Friday, December 15, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this new short paper authored by Pat Oglesby now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Recent federal marijuana tax bills address these questions:
1. What should we tax? What should be the “base” or bases of a cannabis tax? (Possible bases include: price; weight of various product types [like flower, trim, and concentrate]; and THC content.)
2. Given any base, what should the tax rate be?
3. Should medical cannabis bear full tax?
4. Should marijuana advertising and selling expenses become deductible for federal income tax purposes? (That would treat cannabis businesses like other businesses; current Internal Revenue Code section 280E bars such deductions.)
A few of the answers are unsatisfactory for tax policy and drug policy, but some of the answers are forward-looking, going beyond what has been proposed before.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Stateline has this interesting new piece on banking in the marijuana sector under the headline "Why It’s Getting Easier for Marijuana Companies to Open Bank Accounts." Here are excerpts:
State and local officials in places that recently legalized marijuana are bracing for the arrival of a sector that largely runs on cash. They’re anxiously envisioning burglars targeting dispensaries and business owners showing up at tax offices with duffel bags full of money. But the marijuana industry’s banking problems may be more manageable than many officials realize.
Just ask Washington state, which last year successfully pushed almost all legal marijuana businesses to open bank accounts and pay their taxes with a check or other non-cash method. Or Hawaii, which earlier this year announced a “cashless” system for buying medical marijuana, reliant on a technology analogous to PayPal.
“We’re definitely seeing more businesses in the industry getting banked every day,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group. Despite the legal risk involved in serving the cannabis industry, almost 400 banks and credit unions now do, according to the U.S. Treasury — a number that has more than tripled since 2014.
That’s reassuring news for California, where sales of recreational pot start next month, as well as for Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, where voters approved recreational marijuana sales last year, and Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, where voters approved medicinal sales.
But the progress that has occurred in some legal markets remains fragile. The federal government still considers marijuana to be a dangerous, illegal drug. States can only permit marijuana sales — and financial institutions can only serve marijuana-related businesses — thanks to Obama-era guidelines that create wiggle room in federal law....
Local institutions that are chartered at the state level have been particularly willing to work with the industry. In Oregon, where sales of recreational marijuana began in 2015, Salem-based Maps Credit Union decided to serve marijuana businesses after audits revealed some of its members were already in the industry. “It didn’t really square with our philosophy to kick members out,” said Shane Saunders, chief experience officer.
Taking on the new line of business required investments in staff, anti-money laundering software, and extra security at bank branches, said Rachel Pross, the credit union’s chief risk officer. Under the current federal guidance, Maps has to send a report on each marijuana-related account to the U.S. Treasury every 90 days, plus a report each time an account experiences a cash transaction of over $10,000.
Maps staff run background checks on marijuana-related business owners who want to open an account. They conduct regular, in-person inspections of the businesses whose accounts they manage, and they require business owners to share their quarterly financial statements. Dispensaries that bank with Maps make most of their sales in cash, because credit- and debit-card processors typically won’t touch marijuana money. As of October, the credit union had handled $140 million in cash deposits from 375 marijuana-related accounts in 2017, Pross said. Some companies hold multiple accounts.
In neighboring Washington, where recreational marijuana sales began in 2014, several financial institutions are openly working with the industry. Washington has helped banks and credit unions monitor marijuana-related customers by collecting and publishing extensive data on monthly sales and legal violations to the liquor and cannabis control board’s website. State regulators last year nudged marijuana licensees to open deposit accounts, aware that banking services were available and worried that cash-based businesses threatened public safety....
In some states, such as Alaska and Hawaii, regulators say they’re not aware of any credit unions or banks that currently serve the industry. Recreational marijuana sales began in Alaska in 2015, and medical marijuana dispensaries opened in Hawaii in 2017. But Hawaii is pioneering a workaround. Regulators have given a Colorado-based credit union permission to serve the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries. The credit union, in turn, has partnered with CanPay, an app that allows patients to transfer money from their bank accounts directly to the dispensary’s account....
Seattle dispensary owner [John] Branch notes that stores with ATMs make money when they dispense cash, and store owners may not embrace an electronic payment system that instead will cost them 2 percent of each transaction, as CanPay’s service does.
