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Why Are Pot Shops Mainly in Poor Neighborhoods?

Recreational marijuana retail sales outlets are disproportionately located in poor neighborhoods. That's what the industry journal Marijuana Business Daily found when it recently analyzed the their distribution in two of the first major cities to host legal pot shops.

Herbs4You marijuana shop, Denver. (Wikimedia)
In Seattle, the Daily found that 40% of pot shops were in zip codes where the average income was in the bottom 25th percentile. In Denver, the trend was even more pronounced, with nearly 45% of the stores located in the poorest neighborhoods.

Those zip codes account for 26% of the population in Seattle and 27% in Denver, so it's not that retailers are simply going where the people are. And there's no evidence it's some nefarious plot to target poor residents for stupefaction.

So what's behind the trend? According to the Daily, part of the answer is the initial reluctance by property owners to get involved with a business still federally illegal. And landlords with properties in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods could appeal to more upscale tenants outside the marijuana business, leaving tenant-hungry property owners in poorer areas more amendable to filling vacancies even with more potential risky businesses.

"That's where the retail space was available," cannabis entrepreneur and Dank dispensary owner Greg Gamet told the Daily. "Landlords had a hard time renting properties in these areas previously… they're more apt to rent these when there's no renters."

And poorer areas were cheaper and easier to do business in. Where times are tough, the flame of NIMBYism flickers less brightly. Low-income neighborhoods generally didn't protest the arrival of pot shops, which meant jobs and economic development, and they didn't place as many regulatory hurdles as more well-off areas.

Low-income neighborhoods also mean lower rents. And lower rents meant higher profit margins compared to pot shops in tonier parts of town, a critical factor in consolidating one's position in the early days of the highly competitive legal weed business.

But the phenomenon of pot stores being overrepresented in poor neighborhoods may prove ephemeral, in part because of the very economic success of the shopkeepers and in part because the stigma around marijuana is eroding and the revenue flows are enticing, even for hard-eyed businessmen with valuable real estate assets.

"Moving forward," the Daily predicts, "major cities in markets that legalized recreational marijuana after Colorado and Washington state -- like Boston and Portland, Oregon -- are less likely to see clusters of retail marijuana stores in low-income neighborhoods."

For better or worse.

Chronicle AM: Secret Safe Injection Site in US City, VT "Blue Ribbon" MJ Panel, More... (8/8/17)

The body representing state legislatures again calls for marijuana reforms, Vermont's governor is about to empanel on commission to study legalization issues, a safe injection site has been operating secretly in a US city for the past three years, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site has a hidden counterpart somewhere in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

National Conference of State Legislatures Urges De-Scheduling Marijuana. The National Conference of State Legislatures has approved a resolution calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. The resolution approved on Monday specifically references access to banking, saying such a move would result in "… enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses." This marks the third year in a row the conference has passed a resolution on marijuana, going a bit further each time. In 2015, it resolved that federal laws should be amended to allow states to set their own pot policies, and last year, it resolved that marijuana should be down-scheduled.

Vermont Governor About to Convene "Blue Ribbon Commission" on Legalization. Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will shortly convene a commission to study issues around marijuana legalization, but it looks like his emphasis will be on how to detect marijuana impairment in drivers rather than examining models for legalization. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed a legalization bill, citing concerns about driving and youth, and he says now that he will not sign a bill that doesn't have stringent standards on impaired driving.

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Split on Decriminalization. Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam sent a letter Monday to the State Crime Commission, which is studying decriminalization, in support of the notion. That position contrasts with Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, who says he opposes legalization or decriminalization, but is open to exploring reforms to ensure that penalties are commensurate with the offense committed. Polling shows a majority of Virginians favor decrim. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra, meanwhile, says just tax and legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Republican Will File Medical Marijuana Bill to Fight Opioid Overdoses. State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) says he plans to file a medical marijuana bill in a bid to combat opioid abuse. He said he was acting after hearing from constituents. "People telling me their personal stories, how they've been helped by this product, how far behind Indiana is on this issue," he told the Indianapolis Star. "That right there, we have a responsibility to at least investigate it and determine the facts, and if there is something positive out there, we have to pursue that."

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reforms Go Into Effect Wednesday. A new law limiting civil asset forfeiture reform goes into effect Wednesday. House Bill 2477 does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the standard of proof necessary for seizures from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence."

