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Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Reform Bills Filed Today, DEA Scorched on Seizures, More... (3/30/17)

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus is getting down to business, yet another poll shows strong (and increasing) support for marijuana legalization, Trump names an acting drug czar, a California safe injection site bill is moving, and more.

The DOJ's inspector general is not impressed with DEA asset forfeiture practices. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New General Social Survey Poll Shows Jump in Support for Legalization. Support for marijuana legalization surged last year, according to new data released by the General Social Survey. The poll has support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from 2014.

Package of Federal Marijuana Reform Bills, Including Legalization, Filed Today. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals. Click on the link to read our feature story and see more about the bills.

Vermont Legalization Bill Hits Snag. The effort to legalize marijuana took a detour Tuesday when the House leadership indefinitely postponed a vote on House Bill 170 after it became apparent it didn't have enough votes to pass. The bill isn't dead, but it has now been sent to the House Human Services Committee, where it will sit until the leadership thinks it has come up with enough votes to pass.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Tax Bill. The Senate voted 31-1 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1580, which would impose a 4% tax on medical marijuana at each transaction. The tax would be levied on growers' sales to dispensaries and again on dispensaries' sales to individuals. The tax would sunset in 2019 after raising an estimated $3.6 million. The bill had already passed the House, but was sent back there for a concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate.

Colorado Legislators Vote to Rein In Medical Marijuana Home Grows. The state Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 17-1220, which would limit the number of medical marijuana plants grown at a single residence to 12. Under current law, up to 99 plants are allowed. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.

West Virginia Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate voted Wednesday night to approve Senate Bill 386, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Report Scorches DEA Over Asset Forfeitures. The Justice Department inspector general's office has released a report on DEA cash and asset seizure practices that warns the way DEA operates may pose a risk to civil liberties. The report noted that most seizures result from direct observation by DEA agents or local police, leading to concerns about the potential for racial profiling. The report examined a hundred asset forfeiture cases, and found that fewer than half advanced ongoing investigations. "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution," the report said.

Drug Policy

Trump Nominates Richard Baum as Acting Drug Czar. The president has nominated Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) veteran and Georgetown University adjunct professor Richard Baum to be acting drug czar. While some of Baum's remarks over the years have drawn controversy, he is generally viewed by insiders as having a public policy approach as opposed to a drug warrior approach.

Harm Reduction

California Bill to Allow Supervised Injection Sites Advances. A bill that would create a five-year exemption from the state's drug laws to allow for the operation of supervised injection facilities advanced in the Assembly last week. The Assembly Health Committee voted 9-4 to approve Assembly Bill 186. The bill now goes to the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Bills Filed in DC Today Are "Path to Marijuana Reform" [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals.

"The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business," Wyden said in a statement. "This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard."

The three bills in the package have not yet been assigned bill numbers, but are:

The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) -- Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The Small Business Tax Equity Act -- Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden's Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act -- Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; end requirement for residents of marijuana-legal states to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and ease barriers for medical marijuana research.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (wikimedia)
The three-bill package is just the latest pot law reform effort in Congress this year. At least five other bills have already been filed, and lawmakers are also planning to reintroduce the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocked the Justice Department from funding enforcement efforts against state-legal medical marijuana programs, and the McClintock-Polis amendment, which would similarly block enforcement against state-legal adult use programs. That later amendment came up just eight votes short last year.

The moves come against a backdrop of increasing acceptance of marijuana and marijuana legalization. Twenty-nine states now allow marijuana for qualified patients and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use. Public opinion polls now consistently show pot legalization with majority support; the latest came this week when the General Social Survey pegged support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from just two years earlier.

Groups supporting marijuana legalization pronounced themselves pleased.

"The first time introduction of this particular piece of legislation in the US Senate is another sign that the growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers nationwide is continuing to translate into political support amongst federal officials," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, "With marijuana legalization being supported by 60% of all Americans while Congress' approval rating is in the low teens, ending our country's disastrous prohibition against marijuana would not just be good policy, but good politics."

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)
"This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws," Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it's time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it."

"If we are truly going to move our nation towards sensible marijuana policies, the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act is paramount. Annually, 600,000 Americans are arrested for nothing more than the possession of small amounts of marijuana and now is the time for Congress to once and for all end put an end to the national embarrassment that is cannabis prohibition," said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. "Passing this legislation would end the current conflict between state and federal laws and allow the states to implement more sensible and humane marijuana policies, free from the threat of federal incursion."

