Thursday, February 11, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this new International Business Times article discussing a notable new political voice making a notable suggestion to the a federal governmental agency. Here are the details:
As the opioid epidemic continues to balloon in the country, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has called for more research into whether legal marijuana can curb the prescription painkiller epidemic. In a letter to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Warren said opiate abuse is a "national problem and warrants swift and immediate action."
The U.S. continues to be the largest consumers of prescription painkillers in the world, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. Even though Americans make up only 5 percent of the global population, they consume 75 percent of opioid medications in the word. Warren asked the CDC to conduct studies about alternatives to pain relief drugs, such as marijuana.
"I hope that the CDC continues to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options," Warren wrote. "Your agency has produced an enormous amount of scientific and epidemiological data that has helped inform stakeholders on the breadth of this crisis -- however there is still much we do not know."
In the letter, Warren noted her constituents' in Massachusetts own battles with opioid abuse. She said there were almost 1,100 confirmed cases of opioid overdose deaths in 2014, which was a 65 percent increase from 2012. "I continue to hear stories from constituents across Massachusetts affected by this crisis -- parents fighting for their kids, doctors fighting for their patients, and communities fighting for each other."
Medical marijuana remains federally illegal as a schedule 1 controlled substance, but it is available in 23 states and Washington, D.C. for patients with chronic pain. Four states, including Washington and Colorado, have gone on to legalize marijuana entirely. When it comes to providing national guidelines, cannabis legislation's lack of uniformity across state borders poses difficulties for the federal agency. "Fighting this epidemic will take hard work on the part of federal, state and local governments, working together with local law enforcement, medical professionals and members of the community," Warren said, adding she hopes the national agency will "aggressively tackle this issue."
The full letter discussed in this article is available at this link, and on the second page Senator Warren express calls for study of "the use, uptake and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal” as well as “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”
February 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Did the voters of New Hampshire just significantly help improve the chances of federal marijuana reform?
The question in the title of this post is reflects my gut reaction to the results of yesterday's New Hampshire primary. On the Democratic side, the big winner was Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been the most supportive of federal marijuana reform of any of the major candidates. On the Republican side, the big loser would seem to have been Governor Chris Christie, who has been the most critical of state marijuana reform of any of the major candidates. Put those results together, especially with the reports that Gov Christie is about to drop out of the race, and I think the question in the title of this post merits a resounding YES.
That said, last week the Iowa caucuses deal a campaign death blow to Rand Paul, the candidate who has been the most active in trying actually to reform federal marijuana law. Thus, I suppose I could have reasonably posted last week that the voters of Iowa had diminished the chance of federal marijuana reform. And, perhaps most importantly, there is very little evidence that any of the candidates' position on marijuana law and policy is motivating any sizeable portion of the electorate.
As the campaign turns to South Carolina and Nevada, it will be interesting to see if marijuana law and policy may start to get a little more attention. Nevada voters are going to be considering a state marijuana legalization initiative in 2016, and I think there is a real possibility that at least a few candidates may get asked a few hard questions about federal marijuana laws while in the Silver State.
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Daily News article, which discussses the interesting work of the Sisters of the Valley in Merced, California, and the impact that new state laws on medical marijuana could have. Here are the basic details:
Holy smokes — these nuns are really working for a higher power! The Sisters of the Valley in Merced, Calif., grow medicinal marijuana in their garage for various pot-laced health products.
While Sisters Kate and Darcy don traditional habits, they are not Catholic. But they still consider themselves nuns with a calling to heal the sick — with pot. “We spend no time on bended knee, but when we make our medicine it’s a prayerful environment. It’s a prayerful time,” Kate told KFSN-TV.
While medicinal pot is legal in California, bills signed into law this past fall allow local governments to restrict or ban marijuana growing and dispensing. Pot advocates hope local jurisdictions will want to partake of tax revenue. But some municipalities — such as Merced, a conservative town in agricultural Central California — have enacted bans on pot production.
So this sisterhood might need to find a new place by March 1, when the new state and local laws take effect. Kate and Darcy said their products include cannabidiol but only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that provides pot’s high.
When I discussed this story with a very smart colleague, she suggested that consumers of the marijuana products produced by Sisters of the Valley might find it especially difficult to kick the habit. Jokes aside, one of the common consequences of having more big government regulation of medical marijuana is the tendency, as suggested in this story, to make it even hard for small producers to stay in business. Apparently, this can be true even if you have a holy partnership.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Oregon Health Authority report calls for "the creation of an independent, free‐standing Oregon Institute for Cannabis"
I was intrigued and pleased to see this notable new press story out of Oregon reporting on this notable new public health task force report titled "Researching the medical and public health properties of cannabis." Here are the basics via the press coverage:
Oregon should fund an independent marijuana institute to support and conduct world-class research into the drug's medical and public health benefits, says a task force that includes state officials, scientists and leading physicians.
Tax dollars generated through recreational marijuana sales would supplement private funding to underwrite the quasi-public Oregon Institute for Cannabis Research. The center would hire research scientists, as well as staff to help academic researchers navigate the complexities of federally sanctioned cannabis research.
The recommendation, included in a report submitted Monday to the Legislature by the task force, calls for Oregon to break new ground by providing a sustained source of state money to support marijuana research. Among the proposals: the institute itself would grow and handle marijuana for research purposes. "This institute will position Oregon as a leader in cannabis research and serve as an international hub for what will soon be a rapidly accelerating scientific field," states the report, prepared by the Oregon Health Authority. "No other single initiative could do as much to strengthen the Oregon cannabis industry and to support the needs of Oregon medical marijuana patients."
The proposal represents the latest effort by states to fill gaps in marijuana research created by the federal prohibition of the drug. The government allows research on cannabis, but the approval process is especially complicated and involves marijuana produced at a government-run facility based at the University of Mississippi. The recommendation came out of a law passed last year by the Legislature that called for the creation of a governor-appointed task force to study ways to support a medical marijuana industry geared toward patients. The report doesn't include estimates for what it would cost to fund the center, but makes clear that financial support from the state would be essential. Other states have set aside money for research, but not on an ongoing basis.
Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, the lawmaker behind the provision that created the task force, said paying for the institute with revenue from the state's marijuana tax is a politically viable idea, but said it isn't likely to gain traction during the Legislature's 35-day session, which began last week. Under current law, marijuana tax revenue goes to the common school fund, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police, local and the health authority. "One thing I heard consistently is that people want to understand better the health effects and the health and safety issues -- the potential effects of pesticides and also the potential for medical uses of cannabis," he said. "I think there is broad support for those pieces."...
Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, also have plans for research. Colorado lawmakers in 2014 approved a one-time $9 million expenditure for marijuana-related studies, including three that will require federal approval, said Ken Gershman, medical marijuana research grant program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Six involve "observational studies" of people already consuming marijuana. University researchers in Colorado plan to examine whether young adults and adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease benefit from marijuana, and the effect of cannabidiol, a component of the marijuana plant known as CBD, on Parkinson's-related tremors. Other studies will examine the effect of high-CBD oil extracts on epilepsy, as well as the drug's impact on sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Washington, which offers a marijuana research license, carved out a percentage of its marijuana tax revenue for cannabis research. The law calls for some of that work to look at ways of measuring marijuana intoxication and impairment.
California was the first state to fund research into marijuana's medicinal benefits. In 2000, the state set aside $10 million to fund the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. The center oversaw multiple research projects, most of them looking at marijuana's effect on neuropathic pain. Like Colorado, California's funding was a one-time expenditure.
Dr. J.H. Atkinson, a co-director of the center and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said the research was "relatively small in scope and duration" but offered a potential model for other states. He said the studies showed a promising connection between cannabis and pain relief. "Without too much chest thumping," he said, "it was the most comprehensive body of research on the potential (of cannabis) ever conducted in this country."...