A change in federal law would solve the cannabis industry’s banking problem and wipe away the need for services tailored to the industry, such as CanPay. But Congress has so far failed to pass — or even seriously consider — a law that would reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance or allow banks and credit unions to work with businesses without risking their charters. U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat who proposed a bill on the issue this year, says no action is expected anytime soon.
December 7, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
AG Sessions suggests that Justice Department may soon refocus its federal criminal marijuana enforcement efforts
During a press conference discussing new Justice Department opioid initiatives (noted here), Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to federal marijuana laws and policies in a manner that suggests a change may be afoot. This US News and World Report piece, headlined "Sessions Hints at Shift in Federal Marijuana Enforcement," reports on these details:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday gave his strongest signal yet that the Justice Department's more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement may soon be changing. Sessions said that the department is looking "very hard right now" at a directive carried over from the Obama administration that effectively encourages federal prosecutors to generally defer to state laws that legalize marijuana use.
"We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length," the attorney general said, speaking at a press conference on new measures to combat opioid abuse. "It's my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and it's subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges we face."
He added: "We'll be working our way through to a rational policy. But I don't want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it."...
He has been critical of the so-called "Cole memo" from 2013, authored by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which told Justice Department attorneys that marijuana use in "jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form … is less likely to threaten federal priorities." As attorney general, he has roundly dismissed research that has linked the use of medical marijuana to reductions in opioid-related deaths. In May, he explicitly asked Congress in a letter to undo a 2014 amendment that has protected medical marijuana providers. "I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful," Sessions said in March during a speech in Richmond, Virginia.
Since April, a task force at the Justice Department has been reviewing the Cole memo and the department's approach to marijuana enforcement. Documents obtained by the Associated Press this summer indicated that the task force recommended largely keeping the Cole memo in place. Nevertheless, Sessions' remarks on Wednesday – reinforced by his continued opposition to a more lenient approach to marijuana enforcement since becoming attorney general, even as the task force was providing him periodic updates on its findings – suggest he may take a different approach.
I have been surprised that the Cole Memorandum on federal marijuana enforcement remains in place a full 10 months since Sessions became Attorney General. There are not many Obama-era policies that remain in place within the Sessions' Justice Department, and I did not expect marijuana policies to be among the last to be formally changed. So news that change is afoot is not a big shock.
The big question, of course, is what might be issued by Attorney General Sessions to replace the Cole Memo that constitutes "a rational policy," and how practically the AG would like to try to "be focused on all the things and challenges we face." Whatever one's view on marijuana law and policy, it is not easy to engineer a rational policy when federal law embraces blanket criminal prohibition while the states have developed a wild array of forms of marijuana regulation and legalization.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Just a short five years ago it would have been unusual for a member of Congress to ask the US Attorney General about federal marijuana policies. But circa 2017 it now seems near impossible to have a congressional hearing involving the AG in which marijuana policy is not raised. But, as detailed in this new Forbes piece by Tom Angell headlined "Sessions: Obama Marijuana Policy Remains In Effect," AG Sessions did not really have much new to say on this front during a hearing on Capitol Hill today:
Obama-era guidance that allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference remains in effect, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday during a congressional hearing. He also conceded that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin and that a current budget rider prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
"Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes," Sessions said, referring to his predecessors as attorney general during the Obama administration.
Sessions made the comments in response to a question from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. Later, Sessions said, "I think that's correct," when Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) argued that cannabis isn't as dangerous as heroin. Under current federal law, both are classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category that's supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value....
Also during Cohen's line of questioning, the attorney general said, "I believe we are bound by" a federal budget rider that bars the federal government from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. A federal court ruled last year, over Justice Department objections, that the rider specifically bars prosecution of patients and providers who are acting in accordance with those laws. Earlier this year, Sessions, sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that they not continue the annual rider into the next fiscal year.
Sessions, a longtime vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, has previously said that the separate Obama policy on state marijuana laws remains in effect while the Department of Justice reviews potential changes, but has not before so clearly tied the Trump administration approach to that of his predecessors....
