Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, February 23, 2018

"E.U. Regulation Will Revolutionize Global Data Privacy. How Will This Affect The Regulated Cannabis Sector?"

In prior posts here and here, I spotlighted articles published at the Cannabis Law Report discussing federal tax treatment of cannabis businesses authored by Chris Nani, a student in my Marijuana Law & Policy seminar last semester. I am now pleased and proud to spotlight that Chris Nani has branched out by authoring this new piece with the title that serves as the title of this post. Here is how it starts and ends:

A European Union regulation may soon shape the way U.S. cannabis companies create their privacy policies and standards. The European Union will fully implement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by May 25, 2018....

Data security is tantamount to consumers and companies that comply with the GDPR will have an advantage over others and their clients will appreciate the additional security.

February 23, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

American Legion continues to push federal government for more research on how marijuana can help veterans

American%20Legion%20Logo%20-%20American%20Flag%20on%20either%20sideThis new article from The Cannabist, headlined "Veterans group ratchets up pressure on White House and Congress to support medical marijuana research: The American Legion wants the federal government to focus on cannabis as potential treatment for PTSD and other ailments," reports on notable new comments from a notable old advocate for medical marijuana research and reform. Here is how the article begins:

Top officials at of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, on Friday stepped up their calls for the federal government to legitimize and invest in medical marijuana research. In a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Legion National Commander Denise Rohan outlined how the White House and Congress could improve the delivery of benefits to the nation’s 20 million-plus veterans. Medical cannabis was on the list. In fulfilling its mission to make sure veterans are taken care of, “we have to find replacements for the opioid epidemic we have in this nation,” Rohan said.

The organization’s call for additional research into cannabis as a potential treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain and other ailments was reiterated by Louis Celli, National Director Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation at the Legion. “We just need to know that the American government is focused on trying to find cures for not only veterans but for all Americans,” he said. “And if cannabis, which is a drug, is something that can help (then) they have to do the research to do that.”

The Legion has passed several resolutions on cannabis over the past two years. A 2016 measure calls on the Drug Enforcement Agency to license privately-funded medical marijuana operations, ensuring “safe and efficient” research into cannabis. It also asks for the rescheduling of cannabis from its current, decades-long classification as a Schedule 1 drug into a category that, “at a minimum, will recognize cannabis as a drug with a potential medical value.”

The other resolution, passed last year, calls on the Veterans Administration (VA) to allow its medical advisors to openly discuss the use of medical cannabis with veterans for medical purposes – as well as to recommend medicinal cannabis where it is legal.

Last November, a Legion-commissioned national survey showed strong support for medical cannabis research and legalization within the military veteran community.  In December, the VA issued a directive, allowing its doctors and pharmacists to discuss cannabis with veterans taking part in state-approved medical marijuana programs. However, the Weed for Warriors Project, a pro-cannabis legalization veterans group, warned that vets who choose to talk about marijuana use with doctors might be identified by the VA as having a substance abuse disorder, which would in turn curtail their access to other medicines.

The Legion’s Celli also addressed that issue Friday, when asked if he was seeing any pushback to the organization’s stance on cannabis due to the stigmas still surrounding marijuana. “I wouldn’t say we’re getting pushback,” he responded.  “What we’re getting is…stories from veterans who live in states that have legal cannabis programs, and they’re participating in those programs with a feeling of inner guilt.”

Ambivalence about medical cannabis, he said, comes from years of being told that marijuana is bad and immoral.  Veterans in those state-legal cannabis programs, he added, see pot as a valid treatment but still feel like they could be on “the wrong side of the law.”

Prior related posts:

February 23, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the United States: A systematic review and meta-analysis"

CoverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new article by multiple authored in the journal Addiction.  Here is the abstract:

Aims

To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies in order to estimate the effect of US medical marijuana laws (MMLs) on past-month marijuana use prevalence among adolescents.

Methods

A total of 2999 papers from 17 literature sources were screened systematically.  Eleven studies, developed from four ongoing large national surveys, were meta-analyzed.  Estimates of MML effects on any past-month marijuana use prevalence from included studies were obtained from comparisons of pre–post MML changes in MML states to changes in non-MML states over comparable time-periods.  These estimates were standardized and entered into a meta-analysis model with fixed-effects for each study.  Heterogeneity among the study estimates by national data survey was tested with an omnibus F-test.  Estimates of effects on additional marijuana outcomes, of MML provisions (e.g. dispensaries) and among demographic subgroups were abstracted and summarized.  Key methodological and modeling characteristics were also described. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were followed.

Results

None of the 11 studies found significant estimates of pre–post MML changes compared with contemporaneous changes in non-MML states for marijuana use prevalence among adolescents. The meta-analysis yielded a non-significant pooled estimate (standardized mean difference) of −0.003 (95% confidence interval = −0.012, +0.007). Four studies compared MML with non-MML states on pre-MML differences and all found higher rates of past-month marijuana use in MML states pre-MML passage. Additional tests of specific MML provisions, of MML effects on additional marijuana outcomes and among subgroups generally yielded non-significant results, although limited heterogeneity may warrant further study.

Conclusions

Synthesis of the current evidence does not support the hypothesis that US medical marijuana laws (MMLs) until 2014 have led to increases in adolescent marijuana use prevalence. Limited heterogeneity exists among estimates of effects of MMLs on other patterns of marijuana use, of effects within particular population subgroups and of effects of specific MML provisions.

February 23, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New report from SAM and affiliate assembles data to highlight problems in Colorado after legalization

SAMVia email I received notice of a new report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Ohio.  Here are part of the email with links from the original:

The Marijuana Accountability Coalition (MAC), along with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), launched a new report today examining marijuana legalization in Colorado, joining Colorado Christian University and the Centennial Institute in an open press event. SAM honorary advisor, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, also delivered the report to Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran earlier today.  MAC is an affiliate of SAM Action, SAM's 501 c-4 organization, started by former Obama and Bush Administration advisors.

