February 16, 2019

Russ Belville, Author at MARIJUANA POLITICS - Page 2 of 15

Russ Belville

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on CannabisRadio.com, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland NORML.in 2015.

Quick Hits: Religious Cannabis Leaders Arrested in Rhode Island

religious cannabis users arrested

WEST GREENWICH, Rhode Island – Two leaders of a cannabis-focused religion were arrested by Rhode Island State Police for cultivation and possession of marijuana. Anne Armstrong and Alan Gordon are leaders of The Healing Church, a religion that promotes the use of cannabis as the “kaneh-bosm” referred to in the Bible’s recipe for holy anointing oil. The pair made headlines in 2015 when they attempted to smoke sacramental cannabis in Rhode Island’s Roger Williams Memorial, a site recognizing religious freedom. State police say they recovered 12 pounds of useable marijuana, 59 cannabis plants, 10 pounds of hash oil from the pair’s home. While Armstrong and Gordon cite the Constitution’s First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as protecting their right to use cannabis sacramentally, just as it protects other religions’ use of hallucinogenics like peyote and ayahuasca, numerous court decisions have found in favor of the government’s compelling interest to maintain cannabis prohibition, including a decision last month by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the marijuana distribution case of Roger Christie of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry.

BALTIMORE, Maryland – Eugene Monroe, the NFL offensive tackle who was dropped by the Baltimore Ravens following his call for medical marijuana acceptance in the sport, has retired from football. The seven-year veteran cited his health and his family in making his decision, from his wife being “concerned about things like me putting my phone in the freezer and then tearing up our house looking for it,” to his four-year-old daughter telling him, “Daddy you don’t remember anything!” Monroe says he will still be a “vocal advocate for medical marijuana research, particularly as it relates to CTE,” the brain-damaging disease seemingly caused by repeated concussions. Monroe also says he “won’t rest” until “steps [are] taken to curb the overuse of opioids in NFL locker room.”

DUBLIN, Ireland – A lawmaker in the lower house of Parliament has introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Ireland. Deputy Bríd Smith met with caregivers for people with Dravet Syndrome, the rare childhood epilepsy that moved many US states into passing CBD-only legislation. Smith, however, also supports the use of whole plant cannabis for alleviation of seizures, spasms, nausea, and pain.

GRESHAM, Oregon – The Oregon State Police have reported to Portland’s FOX TV affiliate that there have been a 163 percent increase in stoned driving arrests in the first six months of marijuana legalization. Overall DUI arrests increased by 7 percent, suggesting that marijuana is not being substituted for the use of alcohol when it comes to driving impairment factors. Oregon state traffic data for 2014 also show an increase in the overall driving fatality rate of over ten percent. However, critics note that following the passage of marijuana legalization, police are prioritizing the detection of marijuana-impaired drivers and are increasing their own education on how to spot such drivers. Driving fatalities, they counter, are influenced by alcohol DUIs, which increased, as well as lower gas prices leading to more miles traveled.

ROCHESTER, New York – A candidate for state assembly is calling for the legalization of marijuana in New York by noting that many of the citizens she visits are smoking it. Rachel Barnhart, running in the 138th District, told WHAM-TV that while campaigning door-to-door, “I meet many people who are smoking marijuana. I know what’s going on in their houses because I can smell it.” Barnhart faces an uphill battle if she wins her election to an Assembly that barely managed to pass medical marijuana in New York, and then only in a non-smokable form in a very restricted program. About half of Rochester-area residents surveyed agreed with legalization, but current assemblyman for the 138th District, Harry Bronson, said that “the constituents I represent have not been calling for the legalization, so I am not prepared to start advocating for that.”

WESTFIELD, New Jersey – An American judoka who was expelled from the 2012 Olympic Team for failing a marijuana drug test will be back competing in judo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Nicholas Delpopolo claims he had eaten a brownie at a friend’s party that he did not know was infused with cannabis. Following his expulsion, Delpopolo faced criticism from friends and strangers alike, to the point of people approaching him in public to curse him out. Sponsors had backed out of their support for Delpopolo as well, forcing him to take odd jobs to continue his training in judo five hours a day.

Quick Hits: California City Turns Prison Into Marijuana Grow

private prison

COALINGA, California – The Central California city of Coalinga has sold its empty prison to a marijuana company that will grow and process cannabis there. The abandoned Claremont Custody Center was sold to Ocean Grown Extracts for $4.1 million by the city, which had been struggling under almost $3.8 million in debt. The sale puts the city’s budget back into the black and was approved by the city council in a 4-1 vote. Residents who once resisted marijuana operations in their area have come around, thanks to some education about the nature of marijuana businesses, the adoption by California legislators of a statewide regulatory system, and the promise of up to 100 new jobs for the area. Referring to the prison-turned-pot-farm, Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough told The Fresno Bee, “It’s like what the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been.’”

PHOENIX, Arizona – An Arizona judge has set August 12 as the date to hear a challenge by anti-marijuana campaigners to strike a legalization initiative from the November ballot. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry will hold the hearing concerning a suit from Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group made up of mostly law enforcement and rehab opposed to legalization. Attorney Brett Johnson claims that the summary of the initiative as one that “regulates marijuana like alcohol” is flawed. The initiative requires employers to prove workers were impaired by marijuana use before firing them, which Johnson says is quite different than how alcohol is treated. Johnson also points to the initiative’s license guarantees for existing medical marijuana dispensaries as differing from alcohol policy. Legalization spokesperson Kory Langhofer called Johnson’s examples “immaterial” and said the 100-word summary is in no way fraudulent.

