Marijuana Legalization

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Will CO and WA Campuses Change Their Marijuana Policies?

2011 UC-Boulder 4/20 rally (courtesy NORML)
A USA Today article predicts colleges in Colorado and Washington won't be changing their marijuana policies soon:

"If someone thinks they are going to walk around campus smoking a joint, it's not going to happen," University of Washington spokesman Norman Arkans says.
 

It's not that college administrations hate marijuana. The issue is requirements placed on federal funding for research and student aid by the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act:

"We get caught in the vice between the state law and our obligations under the federal government. While it may be legal two blocks off campus, it will be illegal under federal law, so it will be illegal on campus."
 

Other schools' officials quoted were less certain, saying they'll need time to figure out what the law means now and how the feds will interpret it. I tend to think that there is something to what Arkans says, but only as far as it goes. School administrators, or at least the good ones, see federal requirements as forcing them into taking punitive measures in some cases when they'd see other approaches as more constructive. In practice that means they have more latitude to show lenience or to look the other way before a drug offense gets documented than after. But one of the ways that drug offenses get documented is through arrests. With fewer arrests, there will be less documentation, hence more opportunities to either work with a student who might have a problem, or to let something go.

As the article points out, the initiatives only legalized possession for persons 21 and over, whereas a majority of students on many campuses are under 21. I suspect that the climate will improve for people under 21 who are caught with marijuana, despite continued illegality, but only time will tell. By the way, the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act is also one of the reasons schools don't like smoke-outs.

Medical Marijuana Stock Prices Soar Following Legalization Votes

The Medical Marijuana Business Daily reports that several publicly traded companies serving the medical cannabis industry have soared in the stock market since the election:

Investors pumped money into the sector after Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis for recreational use and Massachusetts passed medical marijuana legislation. In some cases, MMJ-related stocks hit new highs and saw record trading activity, with millions of shares changing hands vs. tens of thousands on a typical day. That’s particularly impressive given that the overall stock market plunged after the election.
 

Yahoo finance chart for one of the medical marijuana companies
The Daily notes the stocks have dropped somewhat since then, and that not every cannabis business saw its stocks rise with the election. Nevertheless, "the increased investor interest in cannabis bodes well for the future of the industry," they write, "which could grow by leaps and bounds over the next year."

Are the buyers who drove stock prices up last week right to be optimistic? Looking at the market to predict the future of drug policy is kind of like using Intrade to predict a presidential election -- only time will tell at this point. But investors are doubtless thinking about a lot of the same things that we are right now: Will the passage of initiatives to legalize marijuana create political pressure on federal officials to ease up on the medical marijuana industry, or on Congress? How will the feds respond to the legalization votes? They must also wonder, if legalization systems do get established in these states, how will that affect the people (many of them our friends) who've risked much to build a medical marijuana industry serving patients there -- will they be winners or losers in that new business environment?

In the long run, I believe the answer to the first question at least is "yes" -- states enacting marijuana legalization will ultimately put pressure on all the branches of government to do something to accommodate it, while giving an advantage to our allies in government in their efforts to change things. More states will certainly do this, given where public opinion seems headed -- the questions for investors in marijuana are how long that will take, and whether their businesses will survive until then. For advocates, the question is how many lives will be needlessly ruined (again, many of them of our friends) by prohibition in the meanwhile.

California Governor Says Feds Should "Respect" State Marijuana Votes

Responding to last Tuesday's votes to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said Sunday the federal government should respect the states' rights to decide how to regulate marijuana. His remarks came on during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday morning.

Jerry Brown (gov.ca.gov)
"It's time for the Justice Department to recognize the sovereignty of the states," Brown said in response to a question from host Candy Crowley. "California has a medicinal marijuana law, other states have passed some other measures. We have a laboratory of democracy. We don't always agree with all states. Some states have capital punishment, some states don't. Some now have legalized marijuana -- small amounts for recreational use -- many states have legalized medicinal marijuana. I believe the president and the Department of Justice ought to respect the will of these separate states."

Brown said that even if marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Washington should let the states experiment with other approaches.

"I think the federal law can maintain, but it shouldn't try to nullify reasonable state measures," he said. "I'm not saying the state can do anything they want, but the measures that have been adopted so far have been after vigorous debate. In fact, there's been a marijuana legalization [initiative] in California and it was rejected. It's been rejected in other states. So we are capable of self-government. We don't need some federal gendarme to come in and tell us what to."

