Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Election outcomes in Nov 2013 keep up marijuana reform momentum
Though it would be unwise jump to too many conclusions based on off-year election results, these headlines reporting on results concerning various marijuana initiative in various jurisdictions suggest a continuing affinity for responsible reform and sensible regulation of maijuana laws, policies and practices:
From Colorado here, "Colorado voters approve new taxes on recreational marijuana"
From Maine here, "Portland voters legalize marijuana; The ‘Yes’ vote wins in a landslide, claiming 67 percent of the tally with many of the precincts reporting"
From Michigan here, "Voters in three more Michigan cities pass marijuana decriminalization proposals"
Practically speaking, the Colorado vote is probably the most important and consequential, as it ensures a significant tax revenue stream now flowing from marijuana legalization in the Mile High state. But politically speaking, the voting outcomes in Maine and Michigan, though most symbolic, could still prove important if (and when?) more politicians on both side of the aisle in the northeast and upper midwest see that there could be political upsides in 2014 and beyond from supporting responsible reform and sensible regulation of maijuana laws, policies and practices.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Monday, November 04, 2013
Sentencing judge explains his view on how nationwide reforms should impact federal marijuana sentencing
I noted in prior recent posts here and here, U.S. District Judge James Bredar last month conducted a hearing to explore marijuana legal reforms and developments at the state and federal level now called for imposing below-guideline sentences for federal marijuana offenses. This past Friday, Judge Bredar handed down a 12-page opinion in US v. Dayi, No. JKB-13-0013 (D. Md. Nov. 1, 2013) (available here), explaining his views and thinking on this front. Here is an excerpt from the final sections of the fascinating (and perhaps very important?) Dayi opinion:
The evolving landscape of state law and federal enforcement policy regarding marijuana is particularly relevant to two of these [statutory sentencing] factors, namely (1) the need for any sentence imposed “to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense,” § 3553(a)(2)(A), and (2) the “need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct,” § 3553(a)(6).....
The Court’s role is not to question, criticize, or laud the Justice Department’s new enforcement priorities or the recent enactments of state voters and legislators. These policy choices reflect an on-going effort to address a complex, difficult, and highly controversial issue. Rather, the Court’s role is simply to take note of these developments and consider them as part ofits assessment of the seriousness of these offenses. Ultimately, the Court finds that, in 2013, strict Guidelines sentences would overstate the seriousness of the underlying offenses and therefore fail “to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense.” § 3553(a)(2)(A)....
The Court also finds that Guidelines sentences in these cases would fail to address the “need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendant s with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.” § 3553(a)(6). The Court construes this factor broadly, interpreting it as a command to ensure that sentences comport with the notion of equal justice under the law. The Justice Department has decided it will not prosecute certain marijuana traffickers, including large-scale commercial distributors who, in compliance with state laws and regulations, establish retail outlets that cater to recreational marijuana users in Colorado and Washington. Although the illegal enterprise in these cases is not identical to these commercial distributors — i.e., it did not comply with the laws or regulations of any state and implicated several federal enforcement priorities — it nonetheless bears some similarity to those marijuana distribution operations in Colorado and Washington that will not be subject to federal prosecution. The Court therefore finds it should use its sentencing discretion to dampen the disparate effects of prosecutorial priorities. As a result, the Court finds this factor too justifies a downward variance from the sentence the Guidelines would otherwise recommend....
Of course, these two factors are not the only ones the Court must consider under § 3553(a). Others, particularly “the nature and circumstances of the offense,” § 3553(a)(1), and“the need for the sentence imposed to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct” § 3553(2)(B), militate more strongly in favor of a Guidelines sentence. Indeed, the conspiracy at issue in these cases was a large, elaborate, and profitable illegal operation involving well in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. The Court therefore believes that a two-level variance from the Guidelines, which would reduce each defendant’s sentence by roughly 20 to 25%, is appropriate. Such a variance reflects national trends in the enforcement of marijuana-related offenses, while recognizing the undeniable illegality of defendants’ conduct. As it determines the sentence of each defendant in these cases, the Court will adopt this analysis, and accordingly it will grant each defendant the benefit of a two-level downward variance.
Recent related posts:
- Do nationwide reforms now call for federal judges to sentence below the guidelines in all marijuana cases?
- Baltimore Sun praises federal sentencing judge for his part in a "national conversation about pot"
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Saturday, November 02, 2013
Might public health be significantly improved by marijuana legalization?The provocative question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable op-ed by Jacob Sullum at Forbes headlined "Economists Predict Marijuana Legalization Will Produce 'Public-Health Benefits'." Here are excerpts:
In their 2012 book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, Jonathan Caulkins and three other drug policy scholars identify the impact of repealing pot prohibition on alcohol consumption as the most important thing no one knows. Are cannabis and alcohol complements, so that drinking can be expected to increase along with pot smoking? Or are they substitutes, implying that more pot smoking will mean less drinking? For analysts attempting to calculate the costs and benefits of legalizing marijuana, the question matters a lot, because alcohol is considerably more dangerous than marijuana by most measures. If the two products are complements, states that legalize marijuana can expect to see more consumption of both, exacerbating existing health and safety problems. But if the two products are substitutes, legalizing marijuana can alleviate those problems by reducing alcohol consumption.
