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Eric Holder Is “Cautiously Optimistic” That Marijuana Legalization Is Going Well

By: Tuesday October 21, 2014 8:44 am

While Eric Holder is “cautiously optimistic,” he is stepping down soon.

Attorney General Eric Holder is sounding relatively happy with how marijuana legalization laws are going in Colorado and Washington State.

When asked on CNN about the experiment with legalization taking place in those two states Holder responded, “I would say I’m cautiously optimistic.” Holder did reiterate that if the Department of Justice isn’t satisfied that the industry is being strictly regulated, DoJ will move to sue the states and shut things down.

While these positive words are good news for the reform movement, they come as Holder is preparing to step down, so they also serve as a reminder of the precarious legal situation the marijuana industry in these states continues to exist under. As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the local marijuana industries exist only at the whim of the administration, which has given only rough guidelines of what they want to see.

If President Obama’s next Attorney General decides he is unhappy with how the regulations are being implemented in the states or in 2016 we elect a President that is strongly opposed to legalization, this could change very quickly. The executive branch could sue the state and/or just arrest some of the business owners until the rest are scared into shutting down.

Marijuana regulators in Colorado and Washington State don’t just need to focus on what is the best public policy but also trying to preempt any political backlash from the federal government. For this reason it is understandable if they sometimes seem overly cautious.

This Could Be the Beginning of the End of Pot Brownies in Colorado

By: Monday October 20, 2014 12:02 pm

We can expect to see similar regulator fights play out over edibles in every state that legalizes marijuana

The days of commercial pot brownies in Colorado could be numbered. Colorado officials might significantly limit the ways adults can consume marijuana orally. From the AP:

Colorado health officials want to ban many edible forms of marijuana, including brownies, cookies and most candies, limiting legal sales of pot-infused food to lozenges and some liquids.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told marijuana regulators that many forms of edible marijuana “are naturally attractive to children” and violate the law’s “requirement to prevent the marketing of marijuana products to children.”

It is worth noting these recommendations are only the beginning of the process to potentially change the rules. They won’t necessarily be adopted.

The actual danger of anyone accidentally consuming a cannabis cookie not knowing it contained marijuana is small, but it is a concern that’s received a disproportionate amount of media attention, and has become the number one point of attack by opponents.

Given that marijuana consumers make up only a modest percentage of voters, the marginal increase in enjoyment a marijuana consumer gets from a cannabis cookie over a cannabis lozenge is small, and the negative media attention directed at edibles is significant right now, so this move is not surprising. I even predicted a push for recommendations exactly like this a year ago in my book, After Legalization.

It seems there are essentially two politically feasible paths forward when it comes to how marijuana edibles are treated. Either most of the industry proactively works with regulators aggressively on idiot-proof packaging, shape, and warning rules — or we see a blanket ban on most forms of edibles.

This is worth watching because we can expect to see similar regulatory fights play out in every state that legalizes marijuana.

Marijuana Legalization Just Keeps Getting More Popular in New Hampshire

By: Monday October 20, 2014 9:29 am

Support for legalizing marijuana continues to grow at a remarkable rate in New Hampshire. According to the latest WMUR Granite State Poll, 59 percent of adults in the state support legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use while only 35 percent oppose legalization.

That represents an impressive eight point increase in support for legalization since a year ago and an 11 point improvement since February 2013.

Interestingly the poll asked about marijuana policy in two ways. First it asked the yes or no question of whether people would support legalization, then it asked people what their preferred marijuana policy was among a range of options.

It found 52 percent would most want to see marijuana legalized, regulated, and taxed like alcohol. Another 19 percent would prefer to see marijuana decriminalized in the state while only 27 percent support New Hampshire’s current criminal penalties against marijuana use.

New Hampshire could play a big role in raising the profile of marijuana reform during the 2016 Presidential election as the most marijuana friendly of the early primary states. It will also likely be surrounded by states pushing reform at the time. The Vermont legislature is set to start seriously considering marijuana legalization next year, and legalization ballot measure campaigns are likely in Maine and Massachusetts during the next election cycle.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Just How Quickly Could Recreational Marijuana be for Sale in D.C.?

By: Monday October 20, 2014 6:52 am

“About four months” is theoretically the absolute fastest that stores could begin selling recreational marijuana in the District after the D.C. Council adopts new legislation, according to Rabbi Jeff Kahn. As the operator of Takoma Wellness Center, one of D.C.’s three functioning medical marijuana dispensaries, he is uniquely positioned to provide insight into this question.

The biggest mystery about Initiative 71, D.C.’s marijuana legalization initiative, is not whether voters will approve it, since it polls so well, but what will happen after they do. There are two big hurdles still in the way of adults being able to buy recreational marijuana in district. The first is Congress, which unfairly has power over all local legislation in D.C. and could abuse this to shut down any possible reform.

