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)

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)

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)

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)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

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)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Congressman: "We're completely on our asses" on marijuana

AaaRep. Tom Garrett (R-Va) wants Congress to get off its collective derrière and resolve the problem of marijuana legalization by turning it over to the states.  Earlier this year he introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (H.R. 1227), which would remove cannabis (both marijuana and hemp) from the Controlled Substances Act entirely and turn regulation over to the states.

It's basically the same bill that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) introduced a couple of years ago.  In a story on PJ MediaGOP Lawmaker on U.S. Pot Policy: ‘We’re Completely on Our Asses,’ he has some blunt words about why he favors the approach:

On Monday, Garrett doubled down on the legislation, explaining the reasons he supports state discretion over medical marijuana policy. After he outlined his reasoning to his constituents, Garrett said at the Cato Institute, “I didn’t have anyone vehemently opposed.”

 

The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, bringing it in line with alcohol and tobacco standards. Decriminalization would eliminate a justice system that Garrett believes disproportionately disenfranchises the poor and politically weak, would allow medical professionals rather than the federal government to make key decisions for conditions like epilepsy, and would allow states to realize hundreds of millions of dollars in economic revenue annually.

 

Garrett’s district grows about seven-eighths of all tobacco in Virginia, and his state, Kentucky and Tennessee, he said, could be economic “monsters” in the industry of agricultural hemp due to climate advantages if marijuana were decriminalized.

 

.  .  .

 

“You should be free to do what you so choose to do so long as it’s not an impact on others that’s negative. That’s easy, and that’s who we’re supposed to be as a nation,” he said, adding that the government closest to the people – local government – governs the most efficiently.

 

Garrett, a former prosecutor, described the Republican Party as “AWOL” when it comes to marijuana policy. At the same time, he said that more dangerous drugs like heroin should be treated differently for their rapid and widespread destruction.

 

“I am not pro-marijuana. I’m not anti-marijuana,” he said. “I’m pro-Constitution. I’m pro-liberty. I’m pro-government that enforces its laws.”

 

September 13, 2017 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, Politics, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Manhattan grants leniency for low-level marijuana offenders

AaaManhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., has announced new sentencing guidelines in low-level marijuana possession cases.  As reported in an article in PoliticoNewYork, the change  will be an encouraging step for supporters of immigrant rights and recreational marijuana use.

The new approach is expected to help some immigrants avoid penalties that could lead to deportation and comes amid backlash from municipalities and states over President Donald Trump's immigration policies — specifically the use of courts to identify and deport undocumented immigrants. Vance announced that his office is also working on a policy, to be implemented in the spring, to end prosecutions for low-level drug possession.

 

The sentencing guidelines for marijuana possession in the Manhattan DA's office previously offered a 12-month "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal" — or ACD — on the first offense, where the case is adjourned for 12 months and then dismissed and sealed if the defendant isn’t arrested again.

 

On a second offense, the previous guidelines allowed for the defendant to plea to either a marijuana violation or a disorderly conduct violation.

 

Now the Manhattan DA will offer an ACD for three months for the first offense and an ACD for six months for the second offense.

 

Vance explained the decision in a statement saying that a year is too long to have an open criminal case for a low-level, non-violent offense because it is publicly searchable online and can interfere with applications for college financial aid, housing or a job.

The city expects that some 4,100 individuals a year will be affected by the change. The program is set to being in the Spring of 2018.  Proponents expect that it will mean fewer deportations for low-level possession.

 -- Clarissa Dauphin

September 8, 2017 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Law Enforcement, Local Regulation, News, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The "Booming" New Demographic of Cannabis Users

  Baby boomersDespite their historical connections with the War on Drugs,  the fastest-growing demographic group of marijuana consumers turns out to be aging Baby Boomers.  According to study published in the journal Addiction, Demographic trends among older cannabis users in the United States, 2006-13, the number of 65-year-olds that admit to using marijuana products has risen approximately 250 percent between 2006 and 2013.

The majority of Baby Boomers that using cannabis products say they are doing so at least in part for medicinal reasons, and a recent research paper  found that 90 percent of Colorado seniors were doing so due to chronic pain.

In HealthOnline's Why Are More Seniors Using Marijuana?, writer Temma Ehrenfeld explores the multiple issues that these changes are bringing, noting that some medical professionals remain skeptical:

However, marijuana can weaken balance and slow reaction time, noted Dr. Lynn Webster, the immediate past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

 

“I’m worried about falls,” he told Healthline. “I wish we had the science to understand who [marijuana] would help, and in what doses, and for whom it would be toxic.”

