Multiple reasons have been offered up over the years as ‘justification’ for prohibiting cannabis in professional sports. One of the most common ones is that ‘cannabis is illegal’ and so, therefore, leagues must prohibit it. That ‘justification’ has become more problematic for league prohibitionists in recent years due to the spread of cannabis reform across the country and globe. Reform opponents still use the talking point, but it’s less valid with every passing year.
Another ‘justification’ that has been offered up over the years is that cannabis is harmful to players’ health. The ‘player safety’ argument has been watered down over the years as more and more studies have found that not only is cannabis safer than many other substances that leagues embrace (alcohol, pharmaceuticals, etc.), but that cannabis has the potential to treat all types of conditions, ailments, and injuries that professional athletes experience.
The latest talking point used by league officials, and even some player union reps, is that cannabis reform cannot occur in professional sports because of fears of what United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions might do. The ‘Jeff Sessions boogeyman argument’ is a stretch at best. While Jeff Sessions may go after large cannabis companies or even smaller cannabis companies, it would be unheard of for the federal government to take action against a professional athlete who has THC metabolites in their system.
The Uncle Cliffy team has discussed this a number of times on this blog (here, here, here, here, and here). The talking point was flimsy at best in previous months but recently became completely moot when Jeff Sessions made it clear that the federal government won’t go after ‘routine cases’ dealing with cannabis, let alone go after a professional athlete for consuming cannabis. Jeff Sessions stated the following late last week, per Marijuana Moment:
“We’re not going to be able, even if we desired, to take over state enforcement of routine cases that might occur,” he said, referring to the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis. “Federal agents are highly paid, highly trained, and they work on cases involving cartels, international organizations, major distribution networks, large amounts of cash. And they deal with criminal organizations, RICO-type cases. And we’re not out there prosecuting those cases every day.”
League cannabis prohibition policies have nothing to do with international crime organizations, major distribution networks, RICO-cases, or large amounts of cash. They deal entirely with prohibiting professional athletes from having THC metabolites in their systems due to prior cannabis use. Claiming that Jeff Sessions’ opposition to cannabis is ‘justification’ for keeping cannabis prohibition in place in pro sports is not only ridiculous and unfounded, it’s harmful.
Players are having their careers ruined and their lives harmed because of league cannabis prohibition policies. Players who are penalized for cannabis also see their families deal with a tremendous amount of stigma too, which is very sad on many levels. League cannabis policies should be based on compassion and science, and not the outdated political views of a handful of people.
Professional athletes need to stand up to those that wish to drag their feet on reform via unfounded claims, such as that Jeff Sessions might go after a professional athlete if leagues remove cannabis form their banned substances lists. The National Hockey League (NHL) does not list cannabis on its list of banned substances, and Jeff Sessions has never gone after any NHL player, nor does the Uncle Cliffy team expect him to do so. The same would be true for other sports leagues if they followed the NHL’s lead. It’s time for leagues and player union reps to stop the delay tactics and free the plant!
Clifford ‘Uncle Cliffy’ Robinson played for the Detroit Pistons from 2001 to 2003. Robinson enjoyed his time with the team and lived in Michigan long after his playing days with the Pistons were over. He has always loved the state of Michigan and has supported cannabis activists there, which is why he supports the legalization initiative which is working to put legalization on the 2018 ballot.
While living in Michigan Clifford Robinson witnessed the harms of cannabis prohibition firsthand. It’s beyond time that the state of Michigan got on the right side of history and freed the plant. New poll results are out which shows that an overwhelming majority of Michigan voters support cannabis legalization. Below is more information about the timely poll via our friends at Michigan NORML:
Michigan NORML and the EPIC-MRA research group have released the results of their 2018 survey of Michigan voters on marijuana legalization. Michigan voters support marijuana legalization at an all-time high rate of 61%.
The two groups have teamed up to ask the same question at the same time of year via the same company and same methodology in four polls over five years. “That’s up 4 points from the 57% majority voting “yes” in February of 2017, up 8 points from a 53% majority voting “yes” in March of 2016, and up 11 points from a bare 50% majority in 2014,” said pollster Bernie Porn of EPIC-MRA. (See attached graphic)
Michigan NORML Executive Director Matthew Abel was “extremely pleased” to see the results. The big increase in support for marijuana legalization was anticipated by long-time activists and MINORML Board members Rick Thompson and Brad Forrester.
“I’m not surprised. These results are the product of Michigan NORML’s effective advocacy for the past several years,” Forrester said.
