Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Pioneer Pot States Have Collected More Than $200 Million In Marijuana Taxes"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Huffington Post article.  Here is how it gets started:

The first two states to legalize recreational marijuana have collectively raked in at least $200 million in marijuana tax revenue, according to the latest tax data -- and they're putting those dollars to good use.

In Colorado, after about a year and a half of legal recreational marijuana sales, the state has collected more than $117 million in excise taxes from both the recreational and medical marijuana markets, according to the most recent data from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Washington state got a slower start. Its retail shops didn't begin selling recreational marijuana until July of last year, but they are keeping pace with Colorado's. About $83 million in excise taxes have already been collected in the year since sales first began, according to the most recent tax data from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

And the total haul for both states is several million higher if all additional revenue from marijuana -- such as sales taxes, jurisdictional taxes, fees and licensing costs -- is included.

August 27, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In Oregon, weddings with marijuana bringing new meaning to wedded bliss

Aeee9086b49d8fc5046d8ff625450eb5Marijuana reforms often say they would like marijuana to be treated just like alcohol, and this new article from Oregon suggests that at least a one couple started their marriage in a manner that makes such treatment a reality in one celebratory setting in which alcohol is typically a given.   The article is headlined "Oregon wedding features marijuana bar, budtender," and here are the amusing details:

The legalization of pot in Oregon has couples considering weed bars at their weddings.

"We were shocked by how much people loved it," said groom John Elledge of his recent reception. "I'm still getting a couple of texts a day from guests who enjoyed the weed tent."

Elledge married Whitney Alexander this summer on a West Linn Christmas tree farm.

"On private property where no liquor license is involved, it is legal," said Mark Pettinger with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. However, he added, a caterer with a liquor license cannot legally serve alcohol at an event where marijuana is also being served to guests. "Caterers should be aware there cannot be bartenders and budtenders."

"We made sure we were legal," said Elledge,"We know the limit is 8 ounces so we had small amounts of 13 varieties with a budtender controlling consumption." The couple had a wedding planner from Lake Oswego's Bridal Bliss.

"This was our first request for a weed bar," said owner Nora Sheils, "We made sure everyone was safe and provided transportation. The couple provided the product and hired the budtender for the tent."

Elledge, who describes himself as a professional marijuana grower, seems pleased to be a pioneer. "Even an 81-year-old woman who hadn't smoked weed since the '60s came into the tent at our wedding," he said. "Though skeptical at first she ended up loving it."

August 25, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marijuana reform efforts in Ohio (finally) starting to generate lots of newsy buzz

Throughout much of this year, I had been intrigued (but not all that surprised) that efforts to reform marijuana laws through ballot initiative in Ohio had not received all that much attention even as one well-funded group, ResponsibleOhio, seemed well-position to give Ohio voters the chance to legalize fully marijuana.  But now that the efforts of ResponsibleOhio have officially brought the issue to the November 2015 ballot as Issue 3, there is much more marijuana reform news and activity afoot in the Buckeye State.  Here is a sample of just recent notable headlines and stories from various news sources:

August 25, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana Producers Gobble Up Warehouse Space in Denver Area"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Wall Street Journal article that highlights some of the economic development impacts of the marijuana legalization in Colorado.  Here are excerpts:

Since voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of the drug in 2012, growers and distributors have gobbled up most of the available warehouse space in the Denver area, a major logistics hub for companies moving goods between the Midwest and the West Coast.

The marijuana industry is poised to expand quickly. Legal sales in Colorado of medical and recreational cannabis totaled about $700 million in 2014, the first full year for which statistics are available, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Colorado tax data. The number of active licenses to grow the plant for retail consumption shot up to 397 from 204, according to Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

The problem for Denver business owners: marijuana producers require lots of space to grow, package and store their products. In all, growers and distributors took up a third of all the warehouse space leased in Colorado over the past 18 months, according to Cresa Partners, a brokerage.

The warehouse crunch means many small businesses are struggling to find the space they need. Mr. Badgley, chief executive of Colorado Specialties Corp., a building-supply business, said his 7,500-square-foot warehouse and showroom is so crammed with bathroom fixtures and other materials that it is difficult to navigate. He would like to move to a building with triple the space, but can’t find anything affordable. “It’s all just getting snatched up by these marijuana people,” he said....

. Rents in the Colorado warehouse market rose 10% last year, to $5 a square foot, according to CBRE Inc., a real-estate services firm. The cost to buy warehouse space has doubled to $80 a square foot since the beginning of last year.

“It seems like every warehouse from 8,000 to 20,000 square feet is being turned into an indoor marijuana farm,” said Tom Glaspern, managing director in Denver for SEKO Logistics, a logistics-services provider. “We had opportunities [with customers] last year that we just had to turn down because we didn’t have the space.”...

Mr. Glaspern says the squeeze is especially tight in Denver because Colorado has relatively little industrial space outside the area. What’s more, because Colorado doesn’t border a state that has legalized recreational marijuana use, there isn’t much transport in or out — it is grown, processed and consumed right there....

Most growers use warehouse space as a combination indoor farm, packaging facility, storage space and distribution center. Employees clip buds from plants, cure them and ready them for shipment.

“It’s a factory that grows plants,” says Tim Cullen, owner of Colorado Harvest Co., a retailer that produced 3,600 pounds of pot last year and expects to produce 10,000 pounds this year. “It does not look like your friend’s basement in college.” Colorado Harvest owns 55,000 square feet of warehouse space to supply its five retail locations and is looking to lease 12,000 square feet more. Last year, after seeing warehouse rental prices increase, Mr. Cullen decided to build his own 35,000-square-foot facility in West Denver.

Growers are most interested in warehouses smaller than 80,000 square feet. Such spaces typically are used by modest manufacturing businesses. Converting them into cannabis-growing facilities often requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades to lighting, electrical and ventilation systems....

Mark Bowen, vice president in the Denver office of DCT Industrial Trust Inc., a real-estate investment trust that owns warehouses, said demand from marijuana growers has driven up the cost of warehouse space for users from the natural gas and tech industries by 60% or more, and increased lease renewal rates by 25% for DCT’s clients worried that if they don’t re-sign they will lose their space to the pot industry. “We’re happy about it,” Mr. Bowen said. Marijuana growers “are taking some of the space…that startups would maybe go to, and some of those businesses are having to come to buildings like ours.”

Over at Reason.com, Scott Shackford makes these interesting additional ponits in this follow-up post about this WSJ piece:

[I]f Colorado sees a clear boom in related logistics-focused commercial and industrial developments, then that’s going to be some great ammunition for other states pushing for legalization. Municipal governments absolutely love the logistics market, particularly in places where manufacturing is no longer (or never was) the source for blue-collar jobs. And of course, real estate professionals and developers have always been able to bend the ears of elected officials. Once the "right" people are also making money off legal marijuana, some resistance is likely to go up in smoke.

Among other thoughts, these pieces make me think it might be a real smart financial play to start buying up under-used wharehouse space in states like Arizona and California and Ohio and Michigan and Massachusetts and any other states likely be be voting on serious legalization initiatives in the next few years.  

