Cannabis Law Prof Blog

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

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)

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 (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)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Congress extends restrictions on Justice Department marijuana prosecutions

AaaThe ginormous spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump extends the Congressional prohibition on use of Justice Department funds to prosecute state-licensed medical marijuana facilities that are in compliance with state laws.  There was some doubt about that earlier this week when the House Rules Committee blocked the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment from the House version of the spending bill, but it made its way into the final bill anyway.

President Trump, in his signing message, signaled that he wasn't necessarily on board with the amendment, however.  The Washington Times reports:

MMr. Trump n his statement also questioned a provision in the law that bars the Justice Department from using funds “to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories.”

 

Mr. Trump said, “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

 

That appears to be in line with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments that he opposes the “expanded use” of marijuana. A White House spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

 

Michael Collins, deputy director of Drug Policy Alliance, said Mr. Trump “continues to send mixed messages on marijuana.”

 

“After stating during the campaign that he was ‘100 percent’ in support of medical marijuana, he now issues a signing statement casting doubt on whether his administration will adhere to a congressional rider that stops DOJ from going after medical marijuana programs,” Mr. Collins said. “The uncertainty is deeply disconcerting for patients and providers, and we urge the administration to clarify their intentions immediately.”

 

Twenty-eight states have some form of medical marijuana, but the drug is illegal under federal law.

 

The spending bill’s provision on medical marijuana prevents the Justice Department from arresting or prosecuting patients, caregivers and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The measure will only be binding through the end of September.

I'm not sure we should read too much into the statement.  Given that the amendment now is the law, it is itself one of those that the President will have to faithfully execute.  The real issue is whether Trump's DOJ reads the restriction as narrowly as Obama's DOJ did.  He may decide that the way to get Congress off its collective backside to address the legalization question is to follow the previous Administration's approach.  After all, as President Grant famously said, "I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution."

September 11, 2017 in Federal Regulation, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Illinois legislature hears pros and cons on marijuana legislation

AaaThe Illinois Legislature held hearings this week on a bill that would generally legalized marijuana in the state.  The bill was introduced by two Chicago Democrats, Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy. Legislators heard testimony from those for and against legalization.

Advocates for legalization said that doing so would allow marijuana use to be safely regulated. But those against legalization said that it would mean even broader use, particularly by teenagers, and lead to more addiction and less-safe roads.  The Associated Press reports

The plan would require cannabis to be tested and labeled for safety and sold by "legitimate, taxpaying business people" in dispensaries similar to where medical marijuana — legal in Illinois since 2014 — is sold. Like alcohol, sales to anyone younger than 21 would be prohibited.

 

"Right now, anyone can go to a street corner and buy it," Cassidy said. "Drug dealers don't 'card,' but you can't even get into a dispensary if you're under 21."

 

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin cited statistics that show marijuana can lead to use of stronger narcotics and noted the nation is battling an opioid-abuse epidemic.

 

Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, said when he was a prosecutor, he saw many cases where marijuana use did not lead to abuse of stronger stimulants. "But I never saw one on harder drugs who didn't start on marijuana," Righter added.

 

Neill Franklin, a retired Maryland State Police major who is executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, said Prohibition should have taught the U.S. a lesson about banning such a product.

 

"You cannot regulate any activity that is prohibited," Franklin said. "All you do is drive it underground."

The bills are SB 316 and HB 2353

 

 

September 8, 2017 in Legislation, Recreational Marijuana, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

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)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Which states are next for recreational marijuana?

AaaNew Jersey, Vermont, and Rhode Island--at least according to predictions from John Schroyer at Marijuana Business Daily.  He offers a good rundown of what's up for state legislatures in 2018.

“You will hear about some wins through the legislative process, and there will be wins at the ballot. So I do expect the strong movement forward to continue” in 2018, said Bryan Meltzer, a New York-based attorney who tracks potential new business opportunities and markets for roughly two dozen cannabis industry clients.

Also upbeat about the chances for further legalization victories through legislatures next year are Marijuana Policy Project’s executive director, Rob Kampia, and the Drug Policy Alliance’s senior director of national affairs, Bill Piper.

“I feel pretty bullish overall,” Piper said. “(Legalization efforts are) being driven by strong demand from the public, and all the work that activists – including business owners – are doing at the local level is having an impact.”

Kampia, however, was lukewarm and chose to hedge his bets on potential legislative moves.