“The poll results show support in areas of the state where it is traditionally more difficult to advance marijuana law reforms,” Thompson said. “Michigan’s medical marijuana program has proven to the entire state that cannabis is not something to be feared any more.”
The results are especially promising for the proposal to legalize the adult use of cannabis in Michigan. The Committee to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted more than 360,000 signatures to the state on November 20, 2017 to place the proposal on the 2018 general election ballot. “This poll is a direct measure of public acceptance of that proposal,” Thompson added.
“In 2014 Michigan NORML triangulated a path to legalization,” Forrester stated. “We thought 2020 would be our year but voters seem ready for it now.”
“A growing number of Michiganders realize the failure of marijuana prohibition and the waste of law enforcement resources that has gone along with it. Regulation and taxation is a far better solution and we look forward to giving the voters the opportunity to vote on the issue in November of this year,” said Josh Hovey, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
- men support at 68% and women at 55%
- the greatest regional support comes from the Bay region at 79%. Other regions: Wayne-Oakland-Macomb 59%; outer Metro, 62%; Central, 59%; west, 66% and North at 50%.
- the 18-49 age group supports at 71% while the 50+ age group supports at 54%
- Democrats support legalization at 74%; Independents at 72%; and Republicans are tied at 48/48% support/oppose
Visit the Michigan NORML website to view the pertinent details of the poll results:
Opioid use is a very big problem for professional sports leagues. The United States consumes opioids at a greater rate than other countries, and professional athletes consume opioids at a greater rate than the general population. For instance, former National Football League (NFL) players consume opioids at four times the rate of the general population. That is alarming, to say the least.
With that in mind, it’s extremely important for professional sports leagues to explore and incorporate all viable options for reducing opioid consumption rates by their athletes. A number of studies have found that increased access to cannabis can help lower opioid consumption rates which is why the Uncle Cliffy team has advocated so much for leagues to free the plant. We will continue to do so until the leagues show the proper level of compassion for their players.
Below is a press release that was issued today by our friends at NORML which discusses cannabis access and links to lower opioid use:
Patients routinely reduce or eliminate their use of prescription opiates following the use of medical cannabis; two recently published studies reaffirm this relationship.
“The consensus of the available data indicates that cannabis may play a potentially valuable role in mitigating the opioid public health crisis. It is time to set aside canna-bigotry and to stop placing politics ahead of American lives,” said Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director.
In the first study, published by the Minnesota Department of Health, investigators assessed the prescription drug use patterns of 2,245 intractable pain patients participating in the state’s medical cannabis access program. Among those patients known to be taking opiates for pain upon enrollment in the program, 63 percent “were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months.” The findings are similar to those of registered patients in other states’ medical cannabis programs, including Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico, among others.
In the second study, Israeli researchers assessed the safety and efficacy of cannabis in a cohort of over 1,200 cancer patients over a period of six months. Ninety-six percent of patients “reported an improvement in their condition.” Nearly half of respondents reported either decreasing or eliminating their use of opioids during the treatment period.
A third recently published clinical trial provides insight into explaining this relationship. Investigators from the United States and Australia and assessed the efficacy of inhaled cannabis and sub-therapeutic doses of oxycodone on experimentally-induced pain in a double-blind, placebo-controlled model. Researchers assessed subjects’ pain tolerance after receiving both substances separately or in concert with one another. While neither the administration of cannabis nor oxycodone alone significantly mitigated subjects’ pain, the combined administration of both drugs did so effectively.
Authors determined, “Both active cannabis and a low dose of oxycodone (2.5 mg) were sub-therapeutic, failing to elicit analgesia on their own; however, when administered together, pain responses … were significantly reduced, pointing to the opioid-sparing effects of cannabis.” They concluded, “Smoked cannabis combined with an ineffective analgesic dose of oxycodone produced analgesia comparable to an effective opioid analgesic dose without significantly increasing cannabis’s abuse liability.”
The new studies add to the growing body of research finding that cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, opioid-related drug treatment admissions, and opioid-related overdose deaths.
Additional information regarding the association between cannabis and opioids is available from NORML’s fact-sheet here.
Clifford ‘Uncle Cliffy’ Robinson has been helping lead an effort to reform the harmful, outdated cannabis policy of the National Basketball League (NBA). Current NBA cannabis policy is such that there are no exceptions for cannabis use by NBA players, even when the cannabis use is legal in the state where the consumption takes place, and even when the use is for medical purposes.