August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Extended examination on how marijuana reform might (or might not) be impacting black markets

This lengthy new Vice article, headlined "How America's Legal Weed Is Changing the Black Market and Influencing Mexican Cartels," provides an effective (though necessarily incomplete) account of how legal reform developments in the United States are impacting all sort of marijuana markets. The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

And these are mostly happy days for the legal weed industry, whose sales revenues grew from an estimated $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion last year; one projection has them hitting $35 billion by 2020. All across Oregon, which legalized medical marijuana in 1998, people are attempting to carve out niches, hawking a dizzying array of weed sodas, candies, extracts, and other products. Oregonians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative last year that sanctioned pot sales to recreational users, making the state the next frontier of the so-called "green rush" that began in Colorado and Washington in 2012....

That new day hasn't dawned entirely. The hodgepodge of pot laws nationwide — 23 states plus Washington, DC now allow some form of medical marijuana — has created a situation ripe for exploitation. One of the great promises of marijuana legalization has been the concurrent elimination of the black market for weed, putting local dealers out of business and sticking it to Mexican cartels by cutting into their bottom line.

But while that may happen eventually, the black market in the United States is still thriving. Growers, consumers, dealers, and others in the industry told VICE News about operators that undercut prices at state pot shops, and several sources described illicit operations that ship large quantities of weed across the country from states that have legalized pot to states that haven't. Mexican organized crime experts told us that cartels are still smuggling bricks of bud across the border, and are perhaps even improving the quality of their product to cater to the rising expectations of American stoners.

"You're not going to eliminate the black market overnight," Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, told VICE News. "It's going to take some time, because essentially when you look at prices in the black market, whether it's marijuana or meth or cocaine, you're compensating drug dealers and everyone in the supply chain for the risk of arrest and incarceration. That goes away with legalization."

Most experts agree with Kilmer, saying that in time, as more states repeal pot prohibition, the dynamics of the marijuana black market will begin to resemble those of America's tobacco and alcohol black markets. There are still people selling untaxed loose cigarettes and running moonshine even though the vast majority of consumers prefer going to the store to buy smokes and alcohol legally. Right now, it's extremely tempting for growers in legal states to export their product to prohibition states, where prices are far higher.

Sam Chapman, cofounder of New Economy Consulting, a firm that specializes in the marijuana industry, told VICE News it's widely known that a significant portion of the weed grown in Oregon and northern California gets exported to the East Coast. "We've been seeing that product end up in Florida, end up in New York — places that don't have cannabis decriminalization and have very harsh punishments," he said. "When you have prohibition in other states, it drives the price up [there] because it's not regulated… I'd guess 80 percent of all product in Oregon is, unfortunately, leaving the state."

August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Spotlighting a unique (and uniquely valuable?) aspect of proposed Massachusetts legalization initiative

Jacob Sullum has this new Forbes piece which effectively highlights a unique element in a marijuana legalization proposal making the rounds in Massachusetts.  The piece is headlined "By Allowing Pot Pubs, A Massachusetts Measure Would Treat Cannabis Consumers More Like Drinkers," and here are excerpts from the start and end of the piece: 

When the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts unveiled the text of its 2016 legalization initiative this month, the group highlighted several features of the measure but omitted the most interesting one.  The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act would allow consumption of cannabis products on the premises of businesses that sell them, subject to regulation by the state and approval by local voters.

That’s a big deal, because until now no jurisdiction has satisfactorily addressed the obvious yet somehow touchy question of where people can consume the cannabis they are now allowed to buy.  The legalization initiatives approved by voters in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska all promised to treat marijuana like alcohol, which implies allowing venues similar to taverns where people can consume cannabis in a social setting.  Yet all four states say businesses that sell marijuana may not let customers use it on the premises.

Although a few “bring your own cannabis” (BYOC) clubs have popped up to accommodate people who want to use marijuana outside their homes from time to time, the legality of such establishments is a matter of dispute.  The result is that people can openly buy marijuana without fear, but they still have to consume it on the sly, just like in the bad old days.  The problem is especially acute for visitors from other states, since pot-friendly hotels are still pretty rare.

The Massachusetts initiative boldly addresses this consumption conundrum by allowing for something like Dutch-style cannabis cafés.  At the same time, it reassures people who don’t like the sound of that by permitting such businesses only in towns where a majority of voters have agreed to allow them.  Pot pubs also would be subject to restrictions imposed by state regulators, who might insist that they operate more discreetly than Amsterdam’s famous “coffee shops.”

The initiative says “no person shall consume marijuana in a public place or smoke marijuana where smoking tobacco is prohibited.”  But it adds that the rule “shall not apply to a person who consumes marijuana or marijuana products in a designated area of a marijuana establishment located in a city or town that has voted to allow consumption on the premises where sold.”  The question would be put on the local ballot in any city where supporters managed to get signatures from 10 percent of voters.

By contrast, the four states that have already legalized marijuana for recreational use uniformly ban consumption in pot stores.  They also impose additional restrictions on consumption that are open to interpretation and leave people uncertain about where it’s OK to use marijuana....

Mason Tvert, who helped run the Amendment 64 campaign in Colorado and is now pushing the Campaign for Limited Social Use in Denver, takes a similar view. “Marijuana’s now a legal product for adults in Denver, and it’s really time that we give adults a place to use it legally and socially,” he told the Associated Press last month. “We shouldn’t be requiring that you sit at home if you choose to use marijuana as an adult.”

Tvert’s initiative, which is expected to be on the ballot in November, will give Denver voters a chance to decide whether they meant it when they said marijuana should be treated like alcohol.  But the big test will come next year, when voters in Massachusetts (and possibly in California as well) will decide whether to let pot smokers out of the basement.

August 22, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Menominee tribal members in Wisconsin vote to legalize marijuana on its lands

Download (12)As reported in this effective local article, headlined "Menominee tribal members approve on-reservation marijuana use," a notable vote among a notable population in Wisconsin this past week ensures tribal marijuana policies and practices will continue to make news in the months ahead. Here are the details of the vote and the challenges it creates:

Now that Menominee tribal members have told their legislators to legalize marijuana, the difficult task begins of designing a profitable weed operation that does not result in the tribe or its customers getting busted.  "Tribes are treading on very dangerous grounds" when it comes to growing and selling marijuana, warned Dorothy Alther, director of California Indian Legal Services.  "If I was representing tribes out there (in Wisconsin) I would say it might not be such a good idea."

Just last month two California tribes were raided by federal and state authorities who said they seized at least 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana.

Members of the Menominee tribe this week voted 677 to 499 to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes and 899 to 275 to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes on its 360-acre reservation near Shawano.  "This is new ground," Gary Besaw, Menominee chairman, said in an interview Friday shortly after the results were announced.  "We have to start looking at developing best practices and draft ordinances to maximize the benefits we believe are possible and minimize the consequences we believe also are possible."

