Two new studies helpful to those who are advocating for marijuana legalization came out over the past few weeks. One quantifies the enormous potential tax revenue generated from a legal marijuana system, which should encourage additional states to reconsider their marijuana policies; the second confirms that per se DUID laws are scientifically baseless, and concludes that no one should face conviction of a DUID charge without a showing of impairment.
Tax Revenue Left on the Table
The Tax Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think-tank, released a series of reports (on 4/20, no less) quantifying the potential state and federal tax revenue from a nationally legal marijuana market. Their conclusion: $28 billion annually!
That’s right. The states and the federal government are losing that much tax revenue annually as a result of their reticence to embrace a legal marijuana market. The states would raise an estimated $20.5 billion through the collection of excise, sales, income and payroll taxes. The federal government is losing another $7.5 billion from income, payroll, and excise taxes.
Tax experts reached figures from an estimate that a nationally legal marijuana market would generate $45 billion in annual sales. This is obviously relevant information for any elected officials who might be considering supporting marijuana legalization. We know from the experience with legal gambling in the US that initially only one state (Nevada) was willing to raise tax revenue by legalizing and regulating gambling, and then a second (New Jersey) elected to jump on board the gaming bandwagon. The other states knew this could be a helpful source of tax revenue, but so long as the issue was considered too controversial (or in some states, considered immoral conduct), they were unwilling to take advantage of the potential revenue stream.
But today, some form of gambling is available in almost every state. The aura of impropriety has gradually given way to the reality that people gamble regardless of whether it is legal and regulated or remains illegal. The primary difference is that with illegal gambling the government realizes no tax revenue.
That scenario is one that is almost certain to be repeated in state after state over the coming years, as marijuana smoking is increasingly seen as no big deal, and the enormous tax revenues are more and more crucial for states struggling to balance their budgets without cutting essential services. With every new state that adopts full legalization, there are a larger number of neighboring states that will be forced to reconsider their marijuana policies with a view towards keeping that tax revenue in their own states.
Fair DUID Policies
The second piece of good news came from the respected American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety, a somewhat unexpected source. Following a thorough review of the scientific evidence, AAA concluded that motorists are being convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana based on arbitrary state standards – called “per se” laws — that have no connection to whether the driver was actually impaired.
Under these laws, if the driver is found to have a certain level of THC in their system, they are convicted of a DUID offense, without any showing of impairment.
Five states (Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington) presently impose per se limits for the detection of specific amounts of THC in blood, while eleven states (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin) impose zero tolerant per se standards — meaning any THC in the system is sufficient for a conviction. In Colorado the presence of more than 5 nanograms per milliliter of THC in the blood gives rise to a permissible inference that the driver was impaired.
The problem with these laws is that residual levels of THC may be present in the blood for extended periods of time (days or even weeks) after the last use of marijuana, although the impairment from smoking generally lasts no more than 90-minutes.
The AAA finding is similar to that of the US National Highway Safety Administration that has previously found “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects … It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”
This study confirms the position that NORML has taken for years, arguing for impairment testing, rather than per se THC standards. As NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano has written, “[R]ecently adopted statewide per se limits and zero tolerant per se thresholds in the United States criminally prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle by persons with the trace presence of cannabinoids or cannabinoid metabolites in their blood or urine are not based upon scientific evidence or consensus … [T]he enforcement of these strict liability standards risks inappropriately convicting unimpaired subjects of traffic safety violations, including those persons who are consuming cannabis legally in accordance with other state statutes.”
Information is Power
Information is power, and both of these new reports provide us with tools to better shape the debate over the advantages of marijuana legalization, and to assure that new legalization laws do not unfairly treat responsible marijuana smokers as dangerous drivers. Now if we can get our elected officials to focus on the facts, we can continue to refine the image of fair marijuana legalization.
This column was first published on Marijuana.com.