"We will continue to investigate, expose, challenge, and hold the marijuana industry accountable," said Justin Luke Riley, founder of MAC. "We will not remain silent anymore as we see our state overtaken by special marijuana interests."  The report also comes with a two-page report card synopsis giving Colorado an "F" on many key public health and safety indicators.   Future MAC initiatives include an effort to expose politicians taking marijuana industry money, and exposing the harms of 4/20 celebrations.... 

The new report card discussed the following impacts in the state:

  • Colorado currently holds the top ranking for first-time marijuana use among youth, representing a 65% increase in the years since legalization (NSDUH, 2006-2016). Young adult use (youth aged 18-25) in Colorado is rapidly increasing (NSDUH, 2006-2016).  
  • Colorado toxicology reports show the percentage of adolescent suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased (Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment [CDPHE], 2017).  
  • Colorado marijuana arrests for young African-American and Hispanic youth have increased since legalization (Colorado Department of Public Safety [CDPS], 2016).  
  • The gallons of alcohol consumed in Colorado since marijuana legalization has increased by 8% (Colorado Department of Revenue [CDR], Colorado Liquor Excise Tax, 2017).  
  • In Colorado, calls to poison control centers have risen 210% between the four-year averages before and after recreational legalization (Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center [RMPCD], 2017 and Wang, et al., 2017).... 

Other data highlighted in the report include: 

  • In Colorado, the annual rate of marijuana-related emergency room visits increased 35% between the years 2011 and 2015 (CDPHE, 2017).
  • Narcotics officers in Colorado have been busy responding to the 50% increase in illegal grow operations across rural areas in the state (Stewart, 2017).
    • In 2016 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 7,116 pounds of marijuana, carried out 252 felony arrests, and made 346 highway interdictions of marijuana headed to 36 different U.S. states (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The U.S. mail system has also been affected by the black market, seeing an 844% increase in marijuana seizures (RMHIDTA, 2017).
  • The crime rate in Colorado has increased 11 times faster than the rest of the nation since legalization (Mitchell, 2017), with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reporting an 8.3% increase in property crimes and an 18.6% increase in violent crimes (Colorado Bureau of Investigation [CBI], 2017).
    • The Boulder Police Department reported a 54% increase in public consumption of marijuana citations since legalization (Boulder Police Department [BPD], 2017).
  • Marijuana urine test results in Colorado are now double the national average (Quest Diagnostics, 2016).  
  • Insurance claims have become a growing concern among companies in legalized states (Hlavac & Easterly, 2016).
  • The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013 to 2015 (Migoya, 2017). Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017).
    • Driving under the influence of drugs (DUIDs) have also risen in Colorado, with 76% of statewide DUIDs involving marijuana (Colorado State Patrol [CSP], 2017).

Because I recently saw SAM fudging how it reported some arrest data in order to advance its advocacy agenda, folks interested in these data may want also to check this list of citations.

February 22, 2018 in Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

"'Doobies Make Boobies': Police Apologize After Officer Says Marijuana Makes Men Grow Breasts"

9M1YJMo-_400x400The title of this post is the amusing headline of this amusing story about a little bit of misinformation delivered by law enforcement officers to teens in Canada.  Here are the details:

Don't smoke marijuana, boys, or you'll develop breasts.  That's the message that an officer for Canada's York Regional Police shared with high school boys last week during a drug-awareness talk in which the officer claimed that smoking marijuana would make boys develop breasts.

“There are studies that marijuana lowers your testosterone,” drug recognition officer Nigel Cole told students during a panel held at the York District School Board headquarters.  “We call it ‘doobies make boobies,’ we are finding that 60 percent of 14-year-olds are developing ‘boobies.’”

Health experts quickly responded to dismiss the bogus claim.  “Smoking marijuana does not give you breasts,” said Dr. John Harrison, Chief Scientific Officer for the healthcare company TeamMD.  “Marijuana does impact hormones but by no means does it give anyone breasts. That’s what you call knowledge going the wrong way.  There’s no scientific basis that I know of.”...

The police agree.  Yesterday, the official Twitter account for the York Regional Police released an apology for spreading misinformation.  "We’re no health experts," YPR wrote, "but we’re pretty sure getting high does not cause enhanced mammary growth in men.  We are aware of the misinformation about cannabis that was unfortunately provided to the community by our officers.  We’re working to address it."

The York Regional Police should certainly be given credit for forthrightly apologizing for spreading misinformation rather than for trying to deny this happened. But this incident serves to provide another reminder of the enduring challenges of ensuring that only sound information is part of needed efforts to educate the community about the array of potential pros and cons of marijuana use.

February 22, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Strategies to Help Young Adults Limit Negative Consequences of Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Rand commentary authored by Eric Pedersen. Here are excerpts:

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have been shown to be the most prevalent and problematic users of marijuana. And now with laws for recreational marijuana sales emerging in multiple states, there is a need to understand how the potential for harm can be minimized among young adults who choose to use the drug.

My colleagues and I at RAND and other research institutions have developed a Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale for Marijuana that helps identify some practices young adults can use to help limit their use of marijuana and avoid negative consequences....

We are still learning about the effects of legalization on marijuana consumption, but young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 represent the drug's most prevalent users and 5 percent of those in that age category meet criteria for cannabis use disorder — more than double the percentage of individuals in any other age category. Given that young adults are using the drug, and it is becoming increasingly more available for medical and recreational use, there is a need to understand whether the potential for harm can be minimized among those who choose to use marijuana.

