons, particularly as it remains illegal federally, so achieving supermajority approval is difficult.  Even in politically liberal states, recreational marijuana legalization voter initiatives have passed by narrow margins.  In the 2016 election year, for example, the Massachusetts initiative passed with 53% of the vote and the California initiative garnered only 57% approval.  Four states legalized recreational marijuana through ballot initiatives in 2020.  Only New Jersey achieved supermajority approval, and just barely, with 67% voting in favor.  South Dakota, which has a tax supermajority provision and “one subject” provision in its constitution, had its legalization initiative declared unconstitutional, with the South Dakota Supreme Court currently considering the appeal.

Florida is also grappling with constitutional hurdles in its marijuana legalization efforts, as the Florida Supreme Court struck down a proposed ballot measure because of misleading language.  Even if the measure were to appear on the ballot, Florida has an additional tax supermajority provision that requires two-thirds supermajority approval for voters to amend the constitution to create or increase a tax.  The experiences in South Dakota and Florida illustrate how tax supermajority provisions have the unintended consequence of impeding recreational marijuana efforts.

May 10, 2021 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Effective coverage of marijuana expungement efforts and work still to do

Marijuana-record-relief-map.4.29.21-1024x890The PBS News Hour has this great new and lengthy piece about marijuana expungement laws and practices under the headline "As more states legalize marijuana, people with drug convictions want their records cleared."  Regular readers know I have long been invested in these issues  (see my 2018 article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"), and I am especially pleased that folks at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center worked with folks at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center to create the national map found in the PBS piece and reprinted here.  I recommend the PBS piece in full, and here are some excerpts:

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana over the last nine years, and industry advocates have applauded measures to de-stigmatize the substance and bring major revenue to state coffers.  But for people with lingering drug convictions like Michael, the news has raised more questions about what legalization means for their criminal records.

Currently in Virginia, “you have to go through all these hoops and loopholes to actually have an expungement,” Michael said.  This may soon change.  Like many other states that recently legalized marijuana, Virginia lawmakers included provisions in their legislation that over several years will allow for the automatic expungement of certain marijuana convictions, meaning people like Michael may one day see their records cleared without having to petition to do so.

Such measures signal a broader effort by lawmakers to right the wrongs of the war on drugs, a decades-long campaign by federal and state governments to crack down on use of illegal drugs that also helped incarceration balloon in the U.S.  States have begun to legalize substances like marijuana that have disproportionately imprisoned Black and brown Americans over the last 50 years, affecting their access to employment, education and housing.  Racial justice advocates argue that state legislatures should not consider legalization bills unless they include proposals to help people easily expunge their records, as well as eliminate some of the barriers to entry Americans of color face when looking for work in the cannabis industry.

But just as states did not legalize recreational marijuana overnight, the lingering effects of the war on drugs are not likely to quickly disappear.  Though Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pushed to make cannabis legal in the state by the beginning of July, for example, many expungement provisions in the legalization and record-sealing laws are not set to take full effect until 2025 as state police and courts need time to update their computer systems and processes.

As a result, many Americans with marijuana charges on their records are currently living in a grey area, cautiously optimistic about the wave of legalization taking place but unclear what it means for their future.  “[Politicians] are making strides toward being really liberal and legalizing [weed], and that’s cool, but at the same time I served 10 years for this,” said Harry Kelso, another Virginia resident who served time in prison for possession and distribution.  “So at some point, I feel like I deserve some reparations.”...

Pauline Quirion, director of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) & Re-Entry Project at Greater Boston Legal Services and an adviser to Mass CultivatED program participants, said she thinks it’s a good sign when she works with clients seeking to seal or expunge their records because it means they’re focused on securing a career.  She said that the adverse effects of a criminal record are evident from their experiences with the job search process. “Some clients have applied for like 200 jobs and they’re rejected, but they keep applying,” she said.  “So you have to have a lot of stamina to find employment.”...

David Schlussel, an expert on marijuana expungement with the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, said recent efforts to pass laws to expunge marijuana records in states such as Virginia, New Mexico, and Arizona signal a greater awareness of the harmful impact cannabis continues to have on communities targeted by the criminal justice system.  He said that when states first began legalizing recreational marijuana 10 years ago, they rarely considered legislation that would help people clear their records.  Campaign messaging to promote the new laws in states such as Colorado and Washington was usually driven by consumerism and tax benefits rather than racial justice.  Schlussel said this began to change as lawmakers began to emphasize the necessity of racial justice in marijuana reform in their messages to voters, which in turn gave it more political capital.

