Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 11, 2015

"Will The Democratic Candidates Talk About Weed? The Marijuana Talk Could Reap Huge Benefits For The Dems"

The title of this post is this short Bustle piece that suggest Democratic candidate for Prez ought to talk up marijuana reform at their upcoming debate. Here are excerpts:

Weed legalization has received relatively little attention in the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s not terribly surprising that GOP is steering clear of the the subject: The party’s broad opposition to any sort of marijuana legalization puts them at odds with the majority of Americans. But several states will vote on marijuana legalization measures at the ballot box next year, and this begs the question: Will the Democrats discuss marijuana at the debate on Tuesday?

For the most part, Democratic candidates haven’t avoided the subject. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a vocal opponent of the war on drugs, wants to legalize medical marijuana, while former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed legislation in his state decriminalization small amounts of weed, supports relaxing marijuana laws. But Sanders has downplayed the significance of marijuana as a policy issue, while frontrunner Hillary Clinton has largely avoided taking any stance on weed altogether.

All of this is odd. For Democrats, marijuana legalization is an issue that’s ripe with political opportunity. For a decade, Americans have been warming to the idea of legalizing the herb. President Obama has been somewhat relaxed in enforcing federal marijuana laws and has faced little consequences for doing so. Meanwhile, four states have legalized recreational marijuana use, a change that’s raked in a windfall of tax revenue and hinted at the incredible economic benefits that could result from full legalization.... [T]he Democratic contenders for president can easily grab this issue by the horns, and they won’t be taking a big risk. By strongly voicing support for medical marijuana legalization, the candidates would have the political, economic and moral calculus all on their side — a rarity as far as hot-button issues go. They would also spur enthusiasm amongst the liberal base, and as an added bonus, they’d have a new issue on which to brand Republicans as being out-of-touch with the times (not that there’s any shortage of such issues).

It’s high time that Democrats seize the opportunity to throw their support behind weed. Next week’s debate is the perfect opportunity for them to blaze that trail.

October 11, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

If you legalize it, they will come (and buy even more than expected), Oregon edition

DownloadThis local article, headlined "Oregon's first week of recreational pot sales tops $11 million," spotlights the notable reality that individuals given legal permission to purchase marijuana seem eager to do so in large numbers. Here are the details:

After just one week of recreational marijuana sales, Oregon dispensaries have raked in an estimated $11 million. That figure could mean the state's estimate is shockingly low for how much money it'll make when pot taxes kick in this January.

At Nectar on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 33rd Avenue, they're restocking the shelves a lot this week. "We're seeing about 500 people a day," said Nectar owner Jeff Johnson. Dispensary owners and customers are reporting Oregon's first week has gone very well....

The Oregon Retail Cannabis Association told KGW after tallying up sales from its members statewide and factoring in projections, they estimated there were $3.5 million in sales on the first day, October 1.

One week in, Oregon is already far ahead of dollars spent on pot compared to Colorado's first week of legal recreational sales, at $5 million. Washington took a month to sell its first $2 million, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

When Oregon voters approved recreational marijuana, the state set an estimate of $9 million in net tax revenue for the first full year of 2017. But the Oregon Retail Cannabis Association believes it'll bring in three to four times that much.

"It's just person after person after person," said Rachel Clerk, employee at Fresh Buds in Southeast Portland. For her store, these hundreds of new customers came at a crucial time. They were trying to stay afloat with only 15 medical customers a day.

"There for awhile, towards the end we were thinking we might have to close the doors because we weren't getting any kind of steady business," said Clerk. In this past week, they're back in the black, averaging 10 times as much foot traffic.

And dispensaries are seeing the customer base vary as much as the strains they're buying. "Obviously we're seeing a young crowd but we're also seeing people in their 50s and 60s that would never have bought the product if it wasn't legal," said Johnson.

Oregon recreational marijuana sales are all tax-free until January. Once that 25 percent tax gets added on, it'll go to help fund schools, mental health programs, state police and the cities and counties that are allowing recreational sales.

October 11, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Latest swing-state polling shows huge support for ending blanket marijuana prohibition

The latest swing-state polling numbers via the fine folks who conduct the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds remarkably high public support for ending marijuana prohibition, especially with respect to allowing adults "to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it."  This Quinnipiac press release provides these basic and links to various polling specifics concerning both recreation and medical marijuana reforms (with some of my emphasis added):

With noticeable gender gaps, voters in Florida and Ohio back legalization of marijuana for personal use - so-called "recreational marijuana" - while Pennsylvania voters are divided, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released today.

In each state, men support legalized marijuana for personal use more than women, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds. The Swing State Poll focuses on Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania because since 1960 no candidate has won the presidential race without taking at least two of these three states.

By overwhelming margins, voters in each state support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. On this question, there is no gender gap. Also in each state, most voters say they would not use marijuana if personal use were legalized.... "If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then the Red Planet might be the more spacey place. That's because men are more likely than women to support legalization of marijuana for recreational use," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. "Not surprisingly support for the change is linked to age, with younger voters more likely to see personal use of pot as a good thing."

"But despite the support for legalization, a majority of voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania say they would not use the drug if it were legal," Brown added. "Only about one in 10 voters opposes legalizing marijuana for medical purposes." ...

Florida voters support legalizing personal marijuana use 51 - 45 percent. Men support it 57 - 41 percent, with women narrowly opposed 49 - 46 percent. Support is 66 - 30 percent among voters 18 to 34 years old, 52 - 44 percent among voters 35 to 49 years old and 55 - 43 percent among voters 50 to 64 years old. Voters over 65 are opposed 56 - 39 percent. But 65 percent of voters say they would "definitely not" use marijuana if it were legalized. Voters support legalizing medical marijuana 87 - 12 percent. ...

Ohio voters support legalizing personal marijuana use 53 - 44 percent. Men support it 59 - 38 percent. Women are divided, with 47 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. Support is 70 - 25 percent among voters 18 to 34 years old, 59 - 39 percent among voters 35 to 49 years old and 50 - 46 percent among voters 50 to 64 years old. Voters over 65 are opposed 64 - 33 percent. Again, 65 percent of voters say they would "definitely not" use marijuana if it were legalized. Voters support legalized medical marijuana use 90 - 9 percent.

Pennsylvania voters are divided on legalizing personal marijuana use, with 47 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. Men support it 52 - 44 percent, with women opposed 53 - 43 percent.

Support is 66 - 33 percent among voters 18 to 34 years old and 51 - 45 percent among voters 35 to 49 years old. Voters 50 to 64 years old are divided 48 - 47 percent and voters over 65 are opposed 64 - 32 percent. Even if marijuana were legalized, 66 percent of voters say they would "definitely not" use it. Voters support legalizing medical marijuana 90 - 9 percent.