One of my mentors in graduate school at the University of Washington, the late Alan Marlatt, was instrumental in challenging the notion that misuse of alcohol could only be controlled by abstinence, as in never using it again. He demonstrated that “harm-reduction techniques” could help individuals limit their use so that they experience few to no harms from use.  Any step toward reduced risk, such as drinking one less day per week or limiting oneself to two drinks per day, was a step in the right direction.  This proved to be an effective approach for some people and has been particularly attractive to young adults.  That is, if young people chose to drink, they were provided with strategies for how to moderate their drinking in a way to minimize associated harms. 

Using Marlatt's principles, my colleagues and I developed a list of strategies that young people can turn to before, during, after — or instead of — using marijuana to help protect themselves from experiencing negative consequences. In multiple studies we have shown that to be true: College students who use these strategies were at significantly less risk for heavily using the drug and experiencing negative consequences from use. And we came to a similar conclusion in another study with young veterans.

We have developed 36-item and 17-item versions of our list of strategies — the Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale for Marijuana (or the PBSM) — that researchers and clinicians can use in their research studies and in practice. Items on the list relate to a variety of situations and practices, and include strategies that may be helpful to try if someone desires to cut down use, wants to limit use around certain times of the day, and avoid or limit use in particularly risky situations, such as when everyone else around them is using. Some examples of items on the list are:

Avoid using marijuana before work or school.

Keep track of your costs to get an accurate picture of how much you spend on marijuana.

Avoid situations that you anticipate being pressured to use marijuana.

Use marijuana only among trusted peers.

Avoid using marijuana to cope with emotions such as sadness or depression.

Use a little and then wait to see how you feel before using more.

Limit use to weekends.

February 20, 2018 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Interesting report on felony arrests and black market realities in Colorado after legalization

Marijuana+colorado+mgnThis lengthy article from the Colorado Springs Gazette, headlined "Black market marijuana busts nearly quadruple under recreational legalization," provides some notable data on marijuana enforcement in in the first state to have a regulated legal marijuana marketplace. Here are excerpts:

Four years after legal recreational marijuana went on sale in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper says the black market for marijuana in the state is shrinking and predicted that it "will be largely gone" in a few years. But new statistics show that arrests for the production of black market pot increased by 380 percent in the 2014-16 time frame, and Colorado law enforcement agencies say they are battling a boom in illegal marijuana cultivation by sometimes violent groups of criminals who rake in millions of dollars by exporting what they grow.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety, which tracks various marijuana-related statistics, found that manufacturing arrests leapt from 126 in 2014 to 476 in 2016, according to new state data obtained by The Gazette. Illegal manufacturing encompasses the unlicensed making of THC-laced products, as well as large, hidden growing operations where plant counts far exceed those allowed by state law.

Those numbers have not been put into a formal report yet. But Jack Reed, the state official who compiles them, confirmed the dramatic increase in arrests for illegal grows. Reed deferred to law enforcement officials for interpretation of the new data. Other police agencies also report a growing element of violence in the illegal marijuana trade. Denver counts seven of its 56 homicides in 2017 as marijuana-related. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver classified one-third of its 2017 marijuana cases as violent. Other agencies routinely report seizing guns in marijuana busts.

Overall, marijuana cases filed in state courts have plummeted by about 80 percent since voters legalized recreational marijuana in November, 2012, with sales beginning in 2014. Most officials attribute that number to the precipitous drop in simple possession arrests. There were 9,789 total cases in 2012, compared to 1,650 overall cases in 2016, and a 6 percent spike to 1,759 cases in 2017.

However, felony marijuana cases have risen steadily beginning in 2015 with 579 cases; 2016 saw 807 felony cases, and there were 901 in 2017. Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is legal, whereas possessing 10 ounces or more is a felony. That complicates enforcement, because a single home-grown plant can produce up to 2 pounds of leaves and flowers, officials say....

By nature, black market sales are impossible to quantify accurately, but even as arrests rise, black market sales appear to be a fraction of the legal sales in Colorado. From 2014 through 2017, recreational and medical marijuana sales grew from $683 million annually to $1.5 billion last year. By comparison, the largest Colorado bust in 2017 charged 62 people and netted 4,000 pounds, which authorities estimate could be worth $16 million in states where marijuana is contraband....

Mark Bolton, the governor's marijuana advisor, doesn't dispute that arrests for illegal manufacturing have risen. But he said Hickenlooper has taken "important steps to getting rid of black market activity," from supporting legislation that reduced the legal number of plants per household to bolstering law enforcement budgets for investigation.

Law enforcement officials, particularly Republicans, accuse the state's Democratic governor of minimizing the side effects of legalization. They contend that illegal basement businesses are thriving under their noses in a state that permits growing small amounts for personal use. "It's out of control," said Ray Padilla, a drug agent who had just returned from a 20-house bust that yielded thousands of plants and several hundred pounds of harvested marijuana. "We probably spend more assets on marijuana now than we ever did."

Padilla, a balding 42-year-old sporting a beard, earrings and jeans, heads the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. He and other law enforcement leaders say the lure of marijuana millions has drawn armed growers from places as distant as Florida, California and Mexico, as well as home-grown black marketeers who set up elaborate lighting and irrigation systems in suburban houses. "I have encountered more weapons in marijuana locations than any other type of drug," Padilla said....

In 27 raids last year, Sheriff Bill Elder said, "We seized guns out of almost every single one." He holds the high potency of Colorado marijuana partly to blame. "Colorado is exporting the best marijuana in the country, and it's the number one exporter," Elder said. "We are cranking out some seriously good weed."...

John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney in Denver when recreational sales began, described smuggling as a cause for concern but not panic. "Has there been an influx of people from out of state? Yes. Has there been an effective law enforcement response? Also yes. It is an ongoing problem," he said. He credits the Hickenlooper administration for "taking it very seriously" and cooperating with federal efforts to curb black market dealing. "This is a new world. Colorado is on the front end," he said. "We're doing more than any other state in trying to set up a really effective regulatory system."

