Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Highlighting free market fuzziness for GOP when marijuana involved

This Florida newspaper commentary by John Romano, headlined "Doesn't medical marijuana deserve a free market too?," effectively shines a light on the notable fact that the affinity of some Republican leaders for less government regulation and more marketplace freedom often wanes when the commodity at issue is marijuana.  Here is a portion of the commentary:

Around here, free market is the answer. And it doesn't even require an actual question.

Education gap? Let the business community fix it. Health insurance? Keep the government out of it. Minimum wage? Leave it up to the job creators. Yes, free market competition will always be the solution in Tallahassee.

Except when it comes to medical marijuana. Apparently, that's an industry in serious need of a government-sponsored cartel.

When first venturing into the marijuana business a couple of years ago, the state handpicked a small group of well-connected nurseries in a highly suspect procurement process. Now that a constitutional amendment has marijuana on the precipice of becoming a billion-dollar industry, the state is considering a plan to reward that same group of nurseries with a huge head start in the marketplace. And that contradicts everything our state leaders normally preach.

Think I'm exaggerating? State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, recently introduced legislation to repeal the state's "certificate of need" programs for hospitals. The program allows the state to regulate where hospitals open, ostensibly to make sure private facilities do not cater to an affluent population and ignore the poor. Bradley calls it a "cumbersome process" used to "block expansion" and "restrict competition." He says eliminating the program will create jobs and drive down prices.

And yet Bradley is also the sponsor of a bill that restricts the number of nurseries allowed to produce medical marijuana, which critics say will create price gouging and limit available product. In effect, it would create the same problems Bradley says hamper the hospital industry....

Personally, I'm waiting for House Speaker Richard Corcoran to get involved.  This is a man who does not believe in compromising his principles. He's so committed to free market ideals in education that he called teachers "evil" for pushing back against the privatization of public schools.  He once said he would go to war to fight Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Not long ago, Corcoran laid out his political principles in a forceful speech: "No economic system has done more to benefit mankind than the free enterprise system … but when judges or legislatures or local governments continually rewrite the rules or attempt to pick winners and losers, that is when markets fail.  We need to reverse the damage that has been done, untangle the red tape and tear down all these barriers to entry."

Glad to hear it, Mr. Speaker. Looking forward to you joining the fight.

February 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Joint Culpability: The Effects of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article posted to SSRN authored by Yu-Wei Luke Chu and Wilbur Townsend. Here is the abstract:

Most of the U.S. states have passed medical marijuana laws. In this paper, we study the effects of these laws on violent and property crime.  We first estimate models that control for city fixed effects and flexible city-specific time trends.  To supplement this regression analysis we use the synthetic control method which can relax the parallel trend assumption and better account for heterogeneous policy effects. 

Both the regression analysis and the synthetic control method suggest no causal effects of medical marijuana laws on violent or property crime at the national level.  We also find no strong effects within individual states, except for in California where the medical marijuana law reduced both violent and property crime by 20%.

February 15, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Interesting data and speculations concerning New York's (struggling) medical marijuana program

NymmjThe local article, headlined "Data: Only half of state's medical marijuana patients are repeat buyers," reports on some interesting patient data concerning New York's medical marijuana program. Here are excerpts:

More than three-quarters of the state's 13,000 or so medical marijuana-eligible patients have purchased the drug, but only half of the 13,000 are repeat buyers under the tightly regulated state program, according to Department of Health data provided to the Times Union.

Through late January, 12,933 patients had been certified by their doctors to participate in the state's medical marijuana program and 10,250 patients had been dispensed a medical marijuana product. But the number of patients who had been dispensed a product more than once was 6,403.  That data backs up anecdotal evidence about patients' purchasing habits over the first year of the program.  While the five companies authorized to sell medical marijuana products have had products to offer, demand has been on a slower growth curve than the businesses would like.

These less-than-robust sales have caused issues for patients, including prohibitive prices they must cover out of pocket because insurance does not cover medical marijuana.

Diagnosing why about half of all patients aren't returning to pick up a second round of medicine isn't an exact science. "If the implication is that only certain people are continuing on medical marijuana because they can afford it, there are probably lots of reasons for that besides just price," said Josh Vinciguerra, the Department of Health's Narcotic Enforcement Bureau director.  He pointed to the fact that medical marijuana remains a new area of treatment for a number of doctors and patients who might be willing to become certified for the program but are wary of actually taking advantage....

But Vinciguerra said cost does remain a focus for DOH moving forward, adding that the department believes opening the program up to more companies (only five are currently authorized to operate) could also assist with price issues by adding competition to the market.  The state has taken other actions to try to grow the program, including steps to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants, not just doctors, to certify patients; the addition of chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions; and a decision to allow companies to make home deliveries of their products.

Pricing reforms are happening on the company level, and some have turned to discounts in an effort build up their customer bases. Etain, which grows and produces products in Warren County and has an Albany dispensary, recently instituted a repeat buyer discount program.  Politico New York reported Wednesday that PharmaCann will drop prices on all of its products by 25 percent.

Still, one medical marijuana company executive said even if all 13,000 patients (as of Feb. 7, the number stood at 13,389) were purchasing products on a regular basis, they would constitute a market small enough for just one of the five current companies to handle. "But as you now see clearly from the data, we have never had 13,000 patients," Vireo Health of New York CEO Ari Hoffnung said. "We do not even have 6,400 patients, because 6,400 patients is essentially a data point of — over the past 12 or 13 months — how many people purchased twice. You can purchase twice and never purchase again. You may have purchased in January or February of 2016 and never came back. ... There's a lot of reasons patients don't come back."