If the Obama administration is about to come down on Colorado and Washington, it should think again, said Brown.

"I believe comity toward the states, that's a decent respect, ought to govern the policy and that means change the policy now," the veteran politician said.

Still, Brown didn't sound especially eager to see marijuana legalized in his state. 

"I'm not prepared to bring that up," he said in response to a question from Crowley. "We already have a fair amount of marijuana use in the guise of medical marijuana and there's abuses in that field. And as governor, I review paroles for those sentenced for murder and I have to review the paroles and I review hundreds of them. And so many of them start with drugs, with marijuana, with alcohol, when they're 12, they're 15," he said. "So it's dangerous. And people should not in any way take lightly the power of chemicals, whether it be cannabis or something stronger to affect the human mind in a way that really makes desperate people far more desperate."

Washington DAs Begin Dropping Marijuana Possession Cases

Some Washington state prosecutors have begun dismissing pending marijuana possession cases in the wake of last week's vote to legalize marijuana in the state. King County (Seattle) prosecutors have dismissed 175 cases involving adults 21 or over, while Pierce County (Tacoma) prosecutors have dropped about 50 more.On Tuesday, Clark County (Vancouver) prosecutors announced they, too, were dropping possession cases.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg is no longer prosecuting small-time marijuana possession cases. (kingcounty.gov)
I-502 makes the possession of up to an ounce legal under state law and directs the state to come up with a system of state-owned marijuana stores. The possession provision doesn't come into effect until December 6, but some prosecutors have decided to apply the new law retroactively.

"Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month," King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said in a statement last Friday.

Satterberg has jurisdiction over unincorporated King County, as well as cases on state highways and at the University of Washington. In Seattle itself, which has had a lowest law enforcement priority police in place for nearly a decade, City Attorney Pete Holmes has had a policy of refusing to prosecute simple possession cases.

Satterberg had 40 cases in which criminal charges had already been filed. Those charges will be dismissed. Another 135 cases awaiting charging decisions will be sent back to the arresting police agency.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist told the Seattle Times he was dropping "about four dozen" cases where pot possession was the only offense. "The people have spoken through this initiative," said Lindquist. "And as a practical matter, I don't think you could sell a simple marijuana case to a jury after this initiative passed."

In an interview with the Times, Satterberg said his office would continue to prosecute marijuana possession above one ounce, but would have "a buffer for those whose scales are less than accurate." His office will also charge felony possession for people holding more than 40 grams, but Satterberg said his office routinely allows such defendants to plead down to a misdemeanor.

More than 241,000 people have been arrested for small-time pot possession in Washington in the past 25 years, including more than 67,000 in the last five years. That will end as of December 6, but at least some Washington prosecutors aren't waiting.

WA
United States

Feds Unsure What to Do About State Legalization

A Washington Post story by Sari Horwitz reports that federal officials don't know what they are going to do about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington:

"I really don't know what we're going to do," said one high-ranking law enforcement official involved in the decision who was not authorized to speak publicly.
 

Dept. of Justice headquarters, Washington, DC (gsa.gov)
Attorney General Eric Holder had ignored a letter signed by all the past DEA chiefs last September urging him to speak out against the ballot initiatives. That may have been a political decision to avoid losing Democratic support in Colorado, the article suggests:

"It was a battleground state," said [another] administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly
.

Horwitz's otherwise good article repeated the same fallacy we have seen crop up in other news reports of late, the idea that states can't do this because of federal law, a fallacy that I predicted here and have already noted here. The article states:

The most likely outcome will be that the Justice Department will prevent the laws from going into effect by announcing that federal law preempts the state initiatives, which would make marijuana legal for recreational use, law enforcement sources said.
 

Perhaps it's just a typo, and I don't know what the sources told Mr. Horwitz, but no matter what the legal and practical outcome of all of this, it is not the case that DOJ can preempt a state's law by making an announcement about. They can ask a court to preempt the laws, and then the court will decide. Significant legal precedent indicates that Congress cannot force states to criminalize conduct they don't want to criminalize, anymore more than states can force Congress to lift such criminalization -- as I've pointed out, in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws, no federal prosecutor has ever tried to do so. Maybe they'll try now, and if so we'll see what the Supreme Court's inconsistent conservatives say and what the liberals say. But they've had plenty of incentive to go that route already, and for some reason haven't.