Research into marijuana is complicated by the drug's longtime status as a Schedule 1 drug. That category of drugs, which includes heroin, is defined as substances that have a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use." Federal research proposals involving involving Schedule 1 drugs must undergo review by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and must use cannabis produced by the University of Mississippi, which holds the lone government contract to grow pot for research purposes. The agency in 2014 said it planned to increase production of marijuana to support more research....
Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said "ample research" and "an extensive history of human use" provide more than enough evidence to contradict marijuana's status under federal law as a drug that lacks medical benefit. Armentano said he welcomes more research from states like Oregon but is skeptical it will make a difference in the debate about marijuana's Schedule 1 status. "Unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy," he said. "If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place."
February 8, 2016 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, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
What's in a Name? That Which We Call Marijuana by Any Other Name Would Still Engender Opposition (... but maybe we should still doff thy name?)
The title of this post is my effort to channel the Bard of Avon and to still reflect the substance of this notable new commentary by Keith Stroup, Legal Counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. This commentary is titled "Marijuana, Cannabis, Ganja, Weed, Grass, Pot, Reefer, or Maryjane: What’s In a Name?," and here is how it starts and ends:
I am periodically amused when we receive an email or phone call at NORML from an enthusiastic, usually young, supporter, advising us he/she has found the missing link to marijuana legalization: come up with a new name for our favorite herb. That’s right. Some who are new to the issue, when they first discover the racist under-pinning’s of both marijuana prohibition, and the word “marijuana” itself, naively think if we could just stop using the word “marijuana,” and instead use “cannabis” or some other synonym, our opposition would suddenly disappear, and we would have a clear path to legalization.
I wish it were that simple. But it is not the name we use that makes it difficult to legalize marijuana; it is the misinformation left from decades of government anti-marijuana propaganda. We are having to re-educate millions of Americans about marijuana, including especially those in the media and our elected officials....
Those who oppose marijuana legalization, and support prohibition, either have an exaggerated view of the potential dangers from marijuana smoking; or they have decided to oppose legalization for political reasons (e.g., they still identify marijuana smoking with radical, lefty politics). In either case, using another word in place of marijuana will have absolutely no impact. Those who ignore the science, and believe that marijuana is “the devil’s weed,” will not assume a more rational position, regardless of what we call it. And those who consider marijuana smoking to be anti-establishment behavior will continue to think of marijuana smokers as cultural rebels, even if we call ourselves “cannabis users.” The name is inconsequential....
Because of the government’s “reefer madness” campaign of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, most older Americans were effectively “brain-washed” (another term from the 50s) into believing that marijuana was dangerous and evil, and would lead to depravity. Thus it is no surprise that when NORML was founded in late 1970, only 12% of the public favored legalizing the drug. It was only by advancing a more rational understanding of marijuana and marijuana smokers over several decades that we eventually began to see higher levels of support for legalization, bringing us to where we are today, with 58% of the country nationwide now favoring an end to prohibition and the establishment of a legally regulated market.
We are finally winning this long struggle, not because we came up with a new term for marijuana; but because we took the time and made the effort to re-educate Americans about the relative safety of marijuana, as well as the important medical uses of the drug. We have finally won the hearts and minds of a majority of the country, who now understand that marijuana prohibition causes far more problems than the use of the drug itself, regardless of what name one prefers to use for marijuana.
Personally, though I agree with Keith Stroup's assertion that changing the primary word used to describe marijuana would not magically make opposition to legal reforms suddenly disappear, I disagree with the suggestion in the commentary that the semantics here are entirely inconsequential. Indeed, if we look at the history of alcohol regulations and other drug prohibition regimes, seemingly minor semantics can sometimes make a big difference with respect to public perception. In lots of past and present alcohol regulations, significant distinctions have been between so-called "hard liquor" and beer and wine. Similarly, federal criminal prohibitions still treat so-called "crack" much more harshly than cocaine, even though they are the exact same chemical substance.
More to the point here, I think one enduring problem with the terminology in the marijuana reform space is the tendency for lots of vague words to mean lots of different things in different settings. So many terms often used widely in the marijuana reform space (including on this blog) — even very basic terms such as "legalization," "recreational use," "medical marijuana," "decriminalization," "serious medical condition," "low THC," "edibles," "drugged driving," "public consumption" — can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For example, in a recent on-line discussion about the potential social benefits of marijuana, a smart person reasonably asserted that the use of CBD oils to help people (especially kids) with severe seizure disorders should be considered the use of marijuana because CBD oil "is a substance in pot, not pot."
In other words, though I share Keith Stroup's view that reformed semantic alone will not radically change the basic elements of the political and social debate over marijuana, I also think "what is in a name" can often prove quite important for the development of effective legal and social reform movements. Consequently, I think advocates (on both sides of these debates) ought not ignore completely how an array of marijuana products and activities get described and may get "branded" in the months and years ahead.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy super-informative article that seems like a perfect read as we await the latest version of the SuperBowl. Here is how a piece worth reading in full gets started:
With much of the NFL world camped out in the San Francisco Bay Area in the days before Super Bowl 50, researchers released sobering news: late Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. Later Wednesday, another late, great QB, Earl Morrall, also was revealed to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with memory loss, impaired judgment and progressive dementia. Dozens of former players have been diagnosed, some who died in old age, like Frank Gifford, and a few who took their lives, like Junior Seau.
There is no known treatment for CTE, not least because there's no test that can point it out in the living — it's detected in post-mortem brain scans. But to one former player who's sure his nine-year career gave him the disease, there's an obvious treatment that isn't allowed in the NFL, even though it would be easy to score not far from Levi's Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday for anyone with a doctor's note: medical marijuana. "If cannabis is implemented and (the NFL) can lead the science on this, they can resolve this brain injury situation in a big way," Kyle Turley said.
Turley is at the forefront of a vocal movement arguing that medical marijuana's pain-suppressing and possible neuroprotective benefits make it the only effective treatment for the effects that chronic concussive blows to the head have on football players. As co-founder of the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, Turley is the movement's most outspoken member, but it also includes other retired players and rapper/marijuana entrepreneur Snoop Dogg.
More players' brains are found to show signs of CTE with each year that passes. Researchers at Boston University have found evidence of CTE in 96 percent of the NFL players' brains they examined. At the same time, more states are allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana as a medicine – 23 so far, according to National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
A small body of research suggests marijuana can heal head trauma, yet Turley wonders why the league isn't investigating the drug as a medicine. To advocates, hosting the Super Bowl in the region is almost hypocritical, given what they see happening to the heads of NFL players and the spiraling lives of some former players. "The NFL's policy against medical marijuana is stupid and counterproductive," said Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of NORML, in an email calling the NFL out of touch with the laws of the state. "There's no doubt NFL players would be better off with medical access to marijuana."
Turley is a former defensive lineman who has been extremely outspoken about his medical struggles after playing for three NFL teams in nine years. A New Yorker article from 2009 describes him blacking out at a Nashville concert, feeling much the same way he did when he was kneed in the head during a game years earlier. The former lineman had recently retired and was taking painkillers. He wound up in the hospital, where he said he briefly lost nearly all control of his body. "Before quitting all the pills and committing to cannabis ... my life was a train wreck, plain and simple," Turley told NBC Owned Television Stations.
Today, Turley has eliminated all other chemicals from his system, from Aleve to Zoloft, he said. The San Diego resident has found strains of marijuana that relieve pain and other strains with effects comparable to the psychiatric pill Vicodin, but without the narcotic effects.
Medical marijuana has fairly well known, though not conclusively proven, pain relieving benefits. But to Turley, the drug also treats mental anguish he believes comes from CTE. There is very little research on that front, but the 40-year-old father insists marijuana has given him stability after recently feeling despondent and suicidal. "The reality is I don't think about those things anymore. And if it wasn't for cannabis, I wouldn't be where I am mentally," Turley said.
Turley swears that marijuana use is rampant in the NFL – "from players to coaches to owners, marijuana is in the National Football League" – but only a handful of players have spoken out about using it. They emphasize the mental clarity it offers as much as the pain relief.
