Marijuana Policies and Policy Reform

Related Chapters:
Medical Marijuana

1. States That Legally Regulate Medical and/or Adult Social Use of Marijuana

As of September 27, 2017, a total of 28 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam have what are called "effective" state medical marijuana laws, and one more state has created an academic program which may in the future help that state's patients. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state, and West Virginia.

Eight states have legalized adult (aged 21 and older) personal use of marijuana and legally regulate the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state. Additionally, the state of Vermont and the District of Columbia have legalized limited personal possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults aged 21 and older.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project: "Currently, 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have laws on the books that recognize marijuana’s medical value -- or the value of certain strains:
"-- Since 1996, 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that effectively allow patients to use and access medical marijuana despite federal law. To be effective, a state law must remove criminal penalties for patients who use and possess medical marijuana with their doctors’ approval or certification. Effective laws must also have a realistic means for patients to access marijuana, such as by growing it at home or buying it at a dispensary. Finally, the laws must allow patients to either smoke or vaporize marijuana or marijuana oils and must allow for a variety of strains of marijuana, including both strains with higher and lower amounts of THC.
"-- One state, Louisiana, has an ineffective law that recognizes marijuana’s medical value but relies on doctors and pharmacies breaking federal law.
"-- An additional 16 states allow only low-THC marijuana or cannabis oils. Most of those laws — much like dozens of ineffective medical marijuana laws enacted before 1996 -- are unlikely to provide patients with relief until federal law changes. Several depend on risk-averse individuals and institutions, such as universities, to break federal law by distributing cannabis. Others have no means of in-state access to cannabis preparations at all."

Marijuana Policy Project, "State by State Medical Marijuana Laws 2015 with a December 2016 Supplement - How to Remove the Threat of Arrest," (Washington, DC: MPP, February 2017), p. 1, last accessed September 27, 2017.
Specifically in regard to West Virginia, see
Vermont: "Governor Phil Scott Signs H.511," Office of the Governor of Vermont, News Release, Jan. 22, 2018.
"An act relating to eliminating penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana by adults 21 years of age or older" https://legislature.vermont.go...

2. Washington State Data On Marijuana Use Following Legalization

"In these initial investigations, we found no evidence that I-502 enactment, on the whole, affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions. Further, within Washington State, we found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions.
"The bulk of outcome analyses in this report used the within-state approach to focus on identifying effects of the amount of legal cannabis sales. We found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected youth substance use or attitudes about cannabis or drug-related criminal convictions.
"We did find evidence that higher levels of retail cannabis sales affected adult cannabis use in certain subgroups of the population. BRFSS respondents 21 and older who lived in counties with higher levels of retail cannabis sales were more likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days and heavy use of cannabis in the past 30 days.
"We also found two effects that are difficult to interpret. Among the portion of the population aged 18 to 21, BRFSS respondents living in counties with higher
sales were less likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days, in some analyses. It may be that legal cannabis sales have made cannabis more difficult to access by persons below the legal age, for instance, by reducing black market supply through competition.
"We also found that in the portion of the BRFSS sample who smoked cigarettes, respondents living in counties with higher levels of legal cannabis sales were less likely to report past-month cannabis use. It is particularly difficult to explain why increased sales would lead to lower cannabis use among cigarette smokers."

Darnell, A.J. & Bitney, K. (2017). I-502 evaluation and benefit-cost analysis: Second required report. (Document Number 17-09-3201). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, September 2017, p. 34.

3. Netherlands Policy Regarding Prosecution for Drugs

"Police and Public Prosecutor give low priority to the investigation of possession of small amounts of a drug for own use. The Opium Act Directive of the Public Prosecutor state that, if the offence concerns possession of small amounts for own use of a hard drug, the drugs will be seized, but normally there will be no custody or prosecution. Diversion to care is the primary aim of custody or prosecution in cases of possession of hard drugs (Directive Opium Act 2011A021 2012, ‘Small amounts’ of a hard drug are defined as one tablet, ample, wrapple or ball of the drug and in any case an amount of no more than 0,5 grams. With regards to cannabis (categorized as ‘soft drug’) small amounts are defined as no more than 5 grams and no more than 5 cannabis plants – under the condition that there is no professional or commercial cultivation of the plants (Stc. 2011 – 22936). For hallucinogenic mushrooms, also categorized as soft drugs, the small amounts for own use are defined as 0,5 grams (dried mushrooms) and 5 grams (fresh ones). In cases of possession of small amounts of soft drugs, the drugs will be seized but a dismissal by the police will normally (‘in principle’) follow, without custody or prosecution."

Van Laar, M.W., Cruts, A.A.N., Van Ooyen-Houben, M.M.J., Van Gageldonk, A., Croes, E.A., Meijer, R.F., et al. (2013). The Netherlands drug situation 2012: report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point. Trimbos-instituut - WODC, Utrecht - Den Haag, p. 118.

4. Netherlands Drug Policy

"All recent policy documents state that the Dutch drug policy has two cornerstones - and this was confirmed by the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport during the major drug debate in the House of Representatives in March 2012: to protect public health and to combat public nuisance and drug-related crime (TK 24077-259; TK Handelingen 69-28 maart 2012). In the current Opium Act Directive the objective of the drug policy is described as: 'The [new] Dutch drugs policy is aimed to discourage and reduce drug use, certainly in so far as it causes damage to health and to society, and to prevent and reduce the damage associated with drug use, drug production and the drugs trade' (Stc 2011-11134)."

Van Laar, M.W., Cruts, A.A.N., Van Ooyen-Houben, M.M.J., Van Gageldonk, A., Croes, E.A., Meijer, R.F., et al. (2013). The Netherlands drug situation 2012: report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point. Trimbos-instituut/WODC, Utrecht/Den Haag, p. 16.

5. Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana

“President José Mujica has quietly signed into law the government’s plan to create a regulated, legal market for marijuana, the president’s spokesman said Tuesday. The presidential secretary Diego Canepa said Mr. Mujica signed the legislation on Monday night. That was the last formal step for the law to take effect. Officials now have until April 9 to write the fine print for regulating every aspect of the marijuana market, from growing to selling in a network of pharmacies. They hope to have the whole system in place by the middle of next year. But as of Tuesday, growing marijuana at home was legal, up to six plants per family and an annual harvest of 480 grams, or about one pound.”

Source: Associated Press, “Uruguay: Marijuana Becomes Legal,” in the New York Times, December 24, 2013.

6. Limitation on Federal Interference With Implementation of State Medical Marijuana Laws

In December 2014, the federal budget for FY2015 was enacted, containing this provision:
"SEC. 538. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

"Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015," US Congress, Enrolled Bill Published December 17, 2014, p. 88.

7. Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and Federal Prohibition

"Marijuana essentially became illegal in 1937 pursuant to the Marijuana Tax Act.39 The use of marijuana required the payment of a tax for usage; failure to pay the tax resulted in a large fine or stiff prison time for tax evasion.40 Drug prohibition was elevated to another level by targeting 'marijuana,' a plant that had never demonstrated any harm to anyone.41
"Anslinger’s [Harry J. Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics] efforts to eradicate marijuana continued when Anslinger sought similar anti-narcotic laws against marijuana at the state level.42 Guided by Anslinger’s policy direction, states began passing their own laws or adopting more strident versions of federal laws.43 By 1952, nearly all states had anti-narcotic laws in place.44"

Gilmore, Brian, "Again and Again We Suffer: the Poor and the Endurance of the 'War on Drugs,'" University of the District of Columbia Law Review (Washington, DC: The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, 2011) Volume 15, Number 1, p. 64.