Wednesday, June 27, 2018
With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?
The Supreme Court generated a lot of news today, in part by reversing a significant precedent concerning labor unions and in part through Justice Antony Kennedy's retirement announcement. So what does this have to do with marijuana law, policy and reform you might ask? And I would answer with one case cite: Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) (opinion here, wikipedia entry here).
Raich is the case in which all the liberal members of the Supreme Court all rejected the claim by Angel Raich that the federal government should not have the constitutional power to criminalize her backyard cultivation and use of medical marijuana in compliance with California law. Of course, the liberal members of the Court were not the only ones who rejected Raich's claim that the Commerce Clause should not be read to allow the federal government to criminalize what she grows in her own backyard: joining the liberals voting in favor of broad federal power here were Justice Antonin Scalia (now deceased) and Justice Anthony Kennedy (now about to retire).
Based on a number of his opinions to date, there are lots of reasons to suspect that new Justice Neil Gorsuch, who replaced Justice Scalia, would be a vote for the Angel Raiches of the world against broad federal power. In addition, there are lots of reasons to suspect that whomever Prez Trump selects to replace Justice Kennedy will also be an advocate for limited federal legislative powers. (This accounting alone does not make obvious that Raich could be overturned, as Justice Samuel Alito might be more a fan of broad federal criminal powers than was the Justice he replaced, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. It is also unclear where Chief Justice John Roberts would come out on these issues, too.)
Personnel change is the main reason I am inclined to suggest a "new" Supreme Court might be inclined to reconsider Raich, but I am also eager to highlight how changing political, social and medical knowledge may also incline the Court to reconsider a past ruling. Changes circumstances are always a formal and informal influence on the strength of stare decisis, and gosh knows there have been a whole lot of changed circumstances in the marijuana space since Raich was decided in 2005.
So, put simply in the form of a call to Raich's lawyer, where is Randy Barnett when marijuana reformers need him?
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
SCOTUS provides a good new First Amendment precedent for doctors interested in recommending marijuana
The modern state medical marijuana laws owe part of their structure to critical lower federal court rulings about the First Amendment's protection of doctors who wish to discuss marijuana use with patients. In the late 1990s after California voters passed the nation's first medical marijuana law, the federal government threatened physicians who recommended or prescribed a Schedule I drug with possible revocation of DEA registration and exclusion from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. But this threat was thwarted through litigation which culminated in a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that physicians’ First Amendment freedom of speech rights under the privileged doctor-patient relationship permitted them to issue medical marijuana recommendations. The Ninth Circuit's ruling in Conant v. Walters, 309 F.3d 629 (9th Cir. 2002), has provided a key foundation for modern medical marijuana regimes, but the firmness of that foundation could be questioned because the US Supreme Court has never addressed this issue directly.
As of this morning, the Supreme Court still has not addressed this issue directly, but it has now ruled in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, available here, that the First Amendment limits what states can tell doctors and other health professional to say or not say. Here is part of a fascinating passage (which even mentions medical marijuana, with my emphasis added) extolling the importance of broad constitutional protections in this realm:
As with other kinds of speech, regulating the content of professionals’ speech “pose[s] the inherent risk that the Government seeks not to advance a legitimate regulatory goal, but to suppress unpopular ideas or information.” Turner Broadcasting, 512 U. S., at 641. Take medicine, for example. “Doctors help patients make deeply personal decisions, and their candor is crucial.” Wollschlaeger v. Governor of Florida, 848 F.3d 1293, 1328 (CA11 2017) (en banc) (W. Pryor, J. concurring). Throughout history, governments have “manipulat[ed] the content of doctor-patient discourse” to increase state power and suppress minorities:
“For example, during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese physicians were dispatched to the countryside to convince peasants to use contraception. In the 1930s, the Soviet government expedited completion of a construction project on the Siberian railroad by ordering doctors to both reject requests for medical leave from work and conceal this government order from their patients. In Nazi Germany, the Third Reich systematically violated the separation between state ideology and medical discourse. German physicians were taught that they owed a higher duty to the ‘health of the Volk’ than to the health of individual patients. Recently, Nicolae Ceausescu’s strategy to increase the Romanian birth rate included prohibitions against giving advice to patients about the use of birth control devices and disseminating information about the use of condoms as a means of preventing the transmission of AIDS.” Berg, Toward a First Amendment Theory of Doctor-Patient Discourse and the Right To Receive Unbiased Medical Advice, 74 B. U. L. Rev. 201, 201– 202 (1994) (footnotes omitted).
Further, when the government polices the content of professional speech, it can fail to “‘preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.’” McCullen v. Coakley, 573 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2014) (slip op., at 8–9). Professionals might have a host of good-faith disagreements, both with each other and with the government, on many topics in their respective fields. Doctors and nurses might disagree about the ethics of assisted suicide or the benefits of medical marijuana; lawyers and marriage counselors might disagree about the prudence of prenuptial agreements or the wisdom of divorce; bankers and accountants might disagree about the amount of money that should be devoted to savings or the benefits of tax reform. “[T]he best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” Abrams v. United States, 250 U. S. 616, 630 (1919) (Holmes, J., dissenting), and the people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail.
Given the modern politics of marijuana reform, I was not that worried that the Ninth Circuit's work in Conant v. Walters would be undermined anytime soon. But it would not be too hard to imagine Attorney General Jeff Sessions or other state or federal officials resistant to marijuana reform trying to heavily regulate how medical professionals can talk to patients about marijuana. This new SCOTUS precedent would seem to limit such efforts.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Maine Supreme Court rules federal prohibition preempts effort to make employer subsidize an employee’s medical marijuana
As reported in this AP article, "Maine employers don’t have to pay for medical marijuana under the state workers’ compensation system because federal law supersedes state law, the state supreme court ruled Thursday." Here is more on this state court ruling and some national context:
The court concluded in a 5-2 decision that federal law takes precedence in a conflict between the federal Controlled Substances Act and the state medical marijuana law. Existing case law demonstrates that an individual’s right to use medical marijuana under state law “cannot be converted into a sword that would require another party” to engage in conduct that violates current federal law, Justice Jeffrey Hjelm wrote for the majority.