Not everybody was happy. Former White House drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet, who now heads the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told The Cannabist that more marijuana legalization would have negative consequences.

"While we don't want to see folks locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, we support federal laws against marijuana," Sabet wrote in an e-mail. "We need to end, not expand the special interest big marijuana lobby. We can't ignore the fact that today's legalized marijuana -- and the accompanying industry -- is damaging to public health. States that have legalized marijuana continue to see a black market for the drug, increased rates of youth drug use, continued high rates of alcohol sales and interstate trafficking."

But Sabet's is an increasingly lonely voice in the wilderness.

Five Reasons Trump Needs to Think Twice Before Waging War on Weed

White House press secretary Sean Spicer's comment last week that we "will see greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition has set off tremors in the pot industry, but it should be setting off warning bells at the White House itself.

Going after legal marijuana will have serious political and economic ramifications. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Any move against marijuana would be politically fraught, economically foolish, and counter to some of the Trump administration's other expressed goals, such as fighting Mexican drug cartels and creating American jobs right here in America.

Here are five reasons the Trump administration needs to think twice before its meddles with legal marijuana:

1. Legal marijuana is way more popular than Trump is. A Quinnipiac poll released last week is only the latest of a long series of polls in recent years showing majority support for marijuana legalization. That poll had nearly three out of five Americans -- 59% -- down with freeing the weed. And more directly to the political point, an even higher number -- 71% -- want the federal government to butt out in states where it is legal. Trump, meanwhile, is polling in the thirties or forties in personal popularity polls. And we know he wants to be liked.

2. Trump can't make legal marijuana go away; he can only mess it up. Even if Jeff Sessions lives up to marijuana industry nightmare scenarios by successfully shutting down pot businesses and preventing states from taxing and regulating it, marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use will remain legal under state law. The federal government cannot force state and local police to enforce federal marijuana prohibition and it does not have the resources to effectively do so itself. People will continue to grow and possess pot in legal states, and continue to sell it -- only now all that activity will return to the black market.

3. Legal marijuana is a job creation dynamo. The marijuana industry already employs more than 100,000 people and, if left unimpeded, would create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020, according to a recent report from New Frontier Data. That report projects that 250,000 jobs would be created in the industry by 2020, while Bureau of Labor statistics project than 800,000 manufacturing jobs are going to vanish by 2024. And new jobs are way more likely to pop up in marijuana processing operations than in coal fields.

4. Legal marijuana is a tax bonanza for the states. In Colorado, the state took in $200 million in pot tax revenues in 2016, using it for schools and public health and safety, Oregon took in $60 million, and Washington saw $35 million in the last fiscal year. In California, the Legislative Analyst's Office estimates legal weed will generate $1 billion in tax revenues per year. An awful lot of fiscal conservatives are very happy to see those revenues.

5. Legal marijuana hurts drug cartels. If the Trump administration wants to hurt Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels, not interfering with legal competition from this side of the border is a good way to do that. Mexican brick weed is not, of course, the sole source of cartel revenues, but it is a significant one, accounting for perhaps a fifth of cartel receipts, and legalization is hurting cartel marijuana exports. Seizures at the border have dropped by nearly two thirds in recent years, from a high of 3.5 million pounds in 2009 to only 1.5 million pounds in 2015, and there are many stories of Mexican pot farmers being driven out of business by competition from the north.

In the Time of Trump, Can Congress Take the Lead on Marijuana Policy? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

While the marijuana community -- consumers, industry, and advocates alike -- eyes with trepidation the reign of avowed drug warrior Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, the Trump executive branch isn't the only game in town when it comes to making marijuana policy. Congress is back in session, and after last November's legalization and medical marijuana victories at the polls, the pot state delegation is larger than ever.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (house.gov)
And at least some of those senators and congressmen and women representing the 28 states (and the District of Columbia) that have embraced medical marijuana and the eight states plus DC that have so far gone for adult legalization, are gearing up to fight for reform at the Capitol.