Reviewing the evidence in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado economist Daniel Rees find that “studies based on clearly defined natural experiments generally support the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.” [Study Here] Increasing the drinking age seems to result in more marijuana consumption, for instance, and pot smoking drops off sharply at age 21, “suggesting that young adults treat alcohol and marijuana as substitutes.” Another study found that legalizing marijuana for medical use is associated with a drop in beer sales and a decrease in heavy drinking. These results, Anderson and Rees say, “suggest that, as marijuana becomes more available, young adults in Colorado and Washington will respond by drinking less, not more.”
That conclusion is consistent with earlier research in which Anderson and Rees found that enacting medical marijuana laws is associated with a 13 percent drop in traffic fatalities. [Study Here] That effect could be due to the fact that marijuana impairs driving ability much less dramatically than alcohol does, although the fact that alcohol is more likely to be consumed outside the home (resulting in more driving under its influence) may play a role as well....
Anderson and Rees note that UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman, who co-wrote Marijuana Legalization and has been advising Washington’s cannabis regulators, recently described a worst-case scenario for legalization featuring an increase in heavy drinking, “carnage on our highways,” and a “massive” increase in marijuana consumption among teenagers. “Kleiman’s worst-case scenario is possible, but not likely,” they conclude. “Based on existing empirical evidence, we expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use. While it is more than likely that marijuana produced by state-sanctioned growers will end up in the hands of minors, we predict that overall youth consumption will remain stable. On net, we predict the public-health benefits of legalization to be positive.”
Notably, this commentary and the research it emphasizes appears only to consider the public health benefits that could result from folks substituting marijuana use for alcohol use. I have long thought that another possible public health benefit could flow from marijuana legalization if some heavy cigarette smokers end up smoking less in total because they sometimes substitute a few joints for a few packs of cigs. Similarly, one might further speculate that there might be a positive "reverse gateway" effect from marijuana legalization with respect to other dangerous drug use and abuse: perhaps fewer folks will try using, or end up harmfully abusing, harder drugs like ecstasy and heroin and meth and oxycodone if they can get always get a cheap and legal buzz from marijuana.
Of course, a lot of research about the use and abuse of various drugs will be needed in order to come to dependable conclusions about the full public health impact of modern marijuana reform developments. Still, especially when everyone is understandably all worked up about the Obamacare roll-out and broader health care reform realities, it is fun to speculate that modern marijuana reforms could end up being the most consequential and positive public health development of the Obama era.
I have long been drawn to the marijuana legal reform movement due to my general affinity for expanding personal freedom and my generally disaffinity for big-government programs like the war on drugs that seem very costly and mostly ineffective. But I have always respected the concerns expressed by serious people that pot prohibition is a public health necessity and that even modest moves toward marijuana legalization could prove costly and harmful in various ways. Without getting too much into the weeds of an empirical debate, I wonder if those who are vigorously opposed to (or even just generally resistant to) marijuana reform movements would still oppose reform if (and when?) empirical evidence starts to show that (some? many? all?) US public health measures and metrics are improved in the wake of marijuana legalization reforms.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Terrific (though incomplete) analysis of the state and future of modern pot politicsThis very interesting new piece in The New Republic authored by Nate Cohn and headlined "Marijuana is America's Next Political Wedge Issue: Pot politics, in 2016 and beyond," sets forth what strikes me as an astute (but incomplete) political analysis of modern marijuana reform realities circa fall 2013. Here are excerpts:
We’ve reached the point where there should be no surprise if a major national politician embraces marijuana legalization. Without any large-scale campaign on its behalf, surveys show that approximately half of Americans now support marijuana legalization, including 58 percent in a recent, but potentially outlying, Gallup poll. Regardless of the exact support today, marijuana is all but assured to emerge as an issue in national elections — it's only a question of how and when.
So far, neither party wants to touch the issue. The Democratic governors of Washington and Colorado didn’t even support initiatives to legalize the possession, distribution, and consumption of marijuana, even though the initiatives ultimately prevailed by clear margins. It took the administration ten months to announce — in the middle of the Syria debate — that the Department of Justice wouldn’t pursue legal action against Washington and Colorado. And on the other hand, Republicans weren't exactly screaming about hippies and gateway drugs, either.
Despite their apparent reservation to engage the issue, it’s hard to imagine Democrats staying on the sidelines for too many more election cycles. The party’s base is already on board, with polls showing a clear majority of self-described Democrats in support....
To date, Democrats haven’t had many incentives to take a risk on the issue. Democrats are already winning the winnable culture war skirmishes, at least from a national electoral perspective, and they have a winning demographic hand. And let’s get perspective: Marijuana legalization may be increasingly popular, but it’s not clearly an electoral bonanza. Support for legalization isn’t very far above 50 percent, if it is in fact, and there are potential downsides. National surveys show that a third of Democrats still oppose marijuana legalization. Seniors, who turnout in high numbers in off year elections, are also opposed. Altogether, it’s very conceivable that there are more votes to be lost than won by supporting marijuana. After all, marijuana legalization underperformed President Obama in Washington State.
