Cannabis Law Prof Blog

Editor: Franklin G. Snyder
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A conversation with a Dallas Police Department Sergeant

Lary Nichols is currently a Sergeant of the Dallas Police Department. Nichols, like his father and grandfather before him, was born and has lived his entire life in Dallas, Texas. He attended Lake Highland high school and had a part-time job selling cars at his father’s used car lot. Marijuana blog police

After high school, he headed to boot camp to join the Marine Corps. Because his goal had always been to become a Dallas police officer, Nichols joined the Marine’s military police to gain the necessary experience. After four years of service, Nichols left the Marines to pursue his dream. But unlike today’s standards—where recruits need to either have earned a minimum of 45 hours of college credit or have 3 years of military experience—DPD strictly required the minimum college credit then. Thus, Nichols took the requisite courses at El Centro, Dallas’s County Community College, before being admitted into Dallas’s police academy in 1992.

Upon graduation, Nichols worked full-time patrolling Southeast Dallas, until he was promoted to Senior Corporal in 1997. There, he worked with Dallas’s K-9 Unit for three years until he returned back to patrol. After four years, Nichols was promoted to Sergeant in 2004. As Sergeant, Nichols was placed in charge of one Dallas SWAT unit and has played a pivotal role in organizing the city’s security measures for large events such as marathons and protests. Currently, DPD is considering promoting Sergeant Nichols again, this time to Lieutenant.

Sergeant Nichols has been married since 1988, and has two children. His son recently graduated from Dallas’s police academy this year, following in his father’s footsteps; his daughter graduated from Texas A&M and is currently attending nursing school in Dallas.   

Q: What training regarding marijuana detection and how to handle situations involving marijuana have you experienced?

A: In 1992, when I was in the academy, they had a narcotics officer come in and teach various things about the drugs we should expect to confront on the street. This included street names, what to look for; they also did something called a “controlled burn,” which is where they burned DEA-grade marijuana, so we could recognize the smell and be better equipped to testify about it in court if we made a traffic stop and we smelt marijuana. But I think that practice ended because now everyone knows what it smells like; plus, your trainer will say “Hey, that’s marijuana” while on the street. This was followed by update-training every few years. I’ve had some outside narcotics training, which consisted of either eight or forty-hour courses to improve narcotic detection and intervention. But most of my experience has come from making arrests and testifying in court.

Q: Do you believe that the methods currently used to detect whether someone is high on marijuana are effective?

A: I don’t think enough. Although there’s a lot of training to detect people high on marijuana, there probably isn’t enough to be adequate.

Q: Would you be open to police departments adopting a marijuana breathalyzer that would measure a person’s current level of THC?

A: Yes, I would. I think that would be a great tool. Especially as we move towards more states legalizing marijuana, law enforcement needs an effective method, similar to a BAC breathalyzer, to detect whether someone is operating a vehicle under the influence.

Q: What problems do you personally perceive regarding people using marijuana?

A: I actually think the use of marijuana is less problematic than alcohol. People don’t smoke weed and go beat their wives, but they do that with alcohol. But some problems associated with marijuana are long-term. The health effects are probably worse for you than smoking cigarettes; obviously there are cancer concerns. Also, marijuana tends to dull people’s initiative and motivation. From my high school experience, there were those stoner friends who smoked a lot of weed; they weren’t go-getters. Especially if people smoke too much. Overall, I believe the health effects and dulling of people’s initiative and ambition are the biggest problems. Also, people think they can smoke and then drive, but they can’t. Their reaction times are slow; their judgement is impaired. So that’s another large issue.

Q: Do you believe marijuana is a “gateway drug?”

A: I do; especially for younger people. It’s a way for them to start using illegal drugs. They feel like “Oh, I can smoke marijuana and go to school and then wake up the next day and feel fine? Well, maybe I can do this cocaine and pills too.” Adults though have a little more maturity. Similar to having a drinking age of 21, once people are more mature they realize “Yeah, I can smoke weed, but I’m not going to jump to heroin.” But I do believe it is a gateway drug for the more vulnerable population and younger people to lead them to more addictive drugs.

Q: Do you believe marijuana should be legal in any form? Explain.

A: We spend a lot of resources and a lot of money in the criminal justice system and law enforcement on enforcing marijuana laws. But I think that money could be spent better elsewhere. I think alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. So personally, I’m not opposed to legalizing it. But the problem I have is kids getting a hold of it. I know that’s a big problem in states that have already done so. Similar to getting older people to buy you beer here. I think marijuana is extremely detrimental to the young population. I’ve seen studies where it affects their mental and physical development. So, if it is legalized, it needs to be strictly controlled. I’m not opposed to it, and I think it will be legalized eventually because it doesn’t make sense all the time, effort, and money being spent putting people in jail. We are slowly reducing the penalties and enforcement of it. We should stop beating around the bush and just legalize, regulate, and tax it. We always talk about personal freedoms, well people should be free to do what they want. You can have an abortion and kill a baby, but you can’t smoke a joint in your own house. I think it’s kind of hypocritical; it’s similar to prohibition in the 1920s, which didn’t work at all.

Q: Do you believe your job would be easier if marijuana was legal for adults 21 and older?

A: There’s a catch 22 about that. Law enforcement would spend less time bringing people to jail for marijuana offenses, but there would be more people under the influence causing problems, so I don’t know if it would make our job that much easier. We would still have people driving impaired and stealing to get more marijuana. Especially initially after legalization, I believe there would be a lot more people using it, because believe it or not, there are people who refrain from smoking because it is illegal.

Q: In a given week, how many of your on-duty calls had some relation to marijuana?

A: I’m not in patrol right now, but back in the 1990s in Southeast Dallas, I would say probably 60-70% of what I did there involved some aspect of marijuana. Whether it was present, they were using it, or they were under the influence. So, it was consistently prevalent throughout my time patrolling.