DENVER, Colorado – The Colorado State Medical Board has suspended the licenses of four doctors over allegations they routinely recommended massive plant count limits for medical marijuana grows. The four doctors are accused of writing recommendations for over 1,500 patients that allow them up to 75 cannabis plants each. Six plants are the standard limit for medical marijuana patients in Colorado under the Constitution, but doctors may recommend more plants if “medically necessary”. Patient advocates argue that the sickest patients need greater limits to produce oils and tinctures, but law enforcement believes the large grows are merely cover for illicit marijuana trafficking activity. The state generally recommends investigation of doctors who make recommendations for more plants to over 30 percent of their medical marijuana patients.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Tallahassee grower and dispensary Trulieve will be the first medical marijuana facility in the state of Florida to open its doors for the sale of CBD oil. Florida is one of sixteen states, mostly in the South, that allow the use of a non-psychoactive cannabis oil for the treatment of childhood epilepsy. Florida’s Trulieve will be the only outlet for CBD oil in any of these states; while a few other states are working on providing access, most require the parents of the epileptic child to acquire the oil from other states like Colorado, then smuggle it back to their home state in violation of federal law. Another new Florida law called “Right to Try” will allow terminally-ill patients to use cannabis products with psychoactive THC; Trulieve says they’ll make those products available in August.

BOSTON, Massachusetts – A new poll shows that Massachusetts may be the least-likely of the five states voting to pass a marijuana legalization initiative. Gravis Marketing for Jobs First, a conservative political action committee, found that 51 percent of voters oppose Question 4, the initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Forty-one percent support the measure and another 9 percent are undecided. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, one of the nation’s most popular governors, is expected to win re-election in 2018, according to the poll. Baker was joined by the Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in publicly opposing the measure.

DENVER, Colorado – Mystery surrounds the sudden departure of Executive Director Mike Elliott from the Marijuana Industry Group. Elliott helped to craft the rules and regulations for the marijuana industry in the state of Colorado as his organization transitioned from the Medical Marijuana Industry Group to embracing full legalization. The incoming chair of the group refused to discuss “personnel issues” with reporters from the Denver Post.

Quick Hits: Arizona Will Join Four Other States on Legalization Ballot

Arizona Initiative

PHOENIX, Arizona – The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has endorsed the Arizona initiative to legalize marijuana that appears poised to make the 2016 ballot. Activists from the campaign turned in over 250,000 signatures for the initiative, which only requires around 150,000 valid signatures. However, a group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has filed suit to stop the initiative, claiming that proponents are misleading citizens about the full effect of the initiative. Legalization campaigner J.P. Holyoak called the lawsuit a “desperate attempt” to defeat the popular initiative. The first hearing over the lawsuit will take place tomorrow.

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania – Activists with Philly NORML and DCMJ will bring the infamous 51-foot marijuana joint to celebratory gatherings at the Democratic National Convention. With the Democratic Party platform likely calling for reform of the nation’s marijuana laws and the city of Philadelphia having decriminalized personal marijuana possession, there will be numerous events aimed at increasing awareness of marijuana reform. On Sunday, July 24, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer will speak at a $250 fundraiser. At 4:20pm on Monday, July 25, activists will engage in a “flash smoke-in” to kick off DNC celebrations, followed by an 8pm-to-midnight free party at a local club. The inflatable joint will march through the streets on Thursday, July 28, for a Cannabis Pride Parade to close the DNC.

ATLANTA, Georgia – A father and daughter researching at the University of Georgia have concluded that legalization of medical marijuana nationwide could save Medicare almost a half-billion dollars annually. The pair looked at Medicare Part D payments for prescription drugs between 2010 and 2013. In the 17 states that had medical marijuana laws, they found doctors writing fewer prescriptions for the pharmaceuticals that medical marijuana can replace, but no change in other prescriptions for other drugs like blood thinners and anti-biotics than marijuana can’t replace. Most strikingly, doctors in medical marijuana states issued 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers.

BALTIMORE, Maryland – Controversy surrounds a state lawmaker who helped usher in medical marijuana in Maryland and who is now applying for one of the limited production licenses in the state. Del. Dan K. Morhaim is the clinical director for a company seeking to grow, process and sell medical marijuana, a fact he had never disclosed in meetings with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission or during his time sponsoring the medical marijuana law in the assembly. Morhaim is denying any sort of conflict of interest and he says he has cleared his activity with the Maryland General Assembly’s ethics advisor.

LANSING, Michigan – Michigan State Police are setting up their first five counties to become test sites for roadside drug impairment testing of drivers. In addition to traditional field sobriety tests, the police will be administering roadside saliva tests for the presence of marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said that they will not be “randomly testing people,” but that “there’s still going to be probable cause for a traffic stop — just like it was.” A recent New York Times Magazine exposé showed that these cheap roadside drug detection kits are very unreliable.

LOS ANGELES, California – Former NFL wide receiver and future Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss spoke out against testing for marijuana use among NFL players. Moss was open about his marijuana use during his career and criticized the league for considering marijuana use a “character issue”, referring to the case of a recent draft pick who was dinged for appearing on social media smoking pot. “I think if a guy is out there driving under the influence, beating women or doing something that will really hurt others, that’s where you have to be able to draw the line.”

Which States Accept My Medical Marijuana Card?

Which States Accept My Medical Marijuana Card?

As a newly-minted medical marijuana patient, you’ve just achieved some protection from law enforcement if you choose to travel around your state with an ounce of marijuana. But, if you want to leave your state, you may be wondering, “which states accept my medical marijuana card?”

Unfortunately, there are currently only six out of the twenty-five medical marijuana states that will respect your out-of-state card.

Michigan, Nevadaand New Hampshire will all accept your out-of-state medical marijuana card with no restrictions. Nevada requires that you sign an affidavit attesting to your lawful medical marijuana use.