February 13, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Colorado records another record high: state marijuana sales in 2016 hits $1.3 billion

This article from the Cannabist, headlined "Colorado sold $1.3 billion worth of marijuana in 2016," report on the latest notable sales numbers for the first state to have legalize recreational marijuana stores. Here are the details:

It’s a billion-dollar business — and then some. In 2016, Colorado’s dispensaries bagged $1.3 billion in recreational and medical cannabis sales, based on Colorado Department of Revenue tax data released Thursday.

To put the state’s third year of regulated recreational marijuana sales in perspective, Year One totaled $699.2 million (combined with medical sales) and Year Two jumped up to $996.2 million. The trend should continue in Year Four, but beyond that? It’s a murkier proposition.

“Colorado has had a really good run, being the first mover,” said Miles Light, an economist with the Marijuana Policy Group, which provides economic and market consulting services to legal cannabis markets. “Now, as other states legalize, some of these external benefits that are occurring are going to be eroded.”...

2016 was the year in which the $100-million-month became a baseline and heralded a record-breaking summer: The combined sales for July, August and September were $376.6 million. Monthly sales topped $100 million in eight of the 12 months. In December, which is typically a strong month for cannabis transactions, pot shops’ sales were a little more than $114.7 million, a 13 percent increase from the $101.3 million recorded in December 2015....

The Colorado Department of Revenue’s tax data don’t provide information about transactions, so it’s difficult to know the impact of price declines on the overall sales totals. The data do show that recreational marijuana accounted for an $875 million share of that haul while medical sales accounted for roughly $438 million.

They also show that Colorado brought in about $199 million in tax and fees revenue for the calendar year. Marijuana tax revenue is put toward areas such as school construction projects, public health and law enforcement.

It’s the visitor demand that drives a lot of this incremental growth in Colorado’s marijuana industry, Light said. That includes the tourist who buys an eighth for a ski trip here and that’s also the visitors who come into the state to purchase product to illegally supply to other markets, he said. The Denver Post reported in January that research commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office found interest in legal weed waning among visitors. “2016 represented a return to the more usual Colorado traveler,” tourism director Cathy Ritter said.

February 10, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nevada lawmakers seemingly moving quickly to make recreational marijuana reform operational

Nevada-marijuana-billIn Massachusetts and Maine and even in California there have been various moves made by various state officials and politicians to slow the process and progress of implementing 2016 ballot initiatives that legalized recreational marijuana in those states.  But the state-level implementation story seems quite different in Nevada according to this new local article headlined "Nevada officials fast track plan to regulate recreational marijuana." Here are the details:

State officials plan to move quickly with a task force for regulating recreational marijuana, the Nevada Senate Judiciary Committee heard Wednesday. The first steps will be putting temporary regulations in place by July to allow medical marijuana establishments to sell recreational marijuana. By the end of the year, permanent regulations are to be in place.

In the world of state government, that is a fast-tracked process for completing regulations. It can take a year or so for that to happen. “The idea is that we would get going pretty quickly,” said Deonne Contine, executive director of the Nevada Department of Taxation.

In November, Nevada voters approved Question 2, which legalized recreational marijuana and tasked the state’s Department of Taxation with developing regulations to guide the new industry. Recreational marijuana has a strong place in the budget plans of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has proposed a 10 percent tax on the retail recreational marijuana sales to generate an estimated $70 million for public education.

The state is piggybacking on its medical marijuana program, which started in 2014. The temporary program will allow licensed medical marijuana establishments to sell recreational marijuana. Those licenses will be good until Dec. 31, or 30 days after permanent regulations are in place, whichever is first. To get temporary regulations in place, the state will have a public workshop in mid-March followed by an adoption hearing on May 8 at the Nevada Tax Commission meeting. The state would start accepting applications for temporary licenses in May and begin issuing them on July 1.

During that time, the legwork for the permanent regulations will be underway. Sandoval issued an executive order this week for a 16-member statewide task force to develop regulations, with input from local government, public safety and public health officials. That task force will meet monthly between February and April and issue a report in May. The goal is to send a draft of permanent regulations to the Legislative Counsel Bureau for review in July. That will be followed by a public workshop in the fall and adoption by December.

February 9, 2017 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Jeff Sessions confirmed as Attorney General ... now what for federal marijuana policy?

Jeff_Sessions_official_portraitAs Fox News reports here, "Sen. Jeff Sessions won confirmation Wednesday evening to become the next attorney general of the United States," and here's more of the basic backstory:

The Senate narrowly approved the Alabama Republican’s nomination on a 52-47 vote, the latest in a series of confirmation votes that have been dragged out amid Democratic protests. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Sessions. Sessions himself voted present.

In his farewell address Wednesday evening, Sessions urged his erstwhile colleagues to get along better following days of bruising debate. "We need latitude in our relationships," Sessions said. "Denigrating people who disagree with us is not a healthy trend for our body."...

Wednesday’s vote came after a rowdy overnight session during which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was formally chastised for allegedly impugning Sessions’ integrity on the floor. Warren had read a letter authored in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, who was against Sessions’ nomination at the time to the federal bench, arguing he used the power of his office to “chill” black voting rights. Warren also quoted the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who originally had entered King’s letter into the record, describing Sessions as “disgraceful.”

GOP Senate leaders said Warren had violated Senate rules and should lose her speaking privileges. In a remarkable scene, the Senate then voted 49-43 to suspend Warren’s speaking privileges for the rest of the nomination process – the first time the Senate has imposed such a punishment in decades.

Democrats had repeatedly contended that Sessions is too close to Trump, too harsh on immigrants, and weak on civil rights for minorities, immigrants, gay people and women. Sessions was a prominent early backer of Trump, a supporter of his hard line on illegal immigration and joined Trump's advocacy of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border....

Republicans argued Sessions has demonstrated over a long career in public service, including two decades in the Senate, that he possesses integrity, honesty, and is committed to justice and the rule of law.

Everyone in the marijuana reform community as well as all those working in the marijuana industry must now continue to wonder what an Attorney General Sessions will mean for the policy and practice of blanket federal marijuana prohibition.

