Marijuana Legalization

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Michigan Cops Ponder Detroit Marijuana Legalization Vote

Voters in Detroit overwhelmingly approved legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults on private property in last month's elections, but according to Michigan Live, local law enforcement agencies are either uncertain what to do or are fully prepared to ignore the will of the voters.

Marijuana is legal in the Motor City. Someone tell the cops. (wikimedia.org)
None of the law enforcement agencies contacted by Michigan Live said they had instructed their officers to stop citing or arresting people for pot possession in the city. Some agencies were set to ignore the Detroit ordinance, while others were not sure how they would respond.

State Police spokesman Lt. Mike Shaw said the ordinance would have no impact on its enforcement policies. If state police catch you with marijuana, he said, you will be cited with state misdemeanor possession charges and be looking at up to a year in jail.

"We don’t enforce local ordinances, so nothing has changed for us," Shaw said. "Marijuana is still illegal for us according to state law. Anyone who doesn't have a medical marijuana card will be arrested for state possession."

The Detroit Police Department isn't sure what it will do.

"This legislation is being reviewed by the city of Detroit Law Department," said Sgt. Eren Stephens of the Public Information Office.

Neither is the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

"We have not developed a policy yet on that issue," said sheriff's spokesman Dennis Niemiec. "It’s being looked at by our training and legal departments."

The Wayne State University Police Department, which patrols the campus and some surrounding neighborhoods hasn't figured out yet how to respond, either.

"We have not come up with an official policy," said Chief Anthony Holt. "It’s a federal law regarding (marijuana possession) so it's probably something we’ll have to get an opinion on. But it's not a real big priority for us now."

And even though the measure passed by a margin of 65% to 35%, Detroit City Council members remain adamantly opposed to implementing the will of the voters.

Possession of marijuana is "still illegal" under state and federal law, Councilwoman Brenda Jones told the Detroit Free Press. "We will not be writing an ordinance that says something that's illegal is legal."

"It was really a waste or our time," said City Council President Charles Pugh.

Perhaps in the next election, Detroit voters will find that reelecting people like Jones and Pugh is a waste of their time.

Detroit, MI
United States

Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Marijuana Policy

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement last Thursday that he intends to hold a hearing seeking information about how the Obama administration plans to respond to the successful marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Leahy said he expects to hold the hearing when Congress reconvenes early next year.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (leahy.senate.gov)
Leahy also released a letter he sent earlier this month to Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) asking him what recommendations the agency will make to the Justice Department and how, given the fiscal constraints the administration faces, it intends to use federal resources in light of the legalization votes in Colorado and Washington. The veteran Vermont lawmaker also asked Kerlikowske what assurances the administration can give to state officials responsible for the licensing of marijuana retailers to ensure they will face no criminal penalties for carrying out their duties under those state laws.

"The Senate Judiciary Committee has a significant interest in the effect of these developments on federal drug control policy," Leahy wrote. "Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face. In order to give these options full consideration, the committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter."

The Obama administration has yet to formally respond to the legalization votes, but Attorney General Eric Holder said last Wednesday the Justice Department will announce "relatively soon" where it stands on federal enforcement of the pot laws in the two states.

"There is a tension between federal law and these state laws,” Holder said in response to questions after a speech in Boston. "I would expect the policy pronouncement that we’re going to make will be done relatively soon."

A series of public opinion polls this month have found little public support for federal interference with state marijuana laws in states where it is legal, with majorities calling for the feds to keep out of the way. Support for federal non-interference is strongest among key Obama constituencies, including Democrats, independents, and young voters.

Washington, DC
United States

Senate Judiciary Committee to Take Up Legalization Next Year

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pat-leahy.jpg
Pat Leahy
Huge news this morning: Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has sent a letter to the drug czar about the Washington and Colorado initiatives, Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo noted today:

Leahy wants information:

How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana? What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?
 

But it's even bigger than that. Leahy is planning committee hearings on marijuana legalization, to include consideration of legislative options, including "amend[ing] the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law."

I am wondering just how huge this may be. Leahy has good views, but he's also a careful senator who would not care to be at odds with his fellow Democratic committee members or the president. He's also a former prosecutor who dislikes uncertainty or disorder in the law and its implementation.