“If you ask me about my level of optimism in August of any year, my level of optimism is about the same,” he said. “You maybe pick off one or two, and sometimes you get lucky.”

The piece goes into a good deal of detail and is well worth a read.

 

September 5, 2017 in Legislation, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Omission in Alaskan Cannabis Legislation Inadvertently Helps a Marijuana Business

AaaDespite the passage of legislation legalizing recreational cannabis in Alaska, local government remains an obstacle for some marijuana businesses. One business owner was able to successfully set up shop on the historic main street of an Alaskan tourist town -- Talkeetna, Alaska -- in an unincorporated municipality, all thanks to an omission in the legislation.  The drafters don't always cover every base, and here we see that playing outFrom Leafly.com:

“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney said. 

His store got its approval from the borough on a technicality when the assembly was writing regulations for marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, like Talkeetna, and inadvertently omitted special land use districts — like the town’s Main Street. Talkeetna has no local governing body, only a nonvoting community council whose sole power is sending recommendations to borough officials roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) away. 

State regulators approved the store’s permit on a 3-2 vote last spring. 

“There’s people that are upset about it, but it’s legal,” said Sue Deyoe, the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum’s executive director. 

-- Christopher Daves

 

 

 

 

September 4, 2017 in Business, Legislation, Local Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 1, 2017

How Nevada's Gambling Regulators Plan to Separate from the Marijuana Industry

Las VegasIn Nevada, gambling regulators are refusing to collaborate with the marijuana industry.  Taking a harsh stand, the Nevada Gaming Commission disclaimed that there will be no place for marijuana in Nevada casinos as long as the federal government views its consumption and possession as a felony, according to a piece in the Insurance Journal

 

Commissioners said the reputation of the gaming industry is at stake and there needs to be clear separation.

 

“On one hand you have the gaming industry and on the other hand you have the marijuana industry … The two shall not meet,”

Commission Chairman Tony Alamo said.

 

Commissioners did, however, spend more than an hour discussing what Alamo said would be the least controversial aspects of potentially bringing marijuana into casino resorts – third-party and business associations between licensees and individuals and companies involved in the marijuana industry.

 

That aspect was shot down, though. No votes were taken, but commissioners unanimously concluded that licensees should be discouraged from hosting shows or conferences that promote the use, sale, cultivation or distribution of marijuana.

 

Licensees also shouldn’t maintain business relationships with marijuana companies, including landlord-tenant arrangements.

 

Commissioners also said licensees should not receive financing from or provide financing to an individual, entity or establishment that sells, cultivates or distributes marijuana.

 

September 1, 2017 in Business, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, State Regulation, Travel | 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)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Arizona Legalization Ballot Proposal Nears Signature Requirement

AThis is good news for Arizona weed advocates.  According to the Arizona Republic, "A marijuana legalization campaign is nearing its goal of gathering 150,000 valid signatures to get on the November ballot."  Details:

The  initiative would ask Arizona voters to legalize marijuana for recreational use and establish a network of licensed cannabis shops where sales of the drug would be taxed.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is a few thousand signatures short of gathering the 150,642 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, spokesman Barrett Marson said Wednesday. However, some of those signatures are likely invalid — gathered from people who cannot vote — and the group aims to collect 225,000 signatures, he said.

"Arizonans are clearly excited about this initiative," Marson added.

Many others are not, including one group that has been educating the public about harms of the drug on children and society. The Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has pointed to news articles and statistics and a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey that shows Colorado leads the nation in past-month marijuana use following its legalization of the drug in 2012.

Under the proposed Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, adults 21 and older could possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes without obtaining licenses, as long as the plants are in a secure area.

It would also create a distribution system similar to Colorado's, where licensed businesses produce and sell marijuana.

The initiative also would create a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate the "cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana" and would give local governments the authority to regulate and ban marijuana stores. It also would establish  a 15 percent tax on retail sales, with proceeds going to fund  education, including full-day kindergarten and public health.

Under the 2016 Arizona initiative language, driving while impaired by marijuana would remain illegal, as would consuming marijuana in public and selling or giving the drug to anyone under 21.

Taxation of the program would pay for the state's cost of implementing and enforcing the initiative. Forty percent of the taxes on marijuana would be directed to the Department of Education for construction, maintenance and operation costs, including salaries of K-12 teachers. Another 40 percent would be set aside for full-day kindergarten programs. And 20 percent would go to the state Department of Health Services for unspecified uses.