Not that the feds can't make a fight of things. As the medical marijuana battles show, they have ways to interfere. They can send vaguely threatening letters, implying without directly stating that state employees would be violating federal law by implementing regulations for marijuana, as US Attorneys in most medical marijuana jurisdictions have done. That could scare the governors, who could seek delays implementing the initiatives, which in turn would have to be addressed in court. The IRS could move against the new businesses, auditing and penalizing them under a tax rule that disallows most expense deductions for illegal enterprises. (The law bizarrely allows dispensaries to deduct the cost of marijuana itself, but not other things like payroll or rent.) They can make it hard for marijuana businesses to maintain relationships with banks. And of course they can raid any marijuana store that they choose to.

But none of that is the same as preempting the laws themselves. And none of it would stop people from possession marijuana whenever they want, legally under the states' laws, or in Colorado from growing it. This needs to be repeated as often as possible: Colorado and Washington's marijuana laws are different from federal marijuana law, but that doesn't mean they conflict with it; and not every conflict is legally impermissible. If federal law just preempted state law in that way, 18 states would not have medical marijuana today.

Colorado Dems to Seek Federal Exemption from Marijuana Prohibition

All three Democratic members of Colorado's Congressional delegation are planning legislation for next year that would exempt states enacting legalization systems for marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. According to the Colorado Independent:

Congressional staffers told the Independent that Colorado Reps Diana DeGette (CD1), Ed Perlmutter (CD7) and Jared Polis (CD2) are working independently and together on bills that would exempt states where pot has been legalized from the Controlled Substances Act.
 

DeGette Chief of Staff Lisa Cohen told the Independent that proposals the representatives are working on would alter section 903 of the act to allow states to establish their own marijuana laws free from federal preemption.

Winning has consequences. Of the three of them, it was only Polis from Colorado who had previously signed on to H.R. 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. DeGette and Perlmutter did cosponsor legislation to protect medical marijuana dispensaries' ability to do banking. But now all three of them seem not only willing to take on prohibition, but eager.

H.R. 2306 has garnered 21 cosponsors, including 19 Democrats and two Republicans. Some of those are leaving Congress at the end of their current terms -- Ron Paul (R-TX) is retiring, as is the legislation's sponsor, Barney Frank (D-MA). Pete Stark (D-CA) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) lost their seats after redistricting forced them to run against other Democrats.

Paul and Frank in particular were particularly active champions of drug reform, but Stark and Kucinich were among our champions too. Polis is certainly eager to take the lead on these issues; another H.R. 2306, Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) posted on his Facebook page last Thursday, "We must be rational about its medical use, then move to legalize it." Hopefully we'll find enough support in the new Congress to move reform forward

A final note on H.R. 2306: One of the things we heard from activists was that they were too discouraged to work on passing the bill, because it wasn't going anywhere -- hardline Judiciary chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) wasn't going to allow hearings, and passing it after hearings didn't seem likely. I hope that people will reconsider that. Think about how long people worked before it became possible to pass these initiatives on the ballot. It just takes awhile to move legislation in Congress too, but that doesn't mean that progress isn't being made.

In fact it's the opposite -- when members of Congress see their constituents working for something, lobby them, building coalitions and so forth, and when they see other members of Congress supporting them, over time more of them become willing to sign on to bills or to expend political capital moving them forward. Eventually a bill moves, or more likely, its language or something like it gets included in a larger piece of legislation, when it's introduced or through an amendment. In the meanwhile, we have to do as much as we can to build that support and awareness on the part of members of Congress, so they'll think of us and our issues when there's a new chairman or some other window of opportunity is opened.

One small way to do that is to use our web site to email your representatives in Congress asking them to support H.R. 2306. Some of them will not be returning to Congress in January, when a new version of the bill will have to be offered, but many of them will be. Of course sending an email is just the bare beginning -- we will be organizing a second teleconference in the near future to talk about more.

