01/28/18 Jolene Forman

A new report by the Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization, demonstrates how and why marijuana legalization is working so far, On this week's show, we hear from: Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney, Drug Policy Alliance (report author); Representative Reggie Jones-Sawyer, California State Assembly Member and author of the Legal Cannabis Protection Act; Representative Jonathan Singer, General Assembly Member, Colorado; Shaleen Title, Commissioner, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission; and Roseanne Scotti, Senior Director of Resident States and New Jersey State Director, Drug Policy Alliance (moderator).

Century of Lies
Sunday, January 28, 2018
Jolene Forman
Download: Audio icon col012818.mp3



JANUARY 28, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

On January 23, the Drug Policy Alliance held a news teleconference to announce the release of its report, From Prohibition To Progress: A Status Report On Marijuana Legalization. I'll let Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, announce the speakers.

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: As most folks on this call will know, there are eight states now, and the District of Columbia, which have legalized marijuana for recreational use. And so there have been a lot of questions about how this has been going in those states, especially as that we have many other states, including New Jersey and New Mexico and New York who are looking at moving forward with marijuana legalization.

So, we decided to put together this report to answer a lot of the most frequently asked questions about marijuana legalization and how it's rolling out in these different states.

On the call today, we have Jolene Forman, who is a staff attorney here at Drug Policy Alliance, and the author of this report. We also have Shaleen Title, who's a Commissioner with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, State Representative Jonathan Singer from Colorado, Reggie Jones-Sawyer from the California State Assembly and author of the Legal Cannabis Protection Act in California.

We are going to start off with Jolene Forman, who authored this report. Jolene authored the report, a previous report that we had done a couple years after the first few states had legalized marijuana, but at this point we have so much more information, so much more data, that, as I said, we wanted to expand the report and update it And with that, Jolene, I will turn it over to you to discuss this great report.

JOLENE FORMAN: Thank you, Roseanne. I'm [inaudible] this report, which is unlike any prior evaluation of marijuana legalization, because it's [inaudible] from a human impact of state marijuana laws. It also focuses on the fact that state laws are living documents that can be changed and improved.

The report starts with an evaluation of marijuana legalization in the first eight states to legalize, and DC. Yesterday, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed H511 into law, thereby making Vermont the ninth state to legalize marijuana in the US. Vermont however is not included in this report's analyses, because the state only just legalized.

The second half of the report is forward [inaudible]. It anticipates measures that should be evaluated once more data are available, and it suggests further policy reforms beyond legalization aimed at repairing the harms of marijuana criminalization and the drug war.

The report finds that marijuana legalization is working so far. States are effectively controlling marijuana, saving money, and protecting the public through comprehensive regulation.

The number of marijuana arrests in court filings has plummeted in states that have legalized. For example, they have fallen by over 90 percent in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. This has saved states hundreds of millions of dollars and spared thousands of people from being branded with lifelong criminal records and the collateral consequences associated with a drug arrest or conviction.

Youth marijuana use has not increased after legalization. Rates of marijuana use among high school students are similar to national rates. These results are promising, suggesting that fears of widespread increases in youth use have not come to fruition.

Legal access to marijuana is associated with reductions in some of the most troubling harms associated with opioid use, including opioid overdose deaths and untreated opioid use disorders.

Marijuana legalization is not decreasing road safety. DUI arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs have declined in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize marijuana, and crash rates remain similar to those in comparable states that have not legalized marijuana.

Marijuana legalization is good for state economies. The legal marijuana industry is creating jobs. It currently employs approximately 200,000 full and part time workers across the country, and states are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenue. These revenues are being allocated for socially beneficial uses, such as schools, early literacy, bullying prevention, behavioral health, alcohol and drug treatment, and basic health plans.

In California and Massachusetts, a share of marijuana tax revenues will be invested in the communities most harmed by the drug war, particularly low income communities of color, to help repair the harms of unequal drug law enforcement.

With marijuana legalization's success, the question is no longer whether to legalize, but how. There's a clear need to prioritize policies focused on repairing the racially discriminatory harms of marijuana criminalization and enforcement.

Several states are taking steps to do this through a variety of policies. These include efforts to increase equity in the regulated marijuana market, allowing stores to be licensed for onsite marijuana consumption, decriminalizing marijuana for youth and young adults under age 21 so that minor marijuana law violations no longer result in a young person getting entangled in the criminal justice system, and reinvesting marijuana tax revenues in the communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization.

The report recommends additional policy changes, such as reforming police practices pertaining to marijuana enforcement and collecting demographic data on marijuana arrests and people working in the marijuana industry.