February 19, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Insuring the Product Liability Risks of Cannabis"

The title of this post is the title of this short paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Ian Stewart and Francis Joseph Mootz. Here is its abstract:

Legal adult-use marijuana is associated with risks that may cause bodily injury and property damage.  Many of these risks have been well documented and widely discussed in the media, including theft, fire, motor vehicle accidents and consumption-related injuries. T he potential for an increase in the number and value of cannabis-related product liability claims and lawsuits, however, is of particular concern to the cannabis and insurance industries.  The production, distribution and sale of an ingestible product that has psychoactive effects – accompanied by a wide range of anticipated labeling and marketing representations – will certainly result in robust product liability litigation.

February 18, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Senator Gardner apparently stopping much of his DOJ blockade in response to rescinded Cole Memo

According to this new AP article, "Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator will stop blocking nominees for some Justice Department jobs over concerns about the marijuana industry, saying Thursday that federal officials have shown good faith in recent conversations on the department’s pot policy."  Here is more:

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator last month to freeze nominations for posts at the agency after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections for states like Colorado that have broadly legalized recreational marijuana.  It was a dramatic move by a Republican senator against his own party’s attorney general and came after Gardner said Sessions had promised him there wouldn’t be a crackdown.  Gardner said he was placing holds on nominees until Sessions changed his approach.

The holds have created friction both with Sessions, who has complained that critical posts are going unfilled, and some of Gardner’s fellow GOP senators who want key law enforcement officials in their states confirmed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gardner said Thursday that he’s discussed the issue with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has been pleased with progress so far. Department leaders have “shown in good faith their willingness to provide what I think will be hopefully the protections we sought, and as sort of a good faith gesture on my behalf I’ll be releasing a limited number of nominees,” Gardner said.  He will release his holds on nominees for U.S. attorneys in a dozen federal districts, U.S. marshals in every district and on John Demers, who was nominated to head Justice’s national security division.... 

Gardner will continue to hold the nominations of seven top Department of Justice nominees. He’s also working with a bipartisan group of members of congress to pursue legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana.

A few prior related posts:

February 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

SAM releases report asserting Connecticut would face cost from marijuana legalization double projected tax revenues

Download (10)The leading national group opposed to modern marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), today released this big new report titled "The Projected Costs of Marijuana Legalization in Connecticut."  Here is how its "Introduction/Summary" gets started:

Much has been said about the revenue that marijuana legalization might bring to Connecticut. Few, however, discuss the costs of such a policy. Omitting costs is a critical oversight: no policy or business plan would be complete without discussing both sides of the balance sheet.

Although a full cost accounting of marijuana legalization would be impossible at present, enough data exists to make rough-and-ready estimates of certain likely direct and short-term costs, such as:

1. Administrative and enforcement costs for regulators

2. Increased drugged-driving fatalities

3. Increased drugged-driving injuries

4. Increased property damage to vehicles related to drugged driving

5. Short-term health costs

a. More emergency room visits for marijuana poisonings

b. Injuries from marijuana-concentrate extraction lab explosions/fires

6. Increased rates of homelessness

7. Workplace costs

a. Increased absenteeism

b. More workplace accidents among full-time employees

Initial approximations of these preliminary costs indicate that it is unlikely that revenues from legalization would ever exceed its costs. This report concludes that even a conservative cost estimate limited to only the issues above would cost Connecticut approximately $216 million in 2020, which would be the third year of legalization if the policy was implemented in 2018. (According to data from the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, the legalization program will only be fully operational in its third year of operation.)

Such costs exceed, by more than 90 percent, the maximum projected official revenue estimate of $113.6 million for the third year of the proposed legalization program. (These costs are almost 300 percent of the minimum revenue estimate of $54.4 million, but to be conservative, this report uses the maximum estimate.)

February 15, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Mixed messages from US District Judge hearing legal challenge to federal marijuana prohibition

In this post earlier this week, I noted today's scheduled hearing in federal court concerning a lawsuit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act and asked "Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?". This Bloomberg article, headlined "Trump Administration Battles Sick Kids on Access to Legal Pot," suggests that the judge hearing the case is sympathetic to the plaintiffs' complaints but still seemingly unlikely to run in their favor:

In a New York courtroom packed with cannabis supporters, the Trump administration urged a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that aims to pave the way for legal marijuana across the country.

The case was brought on behalf of two sick children, a former National Football League player who says athletes deserve a better way to treat head trauma than addictive opioids and the Cannabis Cultural Association. The suit, filed in July 2017, seeks a ruling that marijuana was unconstitutionally labeled alongside heroin and LSD as a so-called Schedule I drug -- the harshest of five government ratings -- when Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act in 1970.

In court on Wednesday, Justice Department attorney Samuel Hilliard Dolinger said the plaintiffs didn’t follow legal requirements before suing, beginning with a petition to the Drug Enforcement Agency. "The right thing is to defer to the agency," said U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, an 84-year-old who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton, who famously admitted to experimenting with pot while claiming he "didn’t inhale."...

Hellerstein said he would issue a ruling later, and it was far from clear which way he was leaning. The judge, who had the courtroom erupting in laughter on more than a few occasions during the hearing, was skeptical of the government’s claim that there’s no medical benefit to marijuana. "Your clients are living proof of the medical effectiveness of marijuana," Hellerstein said to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Hiller....

Cannabis was criminalized "not to control the spread of a dangerous drug, but rather to suppress the rights and interests of those whom the Nixon Administration wrongly regarded as hostile to the interests of the U.S. -- African Americans and protesters of the Vietnam War," the suit says.

At the hearing, Hellerstein said that argument wasn’t going to work with him. The decision "will not depend on what may have been in the mind of Richard Nixon at the time," Hellerstein said.

