Marijuana Legalization Is Decreasing Violent Crime in Border States

World Press/July 6, 2017

In a paper published by The Economic Journal last month, a study by the Norwegian School of Economics in partnership with the Pennsylvania State University Department of Sociology and Criminology, found that marijuana legalization has led to a decrease in violent crime in U.S. states that border Mexico.

Over the past several years, sweeping reforms to marijuana policies have reached a tipping point with legal medical marijuana now in more states (currently 29) than those that continue to prohibit the sale and consumption of the plant for medical or recreational purposes.

The paper‘s authors say that not only is there a strong reduction in violent crime related to illegal drug trafficking in states and counties that border Mexico, but that when an inland state legalizes medical marijuana, there is a measurable reduction in violent drug trafficking crimes in the nearest border state:

“We show that the introduction of medical marijuana laws (MMLs) leads to a decrease in violent crime in states that border Mexico. The reduction in crime is strongest for counties close to the border (less than 350km), and for crimes that relate to drug trafficking. In addition, we find that MMLs in inland states lead to a reduction in crime in the nearest border state.”

The paper continues, “Our results are consistent with the theory that decriminalization of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organisations.”

To determine how marijuana legalization has affected traffickers, the researchers used data from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, an FBI-maintained database. They found that medical marijuana laws have correlated with a 12.5 percent decrease in violent crime homicides, aggravated assaults, and robberies in states that border Mexico.

Our results are consistent with the theory that decriminalization of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organisations.

Norwegian School of Economics

Cross referencing their findings with data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, they found that the decrease in violent crime is largely due to a drop in drug-related homicides.

The findings are consistent with previous studies on the effects of marijuana legalization and violent crime. Denver experienced a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime rates the year after legal recreational marijuana first went on sale in the state of Colorado, and Denver property crime plummeted by significant 8.9 percent over the same period.

In Washington state where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, violent crime decreased by 10 percent overall from 2011 to 2014.

That hasn’t stopped Trump Administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions from insisting this February that legalized marijuana results in higher violent crime, citing nameless “experts” and no statistics or studies to back up his claim:

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot. I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.

“Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

Interestingly, Sessions attempted to support his assertion by reasoning that, “You can’t sue somebody for drug debt; the only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that.”

The very fact that commerce in marijuana remains in the black market, outside of the protections of the legal system, is exactly one reason why the sort of vigilante justice Sessions describes takes place.

In Washington state where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, violent crime decreased by 10 percent overall from 2011 to 2014.

When marijuana is legalized, legitimate businesses engage in marijuana commerce, businesses run by law-abiding entrepreneurs with federal tax ID numbers and nothing to fear from turning to the courts to peacefully resolve disputes with vendors and customers.

Sessions Task Force Will Review DOJ Cannabis Enforcement

Leafly/April 6, 2017/Gage Peake

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent out a memo on Wednesday to U.S. Attorneys announcing the formation of a new task crime reduction task force. The task force will review how the Department of Justice enforces cannabis laws, among other things, and will report its initial recommendations by July 27, 2017.

In the memo, which was sent to federal prosecutors and the heads of Justice Department agencies, Sessions said that task force subcommittees will focus on a variety of issues, including:

Developing violent crime reduction strategies, supporting prevention and re-entry efforts, updating charging and sentencing policies, reviewing asset forfeiture guidance, reducing illegal immigration and human trafficking, combating hate crimes, and evaluating marijuana enforcement policy.

Sessions did not announce how many people are on the task force, who they are, or whether they have positions inside or outside the federal government.

On the topic of cannabis, the task force will “review existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with administration goals and priorities.”

So it seems as if cannabis will be included into a subcommittee that is looking at the appropriate levels of charging and sentencing.

This seems to add to the uncertainty in the cannabis industry, as Sessions has sent many mixed messages on cannabis and its continued federal prohibition.

In February, Sessions said that the DOJ will try and adopt more “responsible policies” for enforcing cannabis laws. Experts told him, he said, that there is more violence around cannabis than one would think.

One of the other subcommittee’s will explore the use of asset forfeiture, and make recommendations on any improvements to legal authorities, policies, and training to most effectively attack the financial infrastructure of criminal organizations.

The new task force is not specifically focused on the enforcement of federal cannabis laws. The Violent Crime Reduction Strategy Development Subcommittee will make recommendations for the department’s overall violent crime reduction strategy, which according to the memo, will focus on enforcement against violent offenders.

