Michigan marijuana vote kept off ballot with federal court ruling
Michigan Live - By. Brad Devereaux - 9/13/2016
FLINT, MI — A federal judge denied a court motion today meant to stop the printing of Michigan election ballots until signatures supporting marijuana legalization could be counted.
The decision came at a hearing at noon today, Tuesday, Sept. 13, in U.S. District Court Judge Linda V. Parker's courtroom in Flint on two marijuana petitioners' bid to have their signatures counted, in hopes of allowing Michigan residents to vote on legalizing marijuana for people 21 and older.
Plaintiffs Sean Michael Myers and Dakota Blue Serna both signed and circulated petitions to place a ballot question asking voters to legalize marijuana in Michigan and filed a federal lawsuit Thursday, Sept. 8.
Parker ruled after a hearing that went longer than an hour that there is not not enough time to stop the process of Michigan's election to place the issue on the ballot.
"...it's really too late to have an effect," she said while ruling on the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order to pause election processes. She noted a Sept. 24 deadline to send ballots to overseas voters, and a 40-day window that the state legislature has to be given to look at the ballot initiative before the election.
MI Legalize turned in 354,000 signatures for the ballot issue —more than the total needed to qualify for the November ballot — but state rules making signatures older than 180 days void, blocked it from being added to the ballot.
The lawsuit sought a temporary restraining order, as well as preliminary and permanent injunction against the Michigan Secretary of State and other defendants.
Myers and Serna are both registered voters and signed petitions more than 180 days before they were filed with the state.
Their federal lawsuit argued that the rebuttal presumption, the statute that says signatures older than 180 days are presumed void, is unconstitutional, as well as its use.
"The 1986 Board of Canvassers policy to utilize the rebuttable presumption, which all parties acknowledge has never been utilized and is impossible for Plaintiff to comply with, is unconstitutional," the lawsuit reads, and attorney Thomas Lavigne argued in court.
"We the people are on our own on this one," Serna said after the ruling. "What is free speech when 354,000 Michigan citizens won't be heard?"
Besides the timeline issue, the judge based her ruling on an argument from the Michigan Attorney General's office that the case was "res adjudicata," or already determined by a lower court.
Parker said the Michigan Court of Claims decision addressed constitutional claims brought by the plaintiffs in that court, and the same issues could not be brought to U.S. District Court.
Parker also noted the timeline of the filing, and that the plaintiffs could have filed earlier, instead of waiting to hear from the Michigan Supreme Court in a separate filing by MI Legalize about the marijuana vote issue.
Despite the ruling, the judge said, "I know we will see this again."
"We are not done," she said. "When I say we, I mean we the people. But it has to be done according to law."
The federal suit comes on the heels of a court battle that just ended in Michigan, as attorneys appealed the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court, both of which declined to hear arguments.
Attorney Jeffrey Hank, who represented MI Legalize in the state courts, said he is working on an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court with the same goal, of getting the signatures counted. He said the federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court could impact what happens with the U.S. Supreme Court filing.
Many Think Marijuana Causes Little to No Harm, Study Finds
ABC News - By. Catherine Thorbecke & Shailja Mehta - 9/5/2016
Marijuana use is going more mainstream, not only with more states allowing its use in some form -- including five more set to vote this November -- but also in the way Americans view the drug itself.
According to a new study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, substantially more people feel that using Marijuana causes little to no harm.
"Beginning in the 90s with medical marijuana laws, we have seen large amount of people using marijuana themselves and deciding themselves whether it was harmful to them," Roger A. Roffman, a professor emeritus at University of Washington, School of Social Work told ABC News.
"The idea that marijuana is harmless has been far too widely accepted by people," he said. "I want to see that pendulum switch back towards accuracy and for us to be more tuned in to what people need to make informed decisions."
This study looked back at 12 years of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, from 2002 to 2014, and found that more Americans reported they were using the drug and far fewer saw it as harmful.
The number of American adults who said they perceived smoking marijuana once or twice a week to be a great risk dropped from 50.4 percent to 33.3 percent, according to the study, reflecting a major shift in perception of harm.
Almost three times more adults said they felt there were absolutely no risks associated with using marijuana once or twice a week -- increasing from 5.6 percent of people seeing no harm to 15.1 percent seeing no risk.
Marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in the same category as heroin and LSD, and is classified as even more severe than Schedule II drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine.
The general change in risk perception began around 2006 to 2007, according to the research -- around the same time that legislation surrounding marijuana began to change. Four states have legalized recreational marijuana use since 2012 and many more legalized medical marijuana use.