The legal case focused on whether a paper mill must pay for medical marijuana prescribed for a worker who was disabled after being hurt on the job in 1989. Madawaska resident Gaetan Bourgoin won an appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Board after arguing that marijuana is cheaper and safer than narcotics. But the Twin Rivers Paper Co. argued that it shouldn’t be required to cover the cost of medical marijuana and that doing so put it in violation of federal law.
The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the Maine Legislature’s exemption of medical marijuana patients from prosecution under state law “does not have the power to change or restrict the application of federal law that positively conflicts with state law.”
Two dissenting justices wrote that the compelling story of how the injured worker was weaned from opioids by use of medical marijuana justified requiring the reimbursement. “The result of the court’s opinion today is to deprive (the worker) of reimbursement for medication that has finally given him relief from his chronic pain, and to perhaps force him to return to the use of opioids and other drugs...,” Justice Joseph Jabar wrote....
At least five states — Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico — have found medical marijuana treatment is reimbursable under their workers’ compensation laws, according to the National Council for Compensation Insurance. Florida and North Dakota, meanwhile, passed laws last year excluding medical marijuana treatment from workers’ compensation reimbursement.
The full 50-page Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling is available at this link. Here is how the majority opinion gets started:
After sustaining a work-related injury, Gaetan H. Bourgoin was issued a certification to use medical marijuana as a result of chronic back pain. He successfully petitioned the Workers’ Compensation Board for an order requiring his former employer, Twin Rivers Paper Company, LLC, to pay for the medical marijuana. On this appeal from the decision of the Appellate Division affirming that award, we are called upon for the first time to consider the relationship between the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act (MMUMA). We conclude that in the narrow circumstances of this case — where an employer is subject to an order that would require it to subsidize an employee’s acquisition of medical marijuana — there is a positive conflict between federal and state law, and as a result, the CSA preempts the MMUMA as applied here. See 21 U.S.C.S. § 903 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 115-181). We therefore vacate the decision of the Appellate Division.
Saturday, May 26, 2018
As reported in this local article, a "Leon County circuit court judge ruled Friday afternoon that the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional, setting up continued legal fights as the state appeals the decision." Here is more about the ruling:
In a 22-page order, Judge Karen Gievers said that the Legislature's ban on smoking medical cannabis conflicted with the intent of a constitutional amendment that had broadly legalized the drug for medical use after voters approved it in 2016.
She concurred with arguments made last Wednesday by Jon Mills, an attorney for the plaintiffs, contending the definition approved by voters included "all types of medical marijuana," including forms that can be smoked. Mills had also argued that the amendment implicitly recognized smoking in private by recognizing that there was no right to smoke it in public places.
Gievers, in striking down the ban, invoked both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in her decision and highlighted Washington's characterization of the constitution as a "sacred obligation."
"Just as no person is above the law, the legislature must heed the constitutional rights Floridians placed in the Constitution in 2016," she wrote. "The conflicting, overreaching 2017 statute, while presumably adopted in good faith and with good intentions, cannot be allowed to overrule the authority of the people to protect rights in the Constitution."
Devin Galetta, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, said it would appeal the verdict, resulting in an automatic stay. The notice of the appeal was filed Friday night. "This ruling goes against what the legislature outlined when they wrote and approved Florida’s law to implement the constitutional amendment that was approved by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority," he wrote.
About 71 percent of Florida voters had approved Amendment 2 in 2016, authorizing the use of marijuana as a medical treatment for people with debilitating conditions. But in a bill implementing the amendment the following year, lawmakers limited the scope of its use to only oils, sprays, tinctures, vaping and edibles. Lawmakers excluded smoking as a method for medical treatment, arguing that smoking would be a "backdoor attempt" at allowing recreational use.
Gievers heard arguments in a one-day trial last week for the case, which was brought against the state last July by John Morgan, an Orlando attorney who also financed the campaign behind the successful constitutional amendment. His suit, filed on behalf of two patients and two advocacy organizations, asked the court to invalidate the implementing law passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Ben Pollara, who managed the political campaign that helped push the constitutional amendment, said the ruling was a victory both for Florida patients and for voters who supported the amendment.... "The voters of Florida wanted this," he said. "It was clear in the intent language and in the ballot language. ... Smoked marijuana is the most effective and quickest delivery system, period."
He cautioned that Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate, should reconsider continuing to fight for the smoking ban. "What I would say to Rick Scott and [Attorney General] Pam Bondi is, 'If you decide to appeal this verdict, I think Rick Scott will lose the U.S. Senate race on this issue alone,' " he said.
The full ruling in this case is available at this link.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
This new article by Joshua Horn and Jesse M. Harris in the Legal Intelligencer provides a useful reminder of how much law (and well as policy) is unpredictable in the modern marijuana universe. The piece is headlined " Cannabis and Banks: What Qualifies as Illegal Activity? Many legal issues arise out of financing cannabis activities, not the least of which is whether a target property for a cannabis venture is mortgaged by a bank." Here is how the piece starts and ends:
Many legal issues arise out of financing cannabis activities, not the least of which is whether a target property for a cannabis venture is mortgaged by a bank. The standard institutional mortgage contains language that allows the mortgagee to “call” the loan if the property is being used to conduct “illegal activity.” This language relates to federal lending guidelines and is usually nonnegotiable. The question thus becomes: what qualifies as “illegal activity”?
As a general matter, a contract for an illegal purpose is unenforceable. And while 29 states have passed some form of marijuana legislation, marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law. The interplay between state and federal law has left the status of the marijuana industry — and the rights of involved lenders and borrowers — unclear. Several recent cases highlight this ambiguity....
At bottom, there are no black and white answers when it comes to the enforceability of marijuana-related agreements — only gray. For this reason, most lenders outright refuse to enter into such agreements. This is particularly true for mortgage loan originators who underwrite a new loan with the intention of immediately selling it to investors like FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. As government entities, such investors will not accept marijuana-related contracts.
Other lenders, often called “portfolio lenders,” keep a certain number of loans in their portfolio instead of selling to investors. Portfolio lenders thus assume the risks associated with lending to marijuana-related business. And, because portfolio lenders assume the risk, they have greater discretion in deciding whether to extend credit to a cannabis-related entity. Depending on the jurisdiction, sophisticated borrowers may have better luck in persuading these lenders to do just that.