In part because I think AG Sessions will have other top priorities and because a crackdown on state-legal marijuana businesses will likely be costly and unpopular, I am not expecting to see a radical shift in the short term.  But I could be wrong, and I am fairly sure that over time AG Sessions (and others in the Trump Administration) will still feel some significant obligation (and perhaps have some significant desire) to ramp up enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition to some extent unless and until Congress moves forward with some kind of statutory reforms.

Uncertain and interesting times ahead, for sure, in this space.

February 8, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Must State Police Return Wrongfully Seized Marijuana?

Imagine the following scenario. P is a local police officer who stops D for speeding. In the course of a consensual search of D’s car, P finds a small bag of marijuana. State law bans the simple possession of marijuana by most people, so P seizes the drug. However, D subsequently convinces a judge that he was allowed by state law to possess the marijuana (say, because he’s a qualified patient under the state’s medical marijuana law). Following the judge’s ruling, D asks P to return the marijuana. Must P do so?

Over at Prawfsblawg, I explain why this question is so difficult to answer – and at least four different ways courts could go about answering it.

February 8, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on the Labor Supply of Older Adults: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing paper available via SSRN authored by Lauren Hersch Nicholas and Johanna Catherine Maclean. Here is the abstract:

We study the effect of state medical marijuana laws on labor supply among older adults; the demographic group with the highest rates of many health conditions for which marijuana may be an effective treatment.  We use the Health and Retirement Study to study this question and estimate differences-in-differences regression models.  We find that passage of a state medical marijuana law leads to increases in labor supply among older adults. These effects should be considered as policymakers determine how best to regulate access to medical marijuana.

February 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable commentators making notable arguments against marijuana legalization

2014_0128_hudson_headshots_2356The Weekly Standard has this notable new commentary authored by John Walters (pictured here), David Murray and Brian Blake under the headline "The Risky Business of Commercial Marijuana."  The authors are notable because they all served in the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the George W. Bush administration, and because there is some talk of Walters serving as the "Drug Czar" in the Trump Administration.  The commentary is notable for a few curious arguments made against marijuana reform, although the piece is styled as a warning to those who might be inclined to invest in the marijuana industry.  Here are the excerpts that I found curious:

[L]egalization advocates have pointed to surging support for legal, recreational marijuana as found in public polling—reaching 60 percent positive, according to recent opinion results.

Beyond concerns over the reliability of polling projections, positive opinion polls on marijuana are of recent vintage, occurring in the midst of an eight-year period where our nation was led by an Administration that downplayed marijuana's threat, tacitly approved of its state-level legalization, and made no effort to enforce federal law.

Greater acceptance of legal marijuana has also been sustained, if not propelled, by irresponsible cheerleading in the press. Most importantly, this support has been built on assertions that are clearly not true....

As the key arguments for legal marijuana collapse, the public will increasingly confront a much darker reality as escalating reports of harms become inescapable.

There is already evidence that support for legal marijuana is much softer than the advocates assert. Candidates in the last election cycle expecting political support from libertarian conservatives or hoped-for hordes of pro-marijuana college youth, found that they failed to materialize in sufficient numbers to prevent defeat, a lesson that proved costly for the Democratic party....

Investors seeking hot prospects may be better served by ignoring the flashy market assessments issued by investment firms, who really should know better. The position is worsening as more bad news comes in from legalizer states....

All of the dangers have been known for some time — visible to anyone who ignored the hype and paid attention to the drug-dealing facts. Certainly adding to these concerns is the new uncertainty regarding marijuana enforcement in the sharply altered political landscape created by the most recent election. Investors beware.

Elsewhere in the commentary, these authors make reasonable (though debatable) arguments that marijuana legalization does not really address mass incarceration or eliminate the black market to prevent youth access as reformers promise. But the notion of a "darker reality [with] escalating reports of harm" as "more bad news comes in" seems more than a bit too dystopian in light of lots of positive reports emerging from Colorado and Washington. And pointing to the last election cycle to claim that "support for legal marijuana is much softer than the advocates assert" whistles past the critical reality that recreational marijuana prevailed in four out of five state in November 2016 (including California and Massachusetts) and that medical marijuana won big in four red states.

That all said, if the authors of this commentary have a central role in deciding federal policy in the new Administration, the final two sentences quoted above are very significant and the final word say it all: "beware."

February 7, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2017

"State Legalization of Marijuana and Our American System of Federalism: A Historio-Constitutional Primer"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Brian Blumenfeld now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Federal law, pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act, maintains a strict criminal prohibition on marijuana use of any kind.  In states that have legalized marijuana, and in states proposing to do so, a fundamental conflict arises between federal powers and state sovereignty.  This conflict implicates some of the most vital aspects of the structural constitution: the Commerce Power, the Necessary and Proper Clause, the anti-commandeering doctrine, and Supremacy Clause preemption.

In recent years a healthy scholarship has emerged to wrestle with the subject, providing insightful commentary and argument, but missing in the literature is an unabbreviated account of the major features of federalism that frame the legalization controversy.  Also missing is a historical background situating the CSA's marijuana prohibition within the American political-legal tradition.

This article provides the reader with an extensive constitutional and historical foundation for understanding what is now recognized as "the most pressing and complex federalism issue of our time."

February 6, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Is the marijuana industry now "too big to jail"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Los Angeles Times article, which is headlined "Trump's Justice Department may crack down on thriving pot industry, but is it too big to jail?".  Here are excerpts:

The election of Trump has shocked the marijuana industry into a state of high alert at a time it had planned to be gliding into unbridled growth. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a longtime field lieutenant in the war on drugs with unabashed hostility toward pot. It was only 10 months ago that Sessions was scolding from the dais of a Senate hearing room that the drug is dangerous, not funny and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Now he is poised to set the direction on national drug enforcement policy at the same time that eight states, including California, have legalized recreational use of the drug. Some 60 million Americans are living in states where voters have opted to allow any adult to be able to purchase marijuana.