Prior related posts:

February 14, 2018 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Can Olympic Athletes Use Cannabis? Officially No, But…"

Marijuana-summer-olympics-2016The title of this post is the headline of this recent Leafy article that struck me as both timely and informative.  Here is how the extended piece starts and ends:

Whether or not you consider cannabis a performance-enhancing substance, it’s still a no-no for Olympic athletes. Being caught can mean suspension or even the loss of a medal. Just ask Canada’s Ross Rebagliati, who in 1998 was stripped of the first-ever Olympic gold for snowboarding after his urine tested positive for THC.

Rebagliati eventually got his medal back after pointing out that cannabis at the time wasn’t actually classified as a banned substance. But every year since, cannabinoids have appeared on the official “Prohibited List” put out annually by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sorry, brah.

That’s not to say WADA is especially strict when it comes to cannabis. In fact, the agency’s limits are probably more lenient than your employer’s.

In 2016, we called the Olympic limits on cannabinoids “shockingly reasonable”—and they’ve only gotten more sensible since. Athletes’ urine must contain less than 150 nanograms per milliliter of carboxy-THC, a cannabis metabolite.

By comparison, workplace drug tests commonly used by private employers in the United States set thresholds between about 15 ng/mL and 100 ng/mL. (Rebagliati, the snowboarder, returned a result of 17.8 ng/mL.) Legal-cannabis states often have per se limits for cannabis DUIs, but those are generally based on concentrations of active THC in whole blood rather than WADA’s test for metabolites in urine, making the limits difficult to compare directly.

WADA’s THC limit used to be just 15 ng/mL, but the agency quietly raised it in 2013. The head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission said at the time that the change was “a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter,” adding: “There is a big debate on it.”

How does the limit translate in terms of actual cannabis consumption? That’s hard to say for certain. How long cannabis remains in a person’s system depends consumption habits, genetics, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Athletes, who are generally leaner and more active than average, would likely be able to pass a test sooner than those of us watching from the couch at home....

At the end of the day, Olympic athletes are allowed a fair amount of leeway when it comes to cannabis test results, but they still operate in a world with scant protection for medical use. As more countries move to legalize, perhaps that will change.

February 14, 2018 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"How will cannabis legalization affect alcohol consumption?"

UntitledThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Beau Kilmer and Rosanna Smart.  Like many thoughtful commentaries in this arena, the authored highlight that a seemingly simple question does not have a simple answer.  Here are excerpts:

How will legalization affect alcohol consumption?  Will drinking go down because people substitute cannabis for alcohol, or will drinking go up because cannabis and alcohol complement each other?  These questions have important implications for the health consequences of legalization, and for tax revenues.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers, yet.

A 2015 RAND Corporation study about cannabis legalization for the state of Vermont concluded that the evidence was mixed about whether cannabis and alcohol were substitutes or complemented each other.  A 2016 University of Washington literature review about changing cannabis polices and alcohol use concluded the relationship was complex.

Much research has relied on evidence of how laws that increase access to medical cannabis affect alcohol use.  The findings are mixed, possibly because the studies examine different age groups, measures of alcohol consumption and time periods.  The alcohol-cannabis relationship may differ across population subgroups — teens may treat these substances differently than adults. Also, some studies consider only effects on whether people drink, but not effects on how often or how much they drink.

Different studies also examine different time periods, and the laws have been changing over time.  Early state laws (such as the medical cannabis legislation California passed in 1996) tend to allow broader qualifying patient conditions, legal home cultivation and less oversight of dispensaries.  Differences in policies may lead to different effects on cannabis use, and possibly alcohol use. And the laws’ impact may evolve over time as the market expands or as federal enforcement shifts.

A recent working paper out of the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University has received a fair bit of attention as the latest in this series of attempts to shed light on the issue of whether alcohol and cannabis are substitutes or complements based on evidence from medical cannabis laws.  The authors examined changes in alcohol sales at grocery and convenience stores and other outlets.  They found that cannabis and alcohol are strong substitutes, with medical cannabis implementation being associated with a 15 percent reduction in monthly alcohol sales.

That is a surprisingly large effect, equivalent to what we would predict if the price of alcohol increased on the order of 30 percent.  The effect seems especially large considering that during the study period of 2006 to 2015, the newer state medical cannabis programs that drive the main result were more restrictive and had low participation rates, typically involving less than 1 percent of the population.  Of course, these medical laws could have effects that reach beyond the registered patient population if they made it easier and cheaper for non-patients to access cannabis, or if the laws caused the public to change its attitudes about cannabis and alcohol use more broadly.  Much more needs to be learned about what’s driving the results in this working paper.

Even if a consensus developed about the effect of medical cannabis laws on alcohol use, it would be unwise to simply assume that the same relationship applies to legalizing cannabis sales and advertising for recreational purposes....

These questions about legalization and alcohol consumption will not be resolved anytime soon.  In the meantime, California’s policymakers are making decisions about whether to license stores and lounges, and if so, where and how many.  They would be wise to build flexibility into their regulatory systems and not lock into decisions they may regret as they gain more information.

February 13, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (2)

Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times article headlined "Lawsuit Takes Aim at Trump Administration Marijuana Policy." As detailed below, this lawsuit was covered on this blog when first filed, and this press article is prompted by an upcoming hearing.  Here is part of the report (followed by a bit of commentary at the end):

On Wednesday, yet another courtroom battle promises to pull the White House into the legal spotlight as crucial arguments are heard in New York in a sweeping lawsuit that is challenging the administration’s marijuana policy by seeking to legalize pot under federal law.

When the suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan in July, it appeared to be an intriguing, if limited, effort to help its five named plaintiffs — among them, a former professional football player with a business selling pot-based pain relievers and a 12-year-old girl who treats her chronic epilepsy with medical marijuana.  But the case was thrust into national relevance last month when Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law, endangering the viability of the multibillion-dollar weed industry in states where it is legal.