Harm Reduction

Underground Safe Injection Site Has Been Operating in a US City for Three Years. In a report released Tuesday, two researchers revealed that they've been studying an unpermitted safe injection site in operation since 2014. They reported that no one died while using drugs at the site and that two overdoses were reversed by staff members administering naloxone. The report comes as pressure to authorize such sites is mounting, with lawmakers in states like California and New York and cities including San Francisco, Seattle, and Ithaca, New York, backing such efforts.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: DEA to Cut Pain Pill Quotas Next Year, Sessions Eyes WA's Legal Pot, More...(8/4/17)

Attorney General Sessions is giving the hairy eyeball to Washington state's legal pot program, the DEA is moving to reduce prescription opioid production next year, the head of the Los Angeles city council wants the city to create a bank for the pot industry, and more.

The DEA is set to cut Schedule II opioid manufacturing by 20% next year.
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Criticizes Washington Legalization in Letter to State Officials. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter late last month to officials in Washington state challenging the way the state has implemented marijuana legalization and asking them to address concerns raised by a Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) report critical of legalization. That report, Sessions wrote, "raises serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures' in your state." He cited portions of the report focusing on the diversion of legal weed out of state, drugged driving, and use by minors, all of which are areas flagged by the Obama administration's Cole memo as possibly being grounds for federal intervention.

Los Angeles City Council President Proposes Pot Bank. LA City Council President Herb Wesson called in a speech late last month for the city to create a bank that would serve the marijuana industry, as well as other social needs in the city. Citing images of pot shop owners lugging around sacks of cash, he argued that city officials had a responsibility to figure out a way to make legalization work and that access to banking was a key part of it.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Panel Advises Expanding List of Qualifying Conditions. In a report issued last week, the state's Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel said it was ready to approve 43 more qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana. Among them are chronic pain, migraines, anxiety, opiate-use disorder, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, autism, and Tourette syndrome. But it's not a done deal yet -- there's a two month public comment period now, and the state health commissioner makes the final decision, after that.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes Cutting Amount of Opioids Manufactured Next Year. In a Federal Register notice dated August 7, but available for viewing now, the DEA is proposing reducing the amount of Schedule II opioid pain relievers manufactured in the US by 20% in 2018. "Demand for these opioid medicines has dropped," the DEA, citing prescription data. "Physicians, pharmacists, and patients must recognize the inherent risks of these powerful medications, especially for long-term use," said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in a statement. "More states are mandating use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which is good, and that has prompted a decrease in opioid prescriptions."

Asset Forfeiture

Las Vegas Civil Asset Forfeiture Happens Mainly in Poor, Minority Neighborhoods, Report Finds. A new report from the Nevada Policy Research Institute shows that civil asset forfeiture in the city happens mostly in poor and minority neighborhoods. The report found that two-thirds of all seizures were made in zip codes where the nonwhite population averages 42% and the poverty rate was 27%. The report also found that more than half of all seizures were for cash or assets valued at less than $1,000. Las Vegas Metro Police seized more than $2.1 million last year, the report found. In recent years, seizures ranged from a high of $515,000 in one case to a low of $74 in another.

Chronicle AM: Canada Expanding Safe Injection Sites, FL Sued Over MedMJ Smoke Ban, More... (7/6/17)

Canada is expanding the use of safe injection sites, the man behind Florida's successful medical marijuana constitutional amendment is suing the state over a smoking ban enacted by lawmakers, Massachusetts lawmakers continue to struggle with how to implement marijuana legalization, and more.

Vancouver's Insite supervised injection facility (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts House Speaker Wants Marijuana Talks Suspended Until Budget is Passed. Legislators locked in a battle over how to implement the state's voter-approved pot legalization law are being told to put the issue on hold until solons can get a budget passed. House Speaker Roberto DeLeo (D), whose chamber is backing a plan that radically increases taxes and would allow localities to ban marijuana businesses without a popular vote, called Wednesday for setting the issue aside to take on the budget. But Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D) countered that the Senate could work on both bills and that "mischief makers are once again at work."

Nevada Opening Pot Sales Exceed Store Owners' Expectations. Legal marijuana sales that began just after midnight Saturday have exceeded the expectations of pot shop operators. Long lines formed in the wee hours Saturday morning, and shops are continuing to report heavy interest, with lines forming again before shops opened for business on Monday. "I'm very happy with the way sales have gone and continue to go, especially when you consider that the word didn't really get out ahead of time," Andrew Jolley, president of the Nevada Dispensary Association and a store owner told Leafly. "The public really only had a couple of weeks' notice, whereas Colorado had a full year to prepare."

Medical Marijuana

Florida Sued Over No Smoking Provision in Medical Marijuana Law. Orlando attorney John Morgan, the mastermind and chief funder of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging a legislative ban on smoking medical marijuana. He is asking the courts to throw out the implementing law, saying legislators violated the will of the voters by altering the constitutional amendment they approved last November. "Inhalation is a medically effective and efficient way to deliver Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other cannabinoids, to the bloodstream," the lawsuit argues. "By redefining the constitutionally defined term 'medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of 'a licensed Florida physician' and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process."