On the other side of the aisle are Tea Party and other Republicans who may or may not like legalization, mostly don't want to say so if they do, but have campaigned on states' rights. One Colorado Republican, Mike Coffman, has cosponsored a recent bill to allow for state marijuana legalization, despite having voted against the Colorado initiative himself. Word is that at least a couple more Republicans are likely ready to join the group. And recent polls have found that more Americans favor letting states decide about legalization than even support legalization. Micah Cohen at the FiveThirtyEight blog noted the CBS poll found 49% of people who oppose legalization favor letting states decide.

In any case things are further along in Congress than before. The Frank-Paul bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, H.R. 2306, got a few Republicans, but the hard-line House Judiciary chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) would not allow hearings. (Smith was the only member of Congress to oppose crack sentencing reform -- our Judiciary Committee chair!) Incoming chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is said to be reasonable on some issues, but not particularly positive on ours. Still, given what happened last month and what is happening now, it may just look a little too bad for Goodlatte to disallow even hearings, as Republicans struggle to redefine their profile in the wake of a tough election for them.

Marijuana Legalization "OK," Says Jimmy Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter said he was fine with marijuana legalization during a Tuesday CNN forum. Carter supported marijuana decriminalization during his presidency in the mid-1970s, but now is prepared to go a step further.

Jimmy Carter (wikimedia.org)
He told CNN host Suzanne Malvaux that he was "in favor" of states taking steps to free the weed. "I think it's OK,” Carter said. "I don't think it's going to happen in Georgia yet, but I think we can watch and see what happens in the state of Washington for instance, around Seattle, and let the American government and let the American people see does it cause a serious problem or not."

Carter's comments came as marijuana legalization has become a front burner issue like never before in the wake of the decision by voters in Colorado and Washington to move away from pot prohibition. Now, with marijuana possession by adults already legal in those two states, all eyes are on Washington, waiting to see how the Obama administration will respond to efforts by state officials to craft a system of regulations for marijuana commerce.

The former president also suggested that continued marijuana prohibition contributed to high incarceration rates, especially among racial minorities.

"It's a major step backward, and it ought to be reversed, not only in America, but around the world," Carter said, suggesting that the US should look to Portugal, which decriminalized as drug possession in 2000, as a model.

The Carter critique of marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs in general is little surprise. Not only did he favor decriminalization in the wake of the Shafer Commission report, which was commissioned and then ignored by his predecessor, Richard Nixon, in 1972, but he has since gone on to become an increasingly vocal critic of drug prohibition and proponent of marijuana law reform.

US drug policy has "destroyed the lives of millions of young people," Carter said at a September forum, and he appeared last week in the drug war documentary Breaking the Taboo again arguing that the US drug war has failed both domestically and internationally.

Americans Want Feds Out of State Marijuana Laws

In the wake of last month's votes to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington, yet another poll has found strong opposition to the federal government taking steps to enforce federal marijuana laws in those states. A Gallup poll released Monday found that only 34% wanted the feds to step in, while almost two-thirds (64%) were opposed.

Two other post-election polls released earlier also showed majority support for the feds butting out. One had support for letting the states experiment with legalization at 51%, the other at 59%. Combined, the polls suggest that public opinion is moving against Washington when it comes to deciding who should determine marijuana policy in the states.

The Gallup poll also asked about views on marijuana legalization and found that 48% said it should be legal, while 50% were opposed. Since the poll's margin of error is +/- 4%, the results indicate a country evenly divided on the issue. Three other post-election polls on the question had majorities in favor of legalization, while one more had a 47%-47% tie.

When it comes to whether the federal government should intervene, not only did an overwhelming majority (87%) of legalization supporters said it should not, but even 43% of those who opposed legalization said it should not.

"The significant majority of Americans would advise the federal government to focus on other issues, even though public pot smoking in states where it is legal flouts national laws currently on the books," Gallup said. "By contrast, there is no clear-cut direction from the American public on the underlying issue of legalizing use of marijuana. Although support for legalization has risen substantially over the past 43 years, the public remains divided, with Democrats and young people most in favor, while Republicans and older Americans are most likely to be opposed."

More grist for the mill as the Obama administration ponders its response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.