For a number of reasons, it is understandable that the divided numbers concerning legalization of recreational marijuana serves as the top polling story from these data. But, as my headline and highlights are designed to stress, I think the most important and potentially consequential aspect of this polling is the huge approval from all states and all demographics to end blanket marijuana prohibition and to permit, in the words of the poll question, adults "to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it." Now with such overwhelming support for medical marijuana reform in "purple" states, I expect more and more mainstream politicians to actively support medical marijuana reform and perhaps even start attacking any candidates who do not actively support such reforms.

October 8, 2015 in Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Big Marijuana Reforms Included in Senate Spending Package"

Congress and cannabisThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new report from Tom Angell about notable developments on Capitol Hill.  Here are the interesting and notable details:

A key Senate leader has included several pieces of good news for marijuana law reform advocates in a package of spending bills intended to keep the government operational for the next fiscal year.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, filed the bills on Tuesday, and they have just been uploaded to Congress’s website. Here’s what the bills’ language will do, if enacted:

* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.

* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.

* Allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are medical marijuana patients in accordance with state law.

* Prevent the federal government from punishing banks for doing business with state-legal marijuana providers.

Each of the provisions above were passed this year with bipartisan votes on the House floor, in the Senate Appropriations Committee or both.

The legislation also removes language from previous years’ spending bills that has prevented Washington, D.C. from spending money to implement a system of legalized and taxed sales of marijuana. If Cochran’s bill is enacted as is, the District of Columbia will be able to move forward with enacting marijuana sales regulations that the mayor and local lawmakers have indicated they support but have been stymied from moving forward with due to ongoing Congressional interference.

The provisions, and the overall spending proposals they are attached to, represent what Cochran believes can pass the Senate. He and other Senate appropriators are currently in negotiations with leadership from the House Appropriations Committee and are expected to arrive at a compromise spending package sometime before government funding under current legislation runs out on December 11.

October 8, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A first for the marijuana industry: A product liability lawsuit"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new Los Angeles Times article, and here is how the article gets started:

For years, Brandan Flores has treated his chronic back pain with marijuana, a remedy he champions as a natural alternative to traditional medication. But recently he heard rumblings that his drug of choice might be less wholesome than he had imagined.

"There was talk about Eagle 20," he said, "and it concerned me right away." Eagle 20 is a fungicide used to kill mites, mildew and assorted pests that flock to plants like hops and grapes. It also contains a chemical called myclobutanil, which produces hydrogen cyanide gas when burned.

Stunned that he might be inhaling toxic fumes, Flores and fellow medicinal pot user Brandie Larrabee, a brain tumor patient, sued the grower this week, filing the first product liability lawsuit against the marijuana industry. "I want these companies to take a step back and look at what they are putting into their products," said Flores, 24, who sued in Denver District Court. "These warehouses are getting big and really sloppy. They are adding chemicals to make things more efficient and more potent. But there are so many chemicals now that you might as well get prescription medication."

The target of the suit, LivWell Inc., owns nine pot shops in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana use last year. LivWell operates one of the largest grow houses in the world. Company lawyer Dean Heizer did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier, he told the Associated Press that LivWell had stopped using Eagle 20 and that no consumer illnesses had been linked to marijuana pesticides.

In April, Colorado quarantined 60,000 pot plants from LivWell to check for Eagle 20 residue. The hold was lifted when only low levels of the chemical were found. Afterward, LivWell owner John Lord released a statement saying laboratory tests of his plants "showed that our products are safe — as we always maintained."

Neither Flores nor Larrabee contends that the marijuana has harmed them. But they say they would have never inhaled it if they knew it could release what the lawsuit calls "poisonous hydrogen cyanide." Their attorney, Steven Woodrow, said the growers "either knew or acted in disregard of the facts" when they sprayed the plants with Eagle 20. "The state of Colorado has a list of approved pesticides for marijuana," he said. "This is not one of them."

Woodrow said this is the first lawsuit to challenge the marijuana industry's grow methods. He is seeking class-action status for the suit and expects more plaintiffs to join in. "Unless the industry cleans itself up, we can expect more lawsuits like this in the future," he said.

October 8, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Reefer madness or state law sanity?: Ohio AG sues Toledo after passage of local marijuana decriminalization measure

As noted in this prior post, last month Toledo voters overwhelmingly passed a measure to decriminalize marijuana in the city by reducing penalties for the drug to the minimum allowed by state law and repealing penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.   But now, as reported in this new Toledo Blade article, headlined "Ohio sues city over marijuana ordinance: Attorney general sees state conflict," Ohio's top state lawyer believes it is necessary to sue the city to block some aspects of what the local voters' approved. Here are the basics:

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed suit Tuesday against the city of Toledo, asking a judge to declare invalid several key sections of the city’s new “Sensible Marihuana Ordinance.”

The legal challenge in Lucas County Common Pleas Court claims several portions of the voter-approved Toledo law, including restricting fines and incarceration for marijuana possession, contradict Ohio law. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates and Sheriff John Tharp joined Attorney General Mike DeWine in the lawsuit.

Voters last month approved a measure reducing penalties in Toledo Municipal Code for all marijuana-related crimes to no fines or jail time. They also supported stopping city police from reporting the convictions to state authorities.

Although it is unfortunate to oppose the will of a majority of voters, significant portions of this law are “clearly unconstitutional,” Mr. DeWine said. He announced the legal action during a news conference at One Government Center.

Mr. DeWine discussed a seizure last month by the Ohio Highway Patrol in Lucas County that found 226 pounds of marijuana. If the motorists had been charged through this Toledo ordinance, neither would be incarcerated or fined. “Such a scenario is completely unacceptable, and it violates the Ohio Constitution,” Mr. DeWine said.

Mr. DeWine said this lawsuit does not seek to dismiss the entire measure, but the portions that contradict state law. Ohio’s constitution allows cities to adopt and enforce local regulations if they do not conflict with the state, according to the complaint. Police are empowered to arrest suspects in their municipality found breaking state law, the lawsuit states. “Municipal drug ordinances are police power regulations, and drug statutes duly enacted by the state of Ohio are laws of general application throughout the state,” the suit states.

The lawsuit specifically names a “gag rule” in the ordinance that says city police and the law director may not report for prosecution under state law any marijuana or hashish offense to an authority besides the law director. The prosecution would be left pursuing a misdemeanor case in Toledo Municipal Court under a law claiming to abolish incarceration, fines, and probation. “The city of Toledo is not empowered to establish or amend Ohio felony law. And municipal authorities are not authorized to prosecute felony offenses under state law,” according to the suit.

When asked during the news conference why Mr. DeWine’s office did not intervene prior to the vote, he said that he did not believe “anyone was aware of everything that was in there.”