In its 98-page complaint, the suit presents its case for legalization not only through a host of constitutional arguments, but also by way of a world-historical tour of marijuana use — from its first purported role 10,000 years ago in the production of Taiwanese pottery to the smoking habits of President Barack Obama in his younger days. It points out that the ancient Egyptians used the drug to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, and Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit notes.

The suit also includes archival material quoting John Ehrlichman, an adviser to President Richard Nixon, saying that the early efforts to criminalize pot were a way to disrupt the hippies and the black community after the 1960s. The contention is bolstered by an affidavit from Roger J. Stone, Jr., a pro-pot Nixon-era operative and adviser to Mr. Trump....

The current legal action is a somewhat rare attempt to use civil claims to legalize weed and has offered some novel arguments as to why its classification has violated the constitutional rights of those who filed the suit.

The former football player, Marvin Washington, for instance, is contending that the Controlled Substances Act has impeded his ability to transact business in states where pot is legal in contravention of the Constitution’s commerce clause.  The girl with epilepsy, Alexis Bortell, has argued that the law illegally restricts her right to travel with her medicine in states where pot is not allowed or to places controlled by the federal government — including on airplanes. A third plaintiff, the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit group created to assist minorities in the marijuana industry, has alleged the law has been used for years to discriminate against them.

“It’s the first time a young child who needs lifesaving medicine has stood up to the government to be able to use it,” said Joseph A. Bondy, one of the lawyers who brought the suit. “It’s the first time that a group of young millennials of color has stood up to the government and said the marijuana law is wrong and has destroyed their communities.”

The suit has made another claim based on what amounts to government hypocrisy: It asks why the government has classified pot as a pernicious substance, when in 2003 the Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent on compounds in the drug to protect against brain damage and then in 2015 the surgeon general under President Obama declared in public that pot has medical benefits.

Against these claims, lawyers for the government have argued that Congress decided nearly 50 years ago that pot should be a Schedule 1 drug, and if the plaintiffs don’t agree, they should try to change the law.  Their suit, the lawyers wrote in one of their filings, “is the latest in a long list of cases asserting constitutional challenges to marijuana regulation under the C.S.A. Those challenges have been uniformly rejected by the federal courts.”

No matter how the lawsuit ends, the judge who is considering the case, Alvin K. Hellerstein, is clearly taking it seriously.  At a hearing in September, Judge Hellerstein said he would give the matter his “prioritized attention,” setting it ahead of all of his other cases.

The hearing on Wednesday, scheduled to entertain arguments to dismiss the case, is likely to be marked by a whiff of drama as marijuana activists from across the country are expected to descend on the courtroom.  Mr. Bondy said he is also trying to arrange a live-stream of the proceeding so that young Alexis, unable to travel to New York, can watch it from her home in Colorado.

I am pleased to see the New York Times giving significant attention to this litigation, but I find it troublesome how the headline of the article wrongly suggests that the lawsuit goes after the "Trump Administration Marijuana Policy" when in fact the suit is assailing Congress's failure to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  (Notably, the lawsuit discussed here was filed when the Trump Administration policies on marijuana were unchanged from Obama Administration policies.)

Similarly, this article is off base when asserting that AG Jeff Sessions "issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law."  The AG did issue an order rescinding the Cole Memo last month, but that merely took away novel limits on federal prosecutors and did not come with any orders for "aggressive" enforcement of federal prohibition.  (If AG Sessions had ordered federal prosecutors to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law, there would be hundred of indictments being filed in dozens of state with operational recreational and medical marijuana marketplaces.)

The full complaint as originally filed in Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, be found here.

Prior related posts:

February 13, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 12, 2018

"The April 20 Cannabis Celebration and Fatal Traffic Crashes in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new "Research Letter" authored by John Staples and Donald Redelmeier published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Here is how the publication starts and ends:

On April 20 each year, thousands of Americans celebrate the intoxicating properties of marijuana on a popular counterculture holiday known as “4/20.” Legal marijuana sales surge in anticipation of the “High Holiday,” and college students report increased cannabis consumption on 4/20 itself. In many cities, activists and enthusiasts gather at public celebrations that feature synchronized mass consumption of cannabis at 4:20 pm.

Driving simulation studies indicate that higher blood Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentrations decrease reaction times and increase variability in speed and lane position, while some epidemiologic studies suggest that acute cannabis intoxication increases crash risk. Despite this evidence, driving after cannabis consumption is surprisingly common. We hypothesized that the April 20 cannabis celebration might be associated with a population-level increase in the risk of fatal traffic crash involvement....

We examined a quarter-century of national data and found a 12% increase in the relative risk of a fatal traffic crash after 4:20 pm on April 20 compared with identical time intervals on control days. Although the vast majority of Americans do not celebrate 4/20, the observed association was comparable in magnitude to the increase in traffic risks observed on Superbowl Sunday. Policy makers may wish to consider these risks when liberalizing marijuana laws, paying particular attention to regulatory and enforcement strategies to curtail drugged driving.

February 12, 2018 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Latest spending stopgap extends limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions though March 23, 2018

As reported here under the headline "Federal medical cannabis protection extended again," the stop-gap federal funding approach to stopping possible federal prosecution of state-compliant medical marijuana providers:

The only federal law formally preventing the U.S. Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses has once more been given a new lease on life.  This time, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment – formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr – has been extended until March 23 under the budget deal passed by Congress and signed Friday morning by President Donald Trump....

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer prohibits the DOJ from using federal funds to interfere with state-legal MMJ laws and companies.  The measure does not protect recreational marijuana businesses....

It’s possible the amendment will be included in a larger spending package that is expected to be approved by March 23.  But there’s no guarantee at this point, given a change in procedural rules in the House of Representatives last year that has prevented amendments like Rohrabacher-Blumenauer from being added to the budget.

