Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Can anybody point me to great databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana convictions (state or federal)?

The question in the title of this post started banging around my head this afternoon after I did two posts today over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog: this one about a notable federal misdemeanor marijuana prosecution of a Native American teen in Oregon and this one about an article doing an empirical analysis of the "downstream consequences" of pretrial detention for misdemeanors.

I am always trying to take stock of the criminal justice "footprint" of marijuana prohibition, and it should be obviously that misdemeanor charges, convictions and punishments are surely a huge (and probably the largest) part of that footprint.  Nevertheless, I have never seen (nor really every seriously looked for) any detailed databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana cases in any particular jurisdiction.  I would be very grateful to hear from any and everyone who know whether and where such resources might be found.

July 28, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Democrats formally approve platform calling for "pathway" to marijuana legalization

I continue to not know just how much import and impact official party platforms have. Nevertheless, I still think this press piece about formal events at the DNC, headlined "Democrats become first major party to back pathway to legalizing pot," is reporting on events that are a pretty big deal for marijuana reform advocates now and in the years ahead. Here is the official language from the party platform embraced by Dems:

“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African-Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”

Here is more from the press piece with reactions to these developments from leading marijuana reform advocates:

Legalization backers applauded the vote and said it reflected polls that found a majority of Americans wanted to legalize the drug.  “The fact that one of the country’s two major parties has officially endorsed a pathway to legalization is the clearest sign we’ve seen yet that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “A clear and growing majority of voters want to end prohibition.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, does not back across-the-board legalization at the federal level. The platform includes her often-used language that marijuana legalization should be left to the states, allowing them to be “laboratories of democracy.”  That’s good news for Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, which that have already approved recreational marijuana, along with the District of Columbia....

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said a growing number of state Democratic parties had already backed legalization in their platforms this year.  That includes California, which will vote on recreational marijuana in November.  “It’s not particularly surprising that the platform calls for rolling back the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, seeing as the vast majority of Democrats – and a majority of Americans – support making marijuana legal for adults,” he said. 

Despite the support, Tvert said he wouldn’t be surprised if the issue didn’t get much attention from speakers at the Democratic convention this week.  “The platform typically reflects the positions of most party members, but it does not necessarily reflect the political or policy priorities of candidates and party leaders,” he said.

July 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana in Canada: Review of Potential Economic, Social, and Health Impacts"

The title of this post is the title of this short essay authored by Mohammad Hajizadeh and now available via this link on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Notwithstanding a century of prohibition, marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in Canada. Due to the growing public acceptance of recreational marijuana use and ineffectiveness of the existing control system in Canada, the issue surrounding legalizing this illicit drug has received considerable public and political attentions in recent years. Consequently, the newly elected Liberal Government has formally announced that Canada will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to start legalizing and regulating marijuana. This editorial aims to provide a brief overview on potential economic, social, and public health impacts of legal marijuana in Canada.

The legalization could increase tax revenue through the taxation levied on marijuana products and could also allow the Government to save citizens’ tax dollars currently being spent on prohibition enforcement. Moreover, legalization could also remove the criminal element from marijuana market and reduce the size of Canada’s black market and its consequences for the society. Nevertheless, it may also lead to some public health problems, including increasing in the uptake of the drug, accidents and injuries. The legalization should be accompanied with comprehensive strategies to keep the drug out of the hands of minors while increasing awareness and knowledge on harmful effects of the drug. In order to get better insights on how to develop an appropriate framework to legalize marijuana, Canada should closely watch the development in the neighboring country, the United States, where some of its states viz, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska have already legalized recreational use of marijuana.

July 27, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The latest government data on marijuana use and attitudes

This new USA Today article, headlined "Study examines evolving rates, perceptions of marijuana use," reports on some new data on marijuana consumption and related topics in the United States. Here are excerpts from the press report on the marijuana report:

A new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides an in-depth examination of marijuana use in the United States, as well as data regarding the public’s perception of the risks associated with the drug.  Using data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2012 to 2014, SAMHSA analyzed various regions around the country and within states to determine the rates of marijuana use and “perceptions of risks of harm” associated with the drug’s use in different parts of the U.S.

“This report provides a very detailed understanding of marijuana use and perception patterns in communities across the nation,” said Fran Harding, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “This information can help public health officials and others better gauge the marijuana-related prevention and treatment needs in their communities and fine-tune their programs and services to best address them....

According to the study, 20.3 million people age 12 or older used marijuana in the past month, or approximately 1 in 13 people over the age of 12.

Although the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, many states have begun to make changes to their cannabis laws. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia are currently the only states with legalized recreational marijuana, but 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of medical marijuana while an additional 14 have taken measures to decriminalize the drug.

The report comes several months ahead of the November elections, where eight states will have the option to legalize either recreational or medical cannabis. Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — are pursuing recreational marijuana, while three more — Arkansas, Florida and Missouri — could legalize medicinal cannabis.

Breaking their study into several regions — West, Northeast, Midwest and South — SAMHSA identified several states with multiple high use substate regions. Among those identified were Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Rhode Island and Vermont are the only two of those states to have either not legalized recreational marijuana or not have it on the ballot in 2016.