The NBA subjects its players to several random cannabis tests throughout the season and has the strictest cannabis testing limit out of the major sports leagues. The NBA’s 15 ng/mL THC metabolite threshold is ten times as strict as what Olympic athletes are held to. Many NBA players have been suspended for cannabis use over the years, including Clifford Robinson (multiple times).
Alcohol use by players is not prohibited by the NBA, despite alcohol being 114 times more harmful than cannabis. The NBA also pushes opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs on its players, despite cannabis being safer a safer, effective alternative. The blatant hypocrisy on the part of the NBA is unacceptable, and a growing number of current and retired players have joined Clifford Robinson in demanding a change.
Cannabis reform in the NBA can come via one of two routes. The first is if NBA leadership decides to end cannabis prohibition, but that does not appear to be likely for whatever reason. The much more likely route is via collective bargaining negotiations between players and owners. In order for that to happen though, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) will have to take the lead on the issue during negotiations.
The sports community gained insight this week into whether or not cannabis reform is on the NBPA’s radar when the executive director of the NBPA, Michele Roberts, participated in an interview with SB Nation and discussed medical cannabis reform in the league. Below is what Michele Roberts had to say, per the interview:
Everyone claims to have done their own independent study. What we want to do is agree on some experts that can sit down and talk to us. My own view is that there are substantial signs that support its efficacy and the value that it has for us, especially pain management. We’re in talks with the league to see where we can go with it.
The obvious future is that marijuana will be decriminalized probably throughout the country in short order. Don’t forget our current attorney general [Jeff Sessions], who has taken a very different approach to his tolerance for this. That makes it a little more difficult.
It is a banned substance in our league right now. If we do go down that road, we have to protect our players from — my words — a crazed attorney general who says he will prosecute violations of the law involving marijuana and he doesn’t care what individual states say.
In other words, I don’t want my guys being arrested at airports in possession of a cannabinoid by some fed. It’s against the law. So, we’ll see.
There is no medical exemption?
No. It does not exist now. We’re exploring it. I think there is some movement toward accepting it as an appropriate use to address pain. But we’re not there yet.
The interview covers multiple points. The first is one that comes up a lot when cannabis reform is discussed – cannabis studies. The fact of the matter is that cannabis is one of the most studied substances known to man, and the Uncle Cliffy team continues to encourage NBA officials to look at the mountain of cannabis research that already exists which shows that cannabis is safe and effective. The current body of studies dealing with cannabis and pain, reducing opioid use, and traumatic brain injuries are of particular importance.
Secondly, Michele Roberts expresses concerns about United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-cannabis views. Those fears are not well founded, and should not serve as justification for continued cannabis prohibition in the NBA. The federal government going after an individual for simply consuming cannabis, including professional athletes, would be unprecedented.
Possessing cannabis on federal property is one thing, as is trying to fly with cannabis (which no one is proposing that athletes should do). But the odds of the federal government going after a professional athlete simply for being a cannabis consumer is very, very low and likely non-existent as the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out previously (here, here, here, and here).
Executive director Roberts’ last words of the excerpt above were disappointing to read. ‘We’re not there yet’ is not good enough. NBA players have to deal with all types of conditions and ailments, and cannabis has been proven to help people that suffer from those conditions and ailments.
Cannabis is safer than other substances that the NBA embraces. Also, cannabis laws have been reformed in one form or another in every state and country that NBA teams are located. Michele Roberts recently attended a cannabis company launch party, so hopefully she is warming up to the idea of cannabis reform in the NBA at a rapid pace. It’s beyond time that the NBA, and the NBPA, got on the ride side of history and put the health and wellness of NBA players above outdated political views. Free the plant!
More background on Uncle Cliffy’s coverage of cannabis and the NBA:
Polling Shows That The NBA’s Fanbase Supports Cannabis Reform
Ending Cannabis Prohibition In The NBA Shouldn’t Be So Difficult
Ex-NBA Commissioner Supports Removing Cannabis From List Of Banned Substances
Report: Adam Silver Says NBA Is Open To Medical Cannabis Reform
Most of the Uncle Cliffy team was born and raised in New York State, with many members of the team still residing there. Clifford Robinson was born and raised in Buffalo, New York where he saw firsthand the failures of cannabis prohibition.
Clifford Robinson was arrested for cannabis possession prior to attending the University of Connecticut. The arrest for a very small amount of cannabis almost derailed Cliff’s basketball playing career before it ever began. Fortunately, things ultimately worked out for Robinson but only after a nightmare scenario in which his entire future was put in jeopardy because of a plant that is 114 times safer than alcohol.