Cato Policy Analysis and Forum on State Legalization and Preemption

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cato-institute.jpg
Cato Institute (cato.org)
The libertarian Cato Institute has published a Policy Analysis, "On the Limits of Federal Supremacy: When States Relax (or Abandon) Marijuana Bans." The author of the brief is Robert A. Mikos, professor of law and director of the Program in Law and Government at Vanderbilt University Law School. Mikos is speaking at a Cato forum tomorrow here in Washington, DC, as is former congressman and DEA chief Asa Hutchinson.

I haven't read Mikos's analysis yet, but the following excerpt gives a hint at what he might say tomorrow:

Using medical marijuana as a case study, I examine how the anti-commandeering principle protects the states' prerogative to legalize activity that Congress bans. The federal government has banned marijuana outright, and for years federal officials have lobbied against local efforts to legalize medical use of the drug. However, an ever-growing number of states have adopted legalization measures. I explain why these state laws, and most related regulations, have not been -- and cannot be -- preempted by Congress. I also develop a new framework for analyzing the boundary between the proper exercise of federal supremacy and prohibited commandeering.
 

It's not surprising that a professor friendly to Cato would take a friendly view toward state legalization measures. But Mikos is not the only one. Just today on a phone conference I participated in, a former prosecutor told us that his community sees the courts preempting the state laws as a reach and less than likely, though some DOJ officials want to try for it.

Hutchinson may see things differently, but who knows, maybe we'll be surprised. Perhaps he will have interesting insights to offer on the likely federal response. Hutchinson is a rarity among DEA types in being willing to come out and debate, and he has been known to make reasonable statements about the issue on occasion, though I'm sure we still disagree on most aspects of drug policy.

Should be an interesting talk -- check back at the link for video if you can't come out for it. In the meanwhile, you can read some of my own thoughts on the preemption question here, and a discussion with experts in our newsletter here.

Marijuana Is Now Legal in Colorado! [FEATURE]

And then there were two. On Monday, December 10, 2012, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order certifying last month's Amendment 64 victory and legalizing the use, possession, and limited cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and over.

Colorado now joins Washington as states where voters approved marijuana legalization last month and where the will of the voters has now become law. In both states, it is only the possession (and cultivation in Colorado) parts of the new laws that are now in effect. Officials in Denver and Olympia have a matter of some months to craft and enact regulatory schemes for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution -- provided the federal government does not seek to block them from doing so.

While the federal government may seek to block implementation of regulations, it cannot make the two states recriminalize marijuana possession. And the states have no obligation to enforce federal marijuana laws.

In both states, however, it remains illegal to sell marijuana or cultivate it commercially pending the enactment of regulatory schemes. Still, pot possession is now legal in Washington and Colorado.

"Voters were loud and clear on Election Day," Hickenlooper wrote. "We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64."

In addition to the executive order certifying the election results, Hickenlooper also signed an executive order establishing a 24-person task force charged with coming up with a way to implement Amendment 64's taxation and regulation provisions. The task force consists of government officials and other stakeholders, including representatives of medical marijuana patients, producers, and non-medical consumers, and will make recommendations to the legislature on how to establish a commercial marijuana market.

"All stakeholders share an interest in creating efficient and effective regulations that provide for the responsible development of the new marijuana laws," the executive order said. "As such, there is a need to create a task force through which we can coordinate and create a regulatory structure that promotes the health and safety of the people of Colorado."

Issues that will be addressed include: the need to amend current state and local laws regarding the possession, sale, distribution or transfer of marijuana and marijuana products to conform them to Amendment 64's decriminalization provisions; the need for new regulations for such things as security requirements for marijuana establishments and for labeling requirements; education regarding long-term health effects of marijuana use and harmful effects of marijuana use by those under the age of 18; and the impact of Amendment 64 on employers and employees and the Colorado economy.

The task force will also work to reconcile Colorado and federal laws such that the new laws and regulations do not subject Colorado state and local governments and state and local government employees to prosecution by the federal government.

"Task force members are charged with finding practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of implementing Amendment 64 while at all times respecting the diverse perspectives that each member will bring to the work of the task force," the executive order emphasized. "The task force shall respect the will of the voters of Colorado and shall not engage in a debate of the merits of marijuana legalization or Amendment 64."

Marijuana legalization supporters cheered the issuance of the executive orders.

"This is a truly historic day. From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana. We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for issuing this declaration in a timely fashion, so that adult possession arrests end across the state immediately," said Mason Tvert, one of the two official proponents for Amendment 64 and newly appointed communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"We look forward to working with the governor's office and many other stakeholders on the implementation of Amendment 64," Tvert continued. "We are certain that this will be a successful endeavor, and Colorado will become a model for other states to follow."