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Arizona Supreme Court strikes down state legislation prohibiting medical marijuana on college campus as inconsistent with voter initiative
The Arizona Supreme Court has issued a series of opinions giving broad effect to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which was enacted by voters as Proposition 203 in 2010. The latest example of such an opinion was handed down today in Arizona v. Maestas, No. CR-17-0193-PR (Az. May 23, 2018) (available here). Here is the first paragraph and key substantive paragraphs from the ruling:
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (“AMMA”), enacted by voters as Proposition 203 in 2010, generally permits qualified AMMA cardholders to possess a limited amount of marijuana and, with certain exceptions and limitations, immunizes their AMMA-compliant possession or use from “arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner.” A.R.S. § 36-2811(B). Among its limitations, the AMMA prohibits the possession or use of medical marijuana at certain specified locations. A.R.S. § 36-2802(B). In 2012, the Arizona Legislature added another location by enacting a statute under which “a person, including [a qualified AMMA cardholder], may not lawfully possess or use marijuana on the campus of any public university, college, community college or postsecondary educational institution.” A.R.S. § 15-108(A). Because that statute violates Arizona’s Voter Protection Act (“VPA”) with respect to AMMA-compliant marijuana possession or use, we hold it unconstitutional as applied to the university student/cardholder in this case....
To comply with the VPA, the legislature may constitutionally amend a voter initiative only if “the amending legislation furthers the purposes of such measure and at least three-fourths of the members of each house of the legislature . . . vote to amend such measure.” Ariz. Const. art. 4, pt. 1, § 1(6)(C) . Here, “at least three-fourths of the members of each house of the legislature” voted to enact § 15-108(A). Id. The dispositive question, therefore, is whether § 15-108(A) “furthers the purposes” of the AMMA. Id. It does not.
The AMMA “permits those who meet statutory conditions to [possess and] use medical marijuana.” Reed-Kaliher v. Hoggatt, 237 Ariz. 119, 122 ¶ 7 (2015). “Because marijuana possession and use are otherwise illegal in Arizona, . . . the drafters [of the AMMA] sought to ensure that those using marijuana pursuant to [the] AMMA would not be penalized for such use.” Id. Indeed, this purpose is made explicit in the AMMA’s voter initiative statements. See Proposition 203 § 2(G) (2010) (stating that the purpose of the AMMA “is to protect patients with debilitating medical conditions . . . from arrest and prosecution, [and] criminal and other penalties . . . if such patients engage in the medical use of marijuana”). Criminalizing AMMA-compliant marijuana possession or use on public college and university campuses plainly does not further the AMMA’s primary purpose as expressed in those statements supporting the voter initiative. Section 15-108(A) does not “protect” qualifying AMMA cardholders from criminal penalties arising from AMMA-compliant marijuana possession or use on public college and university campuses, but rather subjects them to such penalties. Therefore, because § 15-108(A) does not further the purpose of the AMMA, we hold that § 15-108(A) violates the VPA as applied to AMMA-compliant marijuana possession or use.
Monday, May 14, 2018
The US Supreme Court handed down this morning an important case about the relationship between federal prohibitions and state laws in Murphy v. NCAA, No. 16–476 (S. Ct. May 14, 2018). (available here). The case is directly about sports betting laws in New Jersey, but the final substantive paragraphs of the Court's majority opinion (authored by Justice Alito) should make clear why marijuana reform advocates will be heartened by the ruling:
The legalization of sports gambling is a controversial subject. Supporters argue that legalization will produce revenue for the States and critically weaken illegal sports betting operations, which are often run by organized crime. Opponents contend that legalizing sports gambling will hook the young on gambling, encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings, and corrupt professional and college sports.
The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not. PASPA “regulate[s] state governments’ regulation” of their citizens, New York, 505 U. S., at 166. The Constitution gives Congress no such power.
Monday, February 26, 2018
Federal judge dismisses high-profile suit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act
Earlier this month, as noted in this prior post, a federal district judge heard arguments concerning a motion to dismiss the high-profile suit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act. Though the suit garnered a good bit of public attention, the case of Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, is now likely to go down as yet the latest failed effort to attack the CSA's treatment of marijuana in court because today judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed the lawsuit. Tom Angell has a useful summary of the ruling and a link to its full 20 pages here. Here is part of that summary:
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled on Monday that advocates have “failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” to alter cannabis’s legal status, and should pursue changes through the administration and Congress instead of in the courts. “[P]laintiffs’ claim is an administrative one, not one premised on the constitution,” he wrote, and “is best understood as a collateral attack on the various administrative determinations not to reclassify marijuana into a different drug schedule.”...
Hellerstein wrote that “it is clear that Congress had a rational basis for classifying marijuana in Schedule I, and executive officials in different administrations have consistently retained its placement there… Even if marijuana has current medical uses, I cannot say that Congress acted irrationally in placing marijuana in Schedule I.”
However, the judge, who observers say appeared moved by anecdotes about the plaintiffs’ medical uses of cannabis during oral arguments, wrote that he does not reject out of hand the notion that marijuana can be beneficial....
Hellerstein dismissed every other claim in the lawsuit, as well, making it clear he’s done with the case. “Because plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under any constitutional theory, all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims are also dismissed,” he wrote. “For the reasons stated herein, defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint is granted. Plaintiffs have already amended their complaint once, and I find that further amendments would be futile.”
The plaintiffs in this suit could appeal this dismissal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and doing so would likely keep the case in the headlines. I am not optimistic it would achieve much else, but one never knows with courts these days.
Prior related posts:
- Latest effort to take down federal marijuana prohibition via constitutional litigation filed in SDNY
- "Colorado girl suing U.S. attorney general to legalize medical marijuana nationwide"
- Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?
- Mixed messages from US District Judge hearing legal challenge to federal marijuana prohibition
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Split New Jersey appeals court holds state officials can (and should?) consider reclassifying marijuana under state drug schedules
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey issued an interesting opinion today in Kadonsky v. Lee, No. A-3324-14T4 (N.J. App. Oct 31, 2017) (available here), resolving a appeal of the denial of a petition "seeking to have marijuana rescheduled from a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance to Schedule IV" under New Jersey laws. The majority remanded the case, explaining that reconsideration of marijuana's scheduling could be done under existing laws:
While this issue is not squarely before us, it is certainly ripe for a determination by the Director. When the inconsistencies of sections (a) and (c) of N.J.S.A. 24:21-3 are viewed through the prism of the dicta in Tate, we conclude that the Director erred in determining he lacked the authority to reclassify marijuana without a change in existing federal law.