 

“We really know very little about the effects of marijuana in the elderly. Everything about medical marijuana needs better study, but especially this topic,” Dr. Daniel Clauw, a pain specialist at the University of Michigan, told Healthline.

Ehrenfeld's piece includes a great deal of information and some interesting anecdotes about use of cannabis by seniors, and it's well worth a full read.

-- Jake Wiggins

September 7, 2017 in Drug Policy, Medical Marijuana, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

House Rules Committee nixes medical marijuana spending amendment

 

Without legislation, states would lose protection they have enjoyed for the past four years, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions could begin his long-sought crackdown on the rapid expansion of legalized pot.  

 

 

Fellow Californian Rep. Duncan Hunter told The Hill that after Rohrabacher “talked about it this morning in conference,” GOP leaders said “it splits the conference too much so we’re not going to have a vote on it.”

 

Rohrabacher had pled with his colleagues in a Tuesday night floor speech to allow the vote.

 

“The status quo for four years has been the federal government will not interfere because the Department of Justice is not permitted to use its resources to supercede a state that has legalized the medical use of marijuana,” Rohrabacher said.

 

He said that without his amendment, “we’re changing the status quo in a way that undermines the rights of the states and the people … to make their policy.”

Rohrabacher’s amendment, co-sponsored with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), was included in the previous four Commerce-Justice-Science funding measures, when President Obama was in the White House. It was also included in an omnibus funding bill signed by President Trump earlier this year that expires at the end of the month.

 

This doesn't mean that the Amendment is dead, however.  Its language was previously included in the Senate version of the bill, and given the fairly strong support it's had in the past few years, it may well find itself in the final conference bill despite yesterday's action.

 

 

September 7, 2017 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rohrabacher: Conservatives should protect medical marijuana from the feds

AaaIn Washington, D.C., some lawmakers are attempting to dismantle the medical marijuana industry created by individual states. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Dana Rohrabacher, U.S. House Representative of California's 48th District, is calling on his fellow conservatives to keep his amendment intact and declare themselves as proponents of medical progress, according to an Op-Ed in the Washington Post:

 

Surprisingly, given the Obama administration’s generally liberal approach to marijuana, its Justice Department tried to interpret the amendment in such a convoluted way as to allow counterproductive raids on marijuana dispensaries. The courts — most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — repeatedly ruled that our amendment meant exactly what it said.

 

Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.

 

I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.

 

More than half the states have liberalized medical marijuana laws, some even decriminalizing recreational use. Some eighty percent of Americans favor legalization of medical marijuana. Only a benighted or mean-spirited mind-set would want to block such progress.

 

Part of the reason is the failure of too many conservatives to apply “public choice economics” to the war on marijuana. Common sense, as well as public choice theory, holds that the government’s interest is to grow, just as private-sector players seek profit and build market share.

 

The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight, even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they’ve contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?

 

I invite my colleagues to visit a medical marijuana research facility and see for themselves why their cultural distaste might be misplaced. 

 

Better yet, they might travel to Israel — that political guiding light for religious conservatives — and learn how our closest ally in the Middle East has positioned itself on the cutting edge of cannabis research. The Israeli government recently decriminalized first use, so unworried it is about what marijuana might do to its conscript military.

 

My colleagues should then return to Washington and keep my amendment intact, declaring themselves firmly on the side of medical progress. Failing that, the government will keep trying to eradicate the burgeoning marijuana business, thereby fueling and enriching drug cartels. Trust me: Hugs from grateful supporters are infinitely better.

 

 

Representative Rohrabacher chastises his fellow conservatives for failing to uphold a key political platform: state autonomy. Warning politicians to avoid hypocrisy, the Republican from California urges his fellow House members to personally visit medical marijuana research facilities and Israel before siding with the federal government rather than individual states.

 

The Congressman makes strong points, focusing on the question of medical marijuana and not touching on the more controversial subject of recreational use. He seems to be making strong appeals to a core conservative position -- the role of the states in a federal system -- while pointing out America's current opioid problem and how legalizing medical marijuana might help alleviate it.