Even so, Democratic voters will eventually prevail over cautious politicians, most likely through the primary process. Any liberal rival to Hillary Clinton in 2016 will have every incentive to support marijuana legalization. Whether Clinton will follow suit is harder to say, given that frontrunners (and Clintons) are generally pretty cautious. It’s probably more likely that Clinton would endorse steps toward liberalization, like weaker criminal penalties and support for the legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado.
Republicans, meanwhile, are less likely to support legalization or liberalization. To be sure, some Republicans will. They can take a states’ rights position and the party has a growing libertarian bent, perhaps best exemplified by Rand Paul’s willingness to support more liberal marijuana laws. Republicans also have electoral incentives to lead on issues where they can earn a few votes among millennials, who pose a serious threat to the continued viability of the national Republican coalition. If the Republicans can't adjust their existing positions to compensate for demographic and generational change, which (for now) it appears they cannot, then perhaps taking a stance on a new issue, like marijuana, is the best they can do.
Of course, the problem is that a majority of Republicans are opposed to legalization. Two thirds of Republicans voted against legalization in Colorado and Washington, where one might expect Republicans be somewhat more amenable than the nation as a whole. It probably doesn’t help that marijuana is closely aligned with the liberal counterculture. It's also possible that many pro-legalization conservatives don't identify as Republicans at all, but instead might be independents....
With Republicans likely to remain opposed, marijuana could emerge as a big cultural issue in the 2016 election. In particular, Clinton would be well-positioned to deploy the issue. Her strength among older voters and women mitigates the risk that she would lose very much support, while legalization could help Clinton with the young, independent, and male voters who could clinch her primary or general election victory.
But realistically, Clinton or another Democrat won't campaign on marijuana legalization. For one, it’s most likely that the Democratic nominee will support incremental measures....
It’s easier to imagine marijuana playing a role in the 2016 primaries. Many candidates will have incentives to use the issue, whether it’s a cultural conservative using marijuana to hurt Rand Paul among evangelicals in Iowa, or a liberal trying to stoke a progressive revolt against Clinton’s candidacy. And once one party begins to debate the issue, the other will almost certainly be confronted by the same question. Marijuana won’t be decisive in a primary, but 2016’s primary battles will shape the two party’s initial positions on the issue.
Yet marijuana’s big moment will probably come later, perhaps in 2024. Legalization might eventually be popular enough for Democrats to use the issue in general elections, first at the state level and then nationally. As with gay marriage, the GOP’s obvious but difficult solution is to take their own creed on states’ rights seriously, and devolve the issue — and the politics — to the states. Compared to gay marriage, which strikes at the heart of the evangelical wing of the party, it should be easier for the Republicans to make an adjustment on marijuana. But if they cannot, the GOP will again find itself on the losing side of the culture wars.
I see lots and lots of merit to this analysis, and I find especially intriguing the cogent observation that a older female politician like Hillary Clinton might be especially well positioned to experiences far more political benefits than costs from pro-marijuana reform positions. (Indeed, I have been thinking for some time that the marijuana reform movement needs a prominent female (and motherly) face and voice comparable to Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee, who was a vocal advocate from repealing alcohol prohibition 80 years ago.)
But I think this commentary may be missing one key reality that I am certain will impact dramatically the politics of pot over the next few election cycles: the reality and perceptions of what ends up happening, good or bad, in Colorado and Washington as recreational pot goes mainstream in these two distinct states. If legalization is seen as a huge success inside and outside these states over the next 12 months, especially in swing-state Colorado, we should expect marijuana reform supporters to see positive political possibilities as early as 2014 and I suspect it will become especially difficult for either party to be vocal opponents of marijuana liberalization and legalization realities. But if things go poorly in these states, the modern reform politics neccesarily will take on a much different character.
Labaoratories of democracy, here we come: buckle up politicians, we are likely in for a bumpy and unpredictable politicial ride.
October 26, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Thursday, October 24, 2013
"Hippies, step aside please. Marijuana's Marlboro Man is about to take the stage."The title of this post comes from the final lines of this notable new commentary by Kevin Sabet of Project SAM at The Huffington Post headlined "Marijuana Opinion Polling: Be Cautious Amidst the Hype." Here are excerpts from the start and finish of the piece:
The special interest marijuana lobby -- who, like the tobacco industry, intend to make millions off of marijuana products by advertising and promoting their substance of choice -- can't stop talking about a recent Gallup poll finding that 58 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. Media outlets are already calling "game over" on the debate, expressing that, like gay marriage, marijuana is an issue whose time has come.
Not so fast. Though marijuana lobbyists, like other special interest groups, are masters at manipulating and overplaying findings favorable to their crusade -- and ignoring findings that are unfavorable (like the link between marijuana and IQ loss or mental illness), the rest of us should see through the smoke and mirrors. There are at least three major problems with using Gallup as a reliable marker for marijuana attitudes in the U.S....