The dissenting opinion starts with an effective account of the ruling and the judges' disagreements:
The question presented by this appeal is whether, as a result of evolving attitudes about marijuana and its potential for medical uses, the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs was required to reschedule marijuana, removing it from Schedule I of the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act (CDSA), N.J.S.A. 24:21-1 to -56. The Director's decision that he was required, instead, to control marijuana in accord with federal schedules is subject to limited appellate review. Circus Liquors, Inc. v. Governing Body of Middletown, 199 N.J. 1, 9 (2009). In light of the unambiguous language of N.J.S.A. 24:21-3(c) that the Director adhere to federal schedules, his decision must be sustained because there is no "'clear showing' that it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable or that it lacks fair support in the record." Ibid.
My colleagues conclude the Director erred in his interpretation of the law but do not conclude the Director's decision was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or consider that a fair interpretation of the governing statute provides support for his decision. They have elected to decide an issue they acknowledge "is not squarely before us." Despite the clear directive in N.J.S.A. 24:21-3(c), the majority concludes the Director may reconsider the classification of marijuana, placing it on a schedule different from its designation on the federal schedules and, because the issue is "ripe for determination" by the Director, remands the issue for his consideration.
The necessary premise for this conclusion is that the Director has the discretion to make a major policy decision regarding the scheduling of marijuana that directly conflicts with the legislative mandate contained in N.J.S.A. 24:21-3(c) and federal law. That premise cannot withstand the application of established principles of statutory construction.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Massachusetts top court addresses challenging issues surrounding marijuana and proof of impaired driving
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court this morning issued a unanimous opinion in Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, No. SJC-11967 (Mass. Sept. 19, 2017) (available here), which addresses matters of proof of marijuana-impaired driving. This Boston Herald account of the ruling provides a punny summary in its headline: "SJC spliffs the difference in marijuana OUI case." Here is how the actual opinion gets started:
In this case we are asked to consider the admissibility of field sobriety tests (FSTs) where a police officer suspects that a driver has been operating under the influence of marijuana. Police typically administer three FSTs -- the "horizontal gaze nystagmus test," the "walk and turn test" and the "one leg stand test" -- during a motor vehicle stop in order to assess motorists suspected of operating under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. These tests were developed specifically to measure alcohol consumption, and there is wide-spread scientific agreement on the existence of a strong correlation between unsatisfactory performance and a blood alcohol level of at least .08%.
By contrast, in considering whether a driver is operating under the influence of marijuana, there is as yet no scientific agreement on whether, and, if so, to what extent, these types of tests are indicative of marijuana intoxication. The research on the efficacy of FSTs to measure marijuana impairment has produced highly disparate results. Some studies have shown no correlation between inadequate performance on FSTs and the consumption of marijuana; other studies have shown some correlation with certain FSTs, but not with others; and yet other studies have shown a correlation with all of the most frequently used FSTs. In addition, other research indicates that less frequently used FSTs in the context of alcohol consumption may be better measures of marijuana intoxication.
The lack of scientific consensus regarding the use of standard FSTs in attempting to evaluate marijuana intoxication does not mean, however, that FSTs have no probative value beyond alcohol intoxication. We conclude that, to the extent that they are relevant to establish a driver's balance, coordination, mental acuity, and other skills required to safely operate a motor vehicle, FSTs are admissible at trial as observations of the police officer conducting the assessment. The introduction in evidence of the officer's observations of what will be described as "roadside assessments" shall be without any statement as to whether the driver's performance would have been deemed a "pass" or a "fail," or whether the performance indicated impairment. Because the effects of marijuana may vary greatly from one individual to another, and those effects are as yet not commonly known, neither a police officer nor a lay witness who has not been qualified as an expert may offer an opinion as to whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority
I just returned from the NCSL annual meeting in Boston, where I participated on a Marijuana Federalism panel with Representative Roger Goodman (WA state house) and John Hudak (Brookings). A short recap of the panel can be found here . Consistent with recent reports, all the panelists agreed the Trump Administration is unlikely to crack down on state-licensed marijuana suppliers anytime soon. (John and I have both previously written about the Trump Administration’s approach to marijuana policy, e.g., here and here.)
Nonetheless, given Jeff Sessions’ stated opposition to legalizing marijuana, I think it’s worthwhile to consider what (if anything) the states could do to blunt a federal crackdown, if the Trump Administration did decide to attempt one. Let me offer two possibilities state lawmakers might consider:
1. Create an indemnification fund to help pay the legal expenses of any state-licensed marijuana supplier who faces federal legal sanctions. This would include a supplier who faces a federal criminal prosecution, a civil forfeiture action, or even a civil RICO lawsuit brought by another private citizen.
Why would states ever do this? Individual defendants sometimes lack the ability and / or incentive to optimally (from the state’s perspective) defend themselves against federal claims. For one thing, defendants don't always have the money needed to pursue every viable defense vigorously, especially if their assets have been frozen by the government. In addition, individual defendants capture only a small part of the benefit (to the state) of successfully asserting certain types of defenses. After all, those defenses -- once established -- can be invoked by other, similarly situated defendants.
To illustrate the problem, suppose a Massachusetts-licensed medical marijuana supplier is being prosecuted by the DOJ for distributing marijuana. Her attorneys tell her she could spend $25,000 trying to convince a federal court that her prosecution is barred by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (discussed on pages 353-358 of my book), but there’s no guarantee she’ll win – say, because the First Circuit might not follow United States v. McIntoshand the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of Rohrabacher-Farr. In this case, the supplier might not pursue the defense vigorously (even if she could afford to); she might instead prefer to cut her losses and cut a plea deal, say, by agreeing to shut down her shop if the DOJ drops all of its charges against her. But that may not be the best outcome for the state – it might prefer that the defendant spend $25,000 for even the chance that all state law-abiding medical marijuana suppliers would be declared immune from federal prosecution. Thus, to ensure that defendants vigorously pursue legal defenses that benefit others in the state, the state might help cover individual defendants’ legal expenses (say, using a portion of marijuana tax revenues).
I develop this first proposal in more detail in a symposium article for the Montana Law Review here. It’s loosely modeled on personal liberty laws adopted by northern states in response to the federal Fugitive Slave Act.
