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ECONOMICS

  • by Sabrina Fendrick January 28, 2014

    sheet-of-money-hemp

    Our nation’s marijuana laws are being held hostage by a prohibition industrial complex.  

    The latest Wall St. Journal/NBC poll shows, yet again, that the majority of Americans support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 and over.  But despite this surge in support (several other national polls have seen similar results), there are a few well financed, politically powerful groups that remain staunchly against reform – and will likely serve as the biggest hinderance to widespread change.  These folks have made a lot of money off of marijuana’s current legal status, and those individuals (as well as their businesses/shareholders) are deeply invested in making sure things stay the way they are.  The wide range of direct and auxiliary enforcement mechanisms, as well as the increase in drug testing laws are driven by companies and businesses who provide the services necessary to support this disastrous and wasteful policy.

    One such industry that has a financial interest in maintaining the status quo is law enforcement, especially drug officers and private prisons.  Drug officers benefit from forfeiture and federal grants.  Private prisons keep their jails full and multi-million dollar state contracts in place.  The Office of National Drug Control Policy requested $9.4 billion in funding for 2013, the majority of which went to enforcement and incarceration.   More specifically, California police – one of the most vocal opponents to legalization in the state made $181.4 million by seizing and selling the homes and cars of Californians involved in marijuana cases from 2002 to 2012.  Police in Washington are already taking budget hits as a result of the passage of I-502, the state’s marijuana legalization initiative that passed in 2012. It was reported that some police drug task forces lost 15 percent of funding due to decreased revenue from marijuana forfeiture cases.  On a national level, marijuana cases netted $1 billion in assets forfeited between 2002 and 2012.  Assets can be seized under federal or state law, depending on the situation.  The Wall St. Journal recently reported that marijuana law reform would cut into a significant percentage of drug task forces’ revenue.   Most cash generated from drug-related property forfeitures goes to the law enforcement agency that made the bust.  The Journal reports that “Nationally, assets forfeited in marijuana cases from 2002 through 2012 accounted for $1 billion of the $6.5 billion from all drug busts.”  Task forces also rely heavily on federal grants.

    One example of a federal grant relied heavily upon by drug task forces is Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.  The amount of money distributed is based on the number of drug arrests made for that year, among other components.  The more drug arrests made, the more grant money provided, and 50% of all drug arrests are marijuana related.   No drug will be able to fill the void of marijuana arrests.  Marijuana is easier to spot and smell, and is consumed by more people than any other illegal drug, making marijuana arrest rates a significant percentage of overall revenue.  Then you have state contracts with private prisons, which mandate that facilities be filled at 90% capacity at all times.  If 50% inmates are there as a result of drug-related crimes, and half of that is for marijuana – legalization would be a serious threat to new contracts and increased profits.

    Another industry tied into the prohibition industrial complex is the drug testing market. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry with its own, built in legislative advocacy machine.   Take DATIA , the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association for example.  This industry organization represents more than 1,200 companies and employs a DC-based lobbying firm, Washington Policy Associates.   Their mission statement includes, among other things, creating “new opportunities for the drug testing industry.”

    In 2002, a representative from the influential drug-testing management firm Besinger, DuPont & Associates (Robert DuPont, Nixon’s first drug czar is a high profile opponent to legalization) heralded schools as “potentially a much bigger market than the workplace.”  Workplace drug testing is a declining market due to the fact that employees see minimal return on investment.  In fact, a DATIA newsletter dubbed school children “the next frontier.”  Unsurprisingly, this industry advocates testing in all grades and for all extracurricular activities.  It should be noted that several reports have concluded that drug testing minors is not only ineffective but can be emotionally and psychologically damaging.  Lucky, many schools have been reluctant to embrace testing.

    Year after year, the drug testing industry gears up for another legislative push, ghostwriting bills for local and national lawmakers demanding testing for people who receive public assistance.  Many of these elected officials are either financially investment in these companies, or received significant financial contributions from industry organizations.  For example, in February 2012, Congress amended federal rules to allow states to drug-test select unemployment applicants.  Among the lawmakers advocating for the change was Congressman Dave Camp, who owns at least $81,000 in assets in companies that are major players in the drug-testing industry, such as LabCorp and Abbott Laboratories. He has also received $5,000 in federal campaign contributions from LabCorp over the past three years.  Abbott Laboratories spent $133,500 on campaign donations to Ohio and Texas state politician promoting drug testing to welfare recipients, in the lead-up to the 2010 and 2012 elections, in addition to more than $500,000 spent by the company on state lobbying contracts since 2010.

    The industry is once again flexing its political arm pushing for policies that mandate drug testing for welfare recipients.  Legislation has already been introduced in Virginia, New York, Arizona, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and Mississippi, for the 2014 legislative session.

    Two of the most outspoken opponents of marijuana legalization are David Evans and Robert DuPont.  DuPont, Founder of Besinger, DuPont & Associates served as the nation’s first drug policy director under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.  During that time he had advocated decriminalizing marijuana and its use a “minor problem.”  Once he left public office however, he became a “drug-testing management” consultant.  David Evans worked for Hoffmann-La Roche, a multi-billion dollar drug testing group encouraging workplace drug testing policies.  He now runs his own lobby firm and has ghostwritten several state laws to expand drug testing.   Drug testing overall detects marijuana more than any other drug, which stays in the body for up to a month — as opposed to other harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, which are metabolized within one to three days. That is why they have such significant stake in keeping the plant illegal.

