Thursday, February 27, 2014
Seeking a (much?) broader perspective on the modern marijuana reform movement
Today's New York Times has this notable new front-page article headlined "Pivotal Point Is Seen as More States Consider Legalizing Marijuana." Here are some excerpts:
A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use. That has set up a watershed year in the battle over whether marijuana should be as available as alcohol.
Demonstrating how marijuana is no longer a strictly partisan issue, the two states considered likeliest this year to follow Colorado and Washington in outright legalization of the drug are Oregon, dominated by liberal Democrats, and Alaska, where libertarian Republicans hold sway.
Advocates of more lenient marijuana laws say they intend to maintain the momentum from their successes, heartened by national and statewide polls showing greater public acceptance of legalizing marijuana, President Obama’s recent musings on the discriminatory effect of marijuana prosecutions and the release of guidelines by his Treasury Department intended to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana businesses.
Their opponents, though, who also see this as a crucial year, are just as keen to slow the legalization drives. They are aided by a wait-and-see attitude among many governors and legislators, who seem wary of pushing ahead too quickly without seeing how the rollout of legal marijuana works in Colorado and Washington. “We feel that if Oregon or Alaska could be stopped, it would disrupt the whole narrative these groups have that legalization is inevitable,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which is spearheading much of the effort to stop these initiatives. “We could stop that momentum.”...
At least 14 states — including Florida, where an initiative has already qualified for the ballot — are considering new medical marijuana laws this year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, and 12 states and the District of Columbia are contemplating decriminalization, in which the drug remains illegal, but the penalties are softened or reduced to fines. Medical marijuana use is already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
An even larger number of states, at least 17, have seen bills introduced or initiatives begun to legalize the drug for adult use along the lines of alcohol, the same approach used in Colorado and Washington, but most of those efforts are considered unlikely of success this year.
The allure of tax revenues is also becoming a powerful selling point in some states, particularly after Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado said last week that taxes from legal marijuana sales would be $134 million in the coming fiscal year, much higher than had been predicted when the measure was passed in 2012....
Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, are mobilizing across the country to slow the momentum, keeping a sharp eye on Colorado for any problems in the rollout of the new law there. “Legalization almost had to happen in order for people to wake up and realize they don’t want it,” Mr. Sabet said. “In a strange way, we feel legalization in a few states could be a blessing.”...
While much of the recent attention has focused on these legalization efforts, medical marijuana may also cross what its backers consider an important threshold this year — most notably in the South where Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are among the states considering such laws....
Election data, compiled by Just Say Now, a pro-marijuana group, showed that the percentage of the vote that came from people under 30 increased significantly from 2008 to 2012 in states that had marijuana initiatives. This youth vote, predominantly Democratic, rose to 20 percent from 14 percent in Colorado, and to 22 percent from 10 percent in Washington, both far above the 1 percent rise in the national youth vote....
A narrow majority of Americans — 51 percent — believe marijuana should be legal, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week, matching the result in a CBS News poll the previous month. In 1979, when The Times and CBS first asked the question, only 27 percent wanted cannabis legalized. There were stark differences in the new poll, though. While 72 percent of people under 30 favored legalization, only 29 percent of those over 65 agreed. And while about a third of Republicans now favored legalization, this was far below the 60 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents who did so....
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading advocate for legalizing marijuana, said campaigns were already underway to stage aggressive legalization drives in several states over the next couple of years, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and possibly Montana. “It is certainly important to maintain the momentum,” Mr. Tvert said, “But I don’t think we can look at any one election cycle and see what the future holds. This is going to be a multiyear effort.”
I do not disagree with the general view that 2014 is a "watershed year" concerning discussion and debate over marijuana reform (and this was one big reason I developed a taught a seminar on the topic at my law school last Fall). But, as the title of this post highlights, I have come to believe that a much broader set of social and political forces help account for modern marijuana reform movement. The forces include, inter alia, a growing distrust of all government among both left-leaning and right-leaning opinion leaders over the last 15 years, growing evidence that the many aspects of the drug war may do more harm than some drugs, the failure of Big Pharma to provide effective pain relief (without too many side effects) to many who suffer from a range of serious medial problems, and changing labor and economic realities that change to cost/benefit realities of pot prohibition versus pot regulation.
I am happy to see the front-page of the NY Times discuss the various 2014 short-term realities that may impact marijuana reform over the next few years. But I would be especially eager to hear from readers concerning what they think are broader social and political forces that will shape these stories over the next few decades.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Thursday, January 23, 2014
"How Colleges Are Preparing Students for a Country Where Pot Is Legal"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article appearing in The Atlantic. I am pleased that my law school seminar, Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, is discussed in the piece, and I am even more pleased to learn from the article that at least one other law school is now innovating in this interesting new legal space:
Professors who found an intersection between the cannabis issue and their own area of study are not the only ones pushing to introduce cannabis to higher education. Rehman Bhalesha, a South Texas College of Law student, approached the dean about wanting to establish a drug policy institute at the law school that concentrated on the legalization of cannabis. Instead, the school started a collaboration with Rice University's Baker Institute, which already focused on drug policy. The first class at South Texas College of Law, which covered cannabis legislation, was taught last spring semester. It is offered again this semester.