Today marijuana activists, patients and business owners from around the country are gathering in our nation’s Capitol to officially kickoff NORML’s 2016 Conference and Lobby day in Washington DC. We’re extremely excited about our line up of speakers and panelists for our conference, followed by a busy day of meetings with members of the House and Senate.
To start off, NORML members and supporters will be meeting at George Washington University, for a full day of presentations and panel discussions with policy experts and seasoned lobbyists. I’m especially excited to hear from John Hudak with the Brookings Institute. He recently wrote an open letter to presidential candidates urging them to take the issue of marijuana law reform more seriously. You can read more, here!
Tomorrow morning, NORML members will gather at the Longworth building on Capitol Hill where they will be addressed by: Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Delbene (D-WA). They are expected to speak in detail about the various pieces of legislation that are highlighted below. With more than twenty pieces of federal legislation aimed at reforming America’s archaic marijuana and hemp laws, it is imperative that we do our part by educating them on the many benefits of embracing a new approach. The same applies to everyone who will not be able to attend, except the focus will be on making phone calls, writing letters and/or sending emails using our online action center.
To access the information below, simply click on any of the links and you’ll be directed to a three-page document that includes everything you and your fellow activists will need to assist us with our lobbying efforts (talking points, phone script, letter template etc.). Feel free to contact your representatives about each one, or pick a few that you’re most passionate about!
During last year’s congressional letter writing campaign, our network of affiliates and chapters generated more than 2000 letters and emails to congressional offices so I hope we can do the same or better this year!
Federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions have declined significantly since the passage of statewide laws regulating the plant’s production and retail sale to adults, according to data provided by the United States Sentencing Commission.
According to the new report, the number of marijuana trafficking offenders prosecuted at the federal level fell dramatically after 2012 — declining from over 6,000 annually to fewer than 4,000 in 2015.
“The number of marijuana traffickers rose slightly over time until a sharp decline in fiscal year 2013 and the number continues to decrease,” the report concludes.
The period of decline overlaps with the passage and enactment of adult marijuana sales in various US states, including Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
Federal data also reports a similar decline in cocaine trafficking since 2012. By contrast, federal prosecutions for heroin and methamphetamine trafficking have slowly risen over the better part of the past ten years.
Those convicted of marijuana trafficking spend an average of 29 months in prison, the report found.
A copy of the USSC report is available for download here.
This was a huge week for marijuana law reform. Congress voted for the first time to expand medical cannabis access to military veterans, and Governors in numerous states signed cannabis legalization and depenalization measures into law. Keeping reading to get the latest news and to learn what you can do to take action.
Members of the US House and Senate voted yesterday for the first time to expand military veterans’ access to medicinal cannabis in states that allow it. House members voted 233 to 189 last week in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. The amendment, offered by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, prohibits the federal government from sanctioning V.A. physicians who wish to recommend cannabis therapy to their patients. Members of the US Senate Appropriations Committee previously voted in April in favor of a similar provision and the full Senate also signed off on their version of the bill yesterday. The House and Senate versions of FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations now await a concurrence vote prior to being sent to the President.
Colorado: House and Senate lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved legislation, House Bill 1373, to permit qualified patients access to the use formulations of medical cannabis while on school grounds. The measure now awaits action by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who indicated that he would sign the bill into law. Once enacted, a primary caregiver may administer non-inhalable formulations of medical cannabis to a qualifying patient while that patient is on the grounds of a pre-school, primary, or secondary school in which the student is enrolled. Medical marijuana patients may not be denied eligibility to attend school because of their cannabis use.
Connecticut: Democrat Gov. Dannel Malloy this week signed legislation expanding patients’ access to the state’s medicinal cannabis program. House Bill 5450 permits qualifying patients under the age of 18 to possess and consume medical cannabis preparations. The proposal also expands the list of qualifying illnesses eligible for cannabis therapy to include: ”uncontrolled intractable seizure disorder,” ”irreversible spinal cord injury with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity,” “cerebral palsy,” “cystic fibrosis,” or “terminal illness requiring end-of-life care.” Other provisions in the bill seek to establish a statewide clinical research program, and protect nurses from criminal, civil, or disciplinary sanction if they choose to administer marijuana to a qualifying patient in a hospital setting. The new law takes effect on October 1, 2016.
