Historically, the most effective argument for legalizing cannabis is its promising ability to help with a wide range of medical issues. Its medical value has been a pathway for legalization since 1996 when California successfully passed the nation’s first medical cannabis law. The belief in cannabis as medicine has taken hold in public consciousness, with 88% of Americans agreeing that medical use should be federally legal.
But there is another worthwhile reason for legalizing that isn’t cited as often: criminal justice reform. When cannabis legalization laws are well-written, thorough and implemented properly, they can be an excellent method to reduce arrests and incarceration rates.
Police conduct over 20 million traffic stops per year, with blacks and hispanics being stopped most. These stops result in thousands of searches conducted because police claim to smell cannabis.
Police stop more than 20 million drivers a year, leading to thousands of searches citing “marijuana odor” every year. The Open Policing Project at Stanford University, a project started in 2015, has analyzed data from more than 100 million traffic stops.
Effects of Legalization
According to their analysis, states that legalize cannabis, specifically Colorado and Washington, saw a steep decline in traffic stops that led to searches.
This makes sense. When a state legalizes cannabis, it makes it harder for police to stop people because they smell like cannabis and harder to arrest people for small amounts of cannabis or paraphernalia.
This doesn’t mean that cannabis legalization efforts have addressed the issue perfectly. There is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to ensuring reparations for those affected by the War On Drugs in the past and having legalization reach its potential as a vehicle for criminal justice reform. This also doesn’t mean cannabis legalization will completely fix the issue.
The results from the Open Policing Project are heartening, but show that despite the steep decline in traffic stops and searches, blacks and hispanics are still disproportionately affected by traffic stops and searches in both Colorado and Washington.
In other places, legal cannabis laws lack the legal clarity that would really allow cannabis legalization to achieve its potential as a vehicle for criminal justice reform.
Washington D.C. was the first legalization campaign to run on a platform of criminal justice reform rather than patient rights, according to Seema Sadanandan, the Criminal Justice Director at the ACLU’s D.C. office.
Immediately after legalizing cannabis, possession arrests dropped by 99% in Washington D.C., a truly remarkable piece of data from the Drug Policy Alliance.
In 2011, 4,256 people were arrested for possession of cannabis, compared to just 32 in 2016. In the same vein, possession with intent to distribute arrests dropped from 1132 in 2010 to 175 in 2016, an 85% decline.
Distribution arrests dropped as well for a time, but are now back up to pre-legalization levels.
How could distribution arrests go back up under a legal system? Poorly written laws, mostly.
In D.C., there are high barriers to getting your medical card and not enough medical dispensaries to satiate demand. Even though cannabis is decriminalized, allowing adults to have up to an ounce or six plants in their home, there is no actual market allowed for recreational pot. It is legal to gift someone cannabis, but not legal to accept anything for it in return.
This is why D.C.’s law has gained the nickname “Dealer Protection Act”. A legal market and competition cannot exist according to the law, but those same laws make it hard for police to arrest dealers if they aren’t caught exchanging money.
Cannabis legalization won’t be the cure all solution for criminal justice issues in the United States, but it can play a huge role when laws are written and implemented correctly.
As states play their role as laboratories of democracy, hopefully we can continue to test and iterate on cannabis laws, creating policies that optimize for patients and criminal justice reform.
California, the first state to legalize the medical use of cannabis back in 1996 and famous for its rich growing history in the Emerald Triangle, has long been a mainstay and exporter of culture surrounding the cannabis plant.
This rich history has led to an incredibly large sector of their state’s economy. California’s cannabis market hit $6.7 billion in sales in 2016, more than every other adult use cannabis market in the United States combined.
According to New Frontier Data’s market projections released earlier this year, they expect California’s medical cannabis market to be worth $2.4 billion by 2021 and their adult use market to be worth $3.9 billion by the same year.