Q: Do you believe marijuana enforcement has disproportionately impacted African Americans?

A: It probably does in a way, but ultimately, I believe it disproportionately impacts lower socioeconomic groups. Poorer people don’t tend to have private places to smoke, so they drive around or smoke in public place like the streets or in parks. This leaves them more vulnerable to getting caught by us. Whereas, someone with means and wealth will have a house or other place they can smoke where law enforcement won’t be able to catch them. Unfortunately, this is true for law enforcement in a lot of regards, not just marijuana.

Q: Which do you believe is more dangerous: marijuana or alcohol consumption?

A: In my experience, it’s clearly alcohol. If you look at traffic accidents, domestic violence, or other violent crimes, a lot of them involve alcohol abuse. Alcohol, especially in the short term, is worse. I don’t know if we have sufficiently studied the health effects of marijuana for the long term. I’ve heard there are things in marijuana that cause cancer, worse than in cigarettes.

Q: How do you think your job will be affected if marijuana is nationally legalized?

A: I think it will be a mixed bag. There will be some things that will be easier, some harder. Obviously, we will have more people using it, initially at least. But hopefully there will be more people using it responsibly. I think it will be a learning curve; I’m interested to learn from law enforcement in the legalized states on how they are dealing with these issues.

November 9, 2017 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Wildfires in California expose the Vulnerability of the State’s Marijuana Industry

The devastating fires in California this month shed a spotlight on the lack of insurance coverage the marijuana industry receives. Because marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Marijuana FireAct, it is almost impossible for farmers to insure the plant. The Cannabist reports that marijuana’s federally illegal status:

makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most of the marijuana businesses affected by those disasters to access crop insurance, emergency bank loans, and disaster relief assistance available to other agriculture sectors.

Meanwhile, marijuana’s legal limbo has also scared away many major insurance companies from offering their services to the cannabis industry. For instance, Lloyd’s of London, a giant in the specialty insurance and reinsurance market, stopped insuring all cannabis operations in 2015, “unless and until the sale of either medicinal or recreational marijuana is formally recognized by the Federal government as legal.”

During the month of October, the fires destroyed at least 34 marijuana farms, burning thousands of acres of land on which
the marijuana was growing. Unfortunately, the farmers that own this land have been left with almost no recourse due to the preventative federal laws, despite the fact that many of the farmers have spent thousands of dollars to ensure compliance with state law.

Last week, California’s state insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, encouraged commercial insurance companies to insure marijuana businesses that are in compliance with state law, reasoning that “it’s [their] job as state officials “to make sure [they] successfully implement the legalization of cannabis.” It remains to be seen whether any insurance companies will accept his pleas, but Jones’s efforts have come too late for farmers in the current predicament.

Given the uncertain future of insurance for marijuana and marijuana related businesses, California may be able to take a note from Colorado in order to partially protect the industry from natural disasters in the future. Gerry Jones and Mark McNeely, employees of Cannabis Insurance Solutions in Denver, explained that although outdoor agricultural programs are federally insured and back, there is some leeway when it comes to indoor agricultural programs.

You have crop insurance and general liability for the building and professional liability for the people who come in and spray the crops and those kind of things. So the full gamut of coverages any other businesses would have access to," Jones said.

In Colorado, all dispensaries and cultivation operations are licensed with the state, which provides additional funding. Therefore, a business is covered if it is destroyed by a natural disaster, as long as the business is insured. It may be worth it for California to take a look at this indoor-farm workaround as a way to recoup some losses in the case of a future natural disaster, at least until there is a response from the insurance industry after the requests made by Commissioner Jones.

--Taylor Wood

November 7, 2017 in Business, Taxation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marijuana’s Positive Effects on Painkiller Use

According to The Washington Post, a recently-published study in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that the Marijuana-vs-pillslegalization of marijuana in Colorado has reversed the trend of increasing deaths caused by Opioid overdose in the state:

While numerous studies have shown an association between medical marijuana legalization and opioid overdose deaths, this report is one of the first to look at the impact of recreational marijuana laws on opioid deaths.

Marijuana is often highly effective at treating the same types of chronic pain that patients are often prescribed opiates for. Given the choice between marijuana and opiates, many patients appear to be opting for the former.

. . .

Overall, after controlling for both medical marijuana and the prescription-drug-monitoring change, the study found that after Colorado implemented its recreational marijuana law, opioid deaths fell by 6.5 percent in the following two years.

The study was conducted over a two-year period after recreational marijuana retailers began operating in Colorado in 2014. Although the study is only preliminary, the results demonstrate that marijuana may be a safer alternative to other pain-relieving drugs that can result in fatal overdose. Opioid-related deaths steadily rose in Colorado since 2000 until the sale of recreational marijuana began in 2014.

Although the correlation is worth looking into—as the fate of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act is being heavily debated—it is important to note that the study does not guarantee the decrease in opioid-related deaths is caused by the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state. The authors also cautioned that “while legal marijuana may reduce opioid deaths it could also be increasing fatalities elsewhere — on Colorado's roads, for instance.” Still, given the positive outlook, states and the federal government should devote more resources to researching marijuana’s positive effects as opposed to other drugs. Hey, even Jeff Sessions somewhat agrees.

 

--Taylor Wood

November 7, 2017 in Medical Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

'Halloweed' Candy: scare tactic or real danger?

Weed halloween candy

Since marijuana was legalized in 2012, a running joke depicting strangers slipping marijuana-infused candy to young trick-or-treaters continues to be told. But proponents of legalization are expressing their frustration with such myths. They insist that there has been zero evidence of this ever happening and argue that opponents of legalization use this as a scare tactic to prevent legalizing marijuana. The Associated Press for Snopes reports: 

Advocates say marijuana candy has seemingly become the new “razor blades in the apples” Halloween urban myth, with police around the country sharing the message despite the lack of any known cases.