Legalizing marijuana on reservations has become a hot topic since late last year when the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo discouraging federal authorities from prosecuting tribes for growing or selling pot on their reservations.  The memo also listed eight scenarios that could result in prosecution, including selling to minors or distributing the product to a state — such as Wisconsin — where weed remains illegal.

State law enforcement authorities do not have criminal jurisdiction on the Menominee reservation but could arrest people who leave the tribal land with marijuana.  Federal authorities do, because when the Menominee had its tribal status restored in the 1970s, it became the state's only non-Public Law 280 tribe.  "As a white guy I would fully expect that I'm getting pulled over if I drive off the (Menominee) reservation" if marijuana sales there are legalized, said R. Lance Boldrey, a Michigan Indian law attorney.

State and local authorities have jurisdiction over the 10 other tribes in Wisconsin, and at least three of those are seriously looking at legalizing marijuana or a derivative on their reservations.  Still, Indian law experts say the Menominee, which has about 9,000 members, must deal with several hurdles.

■ Since marijuana is not legal in Wisconsin, the tribe may be restricted to selling weed only to Native Americans.  Still, Besaw said, it could be worthwhile to begin growing and selling weed.  He predicted that it won't be long before marijuana is legal throughout the nation and "when it does become legalized we'll be ready to launch," he said.

■ The Justice Department memo is a policy directive that could change, especially in 2017 when a new president takes office, Boldrey said.  Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) this month sponsored a bill that would take away federal funding from any tribe that cultivates, manufactures or sells marijuana.

■ The tribe must consider the impact of legalizing a drug on an impoverished reservation that has long been plagued with substance abuse problems. "It's a huge concern," Besaw said.

■ It's not clear what to do with money generated from marijuana sales, since federally insured banks generally shun accepting marijuana money for fear of violating federal money laundering laws.  Besaw said the tribe would likely avoid that risk by licensing and taxing a business to run the weed business.  The tribe's revenue would be "clean money" because it would be tax revenue.

Besaw said he has met and will continue to meet with state and federal law enforcement to determine the guidelines the tribe must operate under to avoid the kind of trouble with the law that occurred in California.

August 22, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Is Marijuana Causing More Car Crashes in Washington?"

The question in the title of this post is the question which necessarily emerges from some recent public safety data released this week in Washington state, and it is also the headline of Jacob Sullum's new Reason column examining this data.  Here are excerpts from Sullum's analysis (with key links preserved):

Data released by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) this week indicate that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes with active THC in their blood jumped from 38 in 2013 to 75 last year....

Contrary to comments by Staci Hoff, the WTSC's director of data and research, the presence of active THC does not necessarily indicate that a driver was impaired by marijuana at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana caused the accident. Noting that 85 percent of "cannabis-positive" drivers involved in fatal accidents had active THC (as opposed to an inactive THC metabolite) in their blood last year, Hoff concludes that "most of them were high." That is not a safe conclusion to draw, because (as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out) there is no reliable way to relate THC blood levels to impairment....

The picture is further complicated by the presence of other drugs.  The Times notes that "half the drivers with active THC in their blood also were under the influence of alcohol, and the majority of those were legally intoxicated."  Alcohol has a much more dramatic impact on driving ability than marijuana does, and the two together have a greater effect than either alone.  The Times adds that the WTSC's analysis "doesn't account for prescription drugs in the marijuana-positive drivers."

 Although marijuana's contribution to traffic accidents is hard to pin down, it is possible than an increase in cannabis consumption following legalization would lead to more stoned drivers on the road, resulting in more crashes.  Alternatively, if more pot smoking is accompanied by less drinking, the net result could be fewer crashes, since alcohol impairs drivers a lot more than marijuana does.  It is not clear yet whether either of those scenarios is materializing in Washington.

WTSC data show the total number of traffic fatalities rose by 6 percent last year (from 436 to 462) after falling the previous six years (including 2013, the first full year in which recreational use was legal, although state-licensed pot stores were not open yet). The number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver tested positive for marijuana (which does not necessarily mean he was impaired by marijuana) rose by 55 percent (from 64 to 99).  Meanwhile, the number of fatalities from accidents in which the driver was deemed to be impaired by alcohol fell by 13 percent (from 127 to 111). That number had declined or remained steady in the previous six years, except for a 14 percent increase in 2009.

The 6 percent increase in total fatalities is consistent with the idea that legalization raises the number of dangerously impaired drivers.   But that increase occurred entirely in the first half of 2014, before the pot shops started to open, which is a bit of a puzzle. By comparison, Colorado, where state-licensed marijuana merchants were open for business throughout 2014, saw only a 1.5 percent increase in total traffic fatalities that year.   To get a better idea of what is happening, we will need more years of data, plus comparisons to trends in other states that have not legalized marijuana.

UPDATE: Based on data from a local article about marijuana's impact in Washington, I did an additional post on this topic over at my sentencing law blog: "Could marijuana reform be making Washington roadways safer even if more drivers test positive for THC?"

August 21, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Attention former Prez Carter: "Marijuana Is a Wonder Drug When It Comes to the Horrors of Chemo"

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this Newsweek piece from last month that I just came across. Though it seems from this new news article that former President Jimmy Carter may not be getting a chemotherapy-based cancer treatment, this  Newsweek article seemed worth spotlighting on a day when a former US Prez is talking about his cancer diagnosis and coming treatments.  (In a coming post, I will highlight another newer Newsweek story on marijuana reform that I think merits even more attention.)  Here in a notable excerpt from the lengthy chemo piece:

A growing number of cancer patients and oncologists view the drug as a viable alternative for managing chemotherapy’s effects, as well as some of the physical and emotional health consequences of cancer, such as bone pain, anxiety and depression. State legislatures are following suit; medical cannabis is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and more than a dozen other states allow some patients access to certain potency levels of the drug if a physician documents that it’s medically necessary, or if the sick person has exhausted other options. A large number of these patients have cancer, and many who gain access to medical marijuana report that it works.

“A day doesn’t go by where I don’t see a cancer patient who has nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, pain, depression and insomnia,” says Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology-oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Marijuana, he says, “is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite.”

It also helps patients sleep and elevates their mood — no easy feat when someone is facing a life-threatening illness.  “I could write six different prescriptions, all of which may interact with each other or the chemotherapy that the patient has been prescribed. Or I could just recommend trying one medicine,” Abrams says.

A 2014 poll conducted by Medscape and WebMD found that more than three-quarters of U.S. physicians think cannabis provides real therapeutic benefits. And those working with cancer patients were the strongest supporters: 82 percent of oncologists agreed that cannabis should be offered as a treatment option.

Dr. Benjamin Kligler, associate professor of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says there has been enough research to prove that at a bare minimum cannabis won’t actually harm a person.  In addition, “given what we've seen anecdotally in practice I think there's no reason we shouldn't see more integration of cannabis in the long run as a strategy,” he says.  “We have this extremely safe, extremely useful medicine that could potentially benefits a huge population.”