In spite of the increasingly relaxed marijuana laws, the SAMHSA study also found that approximately 74.9 million people aged 12 or older “perceived great risk of harm” from using marijuana once a month, or approximately 2 out of every 7 people above the age of 12. The states with the highest percentages of perception of risk were all from the South — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Alabama, Louisiana and Texas were among the states with the lowest use rate. The states with the lowest perception of risk include high marijuana use areas like Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The SAMHSA 19-page "short report" that is the basis for this article is available at this link under the title "Marijuana Use and Perceived Risk of Harm from Marijuana Use Varies within and across States."  For anyone really interested in marijuana data, especially divided by regions, the particulars and graphics from this report will be really interesting.

July 26, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Effective coverage of RNC and DNC marijuana reform realities

Last month in this post, I highlighted that, at Marijuana.com, Tom Angell does a great job covering news on the marijuana reform law and politics front.  The latest posts from this past week highlight why serious marijuana reform students should be regularly following his work:

July 25, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2016

"Republican support for legal marijuana hits a new high: For the first time Republicans narrowly support legalizing marijuana"

Marijuana1The title of this post is the headline of this summary report by YouGov of the results of its latest polling on marijuana reform opinions. Here is some of the text of the report:

YouGov's latest research shows that most Americans still support legalization of marijuana, and that support for legalization has increased slightly, from 52% in December 2015 to 55% today. Most of this change is a result of changing attitudes among Republicans. In fact, for the first time, Republicans narrowly tend to support legalization, 45% to 42%.

In December 2015, Republicans had opposed marijuana legalization by 50% to 36%. Prior to this Republicans support for legalization was even more limited. In January 2014 60% of Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana and only 28% supported legalization.

Broader attitudes towards marijuana among Republicans are largely unchanged however, indicating that Republican opinion of prohibition is changing not broader attitudes towards marijuana. Notably, while 44% of Republicans viewed marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs in December, this figure is still essentially unchanged at 43% today. In December 55% of Republicans thought government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they were worth, something 54% of Republicans still think.

The full poll results which are the product of questions asked of 1000 respondents from July 17-18, 2016, are available at this link.

July 22, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Illinois judge orders reconsideration of making migraines an eligible condition for medical marijuana in the state

Migraines-spousesAs reported in this Chicago Tribune article, in Illinois "a judge has ordered state officials to reconsider adding migraine headaches to the list of conditions that qualify a patient to buy" marijuana.  Here is more about this significant ruling:

Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Rita Novak overturned Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah's denial of a petition to add migraines to that list.  The judge ordered Shah to reconsider evidence presented to the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board before its members voted to recommend approval of marijuana to treat migraines.

The court ruling came in response to a suit filed by a man whose name was kept secret because he already has been using marijuana to treat his headaches, his attorneys said.  Since adolescence, the middle-age man has suffered migraines up to three times a week, lasting from several hours up to three days, attorney Robert Bauerschmidt said.

The man has tried triptans, the most common treatment for migraines, but they didn't work well.  He tried narcotic painkillers but had a bad reaction that keeps him from using them, the attorney said.  "He's been through everything," Bauerschmidt said. "Marijuana doesn't cure it, but he finds the pain less severe and believes the headaches are less frequent when he's using it."

Though federal law still prohibits marijuana possession, state law allows it for patients who have any of about 40 specific medical conditions, including cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.  Patients may buy the pot only from state-approved dispensaries.

The latest ruling comes after another judge last month ordered the state to add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical pot.  That ruling has been rendered somewhat moot, since Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a law adding PTSD and terminal illness as qualifying conditions.  But taken together, the separate rulings by different judges suggest that judicial review may further expand the program.

Attorney Mike Goldberg, whose firm handled the two prior cases, has pending lawsuits asking to add six other conditions: irritable bowel syndrome, chronic postoperative pain, osteoarthritis, intractable pain, autism and polycystic kidney disease.  "It's a potential game-changer for the industry," Goldberg said.

But Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which represents the state in court, emphasized that the ruling does not require adding migraines to the list.  It instead orders the director to reconsider within the parameters of the law and the judge's findings.

Joe Wright, the former director of the state's medical cannabis program, agreed that the case is not a done deal. "I'm not sure that means you'd necessarily have to add it," he said.  "That means they have to look at it again in light of what the advisory board considered."  If migraines and other conditions are added, Wright said, "That would open up the patient population fairly sizably."...

If the director adds migraines as a qualifying condition, that could greatly enlarge the number of patients. Migraines are a widespread condition, occurring in about 16 percent of Americans, according to two surveys cited by the American Headache Society.  Because there is no widely accepted blood test or brain scan to verify migraines, they typically are diagnosed by medical history, symptoms and a physical and neurological examination, according to the Mayo Clinic.  Typically Migraines occur repeatedly to the same patient, involving moderate to severe head pain that last for hours or days, nausea or vomiting and sensitivity to noise and light.

July 22, 2016 in Court Rulings, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Legalize marijuana and reduce deaths from drug abuse"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary from The Hill authored by Ike Brannon. Here are excerpts:

It seems as if everyone has woken up to the problem of opioid abuse at once and wants to do something about it. In March, Politico assembled a working group to “confront the opioid epidemic.”  In May, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the creation of a statewide heroin task force that he charged with ending the heroin and opioid crisis in the state.  And in June, a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 93 percent increase in funding to combat opioid addiction nationwide.