Business leaders ... are betting the rapid maturity of the cannabis industry has made it too big to jail. Even before new laws took effect permitting the recreational use of pot in the massive markets of California and Massachusetts, the legitimate pot business had dwarfed its 2011 size, when the Drug Enforcement Administration was still aggressively raiding medical marijuana vendors operating legally under state laws. Since then, President Obama’s Justice Department decreed that states should have freedom to pursue their own policies, and the legalization train seemed to have left the station.

But those who have been in the business since the early days of medical marijuana caution the legions of newcomers that federal busts and seizures could quickly make a comeback. Sessions very deliberately left that option open during his confirmation hearing. “There are people in this administration who will crush this industry if they see the opportunity,” said Steve DeAngelo, who is considered a guru among pot entrepreneurs. DeAngelo, owner of the bustling Harborside Health Center dispensary in Oakland, was among the first in the industry and he has experienced it all: surprise raids from armed federal agents, unending lawsuits, getting locked in a jail cell. “I don’t think people who don’t have firsthand experience with the irrationality of federal intervention understand what a threat we are facing.”

But it’s hard to see much anxiety watching the comings and goings inside DeAngelo’s dispensary, which these days looks more like a Whole Foods than the shady corner bodegas such operations long resembled. Well-mannered hipsters with encyclopedic knowledge of bud patiently serve customers as sommeliers might, explaining the intricacies of abundant varietals of reefer available to be consumed in ever-evolving ways. On one side of the room is an enticing display of pot-laced baked goods, opposite that is the kind of fancy kiosk where artisan granola bars or yogurt cups might be hawked in a high-end grocery; the millennials manning this one are pitching elegantly packaged microdoses of pot injected into dried blueberries and other goodies.

DeAngelo says Trump might just let it all be, pointing to mixed signals the president sent during the campaign. But DeAngelo sees an easy legal path for Sessions and other committed anti-drug warriors in the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, to immediately throw the industry into chaos, should they chose to do so. A survey by Marijuana Business Daily suggests many pot entrepreneurs share his concern, with 20% saying they would curb expansion plans. Many more are putting planning off until they see where the White House is going.

“Most of us are holding our breath right now,” said Emily Paxhia, co-owner of a hedge fund that invests exclusively in the cannabis industry. Lately she has been making sure that each firm in her portfolio has a Plan B in case a federal crackdown comes. Can pot growing operations, for example, shift to micro-salad greens if the feds come knocking? Can vaporizers be sold to yoga enthusiasts consuming lavender? “We’re also starting to look at how some of the new technologies we are investing in could address needs in other countries if the U.S. becomes difficult,” Paxhia said, pointing to Canada, where she said federal embrace of recreational marijuana could open up a $22-billion market. Paxhia shared her outlook at the industrial San Francisco office space of one company in her portfolio, Meadow, which has built a digital platform through which marijuana dispensary offerings can be browsed, and products can be ordered and delivered with the ease of a service like GrubHub....

Across the bay in Oakland, a sober-looking team at a company called CW Analytical has just spent big on sophisticated new testing equipment that allows dispensaries to quickly measure the active ingredients and purity in all the pot products they sell. The company embodies how renewed federal busts would affect not just pot growers, but an entire class of lab technicians, scientists, digital engineers, marketers and other skilled professionals. “I would be lying if I told you it was not in the back of our minds,” said Emily Richardson, head of business development at CW. “We have been through a lot.” She said the firm lost a third of its business amid the last big round of federal raids in 2011. Back then, Jeff Linden wasn’t even in the trade. He was running a high-end kitchen cabinet firm. Now Linden has opened a dispensary in San Francisco’s Mission District that could be mistaken for an art gallery.....“Trump’s agenda is this long,” Linden said, stretching out his arms to make the point the new administration has bigger issues on its plate than him. “I think this industry is too big to roll back. Some people agree with me. Some are very nervous.”

My answer to the basic post question is that there are a whole lot of players who could be in line for a whole lot of trouble in the Trump Administration decides to go hard after the industry, but that the entire industry has too many elements and extensions to be completely destroyed even if that was the express desire of the Trump team. And, for a host of reasons, I think the Trump team (including future AG Sessions) is going to be eager to focus their resources elsewhere.

February 4, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Detailing regulatory realities and challenges for marijuana reform states

Sln_jan27_mapA busy week prevented me from finding time earlier to blog about this notable Stateline piece headlined "As More Voters Legalize Marijuana, States Left With Regulatory Hurdles."  Here are some highlights:

The battle to legally grow, sell, buy and smoke pot in California has been a long one. Voters in the state ushered in medical marijuana 20 years ago, but took until last fall to approve a plan to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.

Now, California officials are faced with setting rules for a product that has been outlawed by the federal government since the 1930s — a challenge that lawmakers and regulators in the other states that chose some form of marijuana legalization in the November election also are confronting.

Like California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana. They also will need rules about where pot shops can be located and whether dispensaries can sell food and candy infused with marijuana. They will also have to dovetail their recreational regulations with an existing medical marijuana industry, while Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota will be building medical systems from the ground up.

It could take several years. Colorado and Washington paved the way for recreational marijuana by legalizing it in 2012, but they are still sorting out policy details.

There is often a gap between the language of ballot measures like California’s and the detailed regulations needed to get marijuana markets off the ground. And the referendums that voters approve often call for quick implementation, giving legislators and regulators little or no time to enact policies before the drug becomes legal. “There’s no perfect implementation, there’s no perfect legalization effort,” said Michael Correia, a federal lobbyist for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There’s going to be hiccups.”...