August 20, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Effective Nature article highlights big gaps in marijuana research

The science journal Nature has this effective Cann3 new feature article discussing the notable challenges in doing good science in the marijuana reform space. The lengthy article is headlined "The cannabis experiment: As marijuana use becomes more acceptable, researchers are scrambling to answer key questions about the drug." Here are excerpts:

In 2013, Beau Kilmer took on a pretty audacious head count. Citizens in the state of Washington had just voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and the state's liquor control board, which would regulate the nascent industry, was anxious to understand how many people were using the drug — and importantly, how much they were consuming.

The task was never going to be straightforward. Users of an illicit substance, particularly heavy users, often under-report the amounts they take. So Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica, California, led a team to develop a web-based survey that would ask people how often they had used cannabis in the past month and year. To help them gauge the amounts, the surveys included scaled pictures showing different quantities of weed. The survey, along with other data the team had collected, revealed a rift between perception and reality. Based on prior data, state officials had estimated use at about 85 tonnes per year; Kilmer's research suggested that it was actually double that, about 175 tonnes. The take-home message, says Kilmer, was “we're going to have to start collecting more data”.

Scientists around the world would echo that statement. Laws designed to legalize cannabis or lessen the penalties associated with it are taking effect around the world. They are sweeping the sale of the drug out of stairwells and shady alleys and into modern shopfronts under full view of the authorities. In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation to legalize marijuana trade. And several countries in Europe — Spain and Italy among them — have moved away from tough penalties for use and possession. Thirty-nine US states plus Washington DC have at least some provisions for medicinal use of the drug. Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon have gone further, legalizing the drug for recreational consumption. A handful of other states including California and Massachusetts are expected to vote on similar recreational-use measures by the end of 2016.

But the rapid shift has caught researchers on the back foot. “Broadly speaking, there's about 100 times as many studies on tobacco or alcohol as there are on illegal substances,” says Christian Hopfer, a psychiatry researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. “I don't think it's the priority it should be.”

Despite claims that range from its being a treatment for seizures to a cause of schizophrenia, the evidence for marijuana's effects on health and behaviour is limited and at times conflicting. Researchers struggle to answer even the most basic questions about cannabis use, its risks, its benefits and the effect that legalization will have.

The quick shifts in policies should provide a plethora of natural experiments, but the window will not be open for long. “There's an opportunity here. Some of the most informative research we can do is right at the moment the market changes,” says Robert MacCoun, a social psychologist and public-policy researcher at Stanford Law School in California who worked with Kilmer on the research done in Washington....

As cannabis use becomes legal, the data may become easier to collect. But the drug's use is still low compared with alcohol and tobacco, says Wayne Hall, an addiction researcher at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, so it is hard to draw firm conclusions. Marijuana may be the most popular illegal drug, he says — about 44% of US adults have used it at some point in their lives according to one source — but only about one in ten have used it in the past year. By contrast, around 70% drank alcohol in that time. “The number of people who use it with any regularity for a long time is pretty small. The longer-term consequences are really understudied,” says Hall.

A major question for researchers — and a complication in interpreting the evidence — is dosing. There are more than 85 cannabinoid chemicals in pot. The one of most interest to researchers — and users — is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Growers have been able to breed high concentrations of the chemical into strains of the plant meant for recreational and medicinal use. A potency- monitoring programme run by the University of Mississippi for the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that THC levels have steadily increased in the United States11, from 2–3% in 1985–95 to 4.9% in 2010. The increase is even starker for imported cannabis seized by law-enforcement officials. For these drugs, potency has gone from less than 4% in the late 1980s and early 1990s to more than 12% in 2013.

But it is hard to determine the amounts of THC being consumed by the average customer. It is unclear, for example, whether users 'titrate' their doses, adjusting their intake according to the potency. Nicotine users are known to do this with cigarettes, but nicotine does not impair judgement in the same way that cannabis does. And the effects of THC are less immediate, especially for edible forms.

The escalating potency raises questions about previous research because users in older studies may have been consuming lower-potency cannabis, and the effects may be different. A study published earlier this year, for example, linked high-potency cannabis to a threefold-increased risk of psychosis versus non-use but found no association with lower-potency forms. And many researchers have complained that the pot approved for study in experiments funded by NIDA is a poor match for what is used recreationally or medicinally....

Although states are starting to ease restrictions on recreational use of marijuana, what got the ball rolling in changing public perceptions and the legal landscape for pot were the arguments for its medical use.

Colorado introduced its rules allowing medical marijuana more than a decade before it allowed recreational use. The amendment to the state's constitution listed eight conditions for which marijuana was approved: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia (a progressive wasting syndrome), persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea and severe pain. But, says Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the CDPHE, “those are dictated by the constitution and not necessarily by medical research”.

Although there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence — and well-organized advocacy groups that campaign for easier access to medical marijuana — there is little conclusive scientific evidence for many of the claimed medical benefits. One of the reasons for this dearth of evidence is that money generally has been obtainable only for research on the negative effects of cannabis. That is beginning to change.

When Colorado first legalized the drug, its public-health department began collecting fees from patients who applied to purchase pot at medical dispensaries. By 2014, the state had amassed more than US$9 million, most of which was ploughed back into a medical marijuana research programme selected by the CDPHE. Among the projects funded by the Colorado millions, there are two investigating whether cannabinoids can help to mitigate seizures in childhood epilepsy. Similar research is being pursued in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the United States....

One of the biggest questions is how legalization will change usage patterns. One place in which researchers are looking for answers is Europe, where cannabis regulation tends to be much lighter than it is in the United States (see 'Reefer madness'). In the United Kingdom, some police forces overlook cannabis use and small-scale growing operations. Spain allows private consumption, but still has restrictions on sales.

The most extreme and long-standing example is the Netherlands, which decriminalized the possession and sale of small quantities of cannabis in 1976. But although some streets of Amsterdam have been transformed into pungent tourism hotspots, the country as a whole has not changed its habits much.

Although hard data on cannabis use in Europe is patchy, the Netherlands does not have hugely more users than other nations. Data aggregated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put use in the Netherlands at about 7%. That is more than in Germany (5%) and Norway (5%), about the same as in the United Kingdom and less than in the United States (15%). Nor has the Netherlands seen a huge spike in use of harder drugs, dampening fears that marijuana serves as a gateway to more-dangerous substances such as heroin and cocaine. The message from the Netherlands, says Franz Trautmann, a drugs-policy researcher at the Trimbos Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is that “a very liberal policy doesn't lead to a skyrocketing prevalence”. Rather, cannabis is endemic, he says. “We can't control this through prohibition. This is something which more and more is recognized.”

But the lesson from the Netherlands may be limited because the drug is still illegal, and growing and selling large quantities is still punishable by law. Colorado has gone further by legalizing not merely the drug's use, but the whole production chain, and that could have fundamentally different effects on the economics of pot. “Legalized production really raises the prospect of a dramatic drop in price,” says MacCoun. “It's conceivable marijuana prices could drop 75–80% in a fully legalized model.” (Although Uruguay legalized the drug in 2013, it reportedly has struggled to regulate production and to set up working dispensaries.)