 

-- Zachary Ford

September 7, 2017 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Eleven-year-old Texas girl sues feds over medical marijuana

AaaMedical marijuana may be helping epileptic patients live more normal lives, but it's still illegal under federal law.  the federal government still refuses to acknowledge the medical qualities of cannabis.  A group of plaintiffs, including Alexis Bortell, 11-year-old girl from Rowlett, Texas, is suing the federal government to force a change in that law.  CBS-TV in Dallas has the story, with a video.

Bortell, who calls herself MMJ's "Youngest Advocate" in her book, Let's Talk About Medical Cannabis   (published in April) also now has has her own advocacy web site.

 

September 6, 2017 in Drug Policy, Medical Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Anxiety's New Cure?

David DiSalvoMarijuana, now has the potential to be a game changer for those affected by anxiety, according to a recent piece in Forbes magazine.  Most anxiety medications, writes author David DiSalvo, have heightened potential for addiction, whereas marijuana alternative may decrease this potential.  A sample of the piece:

Research into the potential medical uses of marijuana compounds continues apace. Among the most recent, a study delved into why marijuana is an effective stress reducer. While not conclusive on their own, the results contribute to a longer-term possibility – that marijuana compounds may turn out to be more effective and safer in alleviating anxiety than prescription anxiety meds.

 

The recent study focused on marijuana’s potency in reducing the stress response in regular users. Stress was measured by tracking cortisol amounts in study participants’ saliva. Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is a reliable indicator of stress; higher or lower amounts correlate closely with a person’s response to stressful situations.

 

The study compared the stress responses of a group of daily marijuana users to a group of non-users. The results were consistent: regular users had a “blunted” response to acute stress. In effect, their internal stress engines had been tuned down by regular exposure to marijuana.

 
 “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effects of acute stress on salivary cortisol levels in chronic cannabis users compared to non-users,” said Carrie Cuttler, study co-author and clinical assistant professor of psychology. “While we are not at a point where we are comfortable saying whether this muted stress response is a good thing or a bad thing, our work is an important first step in investigating potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis at a time when its use is spreading faster than ever before.”

 

"While preliminary, the latest research suggests that the compounds in marijuana could eventually be harnessed to deliver anxiety relief with decreased dependency, fewer side effects and less overdose potential." 

 

Read the whole thing

 

--Élan Moore 

September 2, 2017 in Drug Policy, Medical Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reactions To Senator Booker’s Marijuana Bill That He May Not Want To See

Cory BookerSenator Cory Booker of New Jersey wants to remove the federal ban on marijuana partly because he thinks law enforcement unfairly targets members of minority communities for using the drug. But groups that oppose Booker's proposal have launched efforts to correct what they see is an incorrect premise. They argue that in fact there's no difference in minority impacts in states where marijuana is legal.  From NJ.com:

Instead, minority youth still are being disproportionately arrested for using marijuana when they're under age, or being stopped for drugged driving, they said.

"We want to highlight the false promise that legalization of marijuana will serve social justice," said Kevin Sabet, president and chief executive of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group whose advisers include former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), a Brigantine resident who sits on the presidential opioid commission chaired by Gov. Chris Christie.

Separately, Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute launched a online petition drive against legalization.

September 2, 2017 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Would Legalization Really Reduce Minor Drug Convictions?

Washington PostThe plight of those who have been convicted for various marijuana related crimes is being used to argue why marijuana should be legalized but these new laws don't seem to be helping the problem.  A recent article in the Washington Post e explores how these new laws are only helping further institutional racism:  Want to See Proof of Institutional Racism? Let Weed Open Your Eyes.

The disparities in Maryland and the District were among the highest in the nation, with blacks up to eight times more likely than whites to be arrested.

There were 145 applicants for licenses to grow medical marijuana. Despite a state law requiring racial diversity in licensing, none of the 15 firms selected to start growing marijuana this summer are owned by African Americans. Turns out, the commission set up to award the licenses decided to ignore racial diversity in favor of “geographic diversity,” which just happened to produce the all-white outcome.

In a one-year period since legalization took effect, arrests for smoking marijuana in public jumped from 142 to 400, according to D.C. police data. If the trend holds, there will be at least as many — if not more — arrests this year. Arrests for selling marijuana have also tripled, from 80 in 2015 to 220 in 2016, police said

September 1, 2017 in Business, Drug Policy, News, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Maryland's Harris Sponsoring MMJ Research Legislation

AThe White House doesn't have much interest in medical marijuana legalization, but support is now coming from a surprising Congressional source.  Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a physician who strongly opposed D.C.'s legalization last year, is now leading efforts to ease restrictions that prohibit research on marijuana's medicinal benefits.  From the Baltimore Sun:

 

Harris, a Johns Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist who hangs a white lab coat in his waiting room on Capitol Hill, has been working for roughly a year to build a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who want to ease restrictions on marijuana for the purpose of studying its effect on debilitating diseases.