"The drum is beating and has been now for a number of years to remove criminal penalties for possession and make it legal to be grown and sold to adults," Roffman added. "With that movement comes some claims that marijuana is not dangerous enough to justify there being severe criminal penalties. For many people who hear these claims the message translates to them that 'there is nothing to worry about.'"
He believes the way that advertising, especially political advertising, depicts marijuana can also have an affect the public perception of its use. As campaigns have pushed to legalize marijuana across the country, the ads have reinforced the idea that it's a less harmful drug.
"In Colorado, the whole campaign to legalize was that marijuana is not as harmful as alcohol," Roffman noted. He said it's possible that, as a result, many people could "come to the conclusion that if attitudes change and laws change maybe there is nothing to worry about."
The changing public perception doesn't always align with medical opinion.
"That was a controversy from the very beginning," Dr. Patrick Fehling, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Hospital Center for Dependency Addiction and Rehabilitation told ABC News. "Marijuana became legalized before a lot of its effect were fully understood."
Research on the drug has been limited and is now expanding, in part thanks to legalization and the tax dollars selling it has raised. But, so far, much of the research is actually "indicating potential for harm" from marijuana use, according to Fehling.
"There is a very big difference between recreational use and 'addictional' use," Fehling said. The "signs of addiction include tolerance and withdrawal, loss of control around your use, and consequences and problems in your life around your use."
"The use of medical marijuana is still highly controversial," he added, explaining that much of the research is still "anecdotal," based on what people self-report.
The number of American adults in the surveys who reported using marijuana increased from 10.4 percent to 13.3 percent over the 12-year period. The study, however, largely reflects self-reported data and may not account for how legalization has changed the way people report their marijuana use.
Research on marijuana use of any kind has proven difficult in the past because it remains illegal for recreational use in most states, which may hinder some people from openly admitting their true marijuana usage, if they feel they could face possible legal consequences.
As several recent studies have said, this study notes the need for more research on the drug's effects, how people are using it and that more education about the risks associated with marijuana are necessary.
Why marijuana legalization in liberal Mass. might be a tough sell
Boston.com - By. Adam Vaccaro - 9/6/2016
Deep-blue Massachusetts has a recent history of marijuana-friendly votes. In 2008, voters turned out in droves at the ballot box to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of pot. Four years later, advocates were rewarded with a landslide victory to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The third act is set for November, when Massachusetts voters will be asked whether they want to legalize marijuana and permit retail sales in the near future. Supporters say the initiative would treat marijuana similarly to alcohol, replacing today’s vibrant illegal market with one overseen by the government and creating a new source of tax revenue for the state.
The last two votes have been widely seen as reason for confidence in the pro-pot campaign, coming in successive presidential elections, which traditionally have higher turnout of marijuana-friendly young voters. Successful pushes to legalize marijuana in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon since 2012 have also been encouraging.
But since the spring, things haven’t looked quite as hot for local pot advocates.
The most recent polling has suggested Massachusetts voters may be having second thoughts about full legalization ahead of the fall’s campaign. In May, one poll found a 46-43 percent advantage for the opposition. Another poll in July found a 10-point lead for the ‘no’ crowd.
“I was surprised by the last two polls,” said Steve Koczela, president at the MassINC Polling Group. “The trend did seem pretty clear.”
There are caveats, of course. Prior to the recent polls, data in Massachusetts and across the country indicated widespread support for legalization and seemed to suggest a layup at the ballot this year. As recently as April, a poll showed 57-35 percent support for passing the proposed law.
Koczela cautioned that ballot question polling is volatile and can swing wildly, especially before ads start airing and the campaigns really swing into gear.
And Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the pro-legalization Yes on 4 campaign, said both surveys may have under-sampled the young voters that his campaign is relying on. The May poll was also within the 4.4 percentage-point margin of error, meaning that it doesn’t even really show advocates to be trailing in the first place.
It does, however, portend a close race. Even to Borghesani, the dispute over Question 4 is not shaping up to be the kind of blowout advocates saw in 2008 and 2012.
“We know this race is going to be close,” he said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. We never have.”
And recent polling aside, those following the issues see a number of factors that could make the legalization, regulation, sale, and taxation of marijuana in liberal Massachusetts a harder sell than you might think.
Ballot question campaigns generally face an uphill battle because a vote for ‘yes’ means something has to change. If a voter isn’t certain about an issue, he or she may is more likely to default to ‘no.’ And despite Massachusetts’ reliably liberal voting record, the state also has a well-worn reputation for skepticism about change.
Opposition campaigns can be successful by zeroing in on specific language within the law, Koczela said.