The effects of a sharp drop in cost are unknown. Taxation may also have unintended consequences. If states tax by weight, users might look to higher-potency strains to save money. And once cannabis is a business, it gains a business lobby. Cannabis researchers already talk of being bombarded with e-mails from pro-cannabis groups if they make negative comments about the drug. “Marijuana research is like tobacco research in the '60s,” says Hopfer. “Any study about harms is challenged. It's really something.” Many fear that the big money now to be found in cannabis will drive attempts to obfuscate the risks. “If the commercial interests are too big, then the profit interest is prevailing above the health interest. This is what I'm afraid of,” says Trautmann.

Legalization provides an opportunity to answer some important questions. In a few years, Colorado, Washington and others will know (if only roughly) how legalization affects usage patterns, the number of car crashes and the number of people seeking help for drug dependency. The CDPHE-funded programmes will have added to the knowledge of beneficial effects. And continuing long-term studies of large groups of users will provide more evidence for statisticians who are attempting to disentangle correlation and causation on the negative impacts.

“When a jurisdiction changes its marijuana laws, that provides an opportunity for greater leverage on the questions of cause and effect,” says MacCoun. But, he adds, the signals will only really be clear if the laws result in a dramatic increase in use — something that is neither a given, nor necessarily desirable. “Obviously, we don't want marijuana use to rise just to allow us to answer our questions, but if it does, we'll be poring over all the data.”

August 20, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenue Nearly Doubles in One Year"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Time piece, which includes these passages:

It’s been a year and a half since the legalization of marijuana went into effect in Colorado.  Business for purveyors of marijuana was good from the beginning, but has soared in the past year, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The state collected $9.7 million in taxes related to marijuana sales in June 2015, up nearly $5 million from the same month last year.  By May, the state had collected more than $88 million in marijuana taxes in 2015.

Revenue from marijuana sales has been used to fund improvements to the state’s public schools.  “The people who were smoking marijuana before legalization still are. Now, they’re paying taxes,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told USA Today in February.

August 19, 2015 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Does exact ballot language really matter much in Ohio 2015 vote for marijuana legalization?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the latest legal battle brewing in Ohio now just a matter of weeks before voters will be voting on a controversial marijuana reform initiative.   This local article, headlined "ResponsibleOhio to challenge marijuana legalization ballot language in court," sets out the recent development and basic terms of debate:

The marijuana legalization issue will appear as Issue 3 on Ohio ballots this November, but the group backing the issue plans to challenge the approved ballot language at the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Ohio Ballot Board, a five-member bipartisan panel led by Secretary of State Jon Husted, on Tuesday approved the language for that issue along party lines, with the two Democratic members voting against. "It's not balanced language and we believe that the language does not fairly inform the voters on what they're being asked to vote upon," Don McTigue, an attorney for ResponsibleOhio, said after the ballot board meeting.

McTigue said the language approved Tuesday is misleading and politically motivated, pointing to dozens of places where the language either adds or omits provisions of the proposed amendment.

For example, the approved language says "recreational use;" McTigue preferred "personal use." And one paragraph could be construed as allowing Ohioans to buy more than a half pound of marijuana (the limit is 1 ounce but Ohioans could possess up to 8 ounces of homegrown marijuana.)

ResponsibleOhio's proposed personal and medical marijuana amendment would legalize marijuana use and sales, with commercial cannabis grown only at 10 sites already promised to campaign investors. State lawmakers didn't like that aspect of the issue, so they drafted their own amendment to try to block ResponsibleOhio's marijuana issue.

Husted set the tone for Tuesday's meeting by welcoming everyone to "Monopoly Day in Ohio" -- whether to outlaw them or grant a new one.

Ohioans will vote on three statewide issues Nov. 3:

Issue 1: Redistricting reform amendment

Issue 2: Anti-monopoly amendment

Issue 3: Marijuana legalization amendment

All three require a majority "yes" vote to adopt the amendment. But if Issue 2 and Issue 3 both pass, the matter will likely be resolved at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Husted's office drafted ballot language for each issue after meeting with interested parties. Supporters and opponents were given an opportunity Tuesday to persuade the ballot board toward more favorable language, but the final decision rested with the board. Husted said groups would prefer to use language that polls well, but the ballot board aims to give voters the facts about the issues.

ResponsibleOhio plans to spend upwards of $20 million to win at the ballot box, aggressively advertising its plan and targeting supporters to register to vote and cast ballots.

Opponents of Issue 3 -- a coalition of physicians, law enforcement officials, and business groups -- will tell voters legalization will flood the state with marijuana, causing children to be harmed by ingesting it. The coalition, Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, is banking on its broad and diverse network instead of campaign contributions to spread its message.

For a variety of reasons, I am disinclined to weigh in substantively on the (court-bound?) debate over the precise language that will appear on the ballot when Ohioans are to vote of the ResponsibleOhio proposal for marijuana reform. But, as the question in the title of this post highlights, the broader question is whether it really matters much, especially in an "off-off year" election, what the exact ballot language says about the basic marijuana reform issue voters will be considering.

Presumably, most voters showing up to vote in an "off-off year" election already have formed an opinion on the highest-profile initiative under consideration, and so I am not sure this squabble over ballot language will, in the end, matter all that much as the votes are to be cast.  I suppose we will know in just a few months just how all this shakes out.

August 19, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Representing Clients in the Marijuana Industry: Navigating State and Federal Rules"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN authored by Eli Wald, Eric Liebman and Amanda Bertrand.  Here is the abstract:

As the number of states legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana increases and marijuana emerges as a growing lawful industry, lawyers find themselves in an awkward position . In most states, lawyers who represent clients in the marijuana industry risk discipline for assisting clients in the commission of a (federal) crime. Even in jurisdictions like Colorado, where the rules of professional conduct have been amended to permit lawyers to assist clients who comply with marijuana state laws, lawyers who are admitted to practice in federal courts risk being disciplined by these tribunals for assisting clients in the commission of a crime pursuant to the courts’ local rules of conduct.  This short article explores the thorny issue of navigating state and federal rules of professional conduct while representing clients in the marijuana industry.

August 17, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Highlighting how and why the Deep South is warming up to marijuana reform

Images (11)This lengthy new article, headlined "Medical marijuana laws taking root across the South," provides an effective review of marijuana reform developments in a number of southern US states. The piece merits a full read, and here are a few excerpts:

She lives in the wooden house her grandfather built more than a century ago in Chester, South Carolina, a rural community about a two-hour drive southeast of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cluttered home is dimly lit and not air-conditioned, with the low hum of floor fans filling in rare lulls in conversation. Two Chihuahuas, Cricket and Joe, scuttle around Ada Jones' feet as she peers down through her eyeglasses at the iPad in her hands....

If someone needs medical marijuana, they contact her over the Internet. Jones encourages those who reach out to her to purchase marijuana illegally and make their own cannabis oil. If they're unsuccessful, she puts them in contact with a supplier who can sell them a more refined product.