 

Sharon Lauchaire, a spokeswoman for the [New Jersey] attorney general, said there have been “several instances” in the state and elsewhere of children becoming ill after eating edible marijuana. She declined to respond to follow-up questions to cite specific cases and evidence of anyone doing this on Halloween.

Although politicians and law enforcement officials are unable to cite instances of strangers preying on innocent children, they maintain that such warnings are still necessary. Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Ocean County, New Jersey, admitted that the likelihood of a stranger giving a trick-or-treater marijuana-infused candy is "very slim." But he insists that the official warning to "check your kids' candy[.] If something's not in a manufacturer's wrapper...throw it out" remains warranted.

Such concerns are exacerbated by the extreme similarities between marijuana edibles and regular candy. Bill Brothers, owner of the Encanto Greens Dispensary in Arizona, admits that he probably could not tell the difference between marijuana gummy bears and regular ones if they were side by side. Brothers also believes that these 'Halloweed' fears could be relieved if the marijuana industry improved the labeling of its edibles. For example, the industry could increase the size of any marijuana-related words on the packaging and stop designing the wrapping like candy wrappers. 

Finally, anti-legalization activists cite hundreds of childhood marijuana exposures each year. German Lopez of Vox reports on why opponents of legalization insist on such warnings:

[Children being exposed to marijuana-infused candy is] an ongoing concern no matter what day of the year it is. Halloween is the unofficial candy holiday, so people should take extra precautions even if the October 31sts of the past haven’t shown up anything yet.

If parents of young trick-or-treaters are still worried about strangers using their expensive edibles to poison children, they should take solace in the fact that there has never been a confirmed case of someone dying from an overdose of marijuana. Further, the only known case of a child dying from poisoned candy occurred in 1974 when the culprit was none other than the child's own father.

 

--Zachary Ford

 

November 1, 2017 in Drug Policy, Edibles, Law Enforcement, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Marijuana breathalyzers may soon revolutionize how law enforcement detects impaired drivers

Houndlab2Proponents for legalizing marijuana often argue that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and thus should be similarly regulated. But opponents have maintained a strong rebuttal: law enforcement is unable to detect with certainty whether people are impaired enough that they cannot safely operate a vehicle. But a company called Hound Labs is currently developing a solution to this problem: a marijuana breathalyzer. Lauren Silverman of Marketplace reports: 

The Hound device is a small, black breathalyzer that has a tube sticking out of it — you blow through it a few times, and... it’s able to analyze and detect the amount of THC in someone’s breath in minutes.

If Hound Labs is successful, this will revolutionize law enforcement's strategy for cracking down on impaired drivers, regardless of whether the state has legalized marijuana in some form. Currently, standard breathalyzers cannot detect marijuana, and urine and blood tests are not sophisticated enough to show whether someone consumed marijuana minutes or weeks ago. Further, results of such tests can take days or weeks to confirm through lab tests.

This current time delay is problematic because law enforcement officers want to prevent actually-stoned people from operating vehicles, not those who may have consumed the drug weeks ago. The Hound product solves this problem by recording the person's current level of THC within minutes. The company explains the effectiveness of this method through research showing "the level of THC in someone's breath rises right after smoking, and then trails off after a few hours."

Although police officers have shown an interest in such a marijuana breathalyzer, some are still concerned because they measure an amount, not a behavior. Sergeant Marc Vincent, a Drug Recognition Expert in Texas, voiced his concerns:

“Just because there’s marijuana [in their breath] — I need to be able to show, prove impairment that they can’t safely operate a vehicle[.]” 

While some legalized states like Colorado and Montana have determined the limit for marijuana impairment as five nanograms of THC in blood, scientists still disagree on what amount indicates someone is too impaired to safely operate a vehicle. This causes a problem for companies like Hound Labs because law enforcement departments are unlikely to purchase marijuana breathalyzers until a reliable measuring-system standard is in place. 

 --Zachary Ford

 

October 30, 2017 in Drug Policy, Law Enforcement, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Yorkers seek to legalize marijuana through a state constitutional convention

Weed Blog post 5

Some New York citizens are attempting to hold a state referendum to convene a state constitutional convention. They hope to accomplish state-goals like dismantling campaign finance laws, enacting term limits, and ending gerrymandering. But other supporters are seeking a state constitutional convention for a very different reason: the legalization of adult-use marijuana. Tom Precious of The Buffalo News reports:

Stymied in their efforts to get the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to go along with their idea, these advocates see a convention of delegates brought together to consider changes to the constitution as a means to loosen marijuana laws.

It's not an easy sell. Nowhere on the statewide ballot is there any guarantee that any issue, whether it’s marijuana or anti-corruption ideas, would even be considered in a convention…. Recent polls reveal that 49 percent of New Yorkers support adult-use legalization of marijuana, compared to the 47 percent who remain opposed.

This referendum, known as Proposal 1, is seeking support from left-leaning citizens like proponents of Senator Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter. Such support is crucial because of the appeal that a constitutional convention could lead to sweeping changes in the law which would create more equal opportunities and treatment for the state's citizens.

Surprisingly, this effort is not inducing the support of pro-legalization groups like the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. These groups are hesitant to support Proposal 1 because of their alliances on broader policy agendas with various groups that actively oppose the referendum.

Opponents of Proposal 1 fear the uncertain outcomes that could result from a constitutional convention—the United States last held one in 1787, and it led to the creation of an entirely new constitution. And while voters in New York consider whether to hold a state convention every twenty-years, the last one actually held was in 1968 and produced no changes to the state's constitution. 