The subcommittee will also focus on immigration enforcement and human trafficking to ensure that the federal government has “an aggressive and coordinated strategy to deter those who violate our boarders and subject others to forced labor, involuntary servitude, sex trafficking, and other forms of modern-day slavery.

Sessions added that the DOJ also must protect the civil rights of all Americans, and accordingly, the Hate Crimes Subcommittee will “develop a plan to appropriately address hate crimes and better protect the rights of all Americans.”


Argentina Legalizes Medical Cannabis, Creates Research Program With Free Access

The Associated Press/April 4, 2017

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s Senate has given final legislative approval to a bill legalizing the use of cannabis oil and other marijuana derivatives for medicinal purposes, and setting up a regulatory framework for the state to prescribe and distribute them to patients.

The legislation approved by senators Wednesday also creates a medical marijuana research program at the Health Ministry, which must “guarantee free access” to cannabis oil and other derivatives to patients who join the program. The legislation was passed by the Chamber of Deputies earlier.

“In history, the big things always come in small steps,” said Valeria Salech, president of a private pro-medical cannabis group called Mama Cultiva Argentina, which has argued that cannabis can radically change the quality of life for children suffering everything from HIV to epilepsy.

Her group is already lobbying to push the legislation further, to permit the families of patients to grow their own cannabis.

Under the new legislation, government agencies will be authorized to grow cannabis for research purposes and to produce cannabis oil and derivatives for patients. The state can import cannabis derivatives until they can be produced locally.

The Washington, DC-based Drug Policy Alliance cheered the move.

“It’s heartening to see Argentina prioritizing accessibility by providing medical marijuana at no cost to patients,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill was long championed by families and patients whose suffering has been alleviated with medical marijuana, and it’s a relief they’ve finally been heard.”

The group noted, however, that home cultivation remains illegal, punishable by a jail sentence of up to 15 years when intended for commercial purposes and up to two years if authorities deem the cultivation was for personal use.

Other nations in Latin America are also debating allowing medical uses of marijuana. But Uruguay is the only country in South America that has legalized recreational cannabis.


California Prepares to Fight Against Feds – Will Leadership Changes at BMCR Delay Implementation?

Manzuri Law/March 20, 2017/Meital Manzuri

The California Legislature has not been shy about preparing to do battle with the federal government on several issues; health care, climate change, and immigration are just some of the hot topics that the state’s leadership is willing to fight for against the Trump administration to protect policies that have impacted its residents. Part of its preparation has been the recent hiring of Covington & Burling, a prominent law firm that employs former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

But legislators are now showing that they are also willing to go up against the federal government on the issue of cannabis. Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles) has introduced AB 1578, a bill that prohibits state and local government from assisting federal agents in investigations against legal commercial cannabis activity – either recreational or medical – unless they have a court order that is signed by a judge. The bill has a long way to go in the legislative process but is already supported by democratic leaders in both houses. This is the clearest indication from California thus far that there are leaders willing to fight on behalf of its cannabis industry. Interested in supporting the bill? Contact Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer’s office.

In addition, as part of a bipartisan effort, Senators have introduced SJR-5, a resolution that requests that Congress pass a law to reschedule “marijuana or cannabis and its derivatives to an alternative schedule.” Their goal is to allow for legal research and commerce, including access to traditional banks and financial institutions. Although some believe simply rescheduling isn’t moving the needle far enough, and it would still take an act of Congress enact the request (undoubtedly an uphill battle), this is a huge step in the right direction for our leaders and shows serious interest in important subjects such as research and banking: two things the industry desperately needs in California. The bill has yet to pass through both houses of the California Legislature, but we can anticipate strong support from both sides of the aisle on this issue.

Los Angeles Voters High-Five Measure M

Los Angeles Voters High-Five Measure M

MG News/March 8, 2017/Tom Hymes

LOS ANGELES – Measure M, the Los Angeles City Council-sponsored ballot initiative green-lighting the comprehensive regulation of cannabis businesses in the city, was approved last night by voters in a landslide victory that saw 192,054 (79.4%) votes cast in the affirmative and only 49,964 (20.6%) votes cast against the measure.

