Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Medical Marijuana and Crime: Substance Use and Criminal Behaviors in a Sample of Arrestees"

The title of this post is the title of this new article published in the Journal of Drug Issues and authored by Hyunjung Cheon, Scott Decker and Charles Katz. Here is its abstract:

After decades of prohibition, laws allowing marijuana use for medical and, in some cases, recreational purposes have been enacted across the country.  To date, however, little is known about medical marijuana use, particularly regarding its relationship to criminal offending and use by nonauthorized persons.  The current study bridges this gap by examining offending patterns in a sample of recent arrestees in Maricopa County, Arizona, identified and interviewed through the Arizona Arrestee Reporting Information Network (AARIN) project.

Findings suggest that medical users had a higher probability for committing Driving Under the Influendce (DUI) and drug selling/making than nonusers, and diverted medical marijuana users had a higher probability for involvement in property crime, violent crime, DUI, and drug selling/making than nonusers.  The results have important implications for developing marijuana decriminalization policies, criminal justice, and criminological theory.  Directions for future research are discussed.

December 12, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Encouraging new data from National Survey on Drug Use and Health concerning teenager marijuana use

I think even the most avid advocate for marijuana reform recognizes that it might not be great for teenagers to be regular users of marijuana (brain science research makes this point as well).  Thus, advocates for legalization have been heard to assert that teen use of marijuana could go down if legalization was coupled with sustained public advocacy against teen marijuana use.  I have been personally skeptical of the contention that teen use would go down in the wake of marijuana legalization, but some new numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests this could be the reality in at least some legalization states for now.   The new data from NSDUH is available here, and here are some different press accounts of the encouraging data:

From Marijuana Moment here, "Teen Marijuana Use Down In Most Legalized States, Federal Data Says"

From The Cannabist here, "Teen marijuana use in Colorado down post-legalization: The latest results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health align with data collected by Colorado"

From The Denver Channel here, "Marijuana use among Colorado teens declines again, government report shows"

From Washington Post here, "Following marijuana legalization, teen drug use is down in Colorado" 

December 11, 2017 in Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

New talk about a new marijuana legalization initiaitive in Ohio from some old voices

As reported in this local article, headlined "Anyone over 21 could grow weed at home under proposed Ohio ballot initiative," there is some new talk about a new initiative to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State. Here are the details:

A group of local investors who failed in their bid to secure a state license to grow medical marijuana on Monday announced plans for a statewide ballot issue to fully legalize marijuana.

Jimmy Gould, chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquisitions, proposed an Ohio constitutional amendment that would allow anyone 21 or older to grow marijuana in their homes for personal use or commercial cultivation. Gould said the ballot issue would not conflict with Ohio's current medical marijuana law but would expand legalized marijuana use among qualified adults without a physician's recommendation.

Gould said he would need 305,592 signatures to place the issue before Ohio voters next year. His group plans to finalize the language in the proposal and begin circulating it next month. The initial filing deadline for the ballot proposal is July 4, 2018. Gould is a longtime proponent of decriminalizing marijuana, which he said can be a useful tool for dealing with a variety of chronic conditions, including the opioid addiction crisis that has plagued Ohio.

He co-founded the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind Ohio's failed Issue 3 marijuana initiative in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and non-medical use. The measure lost in all 88 Ohio counties, with nearly two-thirds of voters statewide voting "no" to recreational and medical marijuana.

But the new proposal "is as different from Issue 3 as night and day," Gould said. "We spent a lot of time and effort to get this right. This is not Issue 3 revisited.'' Gould said the new ballot proposal is a responsible way to fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like alcohol-related businesses in Ohio.

In addition, the new proposal tosses out many of the contentious items that Gould blames for Issue 3's ultimate defeat, including designating certain properties as the only places in Ohio where the cannabis plant could be legally grown. Critics charged the stipulation would have benefitted only a handful of mega-growers. "The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this," Gould said.

Gould said another reason he thinks now is the right time to introduce a new marijuana initiative is that "a lot of time has gone by" since Issue 3 was defeated, and more Americans are inclined to support legalized marijuana based on studies, opinion polls and the sheer number of states that have adopted such laws over the past several years....

Gould said his new ballot initiative would "run parallel" to a lawsuit he plans to file against the state after his firm, CannAscend Ohio, and dozens of other applicants were denied "Level 1" licenses for large-scale medical marijuana growers.

The Ohio Department of Commerce earlier this month awarded 12 preliminary Level 1 licenses based on what Gould alleges was a deeply flawed selection process and the use of questionable application graders, including one who was a convicted drug dealer. "That stuff is just not OK," Gould said. "Commerce feel asleep at the wheel. They either didn’t know, or they didn’t do background checks" on the application graders.

I am tempted to not take this new talk of a new initiative all that seriously because right now it seems a bit like the expression of sour grapes (sour weed?) based on the failure of Gould to get a state "Level 1" license. But Gould and his team were able to get a (poorly conceived) initiative to the voters back in 2015, and maybe they really want to and really can do it again in 2018.

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d2812d0c970c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new report from Tom Angell under the headline "Will Legalize Marijuana In Early January, House Speaker Says." Here are the details:

A top Vermont lawmaker says the state could become the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.  “It will be up for a vote in early January,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said on Friday. “I expect that it likely will pass in early January.”

In 2017, the state fell just short of enacting legalization. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support.  The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.

Because the legislature operates on a biennial basis, the bill is still alive, and the House just needs to take one more vote to get the bill onto the governor’s desk.  Last week, Scott said he is “comfortable” signing a marijuana legalization bill into law early next year.

Johnson, in the Friday interview with Vermont Public Radio, said there “hasn’t been a significant shift” in support in the legislature since the momentum for legalization that built up earlier this year. “We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what that bill currently says,” she said....

Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization....

Johnson, in the new interview, said the commission “will provide some suggestions for further action,” such as potentially legalizing and regulating cannabis sales. “We’ll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible,” she said.

I was disappointed by the veto of the marijuana reform bill that Vermont's legislature passed last year in large part because I think it could be extremely valuable, to both policy-makers and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization. Now I am excited anew that this distinctive approach to marijuana legalization may still soon become law in the Green Mountain State.

In the article linked above, Tom Angell notes that marijuana reform advocates have been watching New Jersey closely as a state that might in early 2018 enacted marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative process. For various reasons, I think action in New Jersey becomes even more likely if Vermont becomes the first state to legalize through the usual legislative process.

A few prior related posts from May 2017:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"Medical Pot Is Our Best Hope to Fight the Opioid Epidemic"

Images (3)The title of this post is the headline of this new Rolling Stone article. Here are excerpts (with some links from the original preserved):

The pain-relieving properties of cannabis are no longer hypothetical or anecdotal. At the beginning of the year, the National Academies of Science, Medicine and Engineering released a landmark report determining that there is conclusive evidence that cannabis is effective in treating chronic pain.  What's even more promising is that early research indicates that the plant not only could play a role in treating pain, but additionally could be effective in treating addiction itself – meaning marijuana could actually be used as a so-called "exit drug" to help wean people off of pills or heroin.

"We're not just saying opioids make you feel good and so does cannabis, and now you're addicted to cannabis. There are direct reasons why this could actually help people get off of opioids," says Jeff Chen, director of UCLA's new Cannabis Research Initiative.  "If there is a chronic pain component, the cannabis can address the chronic pain component. We also find opioid addicts have a lot of neurological inflammation, which we believe is driving the addictive cycle. We see in preliminary studies that cannabinoids can reduce neurological inflammation, so cannabis could be directly addressing the inflammation in the brain that's leading to opioid dependency."

The theory that cannabinoids could decrease cravings for opioids is further supported by a small 2015 study published in the journal Neurotherapeutics, which found that the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD was effective in reducing the desire for heroin among addicts, and remained effective for an entire week after being administered. Similar effects have long been observed in animal studies.

Cannabis, in fact, may be exactly the kind of opioid replacement that politicians and pharmaceutical executives claim to be searching for. "I will be pushing the concept of non-addictive painkillers very, very hard," President Trump said in October, when declaring opioid abuse a national public health emergency.  The CEO of Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, recently referred to the possibility of a drug that helps with pain but isn't physically addictive as the "Holy Grail."...

But already, many Americans seem to be replacing their pills with pot. A survey of pain patients in Michigan, published in 2016 in the journal of the American Pain Society, found medical cannabis use was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use.  A 2016 study published in the health policy journal Health Affairs found that states with medical marijuana saw a drop in Medicare prescriptions and spending for conditions that are commonly treated with cannabis, including chronic pain, glaucoma, seizures and sleep disorders. And a 21-month study of 66 chronic pain patients using prescription opioids in New Mexico found that those enrolled in the state's medical cannabis program were 17 times more likely to quit opioids than those who were not.

At the same time, opioid-related deaths and overdose treatment admissions appear to be declining by nearly 25 percent in states where patients have access to legal marijuana. That number comes primarily from a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and has been supported by additional data from the American Journal of Public Health, the American Academy of Nursing, and the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

However, more research is sorely needed. Stanford professor and drug policy expert Keith Humphreys described the studies concerning cannabis legalization and the decrease in opioid-related deaths and hospital admissions as falling victim to a form of logical error known as ecological fallacy. "It's correlation, not causation," he told me, because you cannot use statistical information about entire populations to understand individual behavior.

And researchers are eager for more solid evidence.  The Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA is working on establishing one of the first studies that will directly administer cannabis to patients addicted to opioids, potentially providing a much more comprehensive understanding of how this all works. Chen, the initiative director, says he has scientists, clinics and a study design all lined up, but funding has been a struggle. "You're forced to go an extra ten miles with zero gas in the tank when it comes to cannabis research," he says. Between the lack of support from the federal government and pharmaceutical companies, Chen says he is "pretty much dependent on philanthropy."

Some (of many) prior related posts:

December 9, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Are there 1.9 millions or 2.35 million or some other big number of medical marijuana patients?

The question in the title of this post was prompted by this new article reporting that New Frontier Data has determined that, in the medical marijuana arena, the "total U.S. patient population (not including CBD states) is 1,914,767."  This accounting led me to check out the latest patient head-count at Marijuana Policy Project, and this MPP page reports an estimate of "all state-legal patients" to be 2,354,403.   Hmmm.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Intriguing review of latest banking realities for marijuana businesses

MarijuanaBanks_FStateline has this interesting new piece on banking in the marijuana sector under the headline "Why It’s Getting Easier for Marijuana Companies to Open Bank Accounts." Here are excerpts:

State and local officials in places that recently legalized marijuana are bracing for the arrival of a sector that largely runs on cash. They’re anxiously envisioning burglars targeting dispensaries and business owners showing up at tax offices with duffel bags full of money. But the marijuana industry’s banking problems may be more manageable than many officials realize.

Just ask Washington state, which last year successfully pushed almost all legal marijuana businesses to open bank accounts and pay their taxes with a check or other non-cash method. Or Hawaii, which earlier this year announced a “cashless” system for buying medical marijuana, reliant on a technology analogous to PayPal.

“We’re definitely seeing more businesses in the industry getting banked every day,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group. Despite the legal risk involved in serving the cannabis industry, almost 400 banks and credit unions now do, according to the U.S. Treasury — a number that has more than tripled since 2014.

That’s reassuring news for California, where sales of recreational pot start next month, as well as for Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, where voters approved recreational marijuana sales last year, and Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, where voters approved medicinal sales.

But the progress that has occurred in some legal markets remains fragile. The federal government still considers marijuana to be a dangerous, illegal drug. States can only permit marijuana sales — and financial institutions can only serve marijuana-related businesses — thanks to Obama-era guidelines that create wiggle room in federal law....

Local institutions that are chartered at the state level have been particularly willing to work with the industry. In Oregon, where sales of recreational marijuana began in 2015, Salem-based Maps Credit Union decided to serve marijuana businesses after audits revealed some of its members were already in the industry. “It didn’t really square with our philosophy to kick members out,” said Shane Saunders, chief experience officer.

Taking on the new line of business required investments in staff, anti-money laundering software, and extra security at bank branches, said Rachel Pross, the credit union’s chief risk officer. Under the current federal guidance, Maps has to send a report on each marijuana-related account to the U.S. Treasury every 90 days, plus a report each time an account experiences a cash transaction of over $10,000.

Maps staff run background checks on marijuana-related business owners who want to open an account. They conduct regular, in-person inspections of the businesses whose accounts they manage, and they require business owners to share their quarterly financial statements. Dispensaries that bank with Maps make most of their sales in cash, because credit- and debit-card processors typically won’t touch marijuana money. As of October, the credit union had handled $140 million in cash deposits from 375 marijuana-related accounts in 2017, Pross said. Some companies hold multiple accounts.

In neighboring Washington, where recreational marijuana sales began in 2014, several financial institutions are openly working with the industry. Washington has helped banks and credit unions monitor marijuana-related customers by collecting and publishing extensive data on monthly sales and legal violations to the liquor and cannabis control board’s website. State regulators last year nudged marijuana licensees to open deposit accounts, aware that banking services were available and worried that cash-based businesses threatened public safety....

In some states, such as Alaska and Hawaii, regulators say they’re not aware of any credit unions or banks that currently serve the industry. Recreational marijuana sales began in Alaska in 2015, and medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Hawaii in 2017. But Hawaii is pioneering a workaround. Regulators have given a Colorado-based credit union permission to serve the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries. The credit union, in turn, has partnered with CanPay, an app that allows patients to transfer money from their bank accounts directly to the dispensary’s account....

Seattle dispensary owner [John] Branch notes that stores with ATMs make money when they dispense cash, and store owners may not embrace an electronic payment system that instead will cost them 2 percent of each transaction, as CanPay’s service does.

A change in federal law would solve the cannabis industry’s banking problem and wipe away the need for services tailored to the industry, such as CanPay. But Congress has so far failed to pass — or even seriously consider — a law that would reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance or allow banks and credit unions to work with businesses without risking their charters. U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat who proposed a bill on the issue this year, says no action is expected anytime soon.

December 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Useful reminder of a prior era of marijuana decriminalization

Time magazine has this notable new article authored by Emily Dufton about an underappreciated bit of marijuana history. The piece is headlined "U.S. States Tried Decriminalizing Pot Before. Here's Why It Didn't Work," and here are excerpts:

Between 1973 and 1978, a dozen states decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.  Pro-pot activists, many of them young veterans of the anti-war and civil-rights movements, argued that marijuana wasn’t as harmful as the government said it was, and that laws against it were unjust.  In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, they built on America’s growing distrust of the government to pass less restrictive marijuana laws at the state level.  It worked: by 1978, a third of the country lived in states where marijuana possession warranted little more than a fine.

But a multi-million dollar paraphernalia industry followed in decriminalization’s wake.  By 1977, sales of pipes, bongs, rolling papers and drug-oriented magazines and toys were generating $250 million a year (equivalent to $1 billion today).  There was little to no regulation or oversight on this booming new industry, however.  Products that seemed directly targeted to kids — including Frisbees with pipes on them and bongs shaped like spaceships — were sold openly, often in corner shops and music stores.

Before long, a counterrevolution unfolded, as an army of concerned parents tied paraphernalia’s availability to rising rates of adolescent marijuana use.  By 1978, nine percent of high school seniors reported smoking pot every day, and children as young as 13 reported that the drug was easy to get.  The “parent movement” sought to close “head shops” and rescind decriminalization laws, while organizing local groups to prevent adolescent drug use in their communities.

By 1981, the parent movement had effectively overturned many state decriminalization laws, and soon it was guiding the new First Lady in her battle against pot. Unpopular when her husband first took office, Nancy Reagan was encouraged by parent activists to adopt adolescent drug-abuse prevention as her platform, and her approval ratings skyrocketed in response.  Despite decreasing rates of adolescent use, Reagan and parent activists continued to declare that adolescent marijuana use was nothing less than a “national emergency.”  This emphasis on the danger of adolescent drug use helped fuel the administration’s punitive drug war, especially when new laws were passed in the wake of the crack cocaine epidemic in 1986.

With the White House behind them, it took less than a decade for parent activists to demonize marijuana nationwide.  These activists were powerful because of how effectively they shifted the debate.  Whereas pro-marijuana advocates supported decriminalization on the basis of an adult’s right to privacy and freedom, parent activists said that children had a more important right to grow up drug-free.  And though many Americans supported decriminalization in the 1970s, once rates of adolescent use started to rise, and when paraphernalia manufacturers sold items to kids, the country’s attitude toward marijuana experienced a swift reversal.

December 7, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Did Ohio hire a drug felon to score medical marijuana applications?"

The title of this post is the somewhat amusing headline of this somewhat amusing article in the Columbus Dispatch.  Here are excerpts:

A company that failed to win a state license to cultivate medical marijuana is criticizing the state for apparently hiring a man with a felony drug conviction to score the applications.  “The state of Ohio has a lot of explaining to do ... they hired a convicted drug dealer for $150,000 to score applications for the Ohio medical marijuana industry,” said Jimmy Gould, chairman of CannAscend Ohio, the rejected would-be cultivator.

Applicants to grow medical marijuana were required to undergo criminal background checks, Gould noted.  “Did the Department of Commerce not think it important to check and report the fact that at least one of the scorers of the medical marijuana control program had a criminal record for dealing drugs ... did they require a background check to get a license, but not to give a license?”  Gould asked in a statement.

Court records verified by The Dispatch show a Trevor C. Bozeman was convicted of manufacturing, delivering and possessing drugs, with intent to manufacture or deliver, in Middleburg, Pennsylvania, in 2005.   The records do not provide details of the offense.  They also show misdemeanor charges of use and possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, that were dismissed.

Bozeman, now age 33, of Brunswick, Maine, paid $2,131 in fines and costs and was placed on probation for three years, which court records show he successfully completed.  Ohio incorporation papers show a Trevor Bozeman formed ICANN Consulting, with a Dublin address, in late 2016, The Dispatch confirmed....  The company was one of three to receive a $150,000 state contract in June to score applications submitted by those seeking licenses to grow medical marijuana. Messages seeking comment from Bozeman were left Tuesday morning at two telephone numbers listed in his name.

Stephanie Gostomski, a spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce, said the agency is checking the allegation made by CannAscend. ICANN Consulting appeared to meet all the requirements to receive the state contract and its scoring appeared to be done professionally, she said.

CannAscend’s bid to win a medical marijuana cultivation contract was rejected after it scored poorly in evaluations and failed to meet requirements, Gostomski said. Gould said the situation reflected “significant irregularities” that should be investigated.  “This is the start of a billion dollar industry and the fact that the start is marred by arbitrary and capricious irregularities is troubling and deserves a thorough and deep review,” he said.

December 5, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Lawyers walk fine line to navigate state, federal pot laws"

As regular readers know, my status as both a lawyer and as a law professor training lawyer, I am always distinctly interesting in stories about the intersection of marijuana reforms and the legal profession.  Thus, unsurprisingly, I was intrigued this morning by this lengthy new AP article with the headline that serves as the title of this post.  Here are snippets:

Lawyers specializing in the business see themselves at the frontier. That leaves a fascinating opportunity to shape laws and regulations and the daunting prospect of the unknown. “Lawyers like things to be settled,” Davis said. “It’s hard to get a lawyer to give you a yes or no answer. In the cannabis industry, there really is no yes or no answer.”

Just as entrepreneurs getting into the retail pot industry need a good lawyer, some of those lawyers might be wise to consult an attorney of their own. Lawyers in the burgeoning business are entering a legal gray zone where the drug is permitted for some purpose in most states but illegal under federal law — in the same controlled substances category as heroin. Missteps could lead to prosecution for conspiracy, money laundering or aiding and abetting drug dealers.

“Any lawyer that goes into this should be aware that a literal reading of federal law permits such a prosecution,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver marijuana policy law professor, whose research five years ago found lawyers more susceptible to being disbarred than criminally charged for cannabis-related work. “It probably makes sense for a lawyer to at least talk to a legal ethicist or get an opinion from a legal ethicist.”...

Despite a few instances of lawyers being prosecuted in federal and state court — including a pending San Diego County case — more attorneys are jumping into cannabis law. Legal needs range from financing to permits, real estate, water law, intellectual property, contracts and banking....

There has been a tipping point for many lawyers setting up boutique pot law firms and jumping from old-school law firms as demand for their services trumps fear of legal repercussions and the stoner stigma fades as more states legalize marijuana use. Attorney Chris Davis, who grew up in Berkeley around friends and family who use the drug, found people operating in the shadows who wanted to go legit when he returned to California from New York two years ago. “So many people were asking how to go legal and how to worry less,” said Davis, executive director of the National Cannabis Bar Association, which has about 300 members in the U.S. and Canada and is growing rapidly. “It became impossible to turn people away.”

December 4, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Looking into challenges facing communities of color in the marijuana industry

The final student presentation this year in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is looking at how communities of color are participating in the marijuana industry. Specifically, as the student has put it, the topic involves "an exploration of the hurdles communities of colors face when trying to break into the marijuana industry, and a discussion of the policy considerations we ought to engage when developing a framework for this new and emerging industry." Here are links for background reading on this topic:

Drug Policy Alliance, "Race and the Drug War"

"Rigged game: inequality on the rise in legal pot industry; How people of color are blocked from Washington’s legal pot marketplace"

"Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"

"Pioneering women in cannabis industry losing ground, author says"

"Battling the racial roadblocks to joining the legalized marijuana trade"

"In politically charged D.C., cannabis is a cottage industry"

December 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Looking into labor employment law issues in an era of marijuana reform

An important and enduring issue, and one being covered by a student presentation this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar, concerns labor and employment law in the era of state marijuana reforms.  Here are an array of materials assembled by this student as background on this topic:

The Essentials:

ACLU, "State-by-State Workplace Drug Testing"

Joseph Yastrow, A Survey of Medical Marijuana Laws Impacting the Workplace

What types of drug tests do employers use? How are they different?:

"Drug Tests - Methods of Detecting Cannabis Use"

Overview of federal employment drug testing:

Executive Order 12564: Drug-free Federal workplace

Omnibus Transportation Employee testing Act of 1991

 Case Law about employment discrimination and medical marijuana:

James v. City of Costa Mesa, 700 F.3d 394 (9th Cir. 2012) 

Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, 350 P.3d 849 (Colorado 2015)

Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company LLC, --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2017 WL 3401260 (D. Conn. August 8, 2017). 

Ohio's law and challenges: not much protection to employees, while employers who struggle to fill positions due to high drug test failure rates:

Ohio Revised Code Section 3796.28: Rights of employer

"Failed drug tests keep Ohio jobs unfilled"

"Opioid Crisis Looms Over Job Market, Worrying Employers And Economists"

"Economy Needs Workers, but Drug Tests Take a Toll"

"National Unemployment Rate at 4.1 Percent through October 2017"

December 3, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Employment and labor law issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Looking at the environmental impact of illegal marijuana cultivation and import of legalization

As my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is approaching its final class, a final set of students are scheduled to deliver presentations on the marijuana-related topics of their choosing.  One such student has decided to "focus on the environmental impact of illegal marijuana cultivation, and how/why legalization can mitigate these effects." 

Here are readings she has suggested as background on this topic:

5 Reasons Legalizing Pot Is Good for the Planet

Everything you need to know about pot's environmental impact on the planet

December 2, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Examining banking challenges in the marijuana industry

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

AG Sessions suggests that Justice Department may soon refocus its federal criminal marijuana enforcement efforts

During a press conference discussing new Justice Department  opioid initiatives (noted here), Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to federal marijuana laws and policies in a manner that suggests a change may be afoot.  This US News and World Report piece, headlined "Sessions Hints at Shift in Federal Marijuana Enforcement," reports on these details:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday gave his strongest signal yet that the Justice Department's more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement may soon be changing. Sessions said that the department is looking "very hard right now" at a directive carried over from the Obama administration that effectively encourages federal prosecutors to generally defer to state laws that legalize marijuana use.

"We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length," the attorney general said, speaking at a press conference on new measures to combat opioid abuse. "It's my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and it's subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges we face."