The problem of opiate abuse is growing.  There were an estimated 16,000 deaths caused by prescription opioid overdoses in 2010, the last year for which we have reliable data, three timesas many who died in 1999.  More people die from drug overdose each year as are killed by firearms.

As deaths from opioid abuse grow, the proposals to address this crisis have remained the same: Doctors should be more judicious about prescribing painkillers, governments should invest more in treatment facilities, and the courts should mete out stricter punishments for those who illegally sell these drugs.  All of this, of course, is more or less what we’ve been doing the last five decades, with little success.

However, the data tell us that there is a possible deterrent to growing opioid addiction that has shown real promise: the wholesale legalization of marijuana.

Several states have made the drug legal in some form for over a decade — whether via medical marijuana or, more recently, the outright legalization of the drug — and the data generated from these state-level experiments suggests that the easier it is to acquire marijuana, the less opioid abuse there is.  For instance, in 2014, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that opioid overdose deaths decreased by nearly 25 percent in a state following the passage of medical marijuana laws.

A recently published study by the RAND Corporation also found a decrease in opioid addiction and overdoses in states with medical marijuana dispensaries.  And last month, investigators at the University of Michigan published a retrospective survey of 244 patients suffering from chronic pain who frequented medical marijuana dispensaries and discovered that they frequently substituted medical marijuana for opiates, with many of them judging medical marijuana as being more effective at treating chronic pain.  Medical marijuana use was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, as well as a reduction in the amount and severity of the side effects of medications and an improved quality of life....

It’s hard to dispute that legalizing marijuana would reduce opiate abuse and save lives.  There are other reasons to end its prohibition, but its role in solving what appears to be an otherwise intractable problem claiming thousands of lives a year seems like a compelling one. 

July 22, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

New psychology research suggests why we ought to consider encouraging adults to use more marijuana and less alcohol

15As highlighted by this Washington Post piece, headlined "Researchers got people drunk or high, then made a fascinating discovery about how we respond," some notable new research provide yet another reason why society might be better off encouraging marijuana use rather than alcohol use. Here are the basics from the WaPo piece:

[R]esearch on the link between marijuana and aggression has been mixed. Marijuana seems to make most people relaxed, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia, conditions which can occasionally manifest themselves in violent ways....

So a recent study from the Netherlands, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, attempts to put this question to bed using the gold standard of scientific research: a random controlled trial. They recruited a group of 20 heavy alcohol users (three-plus drinks a day for men, two-plus for women), 21 heavy marijuana users who smoked at least three times a week, and 20 controls who didn't use either drug heavily at all.... Then they made all three groups complete a number of tests designed to get people riled up....

The researchers measured aggression, before and after the respondents took the test, by asking them how aggressive they felt on a 100-point scale. For good measure, they had the marijuana and alcohol users go through the whole thing again one week later, this time without getting high or drunk, as a kind of separate control. They found, first of all, that "alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression in the alcohol group." The alcohol users, in other words, acted more aggressive when they were drunk than they did when they were sober. By contrast, the smokers became less aggressive when they were high.

These findings held through both the self-assessments — alcohol users rated themselves as more aggressive when drunk — and through the responses to the tests: The drinkers tried harder to undermine their computer opponents when they were drunk. But the smokers actually acted less aggressive toward their computer opponents when they were high. "The results in the present study support the hypothesis that acute alcohol intoxication increases feelings of aggression and that acute cannabis intoxication reduces feelings of aggression," the researchers conclude.

This is in line with other research. A study in 2014, for instance, found that marijuana use among couples was linked to lower rates of domestic violence. In a fun study from the 1980s, researchers gave undergraduates varying doses of marijuana and then asked them to administer electric shocks to people in another room. The more stoned the undergrads were, the less interested they were in zapping other people.

This multi-author research can be examined at this link and under the title "Subjective aggression during alcohol and cannabis intoxication before and after aggression exposure." And here is how the abstract of the article describes the results anf findings:

Results: Subjective aggression significantly increased following aggression exposure in all groups while being sober. Alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression whereas cannabis decreased the subjective aggression following aggression exposure. Aggressive responses during the PSAP increased following alcohol and decreased following cannabis relative to placebo. Changes in aggressive feeling or response were not correlated to the neuroendocrine response to treatments.

Conclusions: It is concluded that alcohol facilitates feelings of aggression whereas cannabis diminishes aggressive feelings in heavy alcohol and regular cannabis users, respectively.

July 21, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"10 Smoke Signals Heralding The End Of Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition"

DownloadThe title of this post is the headline of this new Huffington Post commentary authored by Steph Sherer, who serves as the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. Here are excerpts from the start and end of this piece along with the author's accounting of the 10 "smoke signals" showing how the winds of change are blowing with respect to federal marijuana policies:

Putting this article together gave me an opportunity step back and observe the landscape that medical cannabis policy has created.  The work of medical cannabis advocates and brave legislators is truly saving lives. Positive outcomes from medical cannabis policies are driving more states to create and improve programs.  With more than 300 million Americans living in the 42 states, along with D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, where some kind of medical cannabis law has been passed, there is a strong platform for politicians to move forward on this issue.