"I always healed fast, ahead of schedule; was never really very swollen; my mind was very sharp, and after concussions medicated with it," Nate Jackson told marijuana magazine High Times this week, discussing how marijuana helped him in his days with the Broncos in the 2000s.
It's not just young players who swear by pot, either. Jim McMahon, one of the heroes of the Chicago Bears' 1985 championship, revealed last month that he weaned himself off pharmaceutical drugs that left his head feeling fuzzy. "This medical marijuana has been a godsend. It relieves me of the pain – or thinking about it, anyway," he told The Chicago Tribune.
February 7, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
As reported in this local piece out of California, "Researchers warn legal marijuana could be next Big Tobacco," a pair of public health scholars have produced this interesting new report examining marijuana reform proposals in Califronia from a public health persepctive. Here is the start of the press account of the report and some reaction thereto:
A ballot proposal legalizing recreational marijuana would likely launch a new profit-driven industry similar to Big Tobacco that could impede public health efforts, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. The 66-page analysis, released Tuesday, is the first in-depth look at the state’s main effort to legalize recreational marijuana this year.
Researchers said they began with the premise that legalizing marijuana makes sense because its prohibition has put too many people behind bars and cost taxpayers too much money. But they concluded the two potential initiatives they examined would replace a crime problem with a public health issue.
The authors, Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz, of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy, said the measure most likely to qualify for the ballot establishes a regulatory system similar to the one used for alcohol. They said it would have been better to pattern the guidelines after the state’s Tobacco Control Program, which they credited with reducing the health effects and costs related to tobacco.
“Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the report states.
In an interview, Glantz said treating marijuana like cigarettes could drive down its popularity. “The goal (should be) to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” he said.
He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of money to curry favor with lawmakers. “I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to stop,” he said, adding, “They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”
A spokesman for the legalization campaign noted the report was written by experts on tobacco, not marijuana, and said it makes broad assumptions unsupported by past research into the issue. The measure is drafted in a way that takes public health into account, Jason Kinney said. “This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive public health protections and mandate included in our measure – as well as the child safeguards, the small-business and anti-monopoly provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, education and treatment,” Kinney said.
The leading measure seeks to legitimize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over. One of the proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician, helped write the California Medical Association’s 2011 policy calling for the legalization of marijuana.
The doctors’ lobby formally endorsed the main legalization measure on Monday, characterizing it as a “comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure.” For years, some doctors have complained they have become gatekeepers for healthy people seeking weed recommendations via a flawed medical marijuana system.
Lyman, a former state public health official, said the notion that marijuana must be regulated exactly like tobacco “represents an awkward minority opinion not widely shared within the public health community.” Lyman said it is widely accepted in the scientific community that marijuana has medical benefits, something that isn’t true of tobacco.
This notable new report is titled "A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry," and it is available at this link.
February 3, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 1, 2016
GAO says DOJ "should document its approach to monitoring" the impact of state marijuana legalization
I just learned of this notable new document authored by the US Government Accountability Office titled "STATE MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: DOJ Should Document Its Approach to Monitoring the Effects of Legalization." The report was apparently requested by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and here is a passage from its "Conclusions" section:
It has been over 2 years since DOJ’s ODAG issued guidance in August 2013 stating that in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form, if state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust to protect against threats to federal enforcement priorities, the federal government may seek to challenge the state regulatory structures themselves, in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement actions, including criminal prosecutions. ODAG officials reported relying on U.S. Attorneys to monitor the effects of marijuana enforcement priorities through their individual enforcement actions and communication with state agencies about how state legalization may threaten these priorities. ODAG officials also reported using various information sources provided by DOJ components and other federal agencies to monitor the effects of marijuana legalization and the degree to which existing state systems regulating marijuana-related activity protect federal enforcement priorities and public health and safety.
However, ODAG officials have not documented their monitoring process or provided specificity about key aspects of it, including potential limitations of the data they report using and how they will use the data to identify states that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities. Given the growing number of states legalizing marijuana, it is important for DOJ to have a clear plan for how it will be monitoring the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to DOJ marijuana enforcement guidance. Documenting a plan that specifies its monitoring process, such as the various data ODAG is using for monitoring along with their potential limitations, the roles of U.S. Attorneys in the monitoring process, and how ODAG is using all these inputs to monitor the effects of state legalization can provide DOJ with greater assurance that its monitoring activities are occurring as intended. Sharing the plan with DOJ components responsible for providing information to ODAG can help ensure that ODAG has an opportunity to gain institutional knowledge with respect to whether its monitoring plan includes the most appropriate information. This will help place DOJ in the best position to identify state systems that are not effectively protecting federal enforcement priorities, and take steps to challenge those systems if necessary in accordance with its 2013 marijuana enforcement guidance.
February 1, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, January 31, 2016
This Washington Post WonkBlog entry, headlined "Obama says marijuana reform is not on his agenda for 2016," reinforces my long-standing belief that Prez Barack Obama remains disinclined to use any of this limited political capital to try to advance a marijuana reform agenda. Here are the particulars:
Marijuana advocates hoping for a substantial shift in federal marijuana policy in the last year of the Obama administration are likely to be disappointed. At a briefing Friday, White House press secretary John Earnest said any progress on marijuana reform would need to come through Congress. President Obama had signaled his position a day earlier at the House Democratic retreat in Baltimore, saying marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, according to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).
Cohen said he asked the president whether he wanted to "reschedule" marijuana. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, "the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence." Many lawmakers want to see it moved to Schedule 2, which acknowledges the plant's medical potential. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances altogether.
But Obama's answer on the rescheduling was "disappointing," Cohen said in an interview. "On marijuana, he gave the same answer as when I asked him seven years ago: 'If you get me a bill, and get it on my desk, I'll probably sign it,' " Cohen said (emphasis his).
At the briefing, Earnest clarified further: "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.' "...
The DEA is reviewing another petition to reschedule pot, but given the history, most observers are skeptical that anything will change this time around. "I don't think they're doing anything," Cohen said. "They've slow-walked it for all these years." He'd like to see the White House be more vocal about the process. "The president could just tell them to get it done," he said.
The latest public opinion polls show broad support not just for marijuana reform, but also outright legalization: Fifty-eight percent of Americans want to see marijuana use fully legalized, according to the latest Gallup polling on the issue. And a 2015 CBS news poll found that 84 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use.
Moving marijuana to Schedule 2 of the Controlled Substances Act is a more modest step than full legalization or legalization for medical purposes. It would simply remove some of the barriers to research on uses of marijuana, barriers that the Brookings Institution recently said were "stifling" medical research.
Among people who study the issue, there is near universal agreement that marijuana doesn't belong in the same category of substances as heroin, as even the DEA has finally acknowledged. The consensus among researchers is that it's a lot less dangerous than alcohol, too. A federal classification that stands in such stark opposition to expert consensus "breeds contempt for the government," Cohen said. But if this week's remarks are any indication, addressing that contempt is not high on the White House priority list for 2016.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
You be the state sentencing judge: how much prison time for former state official guilty of (small-time?) marijuana dealing
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local story from Michigan, headlined "Ex-state Rep. Roy Schmidt pleads, sold marijuana as 'source of income,' judge says." Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):
Former state Rep. Roy Schdmidt pleaded no contest Thursday, Jan. 28, to manufacture of marijuana. Schmidt initially fought charges as a registered medical marijuana caregiver and disputed the amount of marijuana he possessed.
But a police report, read by Grand Rapids District Judge Michael Distel to establish a basis for Schmidt's guilt, said he told police that he sold marijuana to 10 to 15 people who were not his registered medical marijuana patients. He told police that "he was operating his business as a source of income," Distel said.
Schmidt was charged last year with manufacture or delivery of marijuana after police raided his home on Seventh Street NW and a house he rented from his son on Myrtle Avenue NW. Police said Schmidt possessed nearly three pounds of marijuana and 71 marijuana plants. Caregivers are allowed to possess 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana for each of up to five patients. Schmidt has maintained that his drying marijuana was not considered usable.