Though attorney general Sessions has signaled that the Department of Justice might go after some state marijuana operators, this report shows us that states should stay the course. They are effectively protecting public health and safety through their marijuana laws. It doesn't make sense to interfere with these successful programs. Instead this report demonstrates that states should continue evolving and improving their marijuana laws so they benefit the most people and begin to repair the harms of prohibition.

The report shows that legalization in these states is protecting federal priorities as well as state priorities, by protecting youth, road safety, decreasing opioid related harms, and more.

Now that attorney general Sessions has rescinded the Obama era Cole Memo, which provided US Attorneys guidance on federal marijuana enforcement, federal prosecutors will be exercising their regular discretion as to when to prosecute and when not to. It would behoove them to work cooperatively with the states rather than to disrupt what is proving to be a positive public policy shift.

The federal government can't stop states from legalizing, all they can do is disrupt the regulatory schemes that states are using to protect the public and cause fear and uncertainty, which will only lead to worse public policy and public health outcomes.

Several US Attorneys are already taking this approach. For example, in response to the rescission of the Cole Memo, US Attorney Troyer for the district of Colorado stated that he will focus on identifying and prosecuting those who create greatest safety threats to our community around the state. He said, here is a question we ask every time we consider allocating our finite resources to prosecute any of the vast number of federal crimes we can prosecute, from violent crimes to immigration crimes to opiate crimes: will this prosecution make Colorado safer?

This report shows that going after marijuana businesses that are complying with state laws will make states less safe. Every dollar the Justice Department spends going after a marijuana business is money that could be spent on evidence based programs to prevent drug overdose, or many other important programs being neglected.

It's unconscionable that the Justice Department would devote limited resources to an issue that a large majority of Americans support, and that is making us safer.

SHALEEN TITLE: Good afternoon, this is Shaleen Title, I'm a Commissioner with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. That's an independent state agency created five months ago and tasked with implementing and administering the Massachusetts adult use marijuana laws.

As a short overview of where we are in the process, Massachusetts voted in November 2016 to legalize adult use marijuana. Our Commission was created in September, and last month, our Commission released a set of draft regulations. We're currently accepting feedback from the public, with a deadline to finalize the regulations by March 15, with business licenses accepted starting in April, and a goal to have adult use sales beginning this July.

I was asked to speak about our efforts in Massachusetts to prioritize repairing the harms of prohibition, which I'm very happy to do. So, at the time that our legalization law passed, research showed that only one percent of storefront marijuana retailers nationally were owned by people of color.

That was unacceptable on its own, let alone when you consider the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates that certain populations, namely black and Latino people, have been disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana and other drug crimes as a result of the war on drugs, and that's across the country, and in Massachusetts as well.

And this criminalization has had long lasting and devastating effects on not only the individuals arrested, but on the families and communities from which these individuals come and return. So the Massachusetts Legislature was intentional in requiring our agency to make this a priority.

The Legislature asked us to ensure that the newly legal industry is characterized by participation from smaller and larger participants, and with full and robust participation by minorities, women, and veterans, and our agency is explicitly tasked with developing policies and procedures to encourage and enable full participation in the new legal marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement, and to positively impact those communities.

The hardest part for us was figuring out how to do that. The way that we approached this was by first conducting a preliminary study of arrest data, and identifying 29 areas throughout the state that had disproportionately high numbers of arrests, and then we created a few different programs.

So first, we created a social equity program with the goal to provide professional and technical services and mentoring for businesses facing systemic barriers. So under the draft regulations, people who are from the designated communities and people who have drug convictions will be eligible for these professional and technical services related to the application and their ongoing operations related to their business as well as the professional mentoring.

Second, applicants who meet certain requirements, such as ownership or majority hiring from those disproportionately impacted communities, or otherwise economically empowering them, will review -- they will receive priority in the application review process, essentially giving them a head start.

And then lastly, the Commission allocated significant funds to community outreach, so we can ensure that the people we're trying to impact know about these programs, and how to access them.

And then, in terms of every single applicant that wants to have a marijuana business, we're requiring them to submit a diversity plan to show how they'll include diversity in their staffing in the future, and a plan to positively impact the designated communities, as general requirements for suitability.

So that's the basic overview. Thank you very much for your time, and you can find more details on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission website.

DOUG MCVAY: We'll be back with more of this teleconference in a moment. You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay.

COLORADO STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONATHAN SINGER: Hi everybody, thanks for having me. Once again, this is State House Representative Jonathan Singer. I represent about 77,000 people in the Denver suburbs, all the way up to the Rocky Mountains, and was one of the first lawmakers in the state of Colorado to support the regulation and legalization of recreational marijuana.