After putting this list together, it is mind-blowing to me that Senator Grassley will not allow the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S. 683/H.R. 1538) a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially considering that 78% of people in his own state of Iowa support medical cannabis.  Maybe this is one of the reasons he is struggling with his campaign for re-election.  This important bill would remedy the state-federal conflict over medical marijuana law; allowing (not requiring) states that want to participate in medical cannabis programs to do so without breaking federal law.

Maybe Grassley just needs to see this list too…

1. CARERS has Growing Support from Mainstream Republicans, such as Senator Graham (R-NC) and Congressman Young (R-IA)...

2. National Patient Organizations Are Calling for Change in Federal Law...

3. States Keep Passing Medical Cannabis Laws...

4. States Continue to Improve Medical Cannabis Laws...

5. New CDC Guidelines Instruct Pain Doctors Not to Test for THC...

6. Largest Pharmaceutical Retailer Acknowledges Medical Benefits of Cannabis...

7. Politicians Breaking Political Boundaries for Medical Cannabis...

8. Studies Continue to Show Public Health Benefits in States with Medical Cannabis...

9. Both Presidential Candidates Support Medical Cannabis...

10. Opponents Know they are Losing this Fight

In June, a new bill, the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016, was introduced.  Surprisingly, this bill was sponsored by several known medical cannabis opponents, including Representative Andy Harris (R-Md.), one of Congress’s most vocal opponent of legal marijuana.  Other sponsors included, Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), and in the Senate; Brian Schatz, (D-HI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chris Coons, (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).  While it should be commended that they are making a step towards removing federal barriers to medical cannabis research, this bill does nothing to protect state programs and patients.  It is their way of saying, we are losing this fight, so we must give something in return.

Ending the conflict between state and federal medical cannabis laws is the most important goal for keeping patients safe, and for that reason, it is important to remain focused on passing the CARERS Act, which would protect existing state programs and patients.  While more research is certainly desirable, patients cannot wait for the years or decades it may take for the results of this research to drive further Federal policy changes.

And there you have it!  10 reasons that clearly show the end of Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition is near, and that also show how out of touch Senator Grassley is on this issue.  ASA and many other advocates have worked hard to make the changes mentioned above possible.  If just a small portion of the 89% of Americans who support medical cannabis let their members of Congress know, then this may be the last year for federal prohibition of medical cannabis.

July 14, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

GOP delegates reject platform proposal to support states' medical marijuana reforms

This new Huffington Post piece, headlined "Medical Marijuana Fails To Make GOP Platform After Vigorous Debate," reports on the unsuccessful efforts by some Republican delegate to get the Grand Old Party to take a grand new approach to marijuana reform in the party platform. Here are some of the details:

Republican delegates meeting on Monday voted not to endorse medical cannabis in their party’s official platform. In the process, however, they managed to air some of the wildest unproven theories about marijuana. Maine legislator and delegate Eric Brakey introduced the measure before the full GOP Platform Committee, prompting a vigorous debate over whether to support states that allow nonsmokable cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Medical cannabis has greatly improved the lives of patients with debilitating conditions, noted delegates in favor of the measure. They also said children “are being saved” by hemp products because their conditions often can’t be controlled with any other substance.

But a number of delegates rose in opposition to the measure. A member from Utah claimed scientists have a “long way to go with research” on marijuana and argued that studies, which she did not provide, showed a link between it and mental health issues.

Another delegate absurdly claimed that people who commit mass murders are “young boys from divorced families, and they’re all smoking pot.” Yet another delegate claimed marijuana triggered schizophrenia, and is funded nationally by Democrat and New York financier George Soros. “Let’s think a little bit what happens with Percocet, with OxyContin,” claimed a third delegate, who drew a connection between the ongoing heroin epidemic and teenagers smoking marijuana.

Pro-medical cannabis delegates pushed back, complaining their fellow committee members misunderstood the scope of the proposal. “We’re not talking about Cheech and Chong being encouraged here,” Brakey said, referencing the comedy duo who support marijuana.

The attempt at clarification may have swayed some votes. Wyoming Sen. John Barasso, chair of the Platform Committee, couldn’t determine at the first attempt whether the measure passed by voice vote. The proposal was voted down on the second vote, however.

July 12, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 11, 2016

"What (and Whom) State Marijuana Reformers Forgot: Crimmigration Law and Noncitizens"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Carrie Lynn Rosenbaum now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This paper asserts that state and local marijuana reforms that relax criminal penalties should, but will likely not, benefit Latino/a noncitizens.  Because of the intricate relationship between criminal and immigration enforcement, state and local police engagement in racial profiling will not only fail to be eliminated by state-level marijuana reforms but may be exacerbated.  As a result, in spite of marijuana law reforms intended to lessen overly punitive penalties stemming from minor marijuana conduct, noncitizen Latino/as will continue to be disproportionately criminally policed and deported.

Scholarly literature addressing the intersection of criminal and immigration law has considered ways in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process.  However, the literature has yet to explore the way in which sub-federal drug law reforms, and specifically, recent marijuana law reforms, will fall short for noncitizen Latino/as because of the way in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process.