Seattle Police Legal Marijuana Guide Features Gandalf and Bilbo

Embedded video from "The Lord of the Rings," appearing on Seattle Police Blotter legal marijuana guide page.
The SPD Blotter yesterday published "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle." It includes a guide for citizens as well as a heads-up on what police and the mayor are working on. Some highlights from the document, paraphrased:

  • You can legally carry up to an ounce of marijuana, as of December 6th, but not in public view.
  • Rules for marijuana stores will be developed over the next year, and won't be done until December 1st, which means no legal sales until then.
  • Growing is still illegal.
  • Marijuana smoking in public is ticketable in some places -- treated like cigarette smoking.
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal.
  • Police like the clarity of legalization more than the grey area of Seattle's previous "lowest priority" policy for marijuana enforcement.
  • Police are reviewing their hiring policies with regard to prospective officers' past marijuana use.
  • Police will not assist the federal government in any investigations into marijuana offenses that are legal under state law.
  • Police will not return marijuana they seized from you prior to the passage of the initiative.

The article was written with humor, and includes embedded video from The Lord of The Rings movie of Gandalf and Bilbo blowing smoke rings.

I almost forgot the main highlight from the bulletin: "You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home."

Marijuana Votes Have Mexicans Talking Legalization

With US public support for marijuana legalization now at the 50% mark, and state legalization efforts now starting to come to fruition, people are naturally talking about it. Academics at RAND and elsewhere recently came out with a book, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know," discussing the wide range of issues impacted by legalization and that will come into play affecting how it will play out. (We are sending out copies of this book, complimentary with donations, by the way.)

Spanish-language infographic from the Mexican Institute for Competitives marijuana legalization report
One of the most interesting discussions going on is about how legalization in Washington and Colorado will affect Mexico. We reported yesterday that Mexico's incoming administration plans to reassess Mexico's fight against drugs, which has cost the country dearly in lost life. Luis Videgaray, a key advisor to President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, assures that the president continues to oppose legalization, according to the AP. Nevertheless, other Mexican voices are raising the legalization question with increased intensity.

"It seems to me that we should move to authorize exports," [governor of the the violence-plagued border state of Chihuahaha Cesar] Duarte [an ally of Pena Nieto] told Reuters in an interview. "We would therefore propose organizing production for export, and with it no longer being illegal, we would have control over a business which today is run by criminals, and which finances criminals."
 

And as The Economist noted last week (hat tip The Dish), the Mexico City-based think tank Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) believes that legalization may cost the cartels big time. IMCO estimates that Mexican drug trafficking organizations earn $2 billion per year from marijuana, with $1.4 billion of it going to the US. Significantly, IMCO doesn't just think that legalization by the US and Mexico would cut off the cartels from those funds. They have speculated that marijuana grown in Washington and Colorado (particularly Colorado) might be diverted and sold in other states, with a dramatically lowered cost made possible by legalization causing prices to drop elsewhere as well. Lower prices in turn might lead US marijuana users who now buy Mexican weed to switch to marijuana grown in the US instead, even if it's still illegal in their own states.

I am skeptical that we will see that kind of price drop just yet, in the absence of federal legalization, even in Washington or Colorado. It hasn't happened yet from medical marijuana, even though marijuana grown for the medical market is just as divertable as marijuana grown for the recreational market may be -- the dispensaries themselves haven't undercut street prices, partly to try to avoid diversion. Sellers in other states, and the people who traffic it to them, will continue incur the kinds of legal and business risks that they have now. And it is still impossible to set up the large scale farming operations for marijuana that reduce production costs today for licit agriculture. But we don't really know yet.

Now one study is just one study, at the end of the day -- there are other estimates for the scale and value of the marijuana markets and for how much Mexican marijuana makes up of our market. But the cartels clearly have a lot of money to lose here, if not now then when federal prohibition gets repealed -- IMCO's point is valid, whether they are the ones to have best nailed the numbers or not.

It's also the case that some participants in the drug debate, such as Kevin Sabet, have argued that legalization won't reduce cartel violence, because "the cartels will just move into other kinds of crime." But those arguments miss some basic logical points. Cartels will -- and are -- diversifying their operations to profit from other kinds of illegal businesses besides drugs. But it's their drug profits -- the most plentiful and with the highest profit margin -- that enable them to invest in those businesses. The more big drug money we continue to needlessly send them, the more they will invest in other businesses, some of which are more inherently violative of human rights than drugs are.