Not everyone was as thrilled as Tvert. Both US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Colorado State Patrol James Wolfinbarger issued statements Monday warning respectively that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that driving while impaired by marijuana is still a crime.

"The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state," Walsh said in his statement. "The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10th in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses."

"The Colorado State Patrol would like to remind motorists that if you chose to consume marijuana and make the decision to drive that you are taking a huge risk," Wolfinbarger said. "Drivers must realize that if you are stopped by law enforcement officials and it is determined that your ability to operate a motor vehicle has been affected to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol or both, you may be arrested and subjected to prosecution under Colorado's DUI/DUID laws. It is imperative that everyone takes responsibility for public safety when driving on Colorado's highways."

While the implementation of regulations for marijuana commerce in Colorado and Washington is by no means assured, the legalization of pot possession in the two states is a done deal. And with it, a huge hole has been blown through the wall of marijuana prohibition. Since the election last month, public opinion polls have shown increasing support -- and in three out of four cases, majority support -- for marijuana legalization, as well as little patience for federal interference in states that have legalized.

Marijuana prohibition may not be dead yet, but voters in Colorado and Washington have delivered a mortal blow. The clock is ticking.

Denver, CO
United States

Prohibitionists are Overstating Feds vs. State Marijuana Legalization Case to Media

A mostly great piece in Rolling Stone this weekend, "Obama's Pot Problem," missed the mark on the federal preemption question -- can the feds shut down Washington and Colorado's legalized regulation systems? Tim Dickinson wrote the following on that subject:

[T]he administration appears to have an open-and-shut case: Federal law trumps state law when the two contradict. What's more, the Supreme Court has spoken on marijuana law: In the 2005 case Gonzales v. Raich contesting medical marijuana in California, the court ruled that the federal government can regulate even tiny quantities of pot – including those grown and sold purely within state borders – because the drug is ultimately connected to interstate commerce. If the courts side with the administration, a judge could issue an immediate injunction blocking Washington and Colorado from regulating or taxing the growing and selling of pot – actions that would be considered trafficking under the Controlled Substances Act.
 

But a former Bush administration official quoted in the New York Times on Thursday, former DOJ civil division head Gregory Katsas, made the opposite prediction. Katsas was "skeptical" that a preemption lawsuit would succeed, according to the Times. Why? Perhaps because it's not just that the feds can't force states to criminalize drug possession, as Kevin Sabet selectively pointed out to Dickinson. It's also the case that they probably can't directly force the states to criminalize sales either. The Controlled Substances Act in fact leans against federal preemption of state drug policy, as pointed out in a law professors brief on preemption submitted in a California case this year.

Dickinson also pointed out that federal officials had used threats to prosecute state employees involved in implementing regulations for medical marijuana. In my opinion the US Attorney letters were deliberately vague -- scary enough to influence state officials, but in most if not all cases stopping short of explicitly making that threat. A better piece of evidence, I think, is that in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws, no federal prosecutor has ever tried to actually invalidate such a law in court, not even after the Raich ruling. Why not? They must not think they have a slam dunk case. And if preemption is not a slam dunk for medical marijuana, then it's not a slam dunk when it comes to legalization either, although there are additional arguments to throw against full legalization.

The reality is that no one knows how this will turn out if it goes to court. Raich established that federal police agencies can use their powers in medical marijuana states to continue to criminalize marijuana federally, justified by the Interstate Commerce Clause. But that is not the same as having the power to forbid states from granting exceptions to the states' own anti-marijuana sales laws, which in legal terms is what the regulatory frameworks do, and plenty of smart lawyers are skeptical that they can do that. This is not a slam dunk either way.

Majority Says Feds Should Stay Out of Marijuana Legalization States

A slight majority of adults say the federal government should not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws in states which have voted to legalize it, according to a new YouGov poll. Some 51% of respondents said the federal government should "exempt adults who follow state law from enforcement."

The poll was conducted December 5 and 6 among 1,000 adults. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.4%.

The poll comes as the Obama administration ponders how to respond to last month's passage of marijuana legalization measures Amendment 64 in Colorado and I-502 in Washington. While possession of up to an ounce by adults became legal last week in Washington and will become legal within weeks in Colorado, both states have a matter of months to come up with regulatory structures for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution.