“The thing that ‘no’ sides often do is add complexity,” Koczela said. He pointed to a 2012 initiative to legalize physician-assisted suicide, which saw a polling swing in 2012 before failing amid questions about specific provisions.
Indeed, that does seem to be the strategy of the opposition group – a bipartisan, politically potent campaign backed by officials including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
“What we are asking voters to do is not think of this as the concept of legalization, but think of and vote on a very specific proposal at a specific time,” Corey Welford, a spokesman for the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, said in a May podcast with CommonWealth magazine.
In short, the law would:
- Legalize marijuana use and possession by 2017 for those aged 21 and older;
- Establish a new state commission to oversee the industry;
- Allow for licensed retail stores to open by 2018;
- Impose a 3.75 percent excise on top of the state sales tax, plus additional municipal taxes;
- And permit individuals to grow up to 12 marijuana plants per household for personal use.
But there’s plenty of room for opponents to harp on specifics of the ballot initiative, which is 24 pages long.
The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts points to the fact that the law would allow for the sale of edible marijuana, arguing it could come in the form of candies, cookies, or beverages — and thus make pot more attractive to children. (Broader concerns about young people’s welfare have been a common theme of the campaign, though data out of Colorado has not shown a clear effect on teen usage.)
By way of a rebuttal, the pro-pot contingent says the law will allow a new regulatory body to ban edible products or packaging that is too child-friendly. The opposition retorts that if that was the intent of the law, it would be explicitly included in its text.
At that point, the debate reaches something of a stalemate — but it plays to the opposition’s advantage to be so deep in the weeds rather than talking about legalization as a broader concept.
Koczela thinks it’s possible the opposition also got a polling bounce from organized opposition from high-profile politicians. The two recent figures showing more support for the ‘no’ side came after the state’s political power players formally launched their campaign.
“The last two were done as the ‘no’ side kicked into gear,” Koczela said. “So that certainly may have something to do with it.”
Sure, the pro-pot campaign has collected a few city councilors, a Western Massachusetts mayor, 10 state legislators (most of whom occupy the progressive wing of the state’s Democratic party), and a former governor (Bill Weld, who is running for vice president on a pro-legalization ticket with the Libertarian party) in its corner. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal leader of national prominence, has not endorsed legalization but said in a statement that she is “open to the idea” because of the lack of regulation in the current illegal market.
But the opposition has the clear numerical advantage in terms of elected officials. In addition to Baker, Walsh, DeLeo, and Healey, nearly 120 other state legislators have come out in opposition.
Borghesani, with the pro-pot campaign, notes that high-profile politicians – including the governor and the mayor of Boston – opposed the 2008 and 2012 votes, and came out on the losing end of routs. Koczela also suggested that if the polls did in fact respond to the formal unveiling of the opposition campaign, it may ultimately prove to have been a temporary shift, almost like the bounce presidential candidates get from party conventions.
Even Walsh, who plans to be active around the issue through the fall, has some doubts that he will have much of an effect on the outcome.
“I think campaigning’s important, but I think a lot of people will make their minds up for themselves,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think Marty Walsh or somebody else is going to sway them. … Do they want to create a marijuana industry in Massachusetts? Do they feel that Massachusetts needs a marijuana industry or not?”
Some marijuana reform advocates worry that, with several states trying to legalize this election year, fundraising could present another obstacle.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a national political organization that has long pushed reform initiatives, is also behind legalization campaigns in Arizona, California, Maine, and Nevada.
That’s in stark contrast with the last presidential election in 2012. Though two states legalized marijuana, only Colorado’s initiative was backed by MPP. With five state ballot questions – not to mention three other medical marijuana questions in other states – some activists are concerned that MPP could be stretched too thin this election cycle.
“There’s only so much resources and staff time in the movement,” said Tom Angell, who runs the advocacy group Marijuana Majority. “Only so much money that can go toward putting ads in the air.”
Mason Tvert, a spokesman for MPP, pish-poshed that particular worry.
“Regardless of what year it is, or how many initiatives there may be, we only pursue initiatives when it’s clear that there is clear public support for the proposal,” he said. “And we’re confident that we’re going to be able to run a strong campaign. So whether there are five other initiatives on a ballot or no others, it really comes down to whether there’s strong support for the law we’re proposing.”
But the local pro-legalization camp does admit that fundraising has its challenges this year. Borghesani said he doesn’t think the problem is the number of states on the ballot, but rather that Massachusetts’s own liberal reputation may cause potential donors to see legalization as inevitable and not in need of money.
