The First Legislature To Legalize Pot

Vermont

It could be Vermont’s:

It’s far too early in the process to gauge whether the legislature will approve marijuana legalization. But Gov. Peter Shumlin previously said he’s not opposed to it, although he would like to see more data from Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize, before Vermont follows through.

Last week, RAND released a study on the legalization options for the Green Mountain State. Niraj Chokshi reads through it:

If passed, legalization could have big implications for the region. There are nearly 40 times the number of regular marijuana users within 200 miles of Vermont’s border as there are within its borders, RAND estimates. That means the state could see a huge boost in tourism by legalizing, unless of course other states legalize.

Kleiman, who contributed to the RAND report, is excited:

The Vermont process holds out great promise, because the normal legislative process – ugly as it can be – has the possibility of producing a result much more nuanced and more carefully considered from multiple viewpoints than the initiative process, under which propositions are drawn up by advocates with the advice of pollsters, no one ever holds a hearing, and any idea that can’t be explained in a 30-second TV spot has to be dropped. The key point of the RAND report is that there are legalization options other than full commercialization.

But Josh Voorhees makes clear that full commercialization is working out pretty well for Colorado thus far:

Retail and medical weed generated more than $60 million in tax and licensing revenue for the state in 2014, the lion’s share of which is helping to pay for school construction and the regulatory system that legalization requires. Opponents looking to nitpick can—and do—point to the fact that the total is a far cry from the $100 million windfall that state officials predicted at the start of last year. But even though legalization advocates hyped a major influx in tax revenue as a selling point, evaluating legal weed on a metric tied so tightly with consumption has always been an awkward proposition. The goal, after all, was never to encourage more people to light up a joint or gobble down a brownie. More revenue would be better, but too much more would represent its own type of problem.

A Mixed Bag For Marijuana

by Dish Staff

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 29:   A man purchases medical marijuana,

Congress’s spending bill interferes with the legalization of pot in DC. But Josh Voorhees focuses on another provision in the bill, which “stops the Justice Department from spending a dime to prosecute patients or medical marijuana dispensaries that are acting in accordance with state law but running afoul of federal ones”:

In shear terms of people impacted, the medical provision will dwarf that of the more publicized D.C. ban, even assuming the latter survives a potential legal challenge. The District is home to roughly 640,000 people; California, one of 23 states where medical pot is legal, is home to more than 38 million. Forcing the federal government to respect state medical marijuana laws has long been a goal of the legalization movement, but one that had previously proved unattainable.

He finds it telling that “a sweeping provision that could fundamentally reshape how the federal government treats medical marijuana slipped through with hardly a peep”:

That just goes to show how far the battle lines have shifted in the favor of the pro-pot crowd and suggests that, in spite of the potential setback in the District itself, the future for their side in Washington is a brighter one.

Jon Walker isn’t as excited:

Having Congress not longer actively opposing medical marijuana is a big victory for the reform movement, but not a complete solution. The provision is only a short-term and incomplete fix. Medical marijuana is still technically illegal under federal law which will continue to causes issues with things like taxes for medical marijuana business. The provision also only applies to this one year funding bill.

David Borden unpacks the new rules:

What will this mean on the ground? It should mean that DEA and other branches of the Dept. of Justice can no longer threaten medical marijuana providers (or more theoretically, patients) with arrest or prosecution, and that landlords should no longer face the threat of asset forfeiture for property being rented to medical marijuana businesses. But the precise language, which focuses on states’ implementating medical marijuana systems, could be argued as applying more narrowly, giving reassurance to state officials about their participation but not going further. Another concern is that a prosecutor could argue, for example, that a given marijuana business is not operating in strict accordance with a state’s law. Our perspective in the movement is that that determination should be up to state authorities, not federal, but that’s not necessarily the perspective of federal law enforcement. Those are some reasons why it remains to be seen just how thoroughly and reliably the protections that the new law provides will turn out to be, and these questions are being debated right now.