Another problem facing proponents of a state constitutional convention involves being badly outspent by their opponents:

[T]he one anti-Proposal 1 group, funded almost exclusively by an array of labor unions, has raised $1.5 million for its campaign to stop the convention. Four main groups backing the convention question have brought in under $400,000.

Meanwhile, pro-legalization supporters have raised less than $150,000 and spent just $9,700 in campaign expenditures since July. Raising money has proven difficult for supporters due to the overwhelming union opposition and the difficulty in convincing potential donors that the marijuana issue would even be decided if a convention was held. 

Labor unions maintain a firm opposition to Proposal 1 because of the possibility that it would strip away hard-won rights, like collective bargaining. Nick Reisman of Spectrum Local News asked New York's AFL-CIO President Mario Cliento his take on Proposal 1:

“With those strong labor protections comes a way of life. We want to be able to protect what we have for ourselves and our families well into the future and that's why the labor movement in this state is so adamantly opposed to a constitutional convention[.]”

While every state that has legalized adult-use marijuana has done so through legislation, some citizens in New York have grown impatient with their state's legislature and thus are pursuing legalization through a different avenue. But this road to legalization contains many uncertainties— the most prevalent being whether the marijuana issue will even be raised if a convention is held.

--Zachary Ford

 

October 24, 2017 in Drug Policy, Legislation, Local Regulation, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Does the Legalization of Marijuana Actually Increase Property Values?

Despite worries that an increase in dispensaries would decrease the value of the homes nearby, there seems
 to be an opposite effect.
Reporting on a recently released study by researchers at University of Wisconsin Madison and California State University Sacramento, Colorado Springs Independent revealed that the prices of homes in Denver increased in 2014 after Colorado’s Amendment 64 was passed, which legalized recreational marijuana: Home Prices

In particular, the report found that single-family residences within .1 mile[s] of [recreational dispensaries that were newly converted from medical dispensaries] increased in value by over 8 percent more relative to comparable properties farther away (between .1 and .25 mile away) over that year. That’s an average of almost $27,000 in added value, whereas homes more than .1 mile away from a [dispensary] weren’t impacted.

Although great news for Denver, and possibly an incentive for legalization in other states that are debating on whether to legalize the drug, researchers also caution that that the increase in property values could also be due to other factors such as “a surge in housing demand spurred by marijuana-related employment growth, lower crime rates, and additional amenities locat[ed] in close proximity to retail conversions.” Nonetheless, all of these changes were related, at least in part, to Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana.

These findings are in stark opposition to concerns voiced by opponents of legalizing marijuana, who have constantly cited increasing crime rates and decreasing property values as an anticipated result of legalization. And while the study was fairly small, another study in 2016 by researchers at the University of Mississippi found similar, positive results. The study found that in municipalities that passed ordinances to allow for the sale of marijuana in response to Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012, those municipalities experienced a 6% increase in housing values on average. Both studies even went as far as to consider retail dispensaries as amenities that could be included in the estimation of property values.

With the increase in the number of states legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana, we will soon be able to determine whether the effect of increasing property values is a trend among these states or only a stroke of luck for Colorado.

--Taylor Wood

October 18, 2017 in Finance, Medical Marijuana, Recreational Marijuana, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Former Regan-Era Official Disagrees with Trump and Sessions’ Stance on Marijuana

 FeinEver since being appointed by President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has clearly stated his opposition to the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment (RMMA.) Essentially, the RMMA would protect states that have legalized medicinal marijuana from any federal intrusion. However, former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein (whom was appointed during the Ronald Regan Administration) has recently voiced his regarding Trump and Session’s hypocrisy.

Fein accuses both Trump and Sessions of hypocrisy for their opposition to the amendment. He points out that Trump promised to “make medical marijuana widely available to patients, and allow states to decide if they want to fully legalize pot or not," while on the campaign trail in 2016. And he notes that as a senator, Sessions repeatedly opposed the federal government intervening in states' rights on issues such as voting rights and immigration, and as Attorney General has instructed the Department of Justice to institute less oversight of local police departments.

In Former Justice Department Official Under Reagan Says Jeff Sessions Is Wrong on Marijuana, writer Joseph Misulonas goes onto critique portions of Fein’s argument.

While Fein makes excellent points in those regards, his op-ed also delves a bit too much into hyperbole. He says that every dollar spent on investigating medical marijuana is a dollar not being spent on national security, which is true. But then he writes, "Every federal dollar expended investigating or prosecuting medical marijuana businesses is a dollar unavailable to detect and prosecute international or home-grown terrorists.  In other words, to oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations."

Unattenuated terrorism arguments aside, Fein’s criticism of the Trump administration seems a bit counterintuitive. Despite Regan’s infamous “Just say No” program and the everlasting war on drugs, it appears former Regan appointees are beginning to turn the corner on their views regarding medical marijuana. More importantly, Trump and Session’s response to such criticism will likely speak volumes on how the Trump administration will view medical marijuana differently from previous GOP-backed administrations.

October 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Las Vegas Dispensaries Struggle to Meet Tourists’ Demand

Essence-stripLas Vegas Dispensaries Struggle to Meet Tourists’ Demand

              Marijuana dispensaries for adult use have been operating throughout Nevada since July 1rst of this year. According to the Nevada Department of taxation, Marijuana sales have generated over $3.6 million in taxes during July month alone. Tax officials estimate that Nevada can generate up to $120 million in revenue by July of 2019.  As expected, the immense tourism industry in Nevada has largely played a role in the massive economic success surrounding the legalization of adult use. However, with success comes new problems.

The biggest challenge many dispensaries are facing right now is a supply shortage. Dispensary employees are essentially waiting for marijuana plants to grow, so they can re-stock their shelves with fresh product.