A nascent congressional Cannabis Caucus formed in December is preparing a plethora of bills for the current session, and its members say they are optimistic about their chances, even in the time of Trump -- and Republicans holding every committee chair in both houses. It's because Congress is riding the marijuana wave, too, said caucus founder and co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

"This Congress is going to be a little better than last Congress, and last Congress was better than the one before that," he said in an interview this week with The Cannabist. "It's very interesting watching the momentum build."

That momentum derives from public opinion polls consistently showing nationwide majorities favoring legalization and, more importantly, the actual victories at the polls in November, where legalization went four for five and medical marijuana went four for four.

"It's easier for people to embrace much of what we're doing legislatively," he said. Fixing industry-critical concerns such as the lack of operating expense deductions or access to financial services for state-legal businesses or barriers to medical marijuana research are now mere "housekeeping" issues, he added.

Nonetheless, fixes still have to get through the Congress. They haven't so far, and it's a long way between filing a bill and seeing it signed into law. Still, Blumenauer and colleagues will be pushing harder than ever.

He is joined in the Cannabis Caucus by co-chairs Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Don Young (R-AL). The bipartisan grouping is notably made up of representatives from vanguard legalization states, but by no means all of them -- California alone has 53 House members -- and there is certainly room for more to come on board.

"I'm more hopeful than ever before that we can move legislation like the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act," Polis told The Cannabist, referring to last session's H.R. 1013, which picked up 19 cosponsors and was referred to a slew of subcommittees, but never even got a hearing.

Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) (house.gov)
That bill was one of about two dozen pot-related proposals filed in the last session, and they're already starting to pile up again this session. While Blumenauer told The Cannabist more were to come, here's what's on the table so far:

H.R. 331 -- Filed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the States' Medical Marijuana Rights Protection Act would block federal civil asset forfeiture aimed at the owners of state-legal medical marijuana operations.

H.R. 714 -- Filed by Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act would move marijuana to the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule II, opening the door to more research and, potentially, doctors' ability to prescribe (as opposed to recommend) marijuana for patients. It would also bar the use of that act or the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

H.R. 715 -- Also filed by Rep. Griffith, the Compassionate Access Act would reschedule marijuana, provide for its medical use under state laws, and remove CBD (cannabidiol) from the definition of marijuana.

H.R. 975 -- Filed by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Rohrabacher, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act would exempt people and entities from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act if they are acting in compliance with state laws. Rohrabacher authored similar legislation in the last Congress, garnering 20 cosponsors, including seven Republicans.

There is no outright federal marijuana legalization bill out there yet this session, but expect to see Rep. Polis come back with his bill or perhaps Bernie Sanders reviving his bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, or both. Given political realities on the Hill, though, the Cannabis Caucus will likely save its political capital for fights it might be able to win, such as fixing the tax and banking problems facing the industry.

Another key battleground -- and one where marijuana advocates have actually won before -- is the appropriations process. The Justice Department and the DEA can't go after marijuana in legal states if Congress bars them from spending any federal funds to do so, and that's exactly what Congress did when it approved the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment last session.

If a similar amendment were to succeed again, even if Attorney General Sessions wanted to call out the cavalry, he couldn't buy the horse feed, and it wouldn't matter how many nasty memos his deputies wrote.

And while his past pronouncements are indeed worrisome, he was quite coy at his nomination hearings, saying that he "won't commit to never enforcing federal law," but adding that enforcement priorities are "a problem of resources for the federal government."

Sessions did add later in the hearings that it's not "the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce," but suggested that his former colleagues could settle things once and for all.

Does new Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to punt pot policy back to Congress? (senate.gov)
"I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act," he said. "If that something is not desired any longer, Congress should pass the law to change the rule."

And then there's Sessions' boss, President Trump. While he projects a law and order image and has campaigned against "drugs," the drugs he seems most concerned about are heroin and the prescription opioids -- not pot. He's also suggested in the past a willingness to let states experiment on marijuana policy, and he has a lot of other things on his plate. It's not at all clear he would let Sessions unleash a war on weed even if he wanted to.

Earl Blumenauer doesn't think Trump wants to charge into this particular melee.

"This is a struggle and will continue to be, but this is something where I honestly don't think the new administration, which has probably enough controversy on its hands, is going to knowingly pick a fight with what, almost without exception, was approved by local voters," Blumenauer said.