Earlier this year, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and I founded Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), along with a slew of public health researchers and physicians -- from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Addiction Medicine, and other prominent medical organizations -- to raise awareness about what the likely real result of legalization will be: this century's version of Big Tobacco. That's because millionaire ex-Microsoft executives are already launching, in their words, the "Starbucks of Marijuana." And multimillion-dollar private holding groups continue to raise money from investors eager to cash in on the "green rush."
People's image of marijuana legalization, however, is not consistent with this new corporate reality. Folks are still stuck in the 1970s -- they think of peace loving, drum playing, harmless pot smokers who just want to light up without the hassle of the law. And thanks to a marijuana industry casting doubt on any shred of scientific evidence (indeed mounds of it) that puts the drug in a bad light, confusion persists.
Hippies, step aside please. Marijuana's Marlboro Man is about to take the stage.
Recent related post:
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Latest Gallup poll shows considerable spike upward in support for legalizing marijuanaAs reported in this new Gallup page, headlined "For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana: Support surged 10 percentage points in past year, to 58%," the latest polling data suggests that marijuana reform developments over the last year in a variety of state have had a pretty dramatic impact on public opinion concerning marijuana laws and policies. Here are the basic details via the folks at Gallup:
For marijuana advocates, the last 12 months have been a period of unprecedented success as Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. And now for the first time, a clear majority of Americans (58%) say the drug should be legalized. This is in sharp contrast to the time Gallup first asked the question in 1969, when only 12% favored legalization.
Public support for legalization more than doubled in the 1970s, growing to 28%. It then plateaued during the 1980s and 1990s before inching steadily higher since 2000, reaching 50% in 2011. A sizable percentage of Americans (38%) this year admitted to having tried the drug, which may be a contributing factor to greater acceptance.
Success at the ballot box in the past year in Colorado and Washington may have increased Americans' tolerance for marijuana legalization. Support for legalization has jumped 10 percentage points since last November and the legal momentum shows no sign of abating. Last week, California's second-highest elected official, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, said that pot should be legal in the Golden State, and advocates of legalization are poised to introduce a statewide referendum in 2014 to legalize the drug....
Independents' growing support for legalization has mostly driven the jump in Americans' overall support. Sixty-two percent of independents now favor legalization, up 12 points from November 2012. Support for legalization among Democrats and Republicans saw little change. Yet there is a marked divide between Republicans, who still oppose legalizing marijuana, and Democrats and independents.
Americans 65 and older are the only age group that still opposes legalizing marijuana. Still, support among this group has jumped 14 percentage points since 2011. In contrast, 67% of Americans aged 18 to 29 back legalization. Clear majorities of Americans aged 30 to 64 also favor legalization....
Whatever the reasons for Americans' greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide. But detractors such as law enforcement and substance abuse professionals have cited health risks including an increased heart rate, and respiratory and memory problems.
With Americans' support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
"Legal-Marijuana Trend Spreads as More States Weigh Votes"The title of this post is the headline of this new Bloomberg news piece. Here are excerpts:
Voter support for legal marijuana in Washington and Colorado is spurring similar campaigns in California and three other states that together may bring pot within lawful reach of almost 1-in-5 Americans.
Advocates are seeking the signatures of registered voters in California, Arizona, Oregon and Alaska, with a combined population of 49 million, to put the question on ballots in 2014. Colorado and Washington last year legalized marijuana for 12.1 million people.
“Because of Colorado and Washington, it’s created a cannabis tidal wave across the country,” Mike Jolson, 45, a legalization activist in Santa Cruz, California, said by telephone. “We want to capitalize on this wave.”
Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana through referendums last November, defying federal law that has prohibited pot since the 1930s. In August, the U.S. Justice Department said it wouldn’t challenge the states, opening the door for others.
In Washington state, regulators are finalizing rules for growing, processing and selling marijuana ahead of a Dec. 1 deadline to begin issuing licenses. In Colorado, which has finished setting its rules, voters will decide next month whether to tax retail sales at rates of as much as 25 percent.
“Their success in Colorado was very inspiring, and I thought it would be a good time for us to try here,” said Dennis Bohlke, a computer programmer from Phoenix who said he modeled the Arizona initiative after the Colorado measure....
In addition to recreational use, there are efforts to expand the 20 states that allow medical marijuana.... Ballot proposals to legalize medical marijuana use are being circulated in six states: Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming, according to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a Washington-based group that advocates legalization....
Some marijuana proponents are holding off until the 2016 presidential election, when voter turnout is typically higher. Chris Lindsey, an attorney from Missoula, Montana, and a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, said he’s working toward adding a recreational-marijuana proposal to his state’s ballot in 2016. “Elections that involve presidential races tend to bring out a younger set of voters and we think we’ll probably benefit from having younger voters,” Lindsey said by phone.
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Some more recent highlights from "Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform"As I noted last month, in this space I have posted much less on marijuana law and reform issues as a result of the fact that my work on this topic is now being principally channeled to my new blog Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform. While I continue to urge everyone who is especially interested in drug policy reform topics to regularly check out my work over there, I also want to continue posting links to sets of posts from my MLP&R blog here in order to generate additional discussion and cross-pollination.