According to Stacy Castillo, the General Operation Manager at MYNT Cannabis dispensaries:

"A lot of companies are having an issue with just being able to create production products because there's not a lot of source flower out there; so a lot of companies are moving in the direction of creating more square footage so they can create more grow space and creating more product; so that's why if we do experience any kind of delay in product it's because we're waiting for the product to be made."

              But never fear, hopeful Nevada tourists! According to 3 Months into Recreational Marijuana Sales, Nevada Dispensaries Experience Pot Shortages by Olivia DeGennaro, there have been no reports of any Nevada-based dispensaries completely running out of marijuana and marijuana derivatives. Rather, dispensaries have been reported to have run out of select products. An additional problem Nevada-based dispensaries face in meeting demand is the legal battle of the distribution right of products intended for adult use. As the adult use market continues to thrive thanks to the tourism industry, representatives from established cannabis business like Castillo will continue to push for fully integrated dispensaries. By allowing full integration, dispensaries will be able to distribute marijuana products in a more cost-effective manner. In theory, these savings will be passed on to consumer (mainly tourists) which will thus continue to give Nevada a competitive edge in the tourism industry.

October 16, 2017 in Business, Local Regulation, Taxation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Atlanta Unanimously Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Atlanta pot blogAtlanta has joined a host of cities and states throughout the country which have drastically reduced the penalties for marijuana possession that the federal government established decades ago. Atlanta's unanimous decision to decriminalize marijuana possession has inspired legalization advocates nationwide due to its breaking away from both the federal government and the state its located in. Carl Willis of WSB-TV reports the impact of Atlanta's new law:

The current law allows for a penalty of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for anyone caught in possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. The new legislation would lower that to just a $75 ticket and no jail time.

Councilman Kwanza Hall proposed this legislation during his current run for Atlanta's mayor. State Senator Vincent Fort, another candidate for mayor, also supported Hall's decriminalization efforts. They have both stated their motivation behind their efforts involves how the former law unfairly punished African-Americans.

Citing studies that show whites and blacks use marijuana at virtually the same rate, they reveal that 92 percent of Atlanta's arrests for marijuana possession under an ounce are African-American. 

Stanley Atkins, an Atlanta citizen, supports the new law because a marijuana arrest as a teenager caused him to lose his employment. Atkins explains how the former law ruined lives:

"I have associates who have completely lost jobs. They've lost careers. I know students that have lost scholarships," Atkins said. "That cancels an internship, which later on cancels a potential job opening."

Opponents of the ordinance fear that removing jail time from marijuana possession offenses will be a disservice to young people because "it could encourage them to take more risks with marijuana, which some consider to be a gateway to harder drugs."

Another worry stems from increased driving fatalities. Police believe this law will "contribute to an increased possibility of folks driving under the influence of marijuana."

While this may be a big step towards Georgia pursuing similar laws statewide, the new city ordinance does not supersede state law. Thus, Georgia could withhold funding or send in state police to compel Atlanta to adhere to its state's law, if it so chooses.

Alternatively, Atlanta's Chief of Police could ignore the ordinance and continue making marijuana possession arrests. However, State Senator Hall believes this is an unlikely outcome due to police desiring stronger community relations. And when a community unanimously passes such legislation, Atlanta's police may find itself reluctant to go against the public's wishes.

 

--Zachary Ford

 

October 8, 2017 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Local Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Will Hemp Soon be Excluded from the Controlled Substances Act?

Industrial HempWill 2017 be the year for hemp? Congress may open up the doors to the cultivation of hemp in the United States very soon, according to independent news provider Truthout who reported that:

Industry advocates have spent years lobbying Congress for a bill which would completely legalize industrial hemp and remove it from Drug Enforcement Agency oversight and interference. Though deeply flawed in its current form, there's hope that the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, currently making its way through Congress, could be an important step in that direction.

Although the Farm Bill of 2014 allowed the cultivation of hemp to resume for the first time since the early 1900s, the bill was very narrow in that it only legalized the growth of industrial hemp for purposes of research and development and only in states that regulated the crop. Currently, there is little clarity on what is considered to be Farm Bill compliant, in part due to the bill’s conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Furthermore, the bill is set to sunset in 2018 and there is no guarantee that the new bill will include the same provisions that narrowly allow for the cultivation of hemp. If passed, the recently proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 would make these issues moot.

Under the proposed Act, industrial hemp would be specifically excluded from the definition of marihuana under the CSA. Explicit exclusion of hemp from the CSA would allow cultivators to grow the crop without worrying whether they were completely compliant with the DEA requirements for growing the plant because hemp would then be out of the DEA’s purview. Permitting nation-wide cultivation would allow the U.S. to cash in on the cash crop. Even the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has referred to hemp as an agricultural commodity. A CRS report issued in March of this year estimated that the U.S. spent over $78 million in 2015 importing hemp and hemp products. Given the various goods that hemp can be used to create, cultivation of the crop in the U.S. could prove to be very profitable if the country can just get past the legislative hurdles.

 

--Taylor Wood

October 4, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Canada's Cannabis College

Niagara College in Ontario, Canada will begin offering post-secondary certificates in commercial marijuana production starting in the fall of 2018. Niagara College claims to be the first to launch this type of graduate program. Global News reported that: Niagara College Canada

It will be open to those with a diploma or degree in agribusiness, agricultural science, environmental science/resource studies, horticulture or natural sciences, or an acceptable combination of education and experience.

The college’s president, Dan Patterson, says the program is meant to address a growing labour market need in the wake of legislative changes in Canada and abroad.

The one-year program will be run by Niagara College's School of Environment and Horticulture and students will learn about the biological, regulatory, and operational aspects of licensed commercial marijuana production. In deciding to implement the program, Patterson cited an emerging need in the market and Niagara College's ability to respond to that need, while at the same time equipping its skilled agricultural students with valuable experience that will benefit the students in a rapidly evolving market. 