City officials were not surprised by the lawsuit. Adam Loukx, Toledo law director, said there were concerns about its potential contradictions with state law, but he will defend the voters’ choice. “It’s only appropriate a court would be the one to decide that,” Mr. Loukx said. Mr. Loukx said he recently obtained a copy of the lawsuit and could not yet say what would remain of the law if Mr. Dewine is successful.

Sean Nestor, campaign manager for the Sensible Marihuana initiative that promoted the ballot measure, said the group expected a legal challenge. When they were crafting the ordinance, organizers studied other successful decriminalization measures in Ohio and Michigan, he said. “We used laws that had survived court challenges,” he said.

Mr. Nestor said his group is ready to work with city officials to defend the measure in court. While the case remains pending, Mr. Loukx said a Toledo police officer who finds a resident possessing marijuana could cite the suspect under Ohio Revised Code. The officer also might be permitted to charge under Toledo Municipal Code as well, Mr. Loukx said. “At this point, a lot of it will be in the discretion of the officer,” he said.

Because I am not an expert on local government law, I am going to need to read the full lawsuit filed by Attorney General DeWine [which is available here] before commenting on its merits. But I can say at the outset that I suppose I am pleased to learn that other crimes and legal concerns in the state of Ohio are so low that the AG's office had ample time to focus on what (I would hope) is a relatively low-level concern for state official.

October 7, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

California wisely includes mandate DUI research in recent medical marijuana reforms

This local article, headlined "Marijuana legislation calls for DUI study," reports on a notable (and I think very valuable) element of California's recent new law concerning medical marijuana. Here are the details and the context:

Recent legislation awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature not only seeks to implement a statewide regulatory system on the medical marijuana, but also calls for a study on how law enforcement can better detect stoned drivers.

Nestled within one of the bills — Assembly Bill 266 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) — is a sentence that calls for the state to commission the UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to develop a study that identifies how cannabis impacts motor skills. The language was written by Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a retired California Highway Patrol sergeant of 28 years who said he was motivated to coauthor the bill to give officers another tool to get impaired drivers off the street and to save lives.

“We’ve done a good job of reducing alcohol DUIs,” he said. “With drug impairment we have a long way to go. I believe this is a pioneering effort to allow that to take place.” Lackey — who made his first visit to Humboldt County on Tuesday along with two other bill authors to call on Gov. Brown to sign the bills — said that the study could provide data that he hopes will result in an improved field sobriety test specifically for marijuana impairment.

The three-bill package known as the “Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act” is currently sitting on Gov. Brown’s desk. If signed, the bills would create a licensing and regulatory scheme for all aspects of the medical marijuana industry including cultivation, distribution, transport, dispensary sales, laboratory testing, environmental protections and storage.

Unlike with alcohol, where a legal blood alcohol concentration has been established, local law enforcement officials say they are currently limited in their methods of detecting drivers under the influence of the marijuana’s main psychoactive component, THC, with no set level of impairment and no easy detection method like a Breathalyzer.

“We do not have a cutoff point where we can say we know they are impaired,” Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said. “The proof goes back to whether or not their driving showed they were impaired.” When prosecuting someone for driving under the influence of marijuana, Fleming said evidence usually includes patrol car dash cam videos, testimony by drug recognition experts and observations by a law enforcement officer.

Even if such a level were established, a local defense attorney and several studies state that THC processing by the human body is more complicated than alcohol and other drugs. A former president of the DUI Lawyers Association and current member of National College of DUI Defense, Eureka-based attorney Manny Daskal said some studies have shown that drivers actually exhibited safer driving habits and kept more room between themselves and other drivers to compensate for their impairment, though other studies refute the findings. “Right now the research isn’t there for them to accurately predict when impairment occurs or at what level it occurs,” Daskal said.

Regardless of what type of drug a California Highway Patrol officer suspects a driver is impaired by, Humboldt County CHP Public Information Officer Cy May said they will perform the same field sobriety test. “Usually we’re not sure it’s cannabis,” May said, adding there are certain giveaway signs. Such signs include marijuana odor emanating from the car or driver, bloodshot or dilated eyes, and a higher pulse rate....

Two studies by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released in February found that 12.6 percent of surveyed drivers had evidence of marijuana use in their systems — up from 8.6 percent in 2007 — while those driving under the influence of alcohol dropped by one-third in the same time period.

Another study by the administration found that marijuana users were 25 percent more likely to be in a crash than non-marijuana users, but that the increased risk “may be due in part because marijuana users are more likely to be in groups at higher risk of crashes” — such as young men. “When you take all the confounding factors into account there is not much of an indication that marijuana causes an increase of crashing,” Daskal said.

Speaking at Tuesday’s rally in Eureka, Lackey said a September 2015 report by the Rocky Mountain High Drug Trafficking Area showed a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado in 2014 — the same year recreational marijuana use became legal — compared to 2013. “We will not stand for that in California,” he said to the crowd.

While these studies state the risk of a crash is much higher when THC impairment is factored in, others — like a 2010 study in the The American Journal on Addictions — state some experimental studies have shown it can have the opposite effect. “Several reviews of driving and simulator studies have concluded that marijuana use by drivers is likely to result in decreased speed and fewer attempts to overtake, as well as increased ‘following distance,’ ” the study states. “The opposite is true of alcohol.”

October 7, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reviewing the state of marijuana policy in many states of Europe

This new Internation Business Times article provides a helpful review the legal status of marijuana in a number of European nations.  Here are the basics:

European laws on marijuana consumption and sale differ greatly throughout the continent and have shifted throughout the past 15 years, with one country having decriminalized all drugs.

The Netherlands:  Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, is known throughout Europe -- and indeed, throughout much of the world -- for its coffee shops, where customers can buy joints and smoke them in the cafe. What most tourists in the city do not realize, however, is that most drugs in the Netherlands, including marijuana, are still illegal to produce and possess.  Dutch law allows for customers to buy a small amount of it and consume it on the premises, but smoking pot on the street (for example) is not allowed.

Spain:  The laws in Spain concerning marijuana often seem contradictory.  Though it is illegal to buy or sell marijuana, citizens can grow and consume it for personal use.  As a result of this legal loophole, "cannabis clubs" -- night clubs in Barcelona and Valencia -- have sprung up where members can smoke pot in the dance club.

France:  The French government has toed a strict line when it comes to marijuana, and the substance is still illegal to buy, sell or produce.  If you walk along the Seine near midnight in Paris, however, the smell of teenagers smoking hashish on the wharves might indicate otherwise.

The Czech Republic:  Passed in 2013, a brand-new medical marijuana law in the Czech Republic allows patients with a doctor's note to purchase pot.  Weed is decriminalized for the rest of the nation, and citizens can grow up to five plants for personal use.