Arkansas and Massachusetts already are discovering the difficulty of setting up a regulatory system. Arkansas has delayed the launch of its medical marijuana program to give public agencies more time to prepare and lawmakers have introduced bills to restrict how the drug is used. Massachusetts lawmakers delayed the opening of marijuana shops by six months and proposed bills that would limit how much can be grown and possessed.

States also face banking challenges, licensing skirmishes and drugged driving debates. But despite all the difficulties, more states are expected to jump into the legalization fray. Already this year, at least 12 states are considering legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana. Another seven are looking at measures to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana and nearly 30 ballot measures related to marijuana are being considered for elections in 2017 and 2018....

Three years after marijuana could first be bought and sold in Colorado, officials are still working through regulatory changes. This year already, bills have been introduced that would create a licensing system for marijuana smoking clubs, prohibit advertising marijuana without a sales license, and allow the use of medical marijuana for stress disorders.

Similarly in Washington, which legalized marijuana on the ballot in 2012, lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow retailers to sell marijuana merchandise like clothing that bears a store’s logo, regulate in-home marijuana production, and standardize the packaging and labeling of edible marijuana products....

One test of how well legalized marijuana is working will be when California, with about 39 million people and the sixth largest economy in the world, opens its recreational marijuana shops. Market researchers estimate that the California cannabis market will grow by 18.5 percent annually over the next five years, reaching $6.5 billion by 2020. By comparison, revenue in Massachusetts and Nevada, which also legalized recreational marijuana in November, is expected to be about $1.07 billion and $629.5 million, respectively.

But regulating the California market won’t be easy. Already there are rumblings of pushing implementation back a year from 2018 to 2019. And it won’t be entirely up to the state. Local governments will have a lot of say in determining when and where marijuana is bought and consumed.

February 3, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"If President Trump wants to help American businesses, he should start by legalizing marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Los Angeles Times commentary authored by Mark Stefanos.  Here are excerpts:

Trump himself has been all over the board on pot, expressing support for medical marijuana but also concerns about Colorado, where it’s recreationally legal. He generally seems to favor leaving it up to the states to decide.

Sure, it’s hard to picture Trump as marijuana’s champion. Unlike the last three presidents, Trump claims he’s never toked. He doesn’t drink, he orders his steak well-done and it’s unlikely anyone will ever pass a blunt to the self-described germaphobe.

But if legalizing marijuana federally isn’t on Trump’s legislative agenda, it should be. And a conservative Congress should back him. It’s politically expedient, fits neatly into Trump’s game plan and there are principled conservative arguments to be made on legalization’s behalf.

Outside of his core issues, our new president is no ideologue, and instead seems to be fixated on — and can be swayed by — public opinion. If his inauguration speech was any indication, Trump is doubling down on populism — and legalizing pot is incredibly popular.

The latest Gallup poll shows 60% of Americans favoring legalization, including 77% of 18- to 34-year-olds. With some of the weakest approval ratings for an incoming president, he should be looking to capitalize on low-hanging-fruit policies like these. Trump shouldn’t worry too much Trump shouldn’t worry too much about legalization alienating his base. The same Gallup poll shows that 42% of Republicans support legalization, up from 20% in 2005. And if anyone needs convincing, Trump can make the case.

He can appeal to the right by reminding us that the government isn’t our mommy. We’ve already learned the lesson that prohibition doesn’t work from alcohol, a far more dangerous drug. Enforcement of prohibition is a pointless and wasteful priority. After all, why should the government work so hard to keep people from smoking weed when China is manipulating its currency and Islamic State is burning people alive in cages?

Perhaps most importantly, however, legalization makes sense fiscally. If there’s one issue Trump has been consistent on since he launched his presidential bid, it’s economic protectionism. Today, the American marijuana industry employs 100,000 to 150,000 people nationally. Marijuana spending is estimated at $30 billion annually, according to market-research firm the Cowen Group, but only a fifth of that is spent on legal products. If legalized, the market is expected to grow to $50 billion annually by 2026.

For the same reasons Trump believes we should be buying cars and air-conditioners manufactured domestically, it follows that he should be making every effort to ensure America dominates the global marijuana industry. Americans should be smoking American weed. This requires the government’s ban be lifted so the market can flourish.

Legalization should be particularly attractive to Trump and his base, considering the main competitors to America’s pot industry are the very criminals and gangs he likes to target in his speeches. In 2008, nearly two-thirds of the pot consumed in the United States came from Mexico, according to the Rand Corp. Since then, Mexican drug cartels have had to compete with American pot farms operating in an increasingly legal landscape that produces a higher quality product and drives profits down.

Today, consumption of Mexican weed in America has been decreased to less than a third, according to an estimate by Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City based security and drug analyst. Full American legalization may put the nail in the coffin on cartel profits from weed. Trump knew this in 1990 when he said, “We're losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars."

Finally, legalizing marijuana would allow Trump to make good on his campaign promise to help “inner-cities.” Instead of paying lip service to urban communities and insulting them with rhetoric describing them as crime-ridden, Trump could actually help those communities by legalizing pot, and making sure no one else has their life ruined because they got caught smoking a joint....

The policy benefits of legalization are many, and Trump shouldn’t wait to capitalize on the political opportunity. Legalization would be a deal that allows the government to save on the costs of enforcing prohibition and fighting a failing drug war. Pot would become safer as it becomes controlled and regulated, and the government could do a better job at youth drug prevention. Taxation from legal pot sales will provide state and local governments a healthy revenue stream, at the expense of our trade competitors. Most importantly, it would shore up support for his presidency from demographics he needs, while growing the economy and jobs.

That would be a lot of winning.

February 3, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

New Textbook on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority

I’m happy to announce that my first-of-its-kind textbook on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority will soon be published by Aspen. It will be out in April (in e form) and May (in print). The teacher’s manual and a companion website will be available soon thereafter. Many thanks to Doug and others who have provided helpful feedback on this book over the last 2.5 years!

