Three United Nations Conventions provide the international legal framework on drug control, instructing countries to limit drug supply and use to medical and scientific purposes. Yet, debate continues on the decriminalisation, or even legalisation, of drugs, particularly cannabis. Models under development for the legal supply of cannabis are described in this analysis, as well as some of the questions they raise.
Part of the ‘Perspectives on drugs’ (PODs) series, launched alongside the annual European Drug Report, these designed-for-the-web interactive analyses aim to provide deeper insights into a selection of important issues.
This is a guide to regulating legal markets for the non-medical use of cannabis. It is for policy makers, drug policy reform advocates and affected communities all over the world, who are witnessing the question change from, 'Should we maintain cannabis prohibition?' to 'How will legal regulation work in practice?
The success of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington has sparked a new conversation in a nation that is one of the world's top marijuana growers: Should Mexico, which has suffered mightily in its war against the deadly drug cartels, follow the Western states' lead? Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto,opposes legalization, but he also told CNN that the news from Washington and Colorado "could bring us to rethinking the strategy."
Vigorous regulation of a thriving medical-marijuana industry in Colorado offers the best glimpse of what is coming to Washington when it launches its voter-approved social-use market. With continuous surveillance, bar-coded plants and strict financial background checks, Colorado's rules allowed capitalism to be unleased, creating an instant $200 million industry. With retail prices — averagingabout $7.50 a gram — among the cheapest in the country.
Although they didn't make any clear decisions, the Local Authority and Control Working Group meeting started to address many questions and concerns that municipalities have about the newly forming marijuana industry. It was the first of several planned gatherings for the group — a subset of the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force.
The cry of "states' rights" is not often associated with progressive causes, but with the "war on drugs" comprehensively declared a $1tn failure by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the call has reason and justice on its side. Will the feds carry their fight against the voices expressing popular will from California to Colorado, Washington State and beyond? Or will the White House temper its approach with respect for local democracy?
Hawaii could join Colorado and Washington as states that have legalized the use of marijuana by adults, under a measure introduced by state House Speaker Joe Souki. House Bill 150, known as the Personal Use of Marijuana Act, would allow adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to cultivate a limited number of marijuana plants in a secure and locked location. It also would allow for licensed and regulated marijuana retail stores, as well as licensed facilities to cultivate, manufacture and test marijuana. (Related story: Hawaii residents support legalizing marijuana, survey finds)
While it seems unlikely that the federal government will make much of an effort to arrest pot users in Colorado or Washington—Obama has said he has “bigger fish to fry”— the tension between federal and state laws on marijuana remains. Just last week, an appeals court rejected a suit that sought to lower the classification of medical marijuana under federal drug laws. Justice Louis Brandeis once said that the states should function as “laboratories,” testing new ideas for possible adoption by the whole nation.
The Denver City Council will vote in April on whether the state's largest city will opt out of licensing recreational marijuana sales — a move that could dramatically affect legalization efforts in Colorado. City leaders are wrestling with how to implement Amendment 64, which legalized recreational use and possession, cultivation and distribution of limited quantities of marijuana.
Marijuana may be coming out of the black market in Colorado and Washington state, but the drug, at least for now, will retain a decidedly underground feel: Users may not know what's in it. Less than a year away from allowing pot sales, regulators are grappling with how to ensure that the nation's first legal marijuana industry will grow weed that delivers only the effects that pot smokers want.
Members of a task force proposing regulations for recreational marijuana in Colorado approved recommendations that would allow for marijuana tourism but block out-of-state pot shop owners. The Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force voted to allow people from outside of Colorado to shop in forthcoming retail marijuana stores, though the amount they could purchase at any one store would be limited. (See also: Pot tourism in Colo.? Marijuana regulators OK idea)
Colorado's Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force is wading through the weeds of marijuana legalization, creating regulations to take pot from the shadows out into the open. In the wake of the decision by voters in Colorado last November to legalize recreational marijuana for adults, the question of how to integrate legal pot into the practical bureaucratic realities has fallen on two dozen Coloradans. By the end of the month, the Task Force must submit a report to the Colorado Legislature that lays out its suggestions for how the state should regulate legal marijuana.
Rules for Colorado's recreational-marijuana industry have begun to take shape after a marathon meeting of the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, which recommended marijuana purchasing caps. Adults over 21 in Colorado are allowed up to an ounce of weed, but the task force recommended that a single transaction at a pot shop be capped at a lower amount. Regulators did not agree what the smaller cap should be, punting that decision to the state Legislature, which will decide on Colorado's marijuana rules. (See also: Colorado task force says marijuana should be in child-proof packages)
The Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force regulators are working out the details of exactly how to tax legalized marijuana, so the benefits are shared statewide in the form of increased revenue. The task force meets Thursday to draft final recommendations based on the voter-approved marijuana legalization question that asked for excise taxes up to 15 percent to fund school construction. Besides schools, the taxes must fund marijuana safety enforcement and drug education measures. (See also: Tax, legal issues on tap at last Colorado marijuana task force meeting)
The cannabis industry is an easy target for legislatures to saddle with heavy taxes. In Washington State for instance, there is a 25% tax at three different stages of cannabis production: from the grower to the processor, from the processor to the retailer, and the retailer to the customer. These taxes are in addition to any other state or local sales taxes that might apply. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, for instance, has introduced marijuana reform legislation that would enact a 50% excise tax on production.
What Colorado will look like with legal marijuana became significantly clearer when the state task force proposing rules for that new world finished its work. Under proposals endorsed by the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, recreational marijuana in Colorado would be heavily taxed. It would be grown only indoors. It would not be allowed to be smoked at bars, restaurants or even social clubs.
In the summer of 2010, after legislators passed a law legitimizing dispensaries, there were 1,117 medical-marijuana businesses in Colorado. By the end of that year, as a "green rush" of cannabis entrepreneurs reached its apex, the total ticked up to 1,131. Today, there are 675. In terms of sheer numbers, Colorado's medical-marijuana industry has shrunk by more than 40 percent.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declined to reveal the Obama administration’s long-awaited policy on legal recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington at a Senate committee hearing. Holder said he’d had “good conversations” with elected leaders in those states, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “We expect our ability to announce a policy relatively soon,” Holder said. (See also: Four months after marijuana legalization vote, feds remain mum)
The United States must not turn a blind eye to the recreational use of cannabis in states that liberalize drug laws, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said, urging the country to live up to its treaty commitments. Raymond Yans, president of the INCB, said assurances from the U.S. government in December that growing, selling or possessing the drug remained illegal under federal law were "good, but insufficient".