Niagara College's new program may serve as an example for schools in the US, which may be missing the boat to pioneer programs in marijuana at the college and university level. Although schools like the University of California San Diego, the University of Mississippi, the University of Colorado, and Louisiana State University are involved with the research of marijuana, it doesn't appear that any universities in the US have programs that teach how to successfully and legally (under state law) produce or distribute the drug. 

 

--Taylor Wood

September 28, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Boston potentially breaking into the marijuana scene with a 'Puff Bus'

   
Weed bus    Marijuana advocates continue to develop new and exciting
ways to partake in the booming business of marijuana consumption. Loopr, a Denver-based marijuana party bus company, plans to create another "green line" in Massachusetts' transit economy. But instead of a green line focusing on transporting passengers via the subway, Denver's 'Puff Bus' will provide passengers a fun transportation experience largely revolved around marijuana consumption. Alban Murtishi of MassLive.com reports: 

 

Loopr allows patrons to consume various forms of marijuana while riding on a bus through downtown Denver. The bus route stops at restaurants, hotels, nightspots and marijuana dispensaries.

 

According to the company, the Loopr vehicles, called Puff Buses, offer dazzling multimedia experiences with curated music and light shows.

 

Riders are allowed to smoke or consume marijuana in the back partition of the bus. The bus comes equipped with several different smoking implements, such as water pipes, vaporizers and hookahs.

 

The company doesn't sell marijuana, but partners with different dispensaries to get riders discounts.

 

While at first glance the 'Puff Bus' sounds like a fun experience, the potential legal hurdles will likely hinder its operation. Although party buses involving alcohol consumption are quite common in America, there are many differences concerning marijuana and alcohol, especially pertaining to their legal statuses and effects on third persons.

 

The obvious concern is how the federal government will react to such a company. Loopr supporters will point to the federal government's lack of enforcing its marijuana ban on Loopr's current business model in Denver, Colorado. Supporters will argue that the states should retain their autonomy and decide for themselves if they want to enact the appropriate legislation to permit such a mobile-marijuana-consumption company.

 

Opponents of legalization will face a tough battle if they depend on federal enforcement. It has been 5 years since Colorado first legalized marijuana, and the federal government has not shown an intent to fully enforce its ban, instead requesting legalized states to follow certain priorities.

 

However, a strong argument against Loopr involves public safety. Unlike alcohol, marijuana use has a noted effect on those around it, even if they don't personally consume the drug. Opponents can argue that the bus driver will be affected by the rampant marijuana consumption in a small and enclosed bus, thus impairing the driver and creating an unsafe environment for fellow commuters on the road.

 

Opponents can bolster this argument by referring to one of the federal government's listed priorities from the 2013 Cole II memo: To prevent drugged driving and exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences. 

 

Ultimately, until the federal government clarifies the national law or decides to enforce the current ban, legalized adult-use states like Massachusetts will issue the final decision on whether to legalize businesses such as Loopr.

 

--Zachary Ford

September 26, 2017 in Business, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Jeff Sessions Slams Marijuana Legalization . . . Again

MarijuanaThe nation’s top law enforcer continues to speak out against marijuana legalization. In Tom Angell’s September 20 article for Forbes, Sessions is quoted as saying:

“It doesn’t strike me that the country would be better if it’s being sold on every street corner. We do know that legalization results in greater use.”

But his opinion may be the result of misinformation. Sessions must not have read Angell’s September 14 article titled Study: Rise in Marijuana use not Caused by Legalization, in which Angell discusses the conclusion of a recently published study in the journal Addiction. The study found that:

“Medical and recreational marijuana policies did not have any significant association with increased marijuana use. Marijuana policy liberalization over the past 20 years has certainly been associated with increased marijuana use; however, policy changes appear to have occurred in response to changing attitudes within states and to have effects on attitudes and behaviors more generally in the U.S.”

So, contrary to Sessions’ assertion, the study shows that an increased use of marijuana has resulted in legalization, rather than that marijuana legalization has resulted in increased use. Which makes perfect sense, being that the United States is a democracy comprised of state governments that are beholden to their citizenry.

The federal government may not be able to justify its anti-marijuana position for much longer. But at this point it doesn’t seem like the Attorney General will have much of a hand in effecting change at that level.

--Buds of Steel

September 21, 2017 in Federal Regulation, Medical Marijuana, News, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Are Texans Ready for Marijuana Legalization?

Texas Flag Weed LeafMarijuana legalization seemed like a pipe dream for its Texas proponents until passage of the Texas Compassionate Use Act in 2015. And in June 2017, Texas issued the first licenses to retailers for the sale of marijuana-based products. DPS awarded three companies licenses to produce, process, and dispense cannabidiol oil. CBD, unlike THC, is a nonpsychoactive molecule approved in Texas for the treatment of seizures associated with intractable epilepsy. Until recently, only the licensed dispensaries could legally cultivate small quantities of marijuana solely for the purpose of procuring CBD.

But according to Star-Telegram author Anna Tinsley, any day now medical marijuana will legally start to grow on a much larger scale in Texas. The state’s first license went to Cansortium Texas, which owns the only 10-acre parcel of land currently approved for marijuana cultivation.

Braden Maccke—an author with the Austin Chronicle—also thinks that Texas’ marijuana policy may be progressing quicker than expected. In his May 12 article, Maccke discussed the circumstances surrounding HB 2107, which died before it could hit the full House floor. The bill was written to remove THC restrictions, turn "low THC" marijuana into "medicinal marijuana," and expand the list of conditions for which cannabis can be used legally with a doctor's recommendation, removing language requiring it to be "prescribed.” The bill had tons of bipartisan driven momentum on its way to the House, with 77 sponsors and co-sponsors, including 29 Republicans. Despite the unfortunate result of HB 2107, Maccke believes that future similar legislation is destined to pass congressional muster. 