California has always been a powerhouse when it comes to consumption and cultivation of weed, but who exactly are the consumers powering the demand? What are their preferences, age, gender, annual income, interests? How do brands create and market products to their end users if they don’t really know anything about them? Can we extrapolate data about California cannabis consumers to consumers in other states?
When it comes to cannabis consumers, these questions have largely gone unanswered. For decades, the plant was bought and sold through black market channels, serving a demand but unable to create the infrastructure to understand it, thanks to state and federal law.
But as the cannabis industry develops, more and more pertinent data is being gathered about the people who prop up this multibillion dollar industry…and the results might not be what people expect of “stoners”.
Who are California cannabis consumers?
A survey conducted in California received 10,000 user responses, and their findings challenge stoner stereotypes of a previous time.
Some of the most significant findings to uncover the reality of who cannabis consumers are, versus stereotypes held about them, include:
- 32% of respondents were female, with 59% of females consuming cannabis every day.
- 51% of respondents hold a degree or postgraduate degree, made even more significant because only 39% of California residents hold the same level of education.
- 91% of respondents hold a full-time job, employed in a wide variety of industries, with technology leading all at 19%. Of the vast majority of respondents with full-time employment 58% consume cannabis everyday.
- 49% of respondents have an annual household income exceeding $75,000. The income bracket of $100,000-$149,000 was the most common annual household income of respondents.
- One in five respondents are parents, and 63% of parents surveyed consume cannabis daily.
What aligns nearly all 10,000 respondents? Rallying around the idea of “reduc[ing] or replac[ing] alcohol and pharmaceutical consumption to find natural relief and enjoyment from marijuana.”
These findings show that the average daily cannabis consumer is concerned about their general wellness, gainfully employed, and making an annual household income above the national average, and many are parents.
We know these findings challenge the stoner stereotypes held by those who have a serious misunderstanding of cannabis consumers, but it also challenges marketing norms in the cannabis industry.
These findings show the need for mature marketing efforts that diverge (but can still pay credence to) an outdated era of cannabis. Cannabis brands looking to expand their market share should especially focus on marketing towards female consumers, who are often left out.
These respondents included wellness-conscious individuals who are interested in cannabis products that are sophisticated and safe, and cannabis brands would be wise to align themselves with these customers. Simple examples of this in practice include edible companies making products using organic, healthy food items like granola or dried fruit, rather than sugary cookies and other baked goods; making vape pen cartridges and other concentrates without harmful chemicals and additives; or complying with and communicating strict lab testing protocols to ensure a safe product, even if their state guidelines lack the rigidness.
The cannabis consumer of today is far different than what many would expect. If cannabis brands don’t pay close attention to the incoming data about these consumers and act accordingly, they will lose out to the brands that do.
At a time when support for some form of federal legalization of cannabis is at a record high, it’s surprising when you hear states and politicians failing to take action. Sure, there are a lot of misconceptions about cannabis still floating around. But, there are also powerful industries lobbying against the blossoming cannabis demand in order to protect their bottom line.
Here’s a list of the top industries fighting to keep cannabis illegal.
Medical Cannabis is a taking the world by storm. Even without federal research into the medical efficacy of the plant or FDA approval, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. People suffering from epilepsy, cancer, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, Muscular Sclerosis, chronic pain, and more are all seeing the benefit in using a natural plant as treatment rather than harmful, and oftentimes addictive, pharmaceutical drugs.
The Big Pharma lobby is one of the biggest in America, with very deep pockets. They are working, and spending, hard to keep cannabis illegal. Insys Therapeutics, a large drug maker, spent $500,000 lobbying against legalization in Arizona during the 2016 election.
Insys has created a drug called Dronabinol, a synthetic cannabinoid compound, recently approved by the FDA. The company itself claimed in a recent SEC filing that legalizing cannabis could “significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product.”
Unfortunately, their money seemed to work. Arizona was the only state with cannabis on the ballot in 2016 that failed to pass the initiative.
As more states vote to legalize recreational cannabis, more and more consumers are choosing weed over alcohol. The alcohol industry could lose up to $2 billion thanks to legal cannabis.