To ensure that Sessions doesn't strike out, "we need to make the case directly to Trump" about the economic potential of the marijuana industry, said Polis. But until federal marijuana prohibition is ended, "the industry really exists at the discretion of the president and the attorney general, and that's a dangerous place to be," he added.

Well, and Congress, too. It holds the purse strings, after all.

Marijuana policy is going to be at play in the 115th Congress. Ending federal prohibition remains the Holy Grail, but in the meantime, there are concrete actions Congress can take to protect medical and legal marijuana and the industry it's creating. Now, let's see if the Cannabis Caucus can lead the way to some victories.

Gorsuch on Grass: Where Does Trump's Supreme Court Pick Come Down on Marijuana? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Where does Donald Trump's pick for the Supreme Court come down on weed? The record is pretty sparse.

Neil Gorsuch hasn't made any known public pronouncements about marijuana policy, and despite his tenure on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, he hasn't ruled in any cases that directly take up the issue.

But he has ruled on some marijuana cases, and he didn't go out of his way to support freeing the weed in them. And there's at least one marijuana-related case he's ruled on that demonstrates a disquieting deference to law enforcement.

In Feinberg et al. v. IRS, Gorsuch ruled against a Colorado dispensary that sought not to report data about its operation to the IRS because marijuana remains illegal under federal law and it feared incriminating itself. But in passing, he offered some commentary on the legal weirdness of state-legal but federally illegal marijuana commerce.

"This case owes its genesis to the mixed messages the federal government is sending these days about the distribution of marijuana. Officials at the Department of Justice have now twice instructed field prosecutors that they should generally decline to enforce Congress's statutory command when states like Colorado license operations like THC. At the same time and just across 10th Street in Washington, D.C., officials at the IRS refuse to recognize business expense deductions claimed by companies like THC on the ground that their conduct violates federal criminal drug laws. So it is that today prosecutors will almost always overlook federal marijuana distribution crimes in Colorado but the tax man never will."

And he marveled at the federal government's contortions as it sought to accommodate commerce in a substance it considers illegal.

"Yes, the Fifth Amendment normally shields individuals from having to admit to criminal activity. But, the IRS argued, because DOJ's memoranda generally instruct federal prosecutors not to prosecute cases like this one the petitioners should be forced to divulge the requested information anyway. So it is the government simultaneously urged the court to take seriously its claim that the petitioners are violating federal criminal law and to discount the possibility that it would enforce federal criminal law."

Gorsuch also pointedly noted the provisional nature of the Obama administration's decision to work with -- instead of against -- the states experimenting with marijuana legalization.

"It's not clear whether informal agency memoranda guiding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by field prosecutors may lawfully go quite so far in displacing Congress's policy directives as these memoranda seek to do. There's always the possibility, too, that the next... Deputy Attorney General could displace these memoranda at anytime."

This is, of course, something of which the marijuana industry and legalization advocates are painfully aware and explains much of the movement's agonizing over the nomination of pot foe Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). A single signature on a new policy memorandum at the Justice Department could throw the industry into chaos.

As Tom Angell notes at the MassRoots blog, Gorsuch ruled in a 2010 case, US v. Daniel and Mary Quaintance, that a couple charged with federal marijuana distribution offenses couldn't use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense because their claims weren't sincere.

"Numerous pieces of evidence in this case strongly suggest that the [couple's] marijuana dealings were motivated by commercial or secular motives rather than sincere religious conviction... "The record contains additional, overwhelming contrary evidence that the [couple was] running a commercial marijuana business with a religious front."

In other words, if you're trying to run a real marijuana ministry, don't be selling weed.

But it's a 2013 case, Family of Ryan Wilson v. City of Lafeyette and Taser International , that raises disturbing implications that go beyond marijuana policy into the broader realm of police use of force. In that case, Gorsuch held that a police officer's fatal tazing of Wilson, who was fleeing a marijuana arrest, was "reasonable."

"[T]he illegal processing and manufacturing of marijuana may not be inherently violent crimes but, outside the medical marijuana context, they were felonies under Colorado law at the time of the incident... And Officer Harris testified, without rebuttal, that he had been trained that people who grow marijuana illegally tend to be armed and ready to use force to protect themselves and their unlawful investments."