Revenue from the taxes could not flow into the state's general fund, which would allow it to be spent for other purposes.

January 14, 2016 in Legislation, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation, Voter Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2016

More Push for Private Pot Club Legislation in Colorado

AColorado Springs Gazette: Colorado Springs lawmaker joins marijuana social clubs bill:

    Colorado lawmakers will bring bills next session to deal with unregulated social marijuana clubs where pot is both sold and consumed outside of the state's strict licensing regulations for recreational marijuana.

    Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, confirmed Thursday that he and Rep. Kit Roupe, R-Colorado Springs, are working on a bill to address the proliferation of pot clubs. He said many ideas are in the works.

    "The first one is modeling something after what you saw with some of the dry towns, people paying an annual membership or a monthly membership to be part of a social club where they can safely consume cannabis," Singer said.

    . . .

    Singer said a bill that's in the works would likely allow consumption at clubs but ban sales. Singer said statewide guidelines are needed on such clubs, but local municipalities would have final say on the issue.

    He said he's also working to allow consumption on the premises of licensed recreational and medical retail stores. Singer said it'd be similar to alcohol tastings at a craft brewery or winery. He said consumption would have to comply with the clean indoor air act, so likely edibles or vaporizers would be used.

    "Everyone agrees there is a problem," Singer said of the conundrum of where to consume cannabis other than a private home. "Tourists come to Colorado, buy our marijuana, and we say 'by the way don't smoke it in the hotel, don't smoke it on the street, don't smoke it in bars ... and make sure you consume it before you leave the state."

    The 2016 session begins Wednesday. Lawmakers have spent time drafting bills, but none have been officially introduced to receive bill numbers and titles.

January 8, 2016 in Legislation, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Details of Proposed Georgia MMJ Bill Announced

A A Georgia legislator has announced details of a new bill he plans to introduce Monday, when the new legislative session starts.  State Representative Allen Peake (R-Macon) made the announcement on an Atlanta television station.

    On Monday, Peake will begin to introduce new legislation that builds on House Bill 1 which passed in 2015. "We're treating it like medicine which is the way it ought to be treated," said Peake. The representative is pushing for more patients to have access to medical cannabis, and to allow for highly regulated medical marijuana to be grown in the state.

    Currently only eight diseases and illnesses are on the list of approved conditions to qualify for medical cannabis in Georgia.

    In the new legislation, Peake aims to add Alzheimer's, Epidermolysis Bullosa, Aids, Tourette's syndrome, and intractable pain. Intractable pain will be the most controversial because it will allow the greatest number of patients to have access to cannabis.

    Currently, there are 465 patients on the medical marijuana registry in Georgia.

    As part of the legislation, Peake is also pushing for a limited number of licensed growers to provide the state's patients with medical cannabis. Peake foresees anywhere from two to six licenses being issued depending on a number of qualifying factors.

    According to the bill, marijuana would be grown and dispensed to patients in the same location to attempt to keep the product from ending up in the wrong hands."We'll have a seed to sale tracking system too on any plant from the moment it's put in the ground to the moment when it's dispensed, law enforcement will be able to track that product," said Peake.

    Dosage and actual administration will be controlled by an on-site pharmacist.

    Currently, patients in Georgia on the approved medical marijuana registry have to buy their cannabis oil in other states where in state cultivation is legal.

    The medical cannabis currently allowed in Georgia can only be of the low THC variety. Peake would like to strip away the THC limits and allow doctors and pharmacists to prescribe medicine based on need.The bill would also allow patients to administer the product through vaporization."This is the logical next step for our citizens. We brought our medical refugees home let's keep them here and let's keep providing an option for hurting citizens as well too," added Peake.

 

 

January 7, 2016 in Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Should we expect any major federal marijuana reform developments in 2016?

ADoug Berman asks that question over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform.  My answer is the same as his.  No.  Here's his quick take:

But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front.  Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies.  And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).  

He's hoping he's "missing something" in that assessment, but I don't believe he is.  I don't see anybody at the federal level moving to do anything this year.

The Administration?  President Obama has had seven years to start the process of rescheduling cannabis, and has shown absolutely no interest in doing it.   Given that he's spending his last year doing a victory lap of world capitals and top golf courses (and spending whatever political capital he has left on making it harder for people other than drug lords and gangbangers to get guns), it's hard to see him suddenly get interested.  Attorney General Lynch is an old-line drug warrior whose troops are still busy denying that Rohrabacher-Farr amendment limits them from prosecuting medical marijuana growers.  Think she'll suddenly see the light?