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Law Now in Effect. The state's Medical Cannabis Act went into effect Wednesday, but it could still be months or years before Mountain State patients are able to medicate with marijuana. But now an advisory board has been appointed to create a regulatory framework for medical marijuana regulations, and it could be 2019 before patients are able to legally purchase their medicine.

Drug Testing

Colorado Employers Begin to Walk Away from Testing for Marijuana. Changing social attitudes and a tight labor market are pushing employers in the state to drop screenings for marijuana from pre-employment drug tests, said a spokesman for the Mountain States Employers Council. "We're finding that for employers, it's such a tight labor market, that they can't always afford to have a zero-tolerance approach to somebody's off-duty marijuana use, Curtis Graves told Colorado Public Radio.

Harm Reduction

Mississippi Law Easing Naloxone Access Now in Effect. As of July 1, health care providers can write "standing prescriptions" for the opioid overdose reversal drug for family members of people strung out on opioids. "This will save many lives," said Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D-Water Valley).

International

Canada Expanding Safe Injection Sites. Once there was only InSite, the Vancouver safe injection site under constant assault from the Conservative federal government. But now, the Liberals are in power, and the number of safe injection sites has expanded to seven, including three in Montreal and another in Vancouver. Another Montreal site is set to open soon, and so are three in Toronto, with more than a dozen other potential sites being considered.

Legal Marijuana is a Job Creation Engine

It's been less than four years since the first legal recreational sales in the United States took place in Colorado, but since then, the US marijuana industry has been creating jobs at rapid pace, and there are now more people employed in the pot industry than there are working in a number of common professions.

buying legal marijuana (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
That's according to a new report from the Marijuana Business Daily's Marijuana Business Factbook 2017, which pegged the size of the cannabis labor force at somewhere between 165,000 and 230,000 full- and part-time workers.

That's compared to 169,000 massage therapists, 185,000 bakers, and 201,000 dental hygienists. And marijuana industry workers are on a path to shortly exceed the number of telemarketers (238,000) and pharmacists (297,000).

Granted, the legal marijuana industry begins with a base of several tens of thousands of workers producing and selling medical marijuana products, especially in California, with its loose medical marijuana law, but the boom is being propelled by growth in the recreational market, and that is only set to continue and accelerate as more legal states come online next year, including California, Maine, and Massachusetts. Nevada joined the ranks of the legal pot selling states on July 1.

California's recreational pot market by itself could generate around $5 billion in annual retail sales within a few years, doubling the size of the current legal weed market and creating a massive impact on job creation there.

In arriving at its numbers, Marijuana Business Daily included employment figures for retailers, wholesale growers, edibles and concentrates producers, testing labs, and ancillary firms, such as companies providing legal, marketing, security or other services to marijuana companies. The industry daily used a variety of methodologies, including survey data, on the average number of employees for each kind of company in the business, and that data was then applied to the estimated number of companies in each sector to arrive at final estimates.

One important caveat: The employment numbers mentioned here cover only a fraction of the people involved in the marijuana business -- those involved in the legal marijuana business. Even when California, Maine, and Massachusetts begin legal retail sales next year, the legal pot states will only amount to about one-fifth of the US population, and people are growing and selling marijuana in all the other states, too. From black market growers to clandestine dabs lab workers to cross-country couriers to dorm-room dealers, the number of people making a living in the illegal pot industry undoubtedly still dwarfs the number doing it legally.

The Marijuana Economy Dwarfs Ten of America's Most Popular Food and Drink Staples

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

Marijuana is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in nearly 30 (although often under quite restrictive regulatory schemes). Between the two, legal weed is generating total annual sales of between $4 billion and $4.5 billion.

But legal marijuana sales are dwarfed by sales in the black market, which according to a recent report in Marijuana Business Daily, accounts for about ten times the size of the legal market, or about $45 billion to $50 billion.

That's still only about half the size of the legal beer and tobacco market, and it's more than it might be when legalization ultimately drops prices, which most observers expect. Nevertheless, it is nothing to sneeze at, and it puts marijuana well ahead of some major American economic sectors. Here are ten products or services already being surpassed by pot, with the first five being smaller than the legal market and the second five being smaller than the estimated overall market, including both licit and illicit markets. Some of these industries could hope for synergistic effects, though.

1. Girl Scout cookies

Thin Mints are the hands-down winner when it comes to Girl Scout cookies, accounting for 25% of all sales, but that's only around $200 million. All told, Americans shelled out $776 million for the treats last year. That's a lot of cookies, but that's less than one-quarter of the size of the legal pot market.