Portugal: This Iberian nation has arguably the loosest marijuana laws on the continent.  In fact, Portugal became the first European nation to officially abolish all criminal penalties for drug use with a 2001 law that got rid of jail time for possession of any drug, including heroin, cocaine and marijuana.  The policy was aimed at encouraging rehabilitation over criminalization.

October 6, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Who says reefer madness is dead, eh?

51u8FL9XFAL._SX200_QL80_The slightly silly title of this post is my reaction to this local report from Canada on the political discussion of marijuana reform up north.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana ‘infinitely worse’ than tobacco, says Canadian PM Harper," and here are excerpts:

The debate over legal marijuana usage in Canada has become one of key issues in the federal election, pitting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau against the Conservative Stephen Harper, who has challenged his opponent’s pro-legalization stance claiming marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco.

“Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is infinitely worse and it’s something that we do not want to encourage,” Harper said, pointing to the dark sides of smoking weed after his opponent Trudeau vowed to legalize marijuana if elected.

Trying to explain why he was so bothered by marijuana, given that tobacco and alcohol are regulated and pot is used for medicinal purposes, Harper said, that the plant is bad for human health. “There's just overwhelming and growing scientific and medical evidence about the bad long-term effects of marijuana,” he said, without backing his claims with any examples. Marijuana 101: Canadian university to teach basics of pot growing, marketing & sales

The Conservative leader also stressed that he will retain tough drug laws aimed at targeting traffickers, who profit off “destroying people's health.” He was reiterating his claims made during Friday’s second French-language debate when he clashed with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau....

The reality is that we have kids who find it easier to buy marijuana than cigarettes and beer,” Trudeau responded. “If a young person buys marijuana, it’s because he had contact directly with a criminal. We will continue to control marijuana like cigarettes and alcohol, not to sell them in corner stores.” The Canadian federal election will be held on October 19, 2015 to elect members to the country;s House of Commons. Marijuana has been a key topic throughout the campaign, with the Liberals in favor of legalization and regulation and the NDP, headed by Tom Mulcair favoring decriminalization, rather than legalization.

October 4, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rural Illinois excited by economic development potential of medical marijuana reform

Download (2)This AP article, headlined "Legal Marijuana Stirs Hope in Illinois Town," highlights the on-the-ground reality that I believe will sustain marijuana reform: local economic development. Here are excerpts:

A skunky aroma fills the room in which hundreds of lush marijuana plants grow, some nearly ready for harvest. Grower Ashley Thompson, a former high school agriculture teacher in this rural part of southeastern Illinois, takes the scent of weed home with her.

She doesn't mind. It's the fragrance of money and jobs. "My family says I smell," said Thompson, who quit the classroom to work for Ataraxia, one of a handful of cultivation centers in Illinois, which is one of 23 states with medical marijuana. "I can't tell though."

The Associated Press recently gained an exclusive look at Illinois' first legal marijuana crop, and the new farmland ritual beginning amid surrounding cornfields in the historic town of Albion: the harvest of medical marijuana that will soon be sold in dispensaries around the state.

Ataraxia is the first center to make it to the finish line after running a gantlet of state requirements. For the company to find a home in Albion — where grain trucks rumble past the sleepy central square, cicadas drone in the trees shading a century-old courthouse and a breeze touches an empty bandstand — is paradoxical. Stores can't sell package liquor, but marijuana has been welcomed as a badly needed source of employment.

A comical T-shirt for sale says the town is "High and Dry." Cheryl Taylor, who sells the shirts at her shop on the square, said the marijuana facility has everyone curious: "It's brought our little town to life."

Down a country road, tucked behind the New Holland tractor dealer and the Pioneer seed plant, the history-making cannabis crop is being cut and dried behind the locked doors of a giant warehouse. By mid-October, strains with names like Blue Dream, OG Kush, Death Star and White Poison will be turned into medicine in many forms: oils, creams, buds for smoking, edible chocolates and gummies.

It's been a twisting path to harvest, marked by delays and a secretive, highly restrictive program meant to avoid the creation of easy-access pot shops seen in other states. Until Illinois gave approval in late September for the AP's tour, only company workers and government inspectors had been inside the warehouse. Thousands of cannabis plants — some in full bud, coated with cannabinoid-rich fibers — filled two large rooms at the facility on the day of the AP's tour. Mother plants and young plants started from cuttings had their own, smaller rooms.

The 1,900-person community of Albion, which is closer to Louisville, Kentucky, than Chicago, has embraced all this, sight unseen. "It's a good thing for the local economy," said Doug Raber, who sells insurance. "This is a pretty conservative area. Any kind of revenue we can have here is good."

Local developers sold a cornfield to Ataraxia for $5,000 an acre, which real estate agent Randy Hallam said is a 50 percent discount. The city also paid to build a road and extend water and sewer lines. The company hired locals to build and outfit the warehouse.

But only seven people, aside from managers, have been hired permanently. With only 3,000 approved medical marijuana patients, the company can't expand yet. CEO George Archos said he wants to hire 50 to 60, and meeting that goal will go a long way to keeping the community's support. "Albion needs to diversify its employment," said Duane Crays, editor of The Navigator, Albion's newspaper. Chief employers regionally are agriculture, oil and gas production, and an auto filter plant....

Residents' excitement over the health benefits of marijuana — from stimulating appetite in cancer patients to easing stiffness for people with multiple sclerosis — may also have historic roots. The bandstand marks the spot where a mineral spring once drew patients suffering from a host of ailments; it was said the water could cure. "My wife has MS," Hallam said. She doesn't have her patient card yet, he said, "but she has a doctor's appointment coming up."

October 4, 2015 in Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Requests pour in for opening night of Native American marijuana resort"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article, which provide a speedy and notable follow up to this recent post: South Dakota tribe poised to open "marijuana resort" to serve as "adult playground.  Here are excerpts from the new article:

A South Dakota Native American tribe has been flooded with requests hours after it announced plans to open the United States’ first marijuana resort this New Years Eve, the tribe said Wednesday. “About 100 people have already called to say they’re coming,” Seth Pearman, tribal attorney for the Santee Sioux in Flandreau, South Dakota, told Al Jazeera. “We’re very excited about this process.”

Marijuana is not legal in South Dakota, but the U.S. Department of Justice said last year that Indian reservations would not face prosecution or federal interference for legally operating — under rules similar to those in states that have legalized recreational use of the drug — its distribution and cultivation facilities.

The Santee Sioux resort, converted from a 10,000 square-foot bowling alley on the reservation, will grow its own marijuana and will have an “upscale bar or club atmosphere” and live music, Pearman said. A nearby casino will provide rooms for overnight guests, he added.