[I]n April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the Obama administration memo and make recommendations for possible changes. However, that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force’s report to the attorney general. Sessions did not refer to any ongoing consideration of enforcement policy changes during the House hearing.
During a Senate hearing last month, the attorney general said that allowing more researchers to legally grow more marijuana for scientific studies would be "healthy." He has yet to respond to pending written questions stemming from that hearing about a federal budget rider that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
November 14, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, November 12, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Scott Howe now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
An important question for our time concerns whether the Constitution could establish a right to engage in certain marijuana-related activities. Several states have now legalized cannabis, within strict limits, for recreational purposes, and that number will grow. Yet, some states will not promptly legalize but, instead, continue to criminalize, or only “decriminalize” in minor ways, and the federal criminalization statutes also will likely survive for a time. There currently is no recognized right under the Constitution to possess, use, cultivate or distribute cannabis for recreational purposes, even in small amounts, and traditional, single-clause arguments for such a right are weak. Neither the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the Fourth Amendment, the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause can justify such a protection, and that would remain true even when most states have legalized. But, could another theory justify this constitutional right?
A second important and topical legal question concerns when two or more rights-based clauses in the Constitution can combine to invalidate government action that none of the clauses could disallow on their own. The Supreme Court generally has declined to recognize multiple-clause rights. But, in the past, it occasionally seemed to endorse the approach. And, recently, in Obergefell v Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015), it gave new impetus to the idea by declaring the existence of a “synergy” between the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses that it asserted had helped explain its acknowledgment of certain rights previously and that purportedly helped lead, in the case at hand, to its acknowledgment of a right to same-sex marriage. In consequence, enthusiasm has again intensified over the notion that rights-based clause aggregation can expand constitutional protections. But, is clause aggregation only rhetoric offered to justify something the Court would have done anyway under a single clause or can it sometimes really matter? And, if so, when?
This Article puts both problems in play by asking this question: After a super-majority of states legalize, could multiple clauses together reveal a constitutional right to engage in certain recreational, marijuana activities? The Article answers with cautious affirmance: Clause aggregation could help justify such a constitutional right, in tightly limited circumstances. But, the Article also notes that many of the contours remain undeveloped in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on rights-based clause aggregation, complicating any effort to predict whether and how the Justices would apply it in the future to recreational marijuana.
November 12, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Lots of headlines (and prior posts) about veterans having access to medical marijuana ... but work remains in Trump era
Regular readers know I have, since starting this blog more than four years ago, regularly blogged about a range of issues relating to veterans and their access to marijuana (a dozen of my more recent posts on this topic are linked below). I feel a genuine and deep debt to anyone and everyone who serves this nation through the armed forces, and I feel strongly that veterans should be able to have safe and legal access to any and every form of medicine that they and their doctors reasonably believe could help them with any ailments or conditions.
Notably, this White House release from a few days ago touts "President Donald J. Trump is Putting Our Veterans First," and it quotes Prez Trump sating that "we will not rest until all of America’s great veterans can receive the care they so richly deserve." But current federal law essentially puts veterans last, not first, when it comes to access to medical marijuana because doctors with the Veterans Administration are legally barred from providing the recommendations that patients needs to obtain medical marijuana under state laws.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, on this Veterans Day 2017, issues relating to veterans and their access to marijuana are getting ever more attention. Here are a few recent press pieces that caught my eye on this topic, followed by a lot of prior posts:
- How Veterans Are Leading the Fight for Cannabis Reform
Some recent prior related posts:
- New American Legion survey documents strong support among veteran households for medical marijuana
- "As Trump wages war on legal marijuana, military veterans side with pot"
- "More and More US Veterans are Smoking Weed to Treat Their PTSD"
- Examining pot's potential for treatment of veterans' PTSD problems
- Will Prez-Elect Donald Trump make it legal and easier for veterans to have access to medical marijuana?
- American Legion urges federal government to reschedule marijuana
- Veterans group gets attention when urging Trump team to seek to reschedule marijuana
- American Legion, the largest US vets' organization, pressing Trump Administration on medical marijuana reform
- "Study: Can marijuana improve PTSD symptoms for veterans?"
- "Make Pot Legal for Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injury"
- Interesting look at veterans getting involved in the marijuana industry
- Head of Veterans Affairs acknowledges marijuana may be "helpful" to veterans
The title of this post is the headline of this local report on a notable new lawsuit seeking to ensure legal access to medical marijuana. (This lawsuit, filed in federal district court in New York, was first discussed in this post in July 2017.) Here are excerpts from the press piece:
Alexis Bortell is hardly the first child whose family moved to Colorado for access to medical marijuana. But the 12-year-old is the first Colorado kid to sue U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions over the nation's official marijuana policy.
"As the seizures got worse, we had to move to Colorado to get cannabis because it's illegal in Texas," said Bortell, who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a young child.
The sixth-grader said traditional medicine wasn't helping her seizures and doctors in her home state were recommending invasive brain surgery. But a pediatrician did mention an out-of-state option: Medical marijuana.
Shortly after moving to Larkspur, Bortell's family began using a strain of cannabis oil called Haleigh's Hope. A drop of liquid THC in the morning and at night has kept her seizure-free for 2 1/2 years. "I'd say it`s a lot better than brain surgery," Bortell said.
But Bortell said the federal prohibition on marijuana prevents her from returning to Texas. "I would like to be able to visit my grandparents without risking being taken to a foster home," Bortell said on why she's joined a lawsuit that seeks to legalize medical marijuana on the federal level....
Alexis' dad Dean Bortell ... showed his backyard fields, where he grows five acres of marijuana plants used to derive the medicine that helps his daughter and patients he's never met. "When you look at it from a distance and you see it saving their lives, me as a father and an American, I go, what are we doing? How could you possibly look at someone who`s benefiting from this as a medicine and threaten to take it away?" Bortell said....
Alexis' New York attorney Michael Hiller argues it should be legal nationwide. "As it pertains to cannabis, the (Controlled Substances Act) is irrational and thus unconstitutional," said Heller, who added the U.S. government "made a representation that cannabis has medical application for the treatments of Parkinson`s Disease, HIV-induced dementia and Alzheimer's disease and yet at the same time the United States government maintains that there is absolutely no medical benefit for the use of cannabis. That is of course absurd."
Denver attorney Adam Foster represents marijuana businesses. He said he thought the lawsuit was clever but admitted its success might be a long shot. "Whenever you sue the government, the deck is really stacked against you," Foster said.
But he added the federal government might have a hard time arguing medical marijuana has no known medical benefits. "We now live in an era where 62 percent of Americans live in a state where the medical use of cannabis is legal at the state level," he said.
Alexis Bortell said she hopes her lawsuit will normalize medical marijuana but also legalize it. "We'll be able to be treated like what you call 'normal' families," she said.
Bortell is joined in the lawsuit by another child, a military veteran, a marijuana advocacy group and former Broncos player Marvin Washington, who played on the 1998 Super Bowl-winning team. The federal government has already lost its first motion to have the case dismissed.
Prior related post:
November 11, 2017 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Saturday, November 4, 2017
Maine Gov vetoes bill designed to establish structure for voter-approved recreational marijuana industry
As reported in this NBC News piece, "Maine Gov. Paul Lepage’s decision to veto a bill on Friday that would have built a recreational marijuana retail market is a major buzzkill for those in the state who voted to legalize the drug last year." Here is more on the decision and its impact:
In his veto letter, LePage urged the Maine legislature to “sustain this veto” because he did not believe that the bill was satisfactory. The bill passed with enough votes to overturn a veto in the state Senate, but not the statehouse.
LePage said his greatest grievance is that he did not know how the Trump administration intended to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that legalized recreational marijuana. “If we are adopting a law that will legalize and establish a new industry and impose a new regulatory infrastructure that requires significant private and public investment, we need assurances that a change in policy or administration at the federal level will not nullify those investments,” LePage wrote....
In his letter, LePage also expanded on his grievance that the bill conflicted with Maine’s existing medical marijuana laws, which he claims are being exploited by his constituents, and created “unrealistic deadlines” to craft regulation at the executive level....