Meanwhile, Walker urges Obama to intervene on DC’s behalf:

If the Obama administration uses their power to move marijuana to Schedule II or III, this legal impediment on D.C. taxing and regulating marijuana would theoretically be removed. Potentially, there might still be a legal fight over whether raw marijuana would count as a tetrahydrocannabinols derivative, but one can argue that legal term is meant to apply only to newly-discovered and potentially dangerous synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols derivatives, which are often being sold as “incense.” Once again, if both the D.C. Council and the Obama administration share support for this interruption of the law, any legal challenge is unlikely to succeed.]

And Dylan Matthews, who voted for legalization in DC, wants his vote counted:

It’s easy to dismiss the importance of ensuring marijuana legalization in DC. Pot policy tends to be treated as a laughing matter, and DC is admittedly the third smallest state/quasi-state by population. But it’s still, substantively, among the most important riders in the CRomnibus. DC had a higher marijuana possession arrest rate in 2010than any other state (perhaps understandably, as it’s the only city-state): 846 arrests per 100,000 residents, which works out to about 5,091 arrests total.

That’s over 5,000 people a year paying fines, doing community service, and going through probation; it’s over 5,000 people who’ll forever have to check the box on job applications asking if they’ve ever been arrested, among many other consequences for employment, government benefits, child custody, and more. DC also has the second biggest gap between black and white arrests of any state: 1,489 arrests per 100,000 black residents versus 174 per 100,000 white residents. Black Washingtonians are over eight times likelier to be arrested for the same crime, when there’s no evidence of any racial gaps in actual marijuana usage.

(Photo: A man purchases medical marijuana, the first legal sale, at Capital City Care in Washington, DC on July 29, 2013. By Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Congress: Dopelessly Devoted To Disenfranchising DC

The “cromnibus” spending bill currently making its way through the Congressional duodenum contains some discouraging news for the 70 percent of DC residents who voted to end prohibition in the capital last month:

The sweeping omnibus appropriations bill includes a provision that appears to prohibit the District of Columbia from spending any taxpayer funds to carry out marijuana legalization. It does not, however, affect a separate decriminalization measure passed by the City Council this spring, and leaves the city’s medical-marijuana infrastructure intact. The exact meaning of the language, which Republicans and Democrats appeared to be interpreting differently, will be more clear when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees issue full reports explaining the legislation’s implications.

House Republicans had been pushing for language in the bill that would have upended legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana. But negotiators whittled the language down to target only the most recently passed initiative, which has yet to be implemented. The omnibus spending bill must be passed by Dec. 12 to avoid a government shutdown, so even those opposed to the measure are unlikely to scuttle the bill’s passage because of the high stakes involved if the omnibus fails.

Still, there may be a loophole allowing the initiative to proceed:

 The text of the bill says no funds “may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated” with recreational use of drugs illegal under federal law. “Some advocates I’ve spoken with aren’t so sure” the bill blocks legalization, Marijuana Majority chairman Tom Angell told The Huffington Post. “It all hinges on the definition of the word ‘enact.'” Angell explained that the question is whether Initiative 71, which voters approved in November legalizing recreational marijuana, should be considered “enacted” on Election Day, or whether “enacting” means the District Council transmitting the initiative to Congress for review, which has not yet occurred.

“I’ve heard good arguments on either side,” Angell said, “and I think it’s up in the air now, especially since press reports from earlier on Tuesday quoted unnamed congressional staffers as saying the bill would allow D.C. to move forward with legalization. Ultimately, it may take a court case to decide what ‘enact’ means.”

Tim Lynch fumes:

As a constitutional matter, the Congress can set policies for the District of Columbia, but this is an awful move.  No vote on marijuana reform, just override the voter-approved measure by inserting language into a gigantic spending bill. Isn’t it interesting that such tactics never seem to be used to downsize the federal government and reduce its powers?  Why not zero out the budget for the DEA or the Export-Import Bank?

“How’s that going to play politically?” Allahpundit asks:

Well, per last month’s exit polls, a majority of voters nationally favor legalizing marijuana — but that majority has dropped seven points, from 58 percent to 51 percent, since last year. Maybe the 2013 number is an outlier or maybe, as more states vote to legalize, voters think the shift is happening too fast. Only 31 percent of self-identified conservatives support legalization, so the GOP should be fine with its older, more right-wing base, even if that means irritating libertarians and younger adults. As for Washingtonians, they can still enjoy the drug publicly for now provided they can get their hands on it, which, if you’re unwilling to buy from a gang member, isn’t easy to do: If I’m not mistaken, the nearest state where sales are legal is Colorado, some 1,500 miles away.