Some researchers believe that Mexican cartels will step up their competition in other areas, if they lose access to drug trade profits, which could increase violence at certain levels of the organizations. But such effects are likely to be temporary. Nigel Inkster, former #2 person in Britain's intelligence service and coauthor of "Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States: The Problems of Prohibition," at a book launch forum said he thinks that at a minimum the upper production levels of the drug trade, as well as the lower distribution levels, would see violence reductions. (We are also offering Inkster's book to donors, by the way.)

And it isn't just violence that's the problem. As a report last year by the Center for International Policy's Global Financial Integrity program noted, "[C]riminal networks... function most easily where there is a certain level of underdevelopment and state weakness... [I]t is in their best interest to actively prevent their profits from flowing into legitimate developing economies. In this way, transnational crime and underdevelopment have a mutually perpetuating relationship." The money flow caused by prohibition, accompanied by violence or not, is itself an important enough reason to urgently want to end prohibition as we do, and to reduce the reach of prohibition as much as is politically possible in the meanwhile, as Colorado and Washington have done.

And so Mexican and other thinkers are speaking up, as are victims of the current policy. For all their sakes, President Pena Nieto should not dismiss legalization so quickly. And Sabet and others should not be so quick to try to argue away the impact that the billions of dollars drug prohibition sends each year to the illicit economy has in fueling criminality and hindering societies from developing.

Hundreds of Marijuana Cases Were Dismissed in Washington This Week

Two county prosecutors in Washington State have dismissed 220 pending marijuana possession cases, in response to the passage of I-502, according to the Seattle Times.

"Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month," [King County Prosecutor Dan] Satterberg said in a statement.
 

Satterberg dismissed 175 possession cases involving persons age 21 or over possession one ounce or less. In neighboring Pierce County, Mark Lindquist said he was dismissing about four dozen marijuana cases, but was continuing to prosecute them if they were secondary to more serious offenses such as DUI.

"The people have spoken through this initiative," said Lindquist. "And as a practical matter, I don't think you could sell a simple marijuana case to a jury after this initiative passed."
 

As I noted Wednesday, Tuesday really happened.

These 220 people are lucky. Drug convictions including marijuana can trigger a range of collateral consequences, including loss of college aid, difficulty qualifying for public housing and other penalties, in Washington including the ability to trigger a firearm. According to marijuana-arrests.com:

Employers, landlords, credit agencies, licensing boards for nurses and beauticians, schools, and banks now routinely search these databases for background checks on applicants. A simple arrest for marijuana possession can show up on criminal databases as "a drug arrest" without specifying the substance, the charge, or even if the person was convicted. Employers and landlords, faced with an abundance of applicants, often eliminate those with criminal arrest records, especially for drugs. Nurses, security guards, and others licensed by the state can lose their licenses and their jobs from just one misdemeanor marijuana arrest.

What Legal Marijuana Will Look Like in Washington State

Jacob Sullum has a detailed discussion in Reason's "Hit & Run" blog of "What Legal Pot in Washington Will Look Like." Jacob compares Washington's I-502 with Colorado's Amendment 64 and notes that while both initiatives legalize marijuana for adults 21 or over, and authorize state-licensed marijuana stories, in other (but not all) ways Washington's law is more restrictive than Colorado's.

The main differences are that Washington doesn't allow home growing; there is a Driving Under the Influence provision that is tied to a specific THC level (the provision that prompted some objections within reform circles); stores are more regulated; and the tax rate is higher.

Conversely, Washington's law does not allow local jurisdictions to ban marijuana stories within their borders, an option that cities in Colorado will have. If you've followed the Medical Marijuana Update series that Phil has been writing in our newsletter, you'll probably agree that that is a big benefit.

Unlike Colorado's law, which can only be changed by constitutional amendment, I-502 can be amended by the legislature at any time -- with a 2/3 vote for the next two years, or by majority vote after that. Our friend Roger Goodman, election this week for a fourth term in Washington's House of Representatives, told the Seattle Weekly last month that he and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles hope to address the DUI issue, and improve the state's medical marijuana system, perhaps through requiring that impairment be determined by independent experts rather than the per se DUI standard or other means.

Hopefully other changes or expansions to the law will become possible over time too, as voters and legislatures become accustomed to marijuana being legal and are satisfied that things are working. Unlike with medical marijuana, non-patients (over 21) obtaining marijuana will not be an issue anymore in Washington or Colorado.

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