Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Democrats Hope Marijuana Will Help Elect Hillary Clinton. But experts say it might be a pipe dream."

2016_marijuana_legalization_efforts_countrywide_potlocatorThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Mother Jones article.  Here are excerpts:

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both viewed unfavorably by the majority of Americans, Democrats are hoping that if the top of the ballot doesn't excite voters this November, maybe the bottom will.  Marijuana liberalization and minimum-wage hikes will get a vote in a handful of swing states for the presidential candidates.  But there's reason to think these issues might not galvanize voters the way they once did.

In previous presidential elections, down-ballot races have helped turn out voters in key states. In 2004, proposed same-sex marriage bans helped President George W. Bush secure reelection.  President Barack Obama appears to have gotten a boost in Colorado in 2012 as residents there voted to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana is on the ballot in nine states this year — five voting on legalization and four voting on medical marijuana — and Democrats hope the measures will be a draw for liberal voters.  The conventional wisdom, says Josh Altic of the nonpartisan political reference site Ballotpedia, is that marijuana measures attract a lot of young voters who support legalization but wouldn't otherwise vote, and that these voters overwhelmingly support Democrats.

In 2012, exit polls in Colorado showed the state defied the typical gender gap, with men more likely than women to vote for Obama.  Pollster Ann Selzer of the Iowa-based firm Selzer & Co. speculates that the legalization vote drew more young men to the polls and helps explain this unusual gender breakdown.  Floridians voted in 2014 on a medical marijuana measure that failed but attracted more than double the number of new young voters that had turned out in 2010, says Ben Pollara, who heads the United for Care campaign, which is supporting another medical marijuana measure in the state this year.

But as support for legal marijuana grows, the vote-yes camp is becoming more diverse.  Multiple polls in the last two years have shown majority support for legalization. A Gallup poll last year found older demographic groups are starting to support legal marijuana, with 64 percent of people between the ages of 35 and 49 in favor along with 58 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64.

Young voters of both parties overwhelmingly support legalization, including 63 percent of Republican millennials, according to a Pew poll from 2014. Millennials favor Clinton, but marijuana ballot initiatives might attract voters of both parties this fall.  "A random person who said, 'Yeah, I'm going to vote for marijuana legalization,' I would no longer assume they were going to vote Democrat," says Altic.

"We're seeing Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, even people from the Green Party be a part of this," says Carlos Alfaro, the Arizona political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which backs a marijuana legalization measure in the state.  "The Democrats see this as a good way to get voters out there, but I don't think it's in any way a partisan issue, just based on the amount of responses we've gotten." Alfaro, a Republican, says many people in the legalization campaign are conservatives and that the state has a real "libertarian streak."

In Florida, Pollara's internal polling shows 77 percent support for the legalization initiative. "You simply do not get numbers like that without having broad support among, basically, every age, demographic, geographic, racial, ethnic group," he says.

Even as the effect of marijuana initiatives on presidential voting grows murkier, Altic expects votes on the minimum wage and gun-related initiatives to remain more partisan.... There are several other swing-state measures that could bring out voters, including a universal health care initiative in Colorado and an anti-union proposal in Virginia.  But experts say it's important not to overstate the influence of any of these measures.  "This stuff is very much on the margins, and it might help a little bit, but the presidential race is the main driver of turnout," says Skelley. "It's tough to say that these things are going to make much of a difference in the end.  But I guess it can't hurt to try."

I agree that with the sentiment that "it's important not to overstate the influence of any of these measures" on the Presidential race, although it will still surely be useful to try to assess after the election numbers come in the fall whether and how marijuana ballot initiatives, especially in notable "swing" states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada, might have had an impact on voting patterns in at least some key states. Moreover, and perhaps arguably of greater long-term political significance, is whether any surprising 2016 "down-ticket" results might get attributed to a candidates support or opposition to marijuana reform.

August 29, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Does marijuana legalization at least partially account for the remarkable recent popularity of Colorado Law?

Colorado_law_logoThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable Colorado University news item headlined "Colorado Law receives record number of applications." Here are the details leading to my marijuana-inflused speculation, with my added emphasis throughout the piece:

Applications to the University of Colorado Law School are up 38 percent, setting a record for the most applications ever received in an admissions cycle and the highest median GPA of an incoming class.   With 170 individuals, the University of Colorado Law School’s incoming class of 2019 is the most selective and academically competitive in the school’s history.   The 2016-17 admissions cycle set the school’s record for number of applications and highest median GPA of an incoming class.

This year, Colorado Law received 3,299 applications for the class of 2019 — a 38 percent increase from last year and the most applications ever received in an admissions cycle.  The larger applicant pool allowed for more selectivity, which boosted the median GPA to the highest in the school’s history (3.69). The median LSAT score (162) for the class of 2019 is also higher than that of previous classes.  “I am thrilled that more people have discovered that the experience at Colorado Law is very special,” said S. James Anaya, dean of the law school.  “Our supportive community, dedicated faculty, cutting-edge scholarship, and innovative programs — not to mention our success on the employment front — all make Colorado Law a terrific place to be.”

This year marks the continuation of an upward trend in Colorado Law’s admissions numbers.  In 2015-16, Colorado Law welcomed its largest class ever, at 205 individuals — a 22 percent increase from the previous year.  Applications to Colorado Law increased 10 percent that year, at the same time that law school applications nationwide were down for the fifth year in a row

I am disinclined to assert that hundreds (and perhaps even thousands) of prospective law students are now applying to the University of Colorado Law School just so they can legally relax with cannabis as well as with Coors after a tough week of classes.  But  marijuana reform has surely contributed to the recent success of the Colorado economy and this success surely produces unique benefits and opportunities for law students and junior lawyers.  Especially at a time when prospective law students are focused on employment prospects during and soon after law school, I think it fair to suggest marijuana legalization at least partially accounts for why Colorado Law is  so uniquely attractive to law school applicants during an era when most law school continue to struggle with a significant decline in applications.

(I must note for the record that I had the honor and pleasure to teach a special one-week course on Marijuana Law & Policy as a visiting professor at University of Colorado Law School in January 2016.  For that reason (and especially because of the terrific students I meet at Colorado Law), I certainly have a fond spot in my heart for this institution.  But if I really wanted to make this post entirely marijuana-focused and self serving, I would be inclined to add (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) that there is notable connection in 2016 between extra teaching of marijuana law at Colorado Law and a huge increase in applications there.)

