Law enforcement in many states are making a greater number of marijuana arrests than ever before despite polling data showing that the majority of Americans believe that the adult use of the plant ought to be legal.
According to a just published report, “Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests,” which appears on the newly launched RegulatingCannabis.com website, police made an estimated 750,000 arrests for marijuana violations in 2012 – a 110 percent increase in annual arrests since 1991. Yet, despite this doubling in annual marijuana arrests over the past two decades, there has not been any significant reduction in marijuana consumption in the United States the report found.
In 2012, marijuana arrests accounted for almost half (48.3 percent) of all drug arrests nationwide. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1 percent), New Hampshire (72 percent), Montana (70.3 percent), Wyoming (68.7 percent) and Wisconsin (67.1 percent).
From 2008 to 2012, seventeen state-level jurisdictions experienced an average annual increase in marijuana arrests, the report found. South Carolina (11.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (7.7 percent) experienced the highest overall percentage increase in arrests during this time period. By contrast, annual marijuana arrests fell nationwide by an average of 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2012.
Overall, the study reported that the five state-level jurisdictions possessing the highest arrest rates for marijuana offenses are the District to Columbia (729 arrests per 100,000 citizens), New York (577), Louisiana (451), Illinois (447) and Nebraska (421). District of Columbia lawmakers decriminalized the adult possession of marijuana earlier this month.
The two states possessing the lowest marijuana arrest rates are California and Massachusetts, the report found. Both states decriminalized marijuana possession offenses in recent years.
Stated the report’s author, Shenondoah University professor Jon Gettman, “After a generation of marijuana arrests, nearly 19 million and counting since 1981, the results are that marijuana remains widely used, not perceived as risky by a majority of the population, and widely available. The tremendous variance in use and arrests at the state level demonstrate why marijuana prohibition has failed and is not a viable national policy.”
Now that America has some form of legalization in 23 states and the District of Columbia, activists must reevaluate those state’s laws to refine the details of their legalization systems. There are three distinct areas in which cannabis laws need clarification and evolution: employment issues, child custody issues, and DUID charges. This week, I will discuss the important area of employment discrimination.
First, let’s be clear: no one should go to work in an impaired condition, regardless of what drug is involved. It’s not fair to the employer or to one’s fellow employees, and may well constitute a safety risk. Also, some jobs are so sensitive that it may well be good public policy to require a zero tolerance policy towards all drug use. Certain jobs in the nuclear energy field, for example, or jobs in which an employee is working around nuclear weapons or flammable material fall into this category. Some risks are simply too great to allow even occasional drug use of any kind, whether it’s cannabis or alcohol.
But most jobs are not. They require a sober individual who can responsibly and safely perform their job. Whether they smoked a joint over the weekend, or even the night before, has no impact on the workers’ ability to perform their jobs in a safe and responsible manner.
Proponents of a statewide initiative to regulate the commercial production and retail sale of marijuana have turned in 145,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The total is almost twice the number of signatures from registered voters necessary to place the measure on the 2014 electoral ballot.
State officials have until August 2 to verify the signatures.
The proposed ballot initiative (Initiative Petition 53) seeks to regulate the personal possession (up to eight ounces), commercial cultivation, and retail sale of cannabis to adults. Taxes on the commercial sale of cannabis under the plan are estimated to raise some $88 million in revenue in the first two years following the law’s implementation. Adults who engage in the non-commercial cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis (up to four plants) for personal use will not be subject to taxation.
A statewide Survey USA poll released last month reported that 51 percent of Oregon adults support legalizing the personal use of marijuana. Forty-one percent of respondents, primarily Republicans and older voters, oppose the idea. The poll did not survey respondents as to whether they specifically supported the proposed 2014 initiative.
Alaska voters will decide on a similar legalization initiative in November. Polling data shows that 55 percent of registered voters back the plan, while 39 percent oppose it. Florida voters will also decide in November on a constitutional amendment to allow for the physician-authorized use of cannabis therapy. A May 2014 Quinnipiac University poll reported that Floridians support permitting physicians to authorize medical marijuana to patients by a margin of 88 percent to 10 percent.
July 1st 2014 marked the 6 month anniversary of the launch of Colorado’s great social experiment – the legalization and regulation of marijuana for all adults age 21 and over. News coverage of the state’s highly scrutinized, yet burgeoning retail cannabis industry has been lukewarm, but a review of the last six months shows that (although inconclusive in its early stages) this policy has not only failed to cause the reefer madness social breakdown predicted by prohibitionists, it appears that this new industry is starting to positively impact the state and its communities.
Colorado is projected to save tens of millions of dollars in law enforcement expenses this year. Job opportunities continue to open up and revenue is expected grow at an unprecedented rate – a significant portion of which has already been allocated to public schools and education programs.