Advocates are planning to march from the Justice Department to Capitol Hill tonight in protest. Not all of the news is bad, though: the bill also blocks the DoJ from meddling in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Phillip Smith notes the potential consequences of this provision:

If the omnibus budget bill is approved, the spending curb could well halt several pending federal criminal cases, including the case of the Kettle Falls Five, who are being prosecuted in Washington, a state where not only medical but recreational marijuana is legal, for growing medical marijuana within state guidelines. It would also severely cramp the style of the DEA, which has conducted hundreds of over-the-top aggressive raids in medical marijuana states. And it could mark an end to numerous civil asset forfeiture cases brought by US Attorneys in California against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Orange County.

It’s also smart politics, unlike the baffling move to overturn the will of Capital residents. Chris Ingraham flags a new poll showing widespread public support for the federal government butting out of this issue and leaving it for the states to decide:

That’s one of the conclusions of a survey on marijuana legalization recently commissioned by Third Way, a centrist think tank. Similar to other recent polling, the survey found Americans split on the question of full legalization, with 50 percent supporting versus 47 percent opposed. But the poll found that six in ten respondents said that states, and not the federal government, should decide whether to legalize marijuana. And 67 percent of Americans said Congress should go further and specifically carve out an exemption to federal marijuana laws for states that legalize, so long as they have a strong regulatory system in place.

In short, there’s a lot of nuance here. “Even 21% of those opposed to legalization for recreational use still agreed Congress should pass” a waiver policy for the legalization states, according to the report. The waiver approach isn’t without precedent: Congress issues waivers to states all the time.

Moms For Marijuana Reform

Emily Badger talks to mothers supporting Oregon’s legalization initiative:

Yes On 91If Oregon sufficiently undermines the black market, marijuana wouldn’t be sold, as [stay-at-home mom and Yes on 91 supporter Leah] Maurer puts it, “everywhere.” And where it is sold, government would control access the same way it does to age-restricted alcohol. Teens of course still get their hands on beer, as they will no doubt still get their get their hands on marijuana — a point the moms opposed to Measure 91 make. If you don’t want your kid to smoke marijuana, the question is whether you think a regulated world — one that comes with tighter control but greater public acceptance of pot — will create the lesser of two evils.

“Think about the repeal of prohibition of alcohol,” [Anthony Johnson, the chief petitioner for the measure] says. “Voters and concerned citizens still wanted to know there’s somebody checking IDs, that alcohol’s being tested, labeled properly, sold in properly zoned areas. When you repeal, you didn’t have it legal so anybody could brew as much as they want and sell it.”

Mark Kleiman has misgivings about Oregon’s initiative. He worries that, as written, the law will lead to more teen use:

Unless the legislature decided to raise it, the $35-per-ounce tax in Measure 91 would lead, within a couple of years, to prices way below current illicit prices and way below legal prices in Washington State. That in turn would mean big increases in use by minors and in the number of Oregonians with diagnosable cannabis problems. It would also mean substantial diversion of cannabis products legally sold under Oregon’s low taxes to Washington, where taxes are much higher. (Currently the flow goes the other way, with the two biggest-selling legal cannabis stores in Washington being the two closest to Portland.)

But, were he an Oregon voter, he would still vote yes. One reason why:

Given the balance of political forces, it seems more reasonable to trust the legislature to rein in a too-lax legalization scheme than to expect it to do what no legislature in the nation has been willing to do yet: pass a full cannabis-legalization law.

By the way, Oregon Dishheads may be interested in our new “Know Dope” shirt:

know-dope-or

Marijuana Doesn’t Make You Stupid

Ingraham draws attention to a new study on teen pot use and IQ:

Even heavy marijuana use wasn’t associated with IQ.

“In particular alcohol use was found to be strongly associated with IQ decline,” the authors write. “No other factors were found to be predictive of IQ change.”

The UK study does find evidence, however, of slightly impaired educational abilities among the very heaviest marijuana users. This group of students scored roughly 3% lower on school exams taken at age 16, even after adjusting for confounding factors.

