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Some Congressional Republicans Look to Block Marijuana Legalization in D.C.

By: Monday November 24, 2014 12:21 pm

The people of D.C. voted overwhelmingly in favor of marijuana legalization earlier this month but it might not happen because the 650,000 people in our nation’s capital lack basic democratic rights.

Even though the people of D.C. have no representation in Congress, Congress has the power to override any local laws in D.C. At least one Congressional Republican is determined to use this power to try to stop reform in the District. From the Hill:

[Rep. Andy] Harris [R-MD] had contemplated a move to try to block the legalization law as part of Congress’s funding debate in this year’s lame-duck session, but because of time restraints he said he’s now eying action in early 2015.

“We have 30 legislative days [and] we probably don’t have eight legislative days left this year, so it’ll definitely go into the next Congress,” he said. “We can still do things in the next Congress [when] we’ll have more votes, more favorable votes.”

Earlier this year, Harris was successful in attaching an amendment to D.C.’s 2015 funding bill that would have nullified the city’s decriminalization law by simply barring funding for it. That package passed the Republican-controlled House, but the Democratically controlled Senate never took it up.

This highlights the importance of D.C. Council sending the initiative legalizing limited possession and home cultivation to Congress right away, instead of waiting until after they adopt a tax and regulate bill like the new mayor wants to do.

The lame duck Congress is likely going to pass a clean continuing resolution to keep the government funded for the next several months.

Harris’s best option for stopping marijuana reform in D.C. is attaching a policy rider to a must-pass funding bill, like he tried to do earlier this year. That means having the initiative undergoing its Congressional review period at the very beginning of next year, before Congress needs to work on any new funding measures, would give its best chance of not being interfered with.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy on sale for just $0.99

Congressional Research Service Report on Possibility of Taxing Legal Marijuana

By: Friday November 21, 2014 7:32 am

Vintage Marijuana Tax Stamps

If you want insight into how Congress might eventually treat marijuana when it is finally legalized at the federal level, you should read this new Congressional Research Service report on possible options for taxing cannabis. The service prepared this report at the request of members of Congress.

The report looks at not only the potential revenue that could be gained from marijuana, but also the pros and cons of the multiple ways marijuana can be taxed such as: by weight, by price, by THC content, and/or special occupational taxes on businesses.

I personally found this section interesting because it gets to the heart of a question I recently asked: what price should marijuana be sold for? From the report:

Economic theory suggests the efficient level of taxation is equal to marijuana’s external cost to society. Studies conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada suggest that the costs of individual marijuana consumption to society are between 12% and 28% of the costs of an individual alcohol user, and total social costs are even lower after accounting for the smaller number of marijuana users in society. Based on an economic estimate of $30 billion of net external costs for alcohol, the result is an external cost of $0.5 billion to $1.6 billion annually for marijuana. These calculations imply that an upper limit to the economically efficient tax rate could be $0.30 per marijuana cigarette (containing an average of one half of a gram of marijuana) or $16.80 per ounce. An increased number of users in a legal market would raise total costs, but not necessarily costs per unit.

Their research implies that a tax of $16.80 per ounce would potentially cover the negative social cost of legal marijuana use, but with all things related to marijuana research there are still many unknowns thanks in part to its decades of criminalization.

Of course achieving the economically efficient tax rate is often not the main goal of policy makers. Excise taxes are often used primarily to raise revenue or discourage use.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy on sale for just $0.99

The Unexpected Way Local Marijuana Taxes Can Impact Public Health

By: Wednesday November 19, 2014 10:33 am

Now that voters in Oregon have legalized marijuana one of the big policy fights is whether or not to allow cities to adopt their own local marijuana taxes. It is one of the hundreds of regulatory decisions each state is going to need to make as they move forward with marijuana reform.

Supporters of local taxes believe it is a matter of local control and say cities will need the extra money for dealing with implementing legalization. Opponents point to the fact that people voted for an initiative calling for a standardized marijuana tax throughout the entire state, and that high local taxes could undermine the goal of eliminating the black market.

What I haven’t seen mentioned so far is the impact it can have on driving. While we rarely ever talk about the impact on driving when discussing policy changes that aren’t directly about transportation, we really should. Driving is one of the most dangerous and destructive things average people do on a regular basis.

In 2012, 33,561 people died in the United States directly because of motor vehicle accidents and 2,362,000 people were injured. Cars are also a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gases. One study found emissions from road transportation may cause 53,000 premature deaths a year. In addition when people drive instead of walk it has negative consequences for their health.

If tax rates vary from city to city some people are going to drive to the next town to get a better deal. How much extra driving that could cause would depend on a huge number of unknowns, but purely for the sake of an illustration let’s assume a third of Oregon’s projected recreational consumers would choose to always drive to stores an average of 15 miles further away to save on taxes. That could result in 100 million more miles driven during the first three years. Based on national averages that should translate to about one extra traffic death and 80 injuries. It would also release about 40,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. A modest but real downside.

We should keep it in mind these related impacts, given that there are alternatives. For example if most cities honestly believe the current tax structure is not going to provid them with enough money to deal with legalization, the state could instead slightly increase the state excise tax and give all the extra money to localities with marijuana stores. That would do a better job of raising money, since it won’t be as easy to avoid as a patchwork of local taxes, and won’t encourage extra driving.

Overwhelming Support for Change to New York City’s Racist Marijuana Policy

By: Wednesday November 19, 2014 6:17 am

Ending the racist and often illegal way the New York City police have abused the marijuana possession laws enjoys overwhelming support.

According to Quinnipiac polling, 71 percent of New York City voters support “Mayor de Blasio’s decision to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, so that people found to be carrying small amounts of marijuana could get a summons, similar to a traffic ticket, rather than being arrested.” Only 26 percent of voters in the city oppose the policy change.

The poll also found that 70 percent of voters don’t think this change will increase crime in New York City.

It is worth pointing out that de Blasio didn’t “decriminalize” marijuana possession in New York City. He just decided to make the New York City Police finally start actually following the law.

Marijuana possession in New York state has been decriminalization for over 30 years. The problem was New York City Police were tricking people, stretching the law, or even outright lying to claim the marijuana they found was in “public view.” This exploited a loophole in the state law which defines only marijuana in public view as a misdemeanor. These highly questionable tactics were used almost exclusively in parts of the city that are predominately Black or Hispanic.

Attorney General of California Calls Legalization Inevitable

By: Tuesday November 18, 2014 11:25 am

In another positive sign of how quickly the debate around marijuana reform is shifting, California Attorney General Kamala Harris now thinks marijuana legalization in her state is inevitable. From Buzzfeed:
Hog's Breath, Sativa-2

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

The national marijuana reform groups have already proved they have the desire, knowledge, infrastructure, money, and public support to spread marijuana legalization with ballot initiatives. It is not a matter of if legalization is coming to California, just a when and how.

I hope state politicians will see that it is inevitable and decide to proactively work to bring about legalization in the most sensible way possible. The ballot initiative is a blunt and imperfect tool for dealing with complex regulatory issues. This is especially true in California because its unique, strong anti-legislative tamper rules can make small problems a pain to fix.

Sadly, at the moment it seems unlikely the California legislature will move forward on their own legalization bill, so a 2016 ballot initiative campaign will be necessary. I at least hope this means officials like Harris will do some of the preemptive groundwork to allow for a smooth implementation when the time comes.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy on sale for just $0.99

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