Members of the industry, the city council, and supporters of the measure gathered last night for a Victory Party at the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Sponsored by the Southern California Coalition (SCC), the group of industry business owners most directly engaged with the city in crafting the city’s new regulations, a few hundred people mingled on the outdoor patio of the Bonaventure Brewing Company as the returns came in on a small screen set up to the side. By 8:30pm, local news reports indicated that Measure M had an insurmountable lead and would coast to passage. A cheer went up from the gathering of people who understood the historic nature of what had just occurred. Members of the SCC board then addressed the assembled crowd.

“When we started down this road so many months ago, I never really thought it would end up like this,” said Erik Hultstrom, a cultivator and co-chair of the SCC. “But when you’re faced with a big challenge, every journey starts with one big step, and you just keep taking them, and soon enough you’re in a suit looking at a bunch of people in suits watching an election, saying, I think we did it. I really want to thank the cultivators, who really stepped up, and everyone who supported us and wants to see a Los Angeles industry dominated by Angelinos who have been fighting for this for over a decade, and did not want to see [the city] taken over by out-of-towners. Let the locals have a shot.

“Virgil [Grant] is the guy who made this all come together,” Hultstrom continued. “Without him I don’t know if we’d be here now. The things this man has done for our community over the last 20 years is just amazing, and he’ll probably never get the due that he deserves. But everyone here knows how we really got here, and that this is the guy we owe a lot of thanks.”

“This is the guy who spent six years in prison for this industry,” added Donnie Anderson, NAACP Chair and co-founder of the SCC with Grant.

Grant, a longtime dispensary operator and president of the SCC, addressed the gathering of Measure M supporters. “I could not have done this by myself without these ladies and gentlemen behind me,” he said “They have supported me and I have supported them, and we’ve supported each other. We built this organization to what it is today, the number one trade organization in California and in the United States. Believe that. We are going to continue this fight, not just in L.A., not just in California., but we’re headed to D.C. next. After this, we will see the [Los Angeles County] Board of Supervisors, and after we take care of our backyard, we’re going to stretch out and let our tentacles reach out to the entire United States. Keep in mind that L.A. is the number one [cannabis] market in the world, and everyone is paying attention to what we do. This is our first hurdle. Now the work begins, and we need everyone’s support as we move forward.”

City Council President Herb Wesson, who has taken the lead in making cannabis regulation a priority for the city, commented, “Los Angeles is leading the country and world in responsible and inclusive approaches to legalization. The passing of Proposition M is a great victory for common sense, law enforcement and all Angelenos. We gave communities a voice in the process, and their voices will continue to be heard. This measure is what responsible marijuana laws should look like, and we couldn’t be prouder of our city.”

The city and industry stakeholders will continue to meet to craft the final language for Measure M, a process proceeding so efficiently the city says it should be able to begin issuing licenses to do business in Los Angeles even before the state is ready to do the same.

The Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force released the following statement following the passage of Measure M:

“A year ago the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force was the first voice to demand an open and fair cannabis industry in LA. Today’s passage of Measure M shows that voters agree: both long-term operators and new entrepreneurs deserve a chance to participate in this booming market. Today is a new day for cannabis regulations in LA, and the real work of developing licensing begins. It’s time for everyone to work together for a safer industry and towards a common goal, so our city can be a model for the state and the world.”

Yes, Jeff Sessions Could Use RICO. No, It Wouldn’t End Legal Cannabis

Yes, Jeff Sessions Could Use RICO. No, It Wouldn’t End Legal Cannabis

Leafly/March 9, 2017/Ben Adlin

Jeff Sessions is at it again.

President Trump’s US attorney general, continuing a pattern of threatening remarks toward state-legal cannabis markets, said Thusday on Hugh Hewitt’s conservative talk radio program that “we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide,” acknowledging the Justice Department could even bring federal charges under a law intended to combat organized crime.

“If you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you’re going to send it?”

Hugh Hewitt, talk radio host

Sessions’ statements came in response to prodding by Hewitt. “One RICO prosecution against one marijuana retailer in one state that has so-called legalization ends this façade and this flaunting of the Supremacy Clause,” Hewitt said, referring to charges brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, which Congress enacted in 1970 to target the Mafia and other criminal organizations.

“Will you be bringing such a case?” Hewitt asked the attorney general.