The second is how the D.C. Council will handle the issue of regulated marijuana. Due to limits placed on the D.C. ballot measure process, Initiative 71 would only legalize possession and limited home growing for adults. It was barred from containing tax and regulatory provisions like the 2012 ballot measures in Colorado and Washington State, or the legalization measures on the ballot this year in Alaska and Oregon.

Fortunately, the leading candidates for mayor, Democrat Muriel Bowser and Independent David Catania, both support legislation to tax and regulate marijuana. In addition, both see the District’s regulated medical marijuana system as a model for recreational marijuana. Catania even went so far as to say, “we actually have a pretty good regime in place for an easy transition to legalization through our medical marijuana initiative where we have dispensaries and cultivation centers.”

I spoke with several business leaders inside D.C.’s very small medical marijuana industry, and across the board they think it is a smart way forward. Rabbi Kahn told me, “The DC Medical Marijuana Program has become an unqualified success. It should serve as a model for all further DC marijuana legalization.” Michael Cuthriell, founder of the Metropolitan Wellness Center, also feels the medical marijuana system already has much of the basic regulatory foundation that is necessary, telling me, “The current infrastructure would make a transition to recreational marijuana much smoother.” One of the biggest problems, though, is scaling things up.

Like Colorado before it, D.C. has a well regulated medical marijuana system in place which it could rather easily expand into recreational marijuana. Yet unlike Colorado, the D.C. medical marijuana system is extremely small. There are only three dispensaries and three cultivation centers currently operating in the whole District which serve just 1,362 patients.

To put that in perspective, D.C. has a population of 646,449. If we assume only 5 percent of adults would choose to be regular customers, the local market would be roughly 25,000 people. That’s an 18-fold increase in the market — with sales restricted to only D.C. residents. If the marijuana stores were allowed serve any adults over 21, the market would be radically larger still. The D.C. metro area contains around 5.9 million people and as one of the top tourist destinations in the country it received some 19 million visitors last year.

Theoretically, if the council’s goal were to move as quickly as possible, Kahn pointed out they could pass emergency legislation right away to raise grow limits on the cultivation centers. That would make significantly more marijuana available in roughly four months, and at the same time the council could adopt permanent legislation letting dispensaries serve more people. That could create the additional supply and let dispensaries sell to the recreational market. Curthriell independently came to the same number, answering, “Around four months would be the absolute fastest possible, but it could take as long as 8-10 months.” He thinks even taking 10 months would be pretty good, given that it took Colorado just over a year to get their system up and running.

Corey Barnette from District Growers, one of the existing medical marijuana cultivation centers, had some slightly different expectations from his position. He believes if the council moved immediately to adopt legislation, “Those [currently operating] cultivators would be able to reach the demand of the marketplace if you gave them a six-to-nine month head start.”

That is, of course, looking at only the logistical limitations. One big hold up could be the council and the local regulators charged with writing the final rules. The council is going to need to not only balance the needs of the customers, the community and business leaders, but also trying to prevent Congress and/or federal agencies from stepping in to shut down the whole thing. After all, voters in the District first approved a medical marijuana initiative back in 1998, but Congress stepped in to prevent the District from actually adopting medical marijuana rules until 2010. Earlier this year, a federal appropriations bill containing a provision to block D.C. efforts to move forward with marijuana legalization actually passed in the House, but it died when the Senate didn’t take it up.

That said, Councilmember David Grosso (I) feels that if voters show overwhelming support for Initiative 71, the council will move quickly to respect the will of the electorate. They have already scheduled a joint committee hearing on his marijuana tax and regulate bill for October 30th in preparation of this, and he told me he thinks they could approve a bill as early as “the end of January or beginning of February.” If that happens and local regulators are able to fairly easily transition the medical marijuana market into the adult-use market, Grosso thinks recreational sales might be able to begin as soon as October or November of 2015. That is, if the whole process goes very smoothly.

Logistically, the absolute earliest that recreational marijuana could be on sale for adults in the nation’s capital is by spring. It’s more likely it will be roughly a year to a year and a half from now before we see the first legal recreational sales. But if Congress decides to abuse their power by interfering, they could block it for a decade or more.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Majority Back Marijuana Legalization in Delaware

By: Friday October 17, 2014 11:52 am

This is the first public poll to find majority support for marijuana legalization in Delaware

The number of states where a majority want to see marijuana legalized steadily continues to grow.

A new University of Delaware poll reported by the News Journal found 56 percent support legalizing marijuana use. Only 39 percent of adults in the state oppose legalization.

The only age group that continues to oppose legalization is senior citizens, so support is likely to increase as this demographic group is steadily replaced.

To my knowledge this is the first public poll to find majority support for marijuana legalization in Delaware that wasn’t paid for by an advocacy group. The Marijuana Policy Project paid for a poll at the beginning of the year and it found support for legalization at only 51 percent at that time.

Hopefully, the poll combined with the fact that marijuana was recently decriminalized in their neighboring state of Maryland will spur the state government to finally move towards reform. Currently, possession of any a very small amount of marijuana in the state is a misdemeanor and is punishable with up to six months in jail.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

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