“Internally, the administration is really thrilled about it because it’s something innovative. And the students are excited because they get to feel like they’re putting their legal knowledge to use and to do something that might have a lasting impact in the real world. They’re not just taking exams and doing make-believe projects. We’re taking what they draft and turning it over to people who have been approached by state legislators asking for ideas,” said Dru Stevenson, the professor who teaches the legislation course.
Students in the legislation class have a range of personal feelings about cannabis. Some feel all drugs should be legalized, others think cannabis should be legalized for medical purposes only, while a few others think all drugs are bad. But Stevenson said even those who think no one should ever consume cannabis recognize the trend toward relaxing cannabis laws from a historical perspective.
“I teach a lot of courses, but I’ve never had one where people were emailing me months in advance wanting to make sure that I’m going to be offering the course and wishing they could reserve a seat ahead of time,” Stevenson said.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Recommended reading (and hoping for more comments) at "Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform"As I have noted in this space before, I am now posting much less on marijuana law and reform issues here because my energies on this topic are now mostly 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 will continue to post links to some MLP&R highlights unless I hear complaints or concerns about the practice:
As the title of this post reveals, I have so far been a little disappointed by the absence of comments in response to most posts at MLP&R. The traffic at the site has been pretty robust for a new blog (e.g., my sitemeter reports a few hundred hits most weekdays, especially if I post new content). But given that the blog is dedicated to a topic so controversial and contestable, I had expected there to be more engagement by readers (at least via anonymous commentors).
Could it be that I have managed to make marijuana boring by actually treating it as a serious and important topic of law, policy and reform?
Monday, October 14, 2013
In praise of student-assembled reading lists for law school seminars
I am using this space to promote and praise a law school teaching technique that I keep using to good effect in my "hot topic" seminars. Starting this week, the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar are "taking over" the class and classroom by selecting topics of special interest to them and assembling readings to provide the basis for our classroom discussions of these topics. I am posting these student-assembled readings over at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, and the first set of readings covers tax issues.
I had students assemble readings for a death penalty seminar to great effect a few years ago, and I was moved by the first collection assembled in my marijuana seminar to do this post of praise. I am finding, yet again, that law students are consistently able to find lots of on-line, user-friendly readings on law and policy topics (and, wonderfully, often draw on primary materials other than SCOTUS cases and on secondary materials other than law review articles).
Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg.
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 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.
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
Saturday, June 08, 2013
How can/should I cover drug markets — black, gray, and white — in my marijuana seminar?
In my first post here last week in my new summer series discussing my plans for my law school semester titled "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform," I raised some questions about how law professors should think about covering legal history topics in courses not dedicated to legal history. I am deeply grateful for all the helpful feedback I received via this blog and elsewhere, and I am starting to slowly develop a working game plan for how I will cover and discuss Prohibition and related legal and social history during the first part of my law school seminar to be taught at OSU this coming Fall semester.
As the title of this new post highlights, today's topic on which I seek feedback concerns how I should think about covering drug markets and related economic issues in this seminar. As I mentioned when talking about how to cover legal history, I sometimes worry that teaching "poor legal history" may be worse than no legal history. Candidly, I am even more concerned about the prospect of teaching "poor economics" in my seminar — especially concerning modern drug markets, both legal and illegal.
The graphic reprinted here, despite being dated and hard-to-read, provides just a window into the range of challenging market/economic issues that surround just the topic of so-called "medical marijuana." (For the record, and as I plan to discuss at length in my seminar, I am generally suspicious of any and all uses of the term "medical marijuana" because so many concepts, both valid and not-so-valid, can be and have been rolled into this phrase.) The graphic draws some data from (biased?) reports like this one, titled "The State of the Medical Marijuana Markets," which is produced by a company trying to market its marijuana market analysis through this website titled Legal Marijuana Markets.
Specifically, one of my chief concerns here is that most, if not all, of those persons and groups likely to assemble information and analyses on modern marijuana markets are likely doing so with a specific advocacy agenda. More broadly, what necessarily defines a black or gray market is a need or desire not to be transparant about how the market operates and its various economic inputs and outputs. Indeed, public policy groups like Rand doing sustained reasearch concerning marijuana markets are quick to note that "variation in assumptions such as grams per joint and extent of underreporting can cause substantial variation in estimates of market size."
In addition, I am eager in my seminar to integrate stories about the various historic and modern market/economic realities of marijuana with the various historic and modern market/economic realities of various other licit and illicit drugs — ranging from alcohol to oxycodone to tobacco to valium. Knowing simply that the national marijuana market might reach up to $10 billion in coming years does not mean much if one does not also know, for example, that the national alcohol market may be well over $250 billion and that tobacco companies spend about $10 billion each year on advertising alone.
So, dear readers, any clear thoughts about how I can and should cover opaque drug market realities? In particular, I would be eager to get advice on essential dos and dont's: are there certain drug market dynamics I must be sure to cover and/or certain market myths or economic falacies I must be sure not to perpetuate in my marijuana seminar?
Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg
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