“We will,” Sessions responded, according to the show transcript—though his tone makes the reply actually sounds more like a transitional phrase than an affirmative response. He then continued:

Marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws. So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide. It’s not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that’s legalized it. And I’m not in favor of legalization of marijuana. I think it’s a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize. I don’t think we’re going to be a better community if marijuana is sold in every corner grocery store.

Hewitt pushed back:

No, but it would literally take one racketeering influence corrupt organization prosecution to take all the money from one retailer, and the message would be sent. I mean, if you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you’re going to send it?

Let’s pause here and unpack that.

What Hewitt’s arguing here—literally—is that a high-profile case against a single cannabis business would serve to deter other state-legal actors and put an end to adult-use cannabis. It’s an intuitive argument: Take down one major actor, put its head on a pike, and instill such fear into other potential targets that they voluntarily shut down.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it tends to work in real life.

To his credit, Sessions told Hewitt that “it’s a little more complicated than one RICO case.”

For one thing, the RICO approach has been tried already. In 2015, a Washington, DC-based anti-drug group, the Safe Streets Alliance, filed a flurry of RICO lawsuits against Colorado cannabis businesses. At least one shop shuttered almost immediately. In the aftermath, a Denver Post op-ed called RICO suits “a particularly dangerous development for Colorado’s still-nascent marijuana industry.

That’s accurate—RICO actions do pose a real threat to cannabis businesses. But if literally a single case could take down the industry, as Hewitt argued to Sessions this morning, that would’ve happened already.

To his credit, Sessions told Hewitt that “it’s a little more complicated than one RICO case.”

Conceivably the DOJ or others could file RICO cases against many, many businesses. While that would pose a more existential threat to the industry as a whole, it would also be incredibly expensive and would mean pulling federal prosecutors away from other issues, like immigration. And, say, actual violent crime. This what has led some industry representatives to express skepticism that Justice Department has the resources to go after state-legal cannabis

Of course, there are other ways to, as Hewitt put it, “take all the money from one retailer.” Civil asset forfeiture was touted by prohibitionists as the next hot cannabis-control tactic when it was popularized several years ago. It was a popular tactic in 2011, when federal authorities cracked down on California medical cannabis dispensaries. I covered those federal actions six years ago as a reporter in California, and I was impressed by federal prosecutors’ tactics. Hundreds of dispensaries were shut down for essentially the price of a postage stamp.

Here’s how it worked: Prosecutors mailed letters to cannabis dispensaries threatening to seize their assets if they didn’t voluntarily shut down. Expecting many to ignore the warning, the feds went one further, sending similar letters to hundreds of landlords who rented property to the cannabis businesses. The message: Kick out those businesses or we’ll come after your property, too.

In the short term, it was a marked success. Hundreds and hundreds of dispensaries, growers, and other businesses closed voluntarily. Those who fought back in court almost always lost, because prosecutors in federal court could effectively silence the defense that the targeted businesses’ actions were legal under state law.

These “crackdowns” destroy individual lives and businesses while the industry stubbornly carries on.

US attorneys in San Diego and Sacramento counties were especially vehement about shutting down dispensaries. In those areas, medical cannabis outlets were almost entirely eradicated. For a while, at least.

Just a few years later, though, they were back. California’s medical cannabis industry has continued to grow, and the state is on pace to open adult-use shops sometime next year. While some victims of the 2011 California crackdown are still in jail, many longtime operators never stopped doing business. One common strategy was for a dispensary to close down its storefront, then simply reopen as a delivery service. That’s partly why there are so many delivery services flourishing in California today.

The point isn’t that RICO actions or asset forfeiture pose no threat to state-legal cannabis businesses. They most certainly do. But past crackdowns have taught us that it’s wildly naïve to think that “it would literally take one” case to take down the industry. That fantasy tends to take flight in the heads of people who have zero information on the actual history of medical cannabis. Through hard experience, this is what we know happens: These “crackdowns” destroy individual lives and businesses while the industry stubbornly carries on.

In other words, it’s a lot like the rest of the failed war on drugs.

The bottom line? These new statements by Sessions are further indications that the Trump administration is serious about cracking down on adult-use cannabis in legal states. But it will probably take a lot more than some silver-bullet legal maneuver to do it effectively.

The other bottom line? A federal crackdown is only possible because Congress has failed to acknowledge the overwhelming, bipartisan support for federal authorities to respect state cannabis laws. Call your elected officials.