UPDATE: I now realize I need to give credit to Paul Caron for first breaking this story with detailed data in this post yesterday under the (punny?) headline "Colorado Law School Enjoys All-Time High"

August 28, 2016 in Employment and labor law issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Noting some (unexpected?) pro-marijuana opponents of some 2016 marijuana full legalization initiatives

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b7c888d83f970bFox News has this effective new article on some of the notable folks who are against marijuana prohibition but also seems to be against full marijuana legalization proposals on state ballots this year. The piece is headlined "Pot Twist: Some marijuana activists urge 'no' vote on legalization," and here are excerpts:

As voters consider marijuana-legalization efforts in several states this November, they can expect opposition from the usual pot opponents like law-enforcement groups and anti-drug activists – but some of the most ardent foes come, unexpectedly, from within the marijuana community itself.

Opponents include some in the medical-marijuana industry, concerned about what a wide-open recreational market would mean for their businesses.  Advocates for recreational marijuana also fear the latest legalization measures come with so many restrictions that pot smokers might be better off, for now, within the existing medical-marijuana system.

All five states considering legalization this November – Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada – already allow the medical use of pot.  Perhaps the biggest battlefield is California, where voters will consider Prop 64, funded by Napster founder Sean Parker.

“I’m on the record totally opposing this law [California Proposition 64] that does not legalize marijuana,” said Steve Kubby, an original proponent of the 1996 ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana.  Prop 64 would technically legalize pot, but also impose a 15-percent tax on marijuana sales and empower a new bureau to enforce the regulations and issue licenses....  Kubby, who backed an alternate legalization measure that never made it to this year’s ballot, complained the Prop 64 proposal creates tougher punishments for people who have more than an ounce.

California’s marijuana industry is centered in Humboldt County, the redwood-forested coastal region 200 miles north of San Francisco.  Yet a July 12 report in the Humboldt Independent found deep divisions within the California Growers Association, a cannabis growers’ trade group, over the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act.”  An opinion poll found its members evenly split over Prop 64.  Some growers told the newspaper they feared the initiative would allow big marijuana companies to dominate the entire supply chain.  The group reportedly had threatened to oppose the proposition until drafters included temporary limits on cultivation size.

Dale Gieringer says his group, California NORML, backs the initiative “but we definitely have reservations.”  Medical patients are right to be concerned, he said, because it raises taxes on medical dispensary purchases and gives local governments the right to ban them.  On the plus side, it reduces felonies.  Diane Goldstein, executive board member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), touted the proposal.  “This initiative is the best chance California has to end a failed war on marijuana resulting in the criminalization of almost half a million people in the last decade,” she said.

Such wide differences of opinion from within pro-marijuana circles are playing out in other states, also.  The Massachusetts measure gives existing medical dispensaries preferential licensing treatment, so a number of existing companies have actively supported the measure.  But Dan Delaney, a Boston lobbyist who has helped medical-marijuana clinics seek licenses and is chairman of Safe Cannabis Massachusetts, opposes the measure.  He is particularly opposed to language that limits the ability of local governments to regulate it and said many of the state’s hardcore pro-marijuana activists have joined with the anti-marijuana activists to oppose the measure.  They view it as being “crafted by industry folks.”

There’s another potential foe that marijuana-legalization supporters might not have expected: the alcohol industry.  US News reported in May that an alcohol trade group is funding opposition to the recreational marijuana initiative in Arizona, but that alcohol companies are backing a similar legalization measure in Nevada.  A likely reason: The Nevada proposal gives alcohol distributors first crack at the distribution licenses.

The latest polls show legalization ahead in California and split in Massachusetts and Nevada. It’s behind in Arizona, but was ahead in Maine in May.

August 27, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Legalizing Marijuana and Abating Environmental Harm: An Overblown Promise? (A Draft)"

The title of this post is the title of this timely paper authored by Michael Vitiello and now available via SSRN.  Here is tha abstract:

California appears to be on the fast track towards legalizing personal use of marijuana.  Proponents of legalization argue that legalization will abate the considerable environmental harm caused by illegal marijuana production.  The article takes a close look at that claim and presents arguments why that claim may be overblown. 

August 27, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 26, 2016

"Forced out of a home over a marijuana joint"

Many opponents of significant marijuana reforms are often quick to assert that nobody really ever gets in any trouble simply for smoking a joint and that we need not and should not support marijuana legalization because practically speaking marijuana use is functionally decriminalized.  Not surprisingly, these kinds of statements typically come from privileged, upper-middle class persons who personally do not know anyone who has experienced any troubles for minor marijuana activities.  But, as this new lengthy Washington Post article highlights (running under the headline that I used as the title for this post), even in a jurisdiction like the District of Columbia with reformed marijuana laws, a single joint can sometimes lead to a lot of trouble for some individuals.  Here are the basic details:

For eight years, Rajuawn Middleton, an assistant at a major downtown law firm, lived in a four-bedroom, red-brick home she rented on a quiet, tree-lined street in Northeast Washington — until she was forced out over a few cigarettes containing a “green leafy substance.”

In March 2014 police arrested her adult son on charges of possessing a handgun outside a nightclub. He had not lived with Middleton for years, but two weeks later D.C. police looking for more guns raided her home. The routine search placed Middleton in the grip of an indiscriminate bureaucratic mechanism known as nuisance abatement, a mild-sounding term for a process that has had harsh and disproportionate consequences for Middleton and other District residents.

Middleton said a dozen officers stormed in as she and her husband were helping their 8-year-old son with his homework. Police handcuffed the couple, cut open a mattress and dumped food on the floor, she said. The search turned up three cigarettes; Middleton said only one of them was a joint of marijuana. No firearms were found. No one was charged.

A week later, the D.C. attorney general’s office deemed the house a “drug-related nuisance” in a form letter sent to Middleton’s landlord. “The fear and intimidation that results from these activities inhibit normal interactions among neighbors and interfere with their right to use and enjoy their property,” said the letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Rashee Raj Kumar. The letter cited a 1999 law that gives broad power to city officials to sue property owners who fail to stop illegal activity at their properties. The landlord moved to evict. Middleton moved out.