I think the story out of Colorado, first and foremost, is that regulation works. As one of the early on politicians that supported this initiative, we were primarily focused on making sure that we could keep this out of the hands of kids, criminals, and cartels, and that's exactly what we've done in the state of Colorado.

Before I served in the state house, I was actually a child protection worker, and I focused on working with our kids stuck in the truancy and delinquency system, and that was where I wanted to make sure our eye was on when we were legalizing recreational marijuana.

The other thing that I think is incredibly important is that, while there were only two state lawmakers that supported the initiative that passed at the ballot to legalize retail recreational marijuana, those numbers and those ranks have grown since the legalization, because of our thoughtful and careful policies. If you spoke to legislators across the aisle today whether they would support the same initiative, I think you'd see very different numbers.

Our gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle now are saying that this is a good thing, that the voters voted for this, that we need to hold true to what the voters said, and additionally, we need to make sure that it continues to work. And the repeal of things like the Cole Memo have actually been harmful to our state.

You know, we have a good regulatory process that's set up, and ultimately taking -- putting in further uncertainty into this market is only going to encourage bad actors and black market folks to attempt to winnow themselves into this industry.

A couple of the highlights that I really wanted to share are, folks like our own governor, who was opposed to the original initiative in 2012, as well as our state's attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, both of them, a Democrat and a Republican, were either silent or opposed to the measure, but were both unified in their voice against what attorney general Sessions just rescinded in terms of the Cole Memo, and what they do is, they're actually citing data.

They're citing data because now that we've been doing this experiment for, since 2012, we can show that we're actually doing two things. One is that we're actually improving the key metrics in our state in terms of our economy and public safety, and then responsibly using those marijuana tax dollars to make sure that marijuana pays its own way in terms of regulation, putting no additional burden on top of the average taxpayer, and at the same time taking those additional dollars, literally tens of millions of dollars, to answer the questions that are plaguing every state right now.

When you talk about the opiate crisis, when you talk about suicide, or affordable housing crisis, all of those issues are being addressed without raising taxes on the average taxpayer because marijuana tax dollars are funding those programs.

We saw over $15 million last year alone go to permanent supportive and rapid rehousing for folks who are struggling with things like mental illness and housing issues. We saw another, over $12 million going to community substance use disorder treatment. And this year, we're looking at expanding inpatient treatment services to people on Medicaid and expanding access to medication assisted therapies through, as you can guess, marijuana tax dollars.

So, marijuana's not only paying its own way, but is solving some of the largest crises that not only our state is facing, but the nation is.

In addition to that, if you look at the state's economy, we have the first or second lowest unemployment rate in the nation next to North Dakota. Our real estate market is booming, our tech economy is booming. We are one of the number one states for millennials to relocate to when they're looking for business opportunities. Now that's not all to say that marijuana is responsible for all of that, but to the naysayers that said that marijuana was going to increase crime, hurt the economy, and hurt our kids, the data has not shown that in any single case.

In every single option, we've seen that kids are thriving, our schools are doing better, we're investing in the services that our folks have needed for years, and at the same time we're setting the standard for the nation. Ultimately, the biggest takeaway that I can say about this is, we're changing hearts and minds every day. Democrats and Republicans alike are starting to understand that regulation works, and fundamentally now it's time for either the federal government to allow the state of Colorado to continue working through this process the way we have, or ultimately legalize and regulate marijuana like Colorado has, and like eight other states have now.

Other than that, I look forward to additional questions after our speakers continue.

ROSEANNE SCOTTI: Thank you so much, Representative Singer, that was really helpful. And at this point we're going to turn it over to California State Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who is now off of the floor of the Assembly and has joined us on this call, and we really appreciate him making time for this.

CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY MEMBER REGGIE JONES-SAWYER: I'm sorry I got on late, and as I was listening to my colleague from Colorado, what he was saying, it almost mirrors what has been going on here in California.

We started our journey with medical marijuana in 1995 [sic: 1996], having it, we approved it, took us about ten years for us to actually get the regulations, and I and about four other of my other colleagues got together, Republican and Democrat, north and south, law enforcement, we had the Mormons, we had -- we just had a variety of people from all over California represented in our five group, and we got it -- we got the regulations passed overwhelmingly on the floor.

We then decided to use the basis for the adult use cannabis and Proposition 64, which was approved later by the voters, to use that as a basis for doing that, and we used those regulations to create the regulations this past year, in 2017, for adult use and medical marijuana, and as everyone knows, we started the whole legalization in California on January One.

Now, I say that to say that similar to what Colorado has done, this has been very thoughtful. We've taken it seriously. We've had hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of testimony. We've included law enforcement, so that we would have a robust regulatory system.