2. Tequila

Shots with lime and salt, margaritas, Tequila sunrises... Americans gulp down a huge volume of the Mexican agave concoction every year, but the $2.3 billion in annual tequila sales is only half the size of the legal marijuana market. Of course, tequila is only a fraction of the alcohol industry, which still rocks compared to weed. Beer sales alone are more than $100 billion a year.

3. Music streaming services

Who doesn't love music and want it handy on all their devices? Music streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited are big, big, big, but at about $2.5 billion in annual sales, only half as big as legal weed.

4. Erectile dysfunction medication

Viagra and Cialis can't stand up against legal marijuana, either. There's a huge potential market out there, with an estimated 52% of men experiencing erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives, but annual sales for the two drugs combined is still only $2.7 billion.

5. Frozen pizza

From Tombstone to California Pizza Kitchen, take-home store-bought frozen pizzas are a traditional favorite of millions of Americans. And now, we're finally reaching sales parity with legal pot. Frozen pizzas account for $4.4 billion in sales each year, very near the amount spend on legally purchased marijuana.

6. Ice cream

Retail ice cream sales come to $5.1 billion a year, just barely exceeding the high-end estimate for legal pot sales, but barely one-tenth the size of the estimated black and legal marijuana markets. That's still a lot of scoops, though.

7. Movie tickets

Let's go to the movies! Even though movie tickets aren't exactly cheap, people still pay for that theatrical cinematic experience to the tune of $11.1 billion in ticket sales per year (not counting snacks). That's only about a quarter of the size of the overall pot market. Being stoned on weed could make some of those lame loser movies more palatable.

8. The NFL

Pro football is a monster, dominating sports TV, radio, and internet for half the year and generating $13.3 billion in annual revenues. At the rate legal marijuana markets are expanding (just wait for California!), legal pot sales alone could surpass NFL revenues within just a few years, and the total estimated market is more than three times what the league is bringing in.

9. Gambling

Pot is bigger than Vegas? Yep. And Reno and Atlantic City and all those casinos everywhere combined. Make no mistake -- gambling is big business, with Americans burning through $34.6 billion a year, according to the American Gambling Association, but Americans are burning through even more weed, and we'd wager that's going to go up, too.

10. Daycare for kids

Daycare for kids isn't exactly inexpensive and it's an issue for millions of American working families. According to IBISWorld's market research, that's a $48 billion hit on the family budget. It's an awful lot of money. It's also more or less the amount Americans are spending on pot right now.

Chronicle AM: Federal MJ Banking Bill Filed, More Workers Test Positive for Drugs, More... (5/18/17)

Marijuana policy continues to motivate members of Congress, a leading drug testing firm reports that positive worker drug tests are on the rise, Maryland's first medical marijuana cultivator gets final approval to grow, and more.

Racially charged cartoon from Philippines newspaper attacking Dr. Carl Hart, who criticized the Philippines drug war.
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Senate Bill to End Federal Marijuana Banking Ban Filed. Eight US senators running the gamut from Rand Paul (R-KY) on the right to Cory Booker (D-NJ) on the left filed a bill to block federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for doing business with state-legal marijuana-related businesses. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Lawmakers Push Federal Legalization Bill. US Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-VA) and allies held a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday to try to gain some momentum for Garrett's Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (Senate Bill 1227), which was introduced in February but has gone nowhere so far. Garrett said that he had enthusiastically prosecuted marijuana offenders, but grew tired of "creating criminals out of people who otherwise follow the law." Joining Garrett was another of the bill's 11 cosponsors, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who said "the question before us is not whether you think marijuana use is good or bad, or how you feel about this issue, but whether we should be turning people into criminals."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Grant First Medical Marijuana Grow License. More than four years after the state approved medical marijuana, the state Medical Cannabis Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to grant final approval to the first firm licensed to grow medical marijuana, ForwardGro in Anne Arundel County. "A new industry in Maryland has been launched," said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission. "They can start to grow immediately." Fifteen companies were granted preliminary licenses last year, but none of the others have been granted final approval yet.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Firm Reports Workers' Positive Tests at 12-Year High. Drug testing firm Quest Diagnostics reported Wednesday that 4.2% of drug tests among the US workforce came back positive, the highest rate since 2004, when it hit 4.5%. The firm reported increases in positive results for marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but heroin remained unchanged. "This year's findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations," said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostic Employer Solutions.

International

DPA's Dr. Carl Hart Gets Death Threats, Insults for Speaking Out Against Duterte's Drug War.Neuroscientist and Drug Policy Alliance board member Dr. Carl Hart cut short a visit to the Philippines last week after his remarks challenging Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, his assertion that methamphetamine use "shrinks the brains," and his openness about his own drug use resulted in hostile ridicule from the president, a racist cartoon in a Manila-based newspaper, and death threats on social media.

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.

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