Congress?  It's an election year, which means that despite lots of promises to various constituent groups, virtually nothing will get done.

The presidential candidates?  On the Democratic side, Hillary is an old drug warrior who had eight years as First Lady, eight in the Senate, and four as Secretary of State to do something about it, and has never made the slightest attempt to do anything.  Sure, for enough money she'd come out in favor of it, but compared to investment banks and Silicon Valley, the marijuana industry is small potatoes.  As for Bernie, he'd probably support it as President, but he doesn't seem capable of even talking about any issue that isn't out of Class Warfare 101.

On the GOP side, many of the candidates are conservative drug warriors who are philosophically opposed to legalization.  Of the others, I suspect that they took note of the huge boost that coming out for legalization did not give to Rand Paul.  The number of Republic primary voters whose choice will depend on the candidate's position on marijuana is probably somewhere between "almost none" and "zero."  And in the general election, issues like immigration, the Islamic State, Obamacare, North Korean hydrogen bombs, and Hillary's record will trump (no pun intended) minor stuff like marijuana.  Again, enough campaign cash could change that, but it's hard to see how the industry could come up with enough to make it worthwhile. 

So I'm even less optimistic than Doug.  Of course, if Rand Paul does win the Republican nomination, and a brokered Democratic convention gives us Rocky de la Fuente, things might change.

January 6, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 4, 2016

DOJ Still Prosecuting Over Medical Marijuana

Jacob SullumNo, the federal government did not legalize medical marijuana in recent omnibus budget bill.  The bill reiterated language from last year's omnibus bill, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to prevent a state from "implementing" its medical marijuana laws.  But while various news sites trumpeted this as effectively ending the federal ban on medical marijuana, Reason's Jacob Sullum, in a piece titled The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted, argues that the ambiguous language in the Amendment isn't stopping the Justice Department from prosecutions.

The problem with the Amendment is its language.  The Justice Department interprets it to mean that it cannot use federal funds to prosecute state employees who are involved in medical marijuana licensing, taxation, and regulation -- that is, those who are actually implementing the state program.  There seems to be a difference between implementing a law (for example, being a state employee who sets or enforces speed limits) and merely obeying a law (a driver who follows the speed limit).  If Congress had wanted to ban individual prosecutions, the most natural way to do so would have been to bar DOJ from prosecuting individuals and businesses who are licensed by state medical marijuana offices and who are in compliance with those regulations.  While it's true that the authors of the Amendment hoped it would ban individual prosecutions (and while one federal judge has said it does) the DOJ argument is, from a pure statutory construction perspective, perfectly reasonable.

Sullum concludes that even if the Amendment did bar DOJ from individual prosecutions, its effects are still very limited:

The rider has no impact in the 27 states that do not have medical marijuana laws, and it applies only to the Justice Department, so it has no effect on actions by the IRS or the Treasury Department that make it difficult for medical marijuana suppliers to pay their taxes and obtain banking services.

More fundamentally, the amendment, which has to be renewed every fiscal year, does not change the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no legal uses. Because marijuana is still prohibited by federal law, people who grow and sell it, no matter the purpose and regardless of their status under state law, commit multiple felonies every day. If no one is trying to put them in prison right now, that is only thanks to prosecutorial forbearance that may prove temporary.

Anyone who provides services to marijuana businesses is implicated in their lawbreaking. Last week a Colorado credit union that wants to specialize in serving state-licensed marijuana businesses tried to persuade a federal judge that it is legally entitled to participate in the Federal Reserve's payment system, without which it cannot operate. The judge did not seem inclined to agree, saying, "I would be forcing the reserve bank to give a master account to a credit union that serves illegal businesses." The U.S. Postal Service announced last month that periodicals containing marijuana ads are "nonmailable," citing a CSA provision that makes it a felony to place ads promoting the purchase of illegal drugs. An accounting firm and a bonding company hired by a Colorado marijuana merchant recently paid $70,000 to settle a federal racketeering suit filed against them by a hotel whose owners were upset about plans to open a pot shop near their business.

Problems like these cannot be solved without changing marijuana's status under federal law. The Rohrbacher-Farr amendment does not do that, no matter how many hopeful headlines it generates.