The book covers a lot of ground, befitting a field that implicates so many different areas of law. The first chapter of the book is now available on SSRN. That chapter provides more details about the book’s coverage and approach, and it also explains why this is such an interesting and worthwhile area of law to study – and not just for those who are interested in practicing in this burgeoning field.

Not coincidentally, I will be posting more this month (both here and at Prawfsblawg) on topics drawn from the book. My first post at Prawfsblawg briefly laid out the case for teaching and writing about marijuana law. Even though most people who read this blog are already sold on the subject, I’ll copy the relevant passage here:

“For one thing, state marijuana reforms and the federal response to them have sparked some of the most challenging and interesting legal controversies of our day. May the states legalize a drug while Congress forbids it? Even so, are state regulations governing marijuana preempted by federal law? Does anyone (besides the DOJ) have a cause of action to challenge them as such? Can the President suspend enforcement of the federal ban? Do state restrictions on marijuana industry advertising violate the First Amendment? These are just a handful of the intriguing questions that are now being confronted in this field.

Just as importantly, there is a large and growing number of people who care about the answers to such questions. Forty-three (43) states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession and use of some form of marijuana by at least some people. These reforms – not to mention the prohibitions that remain in place at the federal level – affect a staggering number of people. Roughly 40% of adults in the U.S. have tried marijuana, and more than 22 million people use the drug regularly. To supply this demand, thousands of people are growing and selling marijuana. In Colorado alone, for example, there are more than 600 state licensed marijuana suppliers. There are also countless third parties who regularly deal with these users and suppliers, including physicians who recommend marijuana to patients, banks that provide payment services to the marijuana industry, firms that employ marijuana users, and lawyers who advise all of the above.

All of these people need help navigating a thicket of complicated and oftentimes conflicting laws governing marijuana. Colorado, for example, has promulgated more than 200 pages of regulations to govern its $1 billion a year licensed marijuana industry. Among many other things, Colorado’s regulations require suppliers to carefully track their inventories, test and label their products, and limit where and how they advertise. These regulations are complicated enough but doubts about their enforceability (highlighted in the questions above) only add to the confusion and the need for informed legal advice.”

In the coming weeks, I will blog about some of the questions noted above. In the meantime, if you are interested in teaching a course or a unit on any aspect of marijuana law, contact me – robert<dot>mikos<at>vanderbilt<dot>edu -- I would be happy to chat.

February 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Books, Business laws and regulatory issues, Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, State court rulings, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"Patients Are Ditching Opioid Pills for Weed"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic article, and here are excerpts:

James Feeney, a surgeon in Connecticut, heard it from his patients. A few actually turned down his prescription for oxycodone, the popular opioid painkiller that has also gained notoriety with the opioid epidemic. His patients, Feeney recalls, would say, “Listen, don’t give me any of that oxycodone garbage. … I’m just going to smoke weed.”

“And you know what?” says Feeney. “Every single one of those patients doesn’t have a lot of pain, and they do pretty well.” Marijuana has worked well enough, anecdotally at least, that Feeney is following his patients’ lead and conducting a trial at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, CT. The state-funded study will compare opioids and medical marijuana for treating acute pain, such as that from a broken rib.

That distinction — acute pain from an injury — is also an important one. A small body of evidence suggests that medical marijuana is effective for chronic pain, which persists even after an injury should have healed and for which opioids are already not a great treatment. But now Feeney wants to try medical marijuana for acute pain, where opioids have long been a go-to drug.

“The big focus from my standpoint is that this is an attempt to end the opioid epidemic,” he says. Overdoses from opioids, which includes heroin as well as prescription painkillers like oxycodone and morphine, killed more than 30,000 people in 2015.

Marijuana might have a bigger role in curbing this drug abuse than previously thought. Its potential uses are actually threefold: to treat chronic pain, to treat acute pain, and to alleviate the cravings from opioid withdrawal. And it has the advantages of being much less dangerous and addictive than opioids.... Yasmin Hurd, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai who has a license to study marijuana and its derivatives...in a small pilot study ... has found that cannabidiol can reduce the cravings of people addicted to heroin. “They relapse because they are in conditions that induce craving,” says Hurd. By controlling their anxiety, cannabidiol also seems to be controlling their cravings.

Hurd is now running a larger trial to investigate if the substance could help people addicted to heroin, and she published a recent review on cannabidiol’s role in curbing substance abuse....

Interestingly, patients already seem to be replacing opioids with marijuana for chronic pain. A handful of observational studies have also found correlations between states legalizing medical marijuana and a drop in painkiller prescriptions, opioid use, and deaths from opioid overdose. And in 2016, Dan Clauw and his colleagues published a survey of patients with chronic pain who started patronizing a medical marijuana dispensary. They cut their previous opioid use by two-thirds....

Clauw, who runs a pain lab at University of Michigan, says he would to like understand how marijuana quells pain on a molecular level, but getting the license has proved too big a hurdle.

Meanwhile, Feeney’s hospital trial for acute pain is able to get around the logistics issue of marijuana as a scheduled substance. Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Connecticut, but neither Feeney nor his hospital provides it directly to patients. Rather, a doctor certifies a patient to use marijuana, and the patient then picks it up at a dispensary or pharmacy. “The strains I have to select from are so pure and so potent that the stuff they get from the University of Mississippi pales in comparison,” says Feeney.

The trial, which was just got started, will enroll 60 patients with rib injuries in total—30 on marijuana, 30 on opioids. The doctors chose rib injuries to study because the pain lasts a predictable six weeks. Because of the study’s design, patients get to choose whether they use opioids and marijuana to control pain. So far, the hospitals has enrolled a handful of patients. They’ve all chosen marijuana.