The resort will be open to the public, will sell both marijuana and alcohol to adults over 21 years old and will allow them to consume it openly, Pearman said. A handful of private clubs have been allowed to operate in Colorado, where recreational marijuana use was legalized in 2012, but smoking in public is not legal.

Santee Sioux tribal officials have been researching the idea and touring other marijuana-growing facilities around the country. The tribe has also partnered with Colorado-based marijuana consulting firm Monarch America to learn about cultivating the plant. The tribe will grow its own marijuana in a 10,000 square-foot facility on the reservation with the help of industry experts. The pot will be “high quality, free from contaminants, and organic,” according to Pearman....

Sales will be tightly regulated, and any pot purchased must be consumed on site, Pearman said. Some reservation residents have publicly complained about the project, he said, comparing the situation to the concerns expressed when casinos became popular businesses on reservations in the early 1990s.

The Santee Sioux held several general council meetings inviting all tribal members while it was debating whether to go ahead with the resort. Some people opposed the plan but a tribal survey showed that most supported it, Pearman said. The tribe hopes the resort will boost the reservation’s economy, which is still recovering from the 2008 economic recession. “It’s a great opportunity, with a small investment, to make a lot of money for tribes who have been struggling for hundreds of years to get economic development going,” Pearman said.

Prior related posts:

October 1, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could marijuana reform in part explain application and enrollment boost at University of Colorado Law School?

The question in the title of this post was the thought that kept coming to mind as I read this interesting article headlined "CU-Boulder law school sees enrollment boom as numbers fall nationally."  As those in and following closely the law school industry know all too well, both applications and enrollment has been way down at most law schools nationwide over the last few years.  But, as the article explains, the flagship school in a flagship state for marijuana reform now has a different story to tell:

At a time when interest in attending law school appears to be waning across the country, the University of Colorado Law School this fall has seen a 22 percent increase in first-year students. CU's newest crop of law students totals 205, up from 168 students in the first-year class of 2014.

Though they're still trying to determine the exact cause of the enrollment boost, Colorado Law administrators contend that the school is in a desirable location and has a reputation for putting students in jobs after graduation. "We've been really working hard at communicating our value proposition and why Colorado Law is a special place to be," Dean Philip Weiser said. "We are getting that story out there. That story picks up on the fact that we are really helping our students on the job front."

Since 2005, CU's first-year law classes have hovered between 160 and 180 students each year. The American Bar Association reported that fall 2014 first-year enrollment levels in the United States, the most recent data available, were the lowest since 1973. The 2014 new student enrollment figure represented a 4.4 percent decrease from 2013 and a 27.7 percent decrease from 2010, when first-year law school enrollment peaked. Nearly two-thirds of association-approved law schools experienced first-year enrollment declines last year....

It seems that trend is continuing into 2015, though official enrollment numbers aren't yet available. The Law School Admission Council reported in August that applications were down 4 percent from 2014. Despite that, applications to Colorado Law increased in 2015 to 2,383, up from 2,180 applications in 2014.

CU admitted a few more students this year and saw an increased yield rate, or the number of students who enrolled after being admitted. This year, the yield rate was about 19 percent, compared to 15 percent in 2014.

At the same time, the academic qualifications of the 2015 entering class stayed roughly the same as those of the 2014 class, Weiser said. The median LSAT score stayed the same and the median cumulative grade point average declined from 3.62 in 2014 to 3.6 in 2015.

Roughly 70 percent of the entering class of 2015 came from outside of Colorado, up from 59 percent in 2014. Weiser believes the law school's setting and collaborative environment drew students to Boulder this year. "Part of the story is Colorado," Weiser said. "One is that our community in Colorado is a special community that really wants to help each other and collaborate and that cultural appeal resonates."

He said the law school has always been less reliant on large, corporate law firms than other schools. Instead, Colorado Law graduates tend to be more innovative in their career choices. "We have a very entrepreneurial student population, alumni population, who have done all sorts of interesting things," Weiser said. "There are lots of opportunities for smart people who are creative, who know how to communicative, know how to analyze. "I remain excited about what our students are going to be able to do and the careers they're going to be able to have."

Not surprisingly, marijuana reform is not mentioned in this article as a reason for the uptick in both applications and entering students, but the fact that a much larger percentage of students in the entering class came from outside the state is notable and certainly reinforces my speculations. In addition, I am certain that marijuana reform has helped the overall Colorado economy and the business needs for legal help in a highly-regulated industry.

October 1, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oregon on the verge of becoming third state with lawful recreational marijuana sales

In a few hours, Oregon will officially join the ranks of Colorado and Washington as states with functioning state-authorized marijuana sales for recreational purposes.  This lengthy Oregonian article, headlined "Pot won't be for sale in many Oregon cities," provides the basic lay of the land on the eve of a new era in the Beaver State.   Here are excerpts:

When recreational cannabis sales start Thursday in Oregon, consumers will be able to buy the drug at most of the state's 300-plus medical marijuana dispensaries. But some communities — ranging from Portland suburbs to cities in eastern Oregon — are keeping the door shut to storefront pot sales of any kind.

In many towns, marijuana remains shunned by the majority and is seen as something that shouldn't be given any official stamp of approval. And even where voters agreed to legalize marijuana, there are worries that retail sales will encourage youth consumption, attract crime or tarnish their commercial districts....

The taboo against the drug is particularly strong throughout many of the state's rural communities. Carol Free, a medical marijuana patient and grower in Baker City, was unable to persuade her city or county to allow even a dispensary — perhaps not a surprise given the nearly 60 percent no vote locally against the Measure 91 legalization measure last year. "It's just a huge fear factor," she said. "People are so wrapped up in the negatives about it."...

In the 15 counties — all in eastern Oregon — where at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91, city councils and county commissions can vote to prohibit marijuana businesses of any kind. In the rest of the state, local governments can refer a measure to the November 2016 ballot to ban sales.

Last, the Legislature decided to allow limited recreational sales at medical marijuana dispensaries starting Oct. 1 to give consumers a way to legally buy the drug after it's allowed under Measure 91 but before the state is ready to issue retail licenses. The Legislature left it to cities and county governments to decide whether to opt out.

At last count, governments in six eastern Oregon counties — plus 13 cities in those counties — have voted to ban medical and recreational marijuana sales, production or processing, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Meanwhile, Douglas County and eight other cities have decided to take the issue to voters next year....

In many cases, cities have placed tough zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses. Tualatin, for instance, requires a 3,000-foot buffer from residences, schools and parks that restricts them to one corner of the city. So far, no one has applied to open a dispensary there, according to City Manager Sherilyn Lombos.

Lake Oswego has a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries even though 55 percent of the city's voters approved Measure 91. At a Sept. 15 council meeting, officials fretted about how allowing marijuana businesses would affect life in one of Oregon's wealthiest enclaves....

