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What Marijuana Reform Can and Can’t Do About Racial Injustice

By: Friday July 25, 2014 7:04 am

Marijuana legalization can’t by itself stop law enforcement from more aggressively targeting minority communities, but it removes one of the most common, unfair, and senseless reasons police have used

One of the significant reasons to support marijuana reform is the huge racial disparity in marijuana arrests, but marijuana reform alone can’t fix the source of the racial bias in our justice system. What it does do is treat one of the worst symptoms of this disease.

The racial disparity in arrests is the product of many things including systematic racism (both explicit and subconscious), policing tactics, housing patterns, legacy of past policies, poverty, etc… So as we have seen in Washington state and Seattle, even after marijuana is legalized, the racial disparity in marijuana arrests doesn’t entirely disappear, but the damage it causes is dramatically reduced.

Marijuana use is the most common victimless crime that people of all races can get in serious legal trouble for. In 2012 there were an incredible 650,000 arrests for marijuana possession, more than all violent crimes combined. When marijuana is legalized that number plummets to almost nothing for people of all races.

As we saw in Washington state, adult arrests for less than 40 grams of marijuana dropped from roughly 7,000 before legalization to only 120 after legalization. While sadly African-Americans still made up a larger share of that very small pool than they should have, the total number of African-Americans arrested was cut to just a tiny fraction of what it once was.

Similarly, in Seattle African-Americans were ticketed for public marijuana consumption at a higher rate than whites. But we are talking about only a few dozen people, and the punishment was merely a small fine — unlike in other parts of the country where in similar-sized cities thousands face possible jail time and a criminal record just for having marijuana.

Marijuana legalization can’t by itself stop law enforcement from more aggressively targeting minority communities, but it removes one of the most common, unfair, and senseless reasons -by far- police have used to arrest and justify searches of hundreds of thousands of minorities.

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

Why the Legal Marijuana Age Has to Be 21

By: Thursday July 24, 2014 8:47 am

There is no real legal, moral or scientific reason why the age restriction in the state marijuana legalization initiatives should be 21 instead of 19 or 22, but it is a political necessity.

The American people overwhelmingly want the drinking age to remain 21. According to a new Gallup poll, 74 percent would oppose a federal law lowering the drinking age to 18 across the country. It found every major political subgroup opposes this change. From Gallup:

Favor or Oppose Lowering Drinking Age to 18

Given that the American public is still relatively skeptical about the idea of legal marijuana there is no way they would support making marijuana more readily available than alcohol.

While there might be some good arguments for why the United States should bring its drinking age more in line with those in Europe, that is separate debate the American people don’t seem very open to at the moment.

With only a modest majority of voters in support of the idea of marijuana legalization, ballot initiative campaigns can’t afford to alienate voters with an unpopular provision that takes the losing side on this age topic.

In Uruguay it was possible to set the legal age for marijuana purchasing at 18 because they don’t have a higher drinking age, but that won’t work politically in the United States.

For whatever reason Americans have decided they really like an age limit of 21, so that is why all three legalization initiative this year, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C., needed to go with that number.

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

Marijuana Legalization Would Generate $38.5 Million for Oregon in the First Year

By: Wednesday July 23, 2014 12:14 pm

This November the voters of Oregon will have a chance to legalize marijuana and if they do the legal marijuana market could add around $38.5 million in new taxes for state.

A new report by ECONorthwest for the New Approach Oregon campaign estimates that the marijuana excise tax contained in their initiative would generate $38.5 million during the first fiscal year of tax receipts. That money would come only from the newly legalized adult-use market.

They assume most people using the current medical marijuana system will stay with it, which seems likely based on what has happened in Colorado so far. The initiative doesn’t tax medical marijuana.

Obviously, making projection when there are still some unknowns is difficult. We don’t know how many people will choose to grow their own, how many localities will ban marijuana stores and what the retail price will end up at. That said this is a decent ballpark of what to expect from the just the tax side. This analysis doesn’t include the likely criminal justice savings.

As we have seen in Colorado legal marijuana can be an effective revenue generator for the government.

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

The Huge Difference a Few Regulatory Changes Can Make to the Shape of an Industry

By: Wednesday July 23, 2014 8:42 am

I love this infographic from the Brewers Association about the history of breweries because it shows what an immense different a few policy changes can make to an entire industry.


After alcohol prohibition ended the rules adopted on beer regulation favored big players resulting in a steady concentration of the market to just a handful of breweries for decades.  But several regulatory changes starting in the 1970′s laid the groundwork for an explosion of new offerings.

The big thing President Jimmy Carter did was legalize home brewing, allowing regular individuals to perfect new beer recipes in their garages which they would later use to start new breweries with. Soon after new state laws allowing the creation of small brewpubs were adopted making it easy for these hobbyists to start new small breweries.

This created a positive feedback cycle that started pushing things in the other direction. The more small breweries and craft beer fans there were, the more people you had pushing lawmakers for pro-craft beer regulatory changes. For example just last week D.C. adopt a new rule allowing local breweries to sell pints at their tasting rooms.

If you care about what legal marijuana will actually be like you should very closely examine the history of alcohol post-prohibition for lessons on what should be copied or avoided. Just a few seemingly boring regulatory decisions made in the coming years as more states legalize marijuana could make the different between a marijuana industry which ends up dominated by just a handful of big corporations and one with a huge number of small specialized local players.

It is worth noting that Washington State’s law doesn’t allow hobbyists to grow recreational marijuana at home but the Colorado law does. In addition the marijuana legalization initiatives this year in Alaska, Oregon, and D.C. all have home grow provisions.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy where he explores subjects like this at greater length.

Marijuana Legalization Officially Makes the Ballot in Oregon

By: Tuesday July 22, 2014 12:59 pm

Its official, the people of Oregon will be voting on marijuana legalization this November. On Tuesday Secretary of State Kate Brown declared that Initiative 53 had enough valid signatures to qualify for the general election ballot. From her twitter:

The initiative is from the New Approach Oregon campaign which turn in its signatures last month.  The measure is roughly modeled after the new laws in Colorado and Washington State. If approved the initiative would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in Oregon.

Possession and limited home growing would be made legal for adults 21 and over. The law would also create a regulatory system for the production and retail sale of marijuana. A new tax would be imposed on the adult use of marijuana with the revenue generated from it going towards education, substance abuse treatment and law enforcement.

There is a very good chance it will be approved. A poll from Oregon Public Broadcasting found 54 percent of Oregon voters support legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over.

Oregon is now the second state with marijuana legalization on the ballot. Earlier this year a similar measure was placed on the November ballot in Alaska.

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


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