He faces up to four years in prison when sentenced on March 22 in Kent County Circuit Court.... Under the plea, Schmidt admits no guilt but the plea is treated as such at sentencing. He was allowed to plead no contest because he could face civil forfeiture proceedings related to his marijuana operation.
Schmidt is free on bond. Kent County prosecutors will drop a second charge of manufacturing marijuana.
His arrest followed an ill-fated scheme to switch parties while he served in the House of Representatives. After being elected as a Democrat in 2008, he lost his seat four years later after a controversial switch to the Republican Party. He had spent 16 years on a Grand Rapids City Commission on the West Side of town.
I am cross-posting this story on my Sentencing Law & Policy blog because this case raises interesting classic "offender-based" sentencing issues: e.g., (1) should Schmidt's history as a relatively prominent politician be viewed as an aggravating sentencing factor (because it makes him more culpable as someone who was involved in making the state laws he broke) or as a possible mitigating sentencing factor (because he would seem like the type of person unlikely to be a serious recidivist); (2) should the prospect of Schmidt losing his home and/or his son's home through civil forfeiture proceedings significntly influence what criminal sentence he receives?
But, of course, what really captured my attention in this case is the different ways this defendant's offense might be viewed by a sentencing judge. His lawyers could perhaps claim, given the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan, that Schmidt's crime is essentially a regulatory violation comparable to a liquor store owner who would often sell to underage college students. But prosecutors likely will assert that Schmidt should be viewed and sentenced like any other greedy drug dealer.
Thoughts, dear readers?
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Extra credit (for my students) and lots of admiration (for anyone else) for on-the-scene reporting on Ohio medical marijuana discussions
As highlighted by this local article, headlined "Medical marijuana hearings to be held around Ohio: here's how to share your thoughts," there is now a lot of on-going legislative activity in the Buckeye State concerning potential medical marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:
State lawmakers will hold several meetings early this year, including one this Saturday at Cleveland State University, to learn more about medical marijuana and where Ohioans stand on the issue. Here's a schedule of the meetings and information about how you can share your thoughts and stories with lawmakers.
Senate listening tour
State Sens. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican, and Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat, will hold events in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Columbus to gather input about medical marijuana.
The forums are open to the public, and people who wish to speak are asked to submit written testimony to Burke or Yuko at Burke@OhioSenate.gov or Yuko@OhioSenate.gov. A spokeswoman for Yuko said the senators plan to be at each event all day.
Cleveland: 10 a.m. Saturday (January 30) in the Gerald H. Gordon Conference Pavilion, Wolstein Center, Cleveland State University, 2000 Prospect Ave E
Cincinnati: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, Kresge Auditorium in the Medical Science Building, University of Cincinnati, 231 Albert Sabin Way
Toledo: 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, Scott Park Campus Auditorium, University of Toledo, 2225 Nebraska Ave.
Columbus: To be announced
House task force
House leaders have assembled a 15-member task force that will report its findings and possibly make recommendations by March 31.
The first meeting on Thursday will be an informational meeting, according to Rep. Kirk Schuring's office, where rules will be set. Task force members will be asked to refrain from making statements during the meetings, except during the first meeting, and instead ask questions of those testifying.
People who are interested in testifying at a future meeting should email Schuring's office at rep48@OhioHouse.gov.
The task force will meet in Columbus at the Statehouse on the following Thursdays:
- 3 - 4:30 p.m. Jan. 28 (informational meeting, no testimony taken)
- 3 p.m. Feb. 4
- 3 p.m. Feb. 11
- 7 p.m. Feb. 18
- 7 p.m. Feb. 25
- 7 p.m. March 10
An additional meeting will be held in April, if needed.
Because I teach on Thursday afternoons and due to other commitments, I am unlikely to be able to attend many (or perhaps any) of these medical marijuana events. For that reason, I am hopeful that some helpful readers (or my students) might be interested in sending me on-the-scene reports about these various events. I will blog these reports, and be grateful for the help. Relatedly, I urge folks to alert me to other websites or blogs or related resources keeping up with all this notable Ohio legislative action.
As reported in this new AP article, a "proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical use of marijuana will be back on the ballot in November, and organizers said Wednesday that growing public support and a larger voter turnout in a presidential election year should help pass the measure that narrowly failed in 2014." Here is more:
The group organizing a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot now has 692,981 certified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than it needed to put the proposed amendment on the ballot. “We feel very good that 60 percent plus of Florida voters will finally approve a true medical marijuana law,” said Ben Pollara, who is organizing the effort for United for Care.
The state requires that constitutional amendments receive at least 60 percent approval from voters. In 2014, 57.6 percent of voters supported a medical marijuana initiative. Pollara said at the time that supporters hoped lawmakers would recognize that most Floridians wanted to legalize medical marijuana and pass a bill to approve it.
But the Legislature has been tepid on the issue. In 2014, lawmakers did approve the use of non-euphoric marijuana to treat seizures. But the product is still not available to those who need it because the state has had problems establishing regulations overseeing its production and distribution. “We got nowhere, so here we are back on the ballot,” Pollara said. “Current law has helped no one.”
Personal injury lawyer John Morgan has spent more than $6 million between the 2014 and 2016 efforts to legalize medical marijuana. He says his brother, a quadriplegic who uses marijuana to control muscle spasms, is one of his inspirations behind the campaign. In an email to supporters Wednesday night, Morgan said, “We’re back. We’re going to win for the patients. BELIEVE!!!”...
Pollara noted that millions of dollars were spent opposing the 2014 initiative and it still received nearly 58 percent support. As more people approve of the idea of medical marijuana and with more voters expected to turn out this year, he said he’s confident it will pass despite any campaigns mounted against it. “One thing that we learned is that we don’t have to respond to everything they say; we don’t have to match them dollar for dollar. We just have to get out the message that marijuana helps people who are sick and suffering,” he said.
As was true in 2014, it will be interesting to watch how a medical marijuana campaign in Florida, and this time around we will have the added excitement of presidential candidates being asked to weigh in whenever they campaign in this significant southern swing state.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this effective new International Business Times article highlighting some interesting aspects of the the on-going debate over marijuana legalization in Vermont. I recommend the article in full (especially for students in my marijuana reform seminar), and here are a few excerpts:
As one of Vermont’s approximately 2,500 official medical marijuana patients, Robert Gwynn is excited his state lawmakers are considering legalizing cannabis. Born with neurofibromatosis type 1, a tumor disorder that has left him with debilitating nerve pain, limited appetite and ongoing fatigue, the 31-year-old has been part of the state’s medical marijuana program for the past two years. Medical marijuana, he says, has helped him halve his 14-pill-a-day pharmaceutical regimen, which had left him so mentally disconnected from reality he was afraid to drive. But he thinks a recreational market could encourage the sort of competition, proficiency and price constraints lacking in the state’s current system of four nonprofit dispensaries statewide. Once a month, Gwynn drives to a dispensary in Brandon, a four-hour round-trip drive from where he lives in Brattleboro, since he says the medicine quality and patient care at the dispensary 10 minutes from his house are so poor, he won’t shop there.
If Vermont legalizes marijuana, Gwynn figures it will look similar to programs up and running in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon, where for-profit businesses produce and sell marijuana. He hasn’t noticed anyone proposing alternatives. “I haven’t really heard it come up,” he says. “When people talk about it, I don’t think it is something that comes to mind.”
Gwynn isn’t the only one who assumes legalized marijuana in Vermont, which could occur in coming months, will resemble cannabis markets elsewhere. But drug policy experts say the state is perfectly positioned to go in a bold new direction, one that challenges widely held assumptions about the country’s mounting marijuana movement. Among those options could be a state-run system similar to how Vermont controls the sale of hard liquor within its borders. Alternatives like this could limit the public health impacts of a marijuana market while still generating state revenue — that is, if lawmakers are willing to consider them. And if Vermont isn’t willing to deviate from the path set by legalization efforts that came before it, does that mean the only realistic U.S. cannabis model moving forward is a free-market free-for-all?