During the past three years, city officials sent out about 450 nuisance-abatement letters to landlords and property owners, the vast majority aimed at ousting tenants accused of felony gun or drug crimes, including many bona fide drug dealers. But in doing so the District has also ensnared about three dozen people who were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession or faced no charges at all, a Washington Post review of the letters has found.

The attorney general’s office in January sent a nuisance letter to one property over one gram of marijuana, a legal amount of the drug in the District. As a result, the property company forced a grandmother out of her Southwest Washington apartment, records show. The Post found that some cases were driven by an assembly line of government agencies that merely processed paperwork and failed to differentiate between dangerous felons and people such as Middleton and the grandmother in Southwest....

The D.C. Council passed the Drug-, Firearm-, or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act in the late 1990s, when officials were grappling with the aftermath of the crack-cocaine epidemic. For years, drug dealers had used neglected properties across the city to store and sell narcotics and weapons, making them havens for drugs, violent crime or prostitution. Modeling the law after zero-tolerance policing policies in New York, council members gave city attorneys and community groups power to sue landlords who failed to combat illegal activity at their properties. The broadly worded law can cover any property where police have served a search warrant for drugs, weapons or prostitution, or that has prompted repeated complaints from neighbors.

Police search thousands of properties each year, identifying between 100 and 200 per year as potential nuisances, records show. Police did not provide The Post with any written guidelines or policy for how they flag properties as nuisances. A police spokesman said supervisors select the ones where people “have engaged in drug trafficking, the sale of weapons, or prostitution.”...

In the majority of cases reviewed by The Post, city officials targeted serious offenders. In one case from 2013, police raided an apartment in Washington’s Dupont Park neighborhood and uncovered 548 grams of crack, 22 grams of heroin and five guns. The attorney general deemed the property a drug and firearm nuisance and told the landlord to take action. The landlord sued the tenants, and they moved out.

August 26, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New York Department of Health releases two-year report on "Medical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act"

ThI was pleased to find this big new data-rich report from the New York Department of Health titled simply "Medical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act: Two-Year Report."  For those really interested in really understanding how really serious medical marijuana programs are operating (as I am), this kind of official report is terrifically interesting and valuable.  Here is the 13-page report's introduction and some of its closing recommendations:

On July 7th, 2014, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law the Compassionate Care Act to establish a comprehensive Medical Marijuana Program (“program”). Just eighteen months after the Compassionate Care Act was signed into law, the first New Yorkers obtained medical marijuana. The program launched on time and statewide, providing access to a new treatment option for patients in a manner that protects public health and safety. Within the first six months of operation, over 5,000 patients were certified with the program. The program also registered more than 600 physicians across the State. In just six months, New York’s program has more physicians registered than other states whose programs have been in existence for significantly longer than New York’s. The program continues to oversee the manufacture and sale of medical marijuana to ensure that it is dispensed and administered in a manner that protects public health and safety.

Pursuant to Public Health Law (PHL) § 3367(3), this report provides an overview of Medical Marijuana Program activities since the signing of the Compassionate Care Act, as well as recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature. The data for this report was obtained on June 15, 2016, from the New York State Department of Health’s (NYSDOH) Medical Marijuana Data Management System (MMDMS) and the Prescription Monitoring Program Registry (PMPR)....

1.  NYSDOH recommends authorizing Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to certify New Yorkers for medical marijuana, consistent with their current authority to prescribe controlled substances (including opioids) for patients diagnosed with qualifying conditions covered in the Compassionate Care Act. Allowing NPs to issue certifications for medical marijuana would allow them to properly treat patients suffering from severe, debilitating or life threatening conditions, particularly in many rural counties where there are fewer physicians available to treat such ailments....

4.  NYSDOH recommends evaluating allowing distribution of Medical Marijuana to certified patients through home delivery services provided by registered organizations, and review of policies and procedures from other jurisdictions to help craft guidelines to provide for a safe and effective home delivery program.....

5.  NYSDOH recommends working with the registered organizations to make more brands of medical marijuana products available to patients....

7.  NYSDOH recommends a review of evidence be conducted for the medical use of marijuana in patients suffering from chronic intractable pain....

9.  To meet additional patient demand and increase access to medical marijuana throughout New York State, NYSDOH recommends registering five additional organizations over the next two years, using a phased-in approach to permit their smooth integration into the industry.

August 24, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Welcoming and introducing Andrew Ironside, MLP&R's new "California stringer"

AndrewIronsideI am pleased and quite fortunate to now be able to introduce officially in this space Andrew Ironside, a former student of mine at The Ohio State University Moritz College.  Andrew has a journalism background and a range of public policy experiences along with his law degree, and he just now  happens to be based in Southern California.  I was able to utilize some of my (always-too-meager) research funds to hire Andrew part-time for the rest of this year to serve as a legal writer/researcher/commentator for this blog. 

I am hopeful that Andrew can and will add a distinctive "blog-voice" in this space, as well as provide on-the-scene, on-the-ground perspectives on a range of marijuana reform issues now playing out in California.  (This is why I have taken to describing Andrew as MLP&R's new "California stringer.")  I asked Andrew to facilitate his introduction in this space with a mini-auto-bio:

Since graduating from undergrad in 2006, I've gained political and policy experience at Media Matters for America (researcher/writer), Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus (legislative clinic), and Innovation Ohio (policy intern).  I graduated from Moritz in 2013, and since then I've been researching and writing on criminal justice and civil and voting rights.  I live in Los Angeles, where I hope to continue working and writing on criminal justice/drug policy reform in the future.

Helpfully, in addition to having relevant professional experiences, Andrew also has blogging experience through his creation of, and years of blogging at, the Civil Rights Law & Policy Blog.  Here are some links to several blog posts from that blog that highlight his eclectic coverage and talents:

Felon disenfranchisement, political power, and the First Amendment right to vote

Today in Civil Rights History: Inaugural National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, MA

Paralyzed Denver inmate says keeping him locked up serves no purpose

Messaging programs promising anonymity might not be as secure as you think

Teens talk about ACLU suit over school drug test policy

California NAACP calls marijuana legalization initiative a civil rights issue 

This last linked post above highlights that Andrew and I are not alone when (sometimes? often?) looking at marijuana reform issues through the lens of civil rights.  And I am excited that Andrew via periodic posts will be bringing that lens and many others when sharing his perspectives in this space in the months to come.