"It's almost like playing God," Jones said. "If somebody contacts me, I have to look at them and wonder. I wonder if that's police first, not if I can help their kid. I try not to do that, but you have to because you're scared."

Jones helps everyone she can, whether they be young mothers of epileptic children or older patients suffering from chronic pain. Her specific brand of civil disobedience, like so many other facets of Southern life, is captained by her faith. "They talk about the South being the Bible belt, and praise the Lord we are," Jones said. "I cannot not help somebody. I have to. As a Christian, that's what I'm here for."

Many Southern states have a long and failed history with medical marijuana, mired deep in forgotten statutes. Only recently, as the marijuana movement sweeps through statehouses, have those laws become political tinder for a new debate in the South....

South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis first heard the name Mary Louise Swing in late January of last year. The opening month of the 2014 legislative session was just wrapping up, and the legislator was back from the capital city of Columbia to do some work at his law office in Beaufort, a scenic coastal city located on Port Royal Island.

Davis chatted briefly that Monday afternoon with a law partner who had just met a woman named Harriet Hilton at a local Rotary club lunch. Her granddaughter suffered from a severe form of epilepsy and was seeking a type of treatment not currently legal or particularly popular in the Palmetto State – medical marijuana. "Quite frankly, it wasn't even on my radar screen," Davis said. "It wasn't anything in terms of public policy that I thought about doing until I heard about that story."

About a week later, Hilton was sitting across from Davis in his Beaufort office, discussing her granddaughter, Mary Louise, now 7. With the help of senate staffers, Davis rifled through old statutes to clarify the current legality of marijuana in the historically conservative state. What they unearthed was an obscure, obsolete law that would come to play a greater role in 2014 than it ever did following its passage 35 years ago....

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed Davis' bill into law in June 2014, legalizing CBD oil for epilepsy patients in South Carolina. CBD oil is an extract with concentrated amounts of cannabidiol - the part of the cannabis plant anecdotally shown to treat seizures - and low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC - marijuana's psychoactive component.

Though the final law allowed physicians to authorize, and patients to consume, CBD oil, it did not provide for its cultivation or dispensation. Parents, patients and advocates have grown increasingly frustrated with the current state of medical marijuana in South Carolina. A law was passed in Alabama last year to allow for limited use of CBD oil, although Alabama patients are running into the same inability to access the medicine and are also facing similar decisions about moving west....

Even today in states such as Alabama and South Carolina - where CBD oil is legal but there's no provision to grow or distribute the drug - patients are left to obtain medical marijuana on their own, often across state lines and in violation of federal law. "There is an underground network of parents who had been treating their children for a while in states where they had limited-access bills like we had," said Janel Ralph, a mother in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, whose daughter suffers from a severe seizure disorder. "It was really an underground railroad."

You could call Ada Jones one of its many conductors. "The Jesus Christ that I know wouldn't want me to let anybody suffer," Jones said. "If it's in my ability to help them, then I'm going to help them."

Perhaps her favorite patient is her best friend, Beverly Love. A 55-year-old Chester native, Love was diagnosed with lupus at 31, and soon after, multiple sclerosis. Her doctor told her she probably had a maximum of two years to live. She needed to get her affairs in order and figure out who would be raising her 8-year-old son after she was gone.

"That was a scary thing. Not mainly for me – I worried about my son, my child," Love said. "But I'm still here, surprisingly. Even my doctors are surprised that I'm still living." Before Love met Jones, she didn't know what the word cannabis meant and had never smoked marijuana. She considered those who did drug addicts. "She could run for president and you couldn't find nothing on her. The girl is squeaky clean," Jones said. "She didn't want to do this. But she didn't want to die."

Jones inundated Love with countless articles on marijuana's medical benefits and personal testimonies to its effectiveness. "She just kept on," Love remembers. "And I'm thankful that she did. I'm really thankful that she did." Love first experimented with medical cannabis about a year and a half ago, spreading some medicated jam Jones had acquired for her on a piece of bread just before bedtime. Within two hours, Love said she experienced a relief she hadn't known in years.

She does not suffer from epilepsy, the only qualifying condition eligible to possess CBD oil in South Carolina. Even if she did, the oil she takes now is whole-plant – meaning it contains naturally high levels of THC in relation to CBD. She knows she could be arrested, but for her, the risk is worth it.

"If I started getting locked up now, I would move to a state where it was legal, because it's made such a difference in my day-to-day living," Love said. "I actually have quality of life now. And I didn't."

August 16, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Momentum Continues to Build for Historic Federal Medical Marijuana Bill"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Huffington Post piece authored by Michael Collins, a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.  Here are excerpts:

It's been five months since the historic medical marijuana bill -- the CARERS Act -- was introduced in the Senate, and as Congress enjoys its summer recess, it's a good time to reflect on where the bill is positioned as we head into the second part of the year.

The legislation was introduced in March by Sens. Booker, Paul and Gillibrand, and received huge media attention, including a lead editorial in the New York Times in support of the bill, the day after it was introduced.

The advocacy groups in Washington, D.C. pushing CARERS have spent much of a very successful summer building support for the bill by advocating for the passage of three Senate appropriations amendments that mirror provisions of CARERS. These spending amendments would take effect for one year only, so they are less impactful than the legislative changes we would see through the passage of CARERS, but nonetheless they allowed us to test the waters on support for major provisions of the bill.

The key takeaway from these votes is that the Senate is ready to debate medical marijuana, and a majority would approve the CARERS Act if it was brought to the floor for a vote. The adoption by the Senate of three amendments that are almost identical to provisions in the CARERS Act was a welcome development, not least because every amendment garnered bipartisan support. Perhaps the most important part of CARERS is the section that allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies.

The amendment mirroring this provision passed the Senate Appropriations Committee 21-9, with seven Republicans supporting. The size of the victory demonstrates that, contrary to what some may have said, the Senate is ready to tackle full medical marijuana. Another amendment allowing veterans access to medical marijuana passed 18-12, and an amendment allowingmarijuana businesses to access banking services passed 16-14....

Senators Grassley and Feinstein, whose buy-in is important for CARERS to progress, have gone from being opponents of medical marijuana to holding a recent hearing on the issue, and drafting a Time magazine op-ed on the need for more research and access to certain types of medical marijuana. Sen. Feinstein also secured language in a separate funding bill calling for more research and recognizing "the potential therapeutic benefits that marijuana and its components may bring to patients with serious medical conditions, including seizures, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, substance use disorders, and neuropathic and cancer pain." Sen. Grassley is a crucial player in this process, given that he chairs the Judiciary Committee, through which CARERS must pass.

The bill itself has a lot of momentum behind it -- 15 cosponsors, including 12 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. The recent addition of Chuck Schumer -- the likely future head of the Senate Democrats and a key Judiciary member -- was another boost. And the bill continues to be regularly praised in the media, including in last Sunday's New York Times editorial.

The next few months will see advocates turn their attention to translating the Republican support for appropriations amendments into cosponsorship for CARERS -- something we need your help with. Advocates will also continue our dialogue with Senator Grassley and push for a Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on CARERS, which would clearly pass the Senate if allowed to move forward. Let's hope the next five months are as successful as the last five.