After decades of excessive, punitive, and ineffective policies, particularly in the area of drug law enforcement, states have initiated reforms, including marijuana decriminalization.  At the same time that decriminalization measures are being implemented, in the field of immigration law, resources for apprehension, detention and deportation have skyrocketed, with a focus on “criminal aliens.”  The criminal-immigration removal system has resulted in local and state law enforcement agents playing a critical, and problematic role in the detection, apprehension, and removal of “criminal aliens.”

The plight of noncitizens deported or found inadmissible based on marijuana-related conduct highlights a deeper, systemic problem.  Not only do extremely harsh immigration consequences serve as a double-penalty for potentially minor marijuana offenses, particularly in light of criminal law reforms, but enforcement of remaining marijuana laws will likely fall disproportionately on Latina/o noncitizens.  Over ninety percent of deportations arising out of criminal law enforcement are to Central American and Mexico, yet Mexican and Central American immigrants make up less than half of the United States immigrant population.

While decriminalization of marijuana may be more than a symbolic move away from the failed “tough on crime” policies of the past, it not only fails to take into consideration the impact of marijuana laws on noncitizens but also may exacerbate the racially biased aspects of drug law enforcement on noncitizens, particularly Latinos.  This Article discusses the ways in which criminal-immigration law enforcement has impacted noncitizens, primarily Latino/as, to demonstrate why sub-federal marijuana reforms will fail to alleviate racially disparate outcomes, perpetually leaving Latino/a noncitizens in the shadows.

July 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

In party platform, Democrats call for a "reasoned pathway to future legalization" of marijuana

As reported in this Washington Post piece, the Democratic National Committee had a close and notable vote over the terms of the party platform.  Here are the details:

The Democratic Party endorsed a "reasoned pathway to future legalization" of marijuana and called for the drug to be downgraded in the Controlled Substances Act, in a tense and unexpected victory for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Going into the platform committee meeting, Sanders's campaign had no new language about marijuana. The senator from Vermont had favored state-to-state legalization efforts, and the language approved by the drafting committee called for "policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty."

But on Saturday afternoon, the committee brought up an amendment that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. David King, a lawyer and Sanders delegate from Tennessee, argued that marijuana was added to the act — giving the drug the same legal classification as heroin — during a "craze" to hurt "hippies and blacks." The amendment, however, was headed for defeat, with some committee members worrying that it went too far and undermined state-by-state efforts to study decriminalization.

Arguments stopped when committee members proposed swapping in the language of a rival amendment — one that merely downgraded marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act and included the undefined "pathway" to legal status.

When the vote was called, 81 of the 187 committee members backed the downgrade amendment — and just 80 opposed it. A roar of applause went up from the seats where people not on the committee were watching the votes. For the next 10 minutes, that victory was thrown into jeopardy. Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, the co-chair of the platform committee, entertained a complaint that at least one member might not have been able to vote, lacking the "clicker" that recorded electronic ballots.... Finally, former senator Mark Pryor (Ark.), a Clinton delegate, walked up to a microphone to announce that opponents of the amendment were unhappy that the compromise language had been replaced — but not unhappy enough to fight about it. "We withdraw the objection," he said.

There was more celebration in the back of the room. Later, after the unanimous adoption of a tough criminal justice reform plank, the grumbling that ended some sessions was replaced by Sanders voters saying: "Thank you! Thank you!"

The text of the marijuana amendment: "Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization."

July 10, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Arkansas voters now sure to consider (at least one) medical marijuana initiatives in November 2016

ArkThis AP article, headlined "It’s official: Arkansas will vote on medical marijuana in November," provides the interesting details on another state now sure to be considering marijuana reform through initiative this fall. Here are the dynamic details:

A proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas qualified for the November ballot on Thursday, putting the issue before the state’s voters for the second time in four years. The secretary of state’s office said it had verified at least 77,516 of the more than 117,000 signatures submitted for the proposed initiated act by Arkansans for Compassionate Care were from registered voters.

Initiated acts need at least 67,887 signatures, while constitutional amendments need at least 84,859. Friday is the deadline for groups to turn in signatures for their ballot measures.

Arkansas voters narrowly rejected a similar medical marijuana proposal in 2012, and this fall could face two competing legalization measures. Melissa Fults, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, repeated her call for the sponsor of the competing proposal to abandon his efforts.

“It does complicate it tremendously if he does turn in because it’s going to greatly decrease our chances of either one passing,” Fults said. The measure from Fults’ group would allow patients with a range of medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to buy marijuana from dispensaries. Unlike the competing proposal, it would allow patients to grow their own marijuana if they don’t live near a dispensary.

David Couch, the sponsor of the competing measure, said he planned to submit petitions for his proposed constitutional amendment Friday morning and said he didn’t believe having two marijuana proposals on the ballot would doom either. “If you support medical marijuana and you believe that sick people should have this medicine, you should say vote for both,” Couch said. “That’s what I’m going to say.”

The conservative Family Council Action Committee, which campaigned against the marijuana proposal in 2012, said it would review the petitions for a potential legal challenge and was also considering challenging the proposal’s language in court. “This same issue was defeated in the election of 2012, and I believe the people of Arkansas are wise enough to see through this sham and vote it down again,” Jerry Cox, the committee’s executive director, said in a statement.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said he opposed the measure and urged members of the medical community to share concerns they may have about the legalization efforts. “I believe that while we want to provide medicine to anyone who needs it, this opens a lot of doors that causes more problems than it solves,” Hutchinson told reporters.