With recent encouragement from both a former state attorney general and Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont lawmakers are actively considering becoming the fifth state (not counting Washington, D.C.) to legalize marijuana, building on a medical marijuana law the state passed in 2004 and a dispensary system it launched in 2011. The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of three weeks of in-depth testimony and statewide public hearings on the issue, with the goal of voting Friday on whether to advance a legalization bill. “I’m impressed,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who’s based in Vermont. “I’ve been studying this issue for 20 years, and here you have politicians sitting in rooms, asking the right questions and trying to understand it for the first time in my life.”
If such a bill passes in the near future, Vermont would become the first state in New England, much less the entire Northeast, to legalize marijuana. While just 626,000 people live in Vermont, the second least populated state in the country, roughly 2.7 million regular marijuana users live within 200 miles of the state, including those in New York City. That means whatever legalized marijuana system Vermont chooses could have financial and political impacts far beyond its modest borders.
Because Vermont does not have a ballot initiative system like many states, the only way it can legalize marijuana is through the legislative process. And if it does so this legislative session, it will be the first time marijuana ever has been legalized by lawmakers, not voters. According to some experts, this means Vermont has the option of considering legalization models not likely to be floated at the polls. “The initiative process is going to be driven by folks who want something to happen, who want legalization,” says Pat Oglesby, a tax attorney who studies marijuana at the Center for New Revenue in North Carolina. “The legislative process could result in a more moderate, middle-ground approach.”
It’s why last year a Rand Corp. legalization study commissioned by the state for $20,000 (the rest of the study’s $120,000 price tag was covered by the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures) urged lawmakers to consider “that marijuana policy should not be viewed as a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington.” Instead, the report’s authors, a who’s who of drug policy authorities nationwide, laid out a series of alternatives, including a nonprofit-only system, a supply chain overseen by a public authority similarly to how the Vermont State Housing Authority manages affordable housing initiatives and a market only open to “benefit corporations,” or b-corporations, that have positive social impact. But the report focused special attention on one option in particular: a government-run monopoly model where the state controls marijuana production and distribution.
According to experts, a state-run marijuana system could have several benefits. For starters, government-run cannabis outlets wouldn’t have the same sort of financial incentive to promote excessive marijuana consumption similar to how alcohol companies market to heavy users. Instead, government marijuana outlets could focus on the sort of social protections that are a top priority for Shumlin. “You would like a system where nobody has an incentive to encourage overuse of a drug,” says New York University marijuana policy expert Mark Kleiman. “State-monopoly retailing could be a better option if the state officials involved didn’t have any incentive to encourage problematic drug use and even better if they had a responsibility to discourage it.” Reviews of private versus state-run alcohol systems have found “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption and related harms.”...
But now, as Vermont lawmakers narrow possible legalization, there’s little indication the state will deviate significantly from legalization efforts that came before. One of two legalization bills being considered by the state judiciary committee (it will likely end up voting on a hybrid bill containing elements of both) would provide licensing preferences to the sort of b-corporations detailed in the Rand report. But the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. David Zuckerman, says the other alternatives proposed in last year's report are likely political nonstarters. “I think the extremes on both ends — straight unfettered capitalism and a government-run monopoly — are off the table,” says Zuckerman, adding, he believes the chances of a legalization bill passing this year “are a little better than 50-50.”
Some observers are disappointed. “It’s kind of surprising,” says Dan Rifle, Marijuana Policy Project’s former federal policy director, who left the organization over concerns industry interests were taking over the marijuana movement. “If there’s any state where this should be happening, it’s Vermont. They commissioned a report, and no one seems to have read it.”
But others say options like a state-controlled system aren’t being considered because they don’t make sense. Government-run programs such as this are prone to bureaucratic bloat, and, as MPP's Simon points out, anyone who’s seen the billboards just over New Hampshire's state lines advertising the Granite State's tax-free alcohol stores knows government-controlled outlets can still promote heavy use. Plus, adds Simon, there’s no indication the legalization models already up and running are broken, so why bother fixing them? “We could spend years discussing hypothetical models, but that would be missing the fact that Vermonters are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the worst possible marijuana model right now,” he says. “We want to move this from the illicit market, and Colorado and Oregon and Washington have already shown that can be done in a responsible fashion.”...
But likely the biggest reason of all options like a state-run program aren’t getting more attention is that many people worry having state workers sell marijuana would put Vermont on a collision course with the federal government. “If you are thinking about this from a public-health perspective and are still trying to bring in state revenue, the approach that probably makes the most sense is the government monopoly,” says Beau Kilmer, co-director of Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of the Vermont report. “However, because of the government prohibition, most states aren’t really talking about this because they don’t want to put their employees at risk of arrest.”...
[B]etween such legal questions and the lack of political will around the issue, it’s easy to understand why a state-run marijuana system and other alternatives aren’t getting more airtime as Vermont moves ever closer to recreational marijuana. Some experts say that’s too bad, since the state might offer one of the last best chances to take a hard look at what, exactly, legalized marijuana has to look like. “It could matter enormously if Vermont does something that nobody else does,” says Kleiman. “But if it doesn’t, and California goes the commercial marijuana route this year, as it probably will, then it might be too late. When Congress gets around to legalizing cannabis, you won’t be able to consider models that aren’t focused on commercial production because the commercial interests involved will dominate the political process.”
I have suggested before that the big Rand report on Vermont's marijuana reform options (released around this time last year and blogged about here and here) is a must-read for any and all persons seriously considering different possible models for marijuana legalization. However, I have long thought the report tended to over-emphasize the potential harms of a free-market approach to legalization, and also under-emphasized the potential harms of a government-run system. In particular, my sense of government-run systems (I am thinking here about schools, prisons and health-care systems) is that they tend to move slowly in response to changing conditions, tend to have relatively high costs for the provision of even limited services, and also tend not to invest effectively in product innovations. Especially in the marijuana space over the next few years, where legal and market realities keep changing, where elevated costs are likely will keep the black-market running, and where market innovation might be especially important as we move from black-to-grey-to-freer markets, I worry about a government-run system of full legalization potentially being the worst of all possible short-term solutions.
That all said, one key point about this debate in Vermont that is highlighted by this article is the reality that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is impeding the opportunity for state labratories to seriously consider all possible experimental approaches to marijuana reform. This is one of the many reasons I am hopeful that before too long Congress will have the good sense to recognize that blanket marijuana prohibition at the federal level is already having a significant and likely harmful impact on sensible state development of sound marijuana policies.
January 24, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Saturday, January 23, 2016
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Maine, headlined "Sales of medical marijuana jumped 46 percent in Maine last year: The state's pot dispensaries took in $23.6 million as the social stigma faded and more patients seeking relief from chronic pain tried the drug." Here are excerpts:
Mainers spent $23.6 million on medical marijuana from dispensaries last year, a 46 percent increase driven by multiple factors, including patients seeking alternatives to prescription painkillers and more doctors certifying people to use the drug, according to dispensary operators.
Operators say the increase in sales illustrates the growing willingness of patients and doctors to consider alternatives to traditional medicine, and a reduction in the social stigma surrounding the use of medical marijuana.
But an official for the Maine Medical Association said Wednesday the big jump also shows why the medical community has resisted opening the program to more patients with different medical conditions, citing a lack of research that demonstrates medical marijuana is effective in treating them.
The $23.6 million in 2015 dispensary sales generated $1.29 million in sales tax, according to Maine Revenue Services. In 2014, the dispensaries sold $16.2 million worth of medical marijuana products and collected more than $892,000 in sales tax, a 40 percent increase over the previous year and more than triple the tax revenue collected in 2013. The sales figures from Maine Revenue Services do not include numbers from the state’s 2,255 caregivers, who are small-scale growers authorized to sell marijuana to up to five patients.
“There are a number of factors at play here. The first would be that Mainers are becoming more used to the idea of therapeutic cannabis,” said Becky DeKeuster, director of education for Wellness Connection, which operates four of Maine’s eight dispensaries. “We’ve had a very successful dispensary program for five years now and people are becoming used to this option.”