Rhode Island will also recognize your card, but only for the conditions that are approved for medical marijuana treatment in Rhode Island (e.g. your card for PTSD in Oregon wouldn’t be recognized in Rhode Island).

Arizona and Maine will recognize your card, but you will not be allowed to shop in their medical marijuana dispensaries.

There are four other states where the status of reciprocity for out-of-state cards has yet to be established.

Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have programs where out-of-state reciprocity is undetermined.

Ohio may end up with medical marijuana reciprocity, but in that state the smoking of marijuana is not approved.

Hawaii will have reciprocity starting in 2018 that requires registration.

We could also consider Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska to also be states where medical marijuana patients could travel without fear, thanks to legalization that renders the need for a medical marijuana card irrelevant.

California*, Arizona, Nevada*, Maine*, and Massachusetts* could join the list of legal states, further opening up travel opportunities for patients.

The medical marijuana initiatives proposed in Florida*, Missouri, North Dakota, and Montana* do not provide any recognition of out-of-state medical marijuana cards.

The initiative proposed in Arkansasdoes recognize out-of-state cards.

* = Initiative already on the ballot in that state as of press time.

Clearly the lack of medical marijuana reciprocity in most of the states and the continued marijuana prohibition in the rest of the states makes travel for a medical marijuana patient a difficult or impossible proposition.

This is why the fight for medical marijuana is best won by fighting for full adult-use marijuana legalization. In Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska, you need no card and you need no doctor if you wish to be traveling around with an ounce of marijuana on your person.

If all the states voting on marijuana reform this fall should pass their initiatives and amendments, we would have 9 legal adult-use states and another 4 medical marijuana states with out-of-state reciprocity where patients from 30 medical marijuana states could travel.

In other words, sick people using marijuana would only be protected in 3/5ths of US States and they could only travel to 1/4th of the states.

I’ll bet if people with diabetes, high cholesterol, or clinical depression could only travel to a quarter of the country with their insulin, statins, or benzodiazepenes, the public would better understand how we’re treating medical marijuana patients as second-class citizens because their medicine isn’t corporate.

Quick Hits: Colorado’s Post-Legalization Economy is Booming

Colorado's Post-Legalization Economy

DENVER, Colorado – A new economic report shows that since marijuana legalization, Colorado’s economy is booming. The Colorado Business Review report, released Thursday by the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, shows that employment, housing, and income indicators in Colorado are meeting or exceeding national averages. Patty Silverstein, president and chief economist at Development Research Partners in Jefferson County, told The Cannabist that in 2014, the first year of legalization, there was “a 3.5 percent increase… [and in] 2015, a 4.9 percent increase in food-manufacturing employment,” likely attributable to edibles. Chemical manufacturing employment, where extracts would be classified, increased 1.4 percent in 2014 and 3.9 percent in 2015. Colorado’s GDP increased 3.6 percent overall and the state added 62,000 in the twelve-month period through last May.

BOSTON, Massachusetts – The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is filing an ethics complaint against a police officer who campaigned against their initiative while on the clock. Jim Borgehansi, spokesman for the pro-marijuana campaign, said the campaign alleges that John Carmichael Jr., the police chief of Walpole, appeared an anti-marijuana legalization event during working hours in his uniform on June 23. The event was sponsored by The Safe and Healthy Massachusetts Campaign, the group campaigning against the legalization initiative. Carmichael denies any impropriety in his actions, stating to MassLive.com, “As a public safety official I have a responsibility to the community to educate them about the dangers [of marijuana].” The marijuana campaign originally filed the complaint with state elections officials, who then referred it to the ethics commission.

SANTA ANA, California – The Adult Use of Marijuana Act has added another $2 million to its campaign coffers this week. The legalization proposal, now dubbed Prop 64, received another $1.25 million from its primary benefactor, former Facebook president Sean Parker, on top of the first million he already donated. The New Approach PAC, a committee controlling the philanthropic donations from the estate of the late Peter Lewis, has contributed another $750,000, doubling their commitment to California legalization. The campaign is expected to raise a total of $10 to $20 million dollars. In comparison, the campaign opposing the measure favored by 60 percent of Californians, has raised just a scant $131,000.

SANTA ANA, California – The police officers caught on hidden camera allegedly abusing a disabled woman and eating marijuana-infused products have been fired by the Santa Ana Police Department. A spokesperson confirmed officers Brandon Matthew Sontag, Nicole Lynn Quijas, and Jorge Arroyo are no longer employed by SAPD. The former officers have pleaded “not guilty” to charges of vandalism and petty theft that arose from their May 2015 raid on the Sky High Holistic marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana. The officers were never drug tested and face six months to a year in prison if convicted.

PORTLAND, Oregon – The City of Portland has signed off on a public event allowing the distribution of free marijuana samples. The Oregon Cannabis Association is putting on The Summer Fair, an event that will feature dozens of Oregon cannabis cultivators, will be held July 24 at the North Warehouse in Portland. The city has cracked down on paid-admission events where marijuana samples are given out, contending that having to buy a ticket to get into a building for a free sample amounts to selling marijuana, which is only legal in a pot shop. OCA has gotten around that limitation by making The Summer Fair a free event. Compliance officers will likely show at the event to ensure no marijuana smoking or vaping is taking place indoors contrary to the Clean Air Act. Violations could cost the fair organizers and/or the building landlords $5,000 in fines.