Over the last few weeks I have been focused on recreational marijuana reform over at my MLP&R blog (in conjunction with my coverage of these topics in the "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar I am teaching this semester). Here are links to a few major recent posts in this series:
Thursday, September 26, 2013
House Government Operations subcomittee to examine "Federal Response to Marijuana Legislation" ... OR NOT
Though sure to be overshadowed (and perhaps precluded) by the prospects of a federal government shutdown, on Wednesday October 2, 2013 at 10am, as noted at this official webpage, there will be Hearing before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee of Government Operations titled "Examining the Federal Response to Marijuana Legislation."
I am inclined to suspect that this hearing will not be quite a pro-reform-oriented as the similar Senate Judiciary Committee hearing which took place earlier this month (discussed here and here and here). Yet, as this local press report notes, one of the members of this House Subcommittee, Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan, is a co-sponsor of a bill titled "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act" which aspires to prevent the feds from criminally prosecuting persons who act in compliance with state marijuana laws. Consequently, there could well be a prominent states' rights theme to this hearing.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
UPDATE: A check on the House Subcommittee website linked above, the morning of October 2, 2013, now shows no record of this previously scheduled hearing. I am not sure if this hearing was cancelled because of the federal government shutdown or for other reasons, but I am intrigued and deeply disappointed this hearing is apparently no longer going to happen. Bummer.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
A few recent medical marijuana highlights from "Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform"
Regular readers of this blog likely have come to notice relatively fewer posts of late on marijuana law and reform issues, and that reality is a direct result of the fact that my work on this topic is now being principally channelled to my new blog Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform. While I urge everyone who is especially interested in drug policy reform topics to regularly check out my work over there, I also expect to make a habit of posting links to sets of posts from my MLP&R blog here in order to generate additional discussion and cross-pollination.
For example, I have over the last few weeks done a series of posts pondering medical marijuana laws and practices over at my MLP&R blog (in conjunction with my coverage of these topics in the "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar I am teaching this semester). Here are links to the main posts in this series:
- Two decades into experimentation, what is really known about medical marijuana practices?
- Do any studies explore increased (or decreased) violent crime or unemployment (or other undisputed social ills) in medicial marijuana states?
- Can we rank the "best" and "worst" medical marijuana states? By what metrics?
There are a few answers to a few of these questions in the comments over at MLP&R, though I remain quite eager to get more input and reactions from readers here or there on these topics.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Two decades into experimentation, what is really known about medical marijuana practices?Soon it will be a full twenty years since voters in California passed Proposition 215 to make that state the first to allow the medical use of marijuana. As of Fall 2013, a total of 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws. (Here is a very helpful NCSC list with links to all the legal basics.) And yet, even now that nearly half of all US jurisdictions have legalized medical marijuana, I am struck by how little is really known about about medical marijuana practices.
The website ProCon.org has via this web portal with lots and lots of helpful information and links on the topic of medical marijuana, and the site lives up to its claim of presenting "facts, studies, and pro and con statements on questions related to whether or not marijuana should be a medical option." But notably absent from this site (or really any others I could find) was any serious and balanced "on the ground" research concerning the practical realities of "medical" marijuana use and abuse in any particular jurisdiction or across the United States.
This ProCon.org webpage, titled "How Many People in the United States Use Medical Marijuana?," has a very interesting state-by-state accounting of "the actual number of patients holding identification cards in the states (and District of Columbia) with mandatory registration" which reports that there are over 1 million registered medical marijuana patients. But these basic registration numbers, of course, do not tell us anything about who are these registered patients and for what purposes and how often they use marijuana as medicine.Similarly, a lot of pro-reform organizations like Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have lots of information about medical marijuana laws and lots of resources and arguments for would-be advocates. But hard data on medical marijuana patients and their practices do not leap off the page at these locales.
As noted in this recent post at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, a prominent opponent of modern marijuana reforms called medical marijuana "a laughable fiction" noting that in California, a the typical user is a 32-year-old white man with no life-threatening illness but a long record of substance abuse; in Colorado, 94% of medical marijuana patients just pain as the justification for their pot prescription; and in Oregon, only 10 practitioners write the majority of all marijuana prescriptions in the state. And yet, many prominent doctors have come to acknowledge, as stated by the reknown Dr. Sanjay Gupta in this pro-pot CNN piece, that there are many "legitimate patients who depend on marijuana as a medicine, oftentimes as their only good option."
Because the medical and scientific communities are still vigorously debating the potential health benefits and harms of marijuana and its chemical compounds, and especially because all marijuana distribution and use remains illegal under federal law, I suppose I should not be too surprised that it is hard to find much "on the ground" research concerning the practical realities of "medical" marijuana use and abuse in any particular jurisdiction or across the United States. But I find this reality disappointing, and I know that I would sure like to know a whole lot more about medical marijuana patients and their practices. (And, in class today in my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar, I hope to steer our discussion of medical marijuana to the question of what students think the average likely voter would want to know about the practical realities of "medical" marijuana before supporting any reform to the legal status quo.)