In more isolated communities, many officials and voters hope to wall themselves off from the effects of Measure 91. "Just pure logic tells you, if there are retail sales, use will go up," said Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff, who urged officials in both his county and Baker City to ban marijuana businesses....

Don Morse, a Portland dispensary owner who heads the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said his group is organizing to fight local sales bans on the ballot next year. But he said his group is inclined to give places such as Baker County time for the culture to change. "We have no desire to go into a community and force something down their throat," Morse said. "There were some communities that remained dry for a long time after Prohibition ended."

September 30, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Wonder Drug: Inside the medical marijuana industry's wild new frontier"

The title of this post is the headline of this must-read New Republic article, which is mostly about the current crazy "wild west" world of CBD medicines.  There are many parts of the article that make it must-read in full, and here are passages that I especially wanted to highlight for commentary:

Today, dozens of companies produce CBD in an array of forms. CBD can be inhaled through vape pens, applied in topical salves, ingested in edibles, or swallowed in oil-based tinctures.  Oil has become the dominant CBD delivery method for kids with epilepsy, since it is easy to administer and ingest, and there is no shortage of it available for sale online.  There are dozens of companies boasting names like Healthy Hemp Oil, Dose of Nature, and Natural Organic Solutions, each of them selling CBD products at prices ranging from trivial to dizzyingly steep.  You don’t have to look hard to find them. If you have a PayPal account and $100 to spare, you could have a vial of hemp oil delivered to your doorstep....

In February, as part of an investigation into the marketing claims of six hemp oil companies, the FDA analyzed 18 CBD products.  What it found was disturbing: Many of these supposed CBD products were entirely lacking in CBD.  Of the products tested, six contained no cannabinoids whatsoever.  Another 11 contained less than 1 percent CBD.  The product that tested highest in CBD, at 2.6 percent, was a capsule for dogs. In states that have legalized CBD, regulations can require CBD products to contain at least 5 percent CBD, more often 10 or 15 percent....

In the end, companies like HempMedsPx are asking consumers simply to trust them. CBD oils are never subjected to systematic testing by any U.S. regulatory body.  The FDA regulates all pharmaceutical labs in the country.  But cannabis labs like the ones that HempMedsPx and others use are not, because cannabis is not federally recognized as a legal drug.

All of this makes CBD remarkably difficult for even the most dedicated health care providers to manage safely. Dr. Kelly Knupp, an associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Colorado, and the director of the Dravet Syndrome program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said families of epileptic children have tried to bring CBD oils to the hospital for testing.  “They’re just concerned that they don’t know exactly who’s growing [the hemp],” Knupp said.  “They know it’s not being regulated.”  But because CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance, high-tech, regulated laboratories, like those at the University of Colorado, can’t accept, store, or test CBD oils, lest they risk prosecution.  “There is no such lab that can take that product,” Knupp said, which leaves any testing up to the unregulated testing centers that cater to the cannabis industry....

To this point, CBD oil has existed in a kind of liminal space — at once an illegal drug, a legal medication, and some kind of “dietary” supplement. It’s possible this could change in the coming years, however. GW Pharmaceuticals, a U.K.-based firm, has developed a “pure CBD” medication called Epidiolex that has shown promising test results. It is currently on a fast-track to receive FDA clearance. For some patients, Epidiolex could be a miracle cure. This summer, in Wired magazine, writer Fred Vogelstein chronicled his family’s own struggles to find an effective treatment for his son’s epilepsy — including experiments with hemp oil — and the immense hurdles they overcame to gain access to Epidiolex prior to its FDA approval.  The drug could be for sale on pharmacy shelves in the near future, though exactly how near is hard to say.

For the sake of all the individuals and families struggling with seizure disorders, I sincerely hope that all the emerging CBD treatments being promoted by private industry are much more than snake oil. But I find especially remarkable the sad reality that the blanket prohibition of marijuana in any form at the federal level means that it is near impossible for a person to even have access to a credible lab in order to try to research whether a CBD oil marketed to suffering persons is even what it claims to be. What a sad mess, and one that I hope will get cleared up before too long at the federal level by efforts to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

September 30, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

South Dakota tribe poised to open "marijuana resort" to serve as "adult playground"

This new AP article, headlined "Nation's first marijuana resort to open in South Dakota," discusses the soon-to-be-up-and-running marijuana business at the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation. Here are the basic details:

The Santee Sioux tribe has already proven its business acumen, running a successful casino, a 120-room hotel and a 240-head buffalo ranch on the plains of South Dakota. But those enterprises have not been immune to competition and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, so the small tribe of 400 is undertaking a new venture -- opening the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation. The experiment could offer a new money-making model for tribes nationwide seeking economic opportunities beyond casinos.

Santee Sioux leaders plan to grow their own pot and sell it in a smoking lounge that includes a nightclub, arcade games, bar and food service, and eventually, slot machines and an outdoor music venue. "We want it to be an adult playground," tribal President Anthony Reider said. "There's nowhere else in American that has something like this."

The project, according to the tribe, could generate up to $2 million a month in profit, and work is already underway on the growing facility. The first joints are expected to go on sale Dec. 31 at a New Year's Eve party.

The legalization of marijuana on the Santee Sioux land came in June, months after the Justice Department outlined a new policy that allows Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana under the same conditions as some states.

Many tribes are hesitant to jump into the pot business. And not everyone in Flandreau, about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls, believes in the project. But the profit potential has attracted the interest of many other tribes, just as the debut of slot machines and table games almost 27 years ago.

"The vast majority of tribes have little to no economic opportunity," said Blake Trueblood, business development director at the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. For those tribes, "this is something that you might look at and say, 'We've got to do something.'"

Flandreau's indoor marijuana farm is set against a backdrop of soybean fields. If not for a security booth outside, the building could pass as an industrial warehouse. Inside, men are working to grow more than 30 different strains of the finicky plant, including those with names like "Gorilla Glue," ''Shot Glass" and "Big Blue Cheese."...

Tribal leaders from across the country and South Dakota legislators will tour the Flandreau facility in mid-October. "This is not a fly-by-night operation," said Jonathan Hunt, Monarch's vice president and chief grower. Tribal leaders "want to show the state how clean, how efficient, how proficient, safe and secure this is as an operation. We are not looking to do anything shady."...

Unlike the vast reservations in western South Dakota, where poverty is widespread, the little-known Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation is on 5,000 acres of gently rolling land along the Big Sioux River. Trailer homes are scarce and houses have well-trimmed lawns. The Santee Sioux hope to use pot in the same way that many tribes rely on casinos -- to make money for community services and to provide a monthly income to tribal members. The existing enterprises support family homes, a senior living community, a clinic and a community center offering afterschool programs.