2. Adopt poison pill legislation that would make it costly for Congress to preempt certain state marijuana reforms. Some state laws are vulnerable to preemption challenge because they (arguably) undermine one of Congress's goals, like deterring drug use. Citing such reasoning, for example, a few state courts have held that state laws purporting to protect medical marijuana patients from employment discrimination are preempted by the federal CSA (the issue is discussed on pages 672-681 of the book). To defuse the threat that a court would find such measures preempted, a state could pass a second law – one that Congress clearly favors – and then tie the two laws (favored and disfavored) together – i.e., make them inseverable.
To illustrate, suppose Massachusetts was interested in preserving its recently recognized employment protections (discussed here) from a preemption challenge. To do so, the state could pass a law limiting the quantity of marijuana that non-residents are allowed to buy at state licensed shops, similar to the way Colorado once limited non-residents to buying one-quarter ounce of marijuana at its shops (discussed at pages 283-287 of the book). It could then make the new quantity restriction inseverable from the employment protections. While Congress (in theory) might not want states to protect marijuana users from employment sanctions, it might tolerate those protections if the states limit non-resident access to marijuana.
I develop this second proposal in more detail in a new article for the George Washington Law Review here. It’s very loosely modeled on the poison pill tactic in corporate law.
Part of the appeal of both options is that their success does not depend on the DOJ’s willingness to heed past enforcement guidelines or Congress’s willingness to restrict the agency’s spending.
August 9, 2017 in Court Rulings, Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Massachusetts top court issues major ruling allowing medical marijuana user to pursue lawsuit against employer after her termination
As reported in this Boston Globe piece, headlined "Ruling means Mass. companies can’t fire workers for medical marijuana," the top court in Massachusetts issued a significant employment law ruling yesterday on behalf of a medical marijuana patient. Here are the basics from the press report:
Massachusetts companies cannot fire employees who have a prescription for medical marijuana simply because they use the drug, the state’s highest court ruled Monday, rejecting employers’ arguments that they could summarily enforce strict no-drug policies against such patients.
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test.
In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.” Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses.
Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours. The ruling overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against brought in 2015 by Cristina Barbuto of Brewster, who was fired by Advantage Sales and Marketing after just one day on the job because she tested positive for marijuana.
Barbuto said she told the company during interviews that she uses cannabis several nights a week — not before or during work hours — to treat her Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the digestive tract and can inhibit appetites. She said the local hiring manager told her it would not be a problem, and that she was blindsided by her dismissal....
Advocates called the ruling long overdue, and said they expected that other medical marijuana patients who had been fired over their use of the drug would soon contest their dismissals. “We are thrilled that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled in favor of compassion for people that use medical marijuana for a range of debilitating conditions,” the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which sponsored the state’s successful 2012 medical marijuana ballot initiative, said in a prepared statement.
A business group that interceded in the case, however, said the ruling would especially hurt small companies that don’t have the resources or expertise to negotiate accommodations for marijuana patients. “This is opening small business owners up to a ton of litigation,” said Karen Harned, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, which filed a brief in support of Advantage. “It’s making their lives harder because they can no longer have a clear drug-free-workplace policy.”
The decision doesn’t mean employers can never fire a patient for using marijuana medically; firms that contract with the federal government, for example, or where workers operate heavy machinery, could argue that accommodating their employees’ use of the drug constitutes an “undue hardship.” But the ruling puts the burden on employers to prove they cannot accommodate medical marijuana patients because their cannabis use impairs their ability to do required work, endangers public safety, or otherwise demonstrably endangers the business, Gants wrote.
“Employers can still prevail,” said Chris Feudo, an attorney at Foley Hoag who represents companies in employment disputes. “Employees aren’t entitled to the accommodation they want; they’re entitled to a reasonable accommodation — and sometimes, there isn’t one.” Still, Feudo said, the ruling will have “really wide implications.”
The full ruling in Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC, No. SJC 12226 (Mass. July 17, 2017), is available at this link. And it gets started this way:
In 2012, Massachusetts voters approved the initiative petition entitled, "An Act for the humanitarian medical use of marijuana," St. 2012, c. 369 (medical marijuana act or act), whose stated purpose is "that there should be no punishment under state law for qualifying patients . . . for the medical use of marijuana." Id. at § 1. The issue on appeal is whether a qualifying patient who has been terminated from her employment because she tested positive for marijuana as a result of her lawful medical use of marijuana has a civil remedy against her employer. We conclude that the plaintiff may seek a remedy through claims of handicap discrimination in violation of G. L. c. 151B, and therefore reverse the dismissal of the plaintiff's discrimination claims. We also conclude that there is no implied statutory private cause of action under the medical marijuana act and that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and therefore affirm the dismissal of those claims.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Tenth Circuit panel issues big, intricate and important ruling in RICO suits brought against state-legal recreational marijuana businesses
The Tenth Circuit this morning released a ninety-page panel opinion in Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper, No. 16-1048 (10th Cir. June 7, 2017) (available here), a significant and complicated federal case that could directly or indirectly have a big impact on recreational marijuana reforms in Colorado and other states. I will need to read and reflect on the whole Safe Streets opinion before I can readily opine on its merits and impact, but I can start this blog coverage of the ruling by quoting the opinions lengthy introduction (with footnotes omitted, emphasis in original):
These three appeals arise from two cases that concern the passage, implementation, and alleged effects of Amendment 64 to the Colorado Constitution, Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 16. Amendment 64 repealed many of the State’s criminal and civil proscriptions on “recreational marijuana,” and created a regulatory regime designed to ensure that marijuana is unadulterated and taxed, and that those operating marijuana-related enterprises are, from the State’s perspective, licensed and qualified to do so. Of course, what Amendment 64 did not and could not do was amend the United States Constitution or the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. §§ 801–904, under which manufacturing, distributing, selling, and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana remains illegal in Colorado. See U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. The three appeals at issue and two related motions to intervene raise four principal disputes stemming from the alleged conflict between the CSA and Colorado’s new regime.