January 4, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Louisiana Gets MMJ Law: Proponents Worry About Effectiveness

Louisiana's new medical marijuana law is moving forward after signature by Gov. Bobby Jindal.  Like the Texas version passed earlier this year, advocates are concerned that it uses the term "prescription" in the text instead of the usual "recommendation," which can leave physicians open to having their licenses to prescribe drugs yanked by the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

    David Brown, the director of a group called Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, said changing out "prescription" for "recommendation" allows doctors and pharmacists to get marijuana to patients without risking their federal license with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

    The federal government, under President Barack Obama's administration, has taken a hands-off approach regarding enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where it's legal. But the word "prescription" automatically triggers certain federal oversight from the DEA. Marijuana, after all, is still considered a schedule I controlled dangerous substance. As far as the technical law is concerned, it would be analogous to writing and filling a prescription for LSD or peyote, other schedule I drugs.

    "It's a big problem," Brown said. "It renders the new law structurally flawed and unworkable in its current form."

    The sponsor of the bill (SB 143), state Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, is aware of the concerns of Brown and other advocates. He said, however, that Louisiana Board of Pharmacy Director Malcolm Broussard has assured him the issue of prescription versus recommendation could be "worked through" during the rule-making process.

    Jacob Irving, a medical marijuana advocate and recent graduate of LSU, suffers from spastic quadriplegia -- a rare form of cerebral palsy that causes chronic muscle stiffness and has been effectively treated with marijuana. If the law in its current form is properly enacted, his disease is on the list of those that would quality for medical marijuana. Irving was the one who convinced a House panel to change the wording to "recommendation," before it was stripped out of the bill on the House floor.

    The Louisiana Family Forum, the state's most influential conservative Christian group, requested the word "prescription" be put back into the bill before it reached the House floor. Even the Louisiana Sheriff's Association, who had expressed strong opposition to the bill last year, were OK with "recommendation," Fred Mills said. Family Forum Director Gene Mills said early this month he told Fred Mills putting the prescription language in the bill was a requirement for his group to remain neutral on the bill. Opposition from the Family Forum could have hurt the bill's chance of passing and might have drawn a veto from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who closely follows Mills' guidance on social policies. Jindal, too, had requested the term prescription be used. 

    Gene Mills said the prescription requirement keeps the proposed law in the realm of medical practice, subjecting it to the oversight and "necessary safeguard."

    "That's why we're in the neutral zone," said Gene Mills, days after the House passed the version of the bill with "prescription" included. 

    Brown said the Louisiana Family Forum and Jindal's hardline position on calling it a prescription provides more evidence that the wording neuters the bill. 

    "Why on earth would you insist so hard on that language being included (in the bill) unless you were fully aware, like we are, that by including it you've essentially gutted the bill?" he said. 

    While Irving is hopeful the wording won't cause a problem as the bill's sponsor has suggested, he can't ignore the potential threat it has to thwart access to patients.

    "If a doctor writes a prescription, he may go to jail or lose his DEA license," Irving said.

    Brown said there's no pharmacist willing to put his or federal license at risk by signing off on dispensing a schedule I substance. By doing so, they would be "risking their whole livelihood -- for just that one prescription that they write."

    Broussard, however, acknowledged in an email provided by Mills that the use of the word "recommendation" has been suggested by other states to reduce risk to doctors and pharmacists. But he also indicated it made little difference.

    "The outcome of the process -- whether it is a 'recommendation' or a 'prescription' -- remains the same," Broussard said. "It is an order generated by the physician for filling at the pharmacy."

Unfortunately, while I'm sure Dr. Broussard is a very fine pharmacist, he's not a very good lawyer, and his view that a "recommendation" and a "prescription" are "the same" is simply wrong under Conant v. Walters.  To put it simply, under DEA regulations a prescription is an "order" to a pharmacy to fill a prescription for a patient.  A recommendation is merely the doctor's opinion, sent to a state-licensed facility, that the patient would benefit from the substance.  The former specifically falls within DEA jurisdiction, and prescribing a Schedule I controlled substance is illegal.  The latter is protected speech under the First Amendment and the DEA cannot punish it.

I suspect there are good reasons why opponents of the bill gave in after the word "prescription" was added . . . because they know it will be extremely difficult to make the system work.

Not impossible, though.  Assuming they get some lawyers involved in analyzing the issues, it's possible to work out a system under which physicians could comply with the statute without triggering license revocation by the DEA.  We'll keep watching.