As Angell noted, that ruling in particular had the National Urban League tweeting its concern and calling for close scrutiny of Gorsuch's record within hours of Trump's announcement of his selection.

Overall, Gorsuch hasn't provided a whole lot of hints about how he might rule on cases revolving around the conflict between state and federal marijuana, although he has shown he's aware of it. Any members of the Senate Judiciary Committee representing states where medical or recreational marijuana commerce is legal might want to be asking for some clarification when his confirmation hearings come around.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Illinois treasurer asks Trump for clarity on banking for the medical marijuana industry, North Dakota legislators work to ensure workers' compensation won't pay for medical marijuana for injured employees, and more.

Arkansas

On Monday, Athe legislature approved changes to the state's new medical marijuana law. With the state Senate's approval Monday, House Bill 1058 now goes to the governor. It passed the House last week. The bill removes a requirement that doctors declare the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risk to the patient. It also specifies that patient information submitted to qualify for medical marijuana is "confidential," but would not be considered "medical records" subject to the Health Information Privacy Protection Act.

On Tuesday, the governor signed a pair of medical marijuana "fix" bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed into law two bills aimed at modifying the state's new, voter-approved medical marijuana law. House Bill 1026 will extend the deadline for rulemaking from 120 days to 180 days, and House Bill 1058 removes the requirement that doctors certify in writing that the help benefits of marijuana would outweigh the risks to the patient.

Illinois

On Monday, the state treasurer asked Trump for clarity on banking for the medical marijuana industry. State Treasurer Michael Frerichs sent a letter to President Trump urging him to give clear guidance to the banking industry on marijuana. Frerichs said currently federal law makes it difficult for legal businesses to get loans and restricts customers to cash-only transactions.

North Dakota

On Monday, the House approved a bill preventing workers' comp from paying for medical marijuana. The House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 1156. Passed in response to voters' approval of a medical marijuana initiative in November, the bill prevents the state Workforce Safety and Insurance agency from paying for medical marijuana to treat a workplace injury. Legislators said marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

North Americans Are Spending Nearly as Much on Weed as They Do on Wine

Move over, Napa Valley, there's a new kid on the block. When it comes to spending on mind-altering substances, Americans and Canadians are shelling out just about as much for marijuana as they do for wine.

The bud of the herb is catching up with the fruit of the vine. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
In its executive summary of a yet-to-be-released report, Arcview Marijuana Research pegs the size of the North American marijuana market -- legal and illegal -- at $53.3 billion, which puts it roughly even with the market in wine. According to Statista, US retail wines sales sit at $55.8 billion, and Canadian government figures put sales there at $3.2 billion.

Weed has not yet overtaken wine, but it's damned close. And this is happening in a marijuana market that is still mostly illegal. Yes, Canada will legalize marijuana, but it hasn't done so yet. And yes, more than half the states allow medical marijuana and eight of them have legalized it for adults, but illegal sales still account for 87% of the market, according to Arcview.

For Arcview CEO Troy Dayton, the huge illegal market is not a bane, but a boon.

"The enormous amount of existing, if illicit, consumer spending sets cannabis apart from most other major consumer-market investment opportunities throughout history," he explained. "In contrast to comparable markets with fast growth from zero to tens of billions in recent decades such as organic foods, home video, mobile, or the internet, the cannabis industry doesn’t need to create demand for a new product or innovation -- it just needs to move demand for an already widely-popular product into legal channels."

As the adult use markets in the newest legal US states (California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) and Canada are established, Arcview predicts the illegal market's share of total sales to decline. The legal market should grow from $6.9 billion last year to $21.6 billion by 2021. But even then, Arcview says, the black market will still account for two-thirds of all sales.

That's because black market operators in states that have not legalized even medical marijuana, not to mention recreational weed, will continue to thrive on an "illegality premium" or "prohibition tax" built into black market prices with no competition from legal operators.

Conversely, state-legalized sales also include an illegality premium due to federal law, and businesses are unable to reap the efficiencies of scale that fully legal businesses are able to. The marijuana prices of tomorrow may be markedly lower than the marijuana prices of today, which could mean a smaller market eventually if measured by dollars spent, even if it is larger in terms of number of customers.

Stil the marijuana market is huge by any meausre, and it's not going away -- despite what happens in Washington, DC. That's something to ponder as you sip your Chablis.