July 7, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"Small businesses prepare for Ohio medical marijuana market months before regulations announced"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new local article which gets started this way:

The rules for Ohio's medical marijuana growers and dispensaries are months away from being written, but entrepreneurs are already eyeing the future market here.

Dozens of marijuana and cannabis-related business names have been registered with the state since the legislature passed Ohio's medical marijuana law in late May. Existing Ohio companies are considering how they can service the marijuana industry. Companies working in legal marijuana states are planning to expand.

The coming months will likely be filled with medical marijuana conferences, workshops and panels for would-be marijuana business owners. But much of the preparation will be speculative, as crucial details -- such as the number of business licenses available and the criteria used to award them -- are unknown.

Ohio's medical marijuana law goes into effect Sept. 8 and requires the system to be fully operational by September 2018. The commerce department has until May 6, 2017, to issue rules and regulations for cultivators, and the rest of the rules must be set by October 2017.

But that's not stopping aspiring "potpreneurs" from getting a head start.

July 6, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

New study suggests medical marijuana is already saving millions in Medicare costs

Medicare-and-uncle-samThis new Boston Globe article, headlined "Medical marijuana changing prescription practices, study finds," reports on fascinating new research seeming to document another financial benefit from marijuana reform. Here are the interesting details:

The arrival of medical marijuana in Massachusetts and other states is changing the way doctors prescribe conventional medications, a study published Wednesday reports.

The study, one of the first to investigate whether medical marijuana laws alter prescribing patterns, analyzed data from 17 states and Washington, D.C. It found that after medical marijuana laws were adopted, doctors wrote fewer prescriptions for Medicare patients diagnosed with anxiety, pain, nausea, depression, and other conditions thought to respond to marijuana treatment.

That translated to about $165 million less spent on prescription drugs in just one year in the Medicare program, which provides health insurance for older adults, according to the study published in the journal Health Affairs. Analysts said the findings are especially significant coming amid the nation’s opioid crisis and campaigns to reduce the prescribing of potentially addictive painkillers.

W. David Bradford, a health economist at the University of Georgia and the study’s senior researcher, said an ongoing review of the government’s Medicaid database, which includes a younger population more likely to use marijuana, suggests an even stronger correlation between prescribing trends and medical marijuana laws. Medicaid insures mostly younger patients who are poor and disabled. “This research says there is evidence that physicians are responding as if marijuana is medicine, and as if there is clinical benefit,” Bradford said.

The researchers analyzed millions of drugs prescribed by physicians from 2010 through 2013 in the Medicare Part D database. They focused their analysis on drugs that treat conditions for which marijuana might be an alternative treatment, including anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and a muscle control disorder known as spasticity. They found that for all conditions, except glaucoma and spasticity, fewer prescriptions were written when a medical marijuana law was in effect.

To confirm the link to marijuana laws, and not other factors, the researchers compared results from the states with medical marijuana to states that had not legalized it. They did not see a similar decline in prescribing in states without marijuana laws. As a further test, the researchers selected four drugs prescribed for conditions for which there are no studies suggesting benefit from marijuana treatment. Those drugs included blood-thinners, antibiotics, antivirals to treat the flu, and a drug used in dialysis. They found no decline in prescriptions for these drugs....

Avi Dor, a health economist and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute, called the study “impressive and timely,” given concerns about prescription opioid abuse. Opioids are often prescribed for many of the conditions the researchers studied. “We can’t be sure about the causality [in the study], but the evidence is strong in favor of the marijuana laws leading to the substitution away from certain drugs,” said Dor, who was not involved in the research. “We just don’t know if, over time, the effects they find will wash out or become amplified,” Dor said. “Physicians and their patients are only beginning to experiment with the new therapeutic alternative of medical marijuana.”

The Health Affairs study estimated that if medical marijuana had been available in all states in 2013, the Medicare prescription program would have saved about $468 million because of fewer prescriptions for just that year -- an amount equal to one-half of 1 percent of Medicare prescription spending that year. But the researchers acknowledged that savings for Medicare might translate into more costs for patients who pay for medical marijuana out of their own pockets, because insurance doesn’t cover the drug.

Dr. Kevin Hill, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School who studies marijuana, said the Medicare savings are important. But he noted physicians remain reluctant to recommend marijuana to their patients because they feel the evidence supporting its use is insufficient, or they are concerned about legal ramifications if they suggest a drug the federal government classifies as dangerous. “Medical marijuana may reduce prescription costs in some cases, but there is a risk that medical marijuana may be used for conditions that are not supported by evidence,” Hill said.

July 6, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Recognizing how California's coming vote on full legalization of marijuana could be a game changer

AumalogoNROne of many reasons I focused a lot last year on the failed (and at times foolish) campaign to fully legalize marijuana in Ohio was because I believe that a vote in favor of full legalization in 2015 in a bellwhether state like Ohio would be a "game changer" in the marijuana reform movement nationwide. But even though Ohio voters soundly rejected a flawed full legalization initiative last year, marijuana reform in Ohio and nationwide continues apace. And, as this new Rolling Stone article highlights, California's full legalization initiative now on the ballot is surely the most obvious "game-changer" circa 2016. The Rolling Stone piece is headlined "The Pot Law That Could Be 'Deal-Breaker for the Drug War': California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act could have ramifications far beyond the state's borders," and here are excerpts:

Last week California's pot legalization initiative, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, qualified for the ballot in November, setting the stage for a vote that will have ramifications far beyond California's borders.