Illinois: Members of the House voted 64 to 50 on Wednesday, May 18, in favor of Senate Bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Members of the Senate had previously voted 44 to 12 in favor of the measure, which makes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200 — no arrest and no criminal record.
Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1500. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law. Senate Bill 2228 now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner. Last year, the Governor issued an amendatory veto to a similar bill. However, this year’s language addresses the Governor’s past concerns.
Kansas: Governor Brownback recently signed House Bill 2462 into law to amend marijuana possession penalties. The law reduces criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses from a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine) to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by no more than six months in jail and a $1,000 fine). Second convictions will no longer be classified as a felony offense. You can read the full summary of the engrossed bill here. The sentencing changes take effect imminently.
Louisiana: Governor John Bel Edwards signed legislation yesterday amending the state’s dormant medical marijuana law. Senate Bill 271 permits physicians to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘prescribe’ medical cannabis therapy. The change allows doctors to authorize cannabis without running afoul of federal law, which prohibits the prescription of a schedule I controlled substance.
The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include the following: “cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.
Maine: Governor Paul LePage has signed legislation, LD 726, into law permitting qualified patients to use medical marijuana while admitted in Maine hospitals. This measure does not require hospital staff to administer medical marijuana to a patient and will only allow for patients to consume cannabis preparations in a smokeless form. The law also establishes licensing protocols for marijuana testing facilities and the labeling of medical cannabis products.
New Hampshire: Members of the Senate on Thursday, May 19, sent House-backed decriminalization provisions to conference committee rather than engage in an up/down vote of the bill. Members of the House previously voted 298 to 58 to amend Senate Bill 498 to make first-time offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would be limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would continue to be classified as misdemeanors. In past years, the Senate has been consistently hostile to any House efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession penalties.
The conference committee, consisting of members of the House and Senate, will now try to agree upon a finalized version of SB 498. It is important that Senate members hear from you and are urged to keep the House provisions in SB 498. #TakeAction
Oklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation into law on Friday, May 13, to expand the pool of patients eligible to possess cannabidiol (CBD) under a physician’s authorization. House Bill 2835 extends existing legal protections to the following patients: those with “spasticity due to multiple sclerosis or due to paraplegia, intractable nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation with chronic wasting diseases.” The measure also removes the age requirement limitation from existing law so that adults with various forms of epilepsy are eligible for CBD therapy. The expanded law takes effect on November 1, 2016.
Rhode Island: On Thursday, May 19th members of the Senate approved legislation, Senate Bill 2115, to make post-traumatic stress patients eligible for medical cannabis treatment and to accelerate access to those patients in hospice care. The measure will now be sent to the House for consideration. #TakeAction
Senate Bill 271 permits physicians to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘prescribe’ medical cannabis therapy. The change allows doctors to authorize cannabis without running afoul of federal law, which prohibits the prescription of a schedule I controlled substance.
The measure also expands the pool of conditions eligible for cannabis therapy to include the following: “cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis.”
The bill does not amend language in the state’s Therapeutic Research Act limiting the preparation of medicinal cannabis products to non-herbal formulations, nor does it address provisions limiting state-licensed cannabis cultivation to a single provider, or the dispensing of cannabis products to no more than ten licensed pharmacies. Those restrictions were put in place by legislation signed into law last year. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.
Senate Bill 271 does include language requiring the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center to decide whether or not they wish to seek licensing to grow medical marijuana for the state’s program by September 2, 2016.
You can read the enrolled measure here.
Louisiana is set to become the 25th state to permit for the physician-supervised use of medical cannabis and/or cannabis-infused preparations for qualified patients.