More than 20 states have passed reforms related to marijuana expungement, Schlussel said, with outcomes ranging from automatic pardons for a broad range of offenses to the possibility of expungement for a narrower set of charges.  But once these laws are on the books, states could very well face challenges getting a variety of marijuana charges expunged, he added.  While states like New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico recently passed bills to automatically expunge a wide range of marijuana offenses from people’s records, others have pursued approaches that are resource-intensive and still include a number of hurdles for people who want their offenses cleared.

In Arizona, where recreational marijuana recently became legal, expungement is possible but not automatic.  Julie Gunnigle, who ran unsuccessfully for Maricopa County attorney in the fall, said clearing Arizonans’ records is dependent on the support of county attorneys and the state’s attorney general, making it subject to the whims of politicians who may not necessarily be inclined to clear a broad swath of charges.  Although Gunnigle praised the “first-of-its-kind” expungement law that recently passed along with legalization, she added that “it is now going to be incumbent on leaders to find the folks who are eligible or those who are eligible to come forward and file these petitions if they want to get justice.”

May 4, 2021 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

"Reflexive Federalism" reviews Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane

9780815737896_FCI believe I have previously noted some of the marijuana reform essays in the terrific collection published last year by Brookings under the title "Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane." (Information about the book can be found here and here.)  I am now pleased to see that Paul Larkin, Jr. has this notable new article titled "Reflexive Federalism" which engages with many of the ideas and essays in Marijuana Federalism.  Here is its abstract:

Over the last twenty-plus years, a majority of states have concluded that marijuana has legitimate therapeutic and recreational value, and those states allow private parties to cultivate, sell, possess, and use it under a state regulatory régime.  Consequently, we have witnessed the development of state cannabis regulatory programs that are inconsistent legally, practically, and theoretically with the approach that our national government has taken for fifty years.  How do we resolve that conflict between state and federal law?  The Supreme Court has refused to take this issue away from the political branches of the federal government by ruling that it is a matter within the states’ bailiwick.  The Executive Branch has failed to take a coherent position regarding whether, when, and how it will enforce the existing federal law.  And Congress has abdicated its responsibility to clarify what should be federal policy in a field where only Congress can decide.  The result is that we have one law for Athens and one for Rome. Not surprisingly, that strategy is not working for anyone other than those members of Congress who wish to avoid casting a vote on the issue.

Some of Marijuana Federalism’s contributors encourage Congress to “cowboy up” politically and eliminate the disarray in the law by leaving it to each state to decide, while others try to persuade the Supreme Court to take another whack at the issue and rule that Congress cannot generally regulate the intrastate sale of cannabis.  The threads that tie the essays together are the potential benefits we might see from permitting multiple states to devise different regulatory approaches and the affinity for decentralized decision-making built into our Constitution’s DNA.  What Marijuana Federalism is missing, however, is a treatment of the argument that Congress should leave decisions regarding the recreational use of marijuana to the states, but not whether it has legitimate medical uses. For 80 years the nation has entrusted the Food and Drug Administration with the responsibility to decide what is a “drug” and what drugs are “safe” and “effective.”  There is no good reason to treat cannabis differently.

April 28, 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)

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Notable working group releases new "Principles for Federal Cannabis Regulations & Reform"

As detailed in this new Drug Policy Alliance press release, today "the Federal Cannabis Regulations Working Group released its Principles for Federal Cannabis Regulations & Reform," outlining what a federal regulatory framework — grounded in justice and social equity—should look like." Here is more from the DPA release:

The working group was convened by the Drug Policy Alliance at the beginning of this year.

Throughout a series of meetings and in-depth conversations, the group — made up of cannabis state regulators, public health professionals, criminal justice reform advocates, civil rights attorneys, people working with directly impacted communities in the cannabis industry, re-entry advocates, academics and an expert involved in Canada’s cannabis regulation — has identified key principles that should guide the development of federal cannabis regulation policies.  The principles document encourages and provides guidance on issues related to racial justice, equity, preventing underage use, elimination of lifelong consequences, medical use, taxation, research and more.  This release precedes the group’s continued effort to develop and roll out a more comprehensive set of recommendations for Congress on crucial issues such as — but not limited to — which federal agency should regulate cannabis (and to what extent), what kind of product should cannabis be regulated as, expungement, workforce development, medical use, non-commercial activity, and enforcement.

It will be very interesting to see if how forthcoming federal marijuana reform bills meet up with this two-page statement of principles.