In the letter, LePage said that he “sought guidance” from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, who has had to oversee his state’s recreational marijuana market since Colorado legalized the drug in 2012. LePage said that Hickenlooper “urged” him to “not rush just to get something in place” and connected Colorado’s crime rates and traffic deaths to recreational marijuana use.
The full statement by Gov LePage is available at this link, and here are its concluding paragraphs:
When I sought guidance from my counterpart in Colorado, he was adamant that Maine should learn from the mistakes made by his state and others that have pursued legalization efforts. He urged that we take the time necessary to get our law right from the start and not rush just to get something in place. There have been serious negative effects of legalization in other states — effects that should not be repeated in Maine. In Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths more than doubled since recreational marijuana was legalized. The Institute for Highway Safety reached similar findings, noting that automobile collisions increased by three percent in states that have legalized marijuana. Alarmingly, the violent crime rate in Colorado increased nearly 19 percent since legalization, more than double the national rate. If Maine is going to legalize and regulate marijuana, it is imperative that we do it right.
Outside specific concerns about this bill, I continue to be concerned about expanded legalization of marijuana in Maine. The dangers of legalizing marijuana and normalizing its use in our society cannot be understated. Maine is now battling a horrific drug epidemic that claims more than one life a day due to overdoses caused by deadly opiates. Sending a message, especially to our young people, that some drugs that are still illegal under federal law are now sanctioned by the state may have unintended and grave consequences.
For these reasons, I return LD 1650 unsigned and vetoed. I strongly urge the Legislature to sustain it and continue to work to get this important law right.
November 4, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
"FDA warns companies marketing unproven products, derived from marijuana, that claim to treat or cure cancer"
The title of this post is the heading of this press release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Here is how the release begins:
As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from health fraud, the agency today issued warning letters to four companies illegally selling products online that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure cancer without evidence to support these outcomes. Selling these unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, but also can put patients at risk as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective. The deceptive marketing of unproven treatments may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.
The FDA has grown increasingly concerned at the proliferation of products claiming to treat or cure serious diseases like cancer. In this case, the illegally sold products allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD), a component of the marijuana plant that is not FDA approved in any drug product for any indication. CBD is marketed in a variety of product types, such as oil drops, capsules, syrups, teas, and topical lotions and creams. The companies receiving warning letters distributed the products with unsubstantiated claims regarding preventing, reversing or curing cancer; killing/inhibiting cancer cells or tumors; or other similar anti-cancer claims. Some of the products were also marketed as an alternative or additional treatment for Alzheimer’s and other serious diseases.
“Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors. We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “There are a growing number of effective therapies for many cancers. When people are allowed to illegally market agents that deliver no established benefit they may steer patients away from products that have proven, anti-tumor effects that could extend lives.”
The FDA issued warning letters to four companies – Greenroads Health, Natural Alchemist, That’s Natural! Marketing and Consulting, and Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises LLC – citing unsubstantiated claims related to more than 25 different products spanning multiple product webpages, online stores and social media websites. The companies used these online platforms to make unfounded claims about their products' ability to limit, treat or cure cancer and other serious diseases.
November 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
In letter to Prez Trump, Gov Christie throws cold water on idea of marijuana as part of solution to opioid crisis
Prez Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued this big final report today, and marijuana only gets some minor mentions throughout the document. The heart of the report's themes and recommendations are usefully summarized in this extended letter to Prez Trump penned by Commission Chair Chris Christie, and that letter include this notable final substantive paragraph speaking directly to the notion that marijuana reform should be part of the response to the opioid crisis:
The Commission acknowledges that there is an active movement to promote the use of marijuana as an alternative medication for chronic pain and as a treatment for opioid addiction. Recent research out of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse found that marijuana use led to a 2½ times greater chance that the marijuana user would become an opioid user and abuser. The Commission found this very disturbing. There is a lack of sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana. This mirrors the lack of data in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when opioid prescribing multiplied across health care settings and led to the current epidemic of abuse, misuse and addiction. The Commission urges that the same mistake is not made with the uninformed rush to put another drug legally on the market in the midst of an overdose epidemic.