Maine is one of 34 states that allow some form of medical cannabis. Maine legalized medical uses in 1999, and the state’s first dispensaries opened in 2011. Last year, Maine’s program was voted the best medical marijuana program in the country by Americans for Safe Access, a national group that advocates for legal access to the drug.
The state cannot provide an exact number of patients because it does not keep a registry, but doctors have printed more than 35,000 certificates required under state regulations to certify patients. That number could include duplicates and replacement certificates and is likely higher than the actual number of patients, said Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical marijuana program.
About 340 medical providers certified patients to obtain medical marijuana. Patients qualify for certification if they have one of a dozen specific conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, chronic pain and Crohn’s disease. Tim Smale, operator of the Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn and president of the Maine Dispensary Operators Association, believes there has been about a three-fold increase in the number of doctors certifying patients in the past couple of years. Maine law has been amended so that nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants also can certify patients....
Gordon Smith, spokesman for the state medical association, said the large increase in sales illustrates why the association has lobbied against efforts to expand the medical marijuana program to include more qualifying conditions or eliminate them altogether. “We don’t want to put Maine’s medical community in a position where it’s being asked to be a front for recreational use of marijuana,” Smith said. “We acknowledge marijuana helps a small number of medical conditions and there is good evidence of that, but for many of the (conditions) on the list, there’s not scientific data to establish marijuana is helpful.”
One condition that has been debated is post-traumatic stress disorder, which Maine added to the list of qualifying conditions in 2013. The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental health condition that’s brought on when a person sees or experiences a severely traumatic event. A person suffering from PTSD may have uncontrollable thoughts about the event and also experience flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety.
Although several other states have authorized medical marijuana sales to people with PTSD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes the practice as a growing concern because some veterans are using the drug to relieve symptoms of PTSD, yet there is a lack of medical evidence of its effectiveness.
DeKeuster said Wellness Connection, which serves about 11,000 patients across the state, is seeing more patients who want to use medical cannabis as a first option for treatment instead of as a last resort. The top three qualifying conditions among Wellness Connection patients are chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer. “Physicians and patients both are looking for a pain relief solution that is natural,” DeKeuster said....
Another factor contributing to the rise in the use of medical marijuana is that dispensaries have dozens of strains, as well as pills, tinctures and edible forms that make taking the drug easier, DeKeuster said. Smale said dispensary operators across the state report similar trends among all their patients, including seeing more elderly people who want to use medical cannabis for treatment of chronic pain. The Remedy Compassion Center, which Smale owns and operates in Auburn, now primarily serves patients between ages 50 and 70, he said. “The other things we’re finding is folks are looking for an alternative to their opiates,” he said. “We hear many anecdotal reports of people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis.”
In addition to anecdotally answering some questions about what is going on with medical marijuana in Maine, it raised for me a bunch of questions about whether these developments in the Pine Tree State are also playing out in a bunch of other medical marijuana states. In particular, I would love to know if dispensary sales are up similarly in a number of other states and also whether there is any reliable data about "people reducing or eliminating opiate use through medical cannabis."
Thursday, January 21, 2016
As reported in this local article, headlined "National marijuana group plans Ohio medical marijuana amendment for 2016 ballot," big and notable marijuana reform news keeps on coming in the Buckeye State. Here are the basics and the context:
A major national player in the marijuana legalization movement plans to put an Ohio medical marijuana measure on the November ballot.
Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington D.C., plans to propose a constitutional amendment establishing a medical marijuana system similar to those in 23 other states and the District of Columbia, according to the organization's website. The Ohio amendment would allow people with certain "serious medical conditions" to purchase marijuana from retail stores or grow their own after obtaining physician approval. The state would license businesses to grow, process, test, and sell marijuana to approved patients.
MPP led successful recreational marijuana initiative efforts in Colorado and Alaska and medical marijuana measures in Michigan, Montana, and Arizona. The organization has also worked with state legislatures to write medical marijuana laws.
Grassroots marijuana legalization efforts have struggled to qualify for the ballot in Ohio because they lack the money to hire signature gatherers and run a robust education campaign. Ohio has not been on the radar for MPP and other major funders looking to expand legal marijuana. Last year, MPP quietly supported Issue 3, Ohio's failed recreational marijuana amendment, but did not advertise its support or contribute to the campaign.
ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee backing Issue 3, was the first pro-marijuana group to collect the large number of signatures required, spending more than $20 million on its campaign. But the amendment limited the 10 commercial growing licenses to groups of campaign investors and would have legalized recreational marijuana, which divided Ohio's pro-pot advocates and attracted hundreds of opponents statewide.
MPP has not formally announced its 2016 effort, but it posted a job opening Wednesday evening for an Ohio-based campaign manager. The posting says much of the campaign will be subcontracted through a consulting firm in Columbus. It was not known Wednesday evening whether that firm would be the Strategy Network, which collected signatures for and ran the Issue 3 campaign. Strategy Network founder Ian James co-founded ResponsibleOhio and was the face of the campaign.
James' co-founder Jimmy Gould and Issue 3 author Chris Stock said last week they are not working on any ballot initiatives this year and instead want to work with state lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.
This job posting on the MPP website provides additional information on what MPP has in mind for Ohio in 2016, and here is a paragraph from that posting:
The 2016 campaign — which is formally led by the new “Ohioans for Medical Marijuana” (OMM) that’s coordinated by MPP’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. — is focusing only on medical marijuana, which enjoys a high level of support among Ohio voters. If passed by a majority of Ohio voters on November 8, this initiative would legalize medical marijuana in a manner that’s similar to the laws in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
The development strikes me as HUGE news in the marijuana reform arena, not just for Ohio but also for various nationwide interests. My sense has always been that MPP will not get involved in a state initiative effort unless and until (1) it has significant funding to support its work, and (2) it feels pretty confident it can and will prevail at the ballot. So the fact MPP now had resources and confidence for an expensive marijuana reform effort in a swing state in 2016 suggests it believes the Buckeye State is very ready to move away from blanket prohibition.
Not to be overlooked, a big medical marijuana reform initiative effort in swing state Ohio could (and perhaps would) impact voter turn out in significant ways in a state that Prez candidates always want to carry and that has a significant Senate seat in play. Indeed, I am inclined to guess that MPP got at least part of its funding for this Ohio effort not only from traditional marijuana reform supporters, but also from deep-pocketed supporters of Democratic candidates. Interesting times!!
Recent related post:
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Donald Kochan available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The story behind the move toward marijuana’s legality is a story of disruptive forces to the incumbent legal and physical landscape. It affects incumbent markets, incumbent places, the incumbent regulatory structure, and the legal system in general which must mediate the battles involving the push for relaxation of illegality and adaptation to accepting new marijuana-related land uses, against efforts toward entrenchment, resilience, and resistance to that disruption.
This Article is entirely agnostic on the issue of whether we should or should not decriminalize, legalize, or otherwise increase legal tolerance for marijuana or any other drugs. Nonetheless, we must grapple with the fact that many jurisdictions are embracing a type of “legality innovation” regarding marijuana. I define “legality innovation” as that effect which begins with the change in law that leads to the development of the lawful relevance of, lawful business regarding, and legal use for a newly-legal product, the successful deployment of which depends on the relative acceptance of the general public which must provide a venue for its operations along with the relative change in the consuming public’s attitudes as a result of the introduction of legality.
Marijuana-related land uses are and will be controversial. Regulatory responses, neighborhood disputes, permit battles, and opposition coalitions are all predictable both as a matter of logical analysis in light of legal standards but also, very importantly, due to the lessons of history with similarly-situated, precursor land uses like liquor stores, adult entertainment, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and the like leading the way. The Article also discusses the role of incumbent interests groups in shaping the new marijuana-related regulatory structure, including revealing Baptist and bootlegger coalitions that exist to oppose relaxation of marijuana laws and thwart land use successes of the marijuana industry in order to maintain their incumbent value or profit position. Finally, the Article engages with the growing literature in the social sciences on place and space, examining how the spaces and places we inhabit and in which we conduct our business and social affairs are necessarily impacted whenever legality innovations like we are seeing with marijuana work to disrupt the incumbent landscape.