August 23, 2016 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oregon reports collecting over $25 million in marijuana taxes in first half of 2016

As reported in this local article, "Oregon medical marijuana dispensaries have sold an estimated $102 million in recreational cannabis since January, when the state imposed a 25 percent sales tax on pot" which means it "has collected about $25.5 million in marijuana taxes in the first six months of the year and is on track to meet state economists' projections." Here is more about marijuana tax realities in the Beaver State:

The latest tax figures, released Monday by the Oregon Department of Revenue, include the start of marijuana-infused edibles sales.  The products include a wide variety of snacks, sweets and drinks and were available to anyone 21 and older starting in June....

State economists estimate that the state will collect about $44.4 million in marijuana taxes in 2016, the first year of the tax.

The state expects it will cost $28.7 million to regulate marijuana; of that, taxes will cover $12 million with the rest covered by fees and licensing of marijuana businesses.

What's left will be distributed according to a formula spelled out by law: 40 percent to the state's Common School Fund, 20 percent to mental health, alcoholism and drug services, 15 percent to Oregon State Police, 10 percent for city law enforcement, 10 percent for county law enforcement and 5 percent to the Oregon Health Authority for alcohol and drug abuse prevention, early intervention and treatment services.

Oregon's medical marijuana stores have been allowed to sell a limited amount of cannabis flowers, as well as starter marijuana plants and seeds, to anyone 21 and older since last October. The state's temporary 25 percent tax kicked in on Jan. 1.

That tax eventually will be replaced with one ranging from 17 percent to 20 percent once the Oregon Liquor Control Commission takes over regulation of recreational marijuana sales later this year. The Legislature set the base tax rate at 17 percent, but cities and counties can adopt ordinances that add up to 3 percent more.

August 22, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

A darker view of a recent medical marijuana court victory: "10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision"

In this post over at my other blog, I flagged last week's Ninth Circuit panel ruling in US v. McIntosh, No. No. 15-10117 (9th Cir. Aug. 16, 2016) (available here), on a series of appeals concerning "whether criminal defendants may avoid prosecution for various federal marijuana offenses on the basis of a congressional appropriations rider that prohibits the United States Department of Justice from spending funds to prevent states’ implementation of their own medical marijuana laws."  That ruling was hailed by many marijuana reform advocates as a victory because the court concluded that "at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws." 

But astute followers of the law and policies surrounding marijuana reform know that there is rarely simple story around any aspect of federal marijuana laws and policy, and John Hudak has this recent posting at a Brookings blog explaining reasons why "medical marijuana advocates should [still] worry" after the McIntosh decision.  Here are excerpts from the start and the headings of his commentary:

[M]arijuana reform advocates applauded a federal appeals court decision limiting the power of the Department of Justice to prosecute certain marijuana growers. In United States v. McIntosh, the three judge panel (two Republican and one Democratic appointee) dealt explicitly with the Rohrabacher amendment — a rider to a congressional spending bill that barred the DOJ from spending funds on enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in states with medical marijuana reform laws.

Despite the rider being signed into law—by President Obama—the Obama administration continued to bust growers in medical marijuana states. The defendants in the 10 cases grouped together in this appeal hail from California and Washington and were indicted on a variety of federal charges. They fought the charges in lower courts on the basis of the rider without success, and brought their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the usual judicial hoops of establishing jurisdiction and the appropriateness of the court stepping in at this time to intervene in an ongoing prosecution, the court ruled on the merits of the case.  The 9th circuit decision explains that even though “the rider is not a model or clarity” (24) it “prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws” (27).

If you’re a marijuana reform advocate, a grower, a cannabis enterprise executive, a patient, or otherwise related to the medical marijuana industry, this is great news, right?

Well, yes and no.  The cork popping over the ruling in McIntosh may have been a bit premature.  While the central holding of the case is a tremendous victory for the movement and offers a real barrier against executive enforcement power in the context of marijuana, the details of the decision are a bit more mixed.  Namely, for the medical marijuana community, there are 10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision.

  1. The ruling has limited scope...
  2. McIntosh is about medical marijuana only...
  3. The Cole Memos are not the Great Savior many believe...
  4. State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
  5. State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
  6. This ruling may not always help current defendants or marijuana law violators...
  7. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  8. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  9. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  10. This ruling may not always help future defendants

August 22, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Court Rulings, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Noting the lack of racial diversity in recipients of first Maryland medicial marijuana licenses

This Washington Post article, headlined "Missing from Maryland’s legal marijuana growers? Black business leaders," reports on an all-too-common business pattern that tends to emerge as a state gets started with modern marijuana reforms.  Here is how the article gets started:

Maryland set up its legal medical marijuana industry with hopes of racial diversity and equity in spreading profits, but none of the 15 companies that were cleared this week for potentially lucrative growing licenses is led by African Americans.

Some lawmakers and prospective minority-owned businesses say this is unacceptable in a state where nearly a third of the population is black, the most of any state with a comprehensive legal pot industry.  They say the lack of diversity is emblematic of how, across the country, African Americans are disproportionately locked up when marijuana use is criminalized yet are shut out of the profits when drug sales are legalized.  “We are not going to see this industry flourish in the state of Maryland with no minority participation,” said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Glenn was a key player in the legalization battle, and the commission that awards medical marijuana business licenses and oversees the industry is named after her mother, Natalie LaPrade, who died of cancer.  She is considering filing a legal injunction to halt the licensing process and is weighing other options, such as pushing the commission to award additional licenses to minority-owned companies.

The law legalizing medical marijuana says regulators should “actively seek to achieve” racial and ethnic diversity in the industry.  But the commission did not provide extra weight to applications submitted by minority-owned businesses because a letter from the attorney general’s office suggested that preferences would be unconstitutional without there being a history of racial disparity in marijuana licensing to justify the move.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said there will be future opportunities to expand minority participation when the agency awards dispensary licenses and when it considers issuing more cultivation licenses in 2018 if supply doesn’t meet demand.  Businesses must also submit annual reports on the racial breakdown of their ownership and workforce, providing a more comprehensive look at the industry’s diversity.  “The Commission believes a diverse workforce is in the best interest of the industry,” said Vanessa Lyon, the spokeswoman.