Because of his firsthand experiences, and those of other members of the Uncle Cliffy team, Clifford Robinson passionately advocates for cannabis reform in New York State. New York State is now going to be bordered by two states (Vermont and Massachusetts) and likely one country (Canada) that will have passed measures to end cannabis prohibition.
New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania are also in the midst of discussions and efforts to end cannabis prohibition, which put further pressure on New York State lawmakers to step up and get their state on the right side of history. Such a move would be supported by a majority of New York State voters, per a recent poll conducted by Siena College. Per the poll:
“With strong support from Democrats and independents, and support from every region, by a 56-40 percent margin, New Yorkers support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana,” Greenberg said. “Voters 55 and older are closely divided, while three-quarters of voters under 35 support legalization.”
The Siena College poll was not the first to find majority support for cannabis legalization in New York State. A poll from late last year, conducted by Emerson College and commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance, found that 62% of New York State voters approve of cannabis legalization.
The difference between the two poll results is close enough that it can be explained by a number of factors, and should not be seen as demonstrating that support for legalization in New York is decreasing. With legalization efforts occurring on all sides of New York State’s borders, and legalization succeeding in other parts of the country, the Uncle Cliffy team expects to see support for legalization in New York State to increase in the future. Free the plant New York!
Unless you were living under a rock last weekend you know that it was Super Bowl weekend. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in a very exciting game. Super Bowl weekend is one of the most celebrated weekends of the year in the United States, with family and friends gathering all over the country to watch the big game.
Super Bowl weekend is as American as apple pie. Another thing that is becoming as American as apple pie according to new data from last weekend is legal cannabis. Legal cannabis sales surged on Super Bowl weekend, with NFL fans stocking up before attending various gatherings. Per Green Market Report:
The Super Bowl turned into a bonus day of sales for cannabis dispensaries. According to data from software company Flowhub, retailers saw a 32% increase in cannabis sales for the 2018 Super Bowl weekend versus last year’s Super Bowl weekend.
Compared to typical weekend sales, Super Bowl weekend sales jumped 7% and transactions climbed by 12%. Flowhub said that transaction sizes were getting smaller, but the volume of people buying marijuana for the celebration had increased.
“The rise in sales over Super Bowl weekend shows that Americans are continuing to incorporate cannabis into these national celebrations just as they would beer or even guacamole,” said Flowhub CEO Kyle Sherman. “Marijuana is becoming part of the fabric of American society and our national pastimes. I think we will continue to see this trend grow as legalization continues to spread.”
This year’s jump in sales builds on a similar trend from last year. During last year’s Super Bowl weekend legal cannabis sales experienced a 40% jump compared to the same weekend the year prior. The recent statistical report demonstrates that the relationship between cannabis and sports is strong, and getting stronger with every passing year.
For the purpose of cannabis reform in the NFL specifically, this data is important because it highlights how popular cannabis consumption is among NFL fans. That popularity in consumption translates to support for cannabis reform in the NFL among the NFL’s fanbase as proven by several polls which have found that fans support allowing NFL players to consume cannabis. Polling also shows that players themselves, as well as members of sports media, also support cannabis reform.
It’s beyond time that the NFL and the leadership of other professional sports leagues recognize that prohibition has failed and to respect the overwhelming level of support for reform. Cannabis has been proven to be 114 times safer than alcohol, and safer than a lot of other substances that the NFL and other leagues embrace. The NFL and other leagues need to free the plant.
It is officially Super Bowl week in the National Football League (NFL) and unless you have been living under a rock then you know that the Philadelphia Eagles are facing the New England Patriots this weekend for the NFL title. The big game presents an opportunity for friends and family to get together, to enjoy food, to have some laughs, and hopefully to see a very competitive football game.
The Super Bowl also presents an opportunity for people inside and outside of the NFL to reflect on the league’s cannabis prohibition policy. Currently, the NFL prohibits all forms of cannabis consumption, even when the consumption is in a legal state, and even when the consumption is medical in nature. That is a policy that the Uncle Cliffy team has very publicly opposed, and we will continue to do so until the NFL takes steps to free the plant.
A growing number of current and retired NFL players have been calling on the league to end cannabis prohibition altogether, or at the least allow players to consume cannabis for medical purposes in certain circumstances. The NFL has taken an uncompassionate stance against cannabis use by its players, with a prime example of that being the case of Seantrel Henderson.