Some prior related posts:

August 15, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

International Centre for Science in Drug Policy releases "State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation"

Download (10)I am very pleased to see that the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), a group of scientists and academics who seek to "ensure that policy responses to the many problems posed by illicit drugs are informed by the best available scientific evidence," has released this effective and timely new report titled "State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation."  Here is the report's introduction:

The regulation of recreational cannabis markets has become an increasingly important policy issue in a number of jurisdictions. Colorado and Washington State made headlines in 2012 when they became the first jurisdictions in the world to legalize and regulate the adult use and sale of cannabis for non-medical purposes.  In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis markets.  Momentum towards regulation continued in the United States in 2014 with successful ballot initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. Globally, the issue of cannabis regulation is front and center in a growing number of jurisdictions, including Canada, Jamaica, Italy, Spain, several Latin American countries, and a number of additional U.S. states, including California, set to vote on legalization initiatives in 2016.

Unsurprisingly, given the robust global conversation around the regulation of recreational cannabis markets, claims about the impacts of cannabis use and regulation are increasingly part of the public discourse.  Unfortunately, though, these claims are often unsupported by the available scientific evidence.  Another reoccurring problem in the public discourse is the selective inclusion of research studies based on their support for a predetermined narrative.  The intentional exclusion of studies with contradictory findings does not allow for an objective review and analysis of all the evidence.  This “cherry picking” of the evidence is a routine practice that distorts public understanding.  By outlining the current state of all the scientific evidence on common cannabis claims, State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation strives to ensure that evidence, rather than rhetoric, plays a central role in policymaking around this important issue.

The harms of misrepresenting the scientific evidence on cannabis should not be overlooked.  Given that policy decisions are influenced by public opinion and media reports, public discourse needs to be well informed.  By addressing knowledge gaps with scientific findings, the ICSDP hopes to dispel myths about cannabis use and regulation, and ensure that the scientific evidence on these topics is accurately represented.  Only then can evidence-based policy decisions be made.

Readers of this report will notice three repeating themes emerge through the discussion of the scientific evidence on common cannabis claims.

First, many of the claims confuse correlation and causation.  Although scientific evidence may find associations between two events, this does not indicate that one necessarily caused the other.  Put simply, correlation does not equal causation.  This is a commonly made mistake when interpreting scientific evidence in all fields, and is unsurprisingly a recurring source of confusion in the discourse on cannabis use and regulation.

Second, for several of these claims, the inability to control for a range of variables (“confounders”) means that in many cases, we cannot conclude that a particular outcome was caused by cannabis use or regulation.  Unless scientists can remove all other possible explanations, the evidence cannot conclusively say that one specific explanation is true.

Third, many of the claims cannot be made conclusively as there is insufficient evidence to support them.  Findings from a single study or a small sample cannot be generalized to entire populations.  This is especially pronounced for claims related to cannabis regulation, as not enough time has passed since the regulation of recreational cannabis in Colorado, Washington State, and Uruguay to examine many of the impacts of these policy changes.

These three common pitfalls are important to take into account when reading media reports and advocacy materials that suggest scientists have conclusively made some finding related to cannabis use or regulation.  In many cases, due to the reasons outlined above, this will actually result in a misrepresentation of the scientific evidence.

State of the Evidence: Cannabis Use and Regulation is comprised of two sections: Common Claims on Cannabis Use and Common Claims on Cannabis Regulation.

Common Claims on Cannabis Use presents evidence on frequently heard claims about cannabis use, including claims on the addictive potential of cannabis, cannabis as a “gateway” drug, the potency of cannabis, and the impact of cannabis use on the lungs, heart, and brain (in terms of IQ, cognitive functioning, and risk of schizophrenia).

Common Claims on Cannabis Regulation presents evidence on frequently heard claims about the impacts of cannabis regulation, including the impact of regulation on cannabis availability, impaired driving, the use of cannabis, drug crime, drug tourism, and “Big Marijuana.”

For each claim, the relevant available scientific evidence is presented and the strength of the scientific evidence in support of the claim is determined.  Readers will notice that none of the claims are strongly supported by the scientific evidence, reinforcing the significant misrepresentation of evidence on cannabis use and regulation.

We hope that the evidence contained in this report meaningfully contributes to the global conversation around cannabis policy and helps policymakers, as well as general readers, separate scientific evidence from conjecture.

August 13, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio qualifies for Nov 2015 ballot

Regular readers know I have lately given a lot of attention to discussion and debate over marijuana reform in Ohio not only because it is the state in which I live, but also because there seemed to be a real chance for the next big popular vote on marijuana reform to take place in the Buckeye State.  And now, as this local article highlights, it is official that "Ohio voters will decide this fall whether to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State for recreational and medical use." Here are the basics:

ResponsibleOhio's marijuana legalization constitutional amendment was certified Wednesday by the Ohio secretary of state.  It will appear as Issue 3 on the statewide ballot for the general election on Nov. 3.  If approved by voters, Ohio would be the fifth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use and the first to do so without first having a medical marijuana program....

ResponsibleOhio had to submit at least 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters, meeting a certain threshold in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties.  The group initially fell short of that goal but was able to exceed it with a second batch of signatures.  Of the 91,541 supplemental signatures submitted by ResponsibleOhio, 44,185 were determined valid.  That number was added to the 276,082 valid signatures submitted on June 30 for a total of 320,267 valid signatures.  The group reported spending nearly $2.5 million through June to collect signatures.

The issue now heads to the Ohio Ballot Board, a bipartisan panel led by Secretary of State Jon Husted, which will write the amendment summary for the ballot.  The amendment would allow adults age 21 and older to buy, possess and grow marijuana in limited amounts. Commercial marijuana, which would be taxed, could only be grown on 10 pot farms owned by campaign investors. Tax revenues would go toward local governments, cannabis research and drug abuse and addiction treatment.

Anti-drug organizations and marijuana advocates have criticized ResponsibleOhio's plan, which opponents say would cement a monopoly on pot in the Ohio Constitution.

The marijuana legalization amendment will appear on the ballot after a competing issue sponsored by state lawmakers. Issue 2 would prohibit language granting "a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel" in the Ohio Constitution. Husted and attorneys for state lawmakers have said Issue 2 would trump the marijuana amendment, even if both passed on Election Day.

Issue 2 would require future amendments that propose monopolies or oligopolies to be posed as two questions on the same ballot -- first, to suspend the monopoly rules and second, to approve the measure.

August 12, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ohio Auditor draws fascinating parallel between margarine and marijuana prohibitions in Ohio

Images (9)The state-wide elected (Republican) Auditor of Ohio, Dave Yost, has penned this fascinating new commentary headlined "Ohio marijuana proposal echo cautionary tale of margarine prohibition." The whole piece merits a full read, and here are some of the historical insights and lessons Auditor Yost presents:

Margarine prohibition ended in Ohio via the ballot box in 1949.  How it happened sheds some light on the attempts to repeal marijuana prohibition this year.