The alcohol industry has responded by throwing funding at anti-legalization efforts. In Massachusetts, another state voting to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis in 2016, saw intervention by alcohol interests. The Beer Distributors of Massachusetts and The Wine & Wholesalers of Massachusetts donated $75,000 to an anti-legalization campaign.
It’s worth noting this fear may be unfounded. In Colorado, the alcohol industry has seen an increase since legalizing recreational cannabis.
Private Prisons & Prison Guard Union
Private prisons and the Prison Guard Union are two of the largest, and most powerful, lobbies in the country.
Private prisons are full of low-level, nonviolent drug law offenders, many of them doing time for cannabis. Without local law enforcement making these arrests, private prison beds go empty. You would think this is a great thing, but for Private Prisons, these empty beds mean lower profits. Lower profits, in turn, mean less benefits and employment opportunities for prison guards.
Private Prison companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against laws that would reduce mass incarceration in the United States. Two of the largest private prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO have spend $970,000 and between $250,000 to $660,000, respectively, each year.
In 2015 alone, California jailed over 6,000 people for cannabis, or cannabis-related, charges. And that’s a state with a long history of tolerance toward the plant. In 2005, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association gave $1 million to successfully defeat Proposition 8 that would have legalized cannabis.
In 2016, we saw California legalize recreational cannabis in spite of opposition.
A little known, but incredibly significant, fact is that local police departments receive federal funding and military-grade equipment by agreeing to participate in the War On Drugs. Beyond federal and state tax funding, departments are also able to make a lot of money off the property they can legally seize when acting on behalf of the Drug War in an act called “asset forfeiture”.
Many local police departments have come to rely on this supplemental income, and aren’t willing to give it up easily. But with this additional funding comes quotas that police departments are required to meet. Unfortunately, low-level cannabis consumers and dealers are an easy target for racking up arrests.
According to Opensecrets.org, “The National Fraternal Order of Police has spent at least $220,000 on lobbying efforts; the National Association of Police Organizations, $160,000; the International Union of Police Associations, $80,000; and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, $80,000.”
Should Felons Be Allowed In Legal Cannabis Industries?
There are many states who have legalized cannabis, either medicinally or recreationally, that outlaw felons from participating in the industry.
When states outlaw the participation of felons in their cannabis industries, it’s important to understand who exactly they are keeping out. In order to understand this, we need to look at some of the underlying trends of drug incarceration in America.
Cannabis has long been a vehicle to incarcerate citizens, specifically those that are black, brown and poor. Despite white Americans self-reporting drug use at a higher rate than African Americans and Latinos, the latter two communities bear the brunt of drug arrests.
According to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union released in 2013, African Americans made up 14% of the U.S. population, but constituted more than 36% of all arrests for weed, mostly for possession charges.
A report by New Frontier Data and Drug Policy Alliance explored the incarceration rates for cannabis in California ahead of the Amendment 64 vote that legalized Adult Use.
The report notes,
“Only 8% of Los Angeles County residents are black, yet they make up 30% of people jailed for marijuana only offenses in the county. Comparatively, Latinos account for nearly half (49%) of the county’s population, but make up 42% of those jailed, and whites are 27% of the population, but make up 20% of the jailed population.”
So in a world where over half of the country has legalized medicinal or Adult Use cannabis, creating a multi-billion dollar industry, what happens to those incarcerated for the same plant? How do we include those who had their lives destroyed by cannabis prohibition into the new legal market?
Many states are starting to see the sense in providing some sort of reparation to those formerly incarcerated for a drug that is now legal, and making a lot of people rich, in their states. Massachusetts was the first state to include some sort of provision for those who have been affected most by cannabis prohibition and enforcement, making sure these people would be able to participate in their state’s new legal industry.
Other states followed suit. Ohio set aside 15 cannabis licenses for minority businesses in their law; Pennsylvania required cannabis license applicants to outline their process for including minorities in their businesses.