January 21, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The question in the title of this post is part of the headline of this lengthy and effective piece by Joel Warner at International Business Times. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:
After decades of critical reporting on marijuana issues, if they bothered to cover the subject at all, have the media as a whole moved too far in the opposite direction? Are reporters and editors now so high on the topic of cannabis that they’re going too soft on the subject?...
Even longtime marijuana advocates say media coverage has shifted. “Back in the ’90s, I would be the only person on the TV show on the issue in favor of reform, and there would be a cop, a prosecutor and a drug specialist, along with the host, who would also be anti-marijuana,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Now, today, Kevin [Sabet] is the one who has to scramble because the host of the show is neutral or supportive of reform, and I am joined by someone from the marijuana-business community and a member of [the pro-legalization group] Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.”
For years, St. Pierre says, NORML has maintained an internal database of editorial boards nationwide that it considered to be anti-marijuana. In the late 1980s, that list encompassed more than 150 newspapers. Now it’s down to just 30 or 40, and St. Pierre says most of them are owned by a handful of corporate owners opposed to legalization.
It’s not just TV news hosts and newspaper editorial boards that have changed their tune on cannabis. Now there are marijuana-business newspapers and marijuana-culture magazines, full-time marijuana-industry reporters (this writer included) and even an marijuana-editorial division at the Denver Post called the Cannabist staffed with a marijuana editor and cannabis strain reviewers that is the subject of a major documentary....
If the resulting media coverage is generally positive, it could be because, all in all, there’s not much to complain about when it comes to the marijuana movement. “I would contend that if Project SAM is seeing more coverage of the positive aspects of legalization, it’s because the positive aspects of legalization are outweighing the negative,” says Taylor West, deputy director the National Cannabis Industry Association. “There are absolutely things that need to be looked at and fixed, and that is an ongoing process. But all of this ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric that people like them have used for years hasn’t come true.”
Plus, many pro-marijuana activists say if anything, most journalists are still unfairly critical of cannabis. “You are framing your story around the question of whether the media is ‘going too light on the movement,’ which inherently suggests you are going too hard on the movement,” says Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “An unbiased story would be about whether the media is covering the issue and the movement accurately. We are still in a situation in which the marijuana-policy-reform movement has to prove everything and constantly defend itself, whereas opponents are generally taken at their word.”...
The situation has left some of those with a stake in the game fuming. “Unfortunately, the type of one-sided, advocacy-driven reporting we used to see relegated to the pages of High Times is now commonplace in the mainstream media,” says a former top drug-policy official, who asked to remain anonymous. “That’s a real disservice for the millions of Americans who are poised to live each day with the public-health consequences of this experiment.”
There are several factors that could lead to skewed marijuana coverage in favor of legalization. For starters, the fact that there are relatively few major anti-legalization advocates making noise these days, compared with a lengthy parade of well-funded marijuana activist organizations, trade groups, lobbying firms and public-relations outfits means it’s easier for one side to get its message out to news outlets than for the other....
Then there is the impact of all those reading and disseminating the resulting news coverage. Online, cannabis activists have become a loud and powerful bunch, launching advocacy blogs, sharing articles on Reddit and Twitter that support their case and lambasting those that don’t. This means positive cannabis coverage can equal big social media hits and resulting clicks, while negative stories can face a backlash — and the sheer scale of the pro-marijuana community’s passion can be intimidating. When the New York Times’ David Brooks penned a column criticizing legalization efforts in early 2014, he was besieged by online ridicule, derision that was echoed by some of his colleagues in the media. He hasn’t touched the subject since.
Marijuana advertising could also be an issue. At a time when ad revenue is shrinking and classified sections have been decimated, the nascent marijuana industry has proven to be a welcome new source of advertising dollars, especially for free alternative-weekly newspapers such as Seattle Weekly and Denver’s Westword (where, in the interest of full disclosure, this reporter used to work). While publications such as these maintain strict firewalls between the advertising and editorial sides, there’s a risk that some outlets could be seen as becoming so financially intertwined with the marijuana industry that their objectivity could threatened, such as how ESPN’s dependence on NFL contracts has led some to suggest the organization can no longer accurately cover football. Similarly, journalism jobs, including this reporter’s, have been created to cover the burgeoning marijuana business. If the data support it, could these journalists be expected to conclude that legalization has been a failure, if that means they would also be writing the obituaries for their own jobs?...
Some skewed marijuana coverage might have less to do with newsroom bias and more about how news operations are allocating resources to the issue. Stick “marijuana” in a headline these days and it’s bound to get hits. So then why bother devoting precious manpower over days or weeks to investigating whether potency labels on marijuana edibles are accurate or tracking down the dealings of shady cannabis penny stocks when a report on a marijuana-infused film screening — and its accompanying puntastic headline — will attract just as much attention?...
But there are signs that marijuana coverage, like the cannabis scene itself, is evolving. If cannabis continues to be a news draw, it could lead to ever-more skillful and in-depth journalism on the subject. It’s a promising sign that journalism professors such as Matranga are teaching classes on marijuana journalism and objective news startups such as Cannabis Wire are taking root. Plus, as medical-marijuana programs develop in cities such as New York and Chicago, the ample media operations in these towns will likely pay close attention to how these ventures are progressing in their midst.
Monday, January 18, 2016
I was supportive of the failed (and very far from ideal) marijuana reform initiative campaign in Ohio in 2015 in part because the Ohio General Assembly had never before shown any serious interest in even considering any serious marijuana reform in the Buckeye State. But, as this local article highlights, the legislative times they are a-changing in 2016 already in Ohio. And the article, headlined "Strange Bedfellows Are Part Of New Medical Marijuana Task Force," reports that some folks involved in the failed 2015 initiative are being included in the new year developments:
Ohio lawmakers who have been signaling they want to consider medical marijuana legalization have taken an unexpected step. Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger stood in front of an interesting group of people when he announced there will be a task force to study medical marijuana in Ohio. “There’s a lot of groups that are going to have interest in this topic and what we have tried to do is put together a group of interested parties that can represent a broad swath of different interest groups throughout the state with different aspects and different varieties with an open mind to hear out this issue and talk about this issue before us in medical marijuana.”
That diverse group on this task force includes representatives from the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery. And there are two somewhat surprising members: Chris Stock and Jimmy Gould, former leaders of ResponsibleOhio, the group that brought forward the pot plan that voters overwhelmingly rejected last fall. Gould says he's glad to be working with the groups that had fought against Issue 3 last fall.
“Ohio needs medical marijuana, first and foremost and needs it for everything….for chronic pain, for conditions, but it needs to be regulated properly. It needs to be done the right way. We went from probably zero to 250 miles an hour in a state that it is a little difficult to go from zero to 100. I’m prepared to accept 100 right now and that is to pass a legislative action for medical marijuana.”
Gould says he’s agreed to put any effort to legalize marijuana on hold for now. And he says the Fresh Start plan, the initiative that would allow people with past non-violent marijuana offenses to clear their records, is dead for now. “You can’t expunge without having legalization. The voters knew that. They knew exactly what they were doing when they voted the way they voted. I had to hear them. We spent $25 million, we got defeated. And when you lose, you get back up on your feet and you take the best path that is available to you. When we were approached by several people and I approached several people, you know we want a victory out of this thing and the victory we want is what is good for Ohio and we have always wanted that.”
Just last month, Ian James, the man who headed up the failed ResponsibleOhio campaign, said investors of it wanted to go back to the ballot this fall with another legalization plan. The ResponsibleOhio campaign had been renamed Free Market Ohio and James said it was full speed ahead to collect petition signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this fall. But Gould says moving forward with that right now is not the answer. “We didn’t just lose 51 to 49. We got beat. And I come from a competitive sports family and world and we got beat. And when you get beat that way, you come back and figure out, ok, what’s the next best way? FreeMarket Ohio was not the answer."