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Monday, September 09, 2013
What questions should be central to Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on "Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws"?Though perhaps overshadowed by foreign policy issues these days, on Tuesday September 10, 2013 at 2:30pm, as detailed at this official webpage, there will be a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.” Here is the official agenda/hearing list:
- The Honorable James Cole, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice
- The Honorable John Urquhart, Sheriff, King County [Washington] Sheriff’s Office
- Jack Finlaw, Chief Legal Counsel Office of [Colorado] Governor John W. Hickenlooper
- Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D., Co-founder and Director, Project SAM Director, Drug Policy Institute, University of Florida
I am expecting and hoping that there will be written testimony from some or all of these witnesses posted via the Senate website within the next 24 hours, and I am planning to watch the webcast of the hearing (and perhaps even live-blog some of it at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform).
Here at The Weed Blog one can see a whole bunch of very hard questions that might be asked of DAG Cole concerning federal policies and practices, which were set forth in a letter sent by the pro-reform group California NORML to Senator Dianne Feinstein. I doubt many of these questions will be asked verbatim, but they provide an effective pro-reform perspectives on various ways in which state and federal marijuana laws, policies and practices operate at cross-purposes.
As the title of this post suggests, I am eager for readers of this blog to indicate what kinds of questions they might be most eager to see addressed in tomorrow's scheduled Senate hearing.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Sunday, September 01, 2013
Assembling reactions of those most critical of AG Holder's announcement on federal pot policy
In these comments to a post about the recent announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder concerning federal marijuana policy, former federal prosecutor Bill Otis asserted that "what the AG is actually saying is that nothing is changing" and that the announcement was really no big deal. But, as evidenced by some very negative reactions by some drug war supporters, not everyone shares Bill's perspective.
This Huffington Post piece, for example, reports that police groups "that include sheriffs, narcotics officers and big-city police chiefs slammed Attorney General Eric Holder in a joint letter Friday [available here], expressing 'extreme disappointment' at his announcement that the Department of Justice would allow Colorado and Washington to implement state laws that legalized recreational marijuana for adults." Here is more via the Huff Post report:
"It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations -- whose members will be directly impacted -- for meaningful input ahead of this important decision," the letter reads. "Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department’s conclusion on this matter. Simply 'checking the box' by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion."
The missive was signed by the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers Associations’ Coalition, the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. Law enforcement, the police groups said, "becomes infinitely harder for our front-line men and women given the Department’s position."
In addition, this round-up from StoptheDrugWar.org reports on some other notable negative reactions from "opponents of marijuana law reform":
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
"Decades from now, the Obama administration will be remembered for undoing years of progress in reducing youth drug use in America," Dr. Paul Chabot of the Coalition for a Drug Free California said in a statement. "This president will be remembered for many failures, but none as large as this one, which will lead to massive youth drug use, destruction of community values, increased addiction and crime rates."...
"We can look forward to more drugged driving accidents, more school drop-outs, and poorer health outcomes as a new Big Marijuana industry targeting kids and minorities emerges to fuel the flames," warned former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy in a statement issued by Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana), a neo-prohibitionist organization that couches its policy aims amid public health concerns.
"This is disappointing, but it is only the first chapter in the long story about marijuana legalization in the US. In many ways, this will quicken the realization among people that more marijuana is never good for any community," said Project SAM cofounder and director Kevin Sabet....
The taxpayer-funded Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) also weighed in with disappointment, doom, and gloom. "The Department of Justice announced that it will not sue to block the implementation of laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize marijuana, despite the fact that these laws are in conflict with federal law," said CADCA head Gen. Arthur Dean in a statement. "CADCA and its more than 5,000 community coalitions across the country have been anticipating a response from the administration that would reaffirm the federal law and slow down this freight train. Instead, this decision sends a message to our citizens, youth, communities, states, and the international community at large that the enforcement of federal law related to marijuana is not a priority."
"The fact remains that smoked marijuana is not medicine, it has damaging effects on the developing adolescent brain, and can be addictive, as evidenced by the fact that 1 in 6 youth who use it will become addicted," Dean claimed, adding that the country is in "a growing crisis" as marijuana law reforms take hold. "The nation looks to our Justice Department to uphold and enforce federal laws. CADCA is disappointed in the Justice Department's decision to abdicate its legal right in this instance. We remain gravely concerned that we as a nation are turning a blind eye to the serious public health and public safety threats associated with widespread marijuana use."
Thursday, August 29, 2013
DOJ and Obama Administration (finally) report plans concerning federal marijuana enforcementAs reported in this Washington Post piece, today the Obama administration "said it will not stand in the way of Colorado, Washington and other states where voters have supported legalizing marijuana either for medical or recreational use, as long as those states maintain strict rules involving distribution of the drug." Here is more:
In a memo sent Thursday to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states [and available at this link], Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole detailed the administration’s new stance, even as he reiterated that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
The memo directs federal prosecutors to focus their resources on eight specific areas of enforcement, rather than targeting individual marijuana users, which even President Obama has acknowledged is not the best use of federal manpower. Those areas include preventing distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing the sale of pot to cartels and gangs, preventing sales to other states where the drug remains illegal under state law, and stopping the growing of marijuana on public lands.