April 20, 2021 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Hitting the Trip-Wire: When Does a Company Become a 'Marijuana Business'?"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Lauren Newell recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its a abstract:

Like the alcohol industry during Prohibition, the marijuana industry is a profitable one.  And, like bootlegging was then, selling marijuana in the United States now is illegal.  Despite the number of states that have legalized or decriminalized the sale of marijuana for medical or recreational use under state law, marijuana sales remain illegal as a matter of federal law under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA).  Individuals and entities that violate the CSA face substantial potential criminal and civil liability, including prison time and fines, alongside a host of additional negative consequences arising in business law, tax, bankruptcy, banking, and other sources.  The negative consequences marijuana businesses face have been discussed in detail elsewhere.  This Article asks a different question: not, what are the negative consequences, but rather, when do those negative consequence attach?  In other words, when does a company become a “Marijuana Business”?

For purposes of this discussion, a Marijuana Business is an entity that participates, contributes, or assists, directly or indirectly, in the retail and/or medical marijuana industry to an extent that exposes it, its owners, and its agents to potential criminal and civil liability and other negative business consequences.  In short, these are the companies that should be worried about the fact that they are engaging in an industry that is illegal under federal law.  To identify the circumstances that result in a company’s being a Marijuana Business, this Article analyzes seven hypothetical companies that directly participate in the marijuana industry or support others that do.  For each, it asks whether the facts are sufficient to establish criminal liability either directly under the CSA or indirectly under criminal conspiracy or aiding and abetting liability theories.  Part I briefly introduces criminal liability under the CSA, along with the two complicity theories.  Part II analyzes the hypothetical companies’ actions and determines whether they are Marijuana Businesses.  Part III concludes with factors that courts and companies can look toward to determine whether those companies are indeed Marijuana Businesses.

April 20, 2021 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 (0)

Monday, April 19, 2021

After strong bipartisan approval in US House again, will US Senate finally take up SAFE Banking Act?

1555342460244A big week for discussion of marijuana reform got off to a big start thanks to a vote in the US House of Representatives.  This effective Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "U.S. House Approves Marijuana Banking Bill For Fourth Time, Setting Up Senate Consideration," provides these details:

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.  After receiving an initial voice vote earlier in the afternoon, members passed the legislation by a final recorded vote of 321-101.

The legislation, which was reintroduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and a long bipartisan list of cosponsors last month, was taken up under a process known as suspension of the rules, which does not allow for amendments and requires a 2/3rd supermajority to pass....

Because marijuana businesses are largely precluded from accessing traditional financial institutions and have to operate on a mostly cash-only basis, that makes them targets of crime — a point that advocates, regulators and banking representatives have emphasized.  “Even if you are opposed to the legalization of cannabis, you should support this bill,” Perlmutter added.  “American voters have spoken and continue to speak — and the fact is, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.  Prohibition is over.”...

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) spoke in opposition to the legislation, stating that “regardless of your position on this bill, I do think the fact remains that cannabis is a prohibited substance under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — and let me further state, by enacting this legislation, we’re effectively kneecapping law enforcement enforcement and legalizing money laundering.”

But in a sign of the bipartisan nature of this reform, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) took to the floor to defend the legislation. He said “I’m proud to help lead this common sense and overdue effort.”

“At a time when small businesses are just beginning to recover from the economic destruction caused by COVID-19, the federal government should be supporting them, not standing in their way,” he said.

McHenry was the only lawmaker to rise against the bill on the floor, yielding all additional opposition time to other Republican members who actually spoke in support of it.

Just before the debate started on Monday, the governors of 20 states and one U.S. territory — as well as bankers associations representing every state in the country and a coalition of state treasurers — sent letters to House leadership, expressing support for the reform legislation.

The vote marks the fourth time the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. Lawmakers passed it as a standalone bill in 2019 and then twice more as part of coronavirus relief legislation.  At no point did the measure move forward in the Senate under Republican control last session, however.

But this time around, advocates and industry stakeholders are feeling confident that the bill’s path will not end in the House.  With Democrats now in control of both chambers and the White House, there are high expectations that the proposal will make its way through the Senate and onto the president’s desk.

I am hopeful, but not at all optimistic, that this bill will move forward in the Senate with Democrats now in control of the chamber.  Senate leader Chuch Schumer is expected to release a comprehensive marijuana reform bill "soon" and that bill will likely be a priority for Senators and advocates most eager to see federal marijuana reforms.  Senators and others backing broader reforms could potentially view the SAFE Banking Act as an insufficient reform that could undercut momentum for bigger reforms.

April 19, 2021 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 (0)

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)