Some prior related posts:

February 2, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting the (inevitable?) mixture of marijuana, regulators, money and lobbying

The Hill has this notable lengthy article, headlined "Marijuana lobby goes mainstream," highlighting the . Here are excerpts:

In a sign that the budding marijuana industry is moving away from the fringes and into the political mainstream, into the political mainstream, a number of officials once tasked with managing the growing legal cannabis sector are leaving their government positions to take jobs in the sector.

Many are advising states and cities as voters loosen marijuana restrictions across the country. Others are becoming industry advocates, lobbying the former colleagues and coworkers they left behind to craft more favorable rules and regulations.

In Colorado, Andrew Freedman, once the state’s director of marijuana coordination, and Lewis Koski, who headed the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, teamed up to form a consulting firm that advises local and state governments on crafting new marijuana regulations. Laura Harris, Koski’s predecessor at the Marijuana Enforcement Division, took a post this month as director of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

Manny Munson-Regala, who oversaw Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, now runs a consulting firm of his own. John O’Brien resigned his post overseeing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to take a job as chief compliance officer of a New York cannabis company. And several former top officials at Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board have left in recent years to form their own firms.

“That’s how America works. You work for the government, then you become a lobbyist,” said Ian Eisenberg, a leader in the legal marijuana industry who runs Uncle Ike’s, a dispensary in Seattle, Wash. “I don’t think it’s any different than the defense industry.”

Those who have made the jump from the government sector to the private sector say they offer a valuable service, both to governments that need to establish new rules and to the businesses that need to navigate complex regulatory schemes that have never been implemented before. “We’re the only ones to have stood this up before,” said Freedman, who now consults with governments looking to set up their regulatory structures. “There’s a real opportunity to come in and show lessons learned quickly.”...

But opponents of legalized pot, and some government transparency groups, say the relationship between the marijuana industry and its regulators should be treated like any other. “The revolving door from government to private sector isn’t anything new, but it represents the worst of our politics. This isn’t the paper clip or oven mitt lobby, this is the drug lobby,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. And we know that the pot lobby wants to make money, just like big tobacco executives do.”

Aaron Scherb, legislative affairs director at the government transparency group Common Cause, said states should implement a cooling-off period between the time when a regulator leaves government service and when he or she begins working on behalf of the industry. “These individuals are the most familiar with the rules and regulations of a particular industry, and their experience means they’re able to exploit loopholes,” Scherb said. “At least some minimal amount of time is appropriate so we can avoid this revolving door problem.”

At least one state, Minnesota, required its regulators to take a year off before returning to work in the field they oversaw. Munson-Regala, the former head of the state’s medical marijuana program, said that reminded him of other industries he helped regulate, like the insurance business. “Embedded in that one-year cooling off period was an understanding that regulators are in a good position to help folks who are being regulated, in part because they understand what it takes to be compliant,” Munson-Regala said in an interview.

The revolving door is just one of the ways an industry that was once seen as the domain of hippies is trying to professionalize. Just a few years ago, proponents of legalizing marijuana brought 1970s-era stoner icon Tommy Chong to Capitol Hill to woo lawmakers. Today, Chong is gone, replaced by a booming industry of cultivators and retailers — and the trade shows, consultants and lobbyists who offer services to boost their business.

On Tuesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association kicked off a two-day Seed to Sale trade show in Denver, focusing on business practices for producers and retailers. The group’s first trade show several years ago attracted 800 participants; this year, they expect 2,000 vendors — and 4,000 to 5,000 at the annual Cannabis Business Summit and Expo, said Taylor West, the group’s deputy director. In November, 10,000 people showed up to another trade show in Las Vegas. “This industry is not slowing down,” West said.

Around the country, hundreds of lobbyists are already bending lawmakers’ ears on marijuana measures. In Colorado alone, 81 lobbyists reported advocating on marijuana proposals before the state legislature, according to data filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

February 2, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In praise of National District Attorney's Association creation of diverse marijuana policy working group

Download (1)I was pleased to see this local article from Colorado, headlined "Boulder DA Stan Garnett named to group that will advise Trump administration on pot," reporting on a new group assembled by the National District Attorney's Association. Here are the details:

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett has been selected to join a group of prosecutors from across the country who will help advise the Donald Trump administration on policies regarding marijuana.

The National District Attorney's Association created a policy group featuring 14 district attorneys who will issue advisements on possible law or policy changes regarding marijuana as more and more states legalize it.

Garnett said he is the only active prosecutor from Colorado in the group, but said there are also DAs from California and Oregon — other states with recreational marijuana — in the group. "It's a reflection of the NDAA's interest in having a fairly balanced committee, which will be largely advising on what our policy position should be in communications with the Trump Justice Department," Garnett said.

But while Garnett said there are a wide variety of states in different stages of marijuana legalization represented in the group, he said for the most part NDAA still is a conservative group, which is why he felt it was important to add his voice.

"I always end up on the more liberal position than anyone else, particularly on marijuana," Garnett said. "I think one of the things that happens is that many of the people in states where there is no legalization have a complete misunderstanding of states like Colorado. If nothing else, I'm able to say, 'Wait a minute, this is a huge business in Colorado, it is largely supported by the editorial boards, polls show it was being very popular, and by and large we have not seen an impact on crime rates.

"For somebody from Missouri or South Carolina to tell Colorado how to handle an issue of its own choice like legalization of marijuana is not only bad policy, but it fails to respect the importance of local control and state rights."

For instance, Garnett said that at the first meeting, some of the DAs wanted to send a letter to the governor of any state with recreational or medical marijuana telling them to shut those businesses down within 90 days. "I thought that was a particularly unrealistic and ill-advised idea, and I was not shy about saying that," Garnett said.

Tom Raynes, the executive director of the Colorado District Attorney's Council and another member of the group, said it will be a feeling out process for the group, which was only formed about 10 days ago. "There's such a myriad of approaches depending on what stage of legalization you are in," Raynes said. "To come up with some sort of nationwide discussion on what works and what doesn't work makes a lot of sense."