A Justice Department official said that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had called the governors of Colorado and Washington around noon Thursday to inform them of the administration’s stance.
The official said Holder also told them that federal prosecutors would be watching closely as the two states put in place a regulatory framework for marijuana in their states, and that prosecutors would be taking a “trust but verify” approach. The official said the Justice Department reserves the right to revisit the issue....
Until Thursday, the Justice Department and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy had remained silent about those initiatives, despite repeated requests for guidance from state officials....
The issue has been percolating since Obama took office, and he has repeatedly faced questions about the tension between differing federal and state laws.
This (relatively short) official DOJ Press Release provides this account of the decision:
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an update to its federal marijuana enforcement policy in light of recent state ballot initiatives that legalize, under state law, the possession of small amounts of marijuana and provide for the regulation of marijuana production, processing, and sale.
In a new memorandum outlining the policy, the Department makes clear that marijuana remains an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act and that federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute. To this end, the Department identifies eight (8) enforcement areas that federal prosecutors should prioritize. These are the same enforcement priorities that have traditionally driven the Department’s efforts in this area.
Outside of these enforcement priorities, however, the federal government has traditionally relied on state and local authorizes to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws. This guidance continues that policy.
For states such as Colorado and Washington that have enacted laws to authorize the production, distribution and possession of marijuana, the Department expects these states to establish strict regulatory schemes that protect the eight federal interests identified in the Department’s guidance. These schemes must be tough in practice, not just on paper, and include strong, state-based enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding. Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time. But if any of the stated harms do materialize — either despite a strict regulatory scheme or because of the lack of one — federal prosecutors will act aggressively to bring individual prosecutions focused on federal enforcement priorities and the Department may challenge the regulatory scheme themselves in these states.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
UPDATE: Jacob Sollum has collected some of the early reactions to these developments via this piece at Forbes titled "Reactions To DOJ Marijuana Memo: Dismay, Exuberance, Skepticism."
Monday, August 26, 2013
Senator Leahy looking for answers from DOJ on pot policy by September 10 hearingEveryone eager to find out how the US Justice Department plans to deal with federal marijuana law and policy in the wake of various significant state reform efforts should now mark September 10, 2013 on their calendars. That's because, according to this post a The BLT, on that Tuesday three weeks from now, Senator Patrick Leahy is going to convene a hearing at which he plans to ask DOJ about its plans. Here are the details:
When it comes to marijuana laws, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to know whether the U.S. Department of Justice plans to prosecute or pass.
Nearly a year after voters in two states legalized marijuana possession, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman once again plans to ask Justice Department officials how they will handle the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws.
Leahy has invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify at a September 10 hearing about Washington and Colorado legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, as well 20 states and Washington D.C. legalizing medicinal marijuana.
But Holder and the Department of Justice have given no public indication of the federal government's planned response to the state initiatives. Holder, testifying in the Senate in March, said he would reveal a policy "relatively soon." In the meantime, Colorado officials told TPM last week that they believe the delay amounts to "tacit approval" from the Justice Department to implement the marijuana laws....
Leahy has written the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy about the issue, and questioned whether state officials who license marijuana retailers are risking prosecution for carrying out their duties.
"It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal," Leahy said in a written statement. "I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government."
Holder drew criticism from some medical marijuana advocates for a speech earlier this month concerning mandatory-minimum sentences, which are often in play in drug cases. Holder, in his remarks, did not get into the tension between state and federal marijuana laws.
The statement announcing Senator Leahy's plans for this hearing is available at this link from the Senator's website.
Friday, August 16, 2013
"Lawyers Debate Best Ways To Sell Marijuana -- No Joke"The title of this post is the headline of this new Forbes commentary, which gets started this way:
No joke. At the recently concluded American Bar Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco–as at most other gatherings–lawyers like to talk. They may be contentious or cooperative, but they do like to talk. Especially about something controversial, and especially about outsmarting the government.
From that viewpoint, medical marijuana is a perfect storm. And the lawyers don’t need munchies to talk about it. California is one of many states in which the medical marijuana industry – and the lawyers that represent its players – struggle for survival and legitimacy.
Prosecutors continue to take a hard line on marijuana infractions. And some lawyers in private practice are looking at the best way to make sales. Mind you, we’re talking about legal sales of medical marijuana.
It’s that old oil and water issue of federal v. state law. Many states — 21 of them now — have legalized marijuana for medical use. Several states — Washington and Colorado — have legalized it completely. Yet under federal law, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
No matter how good a patient’s medical needs may be or how many doctors line up on the patient’s behalf, marijuana is still a no-no to the feds. And this is not merely academic. The enforcement of federal law is real, no matter what state law allows. Given the prevalence of medical marijuana dispensaries in California and elsewhere, this issue is unlikely to go away entirely anytime soon.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Seeking suggestions for "must-reads" for my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar
As regular readers may recall, I will have the unique honor and distinct pleasure of teaching a (ground-breaking?) law school seminar this Fall semester titled "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform." The seminar starts next week, and I am trying to finalize my (necessarily tentative) reading list for the first part of the semester. As the title of this post indicates, I am eager now to get some concrete suggestions about what others would consider to be "must-reads" for the students in this seminar.