Henderson, who uses cannabis to treat a severe case of Crohn’s disease, was previously suspended 10 games for failing a league drug test because of cannabis use. Players like Seantrel Henderson should not be forced to either use more harmful pharmaceuticals, go without medicine altogether, or be forced to retire from the game that he obviously loves playing. A policy that presents only those options to suffering players is unacceptable.
You can send a message to the NFL at this link here. The Uncle Cliffy team is urging everyone to send a message to the NFL to let the league know that fans support letting NFL players make the safer choice. If enough fans make it known that they support cannabis reform in the NFL, the Uncle Cliffy team is hopeful that the NFL will listen. Below is a message from retired NFL players to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calling for him to free the plant:
Clifford ‘Uncle Cliffy’ Robinson played for the New Jersey Nets from 2005-2007 and was a longtime resident of the state. Cliff witnessed firsthand the failures of cannabis prohibition in New Jersey, which is why he supports cannabis legalization efforts that are currently underway in the Garden State.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has called for cannabis legalization on a number of occasions, and polling is very favorable for adult-use legalization in New Jersey. However, a lot of hard work is ahead in order to free the plant in New Jersey. Nothing is a guarantee, which is why New Jersey residents need to contact their lawmakers.
Fortunately, there are a lot of amazing freedom fighters on the ground in New Jersey fighting very hard to get New Jersey on the right side of history. Below is more information via our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance. Please get involved if you are able:
Congress and numerous states are moving to legalize marijuana this year, building on positive outcomes in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. In Vermont, Governor Phil Scott is expected to sign the state’s marijuana legalization bill today, making it the 9th state to legalize marijuana – and the first to do so via state legislature – in a rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Obama-era guidance this month allowing states to implement their own marijuana laws with limited federal interference.
On Tuesday, a new report by the Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization, will show how and why marijuana legalization is working so far.
On Tuesday, January 23 at 1pm (ET) / 10am (PT), DPA will host a press teleconference to discuss the report’s findings with key policymakers and elected officials:
- Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director, Drug Policy Alliance (moderator)
- Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney, Drug Policy Alliance (report author)
- Reggie Jones-Sawyer, California State Assembly Member and author of the Legal Cannabis Protection Act
- Colorado State Representative Jonathan Singer
- Shaleen Title, Commissioner, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
Members of the press are invited to join Tuesday’s teleconference. Please contact Tony Newman for call-in info.: 646-335-5384
From Prohibition to Progress finds that states are saving money and protecting the public by comprehensively regulating marijuana for adult use. There have been dramatic decreases in marijuana arrests and convictions, saving states millions of dollars and preventing the criminalization of thousands of people.
Marijuana legalization is having a positive effect on public health and safety. Youth marijuana use has remained stable in states that have legalized. Access to legal 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. 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. At the same time, states are exceeding their marijuana revenue estimates and filling their coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Marijuana criminalization and enforcement have been a massive waste of money and have unequally harmed Black and Latino communities,” says Jolene Forman, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This report shows that marijuana legalization is working. States are effectively protecting public health and safety through comprehensive regulations. Now more states should build on the successes of marijuana legalization and advance policies to repair the racially disparate harms of the war on drugs.”
Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance states that the report provides strong support for New Jersey’s efforts to legalize marijuana. “This report answers the questions that elected officials and the public have been asking about how marijuana legalization has worked in other states,” says Scotti. “The findings are extremely positive and provide important lessons on how New Jersey can structure its marijuana legalization law so that it will be fair and equitable and provide benefits for all New Jersey residents.” The Drug Policy Alliance has launched a campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in New Jersey.
The report’s key findings include:
Marijuana arrests are down. Arrests for marijuana in all legal marijuana states and Washington, D.C. have plummeted, saving states hundreds of millions of dollars and sparing thousands of people from being branded with lifelong criminal records.
- The total number of low-level marijuana court filings in Washington fell by 98 percent between 2011 and 2015.
- The total number of marijuana‐related court filings in Colorado declined by 81 percent between 2012 and 2015, and marijuana possession charges dropped by 88 percent.
- In Washington, D.C., marijuana arrests decreased 76 percent from 2013 to 2016, with possession arrests falling by 98.6 percent.
- In Oregon, the number of marijuana arrests declined by 96 percent from 2013 to 2016.
- In Alaska, the number of marijuana arrests for possession and sales/manufacturing declined by 93 percent from 2013 to 2015.