February 10, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Seattle officials stating they will retroactively vacate past misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91As highlighted by a number of posts linked below, the notion of expunging past marijuana convictions following legalization has quickly become a mainstream part of the reform movement.   The latest notable development on this front comes from Seattle where, as reported here, city leaders are pledging to vacate past vacate misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions.  Here are the details:  

Seattle will move to vacate misdemeanor marijuana-possession convictions prosecuted by the city before pot was legalized in Washington in 2012, Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes said Thursday.

Describing the action as “a necessary step” to right the wrongs of what she called a failed war on drugs, the mayor said such convictions have been an unfair barrier for people trying to obtain housing, credit, jobs and educations.

“The war on drugs ended up being a war on people who needed help, who needed opportunity and who needed treatment,” Durkan said in a news conference at Rainier Community Center in South Seattle. “We did little to stem the tide of the supply of drugs and instead incarcerating almost an entire generation of users who could have had a different way.”

Holmes will ask the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate all convictions and to dismiss all charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession prosecuted before pot was legalized statewide, he said at the news conference. He believes the move will result in the vacation of 500 to 600 convictions from 1997, when Seattle took over misdemeanor marijuana prosecutions from King County, until 2010, when the city stopped such prosecutions as a matter of policy.... In 2010, soon after he was elected, Holmes dismissed all of the city’s marijuana-possession cases and said his office would no longer prosecute such cases.

As Seattle seeks to “undo” the consequences of the country’s decades-long war on drugs, its challenges include a Trump administration, “which would like to turn back the clock,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can in the city of Seattle to hold our gains,” Holmes said.

The city attorney said he plans t0 file a single motion by early next week for all convictions to be vacated and said his office will set up a website where people can determine whether their convictions have been cleared. Karen Donohue, the presiding judge for Seattle Municipal Court, is very supportive of the move, Durkan said.

The mayor said vacating hundreds of convictions from the earlier period will help communities disproportionately impacted by the criminal-justice system and help the city try to eliminate racial disparities in Seattle.

Marijuana-possession arrests in Washington increased sharply between 1986 and 2010, rising from 4,000 a year to 11,000 a year, said the mayor’s office, citing the Drug Policy Alliance.

There were 240,000 arrests in that period, with some communities affected more than others. In Washington, black people were three times more likely than white people to be convicted of marijuana crimes, Durkan said. “Those numbers tell us we were dealing with an unjust system,” she said, adding, “While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we can give back to those people a record that says they were not convicted, because that is the more just thing to do.”...

Durkan said she would like to see officials at the county and state levels, who handle felony marijuana cases, follow the city’s lead....

Seattle’s move follows an announcement last week by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who said he would dismiss 3,038 misdemeanor marijuana charges and would consider reducing 4,900 felony marijuana charges.

 

Some prior related posts:

February 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rounding up some recent notable marijuana reform commentaries

When I started this blog almost five years ago, it was not entirely overwhelming to try keep up with much of the serious and thoughtful commentary about marijuana reform.  But, in the last few years, there is now so much more good writing about marijuana reform developments in the traditional and new media --- no doubt in part because there is now so many more  marijuana reform developments worth writing about.  If I had the time, I would be eager to do separate posts (and even some original commentary) about all the pieces I have rounded up below.  But my time in short, so my round-up will be too:

From Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) at The Hill, "Sessions' war on marijuana a handout for illegal operators"

From David Keene at the Washington Times, "Marijuana laws and gun ownership"

Fro Richard Freidman at the New York Times, "Marijuana Can Save Lives"

From the Los Angeles Times editorial board, "Marijuana is now legal in California. Continuing to punish prior offenders is cruel and unnecessary"

From Keith Humphries at the Washington Post, "Why states should limit the potency of marijuana: It’s in everyone’s best interest for states to harsh the mellow a bit."

February 8, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Justice Department seemingly impacted more by rescission of Cole Memo than marijuana industry

Gardner-sessionsThis new Denver Post piece, headlined "Cory Gardner’s siege of the Justice Department over marijuana enters second month," provides an interested accounting of the current impact and import of the decision last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidance.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been a month since the pot blockade began, and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is standing firm in his vow to jam all appointments to the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions softens his stance on marijuana.

So far, his siege to protect both Colorado’s cannabis industry and the state’s sovereignty has prevented as many as 11 nominees from getting a Senate floor vote — the last major step before they can start work — and there is little indication that Gardner, R-Colo., and Sessions are any closer to finding common ground. “It may never resolve itself,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the committee in charge of getting these nominees to the floor.

If that happens, the consequences would extend far beyond the 11 nominees that Gardner has put on ice. More than 20 other candidates are in the congressional pipeline for Justice-related jobs, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys assigned to states across the country. One even hails from Colorado: David Weaver, a former Douglas County sheriff in line to become the state’s next U.S. marshal....

“Senator Gardner does a real disservice to the nation as a whole and we urgently ask him to reconsider his rash and ill-advised obstructionism,” said Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “Policy differences should be worked out by a dialogue and not turn into hostage situations.”

At the root of the fight is a decision last month by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that generally left alone states such as Colorado that have legalized marijuana, which remains illegal on a federal level. While the change hasn’t led to federal raids on pot dispensaries — and business largely has continued as usual — the move still sent shock waves through the fledgling cannabis industry.

Gardner wasn’t able to convince Sessions to reconsider when the two Republicans met last month, though aides to the Colorado lawmaker said the two sides haven’t given up on negotiations. “Our staff and DOJ staff continue to talk and meet to discuss a path forward which recognizes Colorado’s state’s rights and ensures law enforcement has the authority and tools needed to protect our communities,” said Casey Contres, a Gardner spokesman, in a statement. “These discussions continue to be necessary and we appreciate their willingness to have them.”...