I am very pleased to be able to utilize Controlled Substances: Crime, Regulation, and Policy, a brand-new casebook by Professor Alex Kreit, as the primary text for the seminar. Students will be exposed via big parts of this book to lots of great general readings on drug regulation and prohibtion debates, as well as lots of specific materials on medical and recreational marijuana laws and policies. In addition, I have just created this new blog, titled simply "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform," where I plan to provide new resources and materials for student consideration (e.g., I have already linked/discussed AG Holder's speech via this post over there).
But, especially based on terrific feedback I have received via my prior posts about my new seminar, I suspect some folks may have some especially informed and/or innovative thoughts about some (student-friendly) readings that I must make sure to have my seminar students read. If so, please share those thoughts in the comments.
A few related prior posts:
- Starting a summer series on the upper-level law school canon and my marijuana seminar
- How can/should I cover drug markets — black, gray, and white — in my marijuana seminar?
- Guest blogging on "Controlled Substances: Crime, Regulation, and Policy" by Professor Alex Kreit
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
NYC Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu advocating marijuana legalizationThis new AP story, which provides further proof of a fast-moving, sea-change in marijuana reform and policy discussions, reports that "New York City Comptroller John Liu is proposing a historic overhaul of the city’s marijuana laws, believing that legalizing medical marijuana and allowing adults to possess an ounce of pot for recreational use would pump more than $400 million into the city’s coffers." Here is more:
I think this story is notable and significant not only because a notable NYC politician is making a public case for marijuana legalization, but also because it seems likely to get this mayoral candidate a lot more media attention in the weeks and months ahead. And if this pot legalization advocacy not only improves Liu's media hits, but also his overall standing in the mayoral pols, lots of other politician are sure to take note.
The sweeping change, which would put New York at the forefront of a growing national debate over use of the drug, calls for recreational marijuana to be regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco.
Liu, the city’s top financial officer who is also running for mayor, commissioned a report that finds that New York City has a $1.65 billion marijuana market. If a 20 percent excise tax and the standard 8.875 percent city sales tax is imposed on the pot sales, it would yield $400 million annually in revenue, Liu believes. Another $31 million could be saved a year in law enforcement and court costs.
“It is economically and socially just to tax it,” Liu told the Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. “We can eliminate some of the criminal nature that surrounds the drug and obtain revenue from it.”
The comptroller’s plan, which likely faces stiff opposition from state lawmakers who would have to authorize it, calls for the state to oversee private businesses selling pot. Licenses would be required, fees would be charged, and using the drug in public or while driving would be prohibited.
Liu’s team calculated that 900,000 city pot smokers spend about $2,000 a year on the drug. He is calling for the revenue surge to be used to reduce tuition at the City University of New York for city residents.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently permit medicinal marijuana. Two states, Washington and Colorado, last year voted to allow recreational marijuana for adults.
Officials in both states predicted that the change would be create a surge in revenue — up to $60 million annually in Colorado alone, according to supporters there. But while it is too soon to evaluate the exact economic ramifications in those states, experts do believe that the city budget would be bolstered by a similar measure.
“Now, people selling the product are doing it under the table and aren’t paying any taxes on it,” said Carl Davis, Senior Analyst at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “That would change. And, it stands to reason, people would also start legally producing it locally, so there would be economic benefits there too.”
One of the nation’s leading pro-marijuana industry groups applauded Liu’s proposal. “We recognize that marijuana is better sold behind the counter than on the streets,” said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
But neither Liu nor any city official has the authority to decriminalize marijuana; that can only be done by a law that passes the state legislature and is then signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo has steadfastly opposed any decriminalization efforts and is seen as unlikely to waver from that stance, particularly as he approaches a re-election campaign next year. The Republicans who share majority control of the Senate have also opposed decriminalization proposals. Neither Cuomo nor the Senate GOP leadership would comment on Liu’s proposal.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose support could sway minds in Albany, has also long opposed efforts to legalize marijuana. His top spokesman declined comment on Liu’s proposal.
Liu is currently placing fifth in Democratic mayoral polls.
Thursday, August 08, 2013
"Why I changed my mind on weed"The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent. Here is how it gets started:
Over the last year, I have been working on a new documentary called "Weed." The title "Weed" may sound cavalier, but the content is not. I traveled around the world to interview medical leaders, experts, growers and patients. I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning.
Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled "Why I would Vote No on Pot."
Well, I am here to apologize. I apologize because I didn't look hard enough, until now. I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.
Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."
They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.
I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand, spent time with them and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana.
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Domestic and international marijuana legalization making headlines
According to the news headlines, today appears to be yet another significant day for those eager to see movement toward the ending of national and international pot prohibition. Here are the stories catching my eye: