Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fear of feds and prohibition prompt University of Maryland to cancel plans for medical marijuana instruction

In this post from July, I reported on plans by the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy to begin offering training to prepare prospective workers for the medical marijuana industry.  But this new Baltimore Sun article report that now, "citing legal concerns, the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy has canceled plans to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry." Here is more:

After consulting with the Maryland attorney general’s office, the university asked pharmacy school officials to cancel the classes, a university spokesman said.... “If there’s any question of the law, they are often consulted,” said Alex Likowski, a spokesman for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “Regarding medical cannabis, even though Maryland and many other states have approved it, it’s still illegal under U.S. law.”

Katherine Bainbridge, chief counsel of the education affairs division in the attorney general's office, confirmed that she gave advice to the university about the medical marijuana law specific to the courses the pharmacy school planned to offer, but she declined to disclose what the advice was. While the school said it has suspended the program indefinitely, prospective students seeking to enroll through a university-associated website still see a note that enrollments were “suspended temporarily while the business agreements are being finalized by the university.”

The classes, initially scheduled to start in August, offered basic and advanced certifications in areas including cultivation, manufacturing, dispensing, laboratory standards and assessment. It’s unclear whether the courses might be offered in the future. Pharmacy school officials did not respond to requests for comment....

Doctors in Maryland are not required to gain any special certification to recommend medical marijuana, but state law requires workers employed by growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories to have training in their areas. Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Commission, said workers must obtain training. “The commission expects the most highly trained and knowledgeable people will participate in the program,” he said. It’s unknown where those who want to work in the industry might turn for needed instruction. The state commission does not endorse any particular certification program.

Maryland’s pharmacy school would have joined only a small number of established colleges and universities to lend credibility for training of workers. The pharmacy school had adopted a curriculum developed by the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which has been offering training directly since 2002. University officials said suspension of the courses was a not a reflection on that content. The group did not respond to request for comment.

There are other online options for training available — directly through Americans for Safe Access and through the likes of such little-known organizations as Cannabis Training Institute, THC University and Green Cultured. Some state medical societies also offer training, but MedChi does not in Maryland.

Perhaps the only mainstream medical school offering training is the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, which began offering courses in the spring of 2016. There is a course available to medical and other university students that focuses on clinical trial data, in addition to certification and continuing education courses available to the community. Karen M. Lounsbury, a professor of pharmacology and co-director of Vermont’s medical cannabis course, said officials there had no legal concerns, though they were careful to comply with university policies.

“The biggest concern was that when presenting the clinical trial data for medical cannabis, we could be construed as supporting the use of medical cannabis that is legal in many states, including Vermont, but still illegal at the federal level,” she said. “We confirmed with the university lawyers that as long as we stated a clear disclaimer for each instructor, we would not be violating any university policy.” The disclaimer says: “The content of this lecture material represents the opinions of the instructor based on their research and experience and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Vermont.” She said the program has an “evidence-based” approach and the classes are popular.

Medical marijuana advocates lamented that more well-respected universities were not offering medical courses for doctors or certifications courses for industry workers. Paul Armentano, deputy director of the advocacy group NORML, said such institutions were needed to establish training standards and to directly educate workers and doctors, very few of whom have had any instruction on the subject.

Prior related (and now dated) post:

September 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another notable new medical marijuana state accepting applications and receiving plenty

33810141423_746482ddf4_bThis AP article, headlined "High Number of Applicants for Arkansas Medical Marijuana," reports on the last-minute rush to file applications to be a part of a green rush in the Natural State (which is also know as the Land of Opportunity). Here are some details:

Would-be growers and distributors of Arkansas' initial medical marijuana crop flooded a state office building Monday, turning in thousands of pages of paperwork and handing over thousands of dollars in application fees.  Applicants faced a three-hour wait ahead of Monday afternoon's deadline, as their number greatly exceeded the clerks available to review paperwork to ensure it was complete.  Those hoping to grow medical marijuana had to pay a $15,000 application fee, while potential distributors paid $7,500. Unsuccessful applicants will have half their money refunded.

Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said about 300 firms or individuals had submitted applications by the close of business Monday. Clerks were staying late to handle applications from those in the office by the deadline.  About 100 people or firms sought to grow marijuana, with the others hoping to distribute it.

Arkansas voters last year approved marijuana use by people with certain medical conditions.  The new state Medical Marijuana Commission will review applications after the names of companies and individuals have been redacted and then select up to five growers and 32 distributors.  The Arkansas Health Department has approved 1,200 people for a medical marijuana registry, making them eligible to obtain the drug.

Applications from the potential growers and distributors were about 1,000 pages long, on average.  Several who dropped off applications elected not to identify themselves publicly, while others spoke openly about why they considered their applications worthy.  "If you can beat us at our game, I give you all the credit in the world," said Chris Stone, who operates two dispensaries in Illinois.  He has teamed with a pair of Arkansas pharmacists and wants to grow marijuana in the rich, agricultural lands near Brinkley and distribute marijuana at a dispensary on the east side of Jonesboro.

He said his firm failed in a previous attempt to win a grower's permit in Illinois, but took the feedback from that loss to fashion a pair of 1,800-page applications in Arkansas. "Those with successes in other states probably have a leg up on those who are putting together an application for a first time," he said.

September 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 15, 2017

In preparation for coming reforms, UMass to study marijuana use in Bay State before start of recreational sales

ThNF1SK14RAs reported in this press release, as "Massachusetts prepares to begin sales of recreational marijuana in 2018, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS), in collaboration with the UMass Donahue Institute and staff at the state Department of Public Health (DPH), have begun a one-year baseline study to assess the level of marijuana use before legal, recreational sales go into effect." Here is more:

The investigation will be funded by a $275,000 contract from DPH as part of the DPH Marijuana Baseline Health Study to provide public health officials, legislators and others with information to assess baseline rates and patterns of marijuana use, related risk behaviors such as use in combination with alcohol, prescription drugs and impaired driving. They will also look at outcomes such as marijuana-related visits to emergency departments or urgent care facilities. Public health professors Rosa Rodríguez-Monguió and Jennifer Whitehill will lead the research at SPHHS.

David Buchanan, SPHHS chair of health promotion and policy, helped to organize two forums last year for Massachusetts lawmakers to hear about impacts of legalization in Colorado and Washington State. He says that agency directors in both states strongly recommend pre/post studies to evaluate the impact. After the forums, the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana unanimously recommended that a baseline study be conducted in Massachusetts, and it was later mandated as part of legislation passed in December 2016 that tweaked the ballot question passed by the voters.

As part of the baseline study, Whitehill and Rodríguez-Monguió have designed a statewide survey plus other studies that will complement the efforts of investigators from DPH, John Snow, Inc., Mathematica Policy Research, and the UMass Donahue Institute. Findings from the various lines of investigation will be presented to a legislative committee in July 2018.

Rodríguez-Monguió says one question to be addressed with the collection of new survey data is whether increased marijuana availability leads to increased use of other substances, particularly alcohol and prescription drugs, or whether marijuana use might serve as a substitute for prescription drugs and other substances. The UMass Amherst team will also analyze several existing national and state databases to explore associations between recreational marijuana, alcohol and prescription drug use, and involvement in fatal car crashes and calls to poison control.

September 15, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Deputy AG Rosenstein hints about lingering concerns about sticking with Cole memo federal prosecution policies

As reported in this Forbes piece by Tom Angell, the "Trump administration is continuing to weigh whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference, the Justice Department's number two official said on Thursday." Here is more:

"We are reviewing that policy.  We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation.  "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.

Under the so-called "Cole Memo," named after the former Obama Justice Department official who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention.  Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.

In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo and make recommendations for possible changes.  But that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force's report to the attorney general.

In his new remarks, Rosenstein expressed concern that people are misinterpreting the still-in-effect memo.  "That's been perceived in some places almost as if it creates a safe harbor, but it doesn't. And it's clear that it doesn't," he said.  "That is, even if, under the terms of the memo you're not likely to be prosecuted, it doesn't mean that what you're doing is legal or that it's approved by the federal government or that you protected from prosecution in the future."...

Citing ongoing federal prohibition laws, Rosenstein said,  "Marijuana is illegal, and it's a controlled substance and there are no authorized uses for it, with very limited exceptions for research approved by DEA."  Without saying when a decision or announcement might be made, he said that the administration will "take that all into consideration and then make a determination whether or not to revise that policy."

September 15, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hawaii poised to be first state with cashless marijuana payment system

Safe-Harbor-Canpay-600x460As reported in this Forbes article, headlined "Hawaii Was Slow To Roll Out Medical Marijuana, But Fast To Go Cashless," the 50th state is about to be a first when it comes to the marijuana industry. Here are the details:

Hawaii has decided to turn its medical marijuana program into a cashless payment system in the hopes of avoiding the problems that other states and businesses have faced when dealing large sums of cash. The goal is that by October 1, all of Hawaii’s licensed dispensaries will no longer use cash, but instead ask their customers to pay with a debit payment app.

Governor David Ige said at a press conference on Tuesday, “Cannabis is illegal at the federal level, still a schedule one controlled substance. Because of this, all financial institutions in Hawaii have decided against providing banking services to the dispensaries. This solution allows the dispensaries to be able to write checks, to do all of the normal financial transactions that most businesses would do.” Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but only recently implemented its program.

Banking has been tremendously difficult for cannabis companies. The major banks refuse to work with these businesses because marijuana is still federally illegal. The major credit card companies have also turned their backs on customers wanting to use their bank cards to engage in such transactions. This has caused inconvenience for the customers who are forced to pay with cash and the dispensaries that end up with stacks of cash that needs to be processed....

The debit app called CanPay steps in to provide an alternative to cash-only transactions. It is partnered with Safe Harbor Private Banking, a Denver-based division of partner Colorado Credit Union, which is a leading compliant banking program that specializes in working with cannabis companies.  “Removing cash from the equation leads to a more transparent and legitimate way to do business that’s both convenient and secure for all involved,” said Dustin Eide, CEO of CanPay. “Through the lengthy collaboration between ourselves, Safe Harbor, and the tremendous individuals in Hawaii’s legal cannabis market, these dispensaries are now able to operate as closely as possible to businesses in any other industry.”

While the cash has been a problem for some customers and businesses, there are many who prefer to keep these transactions in cash. Concerns over government intrusion and general privacy have kept these consumers wary of a system that can track all cannabis purchases. Dispensaries will still be able to accept cash transactions, although they will encourage customers to use the cashless system. Patients that don’t have a smart phone to use the CanPay system can set up an account with their email and log into a computer at the dispensary to complete a transaction....

Also, while Hawaii may have solved the problem of armored trucks and extra security personnel to oversee stacks of cash, it is also exposing itself to hacking. By depending on one system, the state could leave itself open to hackers who could take the system down and potentially keep patients from buying medicine. However, since cash will still be allowed, hackers wouldn’t completely freeze the industry.

"Hawaii’s adoption of a cashless payment system for cannabis sales is a clever and legitimate workaround occasioned by the unfortunate reality of the banking challenges in the industry," said Bryan Meltzer, a partner at legal firm Feuerstein Kulick. "We have said for a long time that this has created a dangerous situation ripe for robberies and related criminal activity. Hawaii should be applauded for its out-of-the-box thinking."

September 14, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch rolls a bunch of pot puns into his case to expand medical marijuana research"

Reaxspeech311488640x360This Daily News report on a notable marijuana reform proposal put forward on Capital Hill by a notable GOP Senator captured in its headline and substance the highlight of the story:

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch didn’t spare the puns in announcing Wednesday that it was “high time” for the government to delve “into the weeds” of medical marijuana research. Hatch, in a press release filled with pot-related double entendres [available here], announced that he’d introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act that’s intended to encourage more research into the medical benefits of marijuana.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch, a Republican said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”

Hatch said current government regulations often do more harm than good by making hard for researchers to obtain and conduct studies on pot. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Among other steps, Hatch’s bill would streamline the federal registration process for marijuana research and make pot more available for legitimate scientific and medical studies. It would also require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.

“I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana,” Hatch said in a preview of remarks he was planning to give on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.”

Advocates for medical marijuana said Hatch’s bill was a good step but they remained concerned that the federal government will seek to undermine medical pot programs already underway in many states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a fierce opponent of marijuana use, advocates have noted. “This is a modest step in the right direction but doesn't solve the most important issue - protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.

September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How Medical Marijuana Smoothed the Transition to Marijuana Legalization in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable forthcoming article authored by Beau Kilmer and Robert MacCoun which is soon to be published in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science.  Here is its abstract:

Public support for legalizing marijuana use increased from 25% in 1995 to 60% in 2016, rising in lockstep with support for same-sex marriage. Between November 2012 and November 2016, voters in eight states passed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana sales for nonmedical purposes—covering one-fifth of the US population.  These changes are unprecedented but are not independent of the changes in medical marijuana laws that have occurred over the past 20 years.  This article suggests five ways in which the passage and implementation of medical marijuana laws smoothed the transition to nonmedical legalization in the United States: (a) They demonstrated the efficacy of using voter initiatives to change marijuana supply laws, (b) enabled the psychological changes needed to destabilize the “war on drugs” policy stasis, (c) generated an evidence base that could be used to downplay concerns about nonmedical legalization, (d) created a visible and active marijuana industry, and (e) revealed that the federal government would allow state and local jurisdictions to generate tax revenue from marijuana.

September 13, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Surprising new marijuana lobbyist, a bombastic NY Republican, might be especially significant in the age of Trump

Senate-damato

This new New York Post article, headlined "Former New York senator who opposed smoking pot joins marijuana lobbying group," reports on a very interesting and shrewd hire by the Marijuana Policy Project. Here are the details:

Alfonse D'Amato is going from Senator Pothole to Senator Pot.  The former Republican U.S. senator from New York has been hired as a senior adviser by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national pro-pot group that for the first time is starting an affiliate in the Empire State.

The MPP says it was founded in 1995 to advocate nationally for “sensible and compassionate” laws governing pot use.  In New York, the group will initially focus on promoting ways to strengthen the state's existing medical marijuana program, though D'Amato didn't rule out the idea that the group will be part of any future discussions about legalizing the recreational use of pot for adults.

In addition to D'Amato, the MPP also hired attorney and community organizer Landon Dais to serve as its New York political director.  Both D'Amato — who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1999 — and Dais said that after a slow start, New York's medical marijuana program can be transformed into a national leader.  "The (state) Health Department and the governor's office have come a long way in making the utilization of medical marijuana easier, better, more professional," D'Amato said. "That's a work in progress."

D'Amato said the MPP will push for Gov. Cuomo to sign into law a bill making medical marijuana available to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. D’Amato said the group will also seek to educate the public and medical community on the value of medical marijuana.  "I'm happy to see we have really moved in the right direction in New York," D'Amato said.

The former senator-turned lobbyist and consultant said the state should also start discussing whether to legalize pot for adults.  While he hasn't yet taken a stand on the issue, D'Amato said "if we want to be realistic, you've got to look at the nation, what is taking place around us.  It's been implemented in (seven) states."...

D'Amato's linkage to a marijuana group is a change for a man who for most of his life was against the use of pot. He said he began evolving on the issue during a discussion with radio personality Howard Stern in 2009.  "I think I'm a conservative, but I don't think I'm a right wing kook," he said.

D'Amato also knocked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom he served in the Senate, for wanting the federal government to crack down on states that have legalized recreational- and even medicinal- marijuana.  "It's a ridiculous position," he said. "I say how can you on the one hand be for states’ rights and on the other hand say the states that have legalized the use of marijuana, that you're not going to recognize that. You can't be a states’ rights person only when you like what the states are doing and not what the feds are doing.  It's one or the other."

State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, who backed D’Amato during his three terms in the Senate, said “I hope the former senator doesn’t partake in a move that would open the door for legalization of marijuana.”  But he said he wasn’t particularly surprised D’Amato hooked up with the Marijuana Policy Project. “He’s a lobbyist now, certainly a person who opens the door for a lot of people,” Long said.

As this article highlights, former Senator D'Amato has a little history from his time in the Senate with current AG Jeff Sessions.  But I think even more important is D'Amato's history as a successful bombastic New York Republican politician.  In various ways, he seems cut from the same cloth as President Donald Trump, and the two surely have some relationship given that D'Amato was a leading New York political figure during the 1980s and 1990s when Trump was building his NYC real estate empire.  In addition, I am sure D'Amato is able to get the ear of still-very-important New York political figures ranging from Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg to Chuck Schumer.

September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Highlighting the challenges legal marijuana companies can have trying to give away money as charity

Download (6)This new Forbes article, headlined "Charities Just Say No To Cannabis Contributions," reports on the notable difficulties some in the marijuana industry can have trying to give away its money. Here are excerpts:

Charity organizations are reluctant to take donations from cannabis companies, even if the state has legalized the industry. Organa Brands learned this the hard way. The company was flush with success and wanted to give back to the community, but charities just said no.

“It felt like a slap in the face,” said Organa Brands President Chris Driessen. “Because the message was essentially you’re a drug dealer.” Organa Brands is the parent company of O.penVAPE, one of the largest cannabis vape companies in the country.  Organa is also home to cannabis brands Bakked, District Edibles, Magic Buzz and Organa Labs.  Driessen said that if a charity was willing to take the money, it wanted it to be anonymous.  “The optics were more important than helping the people,” he said.  Some of the charities that turned down Organa included Wounded Warriors, American Cancer Society, Children’s Hospital Foundation....

One group that was willing to work with Organa was the Denver Rescue Mission that works with the homeless. Not only did they happily and publicly take Organa’s charity, but the group also volunteered man hours. “We had 29 people at 5 am the day before Thanksgiving. Certainly not the image of stoners that people expected.” Another charity that has been working with Organa is Grow for Vets. Driessen said that Organa was hosting a golf tournament on September 11 to raise money for the charity that helps veterans that need cannabis to treat pain and PTSD.  Again, golf tournaments break the stereotype of what one may think of a cannabis company.

“We turn down probably 25 companies that want to work with us,” said Roger Martin, Executive Director of Grow For Vets.  As far of the other charities that turned down Organa’s help, “They have a snooty, up in the air attitude,” said Martin.  Grow For Vets is an organization that helps a veteran get medical marijuana for free. Martin noted that veterans get opioids for free through their medical benefits to treat pain and PTSD, but while these prescription drugs were free the cost was high in the terms of overdoses and suicides.  “They had to pay for marijuana, but not opioids,” he said.  

Martin said the money raised at the golf tournament will be used to help expand his program into all 50 states. While some states haven’t legalized marijuana, Martin said he can get these vets hemp-based CBD, which is more easily obtained. “Cannabis is the only thing that has helped me with PTSD,” he said. “Cannabis money isn’t dirty money.”

Organa also established its own foundation called Open Heart as another way to facilitate charitable donations. However, the actual management of running a foundation proved overwhelming, so the group partnered with Growing Hope foundation run by one of their banking partners.

September 12, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Effects of Marijuana Liberalizations: Evidence from Monitoring the Future"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research authored by Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard and Jeffrey Miron. Here is its abstract:

By the end of 2016, 28 states had liberalized their marijuana laws: by decriminalizing possession, by legalizing for medical purposes, or by legalizing more broadly.  More states are considering such policy changes even while supporters and opponents continue to debate their impacts.  Yet evidence on these liberalizations remains scarce, in part due to data limitations.

We use data from Monitoring the Future’s annual surveys of high school seniors to evaluate the impact of marijuana liberalizations on marijuana use, other substance use, alcohol consumption, attitudes surrounding substance use, youth health outcomes, crime rates, and traffic accidents.  These data have several advantages over those used in prior analyses.

We find that marijuana liberalizations have had minimal impact on the examined outcomes.  Notably, many of the outcomes predicted by critics of liberalizations, such as increases in youth drug use and youth criminal behavior, have failed to materialize in the wake of marijuana liberalizations.

September 12, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Spotlighting concerns over increases in heavy marijuana use

In this recent post, I noted that last week the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released here some key data from its 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).  The SAMSHA data showing decreases in teen marijuana use garnered considerable attention, and rightly so because so many are concerned about when marijuana reforms might mean for marijuana activity by those with still developing brains.  

The SAMSHA data covers a lot more than teen usage, and Christopher Ingraham has this new Washington Post piece about a trend in the data concerning adult marijuana use.  His piece is headlined "Here’s one marijuana trend you should actually be worried about," and here are excerpts:

[NSDUH has data on] the number of people who are getting high all the time — heavy users who smoke on a daily or near-daily basis. The federal data shows that those numbers are increasingly precipitously.

In 2016, nearly 19 percent of people who used marijuana that year used it at least 300 days out of the year.  That figure's up by roughly 50 percent from 2002, when 12 percent of marijuana users consumed the drug daily or near-daily.

Again, this on its own is not necessarily cause for concern. It's possible to smoke marijuana moderately on a daily basis — half a joint to wind down after a day of work, akin to the ubiquitous glass of wine with dinner, for instance. But the comparison with alcohol is instructive here. According to the federal survey data, marijuana users are far more likely to use daily than drinkers are to drink daily.... In a given year, lots of people drink — but relatively few of them drink every day. That's not true for marijuana. Marijuana users are nearly three times as likely as drinkers to consume their drug of choice daily.

Some of that daily marijuana use is probably inherently moderate and nothing to be concerned about. But public health researchers worry that much of it is a result of problematic use — drug dependency. "While alcohol is more dangerous in terms of acute overdose risk, and also in terms of promoting violence and chronic organ failure, marijuana — at least as now used in the United States — creates higher rates of behavioral problems, including dependence, among all its users," as Carnegie Mellon University researcher Jonathan Caulkins wrote for the magazine National Affairs earlier this year.

The question, then, becomes how best to address the risks of chronic, heavy marijuana use. Keeping pot illegal is not likely to solve things — after all, the charts above show that daily marijuana use was rising well before the first states legalized the drug in 2014. Legalization advocates say that bringing the drug out in the open and regulating it is the best way to go. They point to tobacco as an example: Tobacco use, including heavy use, has fallen precipitously in the past two decades as a result of public health campaigns and greater stigma around use of the drug — all of which was accomplished without throwing people in jail for using it.

Public-health experts, meanwhile, are increasingly calling for a balance between the extremes of prohibition and commercialization — "grudging toleration," as New York University professor Mark Kleiman puts it. As a Rand Corp. report outlined last year, there are a whole host of options for dealing with the marijuana market, from allowing people to grow marijuana but not sell it, to giving the government a monopoly in marijuana sales, to more esoteric options like allowing nonprofit co-ops to control the supply of the drug.

The good news is that as laws relax around marijuana use, we're running real-world experiments in how some of those options actually work. In the United States, we have a handful of fully commercial markets, like the ones in Colorado and Washington. We also have noncommercial legalization for homegrown marijuana in the District. In Canada, meanwhile, it appears that the province of Ontario will experiment with implementing a government monopoly on the drug starting in July of next year.

September 11, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"A Safer Way To Legalize Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable extended commentary appearing at the Heath Affairs Blog authored by Rebecca Haffajee, Alex Liber, and Kenneth Warner. Here are excerpts:

Those crafting marijuana laws can draw upon lessons learned about the harms of combusted tobacco and the smoking control policies that followed. Given what we already know about the health hazards of combusted marijuana and the difficulty of controlling the sale of commercially established products, policy makers should capitalize on this opportunity to create a legal marijuana market that mitigates potentially significant harms associated with inhaling combusted marijuana while still facilitating desired benefits of recreational marijuana....

Combustible marijuana likely poses similar risks to those of combustible tobacco, while vaporizing or eating marijuana products offers a “cleaner” delivery mechanism. Why repeat the devastating public health harms of smoking tobacco when policy makers can reasonably mitigate similar consequences of smoking marijuana?...

In a recent comprehensive review of the scientific literature, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that “smoked marijuana…is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances.” The report and other reviews found strong evidence linking combusted marijuana to increased risk for chronic bronchitis....

Edible and vaporized marijuana products offer the potential to deliver therapeutic and euphoric benefits of marijuana while avoiding cardiopulmonary-related harms of combustion. Although precise estimates of the decreased risks associated with this substitution are not available, by analogy the health risks for smokeless and vaporized tobacco products are estimated to be roughly 90 percent less than those of combusted tobacco.

Valid concerns have been raised about the potential health harms from commercially marketed edibles, especially their attractiveness to, accessibility by, and increasing exposure and overdoses among children. We strongly support prohibitions on the sale of marijuana products — including edibles — to minors, clearly labeling product THC content and requiring child-proof packaging. Additionally, if marijuana is only legally available for sale in forms that do not resemble cigarettes, children may be less likely to cross over between products....

Policy makers in jurisdictions considering legalization are not bound by custom to make available all forms of marijuana for recreational use. Little prior interstate commerce of legal marijuana products exists, and most states have yet to legalize recreational use. The environment is ripe to experiment with different types of markets, and entrepreneurial policy makers could embark on implementing a safer legal marijuana market that omits combustibles, based on our current and developing knowledge.

While uncertainty still exists regarding the relative harms of different marijuana products and robust research is warranted, waiting for perfect scientific consensus about the scope and nature of harms related to marijuana combustion is unwise. The evidence base around marijuana combustion harms is already strong, and growing. Arriving at total consensus will take decades — as it took to link cigarettes to lung cancer — and waiting to embark on an alternative, very likely safer policy regime has real costs, measured in disease and death. Permitting the sale of THC extracts for consumption in edible or vaporized form will neither compromise therapeutic nor euphoric benefits of recreational marijuana use. In addition, creating variation in recreational marijuana policy regimes — between those already enacted that permit marijuana combustion and those enacted in the future that don’t — would create natural experiments ripe to study the differential effects and quantify harms versus benefits. Policy makers in favor of legalization should seize the opportunity to design a new market that permits recreational sale of marijuana only in edible or vaporized form, to minimize the potential for the kind of disease burden associated with smoked tobacco.

September 10, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

WSIPP report suggests not too much has changed with marijuana legalization in Washington state

LcbThe Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), which serves as a chief research arm for Washington’s legislature in Olympia, has been been tasked with assessing the costs and benefits of marijuana legalization in the state.  It is required to produce reports in 2015, 2017, 2022, and 2032.  The first 2015 WSIPP report, blogged about here, largely said it was too early to start reaching any conclusions about the impact of legalization. This second 2017 WSIPP report, released this past week, is similarly cautious about reaching firm conclusions about the impact of the state's initiative providing for marijuana legalization, the the report does have this useful summary of findings:

Our outcome analyses were designed to identify causal effects of I-502. However, I-502 is a multi-faceted law that may affect outcomes through a variety of mechanisms including changes to criminal prohibitions; the creation of a regulated cannabis supply system; and investments in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and research. The findings we present in this report are only one portion of a larger body of work designed to address multiple aspects of the law.

In these initial investigations, we found no evidence that I-502 enactment, on the whole, affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions. Further, within Washington State, we found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected cannabis abuse treatment admissions.

The bulk of outcome analyses in this report used the within-state approach to focus on identifying effects of the amount of legal cannabis sales. We found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected youth substance use or attitudes about cannabis or drug-related criminal convictions.

We did find evidence that higher levels of retail cannabis sales affected adult cannabis use in certain subgroups of the population. BRFSS respondents 21 and older who lived in counties with higher levels of retail cannabis sales were more likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days and heavy use of cannabis in the past 30 days. We also found two effects that are difficult to interpret. Among the portion of the population aged 18 to 21, BRFSS respondents living in counties with higher sales were less likely to report using cannabis in the past 30 days, in some analyses. It may be that legal cannabis sales have made cannabis more difficult to access by persons below the legal age, for instance, by reducing black market supply through competition.

We also found that in the portion of the BRFSS sample who smoked cigarettes, respondents living in counties with higher levels of legal cannabis sales were less likely to report past-month cannabis use. It is particularly difficult to explain why increased sales would lead to lower cannabis use among cigarette smokers.

We look forward to updating these results with additional data to see if these effects persist.

Though not mentioned in this summary, the report reveals a notable decline in marijuana-specific criminal charges in the wake of the legalization vote in Washington. And, not to be overlooked, Washington now has a significant job sector and tax revenue stream as a result of legalization. It seems this WSIPP report was much more focused on changes in marijuana use than in other impacts, which strikes me as the reason why this report creates the impression that there is not much to report.

September 10, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions extended to December 2017 in stop-gap spending bill

As reported in this prior post, last week early developments in the US House of Representatives made uncertain the prospects for continuation of the spending rider that currently blocks the US Justice Department from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors.  But, as this Cannabist article reports, another stop-gap spending bill keeps the DOJ spending limit in place for at least another three months.  The article is headlined "Rohrabacher-Blumenauer medical marijuana protections extended by debt limit deal," and here are the details:

Existing federal protections for medical marijuana states are expected to continue through at least Dec. 8.  The $15.3 billion disaster aid package, debt limit increase and government spending extension approved by Congress on Friday includes the existing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, which prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the 46 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

The aid bill, which was sent to President Donald Trump, extends the omnibus legislation passed in May and will fund the government through Dec. 8.  The short-term spending fix is also a short-term victory for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer sponsors, which were dealt a blow by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The legislative committee nixed the amendment from House consideration for the fiscal year 2018 funding bill.

“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist on Friday.  That fight includes efforts to land the provision in the final spending bill, officials said, noting the language was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill.

September 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Competing takes on the latest SAMHSA data concerning marijuana use

Earlier this week, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released here some key data from its 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Like many careful and important data reports, this report has a number of intricacies that should defy simple spins and encourage thoughtful and reflective review. But, as these headlines and press release titles review, folks concerned about marijuana reform were quick to provide their points of emphasis ASAP: 

  • From SAM here, "New National Report Shows Rise in Prevalence and Intensity of Marijuana Use"

  • From Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog of The Washington Post here, "Teen marijuana use falls to 20-year low, defying legalization opponents’ predictions"

September 8, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives takes on “The Marijuana Gateway Fallacy”

BC-weed-cover-792x1024Earlier this week, the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz released this notable discussion brief titled, “The Marijuana Gateway Fallacy.” This short report covers a lot of marijuana reform ground outside the arena of "gateway drug" discourse, but here is one passage from the report on that front highlighting that we still hear "gateway" talk from politicians on both sides of the political aisle: 

There are alternative explanations to the gateway hypothesis for why most users of dangerous drugs report the use of marijuana. The Common Liability Model posits that the use of multiple drugs reflects a common risk for drug use, rather than the use of one drug increasing the risk of using other. This may arise from common genetic predispositions, psychosocial factors, drug availability, and opportunity to use. Availability is linked to the age of an individual. Because of the relative ease of obtaining alcohol and marijuana in the home (compared with cocaine and heroin), youth interested in drug experimentation are likely to try these first.

In 2016, the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) — while not fully rejecting the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug—concluded that, given the evidence to date, “further research is needed to explore this question.” Shortly after NIDA released this determination, D.A.R.E. quietly removed marijuana from its publicized list of gateway drugs.

Yet, non-evidence-based political factors on both the left and the right remain the reason for the persistence of the gateway myth. In 2015, Chris Christie, New Jersey Governor and former Republican presidential candidate is quoted as saying, “Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country, and we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement.”

In Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, both Democrats, and Republican Governor Charlie Baker formed a coalition opposing legalization of recreational marijuana. Mayor Walsh said “You’ll hear the other side say that marijuana is not a gateway drug. If you know anyone in the recovery community, talk to them… You’ll hear that most of them, many of them started with marijuana.” Speaker DeLeo added that it would be hypocritical to support legalization of marijuana while fighting the opioid abuse epidemic. When talking about legalization of the medical use of marijuana in Florida, her state, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said about marijuana policy: “I just don’t think we should legalize more mind altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs.”

September 8, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"How Extensive is Inter-State Diversion of Recreational Marijuana?"

The title of this post is the title of this timely new paper available via SSRN (for a price) and authored by Benjamin Hansen, Keaton Miller and Caroline Weber.  Here is the abstract:

Despite federal prohibition, recreational marijuana is available to 21% of the United States population.  A chief concern among policy makers across multiple levels of government and political parties is inter-state diversion of marijuana from states with legal markets to others.  We measure this diversion with a natural experiment. Oregon opened a recreational market on October 1, 2015 next to an existing market in Washington, which opened on July 8, 2014.

Using comprehensive administrative data on the universe of Washington sales, we find Washington retailers along the Oregon border experienced a 41% decline in sales immediately following Oregon's market opening. Retailers along Washington's borders with Idaho and Canada experienced no such decline.  The decline occurred equally across weekdays and weekends, and was largest among the largest transaction sizes, suggesting diversion, not drug tourism, was to blame.  Our estimates suggest that 11.9% of the marijuana sold in Washington was diverted out of the state before Oregon legalized and 7.5% remains diverted today.

September 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

GOP leaders apparently blocking vote on amendment to limit DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions

As reported here by The Hill, "lawmakers said Wednesday that GOP leaders won’t allow the full House to vote on an amendment that bars the Justice Department from pursuing states that have legalized medical marijuana."  Here is more:

At a Wednesday morning closed-door briefing of House Republicans, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) implored his GOP colleagues to press House leaders to allow a vote on his amendment.  Fellow Californian Rep. Duncan Hunter told The Hill that after Rohrabacher “talked about it this morning in conference,” GOP leaders said “it splits the conference too much so we’re not going to have a vote on it.”

Rohrabacher had pled with his colleagues in a Tuesday night floor speech to allow the vote. “The status quo for four years has been the federal government will not interfere because the Department of Justice is not permitted to use its esources to supercede a state that has legalized the medical use of marijuana,” Rohrabacher said.  He said that without his amendment, “we’re changing the status quo in a way that undermines the rights of the states and the people … to make their policy.”

Rohrabacher’s amendment, co-sponsored with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), was included in the previous four Commerce-Justice-Science funding measures, when President Obama was in the White House. It was also included in an omnibus funding bill signed by President Trump earlier this year that expires at the end of the month.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) offices did not respond to requests for comment.

September 6, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Representative Rohrabacher explains why "fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana"

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This new Washington Post commentary authored by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents California's 48th District in the US House of Representatives, seeks to make the case for the federal government to stay out of state medical marijuana reform efforts. The piece is headlined "My fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana from the government." Here are excerpts:

With my Democrat friend Sam Farr, the now-retired California congressman, I wrote an amendment to spending bills that prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where voters have legalized such treatment. The amendment passed two consecutive years, the second time with a wider margin than the first, and has been extended through continuing resolutions and an omnibus spending bill.

Surprisingly, given the Obama administration’s generally liberal approach to marijuana, its Justice Department tried to interpret the amendment in such a convoluted way as to allow counterproductive raids on marijuana dispensaries. The courts — most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — repeatedly ruled that our amendment meant exactly what it said.

Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.

I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.

More than half the states have liberalized medical marijuana laws, some even decriminalizing recreational use. Some eighty percent of Americans favor legalization of medical marijuana. Only a benighted or mean-spirited mind-set would want to block such progress.

Despite federal efforts to restrict supply, studies continue to yield promising results.  And mounting anecdotal evidence shows again and again that medical marijuana can dramatically improve the lives of people with epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis and many other ailments.  Most Americans know this.  The political class, not surprisingly, lags behind them.  Part of the reason is the failure of too many conservatives to apply “public choice economics” to the war on marijuana.  Common sense, as well as public choice theory, holds that the government’s interest is to grow, just as private-sector players seek profit and build market share.

The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight, even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they’ve contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?

I invite my colleagues to visit a medical marijuana research facility and see for themselves why their cultural distaste might be misplaced.  One exists near my district office at the University of California at Irvine, another at the University of California at San Diego.

Better yet, they might travel to Israel — that political guiding light for religious conservatives — and learn how our closest ally in the Middle East has positioned itself on the cutting edge of cannabis research.  The Israeli government recently decriminalized first use, so unworried it is about what marijuana might do to its conscript military.

My colleagues should then return to Washington and keep my amendment intact, declaring themselves firmly on the side of medical progress.  Failing that, the government will keep trying to eradicate the burgeoning marijuana business, thereby fueling and enriching drug cartels. Trust me: Hugs from grateful supporters are infinitely better.

September 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How legalization caused the price of marijuana to collapse: Pot has never been so cheap."

The title of this post is the headline of this new Wonkblog analysis authored by Keith Humphreys at The Washington Post.  Here is how it starts and ends:

All the diverse effects of legalizing recreational marijuana may not be clear for a number of years, but one consequence has become evident almost immediately: Pot has never been so cheap.  Steven Davenport of the Pardee Rand Graduate School has analyzed marijuana retail prices in Washington state since legal recreational markets opened in July 2014.  Remarkably, prices have fallen every single quarter since....

The ongoing decline in marijuana’s price after legalization has an important implication for drug policy more generally.  The experience of Washington and other marijuana legalization states demonstrates how enormously effective prohibition of production and sale is at raising drug prices.  For example heroin’s price took a decade to fall by 16 percent, which the legalization of marijuana accomplished in just eight months.  Notably, even high taxes on legal marijuana don’t keep the legal price anywhere near what it was when the drug was more broadly illegal.

Prohibition imposes huge costs on drug producing industries that are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.  These higher prices are one of the principal reasons (the others being stigma and fear of punishment) that illegal drugs are used so much less frequently than legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.  Marijuana is a rare example where we can see the impact of legalizing a drug in real time, which shows that were the production and sale of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine also legalized, those drugs would also become dramatically cheaper to consume.

September 5, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)