We wanted to make sure that not only we complied with the Cole Memo, we wanted to exceed the requirements of the Cole Memo, and I think we've done an excellent job of doing that.

And so, from my perspective, and from California's perspective, not only the will of the people, but I think from a, when you look at Washington, when you look at the states that have approved it, we didn't just willy nilly do it, this was a very thoughtful process, and now, we're ready to begin.

And then on January One, as I heard the year before, when attorney general Sessions was put into office, heard there were rumblings about him coming and interrupting what I hope to be a very thriving business, plus the medical use, as, and I missed part of the call so hopefully I'm not too redundant, but it is very important that we get the medical use out for veterans, for seniors, you know veterans with PTSD, seniors with all sorts of ailments, we've got young people who have chronic illnesses that are -- this has been great for, and I don't want that to stop.

And so, I then wrote AB1578, which is -- really will protect Californians who are operating legal, legally, under California law, both state law and local law. And really the intent of AB1578 is to protect us, not to push back on Sessions, not to push back on Trump, but to protect the will of the people, and the intent is to provide our state agencies with the protection they need to uphold our laws, without any federal interference.

Thus, you know, if the federal government attempts to come into California and shut down legal cannabis operations, really short of a court order, the feds cannot use state and local resources to do it. I do want, and I want to make this very clear on this call, I do want to have a very robust operation to shut down the illegal operations here in California. I think it is imperative that we actually work with the feds and that there's a coalition of the federal, DEA and others, DOJ, along with our state law enforcement, and local law enforcement, to shut down the illegal ones.

I'll give an example. In Los Angeles, where I'm from, I represent south Los Angeles, there are now 134 legal cannabis operations. There are over 1,800 illegal operations. We should not be wasting our time and resources trying to shut down the 134 legal ones, which our state will also fight against. We should be concentrating on shutting down those illegal ones, here in California, and so, I'm making a special effort to coordinate that, and I'm hoping that the federal government will join us.

I think there's more than enough work for us to do to shut down the illegal operations. And I'm pretty sure my colleague from Colorado will tell you, it's the illegal ones that are going to make -- that are going to damage this industry. It's the illegal ones that are going to hurt the medical marijuana industry. It's the illegal ones that want to be next to schools, the illegal ones that are probably money laundering, they're illegal ones that are doing all the bad things that most residents have concern about. Not the ones that are complying with the laws.

And so, what I'm trying to get, the message that I'm trying to get to Jeff Sessions, is that, you know, the war on cannabis was really a war on people like in my district, are mostly African American or Latino. I'm also chair of Public Safety, I've been to more prisons than I've ever wanted to go to in my life, and many of them, if not most of them, have been there because of their involvement with cannabis, which is now legal.

We now need to work to get those individuals that come out, maybe even acclimated into this business. There are people who've been jailed, without a college degree, without an MBA, without a graduate degree, but they understood accounts receivable, payable, marketing, and they didn't have an MBA. And so they are -- they have business skills, business acumen, and once they come out of prison, we should start to put them into work, and in a legal way.

And so, that's why I've been advocating for the business side of it. I was hearing the statistics on Colorado when I -- I'm sorry I joined the call late. Obviously, we believe we could have a $6.7 billion industry here in, just in the state of California alone. And since I've been elected, and I just came from Budgets, since I've been elected, we've had nothing but budget surpluses. I would love to see that continue, and I think cannabis will be an effective way to continue that thriving economy.

You know, when I got elected, I wanted to work on things that will help the California economy. I mean, I wanted to retire being known as Revenue Reggie, and I still want that, and I think cannabis is something that not only will help our economy, both locally and providing jobs. Hopefully we'll continue our trend of having surpluses in our economy, because those days when, during the bust, were horrible, and the moneys we took out of the social network had a devastating impact on California.

And so as we start our upswing, I'm hoping to use that money for people with homeless problems, mental health problems, and obviously people who are on drugs, we need to not treat them like criminals, but give them medical options, and that's what I'm hoping for as we move forward with this. And if Sessions, or DOJ, want to come in and interrupt our businesses here, we have an attorney general, Xavier Becerra, the governor's behind protecting the will of the people, and the California Legislature is really ready here to defend what we think is the lawful cannabis industry.

DOUG MCVAY: That was a teleconference from the Drug Policy Alliance announcing release of its report From Prohibition To Progress: A Status Report On Marijuana Legalization.

You heard Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance; Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney for Drug Policy Alliance and author of the report; Shaleen Title, Commissioner, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission; Representative Jonathan Singer, General Assembly Member from Colorado; and Representative Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a member of the California State Assembly and author of the Legal Cannabis Protection Act.

Well, and thatÔÇÖs all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. IÔÇÖm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.