Two of the appeals were brought in Safe Streets Alliance v. Alternative Holistic Healing, LLC. First, in No. 16-1266, two Colorado landowners challenge the district court’s dismissal of their claims brought under the citizen-suit provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c), against certain affiliates of a State- and county-licensed marijuana manufactory that allegedly has injured the landowners’ adjacent property. We conclude that the landowners have plausibly alleged at least one § 1964(c) claim against each of those defendants. We therefore reverse, in part, the dismissal of those claims and remand for further proceedings.
Second, in No. 16-1048, those landowners and an interest group to which they belong appeal the district court’s dismissal of their purported causes of action “in equity” against Colorado and one of its counties for ostensibly also having injured the landowners’ property by licensing that manufactory. The landowners and the interest group allege that Amendment 64’s regime is preempted by the CSA, pursuant to the Supremacy Clause, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2, and the CSA’s preemption provision, 21 U.S.C. § 903. We conclude that neither the landowners nor the interest group purport to have any federal substantive rights that have been injured by Colorado or the county’s actions. And because they have no substantive rights in the CSA to vindicate, it follows inexorably that they cannot enforce § 903 “in equity” to remedy their claimed injuries. We therefore affirm the dismissal of their preemption claims.
The third appeal, No. 16-1095, was filed in Smith v. Hickenlooper. In that case, a group of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska sheriffs and county attorneys sued Colorado on similar theories that Amendment 64’s regime is preempted by the CSA. The district court dismissed their claims, and we consolidated the appeal with No. 16-1048. Because those plaintiffs also do not claim injuries to their federal substantive rights, we likewise affirm.
Finally, the States of Nebraska and Oklahoma moved to intervene in Safe Streets Alliance and Smith while they were pending on appeal. T hose States claim that Amendment 64 injures their sovereign interests and those of their citizens, and that its enforcement is preempted by the CSA. We granted their motion in No. 16-1048 and heard their arguments, which confirmed that their controversy is with Colorado. Given that fact, we must confront 28 U.S.C. § 1251(a), which forbids us from exercising jurisdiction over controversies between the States. We therefore cannot permit Nebraska and Oklahoma to intervene, or even confirm that they have a justiciable controversy that may be sufficient for intervention. Consequently, we vacate the order granting intervention in Safe Streets Alliance and deny the States’ motions in both cases.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
This local article, headlined "Judge: Insurance company must pay for medical marijuana for injured N.J. worker," reports on what would seem to be a significant ruling from an administrative law judge in New Jersey. Here are the details from the press report:
In what could be a precedent-setting decision, a New Jersey administrative law judge has ordered an insurance company to pay for medical marijuana for an injured worker who suffers from lingering neuropathic pain in his left hand after an accident while using a power saw at an 84 Lumber outlet in 2008.
Judge Ingrid L. French took testimony from the worker, a 39-year-old Egg Harbor Township man, and a Cherry Hill psychiatrist/neurologist who said the marijuana treatment was appropriate because it would allow the patient to reduce his prescription opiate use and lower the risk of serious side effects.
Andrew Watson was seeking reimbursement for marijuana he had purchased at a dispensary in his Atlantic County township over three months in 2014 after enrolling in the state's program. He also sought a ruling that would allow him to be covered for the treatment in the future.
French issued her opinion last month, saying "the evidence presented in these proceedings show that the petitioner's 'trial' use of medicinal marijuana has been successful. While the court is sensitive to the controversy surrounding the medicinal use of marijuana, whether or not it should be prescribed for a patient in a state where it is legal to prescribe it is a medical decision that is within the boundaries of the laws in the state."
The opinion did not state the reimbursement owed Watson, although his attorney said the marijuana itself cost less than $1,000 because it was only three ounces.
John Gearney, a Mount Laurel lawyer who writes a weekly blog on workers' compensation cases, says the written ruling may be the first in New Jersey to address whether an insurer should pay for marijuana. "It's not binding, but it's really an important decision. There are about 50 workers' compensation judges in the state, and they will read it and see what the judge thought when a case like it comes before them," he said.
Gearney, of the Capehart Scatchard firm, said the only other court ruling he had heard of involving medical marijuana and workers' compensation came when a New Mexico appeals court decided a few years ago that an injured worker was entitled to marijuana treatment. In that case, the court ruled that marijuana was "reasonable and necessary" for an injured worker who had reported that traditional treatments had not alleviated his pain.
John Carvelli, a Mount Laurel lawyer who represented Gallagher Bassett Services, a third-party administrator for 84 Lumber's insurance company, said in an email Thursday: "With respect to the recent decision, we respect the court's decision. . . . At this juncture there is no plan to appeal."...
Philip Faccenda, a Cherry Hill lawyer who represented Watson, said the decision might benefit insurance companies, too. "We believe this will offer very powerful cost savings with respect to the entire workers' compensation industry in New Jersey. . . . More costly pharmaceuticals can be reduced and medical marijuana would be a less expensive treatment modality," he said.
Faccenda said that his client stopped using marijuana in 2014 because he could not afford to continue paying for it. The insurance carrier continued to pay for his use of opiates to treat his pain. The decision means Watson can resume using marijuana, he said.
French wrote in her eight-page decision that Watson's testimony was credible. "He testified that the effects of the marijuana, in many ways, is not as debilitating as the effects of the Percocet (which is how he refers to his prescriptions for Endocet or Oxycodone). . . . Ultimately, the petitioner was able to reduce his use of oral narcotic medication. . . . The court found the petitioner's approach to his pain management needs has been cautious, mature, and overall, he is exceptionally conscientious in managing his pain."
French also wrote that Watson's expert witness, Cherry Hill psychiatrist Edward H. Tobe, described the benefits Watson can obtain by using marijuana and also described the risks of taking opiates. "Opiates can shut down breathing (whereas) marijuana cannabinoids won't . . . Marijuana does not affect the mid-brain. The mid-brain is critical in controlling respiration, heart rate, many of the life-preserving elements," he said, according to an excerpt of his testimony that was included in the judge's opinion.
Tobe said using marijuana, combined with less opiate use, would likely benefit Watson and help him "achieve better function." French said the evidence convinced her that Watson was entitled to participate in the marijuana program and that doing so was "reasonable and necessary" to relieve his continuing pain.
I cannot find the ruling discussed here on line, but more about the ruling can be gleaned from this posting at the NJ Workers' Comp Blog.