He added: "We'll be working our way through to a rational policy. But I don't want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it."...

He has been critical of the so-called "Cole memo" from 2013, authored by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which told Justice Department attorneys that marijuana use in "jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form … is less likely to threaten federal priorities."  As attorney general, he has roundly dismissed research that has linked the use of medical marijuana to reductions in opioid-related deaths.  In May, he explicitly asked Congress in a letter to undo a 2014 amendment that has protected medical marijuana providers. "I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful," Sessions said in March during a speech in Richmond, Virginia.

Since April, a task force at the Justice Department has been reviewing the Cole memo and the department's approach to marijuana enforcement. Documents obtained by the Associated Press this summer indicated that the task force recommended largely keeping the Cole memo in place.  Nevertheless, Sessions' remarks on Wednesday – reinforced by his continued opposition to a more lenient approach to marijuana enforcement since becoming attorney general, even as the task force was providing him periodic updates on its findings – suggest he may take a different approach.

I have been surprised that the Cole Memorandum on federal marijuana enforcement remains in place a full 10 months since Sessions became Attorney General. There are not many Obama-era policies that remain in place within the Sessions' Justice Department, and I did not expect marijuana policies to be among the last to be formally changed. So news that change is afoot is not a big shock.

The big question, of course, is what might be issued by Attorney General Sessions to replace the Cole Memo that constitutes "a rational policy," and how practically the AG would like to try to "be focused on all the things and challenges we face." Whatever one's view on marijuana law and policy, it is not easy to engineer a rational policy when federal law embraces blanket criminal prohibition while the states have developed a wild array of forms of marijuana regulation and legalization.

November 29, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Still more on drugged driving laws and marijuana

As mentioned in this prior post, one student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is this week giving a presentation focused on scientific studies concerning driving under the influence of marijuana.  Another set of students also have taken up this topic, although it appears they are focused more on existing laws concerning drugged driving.  Here are links they have provided as background reading:

Ohio Drugged Driving (via NORML)

"How to Beat a Marijuana DUI"

"UI studies impact of marijuana on driving: First-of-its-kind study at University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator shows how marijuana and marijuana with alcohol impact driving"

"DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI: What Do They Mean?"

"The Confusing Science of Stoned Driving"

"Evidence of Inactive Drug Metabolites in DUI Cases: Using a Proximate Cause Analysis to Fill the Evidentiary Gap between Prior Drug Use and Driving under the Influence"

 

November 29, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Exploring how federal illegality / state legality impacts applicability of other laws to marijuana businesses

As my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is hitting its homestretch, the last group of students are continuing to deliver great presentations on the marijuana-related topics of their choosing. One student scheduled for the next class has been "looking into the way the federal illegality / state legality of marijuana affects applicability of other laws to marijuana businesses":

For example, will a court enforce a contract to grow, provide, or produce marijuana, even though courts will not usually enforce contracts for illegal activities? Can an injured worker be reimbursed for medical marijuana expenses through workers' compensation? Can federal agencies assert jurisdiction over businesses in an industry that the federal government is itself tasked with eliminating? These are some examples of questions I will attempt to answer during my presentation.

Here are links to recommend reading materials that the student suggested as background on the topic:

"Your Cannabis Contract: Is It Worth The Paper It's Written On?"

"Doing Business with Pot Businesses #2: Cannabis Business Contracts"

"Marijuana Commercial Leases: This Industry Is Different, You Know"

Mann v. Gullickson, No. 15-CV-03630-MEJ, 2016 WL 6473215 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 2, 2016)

Vialpando v. Ben's Auto. Servs., 2014-NMCA-084, 331 P.3d 975 (App. N.M. 2014)

Taylor G. Sachs, The Wellness Approach: Weeding Out Unfair Labor Practices in the Cannabis Industry, 43 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 287 (2015)

Greenwood v. Green Leaf Lab LLC, No. 3:17-CV-00415-PK, 2017 WL 3391671 (D. Or. July 13, 2017), report and recommendation adopted, No. 3:17-CV-00415-PK, 2017 WL 3391647 (D. Or. Aug. 7, 2017)

Yahoo Ctr. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., No. 2:16-CV-01397-SVW-SS, 2016 WL 9138061 (C.D. Cal. June 16, 2016)

Barnett v. State Farm Gen. Ins. Co., 200 Cal. App. 4th 536, 132 Cal. Rptr. 3d 742 (2011)

Anh Hung Huynh v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., No. C 12-01574-PSG, 2012 WL 5893482 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 23, 2012)

Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. McDermott, 603 F. App'x 374 (6th Cir. 2015)

United Specialty Ins. Co. v. Barry Inn Realty Inc., 130 F. Supp. 3d 834 (S.D.N.Y. 2015), appeal dismissed (Nov. 17, 2015)

Tracy v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., No. CIV. 11-00487 LEK, 2012 WL 928186 (D. Haw. Mar. 16, 2012)

November 28, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Associations between medical cannabis and prescription opioid use in chronic pain patients: A preliminary cohort study"

The title of this post is the title of this small research report emerging from New Mexico that a helpful reader made sure I did not miss.  The article has multiple authors and here is its abstract:

Background

Current levels and dangers of opioid use in the U.S. warrant the investigation of harm-reducing treatment alternatives.