Quick Hits – Pot Smell Alone Enough For Warrant In Arizona

Arizona Supreme Court

PHOENIX, Arizona – The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the smell of marijuana alone is enough reason for police to initiate a search. The court overturned the case of Ron Sisco, a man who had been growing cannabis in a storage unit in Tucson. The appellate court had decided that Sisco could not be convicted, because the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act makes it possible that the smell of cultivating cannabis is coming from a legal source. The Supreme Court disagreed, affirming the right of police officers to conduct searches based on the smell of marijuana unless there are other observations by officers that would lead them to believe cannabis smell comes from a legal source. The Court, however, did conclude that legalization of marijuana in Arizona this November would change the context of their decision.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham held a hearing entitled “Researching the Potential Medical Benefits and Risks of Marijuana” yesterday on Capitol Hill. Notable witnesses included Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), co-sponsors of the CARERS Act – federal legislation to allow legal marijuana businesses to access banking and to allow our veterans to use medical marijuana. Representatives from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Food and Drug Administration expressed optimism for studying the medical benefits of cannabis, but only as isolated compounds. Dr. Stuart Gitlow, a board member for the anti-marijuana group Project SAM, compared medical marijuana to “medical willow trees,” adding, “there really is no such thing as medical marijuana.”

MADISON, Wisconsin – A strong majority of Wisconsinites want to see marijuana legalized, according to the latest Marquette Law School Poll. The poll asked registered voters: “When it comes to marijuana, some people think that the drug should be fully legalized and regulated like alcohol. Do you agree or disagree with that view?” Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they agreed, while 39 percent disagreed. The new poll is a reversal of public opinion found by the poll in September 2014, when only 46 percent of respondents agreed that “the use of marijuana should be made legal.”

TRENTON, New Jersey – Ed Forchion, the activist known as New Jersey Weedman, will be allowed to argue his religious case in court. Forchion maintains a cannabis temple that has been harassed in recent weeks by police. He contends that the temple is a place for respite from the drug war and for visitors to “partake of our sacrament”, referring to marijuana smoking. Police have been shutting the temple down at 11pm nightly, citing codes for business operating hours, but Forchion says that’s infringing on religious rights, like shutting down a Catholic midnight mass for operating past business hours. The court did not, however, prevent the police from shutting down his temple at 11pm while the court case proceeds.

NEWARK, Ohio – Despite the failure of marijuana legalization on the statewide ballot in 2015, local organizers in Ohio are still working to improve marijuana laws. The East Ohio Decriminalization Initiative has turned in over 2,000 signatures to the city clerk for a municipal proposal to depenalize marijuana possession. Under Ohio law, possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana for personal use is decriminalized, earning a ticket and a fine of $150, plus loss of driver’s license for six months. But Newark’s current city ordinance allows for a fine of $500 and 60 days in jail, with half that amount again for possession of paraphernalia. Under the initiative, possession of up to 200 grams would be a minor misdemeanor in the city with no punishment whatsoever.

Executive Director Allen St. Pierre Resigns From NORML

Allen St. Pierre

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Multiple sources have confirmed to Marijuana Politics that Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), has resigned.

Serving as executive director will be Randy Quast, the current treasurer, who was selected unanimously by the board of directors. Quast will serve in the interim period while the board forms a search committee for a permanent executive director, according to board secretary, Dan Viets. Quast was the founder of Minnesota NORML and a co-founder of Portland NORML.

Allen St. Pierre
L-R: Paul Stanford, Madeline Martinez, Jack Herer, Allen St. Pierre

St. Pierre has been with NORML since 1991 when he joined the board as the Communications Director. He has been the organization’s executive director since 2005. Additionally, he leaves his post as head of the NORML Foundation, the non-profit research and educational arm of NORML, at which he’s served as founding executive director since 1997.

In his quarter-century with the organization, it is likely that Allen St. Pierre has authored more op-eds and appeared in more radio and television interviews supporting the end of adult marijuana prohibition than any other leader in marijuana law reform.

Allen St. Pierre
L-R: Dr. Mitch Earleywine, Keith Stroup, Allen St. Pierre, Rep. Steve Cohen, Paul Armentano

At age fifty, St. Pierre is a brand new father with his partner, Sara, a point noted by fellow NORML board member Dr. Mitch Earleywine, a former chair of the organization, who told Marijuana Politics, “Allen has a child now and needs a chance at health insurance and raises. As you know, those can be tough.”

Allen St. Pierre did not return requests for comment by press time. According to Viets, St. Pierre will be retaining his seats on the boards for NORML and the NORML Foundation.

How Wrong Does Kleiman Have to Be to No Longer Be a Marijuana Expert?

This is the conclusion of a five-part post to tide you over for the Independence Day weekend. Enjoy Part I, where I explain Prof. Mark Kleiman’s fear of low legal marijuana price, Part II where I debunk his fear of “cannabis use disorder”, Part III where I show you Kleiman’s vision of an ideal cannabis policy, and Part IV where I show Kleiman’s fear of increased marijuana use to be unfounded. – “R”R

It’s a wonder anyone consults with Mark Kleiman on marijuana policy. In 2010, as California was fixing to vote on Prop 19, he told the LA Times that, “There’s one problem with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis at the state level: It can’t be done… any grower or seller… would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes. And that won’t happen.”

Two years after saying that state-legal pot producers and sellers wouldn’t risk federal conspiracies, Kleiman and his company BOTEC were accepting a contract from Washington State taxpayers to consult on how to construct their state-legal system of pot producers and sellers risking federal conspiracies.

There in Washington Kleiman’s Soviet-style central economic planning led to chaos. Kleiman’s BOTEC recommended a state-limited production canopy and a limit on statewide retail outlets. The result was prices in Washington that were initially around $30 per gram and kept a flourishing black market so emboldened that dealers would sit in the legal pot shop parking lots and poach customers who wished to avoid the high taxes.

A set of marijuana policy proposals discussed at a BOTEC Policy Summit hosted by Mark Kleiman in New York this year.
A set of marijuana policy proposals discussed at a BOTEC Policy Summit hosted by Mark Kleiman in New York this year.