Book Review: "Marijuana: A Short History" by John Hudak

Marijuana: A Short History by John Hudak (2016, Brookings Institution Press, 217 pp., $14.95 PB)

Marijuana is going mainstream, as evidenced by the spread of medical marijuana and now outright legalization, not to mention its pervasive and increasingly favorable position in popular culture. In the past 20 years, support for legalization has grown from a distinct minority position to a majority one, and now, after November's elections, more than half the states have approved medical marijuana and nearly one out of six Americans lives in a state where it is legal.

Marijuana is now also big business, with industry watchers estimating the size of the legal market at around $20 billion by 2020. There's one problem with such rosy scenarios, though: Pot remains illegal under federal law.

That's a big problem for John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution with a keen professional interest in public policy implementation, legislative-executive relations, and marijuana policy. In Marijuana: A Short History, Hudak takes marijuana legalization as pretty much a given -- provided it isn't screwed up too badly in implementation -- and sees federal marijuana prohibition largely as an obstacle to getting pot policy right.

He sketches out the strange place we now find ourselves, with a booming industry enriching state tax coffers at the same time it remains federally illegal, and a federal government largely turning a blind eye to the violations of federal law -- at least for now -- while at the same time refusing to allow that industry the banking privileges and tax breaks provided to legal businesses. Meanwhile, marijuana sellers become Chamber of Commerce members in some states and prison inmates in others.

Hudak describes the growing tension between legalization in the states and federal prohibition as challenging federal authority while also hampering the efficient functioning of the marijuana industry. In his view, we're now in a sort of "worst of both worlds" status quo:

"The resulting situation in the United States may be worse than either national legalization or national prohibition. Legal realities are loosely defined by executive branch guidance and suggestions from the administration. This guidance fails to answer important questions and oftentimes creates new ones. States are constantly asking the federal government how to deal with many of the problems they face; the answers are almost always insufficient. Members of Congress have proposed solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing states, industry actors, and consumers, but that legislation is not acted on."

"The reality is that the state of American law at the start of 2016 is absolutely untenable and is inconsistent with American principles of fairness and equal treatment. Federal officials must commit themselves to coherent, comprehensive, and sensible marijuana policy. Until they do, the system will be arbitrary and unjust, and policy will be ineffective."

Now, at the start of 2017, the tensions Hudak highlights are even more acute, and the November elections brought them to the fore. At the same time the legal recreational market quintupled in size with victories in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, the nation elected Donald Trump, whose attorney general pick, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is an avowed foe of legalization and drug law reform in general.

Trump himself has said he favors letting the states experiment, but the billion-dollar question is whether Trump is going to set pot policy or leave it to his minions. If it's the latter, legal marijuana may be in for a bumpy ride, but even if it's the latter, that's just the political status quo.

That isn't enough for Hudak. He wants things settled at the federal level through congressional action, not left to the administrative whim of some officeholder. Whether the next few years is going to bring us any closer to Hudak's prescription for pot policy perfection is an open question, and it's sure to be contested political terrain.

Hudak raises the right questions about marijuana's future, but make no mistake, Marijuana: A Short History is by no mean all wonkery. After all, Hudak is writing a history, and he does just that in a concise and lively manner, concentrating on the 20th Century in the US, a period that saw the long arc of marijuana prohibition peak before the decline it now faces in the early years of the 21st Century. Of special interest is his section on the rise of a successfully reform movement, as he zeroes in on the people and strategies that made it happen.

Okay, Marijuana: A Short History is pretty wonky. It's serious stuff with a serious purpose: getting us down the path to a sane and effective marijuana policy nationwide. People with an interest in marijuana and marijuana legalization need to be thinking about these things, and Hudak is going to reward a serious reader. And he isn't going to make you slog through 400 pages of academic prose along the way. Read it; it'll make you think.

Chronicle AM: US Legal MJ Sales Near $6 Billion, ME Goes Legal at Month's End, More... (1/3/17)

Happy New Year! Legal marijuana sales hit a new record, Maine's legalization law will go into effect on January 30 (but not pot shops), Puerto Rico sees its first dispensaries, and more.