Purpose

A preliminary, historical, cohort study was used to examine the association between enrollment in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) and opioid prescription use.

Methods

Thirty-seven habitual opioid using, chronic pain patients (mean age = 54 years; 54% male; 86% chronic back pain) enrolled in the MCP between 4/1/2010 and 10/3/2015 were compared to 29 non-enrolled patients (mean age = 60 years; 69% male; 100% chronic back pain).  We used Prescription Monitoring Program opioid records over a 21 month period (first three months prior to enrollment for the MCP patients) to measure cessation (defined as the absence of opioid prescriptions activity during the last three months of observation) and reduction (calculated in average daily intravenous [IV] morphine dosages).  MCP patient-reported benefits and side effects of using cannabis one year after enrollment were also collected.

Results

By the end of the 21 month observation period, MCP enrollment was associated with 17.27 higher age- and gender-adjusted odds of ceasing opioid prescriptions (CI 1.89 to 157.36, p = 0.012), 5.12 higher odds of reducing daily prescription opioid dosages (CI 1.56 to 16.88, p = 0.007), and a 47 percentage point reduction in daily opioid dosages relative to a mean change of positive 10.4 percentage points in the comparison group (CI -90.68 to -3.59, p = 0.034).  The monthly trend in opioid prescriptions over time was negative among MCP patients (-0.64mg IV morphine, CI -1.10 to -0.18, p = 0.008), but not statistically different from zero in the comparison group (0.18mg IV morphine, CI -0.02 to 0.39, p = 0.081).  Survey responses indicated improvements in pain reduction, quality of life, social life, activity levels, and concentration, and few side effects from using cannabis one year after enrollment in the MCP (ps<0.001).

Conclusions

The clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrants further investigations on cannabis as a potential alternative to prescription opioids for treating chronic pain.

November 28, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Examining issues surrounding "Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana"

As mentioned in a prior post, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is hitting its homestretch and the last group of students are delivering presentations on a marijuana-related topic of their choosing.  One student for the next class has this provocative title for her presentation:  ""Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana: Legalize or Criminalize?" 

Here are links to background information regarding the topic from the student:

New York Times article from 2014, "Driving Under the Influence, of Marijuana"

H. Robbe study from 1998, "Marijuana's Impairing Effects on Driving are Moderate When Taken Alone But Severe When Combined with Alcohol"

Rebecca Hartman & Marilyn Huestis review from 2013, "Cannabis Effects on Driving Skills"

Alfred Crancer et al. study from 1969, "Comparison of the Effects of Marijuana and Alcohol on Simulated Driving Performance

November 27, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How Do You Clear a Pot Conviction From Your Record?"

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new Marshall Project piece on a topic that I am glad to see getting more attention.  Here are excerpts:

A little more than a year after the passage of Prop. 64, at least 2,660 petitions have been filed to reduce sentences for people convicted of pot-related offenses. At least another 1,500 petitions have been filed to reclassify old felony marijuana convictions as misdemeanors or to dismiss them altogether, depending on the offense, according to the Judicial Council, the policy-making arm of the state courts.

Those figures include self-reported data from a majority of the state’s 58 counties through September, and may be under-reported. According to several public defenders around the state, the Judicial Council’s figures don’t reflect all of the petitions their offices reported filing on behalf of their clients. The Council also doesn’t record the outcome of the requests. Although the numbers of Prop. 64 applicants so far represent only a portion of the people who have been convicted of pot felonies in recent decades, advocates remain hopeful that as the public learns about the law, more will come forward to have offenses reduced or cleared....

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical marijuana, and eight states plus D.C. have sanctioned recreational use. But fewer states have made it possible to clear past marijuana offenses. In the last three years, at least nine states have passed laws addressing expungement of certain marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But no state goes as far as California.

For thousands of Americans, marijuana convictions still bring life-altering consequences, making it difficult to, among other things, find and keep a job, get a professional license or obtain a student loan.Communities of color have been hit especially hard by the decades-long war on drugs. Studies show a stark racial imbalance in drug enforcement; a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report concluded that African-Americans were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, although use of the drug was roughly equal among the races.

Across California, attorneys and drug reform advocates say implementation of Prop. 64 hasn’t been perfect; more resources are needed to process petitions and conduct outreach to people who may be eligible to clear their records and just don’t know it. But overall, they believe the law is an effective tool to undo the collateral damage of felony pot convictions, and they hope it will serve as a model for the rest of the country.Prop. 64 “gives people the opportunity to recreate themselves and become people instead of statistics,” said Nick Stewart-Oaten, a deputy public defender for Los Angeles County....