Monday, August 22, 2016
A darker view of a recent medical marijuana court victory: "10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision"
In this post over at my other blog, I flagged last week's Ninth Circuit panel ruling in US v. McIntosh, No. No. 15-10117 (9th Cir. Aug. 16, 2016) (available here), on a series of appeals concerning "whether criminal defendants may avoid prosecution for various federal marijuana offenses on the basis of a congressional appropriations rider that prohibits the United States Department of Justice from spending funds to prevent states’ implementation of their own medical marijuana laws." That ruling was hailed by many marijuana reform advocates as a victory because the court concluded that "at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws."
But astute followers of the law and policies surrounding marijuana reform know that there is rarely simple story around any aspect of federal marijuana laws and policy, and John Hudak has this recent posting at a Brookings blog explaining reasons why "medical marijuana advocates should [still] worry" after the McIntosh decision. Here are excerpts from the start and the headings of his commentary:
[M]arijuana reform advocates applauded a federal appeals court decision limiting the power of the Department of Justice to prosecute certain marijuana growers. In United States v. McIntosh, the three judge panel (two Republican and one Democratic appointee) dealt explicitly with the Rohrabacher amendment — a rider to a congressional spending bill that barred the DOJ from spending funds on enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in states with medical marijuana reform laws.
Despite the rider being signed into law—by President Obama—the Obama administration continued to bust growers in medical marijuana states. The defendants in the 10 cases grouped together in this appeal hail from California and Washington and were indicted on a variety of federal charges. They fought the charges in lower courts on the basis of the rider without success, and brought their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
After the usual judicial hoops of establishing jurisdiction and the appropriateness of the court stepping in at this time to intervene in an ongoing prosecution, the court ruled on the merits of the case. The 9th circuit decision explains that even though “the rider is not a model or clarity” (24) it “prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws” (27).
If you’re a marijuana reform advocate, a grower, a cannabis enterprise executive, a patient, or otherwise related to the medical marijuana industry, this is great news, right?
Well, yes and no. The cork popping over the ruling in McIntosh may have been a bit premature. While the central holding of the case is a tremendous victory for the movement and offers a real barrier against executive enforcement power in the context of marijuana, the details of the decision are a bit more mixed. Namely, for the medical marijuana community, there are 10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision.
- The ruling has limited scope...
- McIntosh is about medical marijuana only...
- The Cole Memos are not the Great Savior many believe...
- State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
- State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
- This ruling may not always help current defendants or marijuana law violators...
- This ruling may not always help future defendants...
- This ruling may not always help future defendants...
- This ruling may not always help future defendants...
- This ruling may not always help future defendants
August 22, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Court Rulings, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, July 22, 2016
Illinois judge orders reconsideration of making migraines an eligible condition for medical marijuana in the state
As 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.
Friday, March 18, 2016
"One Toke Too Far: The Demise of the Dormant Commerce Clause's Extraterritoriality Doctrine Threatens the Marijuana-Legalization Experiment"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely piece of legal scholarship authored by Chad DeVeaux now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This Article argues that the pending feuds between neighboring states over marijuana decriminalization demonstrate the need for a strict doctrine limiting a state’s regulatory authority to its own borders. Precedent recognizes that the dormant Commerce Clause (DCC) “precludes the application of a state statute to commerce that takes place wholly outside the State’s borders, whether or not the commerce has effects within the state.” This prohibition protects “the autonomy of the individual States within their respective spheres” by dictating that “[n]o state has the authority to tell other polities what laws they must enact or how affairs must be conducted.” But this principle was called into doubt last summer by the Tenth Circuit, which concluded that this “most dormant doctrine in [DCC] jurisprudence” had withered and died from nonuse.
The Tenth Circuit’s conclusion, which approved Colorado’s purported direct regulation of coal-fired power generation in Nebraska, ironically coincided Nebraska’s (and Oklahoma’s) attempt to enjoin Colorado’s pot-friendly laws. Nebraska contends that Colorado’s commercial pot market allows marijuana to “flow . . . into [Nebraska], undermining [its] own marijuana ban, draining [its] treasur[y], and placing stress on [its] criminal justice system.” While Colorado celebrated its new-found power to impose its legislative judgments on Nebraskans, the festivities might be short lived. Colorado failed to recognize the impact the extraterritorial doctrine’s apparent demise will have on its own marijuana-legalization experiment. If Colorado is empowered to regulate coal burning in Nebraska because of its effects in Colorado, what prevents Nebraska from projecting its own laws across the border to regulate Colorado marijuana transactions that affect a substantial number of Nebraskans?
Thursday, November 5, 2015
As reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Mexico’s Supreme Court Opens Door to Legalizing Marijuana Use," a major legal ruling in a notable country could provide yet another jolt to the legal and policy status of marijuana in the Americas. Here are the basics:
The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.
The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. The ruling is a first step — applying only to a single cannabis club that brought the suit — and does not strike down Mexico’s current drug laws. But it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately legalize marijuana.
The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence....
The ruling on Wednesday was the culmination of an effort to change the law by four members of a prominent Mexican anticrime group, Mexico United Against Crime. Mr. Torres Landa and Mr. Santacruz formed a cannabis club with two other people, called the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption — the Spanish acronym is Smart.
The group applied for a license from Mexico’s drug regulatory agency, but, as expected, was turned down. Their appeal of that decision eventually reached the Supreme Court. “We have been trying to struggle against illegality, and the results were almost negligible,” said Mr. Torres Landa, who says he has never tried marijuana and does not intend to. “Five or six years ago, we asked why? The answer, as the Americans say, was in the money.”
But the ruling on Wednesday applies only to their petition. For legal marijuana to become the law of the land, the justices in the court’s criminal chamber will have to rule the same way five times, or eight of the 11 members of the full court will have to vote in favor.
If the court decisions continue in that direction, they will be flying in the face of public opinion. Mexicans are so opposed to legalizing marijuana that a leading pollster told the Smart group not to bother with a survey, Mr. Santacruz recalled, or to limit it to young people. The Mexican government, legislators and security and health officials all came out against legalization, as did the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the authorities have not permitted even the use of medical marijuana.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
As reported in this Boston Globe article, headlined "SJC bans police stops solely for suspected marijuana: Court ruling cites 2008 decriminalization law," a top state court yesterday ruled that state marijuana reforms necessarily changed policy powers related to suspicion on drug offenses. Here are the details:
In a decision hailed by civil rights advocates and supporters of marijuana legalization, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that police cannot stop motorists solely because they suspect the vehicle’s occupants are in possession of the drug.