Now Washington State has enacted Senate Bill 5052, further elaborating on BOTEC’s policy prescriptions by shutting down the medical marijuana market and folding it into the recreational system. Thus, a city like Tacoma that had 70 outlets serving its marijuana market is now mandated to only have 16 outlets. So just as market forces had finally brought Washington’s weed price to under $10 a gram, Washington is going to restrict supply and raise those prices in the legal market while returning many medical marijuana patients to the black market.

“If someone wanted to write a law to increase the prevalence of [cannabis use disorder], it would look a lot like the Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” Kleiman predicts. “That leaves the voters with a choice between the existing unworkable quasi-legalization in the form of a corrupt ‘medical marijuana’ system and a formal legalization designed to make the drug problem worse. I’m glad I left.”

And if someone wanted to write a law to protect the black market, if would look a lot like the Washington law BOTEC helped craft, with no allowance for home growing, artificially restricted production and distribution, and the nation’s highest marijuana taxes.

Displaying a picture of an obese woman shopping to explain why we need government to restrict our shopping choices.
BOTEC Policy Summit presentation displaying a picture of an obese woman shopping to explain why we need government to restrict our shopping choices.

I believe that many of the cannabis consumers in Washington State are wishing Kleiman had left them alone. And you can bet that once California passes legalization, Kleiman, formerly a professor at UCLA, will be lining BOTEC up to apply for lucrative consultation contracts in the Golden State, arguing for ways to ensure cannabis consumers don’t get “wrecked out of their gourds” on cheap marijuana.

Don’t buy Kleiman’s rent-seeking hype. The benefits of cheap marijuana – including fewer illegal dealers, overdoses, suicides, and crashes – are worth the tiny minority of tokers who will end up smoking too much weed. Plus, they’ll save enough money on their habit they can better afford to self-admit to rehab, which will be less stigmatized and potentially funded by marijuana taxes. The only thing a free market in legal marijuana is a danger to is the consulting business of public policy wonks.

Kleiman’s Wrong: Why Cheap Marijuana Is a Good Thing

This is the fourth of a five-part post to tide you over for the Independence Day weekend. Enjoy Part I, where I explain Prof. Mark Kleiman’s fear of low legal marijuana price, Part II where I debunk his fear of “cannabis use disorder”, and Part III where I show you Kleiman’s vision of an ideal cannabis policy. – “R”R

Mark Kleiman doesn’t like the commercialization of marijuana, because then it becomes too cheap and easy for people to use it more often. Even though the majority (5 out of 6, by his own estimation) of monthly cannabis consumers manage to avoid this disorder, Kleiman prefers some sort of system where California could “manage the quantity produced”, “limit the amount of cannabis [consumers could] be sold in the course of a month”, and require warning labels “mentioning the risk of cannabis use disorder”.

In short, Kleiman wants to keep the price of marijuana high enough to make it inconvenient for you to use it. “I would have had price as an explicit target of policy,” Kleiman said in that 2014 interview. “I would strongly argue that preventing a price drop is a major policy objective.”

To Kleiman, preventing more people from using marijuana and curbing more use of marijuana by those already using it is the key objective, and that’s achieved by keeping the price artificially high. The problem is that an artificially high price for marijuana means subsidizing a black market for marijuana.

MJ Use vs. Cost

What frightens you more – that a pot smoker may smoke more legal, taxed, inspected pot or that a pot dealer keeps profiting from illegal, untaxed, contaminated pot?

If California really gets the price of marijuana down to $1 per gram, maintaining any sort of black market dealing is going to be as tough as trying to sell home brewed beer on the streets.

Kleiman also looks at the increase in near-daily pot smokers without considering other related benefits. How many of those regular monthly consumers are the newly-legal medical marijuana patients? We’ve seen decreases in opioid overdoses, suicide rates, traffic fatalities, and use of other drugs and alcohol when states increase access to cannabis.

FARS Fatality Rates 1994-2013

Yes, I suppose it’s likely that $1 gram cannabis means the guy who’s got a problem with it is going to have a tougher row to hoe. As a person in recovery for obesity, I feel that pain every time I drive by the plethora of fast food restaurants with “dollar menus”. I’m sure life would be easier for the alcoholics if we closed all the bars, too.

Tomorrow we wrap things up by wondering how wrong you have to be on marijuana policy before nobody considers you an expert anymore.

On Marijuana Economics, Kleiman Invokes U.S.S.R.

This is the third of a five-part post to tide you over for the Independence Day weekend. Enjoy Part I, where I explain Prof. Mark Kleiman’s fear of low legal marijuana prices and Part II where I debunk his fear of “cannabis use disorder”. – “R”R

Here’s Mark Kleiman’s ideal system for marijuana sales from a 2014 interview in the Washington Post regarding his company’s consultation on Washington State’s legal marijuana policies, which he also says he’d apply to alcohol if he could, but that “we lost that battle”:

“If you want to buy one of those commodities, you should sign up as a buyer, you should probably take some kind of minimal test like a driving test to make sure you know what you’re talking about and then you should be asked to set for yourself a purchase quote on, say, a monthly basis. How many joint-equivalents a month do you want to use? Give us a number. Every time you make a purchase, that purchase will be recorded against that quota. And if you bought as much this month as you said you wanted to be able to buy this month, the clerk will say ‘I’m sorry the order was refused.’ Just what happens when you go over your credit card limit. It’s the same principle.”

Just imagine trying to require adults to register with the state as drinkers, take a drinking awareness test, and then set for themselves a monthly quota of how many drinks they could purchase. And that a beer costs $20. That’s Mark Kleiman’s vision.