In some counties, officials didn’t wait for people to come forward to apply for relief under the law; they started the process for them. Soon after Prop. 64 passed, the L.A. County public defender’s office identified people in prison or on parole for marijuana-related offenses and filed petitions for resentencing on their behalf, according to Stewart-Oaten, who said his office has filed 564 such petitions so far.

Similarly, San Diego’s Deputy District Attorney Rachel Solov said her office used their case management system to identify hundreds of eligible people serving a sentence or who were on probation or supervision and then provided the data to the local public defender’s office so that attorneys there could begin filing petitions for those individuals.“Our primary concern was getting people out of custody who were in custody and shouldn’t be,” Solov said.

Contra Costa County took a similar approach, according to Deputy Public Defender Ellen McDonnell. Her office identified roughly 2,500 people who appeared to be eligible to have convictions reclassified or dismissed on cases dating back 25 years, she said. So far, the office has filed about 80 petitions, mostly for reclassification of old convictions. The office is now engaged in “aggressive community outreach” in the hopes of finding more people who could benefit from the new law, she said.

Identifying everyone eligible for relief under Prop. 64 has been one of the biggest challenges so far, Stewart-Oaten said. The public defender’s office doesn’t have the capacity to comb through decades of case files to figure out who may qualify, find their contact information, and persuade them to come into their office to start the paperwork process, he said. The office works with partners like Drug Policy Alliance to help reach people at free legal clinics like the one at Chuco’s Justice Center. “We recognize it’s not enough, but we are limited in what we can do. We don’t have an advertising budget. A lot of times we are acting on word of mouth,” Stewart-Oaten said.

Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Sue Ra said her office hasn’t received any additional funding for post-conviction relief services, which could help attorneys reach more people and process their petitions faster. “Somebody needs to do this work, and the public defenders are on the ground actually doing it,” Ra said. “It would be nice to get the support to allow us the resources to complete work quickly so that our clients don’t miss out on employment and other opportunities.”

As thousands of Californians line up to have their records cleared, Americans with pot convictions in many other states have no such opportunity. Will more states follow California’s lead? Robert Mikos, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School, isn’t so optimistic. Many politicians have come around on marijuana legalization, aided by the lure of potential tax revenue and new jobs, Mikos said. Nearly two-thirds of Americans support legalization in a recent poll. But many people appear reluctant to support post-conviction relief for marijuana offenders. “It’s a tougher sell to say, you know what, these people flouted these rules ... and we ought to wipe those records clean,” said Mikos, an expert on marijuana law.

Even in Washington state, where recreational pot has been legal since 2012, lawmakers have not passed a law that specifically lets people clear old pot offenses. (Those convicted of certain nonviolent crimes, including marijuana-related ones, can already apply to vacate their records but must wait years after completing their sentences; five for some low-level felonies and three for misdemeanors.)

There are exceptions. Although no state has passed a law as sweeping as California’s, several recently have enacted measures that allow pot offenses to be reduced or expunged. In the past year, for example, Colorado began allowing old convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession or use to be sealed so long as the act wouldn’t be considered illegal today. In Maryland, a new law lets people convicted of marijuana possession apply for expungement four years after the completion of their sentence; the previous wait time was a decade. A Missouri law set to take effect next year reduces the wait time to expunge nonviolent felonies, including marijuana-related convictions, from 20 to seven years and from 10 to three years for misdemeanors. And in Massachusetts, where recreational pot sales will begin in mid-2018, marijuana possession convictions can now be sealed, which removes them from public view but doesn’t dismiss them. (Lawmakers tossed out a proposed measure to expunge marijuana offenses.)

On the federal level, Mikos points to a bill filed in August by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat, that could be a blueprint for post-conviction relief on a national scale. The proposal would decriminalize marijuana and expunge federal convictions for possession of the drug.Booker’s bill would allow the federal government to withhold cash from states with arrest and conviction rates that disproportionately impact the poor and minorities. That approach could be used to pressure states to provide resentencing, reclassification and expungement for marijuana offenses, Mikos said. However, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ pledge to crack down on drug offenders, and his distaste for marijuana legalization in general, any federal measure to decriminalize marijuana may be a pipe dream for reform advocates, Mikos added.

On the state level, even where marijuana use is legal, politicians may never pass laws similar to Prop 64. “Part of that is just that we live in a federal system, and that’s the nature of the game,” Mikos said. “Different states are going to do things differently.”Community organizers who rallied public support for Prop. 64 last year in California have some advice for people in other states: Do the work yourself. Ingrid Archie, a legal clinic coordinator with A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles nonprofit that supports formerly incarcerated women, didn’t want to rely on mostly white, wealthy California legislators to pass meaningful criminal justice reforms. That’s why she campaigned for Prop. 64 in the communities impacted the most by marijuana prohibition — people of color and low-income neighborhoods.

Some prior related posts:

November 27, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)