In a press release accompanying the study, lead author Claire Mokrysz noted that “this is a potentially important public health message- the belief that cannabis is particularly harmful may detract focus from and awareness of other potentially harmful behaviours.” Reviewer Guy Goodwin of Oxford University agreed: “the current focus on the alleged harms of cannabis may be obscuring the fact that its use is often correlated with that of other even more freely available drugs and possibly lifestyle factors. These may be as or more important than cannabis itself.”

When Exactly Might DC Have Legal Weed?

know-dope-shirts

Jon Walker asks around:

“About four months” is theoretically the absolute fastest that stores could begin selling recreational marijuana in the District after the D.C. Council adopts new legislation, according to Rabbi Jeff Kahn. As the operator of Takoma Wellness Center, one of D.C.’s three functioning medical marijuana dispensaries, he is uniquely positioned to provide insight into this question.

But a year to a year-and-a-half is more likely:

One big hold up could be the council and the local regulators charged with writing the final rules.

The council is going to need to not only balance the needs of the customers, the community and business leaders, but also trying to prevent Congress and/or federal agencies from stepping in to shut down the whole thing. After all, voters in the District first approved a medical marijuana initiative back in 1998, but Congress stepped in to prevent the District from actually adopting medical marijuana rules until 2010. Earlier this year, a federal appropriations bill containing a provision to block D.C. efforts to move forward with marijuana legalization actually passed in the House, but it died when the Senate didn’t take it up.

That said, Councilmember David Grosso (I) feels that if voters show overwhelming support for Initiative 71, the council will move quickly to respect the will of the electorate.

Which is a good opportunity to highlight the absurd anomaly of the capital city’s disenfranchisement. Which reminds me: get your Know Dope DC t-shirts here. (Oregon version here and Alaska version here … full details on the shirts here.)

Legalization Crosses The Border

Cannabis Supporters Hope For Legalization

Christopher Ingraham maintains that “the news coming out of Colorado and Washington is overwhelmingly positive.” And that other nations are paying attention:

Countries, particularly in Latin America, are starting to apply these lessons in order to craft smarter policies that reduce violence and other societal harms brought about by the drug war. Uruguay, for instance, has moved toward full national legalization of marijuana, with an eye toward reducing the thriving black market there. Mexico’s president has given signs he’s open to changes in that country’s marijuana laws to help combat cartel violence. The Organization of American States recently issued a statement in favor of dealing with drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice one.

Regardless the eventual direction of marijuana legalization in the U.S., steps toward reform here are already prompting other countries to seek out more pragmatic solutions to their drug problems. In short, they’re making the world a better place.

However, Ed Krayewski is underwhelmed by Uruguay’s experiment:

Just 378 people registered as of last month, and why would there be more? Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, who supported legalization even while warning of the illness marijuana use can lead to, is nevertheless term-limited. The front runner to succeed him, cancer doctor Tabare Vazquez, also his predecessor, is excited about using the registry to “better know who uses drugs and be able to intervene earlier to rehabilitate that person.” Meanwhile, the other candidate, center-right Luis Lacalle Pou, is opposed to legalization. Uruguay’s marijuana legalization experiment may not last much longer than Mujica’s term.

Update from a reader:

Of course legalization is going to spread across the world.  After all, the main reason that draconian drug policies are in place, and have not changed already, is that the US government demanded them.  And had the power to make the rest of the world go along, however reluctantly.

As soon as that driver fades, everybody gets to return to their own preferences.  Which, for a lot of countries (although doubtless not all) means legalization of some drugs, and milder penalties for most.  They are especially motivated, since illegal drugs are what fuels the gangs which make law and order a distant dream in so many places.  Most of Latin America would probably legalize tomorrow if US policy didn’t demand that they enlist in the War on Drugs, and be grateful to be able to devote their resources to the real problems that their countries face.

(Photo: A sticker calling for the legalization of marijuana lies on the street at the annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) on August 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Supporters of cannabis legalization are hoping legalized sale in parts of the USA will increase the likelihood of legalization in Germany. The city of Berlin is considering allowing the sale of cannabis in one city district. By Sean Gallup/Getty Images)