But Glenn and other critics say the state hasn’t done enough to ensure diversity in the blossoming business that’s already worth billions nationwide.

August 21, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Is Big Marijuana Inevitable?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable New Republic piece authored by lawprof Ryan Stoa, which answers the questionwith a "no" and gets started this way (with links from the original):

In November, voters in as many as 12 states will see a marijuana legalization initiative on their ballots. Marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C. Another 25 states have legalized medical marijuana. The era of marijuana prohibition is rapidly coming to a close.

Unfortunately, lawmakers lack easy answers to tough questions facing the marijuana industry.  Legalization presents challenges on a number of fronts, including distribution, taxation, consumption, security and public health.

In a recent article, I argue that the agricultural sector of the marijuana industry also presents a number of challenges.  One paramount question looms over the rest: Will marijuana agriculture become consolidated, with “Big Marijuana” companies producing vast quantities of indistinct marijuana?  Or, will small-scale farmers thrive by producing unique and local marijuana strains?

My research shows that Big Marijuana is not inevitable.  On the contrary, a local, sustainable, small-scale farming future is entirely within reach.

 

August 20, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 19, 2016

"It’s Not Legal Yet: Nearly 500,000 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade"

The title of this post is the title of this new short report from the Drug Policy Alliance, which gets started this way:

Short of legalization, California has some of the most permissive marijuana possession laws in the United States, yet law enforcement continues to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate thousands of people annually for marijuana offenses. Between 2006 and 2015, there were nearly half a million marijuana arrests in California. During this period, there were on average 14,000 marijuana felony arrests in the state each year. California voters will have the chance to greatly reduce marijuana arrests this November when they vote on Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

August 19, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Timely new report on benefits of marijuana reform from West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

This local article, headlined "Could legalizing marijuana be West Virginia's pot of gold?," reports on this interesting new policy brief released by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy suggests. The article summarizes the themes of the report, which is titled "Modernizing West Virginia's Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana and Legalization." This summary comes directly from the first two pages of the full 27-page report:

Over the last two decades, states across the country have modernized their marijuana laws to reflect the growing evidence that doing so will help reduce criminal justice costs, help treat some medical conditions, and boost tax revenues and their state’s economy. As of 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, 25 states (and DC) allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and 21 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. With several states considering ballot measures this November and public support for legalization rapidly growing (53% of Americans support legalization) among all age groups, the number of states taking action to undo restrictions on marijuana is likely to grow.

While most states have taken at least one step toward modernizing their marijuana laws, West Virginia has not. However, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in West Virginia over the last several years to legalize medical marijuana and tax marijuana for retail sales to adults. A 2013 poll found that a majority of West Virginians supports decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, while 46 percent supported regulating it like alcohol.

As West Virginia continues to be plagued by large budget deficits (a projected $300 million for FY 2018), an undiversified economy with a fading coal industry, and poor health outcomes, modernizing the state’s marijuana laws could be a step in addressing these problems and could help save the state money in the long run.

This report provides an overview of the states that have modernized their marijuana laws in recent years– including decriminalization, medical marijuana, and recreational use – and the implications for West Virginia if it decided to pursue a similar path. It provides an overview of federal and state marijuana laws (Section 1), an estimation of the potential tax revenue from legalizing recreational marijuana in West Virginia (Section 2), an evaluation of some potential benefits from modernizing West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 3), and recommendations on reforming West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 4).

KEY FINDINGS

  • If marijuana was legalized and taxed in West Virginia at a rate of 25 percent of its wholesale price the state could collect an estimated $45 million annually upon full implementation. If 10 percent of marijuana users who live within a 200-mile radius of West Virginia came to the state to purchase marijuana, the state could collect an estimated $194 million.

  • In 2010, it is estimated that West Virginia spent more than $17 million enforcing the state’s marijuana laws. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in West Virginia could reduce the number of marijuana-related arrests, especially among African Americans, which in turn, could reduce criminal-justice-related costs.

  • The marijuana industry has the potential to add jobs both directly and indirectly. As of September 2015, Colorado had 25,311 people licensed to work in its marijuana industry and over 1,000 retail marijuana businesses. If marijuana were legal in West Virginia it could also have the effect of increasing tourism to the state, particularly in regions with outdoor recreational activities.

  • Marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

August 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Highlighting why some (many?) of the marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in 2016 are not certain to pass

Election-2016-Legalization-MeasuresThis new Vice article, headlined "Why Marijuana Legalization Campaigns Could Fail in 2016," reinforces my sense that the results of all the marijuana reform ballot initiatives on so many states this election cycle remain quite uncertain. Here are excerpts:

This was supposed to be the year of Pot-Palooza, when five states are set to hold ballot initiatives that would make marijuana legal for recreational users.  If all passed, it would bring the number of states offering pot for sale to nine, following similar measures that passed in Colorado and Washington in 2012 and in Alaska and Oregon in 2014.

Legalization advocates saw it as another potential leap in their march to slow the decades-long war on drugs: The rest of the country would see that the nine legalized states were awash in tax revenues, and that fears of stoned drivers flooding the roads in search of late-night Mallomars had been overblown.  Other states, they imagined, would quickly follow suit, bringing the country ever-closer to its marijuana tipping point, when the federal government would finally be forced to step in and end pot prohibition once and for all.

But as the legalization movement heads into the 2016 election, with the marijuana issue on the ballot in five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada — the fantasy of a New Green Rush is coming up against unexpected resistance, its momentum slowed by a lack of funding that advocates were not prepared for.   Advocates with the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group helping to spearhead the ballot initiatives, say that fundraising is down 25 percent from what they need to compete on Election Day.  "We are polling well in all of the states we are working in,"said Rob Kampia, the group's executive director. "But we know that without advertising on our side, the level of support is going to drop between now and Election Day. The money reminds people why they support this in the first place."

Kampia cited a bill to pass medical marijuana in Arizona in 2010, which had support from nearly two-thirds of voters in early polls.  Without funding or an active campaign to support the measure, though, the initiative ended up passing with just a hair over 50 percent of the vote, and only after write-in and provisional ballots were counted in the days after the election.