    The total income for all of these industries combined adds up to hundreds of billions of dollars annually, a significant amount derived from taxpayer dollars.  An industrial complex is when there is a policy and monetary relationship between legislators, the public sector and an industrial base that supports them.  Just like the military industrial complex, the prohibition industrial complex, and its cycle of laws, enforcement and contracts will pose a major challenge to reform efforts.  This will be especially true in states that don’t have ballot initiatives, which is why it is so important for everyone to get active on a local level, and hold lawmakers accountable.  Though difficult, this will not be an impossible challenge to overcome, as long as we remain diligent and active in the political process.

    Please take a minute of your time today to utilize NORML’s Take Action Center to contact your representatives and urge them to support or sponsor marijuana law reform legislation.  Click here to see if there is a bill pending in your state, and here to find contact information for your elected officials. 

     

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 24, 2014

    Federal officials are poised to unveil new regulations allowing for financial institutions to legally interact with licensed businesses that are engaged in cannabis commerce.

    United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced the forthcoming guidelines yesterday in a speech at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

    “You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these place. They (retail facilities that dispense cannabis) want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said. “And so we (the Obama administration) will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue.”

    Presently, federal law discourages financial institutions from accepting deposits or providing banking services for facilities that engage in cannabis-related commerce because the plant remains illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act. While the Obama administration is unlikely to amend cannabis’ illegal status under federal law, the forthcoming rules are anticipated to provide clear guidelines for banks that wish to provide support for state-licensed cannabis facilities.

    In Colorado, where retail stores began legally selling cannabis on January 1 to anyone age 21 and older, businesses were estimated to have engaged in over $5 million in marijuana sales in their first week of business.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director January 19, 2014

    White HouseIn a profile published online over the weekend in New Yorker magazine, President Barack Obama continued his softening towards marijuana legalization. In the interview, the president alluded to his own youthful marijuana consumption and clarified that, while he doesn’t believe it to be a healthy pastime and has discouraged his daughters from its use, it is a less dangerous substance than alcohol. President Obama also stated that current moves towards legalization are important experiments that can help end discriminatory arrest practices.

    “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” President Obama stated when asked about the growing public support for ending marijuana prohibition.

    When asked to clarify if he thought it was “less dangerous,” Obama replied that he thought it was less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” He continued that “it’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

    “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do and African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” he stated, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”

    “It’s important for it [marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

    You can read the full article on the New Yorker’s website here.

    Perhaps President Obama will continue to evolve and find himself on the right side of history when it comes to marijuana legalization. It would take just one simple Executive Order to deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and help institute some real lasting change in our nation’s failed war on cannabis. At a minimum, these statements show just how far we have come from the “Just Say No” era of American politics.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director October 29, 2013

    Reported this week in the Daily Herald:

    Community banks and credit unions are ready and willing to provide financial services to entrepreneurs in the state’s new legal pot industry. But they aren’t able to, at least not yet.

    Marijuana businesses, even ones that will soon be legally licensed in this state, are considered criminal enterprises under federal law, which makes handling their money a crime in the eyes of the Department of Justice.

    Until the agency changes its outlook or Congress changes the law — and efforts are under way to do both — those getting into the pot business can’t open a bank account, secure a line of credit or obtain a loan from a federally insured financial institution in their neighborhood.

    Full Article

    Fortunately, there is already a bill Congress could act upon to resolve this issue. Earlier this year, Representatives Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) and Denny Heck (WA – 10), along with a bipartisan group of 16 other Republicans and Democrats, introduced legislation that would reform federal banking laws relating to marijuana businesses. HR 2652: The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2013 updates federal banking rules to resolve conflicts between federal and state laws and would allow marijuana businesses acting in compliance with state law to access banking services.

    Under current federal banking laws, many legal, regulated legitimate marijuana businesses that follow state law are prevented from opening bank accounts and operating as any other businesses would, which could ultimately lead to crime such as robbery and tax evasion in addition to the already onerous burden of setting up a legitimate small business.

    Please take a minute of your time today to utilize NORML’s Take Action Center to contact your elected officials and urge them to support this important legislation. You can do so by clicking here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 15, 2013

    The regulation and taxation of marijuana for New York City residents age 21 and over would yield an estimated $431 million in annual savings and revenue, according to a report released this week by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. The mission of the Comptroller’s Office is to ensure the financial health of New York City by advising the Mayor, the City Council, and the public of the City’s financial condition.

    The report, entitled “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana: The Fiscal Impact on NYC,” estimates that regulating and taxing the commercial production and retail sales of cannabis to adults would yield an estimated $400 million annually. This figure is based on existing estimates regarding cannabis’ present market price and demand in New York City, as well as by calculating the imposition of an excise tax (on commercial production) and sales tax (on retail sales).

    Authors further estimate that $31 million dollars would be saved annually in eliminating citywide misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10 -- possession of any amount of cannabis in public view], which in recent years have totaled approximately 50,000 arrests per year — largely as a result of law enforcement’s aggressive use of ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics. Persons arrested are often under age 25 and disproportionately are those of color. Combined, blacks and Hispanics make up 45 percent of marijuana users in New York City, but account for 86 percent of possession arrests, the Comptroller’s report found.

    The Office did not attempt to quantify the broader economic impacts of legalization, including the costs of lost time, work, and other opportunities currently imposed on those arrested. The report’s authors also acknowledged that they did not attempt to quantify the costs of incarceration, which are largely borne by the state, or other secondary fiscal impacts of legalization, such as the positive or negative effects on public health spending.

    Following the release of the study, City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate John Liu spoke out in favor of legalizing the consumption of cannabis by adults, stating: “New York City’s misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities. It’s time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children.”

    A summary of the report is available online from the NYC Comptroller’s Office here. The full report is available here.

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