The Supreme Judicial Court based its 5-2 ruling largely on a measure that voters approved in 2008 that reduced possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil violation punishable by a fine.
“Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives” of the law change, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. Botsford wrote that allowing such stops “does not refocus police efforts on pursuing more serious crime,” another goal of changing the law.
The ruling does not prevent police from issuing citations for marijuana possession if they stop a driver for a traffic infraction, such as speeding, and later notice marijuana in plain view inside the vehicle.
otsford’s opinion was welcomed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, a group pushing for a 2016 ballot question that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement that the ruling “provides further clarification for how police officers should handle vehicle stops in the era of decriminalization, and it advances the clear message sent by voters in 2008 to refocus police activity on more serious crimes.”
Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, echoed that view, saying that with the vote to decriminalize marijuana in 2008, residents of the Commonwealth were making a statement “about how the police ought to spend their time and the taxpayers’ money.” Pulling over a car on suspicion of marijuana possession, he said, is “not consistent with the Massachusetts constitution, nor is it consistent with the will of the voters who passed decriminalization.”
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said in a statement that troopers are not primarily concerned about a vehicle occupant who possesses an ounce or less of marijuana. He said troopers usually make observations of marijuana use after stopping a car for other reasons, such as traffic infractions.
“What does concern us about marijuana, even amounts less than an ounce . . . is whether the operator has used it and is thus driving while impaired,” Procopio said. “The voters decriminalized possession of less than an ounce. That does not mean that using less than an ounce means you are OK to drive . . . and this ruling will have no impact on the observations we use to establish probable cause for drugged driving or our determination that a driver should be charged as such.”
Botsford’s opinion followed SJC rulings in 2011 and last year finding that the odor of burned marijuana alone does not provide grounds for police to order occupants to exit a car, and that the smell of burned or unburned marijuana does not justify searching a vehicle without a warrant.
Bristol prosecutors who argued the Rodriguez case before the SJC asserted that police can stop vehicles for a civil marijuana offense, just as they can for a civil traffic offense. The court rejected that argument, finding that traffic laws promote road safety, but there “is no obvious and direct link” between issuing civil citations for marijuana possession and maintaining highway safety.
Justice Robert Cordy, in a dissenting opinion, expressed a different view, writing that even if not all civil marijuana violations affect highway safety, infractions “occurring in motor vehicles do implicate concerns regarding traffic and automobile safety.” He argued that “there is no constitutionally based reason to distinguish” motor vehicle stops for civil marijuana violations from stops for traffic infractions.
The full opinion in Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, No. SJC 11814 (Mass. Sept. 22, 2015), is available at this link.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Supreme Court of Canada issues big medical marijuana ruling (and highlights import of judiciary in marijuana reform)
As reported in this local Canadian article, headlined "Medical marijuana includes cookies, brownies, Supreme Court rules," the top court in Canada issues a significant medical marijuana ruling last week. Here are the details:
A former cannabis club head baker at the centre of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling is both thrilled and relieved after the high court struck down limits on what constitutes legally acceptable medical marijuana products. The court ruled unanimously on Thursday that medical marijuana can be legally consumed in a range of ways, from cannabis-infused cookies and brownies to cooking oils and teas. “I think across the country there will be a lot more smiles and a lot less pain,” said Owen Smith with the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, whose 2009 arrest was the focus of the decision.
Smith was charged after police found hundreds of pot cookies and cannabis-infused olive and grapeseed oils in his Victoria apartment. He was acquitted at trial and won an appeal.
The outpouring of gratitude since the ruling was handed down has been overwhelming, Smith said. He received a phone call from a mother who used cannabis-infused oil to treat her daughter’s epilepsy. “She was just overjoyed and in tears about the decision,” he said. “It’s been emotional, that’s for sure.”
Not only was it a unanimous 7-0 ruling, but the court made a point of attributing the written decision to the entire court — something the justices do when they want to underline a finding.
It was yet another rebuke of the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda. Until now, federal regulations stipulated that authorized users of physician-prescribed cannabis could only consume dried marijuana.
But limiting medical consumption to dried pot infringes on liberty protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court said. “The prohibition of non-dried forms of medical marijuana limits liberty and security of the person in a manner that is arbitrary and hence is not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” said the written judgment.
Cheryl Rose, whose daughter Hayley takes cannabis for a severe form of epilepsy, said the 22-year-old’s seizures have dropped dramatically. Under the previous law, Hayley had to take 15 capsules of dried cannabis daily. Now, she will only have to take one concentrated capsule made with oil. “Without having extracts available for her, I don’t think we’d be able to keep it up. It’s way too much for a person to consume,” she said. “She’s finally going to fully have her life back.”
Alex Repetski, of Thornhill, Ont., could have been charged with possession and trafficking for converting dried bud into oil for his 3-year-old daughter, Gwenevere, whose debilitating epilepsy has left her developmentally delayed. Since starting on the low-THC marijuana, Gwenevere has seen an incredible recovery, Repetski said. He no longer fears prosecution.
Limiting medical marijuana use to dried pot “limits life, liberty and security of the person” in two ways, the court said. First, the prohibition on possession of cannabis in forms other than dried pot places a person at risk of imprisonment when they wouldn’t face the same threat if they possessed dried marijuana buds. It also exposes people with a legitimate need for marijuana to other potential medical ailments, it stated. “It subjects the person to the risk of cancer and bronchial infections associated with smoking dry marijuana and precludes the possibility of choosing a more effective treatment.”...
Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was “outraged” by the marijuana decision. “The big issue here is the message about normalization,” she said. “The message that judges, not medical experts, judges have decided something is a medicine.” Ambrose noted that marijuana has never faced a regulatory approval process through Heath Canada.
The full 24-page ruling in R. v. Smith, 2015 SCC 34 (Canada June 11, 2015) is available at this link.
As the last line of my post headline emphasizes, I think this ruling highlights the importance and impact of how a judiciary responds to a jurisdiction's marijuana reform efforts. For any jurisdiction that reforms blanket marijuana prohibition in any ways, the dynamics of just how courts interpret and apply reform statutes and regulations will necessarily have an impact on the actions of other government officials and individuals seeking to comply with reformed laws and practices.