This idea of government centrally-planning an economy is something that should have gone out of vogue with the falling of the U.S.S.R. Kleiman is playing up this smear of capitalism to feed the bogeyman that is “Big Marijuana”; the notion that cannabis is going to become a predatory industry like alcohol and tobacco, lying about harms and seducing the children.

Yet both those industries show us exactly why commercialized marijuana with low taxation is preferable to the maintenance of artificially high marijuana prices.

In states like Washington, there have been excessive taxes placed on cigarettes than have led to an extensive black market. In New York, high taxes led to the death of Eric Garner, choked out by NYPD as they policed the area for sales of “loosies” – individual cigarettes sold to avoid high taxes. And we all remember the lessons of alcohol prohibition and its effect on gang violence.

Yes, alcohol and tobacco went too far in marketing to kids and denying health risks, and we addressed those problems with lawsuits and new laws. Why would we then let cannabis have free rein to do the same? Already the laws concerning cannabis advertising, marketing, and retailing are far more restrictive than those for alcohol and tobacco because we learned those lessons.

Furthermore, alcohol and tobacco had to lie about their harms and entice kids to use them because they are harmful and taste terrible. Adults don’t take up cigarettes because they cough and stink and peer pressure won’t convince them to stick with it. Yet despite both these products being legally sold through heavily commercialized markets, teen smoking and drinking are at their lowest recorded levels ever and adult smoking and drinking are declining.

Since 2002, the absolute number of teenage marijuana consumers has declined. As marijuana has become more medicalized and legalized, it’s the consumption among adults that has increased. Most notably, in the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use & Health we find a tripling in the number of people aged 50 and older who are consuming cannabis.

NSDUH Age Breakdown 2002 NSDUH Age Breakdown 2014

Join me tomorrow when I explain that even if some people have a problem with marijuana use, it is still worth it for our society to make weed as cheap and legal as possible.

Cannabis Use Disorder – a.k.a. Regularly Smoking Pot

This is the second of a five-part post to tide you over for the Independence Day weekend. Enjoy Part I, where I explain Prof. Mark Kleiman’s fear of low legal marijuana prices. – “R”R

Mark Kleiman alleges that four million people have cannabis use disorder out of 22.5 million who are consuming it monthly. That means about 1 in 6 pot smokers supposedly have this so-called disorder. According to the DSM-V (the psychiatric manual), if a pot smoker meets two or more of these criteria, there can be a diagnosis of cannabis use disorder:

  1. Taking more cannabis than was intended
  2. Difficulty controlling or cutting down cannabis use
  3. Spending a lot of time on cannabis use
  4. Craving cannabis
  5. Problems at work, school, and home as a result of cannabis use
  6. Continuing to use cannabis despite social or relationship problems
  7. Giving up or reducing other activities in favor of cannabis
  8. Taking cannabis in high risk situations
  9. Continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems
  10. Tolerance to cannabis
  11. Withdrawal when discontinuing cannabis.

Right off the bat, if you’re a monthly cannabis consumer in a prohibition state, you’re going to check off #3 because of the time it takes to make a black market hookup. You’ll check #8 because your imminent arrest makes every place “high risk”.

The continued practice of urine screening at work and school creates the conditions to check off #5, not necessarily whether pot has affected productivity or education. Those legal and social pressures create unnecessary drama and ostracizing that lead to checking off #6 and #7.

If you’re a regular cannabis consumer, #1 and #10 are natural byproducts of use and #2, #3, #4, and #11 are natural reactions to abruptly ceasing use. Only #9 stands as a consistent reason to think someone’s regular cannabis use is a disorder.

This over-diagnosis of regular cannabis consumers as being “disordered” is reflected in the statistics regarding cannabis rehab. According to the Treatment Episode Data Set-Admissions (TEDS-A) for 2013, well over half the people admitted with a primary diagnosis of cannabis use disorder were forced into treatment by the criminal justice system.

TEDS-A 2013 - Referral Sources

Only about 18 percent of marijuana users – less than one-fifth – admit themselves. Compare that to over a quarter of meth users, one-third of the drinkers, two-fifths of crack users, and over half the opiate users who feel they’ve got a problem enough to go to rehab for.

This is not to say there aren’t people with a serious problem with pot. But knowing how many there are is seriously confounded by the prohibition of marijuana in most states and the continued discrimination against marijuana consumers in the legal and medical states.

So if commercialized marijuana is so terrible, what is Mark Kleiman’s solution? Soviet-style central government planning! Join us tomorrow to learn how Kleiman would prefer your marijuana purchases to be expensive and limited by quotas.

Marijuana Expert Says Legalization Will Make Weed Too Cheap

This is the first of a five-part post to tide you over for the Independence Day weekend – “R”R

Mark A. R. Kleiman, a man whose first name is also his initials, is an esteemed public policy professor who thinks California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act is a “horrible, awful, very bad, no-good drug policy” that is “Promoting cannabis use disorder in California”.

How’s that? Because legalization, California-style, he intones, would see prices “settle down at something below $1 per gram…” Yes, he means that like it’s a bad thing.

According to Kleiman, legal weed will be so cheap that people who like to smoke weed will smoke more of it more often. “In 1992, about 10% of people who reported using cannabis the past month reported having used it on 25 or more days that month,” Kleiman writes. “That number is up to 40%.”

I’m not sure where Kleiman got his numbers, so I went and looked them up for myself in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. There’s a variable called MJDAY30A that tells us, in both raw numbers and by percentage, how many days in the past thirty days a monthly toker has used marijuana.

Indeed, Kleiman is right about the shift in daily use, even if my numbers are different. In 1992, just 11 percent of monthly tokers were in the top quintile (25 days or more per month), while in 2014, a full third of monthly tokers were near-daily tokers.