July 1, 2015 in Legislation, Medical Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ohio Legislature Readies its Own Marijuana Ballot Issue

The marijuana legalization ballot measure sponsored by "Responsible Ohio" -- the proposal that would grant a monopoly on marijuana sales to the wealthy backers of the measure and lock it in the state constitution -- is facing blowback from the state legislature.  Ohio legislators yesterday put forth their own ballot measure that would block  the prospective monopoly.

    A campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio took a step closer to making November’s ballot Tuesday, after its promoters turned in more than twice the required number of signatures.

    But the measure will face competition at the polls. Ohio legislators also approved their own ballot measure on Tuesday to undermine the pot plan, which lawmakers worried would amount to a “marijuana monopoly” because of its provision that only 10 growers would control the wholesale pot market. The lawmakers’ measure would block other measures that benefit select economic interest groups.

    The marijuana ballot measure campaign, dubbed Responsible Ohio, is just one of many ballot measures in recent history that are designed to benefit their backers. The companies funding the Responsible Ohio campaign would control — and likely profit from — the marijuana growth sites should the measure pass.

As detailed by the Center for Public Integrity, the campaign’s director, Democratic activist Ian James, came up with the idea and is planning to pay his own firm $5.6 million to push the ballot initiative.

    Ohio Rep. Mike Curtin, a Democrat, said he sponsored the anti-monopoly measure because he opposes the way Responsible Ohio is using the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, not because he opposes pot legalization.

    “Are we going to allow a small group of investors, who have literally no background in drug policy… to carve themselves a special niche in our state’s founding document?” he said. “To me it’s galling. It’s nauseating.”

    But James said voters should have the right to decide the issue.

    “Some statehouse politicians believe the voters are smart enough to elect them, but they aren’t smart enough to decide ballot issues like marijuana legalization,” he said in an earlier statement.

Well, to be fair to the politicians, Mr. James himself doesn't appear to think Ohio voters are smart enough to understand the issues on their own, so his backers have a $20 million war chest to try to convince them through advertising.

July 1, 2015 in Legislation, State Regulation, Voter Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Colorado Employers Can Fire Workers for Medical Marijuana Use

Colorado employees who demand drug-free workplaces can fire employees who test positive for marijuana, even if the employees have a medical marijuana authorization and consume the weed in their off-duty hours.

That's the ruling in Coats v. Dish Network, a much-watched decision, in which the Centennial State's highest court upheld an earlier decision by the state's court of appeals.  The unanimous opinion (Justice Monica Márquez did not participate) was written by Justice Allison Eid, a former law professor.

At issue in the case was a state law prohibiting employers from terminating employees for engaging in "lawful" activities in their off-hours.  The plaintiff argued that using marijuana was "lawful" under Colorado law.

The decision is a pretty straightforward application of statutory construction.  The court finds that the word "lawful" means "not . . . prohibited by law."  Marijuana possession is explicitly prohibited by federal law --  the Controlled Substances Act -- and so would generally not be considered "lawful."  The court went on to consider whether the legislature, in using the word "lawful," meant only things prohibited by Colorado law.  But the language, the court found, is not restricted.  Ordinarily, something is not lawful if it is prohibited by any level of government.  Thus, employers presumably can fire employees for engaging in federal crimes (such as tampering with the U.S. mail or violating customs laws) that are not expressly illegal under state law.

The case is a blow to MMJ patients whose employers have drug-free workplaces.  They will have to decide whether to use their medication or find alternate employment.  It's a win for employers who face pressure from the feds to be drug-free and faced the possibility of being whipsawed between state and federal law.

Because the court's opinion involved interpreting a statute, the Colorado legislature could reverse the decision simply by passing a new law saying that Coloradoans cannot be fired for using medical marijuana on their own time. 

June 16, 2015 in Business, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, State Regulation, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Colorado Cuts Weed Tax, Targets Black Market

The best way to stop a black market is to allow legal prices to fall to black market levels, and Colorado has taken a step in that direction.  Forbes reports that the rate will be cut from 10% to 8%.  Gov. John Hickenlooper notes that this will reduce the retail price of state-legal marijuana.

The same article reports that the state is doing is best to avoid having to give excess taxes collected back to taxpayers instead of spending them itself.  The state is putting out a ballot initiative to avoid having to rebate excess taxes collected, something which is required under the state constitution.  

June 10, 2015 in Legislation, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation, Taxation | Permalink | Comments (0)