Marijuana Legalization

  • July 28, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    The New York Times is calling for the federal government to repeal laws banning marijuana, saying that as a substance it is less dangerous than alcohol, and the social costs of keeping it illegal are too vast to justify its current legal status. “The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to the FBI figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”

    Prachi Gupta in a piece for Salon explores the recent federal judge’s ruling that D.C.’s public handgun ban is unconstitutional.

    NPR’s Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza discusses Alabama’s high rate of death penalty sentences, especially in light of recent debate surrounding capital punishment. On MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry,” ACS Vice President of Network Advancement Sarah Knight discussed the recent Arizona death penalty debacle, where it took the state almost two hours to execute a condemned death row inmate. 

    Sarah Kliff at Vox reports on pro-choice legislators using the Supreme Court buffer zone ruling as a guideline for new, safer abortion clinics which can be protected as effectively as possible. On the same “Melissa Harris-Perry” show, ACS’s Sarah Knight joined a discussion about the Supreme Court’s opinion earlier this summer invalidating Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law.

  • September 3, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Sam Kamin, Director, Constitutional Rights & Remedies Program and Professor, University of Denver Strum College of Law

    The Department of Justice recently announced how it would enforce federal marijuana law in those states seeking to legalize marijuana under their own laws. In a memo to United States Attorneys around the country, Deputy Attorney General James Cole set out the priorities that govern the federal government’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act’s (CSA) marijuana prohibition. The government, Cole wrote, was primarily concerned with the distribution of marijuana to minors, the involvement in marijuana trafficking of organized crime, the distribution of more serious drugs along with marijuana, and the transfer of marijuana from states where the drug was legal under state law to those where it was not.  So long as those states seeking to legalize marijuana had robust regulatory regimes in place to address these concerns, businesses acting in conformance with state law would generally not be an appropriate target of federal enforcement, whether criminal or civil.

    The DOJ memo marks a major change in direction for the federal government. As recently as 2010, Attorney General Holder had made clear to the people of California that the federal government would not countenance a state decriminalizing and regulating recreational marijuana manufacture and sale. Furthermore, previous enforcement memoranda from the DOJ had drawn a distinction between legitimate medical use of marijuana on the one hand (which the government stated would not be an enforcement priority) and large-scale commercial production (which remained a valid target for federal prosecution). The 2013 Cole Memo makes clear that the size and for-profit nature of marijuana establishments was but one factor to be considered by United States Attorneys in determining whether to enforce the CSA in states that had sought to legalize marijuana. 

    For state officials in Washington and Colorado – which both passed marijuana legalization initiatives in 2012 – this word from the DOJ was long-overdue good news; with this announcement, the states could complete the final stages of their marijuana regulations and begin licensing businesses to open their doors in early 2014.

    But the memo can do only so much to alleviate the uncertainty and confusion caused by the continuing federal marijuana prohibition. In the first place, the memorandum is a unilateral act of the executive and can always be undone by other unilateral executive actions; when a new presidential administration takes over in January 2017, there is no telling how it will view the federal government’s marijuana enforcement priorities. 

  • December 12, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    If the Obama administration decides to move aggressively to scuttle efforts in Colorado and Washington State to take a different – many would say progressive – approach to the war on marijuana it won’t be because the administration had no alternative. Indeed plenty of academics, pundits and federal lawmakers are hoping the administration will support, not hinder, the experimentations in those two progressive Western states and are airing plenty of ways the administration could respond.

    University of Denver law school professor Sam Kamin detailed some of the possibilities the government could take with respect to the marijuana legalization initiatives that passed with strong support in Colorado and Washington. One of the possibilities Kamin highlighted was a bill recently introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) “allowing states to essentially opt of the CSA [Controlled Substances Act outlaws marijuana and is administrated by the Drug Enforcement Agency] enforcement by passing laws that conflict with the federal prohibition ….”

    Rep. DeGette in a press statement announcing the legislation said several of her colleagues were concerned “about the federal government’s ability to override these voter-approved initiatives ….”

    “In Colorado,” DeGette said, “we’ve witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers. My constituents have spoken and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens.”

    In a piece for Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson writes that while the federal government “cannot force” Colorado and Washington “to impose criminal sanctions on pot possession,” the federal government “has great power” to block the states’ abilities to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. (In an editorial, the magazine’s publisher Jann S. Wenner hopes the president won’t tap that power and urges an end to the war on weed calling it a “sham, a folly, a colossal waste of money and human potential.”)

  • November 27, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Taking the “bolder step” of legalizing a limited amount of marijuana has sparked other state lawmakers to consider similar measures, even as the Obama administration remains silent on how it will respond to the bold measures passed in Colorado and Washington.

    University of Denver law school professor Sam Kamin covers possibilities the administration could take, such as enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, which bans the sale and possession of marijuana. Another possibility, Kamin added, is to reclassify marijuana or remove it from the CSA.

    In a piece for The New York Times online commentary, Timothy Egan hopes the administration will have “the backbone” to embrace change. He also urges policymakers and pundits to dump the lame talk about the munchies and take seriously the message sent by two “progressive Western states” that “arresting 853,000 people a year for marijuana offenses is an insult to a country built on individual freedom ….” He also notes that other states, such as Maine, are likely to follow those Western states. Indeed Egan believes that it is likely “a dozen or more states will do so as well.”

    And why should the Obama administration embrace a societal change? Egan cites a litany of compelling reasons. For starters its base hypocrisy for the government to tolerate legal drugs – alcohol, caffeine and a slew of supplementary vitamins that make all kinds of “exaggerated health claims” -- but continue to arrest people for marijuana use.

  • November 15, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Following on the victories for limited legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, advocates for legalization are gearing up for more state action. Andrew Sullivan in a post, “The Legalization Tipping Point,” notes that lawmakers in Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont are contemplating legalization legislation.

    Legislators from Rhode Island and Maine during a teleconference today conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project discussed their plans to introduce measures that would decriminalize marijuana and allow the states to tax and regulate it “in a manner similar to alcohol.” The MPP statement about the call said lawmakers in Massachusetts and Vermont were planning on introducing similar legislation.

    In the MPP press announcement, Robert Capecchi, the group’s legislative analyst lauded last week’s victories, noting both ballot initiatives passed with about 55 percent in favor. He also declared, “We are passing the tipping point when it comes to this issue. Unfortunately, lawmakers have traditionally been behind public opinion when it comes to marijuana policy reform. With these thoughtful legislators in at least four states planning on introducing sensible proposals to remove criminal penalties and regulate marijuana in their states, it’s clear that ending marijuana prohibition is gaining momentum.”

    A string of states – 17 – and the District of Columbia already have laws permitting varying uses of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Denver’s medical marijuana industry, even with the efforts by the federal government to impede it, has become robust. But we still do not know how the Department of Justice will respond to the measures approved in Colo. and Wash.