There are also just more of us monthly tokers. In 1992, 4.4 percent of the population was lighting up monthly compared to 8.5 percent in 2014[i]. Add in population growth and we’ve got two-and-a-half times the number of monthly tokers and we’ve got eight times the number of near-daily tokers.

NSDUH Monthly 1992 vs 2014

But what has been the societal harm from this explosion in near-daily toking over the past two decades? Crime rates are at historic lows. Vehicle fatalities are at historic lows. Worker productivity is at an all-time high. High school graduation rates are at an all-time high. Teen drug use is in decline. What terrible thing has happened because of all this pot smoking?

According to Kleiman, the result has been an increase in this “cannabis use disorder”, which to him apparently means “people using cannabis often”. “Of those daily/near-daily users, about half – by their own self-report – meet diagnostic criteria for cannabis use disorder,” he writes. “Just over 4 million residents of the U.S. currently report meeting those criteria.”

So legalization means more “cannabis use disorder”… what does that mean? Join me tomorrow as I show you how meaningless a diagnosis it is and why it’s a lousy reason to keep weed prices artificially high.

[i] The variable for overall monthly tokers is MRJMON and for reasons that escape me, its total of monthly tokers differs from the total you get adding up MJDAY30A.

Legalization Isn’t Increasing Stoned Driving, It’s Revealing It

Stoned Driving

“One day, the fisherman goes to the river and returns home having caught two fish. The next day, he goes to the river and returns with twenty fish. So what happened? Were there suddenly ten times more fish in the river? Or did the fisherman swap out his fishing pole for a net? Or find a different fishing hole? Or use a better bait?”

This is the mental picture to draw when your state legalizes marijuana and the data comes back showing an increase in drivers charged with DUID. We’re just hearing that charge in Oregon and it’s been leveled in Washington and Colorado as well.

What’s happening is that law enforcement is becoming increasingly vigilant in spotting marijuana drivers. I also suspect with marijuana being legal, fewer pot smokers are bothering to disguise their possession and use of marijuana. Where we might have brushed off weed crumbs, hid the stash in the glove box, and sprayed ourselves with Binaca and Febreze, under legalization we’re more likely to ditch those protocols.

In other words, there isn’t an increase in marijuana consumers driving (fish), there’s just an increased attention to catching them (a net), legal pot shops from which to start tailing them (fishing holes), and in Washington and Colorado, a five nanogram limit to incentivize stops (better bait).

Another charge used to scare the public about legalization is the claim that there is an increase in the rate of driving fatalities found to have cannabinoids in their system. This will sometimes be reported as a massive increase in marijuana-related driving fatalities.

What this statistic reveals, though, is that the chances you’ll find someone with marijuana in their system increase after you legalize. It says nothing about whether they were impaired on marijuana at the time of the crash or that it in any way contributed to the crash. You might as well point out that there are more married gay people in car crashes these days now that marriage equality is legal.

The most important statistic is that auto fatalities are down to record low numbers, still, even following legalization. If you want to argue that more fatalities are marijuana-related, you then have to accept that fewer of them are alcohol-related and that legalization had something to do with that, too, and the overall result has seemed to be fewer people dying in car crashes.

Legalization didn’t invent cars and weed. We’ve been tokin’ and drivin’ for well over sixty years; if it were terribly dangerous, we’d have seen the deaths increase between 1966-1980 as marijuana use climbed and decrease between 1980-1992 as marijuana use fell. We wouldn’t see fatality rates lower in the medical states after they passed medical and lower than the national average.

I’m not advocating for some newbie to hot box the Accord and see how well he does on the freeway. I am saying that a longtime cannabis consumer develops a tolerance to the impairment and an awareness of marijuana’s effects and may be acceptably safe enough to operate a vehicle. Even the government agrees with me; on a bottle of the FDA-approved synthetic THC called MARINOL® is a label warning against the operation of heavy machinery “until it is established [you] are able to tolerate the drug” – which tells me once you can handle your high, go ahead and drive.

Marinol Warning

AUMA, Unlike Hillary, Actually Supports Marijuana Legalization

AUMA Hillary

My friend Leland Berger has penned an essay on this fine site entitled “AUMA is the Hillary of United States Cannabis Legalization Initiatives“. He makes very astute points about the Adult Use of Marijuana Act – California’s marijuana legalization initiative – including how it is just as good or better than the marijuana legalization initiatives that have passed in four states and the District of Columbia so far.

But I part ways with Berger in his comparison of AUMA to Hillary Clinton:

In the same way as it would be a disaster for America to elect Donald Trump, it would likely set legalizing cannabis back two election cycles if California does not legalize this November. Nationally, we have no other viable choice but to elect Hillary. …

Point is, [AUMA] could be better, but, and again like Hillary, it could be far worse.

But for now, America needs to elect Hillary, and Californians need to pass AUMA.

Hillary Clinton is not like AUMA. Most obviously, AUMA openly supports marijuana legalization, while the best we get out of Clinton is that medical marijuana needs more research, it ought to be moved to Schedule II (where her Big Pharma donors can profit from it), and that states are laboratories of democracy.

I’ve gotten this complaint from some in my audience who know me to be a very progressive guy. How could I support AUMA, this incrementalist corporate approach to legalization, but be opposed to Hillary Clinton, with her centrist corporate approach to governing? If I’m such a #BernieOrBust guy looking for a grassroots revolution against The Man, why didn’t I instead support the grassroots legalization efforts and oppose this one from The Man?

It’s quite simple, really. I support AUMA and oppose Clinton because I’m against the status quo.