Below are five positive social and economic developments that can be attributed to Colorado’s 6-month old retail cannabis market:
– $69,527,760 in retail marijuana pot sales.
–10,000 people working in the marijuana industry(1,000-2,000 gaining employment in last few months)
– 5.2% decrease in violent crime in the city of Denver.
– No Colorado stores found selling to minors.
– $10.8 million in tax revenue (not including licensing fees)
All in all, these first few months have shown in practice that the benefits of legalization significantly outweigh those of prohibition, both morally and economically. One can’t deny that there will be bumps in the road. As this new market continues to evolve we should be prepared for the emergence of new, unanticipated issues. However, one can be comforted in the fact that any rising concerns are being addressed and rectified in a responsible and expeditious manner – both on the part of lawmakers and industry leaders. As Colorado moves forward, and more states begin to implement similar policies, the politicians and the population will see that this is the right policy for our children, our economy and our society.
On Sunday February 16th, I bought legal weed for the first time from a recreational cannabis store in Denver, Co. I spent a few minutes speaking with some of the employees, as I was eager to hear how things were going under this newly sanctioned marijuana market. Unsurprisingly, business was great. Some items were selling quicker than others, but everyone was in agreement that the rollout of Colorado’s legal cannabis retail system had been a great success, except for one crucial component that was as unsettling as it was expected – we were standing in one of a few dozen high profile stores, well-known for having excessive amounts of cash on hand (in the first week of sales, businesses generated $5 million in cash-only transactions) and no where to put it, because the banks won’t take it.
Clearly, denying these pot stores the ability to safely deposit their earnings poses an imminent threat to public safety. These shops are easy targets for robbery and assault (as well as other forms of criminal activity), which puts customers and employees at serious risk. Some of these shop owners are considering banning backpacks or other large bags – others are arming their workers. Neither of these options are a viable solution.
This problem isn’t new however, nor is it going unnoticed. On February 14th, the Department of Treasury released a nonbinding memorandum, in conjunction with the Justice Department stating that banks may consider working with pot retailers without fear of prosecution – so long as they remain in compliance with state laws, and followed other instructions outlined in the memo. Though a truly historic and progressive action by the federal government’s leading financial regulatory body, these guidelines are largely symbolic, providing no actual legal protection to banks working with cannabis shops. As such, most financial companies remain skeptical about getting involved with a market existing under so many contradictory laws.
According to federal law, these banks could technically be found guilty of money laundering (among other offenses) for handling the proceeds of what the US government still considers an illegal drug. The Colorado Bankers Association rightly notes that the guidance issued by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury “only reinforces and reiterates that banks can be prosecuted for providing accounts to marijuana related businesses.” The Association further criticizes these new guidelines, stating that “Bankers had expected the guidance to relieve them of the threat of prosecution should they open accounts for marijuana businesses, but the guidance does not do that. Instead, it reiterates reasons for prosecution and is simply a modified reporting system for banks to use. It imposes a heavy burden on them to know and control their customers’ activities, and those of their customers.”
Is it any surprise then that these guidelines – which include a multi-tiered labeling structure and a requirement for banks to maintain ‘suspicious activity reports’ – have left many financial institutions with cold feet? Two of Colorado’s largest banks, Wells Fargo and FirstBank have already announced they won’t work with weed-related enterprises. In fact, most financial trade associations have widely rejected these latest overtures because there are no tangible, legal policies in place.
Despite the skepticism held by many federal administration officials and other politicians, the government can and should be doing much more to enable the success of this new, legal market. Unfortunately, many are sitting on their hands, and holding their breath – hoping to quietly ride out this growing wave of support for legalization, which shows no sign of subsiding. Over 50% of the US population supports a regulated marijuana retail system for adults.
Its time for these officials to concede to the will of the electorate, and address the legitimate needs of this new industry. Lawmakers now have an opportunity to show true leadership in this changing political landscape by supporting legislation that would give states and businesses the resources necessary to enable a responsible and successful implementation of this new “great experiment.” Specifically, they should get behind the “Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act,” introduced by Colorado representative Ed Perlmutter. This bill (HR 2652), already endorsed by the Colorado Bankers Association, would alter various banking laws to protect banks providing services to marijuana-related businesses from the threat of federal prosecution and other penalties.
Financial institutions don’t operate off good-faith statements (including non-binding memorandums) – even those from the Department of Treasury, or any other enforcement agency. They operate under explicit legal authorization. Only when the laws change will the banks truly be free to provide the services these businesses so desperately need, and their communities rightly deserve.
Contact your representative today and tell them to support HR 2652