There are several reasons why if the AUMA passes, it will make California the heaviest domino to fall in the nationwide effort to legalize marijuana, the most obvious being the state's size and the sheer number of people who would have access to legal weed. One in 10 Americans lives in California, while the Los Angeles basin alone is home to more people than Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska — the four states that have so far legalized adult use marijuana — combined. California also has the sixth largest economy in the world, allowing the rest of the country to draw solid conclusions about the financial impact of legalization.

The Golden State is also known as a trendsetter with the power to break down stereotypes. Having pioneered medical marijuana in 1996, California is a leading exporter of cannabis policy and culture. If California legalizes, the way it goes about doing so will set a standard going forward for other local and national governments to follow.

"It really is the state that wags the tail of the nation, so if California's 55 senators and representatives in Congress were to be in favor of legalization, then it would be a total dynamic change," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. Other states like Colorado and Washington give us models of how legalization can look, he continues, "but none of them has enough national sway so as to be the template for the rest of the country where possible."

California influences other states, as well the federal government. "We see California as a tipping point to end federal prohibition," says Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.  If legalization passes, overnight a plurality of the United States population will reside within cannabis-legal states, and the federal government will be forced to reckon with the "marijuana question," she says. Moreover, California can make the biggest difference in regard to international drug cartels, especially in Mexico. "Colorado has begun to undermine the marijuana cartels, but I think [legalization] in California might cut their legs out from under them," Lyman adds.

California will become the new "gold standard" for legalization, she says. Other states can look to California for guidance on cannabis revenue allocation, community assessment, environmental protection, anti-monopoly provisions, drug education for juvenile possession of cannabis, expunging marijuana convictions and banning regulators from denying licenses to those with prior drug felonies.

First and foremost, the AUMA would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. In doing so, it would also herald a new economic program to offset the effects of prohibition and the Drug War. If passed, the measure would impose a 15 percent retail tax on cannabis, projected to generate up to $1 billion in revenue, as well as $100 million annual savings, to fund public university research on legalization ($10 million), DUI protocols ($3 million), medical cannabis research ($2 million) and support for communities most devastated by the Drug War ($50 million over five years). Everything left over would go to environmental cleanup from illegal grows (20 percent), law enforcement (20 percent) and youth drug prevention, treatment and education (60 percent)....

Additionally, people with prior marijuana convictions could petition to reduce or expunge them from their records — no matter whether they are still in jail, on probation or parole, or have already finished their sentences. "We see 2016 in some ways as potentially the last year where social justice drug policy reforms are leading the marijuana legalization battle, as this becomes a full-fledged industry," says Lyman. Capitalist motives could take charge, pushing socially conscious policy to the sidelines. If the AUMA fails, however, activists worry it could have a depressing effect on other legalization efforts and extend the end of prohibition. "Having California lose would be a tremendous setback," says Lyman. "We cannot afford to lose."...

Legalization in California opens up a conversation at national and international levels, says Chris Conrad, a court-qualified expert witness on marijuana, author and activist influential in shaping California's medical marijuana laws. Even if the AUMA isn't perfect, it's a starting point from which California and the nation can continue to see progress. "The initiative allows for more changes and improvements. Look at all this progress we made with marijuana illegal. Just think of what we can do when it's legal," he says.

Conrad points out that if California legalizes, the entire American West Coast from Alaska through Baja will have legal marijuana. (Canada will likely legalize in 2017, too.) "That's a huge chunk of the country, and it sends a message to the rest of the world that it's OK to do this," says Conrad. "Once California legalizes marijuana, people will say it's done. Remember we came from zero tolerance, and now we're talking about how much marijuana should a person be able to carry around legally. I think it's time to cash in some chips. It's a deal-breaker for the Drug War."

July 6, 2016 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)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Ohio’s New Medical Marijuana Industry Business, Politics, Law & You"

The title of this post is the name of this timely event scheduled for tomorrow afternoon on the campus of The Ohio State University.  I will be one of a number of speakers at an event being sponsored by the Ohio Cannabis Association. Here is the planned schedule for the event:

Wednesday, July 6th;  5:00pm – 8:00pm (Networking from 5-6. Program Begins Promptly at 6.)

The Ohio State University - Student Union - Great Hall Meeting Room 1739 N. High St, Columbus, OH 43210

Featuring leading experts on all aspects of the new industry…

State: State Sen. Kenny Yuko; State Rep. Kirk Schuring

National: John Hudak, Brookings Institute

Business: Andy Joseph, Apeks Supercritical; Jimmy Gould, Ohio House Medicinal Marijuana Task Force and GLA; Roberto Ryan, QC Infusion

Medical: Dr. Brian Santin, Ohio House Medicinal Marijuana Task Force; Janet Brenneman, Ohio Cannabis Nurses Association

Legal: Deb Tongren, Esq.; Douglas A. Berman, OSU Professor of Law

July 5, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

As a few NFL players continue to talk up medical marijuana, what are the marijuana reform views of all the new NBA multi-millionaires?