[Debate over congressional spending bills mean] it could be another month or more before there’s a chance to resolve the issue — and another month in which Gardner is expected to keep up the pot blockade. “He opposed the legalization of marijuana in 2012 but is not going to sit back and let Colorado’s rights be trampled on by the federal government,” Contres said.

Under Senate rules and tradition, lawmakers are allowed to put a hold on nominees put forward by the White House — a tactic that’s often used to extract concessions from the executive branch. These holds can be overridden, but doing so requires party leaders to chew up valuable time on the Senate floor.

For the time being, Gardner’s hardball approach hasn’t caused much public strife among his Senate Republican colleagues. “I can understand why he did it,” said Grassley, who nonetheless disagreed with Gardner’s argument for states’ rights. “I’m an advocate for federal law under the Supremacy Clause of the constitution that federal law overrides state law.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also is awaiting a floor vote for a U.S. marshal candidate in his state. Aides to McConnell did not respond with comment, though Grassley said it’s up to him to broker a solution and end the siege. Said Grassley of the nomination process: If McConnell “isn’t willing to intervene then you know it all stops.”

February 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Noticing that some politicians are finally noticing that marijuana reform could be winning political issue

Download (8)Long-time readers know I have often posted articles and commentaries suggesting that politicians would be wise to see the potential to attract younger and independent voters by showing interest in marijuana reform.  This new Politico article suggest some folks running for Congress are finally getting this message.   The full headline of the lengthy piece highlights its themes: "These Red-State Democrats Think Legal Marijuana Can Help Them Win: With sky-high approval rates, pot is an issue challengers say will cure the Democratic malaise in Trump country."  Here are excerpts that everyone interested in the politics of marijuana reform should read in full:

Not so long ago — like maybe last cycle — a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1.  But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.  The numbers, they say, are on their side, not the side of the politicians who either duck the subject or endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent desire to return federal marijuana policy back to the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent.  In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-governor Mike Pence — a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip.  In fact, according to [congressional candidate Dan] Canon, it has only gotten stronger, and not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it.

Subsequently, his chief primary opponent, law school professor Liz Watson, instead of criticizing Canon’s position, posted a detailed pro-medical marijuana position on her website to eliminate any daylight between her and Canon on this issue. “In Southern Indiana, we are battling a raging opioid epidemic.  The last thing we need is for the federal government to punish people for turning to non-addictive alternatives to opioids,” she told POLITICO Magazine.  “We also do not need the federal government restricting study into the medical uses of marijuana.  Federal law currently categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, while oxycodone is Schedule 2. That makes no sense.” Watson’s stance nearly guarantees that no matter who survives the primary to face Trey Hollingsworth in the general, the Democrat in the race will be on the record as in favor of medical marijuana.

The candidates of Indiana’s 9th are not alone in their desire to use marijuana as a rallying flag. House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, plus Senate races in Texas and Nevada all feature Democratic candidates who have taken strong stands in favor of changing the federal marijuana laws, and running against Republican incumbents who have not.

“There’s nationwide support for recreational marijuana, and support for medical marijuana is even higher than that,” Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, told POLITICO Magazine.  According to Cross, there’s not much difference in the support for marijuana legalization in rural Southern states than in the Western blue states more commonly associated with marijuana.  “For some voters, marijuana could be a defining issue. We just don’t know how many that’s going to be yet.”...

It won’t be known for some months yet whether legalization has the power to take out sitting Republicans, but there’s no question that it is potent enough to change the complexion of primary races, at least in districts that have large college populations.

Take a look at what’s happening across the Ohio River from the Indiana 9th, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, which includes both the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.  The Democratic field to unseat the three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr has developed into an interesting portrait of the current Democratic Party coalition: a black state senator, a female veteran, and a gay mayor.  State Senator Reggie Thomas, who represents a portion of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, was first in the race to come out in favor of medical marijuana.  In a web video he states, “The evidence is clear. Medical marijuana helps those with chronic pain and other medical conditions.” In the same 60-second video, Thomas announced he was signing on as a co-sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the state Senate.  Asked by POLITICO Magazine if there was a campaign strategy associated with his advocacy of medical marijuana in order to differentiate himself from his primary opponents, Thomas wouldn’t take the bait, saying only that, “it’s just the right thing to do.”...

There are few places where marijuana politics are more exciting than in West Virginia, thanks to state senator (and retired U.S. Army major) Richard Ojeda, who is currently a candidate for Congress in West Virginia’s 3rd with a position on medical marijuana that has given him strong statewide name recognition.  “Anyone with half a brain should know that marijuana should never be Schedule I,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine over the phone, sounding more like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey than his own state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent.  Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.

Not merely an advocate for medical marijuana, Ojeda (pronounced oh-JEH-dah) criticizes the federal law that requires mandatory prison sentences for criminal marijuana cultivation: “One to five years? That’s garbage,” he told me. Instead, Ojeda, 47, believes that outlaw marijuana growers shouldn’t go to prison at all.  He thinks it should be a misdemeanor for a first offense, and that the harshest sentence for a repeat offender should be home confinement.  Those positions were once far outside the Democratic Party mainstream, but it’s difficult for Ojeda’s opponents to characterize him as a liberal who is soft on crime when he served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Ojeda ran for a West Virginia state Senate seat against a longtime incumbent Democrat and won the primary by 2,000 votes.  In his opening act as a freshman legislator, Ojeda sponsored a medical marijuana bill and quarterbacked it through both chambers, making West Virginia the 29th state to legalize it.  This was a stunning turn of events, even for marijuana advocacy groups, who had spent no money to support Ojeda’s effort. “There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine.  “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”...

These red-state Democrats have found strong footing on a position to the left of their party’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be working for them. None of them seem shaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement he would end the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that had legalized it. Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine: “I think we are on the verge of eventually voting in favor of marijuana [at the national level],”

February 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)