Past legalization campaigns — including the statewide ballot initiatives that passed in 2012 and 2014 — were funded in large part by a handful of wealthy philanthropists,including George Soros, Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, Men's Wearhouse magnate George Zimmer, and John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix.

In recent years, though, both Lewis and Sperling have passed away, Soros has pulled back on his pot-based philanthropy, and Zimmer finds himself with a diminished fortune after being fired from the company he founded in 2013.  And so advocates, who expect campaigns for the five legalization initiatives and four other medical marijuana ballot measures to cost in the $40-50 million range, are counting on the $7 billion legal marijuana industry to fill the fundraising void. But so far, the industry has mostly taken a pass. "There has been a bit of a free rider problem with this thing,"said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which still receives funding from Soros and other wealthy donors.

"People are making a shitload of money on this stuff without them spending any more to get where we are,"Nadelmann told an audience at the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo, a bi-annual trade association event, this May.  "They are using the opportunity of legalization to make a fortune without doing anything to create that opportunity. The marijuana reform movement is spread incredibly thin right now.  And the question for 2016 is whether the industry will be there or not."

And so far, they haven't been. At a recent cannabis industry investor summit sponsored by the ArcView Group, which connects investors with entrepreneurs in the legal marijuana industry, executives boasted that they had helped raise $70 million for marijuana-related start-ups; but the same slide showed that the investor network had contributed less than $1 million for legalization efforts — a discrepancy that activists in the room were quick to point out. "That is 1.4 percent,"Ben Pollara, a Florida political operative, told the assembled investors. "That is just pathetic."

[A]dvocates and political operatives seethe that the businesses and individuals who have directly benefited from their efforts are not contributing to the cause. And in interviews with a dozen marijuana industry leaders about the 2016 legalization campaigns, nearly all of them told VICE that they supported the measures, but had not yet given money to any of the state ballot campaigns. "I support all of these measures morally and emotionally," said Randy Shipley, the CEO of CannaFundr.com. "But most of the people that are doing these campaigns, I am not sure that the money is being spent in the right way. I would like to see more transparency."

Industry leaders gave a variety of other reasons for not donating to legalization efforts: they hadn't budgeted for political spending; that state regulations for legal pot businesses were proving more financially burdensome than expected; they believed the measures were going to pass anyway. Some said that they just didn't want to get involved in politics....

Some industry players seem to prefer the status quo: More states coming on line means more business entering the market; and while most of these are currently smaller startups, large corporations are sure to follow, swallowing those who have been operating in their niche of the market. "People are concerned about what legalization is going to look like for them,"said Michael Bronstein, a consultant for the American Trade Association for Cannabis. "You would think they would say, 'let's get this federal prohibition out of the way.'But they want stability. So many of them have dealt with instability for so long."

Tensions between the burgeoning cannabis industry and legalization advocates are not new. In 2015, for example, an industry-backed legalization measure in Ohio was defeated, after many political activists backed away from supporting it, arguing that the measure unfairly favored a few connected players at the expense of consumers. "I love psychoanalyzing the marijuana industry,"said Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project.  "In one bucket you have people who say they are too poor to donate. In another bucket you have people who just hope someone is going to save them from themselves.  But any business that budgets zero dollars for political change is being silly because marijuana is actually illegal."...

If a handful of measures go down to defeat this November, it could also embolden the federal government to end its hands-off approach to marijuana businesses in the four states that have legalized the drug. Since federal law trumps state law, any president at any time could shut down the farms, dispensaries and thousands of businesses that have cropped up in the wake of legalization. "Think about what would happen if Oregon and Alaska went down in 2014 because there wasn't enough money in these campaigns,"Nadelmann of DPA, told the conference and cannabis entrepreneurs. "All of the momentum, all of the ways in which people are thinking legalization is inevitable and the way of the future, imagine what would have happened if we had lost. Colorado and Washington would be seen as flukes. The net value of this industry would be fifty percent of what it is today." "And if California, goes down,"he added. "It sets us back a decade. I don't want to say you are fucked, but..."

August 19, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Can the Next U.S. President Reschedule Marijuana?"

USP1310-CE-T2The question in the title of this post is the headline of this timely Inc. article, which essentially answers the question via its lengthy subheadline: "The DEA denied the most recent petition to reschedule marijuana, citing a lack of scientific evidence to prove its medical benefits. But here's how Obama, or the next U.S. president, can reschedule the drug." Here is more from the article:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has denied the most recent petitions to reschedule marijuana. But Hillary Clinton says that if she becomes president, she will move marijuana to the same category as oxycodone and other opioid painkillers available by a doctor's prescription. Clinton, through her senior policy adviser Maya Harris, told The Cannabist that she will reschedule marijuana from its position as a Schedule I substance to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Marijuana is already being used for medical purposes in states across the country, and it has the potential for even further medical use," said Harris in a statement. "As Hillary Clinton has said throughout this campaign, we should make it easier to study marijuana so that we can better understand its potential benefits, as well as its side effects."

Presidential candidates make all sorts of promises, but could a president actually reschedule marijuana unilaterally? The answer is yes, but not with a stroke of a pen.

John Hudak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, explains that there are certain procedures in the Controlled Substances Act that must be followed. "A president cannot reschedule a substance by executive order, that is against the Controlled Substance Act," says Hudak. "It is against the letter of the law." Hudak says there is a suggestion in the CSA that the attorney general might be able to reschedule a substance unilaterally through an order, but that would fly against the long-established administrative procedure and might bump up serious legal challenges.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy and the director of the Crime Reduction & Justice Initiative at New York University's Marron Institute, explains how Hillary, if she wins, can follow through on her promise. "She is not making it up. She can reschedule marijuana. It's not that complicated," says Kleiman. The power to reschedule a substance, Kleiman says, has been delegated to the attorney general (who in turn delegates to the DEA) and to the Department of Health and Human Services (which in turn delegates its clinical testing to the FDA). "But, yes," he adds. "Those people work for the president, and, yes, the president can tell them to reschedule marijuana."

The logistical process of rescheduling, Kleiman says, would involve redefining what "current accepted medical use" means in the Controlled Substances Act. Again, it's up to the agencies (attorney general with the DEA; HHS with the FDA) to define what that term means. "All the DEA has to do is explain how they have overruled themselves and will be going back to what DEA administrative law judge Francis Young said in 1988, that 'medical use' means a bunch of physicians believe something is useful," says Kleiman. "The DEA could say how they take notice that a lot of physicians are recommending marijuana and how 25 state legislatures agree with the doctors. We are now saying this has accepted medical use, but it still has high abuse potential; we're putting it in Schedule II."