Supporting AUMA is a no-brainer. It truly is a binary choice. Support it and marijuana is not contraband, oppose it and marijuana is contraband. Support it and be free to buy, grow, and smoke marijuana, oppose it and still be a criminal subject to harassment, tickets, and arrest.

Plus, I live in a state (Oregon) that has gone from medical+decrim to legal, and the difference is night and day. Sure, it’s imperfect, especially east of the Cascades, but we’ve created jobs, raised tax revenue, and worked to expunge criminal records.

Supporting Hillary Clinton, however, is a different question. First, despite the threat that she is one of only two “viable” candidates, that’s just not true. Just because we’ve been electing either D or R presidents for 160-odd years doesn’t mean it will always be true. We only elected white male presidents for 200-odd years, remember? The definition of “viable” can change, as Clinton’s presumed nomination proves.

I’m still weighing my options. I’ve met Gary Johnson and seen him on numerous occasions. I find him to be honest and principled in his policy proposals; it’s just that, like Samantha Bee, I only agree with about every other proposal. And, like AUMA, Gary Johnson openly supports marijuana legalization.

Unlike AUMA, voting for president isn’t a binary choice. I’m never going to vote for Donald Trump. But voting for Hillary Clinton means giving my approval to someone who voted for the Iraq War, supported a bloody Honduran coup then opposed taking in the child refugees fleeing it, allowed aid to South Sudan’s army of child soldiers, worked to halve the Haitian minimum wage, resists a national $15 minimum wage in the USA, pushed for Syrian regime change that emboldened Russia, gleefully celebrated the brutal overthrow of Qaddafi that left Libya in chaos, supports Israel’s occupation of Palenstinian territories, promoted fracking worldwide and the Keystone XL pipline domestically, supported labor-busting trade deals like the one that devastated Colombia, crusaded for mass incarceration of “super predators“, approved of the decimation of the social safety net for single welfare mom “deadbeats“, won’t even try for universal health care anymore, gave secret six-figure speeches to Wall Street while leaving State Dept. secrets on an open email server in Chappaqua, opposed gay marriage on the floor of the Senate (when her support would’ve mattered), would accept limitations on abortion, worked to censor video games and ban flag burning and restrict the internet, voted for the PATRIOT ACT (twice), approved of spying on Americans without a warrant, took campaign donations from private prison corps, is working to further militarize NYPD, railed against money in politics while benefiting from the largest super PAC fundraising in history, supports the death penalty, made bankruptcy harder for average people, opposed reinstating restraints on Wall Street gambling with our money, and flip-flops more than a trout on a riverbank.

I know politics is messy. I know we sometimes have to make compromises. And if that list were even half as long, I probably could.

So… Gary Johnson… is he “viable”? Well, he certainly isn’t if everybody buys into the self-fulfilling prophecy that only Republicans and Democrats are “viable”. Only if everybody buys into the lesser-of-two-evils threats and doesn’t it validate my anti-Hillary stand somewhat that even her supporters’ first selling point for her is “Donald Trump would be so much worse”?

This year I think the Libertarian ticket is quite viable. In three-way polls, Johnson is reaching double-digit support. They’ve got the gravitas of having two former Republican governors of Democratic states at a time when Democrats and Republicans dislike their own candidate in record numbers. More people register as Independent now than either Democrat or Republican.

It’s still early, but in this race where the two biggest crowds for presidential candidates rallied behind a crazy-haired white septuagenarian socialist Jew and a crazy-haired orange anthropomorphic YouTube comments section, who knows what could happen?

Clinton is still under an FBI investigation that even without charges filed could damage her support.

Trump will become even more offensive to the point where mainstream Republicans can’t abide him anymore.

As Johnson hits 15 percent and makes it to the debates, his profile rises and more moderate Democrats and sane Republicans support him. In a three-way race, Johnson would only need to top about 40 percent (like Bill Clinton did in 1992) to win. Add Jill Stein siphoning off some more left-wing support from Clinton and this could be the year when a third party finally breaks through to the Oval Office.

Quick Hits: Congress Drops Support For VA Medical Marijuana

VA Medical Marijuana

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bi-partisan amendment to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states that allow it has disappeared from the appropriations process. The VA funding bill had included the Blumenauer Amendment, which passed the House 233-189 in its first vote and 296-129 once it was added to the funding measure. A similar measure in the Senate passed 89-8. But when the House Democrats staged their sit-in over gun control measures, the Republicans brought up the VA funding bill without the Blumenauer Amendment attached. The House Appropriations Committee has not revealed which Republican member removed the amendment before the vote. The Senate failed to pass the funding bill, so there may yet be an opportunity to place the amendment back into the bill.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Democratic Party has officially added support for marijuana law reform to its party platform. The Democrats will fight for decriminalization of marijuana possession, modifying policy to allow for scientific research, and supporting each state’s right to abolish marijuana prohibition as they see fit. However, Senator Bernie Sanders’ call for the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act altogether was not accepted by the national Democratic Party. The Democrats also note that marijuana prohibition has had a disparate impact on people of color.

LANSING, Michigan – Eight months’ worth of drug testing poor people who are applying for welfare has netted not one positive result. Supporters of the drug testing point out that drug testing may dissuade drug users from applying, possibly reducing the positivity rate. But that seems unlikely, as none of the 303 applicants selected for screening opted out and the application rate for welfare subsidies did not decline.

PHOENIX, Arizona – The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona has unveiled a marijuana-themed billboard for the 4th of July weekend encouraging people to “Buy American”. The advertisement for Arizona’s legalization campaign points out that passage of the initiative would allow Arizonans to buy locally-sourced marijuana that would benefit schools through tax revenues rather than profiting the murderous cartels south of the border. Arizona public officials and law enforcement oppose legalization, warning that legalization would be detrimental to public health and safety.