Somebody modified the iconic Hollywood sign on New Year's Eve. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

US Marijuana Sales Hit Nearly $6 Billion in 2016. A new report from Arcview Market Research put US legal and medical marijuana sales at $5.86 billion last year, with nearly another $900 million being sold in Canada. Assuming a compound annual growth rate of 25%, Arcview estimates that North American sales will reach $20.2 billion by 2021.

California Bill Would Specifically Outlaw Pot Smoking Behind the Wheel. State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) have filed Senate Bill 65, which would make it a misdemeanor to drive while smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana. Hill said he filed the bill because the state's legal marijuana law does not explicitly bar such activity.

Idaho Moms for Marijuana Founder Busted for CBD at Statehouse Rally. Serra Frank, the founder of Moms for Marijuana International, was arrested on the capitol steps in Boise Sunday for possession of marijuana after she displayed a pill bottle containing what she said were capsules containing CBD oil. She was also charged with possession of paraphernalia. The rally was held to protest Gov. "Butch" Otter's (R) veto of a CBD bill last year.

Maine Legalization Goes Into Effect January 30, But Governor Wants a Moratorium on Sales. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has officially certified the results of the November vote on marijuana legalization, meaning it will go into effect at month's end. But he also called for a moratorium on sales until lawmakers can work out regulatory details. The state's new pot law already gives the legislature nine months to come up with regulations, leading legalization activists to describe LePage's moratorium call as "defeatist" and premature.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Lawmaker Files Medical Marijuana Implementation Bills. State Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) has filed a pair of bills aimed at the state's new medical marijuana law. House Bill 1057 would add national and state criminal background check requirements, while House Bill 1058 would amend the definition of written certification to clarify that it is not a medical record. The bills are not yet available on the legislative website.

New Hampshire Bill Would Let Patients Grow Their Own. A bill currently in draft form would allow patients living at least 30 miles from a dispensary to grow their medicine. New Hampshire and Connecticut are the only New England states that don't allow patients to grow, and state Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) wants to change that. He said he is open to altering the bill's language, including the 30-mile provision.

Puerto Rico Gets First Dispensaries. Medical marijuana dispensaries have begun operating in the US territory, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Friday. He said two dispensaries are now open. The move comes nearly two years after his administration adopted a regulation to allow for medical marijuana.

In Legal Marijuana States, Consumers Are Turning to Buds Over Beer

A new industry study says access to legal marijuana is having a negative impact on beer sales. That's bad news for the brewing industry, but good news from a public health perspective.

According to the industry site Brewbound, the research firm Cowen & Company analyzed the beer industries in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- three states that have recreational pot shops -- and found that their beer markets have "collectively underperformed" in the past two years.

The "magnitude of the underperformance has increased notably" as beer volumes have dropped more than 2% year-to-date in the trio of pot states, with big mainstream brewers like MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev seeing the biggest declines, with volumes down 4.4%. Craft beers have done a little better, but are down, too, seeing a 2.2% drop.

"While [marijuana] retail sales opened up in these markets at different points of time, with all three of these states now having fully implemented a retail infrastructure, the underperformance of beer in these markets has worsened over the course of 2016," wrote Vivien Azer, Cowen and Company's managing director and senior research analyst.

That's not exactly a shock, Azer wrote, since government survey data has shown "consistent growth in cannabis incidence among 18-25 year olds" in those three states at the same time that age group has seen declines "in alcohol incidence (in terms of past month use)." The change is most evident in Denver, one of the centers of the legal pot culture, where beer volumes have dropped 6.4%.

Numbers like these, if they continue, should soothe the concerns of public health advocates and academics worried that legal marijuana could complement alcohol use instead of substitute for it. Would legal pot mean more drinking or less? If legal pot meant increased alcohol consumption, with all its dangers, that would be a bad thing from a public health perspective. But if legal pot leads to less alcohol consumption, such problems can be alleviated.

And this bad news for the brewing industry suggests it does. It's not the only evidence suggesting a substitution effect, either.

In a review in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado economist Daniel Rees reported that "studies based on clearly defined natural experiments generally support the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes."

They pointed to one study that found a higher drinking age increases teen pot consumption and that pot smoking drops off sharply at 21, when alcohol becomes legal, "suggesting that young adults treat alcohol and marijuana as substitutes."

Maybe we need to start talking about the public health benefits of marijuana legalization.

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