A recent poll shows that over 80% of Texans support medical cannabis. And 53% of Texans support full adult legalization, while only 17% oppose possession of any kind.

Texas seems to be trending in the right direction. When state legislation begins to diverge from the ideology of those subject to it, change is inevitable. Governor Abbott has been adamant that low-THC, high-CBD marijuana for the treatment of epilepsy is as far as Texas will take it….”at this stage.” So even the Republican former state attorney general realizes the potential for Texas to eventually follow the lead of 29 other states and Washington DC. Texas’ early reluctance might even prove to be beneficial, giving legislators time to analyze market data from the “marijuana states” and learn from both their mistakes and accomplishments.

--Buds of Steel

September 20, 2017 in Medical Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

GOP Senator Hatch "rolls out" new bill addressing potential medicinal benefits of marijuana

 

OrrinHatchGOP Senator Orrin Hatch addressed the members of the Senate on Wednesday, urging them to recognize the potential
medicinal benefits of marijuana. Hatch's bill, the Marijuana Effective Drug Study (MEDS) Act of 2017 aims to remove the
regulatory barriers that have significantly impeded scientific research on the possible benefits of marijuana. Marijuana, currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance with no current accepted medical value, has not yet been given proper attention by the medical and scientific communities due to the enormous hurdles researchers must clear in order to comply with federal regulations associated with studying the drug. In order to conduct clinical research on marijuana, researchers must obtain a DEA license and FDA approval. However, what has proved to be most difficult to obtain is research-grade marijuana that can only be sought from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 

In his speech to the Senate, Hatch, a devout Mormon from Utah, maintained his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana while emphasizing the need for legitimate medical and scientific research of the drug, recognizing that what little research available has provided evidence of its potential benefits. If passed, Hatch's MEDS bill would require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop and publish recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research. Fortune contributor Kirsten Korosec, provides excerpts of the Senator's remarks in her article

It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana. Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.

It will surprise no one that I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana. I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis. While I certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can truly change people’s lives for the better. And I believe, Mr. President, that we would be remiss if we threw out the baby with the bathwater.

We lack the science to support use of medical marijuana products like CBD oils not because researchers are unwilling to do the work, but because of bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation. Under current law, those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact with several federal agencies. These regulatory acrobatics can take researchers over a year, if not more, to complete. And the longer researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer.

Certainly, as Senator Hatch points out, allowing easier access to research the medical and scientific benefits of marijuana could potentially help many patients suffering from epileptic seizures, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and many other life altering illnesses. Additionally, Korosec also mentions in her article that this legislation comes in the midst of a nationwide opioid epidemic. Of the 52,000 recorded drug overdoses in the United States in 2015, nearly two-thirds were opioid related deaths. Moreover, in January 2017, the Veterans Health Administration reported that approximately 68,000 veterans suffered from opioid addiction. Hopefully, opening the doors to scientific and medical research of marijuana as an alternative to opioids could reduce these numbers in the future. 

September 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hawaii Dispensaries to Go Cashless

CanPay

Although Hawaii has struggled to legalize marijuana for adult use, it is ahead of the game when it comes to paying for medical marijuana. According to KATU, this week Hawaii announced that its dispensaries would start using the mobile debit app, CanPay, as a payment method for purchasing marijuana. 

In an effort to prevent robberies and other crimes targeting dispensaries, state leaders announced Tuesday that a cashless payment system will be implemented in October.

"This cash-free solution makes sense," said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. "It makes dispensaries' finances transparent."

The implementation of this method of payment will address a persistent concern coming from those opposed to marijuana legalization: safety. 

A cashless system would reduce, if not eliminate, the desirability of robbing marijuana dispensaries. The app is one method of payment, which can help to reduce the amount of cash on site at any given time. It should be noted, however, that although opponents of legalizing marijuana claim the presence of dispensaries increases crime, several other studies, like those reported in Civilized, The Cannifornian, and NY Daily News, have actually found the opposite.

While Hawaii has not gone completely cashless, it is unclear whether they will do so in the future. However, it may be preferable to use both payment methods in conjunction with one another. A mixed payment system could serve the needs of those who prefer to use cash due to information safety and privacy concerns, while also reducing the overall amount of cash kept in the retail shop throughout the day.

Furthermore, the CanPay payment app ensures that only legally compliant transactions are made using the app. According to CanPay, because it uses a Closed-Banking Feedback Loop, "only cannabis retailers working with financial institutions operating compliance programs built around the Cole Memo and FinCEN Guidance will be allowed to participate in the CanPay network." This compliance guarantee feature gives retailers a sense of financial security when deciding whether to accept the app as a payment method at their stores. 

CanPay is also currently available in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Florida, and Maine.

 

--Taylor Wood

September 16, 2017 in Banking, Business, Finance | Permalink | Comments (0)

What came first: the stoner or the law?

 Ever since the state-scale referendums in 2014 began legalizing adult use of marijuana, a
Weedcommon 
concern amongst opponents of marijuana legalization is the overall uptick in marijuana use that will stem from said legalization. Although marijuana use has increased since 2015, a new study from the Addiction journal rejects that the increase was caused by the increased legalization of marijuana and marijuana derivatives. Rather, an Addiction study found that a change in public opinion has led to a change in legislation, not the other way around. According to Tom Angell’s Study: Rise in Marijuana Use Not Caused by Legalization

Researchers at the Public Health Institute's Alcohol Research Group analyzed data from periodic National Alcohol Surveys and stacked its results on marijuana use against changes in state laws.

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have comprehensive legal medical cannabis programs, and eight states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults over 21 years of age.