In a recent national fundraising email, Troy Dayton, a MPP board member who also runs a pot industry investment network, cited both ideas when listing reasons why all of the campaigns across the country are “underfunded.”
“1. Marijuana has never been on 8 ballots at the same time so the total amount needed to be raised is more than has ever been raised for this issue,” he wrote. “2. The media has done a good job of leading people to believe legalization is inevitable when it is not. This creates a false sense of security for supporters.”
Additionally, pot advocates across the country have been growing frustrated with the businesses seeking to get in on the legal market that aren’t pitching in enough money.
“[A]ny business that budgets zero dollars for political change is being silly because marijuana is actually illegal,” Rob Kampia, MPP’s executive director, told VICE earlier this summer.
Yes on 4 hopes to raise $3 million ahead of November and has already booked some ad space, Borghesani said. The funding situation for the opposition is unclear, as the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts declined to name a fundraising target and has not publicly discussed its donors. Both sides must file campaign finance disclosures with the state in early September, which will provide the first insight into the race’s financial situation since last winter.
Sam Tracy, who works for the marijuana business consultancy 4Front Ventures, which has donated office space to the legalization campaign, has one other worry about national political dynamics and how they could affect the state’s pot race.
While past Massachusetts ballot questions have been aligned with presidential races, in part to take advantage of the heightened number of young voters, Tracy theorizes that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are each so disliked by young people that those voters may stay at home to the detriment of the legalization bid.
“Youth turnout [is] going to have to come down to getting people excited about this question specifically,” he said. “Youth is our strongest demographic.”
Koczela, the MassINC pollster, said the unpopularity of the major party candidates might “numb” turnout a bit, but doesn’t see it as a major challenge to the question’s viability.
“It’s certainly better than having it in a midterm,” he said.
In other words, even with sagging polls, there’s no time like the present for pro-pot forces. For that matter, there’d also likely be no other time soon if the effort falls short. The Massachusetts constitution bars ballot questions that are “substantially the same as any measure” that previously failed at the polls from appearing before voters again for six years.
From California to Maine, nine states to vote on marijuana Nov. 8
The Washington Post - By. Christopher Ingraham - 09/05/2016
This is a pivotal year for American drug policy. More states than ever will consider easing restrictions on marijuana use this November: Voters in five states will decide whether to fully legalize recreational use, while voters in four more will weigh in on whether to allow medical marijuana.
The outcome of these initiatives could set the tone for the national marijuana legalization discussion going forward. Big state victories for the pro-marijuana contingent -- recreational weed in California, medical marijuana in Florida -- could widen the gap between state and federal marijuana policies, ratcheting up pressure on Congress and the next presidential administration to provide a fix.
On the other hand, a string of defeats would signal public unease about condoning the use of an intoxicating substance that isn't tobacco or alcohol. Defeats would suggest that opponents' longstanding criticisms of the legal marijuana industry are making inroads among voters.
As campaigning shifts into high gear in the fall, here's a rundown of where marijuana will be on the ballot in November -- and how those contests are shaping up.
California — Recreational marijuana
A "yes" on weed in the world's sixth-largest economy would loom large in the marijuana debate, making marijuana legal along the entire West Coast.
California is home to nearly 40 million people and an existing $2.7 billion market in medical marijuana. Legalization of recreational marijuana could cause that industry to swell to $6 billion or more by 2020, according to ArcView Research, a marijuana industry research firm. That kind of money is already drawing the interest of businesses and investors, who could leverage their newfound legal lobbying clout to pressure Congress and other states to relax restrictions on marijuana sales and use.
Polls have shown the legalization measure drawing the support of 60 percent -- or more -- of voters, making it perhaps the marijuana initiative most likely to pass this fall. Legalization has been endorsed by some high-profile state and national politicians, as well as the California Democratic Party, the ACLU and NAACP of California, and the California Medical Association. It's opposed by a number of law enforcement groups and some politicians, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Supporters of the legalization measure also hold a huge fundraising advantage over opponents. According to Ballotpedia, supporters had roughly $11.5 million in cash on hand as of Aug. 16, compared to opponents' $186,000.
Nevada — Recreational marijuana
While home to only 2.8 million people, legal weed in Nevada could have outsize national impact due to Las Vegas's draw as a tourism destination -- 40 million visitors per year.
Still, there's a lot less money in play in Nevada than there is in California -- supporters of legalization have a little more than $1 million in cash on hand, while opponents have zero, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures.
That dynamic could change heading into the fall. Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has long opposed marijuana liberalization, and almost single-handedly bankrolled the campaign opposing Florida's medical marijuana initiative in 2014.