Youth marijuana use is stable. Youth marijuana use rates have remained stable in states that have legalized marijuana for adults age 21 and older.
- In Washington, Colorado and Alaska, rates of marijuana use among high school students largely resemble national rates. These results are promising, suggesting that fears of widespread increases in use have not come to fruition.
- In Oregon, Nevada, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., marijuana regulatory programs are not yet established or are so new that they are unlikely to have affected youth use rates in an immediately measurable way. While rates of use vary widely in these states, they have mostly stabilized or declined over the years leading up to legalization.
Marijuana legalization is linked to lower rates of opioid-related harm. Increased access to legal marijuana has been associated with reductions in some of the most troubling harms associated with opioids, including opioid overdose deaths and untreated opioid use disorders.
- In states with medical marijuana access, overdose death rates are almost 25 percent lower than in states with no legal access to marijuana, and the reductions in overdose death rates strengthened over time.
- Legal access to medical marijuana has been associated with a 23 percent reduction in opioid dependence or abuse-related hospitalizations and 15 percent fewer opioid treatment admissions.
- An analysis of opioid overdose deaths in Colorado found that after marijuana was legalized for adult use there was a reduction of 0.7 deaths per month in the state and that the decades-long upward trend of overdoses began to decline after 2014, the first year of marijuana retail sales in the state.
Calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency departments for marijuana exposure remain relatively uncommon.
- In Oregon, less than one percent of calls to the state’s poison centers in 2016 were related to marijuana exposure.
- In Colorado, less than one tenth of one percent (0.04 percent) of the state’s 2.3 million emergency department visits in 2014 were for marijuana exposure.
Legalization has not made our roads less safe.
- DUI arrests are down in Colorado and Washington. The total number of arrests for driving under the influence, of alcohol and other drugs, has declined in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to regulate marijuana for adult use.
- There is no correlation between marijuana legalization and crash rates. The crash rates in both states are statistically similar to comparable states without legal marijuana.
Marijuana tax revenues are exceeding initial estimates. Marijuana sales in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and most recently in Nevada, began slowly as consumers and regulators alike adjusted to new systems. Once up and running, however, overall sales and tax revenue in each state quickly exceeded initial estimates. (Sales in California started on January 1, 2018, and no data are available yet. Sales in Massachusetts will not begin until July 2018. Sales in Maine are on hold pending approval of an implementation bill for the state’s regulated marijuana program. In D.C. no retail cultivation, manufacturing or sales are permitted at this time.)
- Marijuana sales in Washington generated $315 million in tax revenues in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
- Marijuana sales have generated almost $600 million for Colorado since sales began on January 1, 2014.
- By the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, Oregon collected $70 million, more than double the predicted revenue.
States are allocating marijuana tax revenues for social good.
- Colorado distributed $230 million to the Colorado Department of Education between 2015 and 2017 to fund school construction, early literacy, bullying prevention, and behavioral health.
- Oregon allocates 40 percent of marijuana tax revenue to its state school fund, depositing $34 million into the fund so far. The state also distributes 20 percent to alcohol and drug treatment.
- Nevada’s 15 percent wholesale tax is projected to bring in $56 million over the next two years to fund state schools.
- Washington dedicates 25 percent to substance use disorder treatment, education and prevention. The state also distributes 55 percent of its marijuana tax revenues to fund basic health plans.
- Alaska will collect an estimated $12 million annually, which will fund drug treatment and community residential centers.
- California and Massachusetts will invest a share of their marijuana tax revenues in the communities most adversely impacted by drug arrests and incarceration, particularly low-income communities of color, to help repair the harms of unequal drug law enforcement.
The marijuana industry is creating jobs. Preliminary estimates suggest that the legal marijuana industry employs between 165,000 to 230,000 full and part-time workers across the country. This number will only continue to grow as more states legalize marijuana and replace their unregulated markets with new legal markets.
The report also includes considerations for policymakers and advocates going forward:
We need to foster equity in the marijuana industry. The communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization have struggled to overcome the many barriers to participation in the legal industry. Some states and cities, however, are implementing rules to help increase equity and reduce barriers to entry in the marijuana industry.
- Massachusetts is adopting rules aimed at ensuring that people most harmed by marijuana criminalization can participate in the regulated market.
- In California, a prior drug felony cannot be the sole basis for denying a marijuana license. This mitigates the harms to low-income, Black, and Latino people who have borne decades of disproportionate arrests and convictions for marijuana offenses.