Reider hopes marijuana profits can fund more housing, an addiction treatment center and an overhaul of the clinic. Some members want a 24/7 day care center for casino workers....

Since the Santee Sioux announced their plans, the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine signed a letter of intent with Monarch to build a cultivation facility for industrial hemp. The Suquamish Tribe and Washington state officials signed a 10-year agreement that will govern the production, processing and sale of pot on the tribe's land.

In the long run, Reider is certain that the benefits will outweigh the risks of tribal marijuana enterprises. The tribe, he said, must "look at these opportunities because in order to preserve the past we do have to advance in the present."

Prior related posts:

September 29, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Weed and Water Law: Regulating Legal Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper authored by Ryan Boudin Stoa available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Marijuana is nearing the end of its prohibition in the United States.  Arguably the country’s largest cash crop, marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC.  Between now and election day 2016, an additional 14 states may place marijuana legalization initiatives on their ballots. In addition, 23 states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana, with up to seven states pending legislation.  The era of marijuana prohibition is rapidly coming to a close.

At the same time, traditional doctrines of water law are struggling to cope with the modern realities of water scarcity.  Administrative agencies lack capacities to monitor and enforce water rights in real-time amid rapidly changing conditions.  As marijuana cultivation leaves the black market and enters state regulatory frameworks, legal doctrines and administrative agencies will need to adapt in order to balance existing water rights with the demands of marijuana production.  Failure to do so will encourage producers to remain clandestine while perpetuating existing conflicts between legal and illegal water users.  At present there is a gap in understanding the relationship between water rights and marijuana legalization, despite their rapid convergence.

This Article is the first to systematically address that gap.  The study begins by describing status quo marijuana production taking place outside the context of state water law doctrines, and the unsustainable conditions that often result.  Sections III and IV envision a legal marijuana market governed by the predominant doctrines of US water law: prior appropriation and riparianism.  In Section V the theoretical becomes reality, as California’s complex water laws are put to the test by the largest marijuana cultivation community in the United States.  Section VI concludes with recommendations for states in the process of legalization.  Broadly speaking, this Article finds that both common law and regulatory approaches to water allocation are capable of accommodating legal marijuana cultivation, but to minimize disruptions to existing water rights and the marijuana industry, state agencies will need to proactively adapt to the new realities of the legal marijuana economy.

September 27, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Highlighting federal tax dollars still being spent to eradicate marijuana in legalization states

This interesting local report, headlined "Feds still waging war on weed in Oregon," details that state marijuana reform does not necessarily reallocate federal resources spent on the drug war. Here are the details:

Cannabis may be legal in Oregon, but police are still waging a war on weed.  A KGW investigation found the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is sending more than $750,000 to police in Oregon this year to snuff out pot operations.

“I think the DEA’s marijuana eradication program is a huge waste of federal taxpayer dollars,” Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, told KGW.  “We have states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado that have legalized marijuana and then you’ve got the federal government trying to eradicate it,” said Lieu.  “That doesn’t make any sense.” Congressman Lieu is pushing to get rid of the DEA’s $18 million marijuana eradication program.

In Oregon, the bulk of the anti-pot money is used for police to search for marijuana farms by helicopter and then have officers trample though the woods to pull out plants. “Those of us in reform have always seen eradication programs as largely a make-work, overtime program for cops to go pull weeds and spend taxpayer money on helicopters,” said Russ Belville, executive director of Portland NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Last year, state records show drug teams in Oregon spent $275,000 for police overtime and $685,000 for use of a helicopter. In 2015, Oregon will get $762,000 from the DEA’s eradication program. In August, the Oregon Department of Justice gave $450,000 of federal money to Brim Aviation of Ashland to help look for marijuana farms....

According to intelligence reports, violent Mexican drug cartels have been connected to large outdoor marijuana farms in Oregon. These sophisticated criminal gangs have been known to protect their grow operations with armed guards, booby traps and razor-wired fences. “This program has proven effective in dismantling and disrupting drug trafficking organizations, has protected public and tribal lands from illegal marijuana grows, and in 2014 was responsible for the removal of almost 5,000 weapons from cannabis cultivators,” said Special Agent Joseph Moses of the DEA....

In 2014, police in Oregon destroyed 16,067 cannabis plants, down from 26,597 pot plants in 2013 and 27,641 plants in 2012. Drug cops theorize that Mexican drug cartels have moved away from growing pot. Instead, they’re focused on trafficking other illegal drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.

“When there were huge cartel problems, we needed that money. But now we don’t,” said Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls. Earlier this year, Falls disbanded a regional marijuana task force called SOMMER, or Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation. “I wanted to focus on person crimes,” said Falls. “Child abuse, sex assault, crimes against people.”...

“It makes no sense for one hand of government doing one thing, such as eradicate marijuana and have other parts of government, such as state governments, legalizing it,” said Rep. Lieu. “The war on marijuana has largely failed and the federal government should get out of the way.”

September 25, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is Ohio already the most interesting laboratory of democracy for marijuana reform?

A number of smart folks have talked about state-level marijuana reform as, in the words of GOP Prez candidate Ted Cruz,  "a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’”   These two new stories about marijuana reform efforts in Ohio has me thinking that the Buckeye state is already in the midst of one of the most interesting and dynamic experimental forms:

 "A medical marijuana farm for Ohio?"

Excerpt: Dr. Suresh Gupta ticked off a list of conditions that marijuana could help alleviate: nausea, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome.... Gupta is one of several wealthy donors who contributed millions to help bankroll ResponsibleOhio’s effort to place marijuana legalization on the ballot and limit marijuana growing facilities to 10 locations....

Gupta, along with a Columbus co-investor, wants to grow multiple types of marijuana at the Pataskala facility, focusing on treating specific conditions.  The nine other marijuana farms will focus on growing marijuana to be sold at retail stores.  He also plans to use about 40,000 square feet for a research facility he’s calling the International Cannabis Institute.  There, researchers, chemists and microbiologists would study the makeup of each crop and replicate the best strains, Gupta said.  “In the United States, there’s virtually no research being done,” Gupta said.

"ResponsibleOhio moves marijuana offense expungement law forward"

Excerpt: The group behind November's marijuana legalization initiative said Tuesday it had collected more than enough signatures to advance a separate measure that would allow marijuana convictions to be purged. ResponsibleOhio, the group backing Issue 3, said it collected 236,759 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the Fresh Start Act before state lawmakers next year -- 91,677 are needed to qualify....

Issue 3 would legalize recreational and medical marijuana sales and use for adults over age 21. Commercial growing would be limited to 10 sites belonging to initiative backers, and Ohioans could grow small amounts of marijuana at home. The Fresh Start Act would allow people with convictions made legal by Issue 3 and offenses made legal in the future to file a petition in court to reduce or eliminate their sentences or expunge, or destroy, their criminal records....