A late infusion of Adelson cash in Nevada could tip the scale of public support for the legalization measure there. A July poll found that 50 percent of Nevada voters supported the measure, while 41 percent opposed it.
Arizona — Recreational marijuana
Arizona is the third act of the marijuana legalization trilogy playing out in the West this November. It's also the state giving marijuana proponents their toughest fight -- a July poll found that only 39 percent of likely voters support the measure, while 53 percent oppose.
The measure is not fundamentally different from other legalization bills on November ballots. But Arizona has different demographics than its neighbors to the north and west. The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1996, and Republicans are less likely to support marijuana legalization than other Americans.
Massachusetts — Recreational marijuana
Massachusetts, on the other hand, is one of the deepest blue states in the nation, but voters there don't seem to be warming up to the legalization measure on their ballot this fall. Just 41 percent said they'd vote for it in July, down from the mid-to-high-50s a few months earlier.
Some elected officials have been campaigning fiercely against the state's marijuana measure, including Governor Charlie Baker. In March, he joined the state attorney general and Boston's mayor to pen an op-ed in the Boston Globe that was highly critical of legalization efforts. Soon after it published, a state Senate committee released a report detailing how lawmakers could blunt the measure's impact should it pass , such as requiring child-resistant packaging on marijuana products and putting strict limits on advertising.
Maine — Recreational marijuana
Marijuana appears to be on stronger footing in nearby Maine. Polls conducted there earlier this year suggest the state's legalization measure currently enjoys upwards of 50 percent support.
That initiative was nearly derailed when Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap invalidated tens of thousands of petition signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot. But a judge reversed Dunlap's decision on an appeal from the pro-legalization campaign, clearing the measure's way forward.
Maine has traditionally been at the forefront of marijuana change. The state was one of the first to decriminalize the use of small amounts of marijuana in the 1970s, and it was quick to follow California's lead in legalizing medical marijuana in 1999. In 2013, residents of Portland, the state's largest city, voted to legalize the possession of marijuana.
Florida — Medical marijuana
On the medical marijuana side of the ledger, Florida is the biggest fight. Supporters and opponents have poured close to $10 million into the contest there. It would make Florida the first state in the South with a robust medical marijuana law.
Florida voters narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment for a California-style medical marijuana market in 2014. While 58 percent of voters approved it, the measure failed to meet the 60-percent threshold necessary for a constitutional change.
This year's measure is similar to the failed 2014 initiative, but supporters hope that a more Democratic-leaning electorate in a presidential election year will tip the scales in their favor.
Florida's bill has garnered a number of high-profile endorsements from state and national political leaders, as well as groups like the NAACP, ACLU and some labor organizations. Most recent polls show support surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for passage.
But the 2014 amendment also had blockbuster polling numbers in the summer leading up to the election, only to collapse going into the fall. This could have been due to a late infusion of Adelson cash for the anti-marijuana campaign and a growing unease among voters with the specifics of the marijuana law.
Arkansas — Medical marijuana
Arkansas is also making a play to be the first southern state allowing medical marijuana. The effort recently received a boost when the state Democratic party put a call for medical marijuana into their party platform.
Voters there narrowly rejected medical marijuana in 2012, but a June survey put support at 58 percent among likely voters.
That support may be stymied by the fact that there are going to be two competing medical pot measures on Arkansas' ballot: One of those is a simple state statute, while the other is a constitutional amendment.
The measures are similar, and voters are free to vote for both. If both pass with a simple majority vote, the measure with the most support will be enacted. But there's also a danger of "splitting the ticket," and diluting medical marijuana support between two measures.
North Dakota — Medical marijuana
In something of a surprise move, a medical marijuana measure recently qualified for the ballot in North Dakota. How this one will play out is anyone's guess. It appears the last polling on medical pot in the state was done in 2014, when 47 percent of voters approved of medical pot and 41 percent opposed it.
North Dakota's always been a bit of an odd man out when it comes to medical marijuana. Its neighbor to the west, Montana, approved medical pot by ballot in 2004. Its neighbor to the east, Minnesota, approved it via legislature in 2014.
But North Dakota is a notoriously conservative state. Authorities there have already been warning about the alleged cost to implement the measure. But backers dispute the official cost estimates.
Montana — Medical marijuana
Wait, doesn't Montana already have medical marijuana? Well, yes and no. Voters approved medical pot in 2004, but since then, state lawmakers have been working to undermine that measure. In 2011, they passed legislation that, among other things, prevented medical dispensaries from charging for their services beyond the cost of recouping a licensing fee. In the year following the law, the number of medical marijuana providers plummeted by 90 percent.