As the CSA gave authority to the attorney general, who in turn delegated to the DEA, those agencies are allowed to interpret statutes in varying degrees, unless the decisions are "obviously unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious," says Kleiman. That means if Clinton wanted to reschedule marijuana if she makes it to the White House, she could....

It should be noted, however, that rescheduling will not make the state-sanctioned recreational markets in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. legal, nor will it make the medical marijuana markets in 25 states legal. If marijuana becomes a Schedule II drug, it will still be illegal federally to use, produce, or manufacture. If marijuana were down-scheduled, it would still be federally illegal to produce and sell because Schedule II drugs cannot be given out without a prescription. A prescription can only be written for an FDA-approved drug, and there are no FDA-approved drugs made with the whole cannabis plant. (Marinol, which is FDA approved, is made with synthetic THC.)

As for the industry's hope that the whole plant will be FDA-approved, Hudak says not a chance. Hudak says if cannabis-based medicines are approved in the future, the medicines will not be botanical. Like other FDA-approved drugs, specific chemicals will be extracted and isolated at the molecular level in a method that is replicable and consistent. "You might see cannabinoid compounds rescheduled and put on the market, but whole flower smoked marijuana will never be approved," says Hudak.

August 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Poll suggests California marijuana legalization initiative on path to win pretty big

Prop64This press release from the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, which is titled "IGS Poll Finds Support for Gun Control, Marijuana Legalization," suggests that the ballot initiative in California to legalize marijuana could pass by a substantial margin.  Here are some of the particulars:

California voters overwhelmingly support a sweeping gun control measure on the November ballot, including strong majorities of both parties and independent voters, according to a new poll released today by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. On another hot-button social issue that will be on the ballot in the fall, voters also strongly support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, the survey found.

The poll used online English-language questionnaires to survey 3,020 respondents from June 29 to July 18. All respondents were registered California voters, and the responses were then weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the California population by gender, race/ethnicity, education and age....

Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana use, with regulation by specified government agencies.  Almost two in three respondents (63.8 percent) supported that idea, a level of support extremely similar to last year, when the IGS Poll asked the identical question.  Support included 73.8 percent of Democrats and 62.2 percent of independents.  Republicans opposed legalization, 53 percent to 47 percent, but this was less GOP opposition than was registered by the same question last year.  Last year Republicans opposed legalization by 61.6 percent to 38.4 percent.

Support for legalization was highest among African-Americans (71.9 percent) and Latinos (69.3 percent) and lowest among Asian-Americans (57.7 percent).  Support for legalization was also highest among 18- to 24-year-olds, and lowest among those over 65.

The reported movement in these poll numbers for Republicans is an interesting and possibly very important development, and I also found interesting from the reported results that there was not a significant gender gap in support for legalization. If these poll numbers hold up and California's legalization initiative win by a huge margin, I think that fact will just further add evidence that the winds of public opinion aregrowing ever more strongly for the repeal of blanket marijuana prohibition throughout the United States.

August 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Marijuana Appellations: The Case for Cannabicultural Designations of Origin"

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

As the era of marijuana prohibition draws to a close, one can’t help but wonder how the legal marijuana industry will take shape.  The legalization movement is largely driven by ballot initiatives at the state level, and state regulators and lawmakers often lack easy answers to tough questions facing the industry.  Marijuana legalization presents challenges on a number of fronts, including distribution, financing and taxation, consumption, security, and public health.

The agricultural dimension of the marijuana industry presents a number of regulatory challenges as well, with important questions that have not been answered.  One of these questions is paramount: will marijuana agriculture become consolidated and commoditized, producing vast quantities of indistinct marijuana, or will small-scale farmers thrive by producing unique and localized marijuana?

This Article presents the case for American Cannabicultural Areas (ACAs). Adopting a system of appellations (in which designations of origin are legally protected) offers several benefits to farmers, consumers, and regulators.  Appellations protect state and local economies and farming communities, create a market for unique agricultural products, and allow regulatory bodies to establish minimum standards for cultivation to ensure that marijuana agriculture is safe and sustainable.  Challenges to this model are significant but not intractable.  The legal marijuana industry is still in its infancy, but ACAs represent a promising regulatory model for marijuana agriculture.

August 16, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Coloardo marijuana sales (and tax revenues) continued to grow to record highs in first half of 2016

This article from the Denver Post report on the latest notable sales numbers from marijuana stores in Colorado.  The full headline of the article highlights the main data: "Colorado marijuana shops sell nearly $600 million of weed in first half of 2016; As Colorado's monthly marijuana sales eclipse the $110 million mark for only the second time, analysts predict a $1.35 billion finish for 2016."  Here is more:

Colorado marijuana shops sold nearly $600 million of recreational and medical cannabis and related products in the first half of 2016, new Department of Revenue data show. And a prominent cannabis industry analyst says the sales are on pace to reach $1.35 billion by year’s end.

The state’s marijuana tax data for June 2016 shows near-record highs for Colorado’s recreational and medical cannabis markets. June’s $73.6 million in recreational marijuana sales marks the second-busiest month for the state’s cannabis stores, according to Cannabist calculations. A few months earlier in April 2016, home to the 4/20 holiday, retail sales totaled more than $76.5 million. The $38.1 million worth of medical marijuana sold in June ranks in the top six most lucrative months of medical pot sales since the recreational era began in January 2014.

While Colorado cannabis sales totaled $996 million in 2015, this year’s totals are on pace to reach $1.35 billion, according to BDS Analytics, which collects data from dispensaries’ point-of-sale systems. “The rate of growth in this industry never ceases to astound us,” said BDS Analytics founder and CEO Roy Bingham. “The combined recreational and medical markets are more than two years old, yet they both continue to expand rapidly — especially the recreational marketplace. And within the overall market, sales in every segment, from concentrates to flower to edibles, continue to swell.”...