Republican State Representative Kirk Shuring will head up the task force. And he says while it will meet several times between now and the end of March, there is no promise of specific legislation. He says this task force is an opportunity for different groups of people with different ideas on the subject of marijuana to get together to try to find some common ground. “We have a time out and we are going to have a conversation and we are optimistic that it will lead to something we can point to at the end of March.”
Meanwhile, Ohio Senators plan to approach the issue of medical marijuana differently. Republican Senate Caucus Communications Director John Fortney says Republican Senator David Burke and Democratic Senator Kenny Yuko plan to hold a series of town hall meetings on medical marijuana in public forums throughout the state. “The people of Ohio are not interested in seeing the pill mill equivalent of medical marijuana on every street corner in the state of Ohio. That said, we understand that there is some support for what it can do for people who are suffering from chronic illness and I think that’s going to be part of the conversation from these public forums.”
I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.
Notably, though, as this other local article details, the emergence of a medicial marijuana reform task force in Ohio is unlikely to completely quash interest and efforts for initiative-based reforms in the Buckeye state in the months ahead. The article is headlined "Ohio marijuana legalization supporters still push for 2016 ballot issues," and here are excerpts:
ResponsibleOhio won't be back with another marijuana legalization amendment this year, but marijuana advocates said Friday they will push forward with ballot measures for November as well as work with state lawmakers studying medical marijuana legalization.
Legalize Ohio 2016, also known as Ohioans to End Prohibition, plans to continue to try to collect the 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters necessary by July 6 to qualify its issue for the November ballot. Its proposed constitutional amendment would legalize recreational and medical marijuana, as well as allow farmers to grow hemp.
Legalize Ohio 2016 President Sri Kavuru said his group will encourage its supporters to be involved in discussions at the Statehouse on the medical marijuana issue.... Kavuru said his group will encourage advocates to testify at the task force meetings and in town hall meetings state Senators plan to hold across the state.
Kavuru said he's hopeful the legislature will enact good legislation that establishes an industry and serves many types of patients. "At the end of the day, we do want reform for patients first," Kavuru said. "If they pass the right medical marijuana law, then it's not worth going through a ballot initiative. If they don't or we hear they're passing something we don't like, we'll continue with the initiative. The citizens' initiative process is there in case the government doesn't do what you want."
The group has collected about 80,000 signatures, Kavuru said, but many petition books are still in the field. Kavuru said the group, which has relied on volunteers thus far, will have the money to hire paid signature collectors. Legalize Ohio 2016 is the only recreational marijuana measure in motion....
Ohio Rights Group, which had been collecting signatures for a medical-only measure until it backed Issue 3, could still qualify for the November ballot. ORG President Mary Jane Borden said the group does not have the money to pay signature collectors or run a campaign and instead will focus on educating lawmakers about the benefits of medical cannabis....
A new, medical-only measure was filed Thursday with the Ohio attorney general. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, backed by longtime marijuana advocates Tonya Davis and Carlis McDerment, would allow people with a qualifying condition such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis to purchase and use marijuana. If the proposed summary is cleared by the attorney general, the group will have to collect 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the measure on the ballot.
Disconcertingly, while the folks involved with Legalize Ohio 2016 pushed for a no vote on full legalization proposed by ResponsibleOhio in 2015 with promises that they would bring much better reform to voters in 2016, it now sounds as though the Legalize Ohio 2016 folks are suggesting they would be content now with just medical marijuana reform. Moreover, with the challenges posed by collecting hundred of thousands of signatures and a new Ohio constitutional restriction on ballot access for initiative, my deep fear that the Legalize Ohio folks would face an uphill battle to give voters another chance to consider full legalization seem to be coming to fruition.
January 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)
Sunday, January 17, 2016
The folks at YouGov, as detailed in this posting headlined "Most Americans support marijuana legalization," have released some interesting new data based on interviews of one thousands of Americans in mid-December 2015. Here is part of the YouGov summary of its main findings:
Research from YouGov shows that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. 52% of Americans now support legalization, while only 34% oppose it. This is slightly up from 48% support for legalization when the question was last asked in March 2015.
Over half of all adults under the age of 65 support it, but over-65s do tend to oppose (49%) rather than support (39%) legalization. Politically, Democrats (66%) and independents (51%) want to legalize marijuana but half of Republicans are opposed. Just over a third of Republicans (36%) do support legalization, however.
While full legalization has the support of just over half of the country two-thirds of Americans believe that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth. Unsurprisingly a huge majority of people in favor of legalization (86%) say that the efforts cost more than they are worth, but even opponents of legalization narrowly tend to say that current efforts aren't worth the cost (42% to 33%).
As the last sentence of this summary reveals, the detailed YouGov poll results (which are available here) includes some interesting marijuana-related questions beyond just support for legalization reforms and its breaks down poll responses in some notable ways.
Of particular interest was that the only racial demographic not expressing majority support for legalization was "Hispanic" and the lowest level of support for for legalization among economic demographics was found among families making less than $50,000 per year. I tend to assume that minority populations and lower income groups are more inclined to support marijuana reform because these groups seem to be subject to a larger share of the criminal justice consequences of blanket prohibition. But this YouGov poll suggests that reality may be far more nuanced.
In addition, I find especially significant the findings and political demographic breakdowns concerning the question "Do you agree or disagree that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth?". Notably, independents are more than five times more likely to agree (70%) than disagree (13%) with this statement, and even Republicans are more than twice as likely to agree (55%) than disagree (24%) with this statement. If other polls ask this question and produce similar result, such findings I think could well have a real impact on the positions of various presidential candidates in the months ahead.
January 17, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)
Thursday, January 14, 2016
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Forbes commentary by Jacob Sullum headlined "Legalization Lawsuit Shows Conservative Constitutionalists Have Marijuana-Related Memory Loss." Here is how it starts and ends (with links from the original):
Last week, two days before Mexican authorities recaptured Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt pointed to another drug lord, this one hiding in plain sight: John Hickenlooper, a.k.a. the governor of Colorado. “The State of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects, and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing, and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 States in 2014,” Pruitt writes in a Supreme Court brief joined by Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson. “If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”
Hickenlooper actually was a drug dealer of sorts before he got into politics, having cofounded Wynkoop Brewing Company, a Denver brewpub, in 1988. But he ended up running the drug trafficking organization described in Pruitt’s brief by accident. He was elected governor two years before Colorado voters decided, against his advice, to legalize marijuana. Pruitt and Peterson are trying to overturn that result, claiming that it hurt Oklahoma and Nebraska by encouraging an influx of Colorado cannabis. Their argument shows how readily some conservative Republicans let their anti-pot prejudices override their federalist principles....
Last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott showed what a more consistent federalism looks like. Abbott proposed nine constitutional amendments aimed at restoring the balance of power between the states and the federal government. Number one on his list was an amendment that would “prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State,” in line with the original understanding of the Commerce Clause. In a position paper that draws on the work of libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, who represented the plaintiffs in Raich, Abbott argues that the power to regulate interstate commerce is limited to activities that are both interstate and commerce (meaning the trade or exchange of goods). He criticizes Raich at length, asking, “What constitutional provision conceivably could allow federal agents to raid a home and destroy plants that were planted, grown, and consumed inside the borders of one State and in accordance with that State’s law?”Although Abbott does not say so explicitly, the implication of his argument is that federal prohibition — not just of marijuana but of cocaine, heroin, LSD, lawn darts, “assault weapons,” or “partial birth” abortion — is unconstitutional insofar as it extends to purely intrastate activity. In other words, even if Oklahoma and Nebraska were right that Colorado’s regulation of the marijuana industry violates the CSA, it should not matter, because the CSA itself is unconstitutional. When it comes to the Constitution, not all conservatives suffer from marijuana-related memory loss.
January 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)