We need to reduce racial disparities and reform police practices. While marijuana legalization dramatically reduces the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, it clearly does not end racially disparate policing. Police practices must be reformed to fully remedy the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws. It is widely documented that there are vast racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws. Black and Latino people are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, despite similar rates of use and sales across racial groups.
We need to establish safe places for people to use marijuana. Consuming marijuana in public is illegal in all jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older. It is a misdemeanor in Nevada and Washington, D.C., and a civil penalty subject to fines and fees in all other states. This means that people who lack the means to pay the fines and fees, or those without homes or in federally-subsidized housing, risk being jailed for consuming a lawful substance. Public use violations are also disproportionately enforced against people of color, particularly Black people.
We need to promote marijuana decriminalization and penalty reductions for youth and young adults. In several states, marijuana legalization has had the unintended consequence of reducing historically high numbers of youth (under 18 years of age) and young adults (between 18 and 20 years old) stopped and arrested for marijuana offenses. However, these reductions are inconsistent from state-to-state. In some circumstances, youth now comprise a growing number of people charged with marijuana offenses. California’s approach is too new to be evaluated, but it appears to be a good step toward reducing youth and young adults’ risk of criminal justice involvement for marijuana-related conduct:
- In California, youth under the age of 18 may only be charged with civil infractions for marijuana offenses. They are no longer threatened with incarceration or financial penalties. Instead, they are required to attend drug awareness education, counseling, or community service.
- All marijuana offenses will be automatically expunged from a young person’s record when they turn 18.
- The penalties for most marijuana-related activities were either decriminalized or reduced for young adults 18-to-20 years old.
The Gridiron Cannabis Coalition is comprised of retired National Football League (NFL) players that know firsthand that cannabis can help treat the health conditions that many players suffer from. Because of their firsthand experiences with the wellness benefits of the cannabis plant, members of the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition are speaking out against the NFL’s cannabis prohibition policy via a message (embedded below) specifically directed towards NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
With the Super Bowl right around the corner, the message is very timely. The Uncle Cliffy team would like to send a huge hat tip to these gentlemen for standing up for compassion and fighting to free the plant. You can learn more about the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition via their website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
As the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out in the past, cannabis legalization is overdue in New York State where Clifford Robinson was born and raised. With legalization pending in Vermont and a likely end to prohibition expected in New Jersey this year, the momentum for New York State to get on the right side of history will be greater than ever before.
To date, 8 states and Washington D.C. have already legalized cannabis. Legalization efforts are underway in a number of other states, including in the northeastern part of the United States. Every state that legalizes cannabis increases the chances of professional sports leagues ending cannabis prohibition, with New York being a particularly important domino given how many professional sports teams are located there.
This week New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the creation of a cannabis legalization study which is something that the Uncle Cliffy team hopes serves as a stepping stone for legalization, and not just a means to maintain the status quo. Below is more information about the proposed study, via our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance:
In his address on the executive budget proposal for New York state on January 16, Governor Cuomo called for a state-funded study on the impacts of marijuana legalization in the health, economic, and criminal justice realms and the projected impacts for New York of legalization in neighboring states and jurisdictions. Drug Policy Alliance and the Start SMART (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) campaign just released two new related fact sheets, Marijuana Legalization in New York: Promising Economic Prospects and Ending Marijuana Prohibition: Impact of Legalization on Border States and Implications for New York.
Governor Cuomo’s call for studying marijuana legalization comes amid a wave of marijuana policy reform. Legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use is pending in New Jersey, where the recently-inaugurated governor has pledged to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office; New Hampshire’s House voted to legalize marijuana last Tuesday; and Vermont’s Senate approved a legalization bill last Wednesday, paving the way to become the first state to legalize through the legislative process (prior states were via ballot initiative). Massachusetts and Canada are in the process of implementing legalization and expect their legal markets to come online this summer.
Last week the New York State Assembly held a public hearing to discuss the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA, S.3040B/A.3506B) [video available here], a bill that would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana, legalizing the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York. The implications of legalizing marijuana for New York’s criminal justice system, public health, and the state’s economy were highlighted at the hearing, which featured testimony calling for an end to marijuana prohibition from civil rights groups, criminal justice reformers, medical researchers and doctors, regulators from states with legal marijuana, medical marijuana advocates, policing experts, immigration rights advocates, former law enforcement, and drug policy reformers.