 

Harris and other lawmakers intend to introduce legislation this week to create a less cumbersome process for marijuana researchers seeking Department of Justice approval to work with the drug.

 

Among other changes, the measure would require federal regulators to approve or deny research applications within two months.

 

. . .

 

“Part of my frustration in the entire debate around legalizing medical marijuana is that there really isn’t good scientific evidence about what it’s good for and what it’s not good for,” Harris, who still practices medicine, told The Baltimore Sun. “We really don’t have good data supporting widespread use.”

 

That position is uncontroversial — even some proponents of looser marijuana laws have lamented a lack of peer-reviewed research. The American Medical Association calls for “further adequate and well-controlled studies” in the opening lines of its formal policy on medical marijuana.

 

There is anecdotal evidence that the drug has helped patients who are suffering from seizures, Parkinson’s and other complex conditions. But Harris and others say states are making decisions about which types of disease can be treated with marijuana without a clear sense of the drug’s efficacy.

 

In that sense, both supporters of expanding the use of medical marijuana and opponents can find reasons to back the legislation. Both sides agree that one of the reasons there is so little data is because it’s been difficult for researchers to get their hands on the drug.

June 20, 2016 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 17, 2016

British Health Group Advocates Decriminalizing Pretty Much Everything

ATwo private British public health groups have released a new document calling for decriminalization of marijuana and all other "illegal drugs."  nd The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health, two organizations whose membership works in the public health field, have released Taking a New Line on Drugs, which recommends that the U.K. take law enforcement out of drug policy at the possession level, while keeping it up against those who manufacture and sell the stuff.  The paper's executive summary sets out the suggestions:

From a public health perspective, the purpose of a good drugs strategy should be to improve and protect the public’s health and wellbeing by preventing and reducing the harm linked to substance use, whilst also balancing any potential medicinal benefits. RSPH is calling for the UK to consider exploring, trialling and testing such an approach, rather than one reliant on the criminal justice system. This could include:

a. Transferring lead responsibility for UK illegal drugs strategy to the Department of Health, and more closely aligning this with alcohol and tobacco strategies.

b. Preventing drug harm through universal Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in UK schools, with evidence-based drugs education as a mandatory, key component.

c. Creating evidence-based drug harm profiles to supplant the existing classification system in informing drug strategy, enforcement priorities, and public health messaging.

d. Decriminalising personal use and possession of all illegal drugs, and diverting those whose use is problematic into appropriate support and treatment services instead, recognising that criminalising users most often only opens up the risk of further harm to health and wellbeing. Dealers, suppliers and importers of illegal substances would still be actively pursued and prosecuted, while evidence relating to any potential benefits or harm from legal, regulated supply should be kept under review.

e. Tapping into the potential of the wider public health workforce to support individuals to reduce and recover from drug harm.

There's some special pleading here, of course -- turning things over to the health authorities means more money and jobs for health workers.  And decriminalizing without maintaining penalties against those who make and sell the stuff isn't going to do much to harm the criminal gangs involved in the trade.  

Still, an interesting take on the subject.

June 17, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, International Regulation, News, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Doug Berman on the Situation in Ohio

Ohio FlagOhio voters knocked out a crony capitalist legalization bill last fall.  So what's happening these days in the Buckeye State?  Over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, Professor Doug Berman offers his thoughts.  The whole piece is worth reading, but here's his summary:

    I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.

The good news seems to be that medical marijuana is moving forward in the Republican-dominated legislature.  The bad news is that recreational marijuana might not get off the launching pad this year.

January 19, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Medical Marijuana, News, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2016

This is a very bad chart for legalization proponents

Aaa

It's from a new study of youth marijuana use released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.  I haven't been able to go over the report in enough depth to assess the validity of the data, and it will be good to see some number-crunchers go at it.  But assuming it's anything like correct, it gives anti-legalization folks some serious ammunition: youth marijuana use is much higher in states with MMJ programs and (potentially) highest of all in states with recreational weed.

This chart is the one that happened to catch my attention, but the whole thing is full of data.  Anybody interested in legalization needs to read it and start thinking about how to respond. 

January 18, 2016 in Drug Policy, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)