There has been speculation that the administration may attempt to block the regulatory and tax components on the initiatives, but this poll suggest little support for that among the public.

Fewer than one-third (30%) of respondents said the federal government should "enforce the drugs laws the same way it does in other states," while an unusually high 20% of respondents were not sure.

This is the second poll this month to find a majority saying the question of legalization should be left to the states. A CBS News poll last week  had 59% of respondents saying it should be up to the states. Like the YouGuv poll, this poll had only about one-third (34%) saying it should be up to the federal government.

What Happens Next?

We noted this morning that marijuana is now legal in Washington State. (!) But what happens next?

As WA press noted, federal authorities had no plans to intervene at this time -- the expected celebrations proceeded unmolested, at least we've not heard of any problems.

Seattle skyline
Of course that's not what the feds would do. As we've noted here, most law enforcement is state and county and local -- federal arrests for marijuana possession are a rarity, and mostly occur in places like national parks that are specifically federally controlled. Thinkers within and without our movement have been speculating what the federal response might be and what options they will legally have at their disposal once the courts weigh in.

As one of our advisors, Eric Sterling, commented in our newsletter after the election, officials at the Dept. of Justice were taken by surprise, perhaps by the passage of the initiatives and certainly by the strong margins of victory. A New York Times story today by Jack Healy noted that the Obama administration has yet to announce any policy on the matter, but have simply noted that federal law remains unchanged. According to the article, officials asked about it referred to a statement released yesterday by the US Attorney in Seattle, Jenny Durkan:

"In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance," [Durkan] said. "Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."
 

Which tells us nothing we didn't know. But Durkan did say that the administration is reviewing the initiatives. And according to Healy's article, "several people familiar with the [administration's] deliberations" say they are considering legal action. There are a few legal issues at stake:

  • Can the government "preempt" the states' regulatory systems -- that is, not just raid marijuana stores if they choose to, but prevent the state from exempting any growers or distributors or sellers under state law?
  • If they can, will that endanger the rest of the laws? The argument for that, Healy posits, would be that voters mightn't have passed the laws without the regulations.
  • Do the state laws run afoul of our government's treaty obligations, particularly the 1961 Single Convention on Drugs?

Many scholars are skeptical that a preemption challenge would succeed. Gregory Katsas, a DOJ official in the George W. Bush administration, pointed out to the Times that there is nothing in the laws that prevent the federal government from bringing marijuana cases in the states. The argument there is that the laws are not in "positive conflict" with the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), despite their clear "tension" with it. Several legal scholars submitted a brief in a California case on this subject earlier this year taking that viewpoint.

My takeaway from the brief was that the feds might not be able to preempt even the regulatory portions of the laws, and would probably have to amend the CSA to have a chance. The very same law that would be invoked in a court case, is the same one at work in prohibition of medical marijuana. And in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws, including now 10 dispensary states, no federal prosecutor has sought to invalidate any of these laws in court. That suggests they are not confident of what their prospects would be.

Regarding the treaties, my guess would be that the same reasons federal law might not preempt state marijuana legalization applies to the treaties too -- marijuana is still federally illegal. The treaties do seem to frown even legalized possession. But they explicitly allow for alternatives to criminalizing possession, such as health and education-based approaches -- which we don't have as much of as we should, but which we do have. So it's not clear that the treaties will be a problem either.

All that said, we do not know what will happen, and Congress's power to regulate commerce is broad -- the pressure on the feds to do something is greater, and the set of arguments they can bring to court are more numerous.

I am excited but also anxious about what may happen next. Are Amendment 64 and I-502 going to federal court? What will the courts say? Will the feds try to scare Washington and Colorado officials from implementing regulations -- will the states' governors stand up to them if they do, or will they seek delays as happened in a number of medical marijuana states? Will the federal raids being made against medical marijuana facilities be expanded when legalized marijuana stories eventually open? Such a strategy would be more effective in Washington, less so in Colorado where there will be more stores and where home growing is legal. But they can probably take down anyone in Colorado as they choose. Will there be threats to withhold highway funds over the laws, or law enforcement funds?

Hopefully the Obama administration will finally choose to be on the right side of history on this issue. But we'll ses. What happens next? For now we wait -- I am nervous but also excited.

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