“I am pleased that Governor Cuomo is proposing funding for a study of legalizing adult use of marijuana. Addressing our current outdated marijuana laws is a necessary part of any criminal justice reform agenda, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned in developing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act as to how to create a more just approach to marijuana regulation. I firmly believe that New York can develop an approach to marijuana regulation that addresses public health concerns while reducing the exposure of so many people, and particularly young people of color, to interactions with the criminal justice system that have much more damaging life consequences than marijuana use,” said Senator Liz Krueger, the Senate sponsor of the MRTA.
“I applaud Governor Cuomo on agreeing to conduct a study to investigate the merits of legalizing marijuana. I look forward to the Department of Health’s report showing: the health benefits of successful pain management and social anxiety treatment, which can aid our fight in reducing the dependency on opioids; polling and other data points that confirm that the majority of New York State registered voters support legalization; creating a new inclusive economy for everyone and its respective revenue-generating potential; but most importantly for me is the expected positive social justice impact that can be had by decriminalizing marijuana. Dreams that are so often derailed by criminal records for youth of color will soon stay on track allowing them to become productive tax-paying members of our society,” stated Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, the Assembly sponsor of the MRTA.
Momentum for marijuana reform is building steadily in New York. A poll of New York voters released in late 2017 showed that 62% of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal in New York for adults over 21, and more than 60% support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state’s looming budget deficit.
The proposed study, which Gov. Cuomo said would be conducted by the state’s Department of Health, has the potential to examine both the wide-ranging and damaging impacts of marijuana prohibition and the immensely promising economic prospects of legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York.
Legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York holds significant criminal justice reform potential. Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is currently pending in the legislature, people who have been convicted of low-level possession (including possession in public view) and low-level sale can have that offense vacated from their record. Other offenses related to possession or sale that were previously misdemeanors or felonies can be reclassified and sealed. People currently incarcerated for such offenses would either be released or have their sentence appropriately reduced pursuant to the new statute.
This is crucial because marijuana prohibition enforcement has devastated communities across New York State, primarily those of color and low-income communities. More than 800,000 people have been arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York State over the past 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people must contend with criminal records that yield significant collateral consequences for them—and their families, including limited access to housing, employment, and education opportunities.
Legalizing and regulating marijuana will also provide an opportunity, due to the revenue it will generate, for the communities that have been most devastated to start to repair the harms of the drug war. The potential tax revenue for New York from a legal marijuana market is considerable: it is estimated that New Yorkers spend an estimated $3 billion per year on marijuana in the illicit market. An official study by the NYC Comptroller in 2013 estimated potential tax revenue for a legal marijuana market in NYC alone would be more than $400 million, and acknowledged that the actual revenue could be much higher.
Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, this substantial tax revenue from the legal marijuana market will be used to establish a Community Grants Reinvestment Fund to provide job training, promote adult education, support youth development programming, establish or expand community centers, bolster re-entry services for the formerly incarcerated, and otherwise support community-focused programming in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war. Additional funding from the regulated marijuana market will be directed to assisting the state department of education to keep public schools open and provide a quality education to New York’s children. Another block of funding will be dedicated to public health initiatives, including drug treatment programs to help combat the opioid crisis, science-based public education, and research on public health impacts of marijuana legalization.
“Marijuana legalization is already working in states across the country, and New York should not be left behind. We have the potential to reduce incarceration, raise revenue, and spur job growth. Failed marijuana policies have hurt communities for decades, and we are pleased to see that Governor Cuomo is advancing a study on marijuana legalization that will move us toward more sensible drug policies,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY.
“We welcome Governor Cuomo’s proposal to study marijuana regulation and taxation, and urge the Department of Health to conduct and release their report swiftly. In the meantime, New York should follow our neighbor Vermont by immediately legalizing personal cultivation and possession of marijuana,” said Doug Greene, of Empire State NORML.
“We look forward to the study proposed by the Governor and urge New York policy makers to get on board with legalizing marijuana for adult use, which is supported by a majority of New Yorkers. There is ample evidence that ending marijuana prohibition is a smart way for Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature to uphold the rights of all New Yorkers and support economic growth. Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to create a system to tax and regulate marijuana that will repair and reinvest in communities that have been most harmed by the marijuana arrest crusade,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
• The Costs of Marijuana Prohibition Enforcement: The Criminal Justice System
• Marijuana Legalization in New York: Promising Economic Prospects
• Ending Marijuana Prohibition: Impact of Legalization on Border States and Implications for New York
• Why Legalizing Marijuana is the SMART Choice: The Benefits of Ending Marijuana Prohibition
• Debunking the “Gateway” Myth