Oleomargarine, as it was known at the dawn of the 20th century, was invented in France as a result of a prize offered for the invention of a cheap substitute for butter. The invention spread quickly to the United States....

[The invention caused] alarm among Wisconsin dairy farmers who correctly concluded that a tasty, less expensive alternative to their butter would create a drop in sales and cut into their income.  Threatened by the competition, they won passage of new laws banning the sale of yellow oleomargarine.  In 1890, Ohio enacted its own prohibition on yellow oleomargarine.  Plain white oleo was legal – only the kinds that looked like butter were against the law.

White oleo could be sold with yellow dye packets that could be mixed in at home.  The additional labor, at a time before power mixers and food processors, was not well received in Ohio's kitchens.   The end result was frequently a swirled effect, yellow and white. At least it didn't look like rendered pig fat.  (That's what lard is, of course.)

The matter was challenged in court as an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1903 held that the Fifth Amendment did not apply to the states, only the federal government.

So, aggrieved Ohioans turned to their legislature, seeking relief.  Year after long year, they were whipped by the powerful dairy lobby – a potent political force at a time when every county had at least one representative in the House, no matter how small its population.

The political churn made Ohioans burn with passion – they yearned to keep more of what they earned by purchasing cheaper butter substitute.  Finally, they turned to the initiative process, collected petition signatures, and placed the issue on the 1949 November ballot, ending prohibition against yellow oleo once and for all.

Today, the self-proclaimed ResponsibleOhio is seeking an end to marijuana prohibition through the initiative process – but with a twist.  If approved by voters, it would write into the Ohio Constitution the location of ten farms that would be allowed to grow marijuana, exclusively.

A business plan shouldn't be written into the constitution.  Even if you're for ending prohibition – of oleo or marijuana – writing into the constitution an exclusive license to make the newly legalized product is a bad idea.  It wasn't needed for oleo legalization, and it's not needed for marijuana legalization either.

A legalized, properly licensed market should be available to all comers, not just the few with the money to enshrine into the Ohio Constitution a monopoly for themselves. Oleo prohibition ended at the hands of the voters – and without the creation of a cartel of rich guys to control the market.  If it is the judgment of the voters of Ohio that marijuana prohibition should end, the ResponsibleOhio amendment is the wrong way to go about it.

I find this commentary fascinating not only because I did not know Ohio's margarine prohibition history, but also because it suggests many legal reform lessons.  In my view, this Ohio margerine prohibition history highlights that: (1) even when lots of citizens desire a product, entrenched economic and social interests and lobbyists can get Ohio legislators to enact big-government, market-imparing prohibitions placing the short-term interests of insiders over the long-term interests of citizens, and (2) because entrenched insiders have power and influence in Ohio, citizens outsiders will sometimes have to go directy to the people to amend Ohio law in order to reflect the long-term interests of Ohioans rather than the short-term interests of entrenched insiders.

I am an advocate of marijuana reform in  part because I see the development of ballot-driven reform efforts in Ohio and some other states to be a (healthy) reaction to entrenched insiders failing to respond properly to the citizenry's views on both medical and recreational marijuana.  I believe the controversial ResponsibleOhio reform model emerged (and could become Ohio constitutional law) primarily because the Ohio General Assembly for years  failed to even consider any kind of medical marijuana reform (even as nearly 40 states and many members of Congress now have come to understand the potential benefits of canabis  for those suffering from chronic pain or severe seizure disorders or PTSD).  

Thanks to Auditor Yost, I now know entrenched anti-margarine interests required the Ohio people to move forward with prohibition repeal via initiative back in the 1940s .  Now,  65 years later, Ohio history is repeating itself as entrenched anti-marijuana interests are requiring the Ohio people to move forward with desired prohibition repeal via initiative.  And even if the ResponsibleOhio model does not in 2015 succeed in creating the kind of "legalized, properly licensed market" that Auditor Yost and the citizens of Ohio seem eager to consider, I am cautiously hopeful that other outsider groups will continue in Ohio (and elsewhere) to mobilize citizens to support personal freedom over prohibition, legal markets over black markets, economic potential over problematic paternalism.

August 9, 2015 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

National Council of State Legislatures resolves that feds should butt out of state marijuana policy reforms

At a conference this past week, the National Council of State Legislatures passed this notable resolution urging the federal government to revise federal marijuana laws in order to allow states to move forward without intereference with with state marijuana laws permitting the legal production and use of the plant. The full resolution, which arries the heading "In Support of States Determining Their Own Marijuana and Hemp Policies Without Federal Interference," is worth a read, and here are the closing paragraphs:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference and urges the administration not to undermine state marijuana and hemp policies.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.

August 8, 2015 in Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Why heartland could warm to weed: "Rural Maryland sees jobs, not vice, in medical marijuana"

The title of this post is partially the headline of this local article and partially my spin on why I think the potential economic developments of a lawful marijuana marketplace could be of greatest long-term political and social importance.  Here is how the interesting article gets started:

Washington County is a proudly conservative place. Voters here haven’t backed a Democrat for president since 1964, and same-sex marriage lost by a landslide in a referendum three years ago.

But when Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries pitched a proposal to put a medical-marijuana production plant here, the county’s five county commissioners — Republicans all — passed a resolution unanimously supporting the plan.

Residents of Hagerstown, the county seat, seem to be taking the news in stride. The consensus: yes to marijuana for relieving pain, no to recreational use. “I think it’s all right as long as it’s only for medical. I don’t want a lot of potheads,” said Leo ­Myers, 61, a security worker at the Mack Truck plant.

It isn’t just compassion for suffering patients that is driving the acceptance of medical marijuana in Washington County, although that is one factor. Here and in other rural counties from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, officials are looking at cannabis grower-processors as sources of jobs rather than purveyors of vice.

Unemployment in this county has eased since it soared into double digits during the recession. But at 6.1 percent, the rate remains higher than the statewide average of 5.6 percent. And many residents have to commute 90 minutes or more to jobs in or near the District. Decent-paying jobs closer to home are much in demand.

“Out in Western Maryland, we’ve been deprived and depressed a lot,” said Commissioner John Barr. That history has helped shape reaction to the possibilities created by Maryland’s legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. “We view it as an economic-development opportunity,” Barr said.

Green Thumb representatives who briefed the commissioners before last month’s vote said the facility would employ 30 to 50 employees in its first year and predicted that it would expand to 200 workers in a new 175,000-square-foot plant in two to four years. They predicted the venture would give a $4 million-to- $7 million boost to the local economy.

That is hardly an economic panacea, but it represents a significant lift for a county still reeling from 650 layoffs at a Citigroup mortgage-servicing center and the closing of Unilever’s Good Humor ice cream plant, with its 450 jobs, in recent years.

The board’s action illustrates how quickly attitudes are changing across Maryland about the medicinal use of cannabis — the industry’s preferred term and one that was written into state law this year. “There’s a lot of interest all over the state,” said Hannah Byron, executive director of Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Commission.

August 7, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)