There are three different taxes on Colorado’s recreational cannabis — the standard 2.9 percent state sales tax, a special 10 percent sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers, which is earmarked for school construction projects. The $5.4 million collected in June excise tax brings the yearly total to $26.6 million. Through the first six months of 2016, Colorado has amassed more than $88 million in taxes and fees for medical and recreational cannabis.

August 16, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Skateboarding at the 2020 Olympics may have one big problem: Weed"

I have be enthralled by the Rio 2016 Olympics, but I have not had a chance to link the quadrennial fascination with quirky sports to my persistent obsession with marijuana law, policy and reform. Until I saw this Mashable article, which shares a headline with the title of this post. Here is how the article gets started:

Getting blazed and athletic prowess may seem like an unlikely combination, except in the world of competitive skateboarding. Skateboarding is one of five new sports set to make their debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — like your uncle who wants to get down with the youth — may not be ready for the anti-establishment nature of skate culture.

Australia's Tas Pappas, one of the world's top skateboarders in the '90s, has suggested the use of marijuana in skateboarding might dissuade athletes from wanting to compete at the Olympics. "I'm wondering how it's going to work as far as the drug testing is concerned, because some guys skate really well on weed and if they have to stop smoking for one competition (the Olympics) it might really affect their performance," Pappas told ABC News.

It's no secret weed and professional sport haven't been the best of friends. Since the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) inception in 1999, cannabinoids have been on the organisation's annual list of in-competition prohibited substances. Australian sporting codes tried to lobby WADA to remove the cannabinoid prohibition in 2012, suggesting the drug wasn't performance enhancing. In response, WADA raised the cannabinoid threshold to 150 nanograms per millilitre in 2013, 10 times its previous limit.

While the relaxed measure reflects changing attitudes to marijuana globally, the current situation means if Olympic skateboarders get caught with a cannabinoid concentration above WADA's threshold, they could be stripped of medals or banned from competition.

August 15, 2016 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Highlighting myriad challenges for doctors in a world of widespread state medical marijuana reforms

Dt_160517_medical_marijuana_cannabis_800x600This recent USA Today piece, headlined "As states OK medical marijuana laws, doctors struggle with knowledge gap," puts a needed spotlight on what I think may be the most under-examined aspect of modern state medical marijuana reforms. Here are excerpts:

Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine for almost 20 years.  But Farmington physician Jean Antonucci says she continues to feel unprepared when counseling sick patients about whether the drug could benefit them.  Will it help my glaucoma?  Or my chronic pain?  My chemotherapy’s making me nauseous, and nothing’s helped.  Is cannabis the solution? Patients hope Antonucci, 62, can answer those questions.  But she said she is still “completely in the dark.”

Antonucci doesn’t know whether marijuana is the right way to treat an ailment, what amount is an appropriate dose or whether a patient should smoke it, eat it, rub it through an oil or vaporize it.  Like most doctors, she was never trained to have these discussions. And, because the topic still is not usually covered in medical school, seasoned doctors, as well as younger ones, often consider themselves ill-equipped.  Even though she tries to keep up with the scientific literature, Antonucci said, “it’s very difficult to support patients but not know what you’re saying.”

As the number of states allowing medical marijuana grows – the total has reached 25 plus the District of Columbia – some are working to address this knowledge gap with physician training programs.  States are beginning to require doctors to take continuing medical education courses that detail how marijuana interacts with the nervous system and other medications, as well as its side effects.

Though laws vary, they have common themes. They usually set up a process by which states establish marijuana dispensaries, where patients with qualifying medical conditions can obtain the drug.  The conditions are specified on a state-approved list. And the role of doctors is often to certify that patients have one of those ailments. But many say that, without knowing cannabis’ health effects, even writing a certification makes them uncomfortable.  “We just don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s a concern,” said Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a practicing doctor in Pennsylvania.

This medical uncertainty is complicated by confusion over how to navigate often contradictory laws.  While states generally involve physicians in the process by which patients obtain marijuana, national drug policies have traditionally had a chilling effect on these conversations.  The Federation of State Medical Boards has tried to add clarity. In an Aug. 9 JAMA editorial, leaders noted that federal law technically prohibits prescribing marijuana and tasks states that allow it for medical use to “implement strong and effective ... enforcement systems to address any threat those laws could pose to public safety, public health and other interests.”  If state regulation is deemed insufficient, the federal government can step in.

That's why many doctors say they feel caught in the middle, not completely sure of where the line is now drawn between legal medical practice and what could get them in trouble. In New York, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2014, the state health department rolled out a certification program last October. (The state’s medical marijuana program itself launched in January 2016.)  The course, which lasts about four hours and costs $249, is part of a larger physician registration process. So far, the state estimates 656 physicians have completed the required steps.  Other states have contacted New York’s Department of Health to learn how the training works.

Pennsylvania and Ohio are also developing similar programs.  Meanwhile in Massachusetts, doctors who wish to participate in the state medical marijuana program are required to take courses approved by the American Medical Association. Maryland doesn’t require training but encourages it through its Medical Cannabis Commission website, a policy also followed in some other states.

Physicians appear to welcome such direction.  A 2013 study in Colorado, for instance, found more than 80% of family doctors thought physicians needed medical training before recommending marijuana.  But some advocates worry that doctors may find these requirements onerous and opt out, which would in turn thwart patients’ access to the now-legal therapy, said Ellen Smith, a board member of the U.S. Pain Foundation, which favors expanded access to medical cannabis.

Education is essential, given the complexity of how marijuana interacts with the body and how little physicians know, said Stephen Corn, an associate professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Harvard Medical School.  Corn also co-founded The Answer Page, a medical information website that supports the New York program and is also bidding to supply information for the Pennsylvania program, Corn said....

From a medical standpoint, the lack of information is troubling, Filer said. “Typically, when we’re going to prescribe something, you’ve got data that shows safety and efficacy,” she said.  With marijuana, the body of research doesn’t match what many doctors are used to for prescription drugs.

Still, Corn said, doctors appear pleased with the state training sessions. More than 80% of New York doctors who have taken his course said they changed their practice in response to what they learned.  But even now, whenever Corn speaks with doctors about medical marijuana, people ask him how they can learn more about the drug’s medical properties and about legal risks.  Those two concerns, he said, likely reduce the number of doctors comfortable with and willing to discuss marijuana’s place in medicine, even if it’s allowed in their states.

August 14, 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)