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said many low-level offenders are unable to obtain employment or secure housing because of criminal background checks. "This allows people ability to move forward," James said at a news conference with several Ohio clergy members.

As an initiated statute, the Fresh Start Act would go before the legislature in January 2016. Lawmakers would have four months to pass the bill, pass a revised version, or reject the bill. If the language is changed or rejected, ResponsibleOhio would have to collect some 92,000 more signatures to put the measure before voters.

The Fresh Start Act would not automatically erase records or free inmates, and it wouldn't apply to federal marijuana offenses. Offenses that are illegal now and would remain illegal under Issue 3, such as driving under the influence of marijuana, would not be eligible for expungement under the proposed law.

Both of these stories suggest marijuana legalization in Ohio, if passed by voters this Novermber, would trigger novel legal and practical development that could significant reshape future marijuana reform efforts. Indeed, the existing ballot measure in Ohio, Issue 3, is already novel and interesting because it is trying to get Ohioians to support moving from blanket prohibition to full legalization in one vote and the effort is being backrolled by a group of investors poised to have a legal advantage in the future marijuana market based on the provisions of Issue 3.

How these experimental elements of proposed reform play out in the Buckeye state is already making Ohio a laboratory of democracy worth watching. And if Issue 3 is approved by voters, Ohio seems sure to have lots of experimental developments and data that should help advance the national dialogue and debate on these matters for years to come.

September 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Massachusetts top court says marijuana reforms limit police authority to stop drivers

As reported in this Boston Globe article, headlined "SJC bans police stops solely for suspected marijuana: Court ruling cites 2008 decriminalization law," a top state court yesterday ruled that state marijuana reforms necessarily changed policy powers related to suspicion on drug offenses. Here are the details:

In a decision hailed by civil rights advocates and supporters of marijuana legalization, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that police cannot stop motorists solely because they suspect the vehicle’s occupants are in possession of the drug.

The Supreme Judicial Court based its 5-2 ruling largely on a measure that voters approved in 2008 that reduced possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil violation punishable by a fine.

“Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives” of the law change, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. Botsford wrote that allowing such stops “does not refocus police efforts on pursuing more serious crime,” another goal of changing the law.

The ruling does not prevent police from issuing citations for marijuana possession if they stop a driver for a traffic infraction, such as speeding, and later notice marijuana in plain view inside the vehicle.

otsford’s opinion was welcomed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, a group pushing for a 2016 ballot question that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement that the ruling “provides further clarification for how police officers should handle vehicle stops in the era of decriminalization, and it advances the clear message sent by voters in 2008 to refocus police activity on more serious crimes.”

Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, echoed that view, saying that with the vote to decriminalize marijuana in 2008, residents of the Commonwealth were making a statement “about how the police ought to spend their time and the taxpayers’ money.” Pulling over a car on suspicion of marijuana possession, he said, is “not consistent with the Massachusetts constitution, nor is it consistent with the will of the voters who passed decriminalization.”

David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said in a statement that troopers are not primarily concerned about a vehicle occupant who possesses an ounce or less of marijuana. He said troopers usually make observations of marijuana use after stopping a car for other reasons, such as traffic infractions.

“What does concern us about marijuana, even amounts less than an ounce . . . is whether the operator has used it and is thus driving while impaired,” Procopio said. “The voters decriminalized possession of less than an ounce. That does not mean that using less than an ounce means you are OK to drive . . . and this ruling will have no impact on the observations we use to establish probable cause for drugged driving or our determination that a driver should be charged as such.”

Botsford’s opinion followed SJC rulings in 2011 and last year finding that the odor of burned marijuana alone does not provide grounds for police to order occupants to exit a car, and that the smell of burned or unburned marijuana does not justify searching a vehicle without a warrant.

Bristol prosecutors who argued the Rodriguez case before the SJC asserted that police can stop vehicles for a civil marijuana offense, just as they can for a civil traffic offense. The court rejected that argument, finding that traffic laws promote road safety, but there “is no obvious and direct link” between issuing civil citations for marijuana possession and maintaining highway safety.

Justice Robert Cordy, in a dissenting opinion, expressed a different view, writing that even if not all civil marijuana violations affect highway safety, infractions “occurring in motor vehicles do implicate concerns regarding traffic and automobile safety.” He argued that “there is no constitutionally based reason to distinguish” motor vehicle stops for civil marijuana violations from stops for traffic infractions.

The full opinion in Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, No. SJC 11814 (Mass. Sept. 22, 2015), is available at this link.

September 23, 2015 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Detailing distinctive dynamics of marijuana reform in Oregon

Yesterday's New York Times had this lengthy article, headlined "Oregon’s Legal Sale of Marijuana Comes With Reprieve," which discusses various differences in the various approaches Oregon is taking to marijuana reform. Here are excerpts:

Oregon was not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, which happened through a state ballot vote last November, nor is it the largest. But in preparing to begin retail marijuana sales next month, it is nonetheless blazing a profoundly new trail, legal experts and marijuana business people said.

“Oregon is one of the first states to really grapple with the issue of what do you do with a record of something that used to be a crime and no longer is,” said Jenny M. Roberts, a professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C., who specializes in criminal law and sentencing....

“In criminal law reform on marijuana, Oregon has gone further than anyone else,” said Leland R. Berger, who specializes in marijuana law and practices in Portland. But the differences in Oregon’s way of handling marijuana go far beyond criminal law.

The state’s recreational marijuana taxes paid by consumers will be among the lowest in the nation. Across the border, Washington tacks on a 37 percent tax, compared with 17 percent in Oregon and a 3 percent local, optional addon.

That raises the possibility here in the Northwest, at least, of a border war, if marijuana consumers start crossing into Oregon for lower prices. (They already do for many other purchases, since Oregon has no regular state sales tax, either.) But Oregon officials say their main motive in tax policy is to better compete with the still-­illegal unregulated market at home, offering prices closer to what people are used to but with products and producers now inspected and monitored.

Oregon also rejected ideas tried in Washington and Colorado about how to monitor and license new industry participants. Washington, for example, created a set number of licenses and held a lottery to distribute them; Oregon is setting no limits on how many businesses can enter the industry. Likewise, Oregon has no barriers to so­called vertical integration ownership, in which one company can control the product from growth to sale, a practice Washington also restricts.

In Washington and Colorado, the police must administer blood tests on drivers suspected of marijuana impairment. To avoid such a tricky and cumbersome system, Oregon legislators adopted a more open­ended standard approved by voters, which lets an officer use his or her judgment as to whether a person is too high to drive.

September 22, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)