They found that instead of being caused by policy changes, the rise in cannabis use was "primarily explained by period 

effects," meaning societal factors that affect populations across age and generational groups. The authors identify a decreasing disapproval of marijuana use as one such factor potentially at play.

But they are clear that the rise in use was not caused by changes to marijuana laws.

"The steep rise in marijuana use in the United States since 2005 occurred across the population and is attributable to general period effects not specifically linked to the liberalization of marijuana policies in some states," the paper's abstract says.

    Angell furthers his "chicken or the egg" argument by pointing to similar factors. For example: due to the growing acceptance of marijuana use by the public at large, coupled with the changes in regulation that reflect this acceptance, Angell believes that more people are simply willing to admit to using marijuana or marijuana derivatives. This logic leads Angell to believe that increased use and acceptance of marijuana has influenced recent legalization, rather than the other way around.

September 16, 2017 in Drug Policy, Legislation, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

The absence of medical marijuana in medical school

 

    Although medical marijuana is more accepted than ever before, that acceptance has not carried over to medical schools. Jim Dryden notes

  [ RMedicalMarijuanaesearchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis , led by first author Anastasia B. Evanoff, sent surveys to medical school curriculum deans at 172 medical schools in North America, including 31 that specialize in osteopathic medicine, and received 101 replies. Two-thirds (66.7 percent) reported that their graduates were not prepared to prescribe medical marijuana. A quarter of deans said their trainees weren’t even equipped to answer questions about medical marijuana.

The researchers also surveyed 258 residents and fellows who earned their medical degrees from schools around the country before coming to Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis to complete their training. Nearly 90 percent felt they weren’t prepared to prescribe medical marijuana, and 85 percent said they had not received any education about medical marijuana during their time at medical schools or in residency programs throughout the country.

    This research is particularly startling and shows a need for education. The number of states that have allowed medical marijuana allows their citizens freedom of choice. However, this choice is qualified if doctors do not have the necessary education and information to give their patients in order for them to make an informed decision. Moreover, a doctor may not know that marijuana is a viable solution to a patient's qualifying condition, thus limiting their access to a potentially life altering benefit. 

Read the entire article here

September 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Iowa Attorney General tells agency to halt part of Iowa's medical marijuana law

Iowa mari

In Iowa, elected executives are advising the State's Department of Public Health to refrain from corroborating with its neighboring states to obtain cannabis oil. Barbara Rodriguez reports on how the lack of federal enforcement is causing confusion among states concerning how to implement medical marijuana legislation, according to an article in The Des Moines Register:

 

An unusual attempt by Iowa to work with another state to transport medical marijuana oil across state lines is on hold amid legal concerns it could invite scrutiny from the federal government.

 

The Iowa Attorney General's office advised the Iowa Department of Public Health this month that it should not implement a small section in Iowa's new medical marijuana law that requires the state, before the end of the year, to license up to two "out-of-state" dispensaries from a bordering state. Those entities would have been expected to bring cannabis oil into Iowa in order to sell it.

 

That's considered illegal under federal law, which categorizes marijuana as a type of controlled substance that is prohibited from being moved across state lines. But during the final hours of the legislative session in April, some Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature suggested adding the language to open the door for a partnership with a neighboring state like Minnesota.

 

The development is not expected to impact other provisions in the law that call for establishing an in-state production system for cannabis oil by the end of 2018. Still, some GOP lawmakers expressed frustration with the news because the provision was also aimed at creating more immediate access to cannabis oil. Currently, Iowans have no way of getting the product within the state.

 

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, noted in a statement that no matter what the Legislature had decided, the state still would have been in violation of federal law.

 

"As I've said before, the federal government needs to act on this issue or let the states do their work," she said, adding, "The out-of-state distributors are the quickest way to supply sick Iowans with a product that doctors say could be beneficial. If that provision doesn't work out, then people will have to wait another year, and that's disappointing."

 

Possessing, manufacturing and selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law. In 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum offering assurance that states could proceed with medical marijuana programs without fear of federal prosecution, in part by avoiding agreements that would move marijuana from one state to another.

 

Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said in an email that if a state program authorizes or encourages diversion from one state to another, "it is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government." He said the halt on implementation should remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

 

The out-of-state dispensaries provision is tucked into the second-to-last page of a 20-page law, and is separate from requirements that Iowa license up to two cannabis oil manufacturers in Iowa and up to five dispensaries to sell it in-state. The oil would be supplied in Iowa by the end of 2018. Smoking marijuana remains prohibited.

 

 

Fear of federal enforcement against states who have legalized marijuana in some form is not new, but rather has steadily increased since the Trump administration assumed office in 2016. Although the Obama administration issued memorandums assuring states with medical marijuana regimes that they would be free from scrutiny if they followed certain standards, that may not be the case much longer. The United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, firmly believes marijuana is a dangerous drug and claims he will reconsider existing marijuana policies. 

 

Assuming nothing changes in President Trump's federal enforcement of marijuana, Iowa's proposal to work with neighboring states presents a potential problem, even under the Obama administration's prosecutorial guidelines. The Cole II Memo stated that states could avoid federal intervention of its medical marijuana regime if they followed eight federal priorities. The pertinent priority here being to prevent the diversion of marijuana from legal states to illegal ones.

 

While Iowa's proposal only includes corroborating with its direct neighbors who have also legalized medical marijuana, the transportation of marijuana products across state lines is considered interstate commerce, thus invoking Congress' authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

 

Therefore, Iowa's proposal not only clearly contradicts Congress' Controlled Substance Act, but may also trigger judicial review because Congress has clearly preempted the transfer of interstate marijuana. By proposing such a law, Iowa's legislature is inviting scrutiny from all three branches of government, something marijuana advocates attempt to avoid whenever possible. 

 

--Zachary Ford

September 16, 2017 in Legislation, Local Regulation, Medical Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)