Regardless of their stance on legalization, Raynes said all prosecutors have some common goals in regard to marijuana, such as keeping it out of the hands of children, cracking down on impaired driving, and curbing the black market. "Those are things that every state can agree on, and they need to start getting to the difficult issues," Raynes said.

Garnett said the group has toyed with the idea of issuing a majority and a minority opinion on different issues. If he is in fact confirmed as the next U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions likely would be the one ultimately going over the policy recommendations. "Assuming he gets confirmed, he would definitely be the recipient of whatever we come up with," Garnett said. "At the moment nobody really knows what approach the Trump justice department will take, so that will determine how long the group meets."

Sessions has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, once saying that " good people don't smoke marijuana," and Trump has also said he plans to keep it illegal on a federal level. Garnett said he thinks that Trump trying to reverse states' decisions to legalize marijuana is possible, but would be tricky. "Legalization has been largely successful everywhere it has been tried, so it would be a highly unpopular move and difficult to accomplish successfully," Garnett said. "But I don't know what to expect on the Trump administration on this issue."

But even if the nation weren't going through a major administration change, Raynes said, an advisory group like this was needed. "I think it would have been done anyway," Raynes said. "Just as the marijuana issues evolve, states need to evolve to figure out some common ground."

I am very pleased to hear about this NDAA group and that they seemingly have a diverse group of prosecutors involved in this discussion. Indeed, I would like to see other criminal justice organizations like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer and national police groups assembling an array of members to work on what seems to those groups to be sound marijuana policies.

February 1, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Reading green tea leaves on Judge Gorsuch and marijuana law

A couple of marijuana reform supporters already have a couple of commentaries flagging some decisions of new SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch concerning marijuana:

From Tom Angell here, "Trump's Supreme Court Pick On Marijuana"

From Heavy.com here, "Neil Gorsuch & Marijuana: What Are His Views on Legalization?"

I am not sure there is a whole lot here to get assess, but I surmise from other opinions dealing with other issues that Judge Gorsuch is a fan of federalism and limits on federal powers.  That philosophy should generally bode well for marijuana reformers at this moment in time, and  I do think it likely that some marijuana law and reform issues are likely to end up before the Supreme Court in the decades to come. 

January 31, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Cannabis use disorder and suicide attempts in Iraq/Afghanistan-Era veterans"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research appearing in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. Here is the abstract:

The objective of the present research was to examine the association between lifetime cannabis use disorder (CUD), current suicidal ideation, and lifetime history of suicide attempts in a large and diverse sample of Iraq/Afghanistan-era veterans (N = 3233) using a battery of well-validated instruments. As expected, CUD was associated with both current suicidal ideation (OR = 1.683, p = 0.008) and lifetime suicide attempts (OR = 2.306, p < 0.0001), even after accounting for the effects of sex, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol use disorder, non-cannabis drug use disorder, history of childhood sexual abuse, and combat exposure. Thus, the findings from the present study suggest that CUD may be a unique predictor of suicide attempts among Iraq/Afghanistan-era veterans; however, a significant limitation of the present study was its cross-sectional design. Prospective research aimed at understanding the complex relationship between CUD, mental health problems, and suicidal behavior among veterans is clearly needed at the present time.

January 31, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Minnesota facing the high costs of highly regulating its medical marijuana program

This new AP article, headlined "Minnesota's Medical Marijuana Program Needs More Money," provides an interesting report on the state of the medical marijuana program in the Gopher State. Here are the particulars:

Minnesota's medical marijuana program needs extra state funding to cover the costs of its patient database and inspections of drug manufacturers, just a few of the regulations that make it one of the most restrictive such laws in the country. It's the latest reminder of the financial constraints on the program borne from the heavy restrictions on Minnesota's 2014 law.

The plant form of marijuana remains banned under the law, requiring the state's two medical manufacturers to concoct marijuana oils, pills and vapors with routine state inspections and secondary lab testing. Just 10 severe conditions such as cancer and epilepsy qualify for the program, a number that has grown in recent years with a few additions.

The state's manufacturers combined to lose more than $5 million in the first year of legal medical marijuana sales in 2015. And patient count hasn't met projections, exacerbating high prescription costs for patients that the two companies who cultivate and sell medication have only recently begun to address with modest price decreases.

The Office of Medical Cannabis' request for more than $500,000 over the next two years is just a fraction of the $40 billion-plus budget Minnesota's Legislature will assemble this year. But state regulators say that money is critical to cover the higher-than-expected costs for maintenance of their around-the-clock patient registry and the costs of performing 120 inspections or more each year....

The state already provides about $1.4 million a year to help cover operating costs, and regulators can cover their oversight costs by charging manufacturers, LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions, an annual registration fee. But after increasing the manufacturers' annual fee from $94,000 to $146,000 last year, Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal says additional state funding is essential to help avoid an "increase the cost of medical cannabis to program participants."

Those costs range from software licensing and fixing bugs on their patient registry — where the state tracks each patient's progress with the new medications — to the travel bills that come from visiting every distribution site, from Rochester in southern Minnesota to Moorhead, near its northwestern corner. "I don't think anyone thought about us having eight cannabis centers statewide," said Michelle Larson, the director of the state program. "Our annual cost is a little bit more than folks thought it would be."

Garofalo also has a different approach: He's proposing legislation that would allow manufacturers to write off business expenses on their Minnesota tax filings. That's impossible at the federal level while it's still considered a Schedule I drug, subjecting marijuana-related businesses to some of the highest effective tax rates.

LeafLine Labs chief executive Andrew Bachman said his company will likely lose money again in 2017, and he wasn't sure whether the tax break would help it break even. But by treating the business just as any other Minnesota company, he said it would help cement medical marijuana as just another type of medicine. "It's about normalization. Cannabis is medicine is thousands for Minnesotans now," Bachman said.

January 30, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)