Some states are trying, but fall embarrassingly short of the mark. Maryland tried to pass a bill to ensure minorities were represented within their new legal industry, but that bill was not actually acted upon. Not a single minority applicant was granted one of their 15 licenses. Because of this, multiple lawsuits have been filed against the Maryland Medicinal Cannabis Commission (MMCC), and former police chief and member of the MMCC, Harry Robshaw III, is being accused of exercising “overt racism” in the selection process.
Cities within states outlawing felons have also decided to act.
Oakland, a city in California historically overly-targeted by the War On Drugs, is working to make sure those who were jailed for cannabis are included in California’s new industry. Oakland has guaranteed half of their city’s cannabis licenses will be “Equity Licenses” reserved for those who have been convicted of a marijuana charge.
The damage done, and still being done, by the War On Drugs is no secret. Instead of declining, we have only seen drug use zoom upwards. Instead of rehabilitating drug addicts, we now have a full-on Opioid Epidemic in our country and private prisons at capacity, with 2.3 million Americans locked inside.
Allowing former “marijuana felons” into the legal cannabis industry helps repair some of that damage. For those who have carried the burden of a felony marijuana charge brought on them by their state, and are now seeing the same plant make a lot of people rich, reparations are due.
It’s up to those in the cannabis industry and writing cannabis law to fight for their inclusion.
How much do you love cannabis? Enough to make it part of your big wedding day? Some couples are saying yes to a 420-friendly wedding and, by doing so, are creating another sector of the cannabis economy.
For some couples, they may want to introduce their guests who have never tried cannabis to the plant for the first time, others may want to give guests an alternative to alcohol.
When you start planning a cannabis-friendly wedding, you will have to consider venue first. Finding the perfect place for your wedding day is hard enough, but finding a beautiful venue that is okay with weed? Sounds like a unicorn. Luckily cannabis is gaining so much mainstream acceptance that opportunities for cannabis-friendly venues and vendors is at an all-time high.
Let’s start with the basics: you obviously need to start with a recreationally legal state. If you do not live in one, it is important to consider how long the commute to a legal state will take for your guests.
Colorado, one of the first states to pass legal recreational cannabis, seems to have the most options for cannabis-friendly venues. While public consumption is illegal in Denver, you can hold events with cannabis so long as it is on private property and no cannabis product is sold at the event.
Bella Vista, Steamboat Springs, CO
If you have been to or live in Colorado, chances are you’ve heard of the idyllic town Steamboat Springs. Steamboat is known for its naturally occurring geothermal hot springs and, in true Colorado fashion, world-renowned skiing.
The gorgeous, Bella Vista, private property is only a few minutes from downtown Steamboat, has plenty of room and an insanely scenic view. The best part? They are totally cannabis friendly! If you are looking to get married in the summer months, Bella Vista can accommodate up to 200 guests and 50 in the winter months.
Arrowhead Manor, Denver, CO
Right outside of Denver, you will find Arrowhead Manor. Another private residence boasting gorgeous mountain views and an old school lodge vibe, this would be a perfect backdrop for your big day. As a private residence, Arrowhead Manor allows for cannabis consumption on-site, so feel free to book that budtender and stock up your cannabis bar!
Venue rentals start at $2,000, including overnight room stays.
The International Church of Cannabis, Denver, CO
This one is for the real cannabis enthusiast. The International Church of Cannabis is now booking cannabis-friendly weddings because…of course they are! This church is what cannabis dreams are made of. The walls are painted floor to ceiling with bright murals, a modern take on stoner cultures of the past.
If you love cannabis, have that ring on your finger and are ready to go, your timing couldn’t be better. The International Church of Cannabis is giving away a free wedding venue rental!
Already have the perfect venue but still want to incorporate cannabis into your wedding? You can book a cannabis-friendly limo service to drive your guests around! The “limo law” in states allow for consumption inside the vehicle. Keep in mind you will, of course, need to be in a legal cannabis state for these services.