Untitled-1_2Long-time readers are familiar with a number of posts in this space discussing a number of current and former NFL players talking about medical marijuana as a alternative to traditional painkillers as a way to treat chronic pain (and perhaps brain injuries) from thier playing days.  Another recent article on this front comes from PBS in this article, headlined "For some NFL players, ban on medical marijuana is a real pain," has has this overview:

Percocet or pot?  An increasing number of Americans are choosing to use legalized cannabis instead of highly addictive opioids to control chronic pain but not in the NFL where a blanket ban is still in place.   A group of retired players are working toward changing that, knowing firsthand what it's like to live on pills.

It makes great sense that past and present NFL football players are at the forefront of some discussions about medical marijuana, and I continue to believe that these athletes could play a huge role in legitimating medical marijuana use in the years ahead.  But during a week in which sports talk-radio and the sports pages are filled with reports of dozens of NBA altheles signing new contracts paying them tens of millions of dollars(!), I am wondering whether stars from another prominent US professional sports league might eventually play some role in legitimating recreartional marijuana use.

Notably, one former NBA player has recently suggested that up to 80% of all NBA players use marijuana.  Even if this number is significantly inflated and, say, only 25% of NBA players use marijuana recreationally, this would still mean that there are likely at least a dozen marijuana users among the 50+ players who have recently signed free agent contracts that will be paying them well over ten million dollars per year for being elite athletes.

For a host of financial/personal reasons, current NBA players are wise not to say a word about marijuana use or the national marijuana reform movement.  With tens of millon dollars at stake in their new contracts (not to mention future endorsement or broadcasting interests), there is no reason an active players would or should, right now, feel comfortable talking about marijuana use among NBA players or even openly giving a donation to a marijuana research or reform organization.   But, given the reasonable assumption that the NBA now has now the greatest percentage of multi-millionaire employees who use marijuana and still perform terrifically at their job, I think marijuana reform organizations ought to be looking to that league for potential future reform advocates.

July 5, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Detailing the (disconcerting?) doctor dynamics in a state with (strict?) medical marijuana rules

This lengthy new Boston Globe article, headlined "Most Mass. doctors wary of approving marijuana use," reports on the distinctive and arguably disconcerting dynamics that have developed in the Bay State with respect to doctors making medical marijuana recommendations. Here are the highlights:

A small circle of physicians — 13, to be precise — has provided the vast preponderance of approvals needed by Massachusetts patients to gain access to medical marijuana, state records show, a pattern that underscores the continued growing pains of a new industry.  These doctors certified nearly three-quarters of the 31,818 patients who had received permission to use medical marijuana by early June.

The concentration of approvals in the hands of so few physicians is a story of both opportunity and fear.  For the baker’s dozen of doctors, medical marijuana certifications provide a robust stream of patients, who typically pay $200 out of pocket for an initial office visit.  But their grip on such a large share of patient certifications illustrates that many other physicians in the state are reluctant to sign off on patients using the drug, according to the Massachusetts Medical Society.

The hesitance reflects persistent concerns about the possible legal repercussions for their medical licenses if they prescribe a drug the federal government classifies as dangerous, with “no currently accepted medical use.”  It also underscores the lingering doubts about marijuana’s health risks and benefits, said Dr. James Gessner, president of the society.

These worries only intensified when state regulators in May and June yanked the licenses of two physicians accused of improperly certifying thousands of patients for marijuana use. Both suspended doctors worked in offices that specialize in issuing marijuana certificates. Some major teaching hospitals forbid their physicians from certifying patients for marijuana use, but in some cases, doctors have been circumventing restrictions by referring patients to clinics that specialize in granting certification....

State rules require physicians to complete one course about marijuana, including its side effects and signs of substance abuse, if they want to recommend the drug to patients.  Physicians then must register online with the state Health Department, which grants them permission to certify patients as eligible for medical marijuana use. Patients must also register with the online system to complete the certification process.

State regulations list nine diseases and conditions that can qualify a patient for marijuana use, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Crohn’s disease, but also gives physicians wide latitude to recommend use for any other “debilitating condition,” such as nausea and pain....

One physician who is receiving scores of referrals is Dr. Jill Griffin, who opened a medical marijuana practice in Northampton in 2013.  State records show Griffin, 56, has certified the most patients in Massachusetts — 3,284 by early June.  Griffin’s attorney, Michael Cutler, said many of the certifications Griffin has issued were for patients referred to her by other physicians. Griffin, who directed the emergency department at one Springfield hospital and worked in the emergency department of another facility, is well known in the region, Cutler said.

“Almost all of the doctors out here are part of group practices, and for a long time, all of the group practices prohibited their doctors from writing marijuana certifications,” Cutler said. “So, the only way a patient could be certified, for virtually all the doctors out here, was to refer patients out of their practice.”

But state records suggest sentiment among doctors may be slowly changing.  The number of physicians registered with the state to certify patients for medical marijuana use has nearly doubled in the past year, to 150 — although that still represents only a tiny fraction of the more than 30,000 doctors practicing in the state.

July 3, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)