For the record, I agree with the notion that we do not want to make mistakes in marijuana law and policy as a result of an "uninformed rush" to do anything. But marijuana's continued status as a Schedule 1 drug play a huge role in keeping us "uninformed" about so many aspects of the drug's potential benefits and harms, and only by moving marijuana off that Schedule do we really have any real chance in the coming years to start to get more of the needed "sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana."
November 1, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 30, 2017
As I mentioned in this recent post, students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar are now gearing up for and delivering presentations on a marijuana-related topic of their choosing. The first of the student presentations planned for this this coming week is exploring industrial hemp, and here are the links my student has assembled in preparation for her presentation this coming week:
Sunday, October 29, 2017
"A Well-Kept Secret: How Vets And Their Doctors Are Getting Around The VA’s Medical Marijuana Policy"
title of this post is the headline of this lengthy article from Task & Purpose, a website that seeks to "provide authentic and unfiltered perspectives on military and veterans issues in the post-9/11 era." I recommend the article in full, and here are some excerpts:
In states where medical marijuana is legal, the VA’s existing policy allows for veterans and their care providers to candidly discuss cannabis use as part of their overall treatment plan, and in some cases, even test positive on a urinalysis for the drug without consequence — many of the same official changes to VA policy that veteran service organizations have been aggressively advocating for in 2017.
Under VA policy, veterans who participate in state-approved marijuana programs won’t lose access to VA health care, however, due to the drug’s Schedule 1 classification, the VA doesn’t allow physicians to prescribe pot; fill out forms for veterans seeking to participate in state weed programs; or pay for the drug. Nor is its use permitted on VA grounds....
What leaves VA guidelines open to interpretation is what they don’t address. The VA doesn’t explicitly bar patients from discussing their medicinal weed use with their doctors. The policy even leaves room for physicians to alter a veteran’s treatment plan to account for their pot use, but stops short of stating exactly what that entails. When it comes to specifics on how this all plays out in a doctor’s office, the policy at large, and the VA in particular, are quite vague....
Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans — and those simply in favor of more research into its potential benefits — often point to its effectiveness in treating chronic pain, especially compared to highly addictive medications, like opioids. Its efficacy has been well-documented, with one observational study indicating a marked dip in opiate-related deaths in states where medicinal weed is legal, The Washington Post reported earlier this year. Still, when it comes to pot as a treatment option for veterans with PTSD and TBI, hard results are less readily available.
One of the consequences of the VA’s reliance on results from state-run studies and its lack of involvement in an ongoing federal study near a major VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is that much of the research needed to further this conversation at the federal level, in any direction, remains out of reach, and it could stay that way for quite some time.
Currently, the marijuana PTSD study, the only federally approved research into the effects of herb on PTSD, has stagnated, with just 26 veterans enrolled out of the required 76 needed to be viable as of Sept. 19, and the hang-up stems from the VA’s refusal to recommend veteran patients for the study, due to the drug’s classification as Schedule 1. The lack of VA involvement, coupled with the study’s strict requirements — roughly 99% of applicants fail to meet the standards — has limited its recruitment pool. The federal research was further stymied by substandard pot — it had a low concentration of THC, but high levels of mold and lead — provided to the researchers by the federal government’s official grow operation at the University of Mississippi.
October 29, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Session have a speech today at The Heritage Foundation and did a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, and federal marijuana law and policy cam up in both settings. These press reports provide some of the details and context:
From Reason here, "Sessions Continues to Push 'Gateway Drug' Myth About Marijuana: Much of the addiction starts with marijuana."
From The Cannabist here, "Talk show host Hugh Hewitt lobbies Jeff Sessions to pursue federal marijuana crackdown: Hewitt asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he was planning to pursue federal prosecution of marijuana businesses"
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
John Hudak and Christine Stenglein have this extended new Brookings' FixGov posting that assails comments made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions about medicial marijuana research. Here is an excerpt of their discussion:
Last week, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions a question about cannabis. It wasn’t about legalization or enforcement. It was about science. Sen. Hatch asked the Attorney General for a status update on applications to grow cannabis for federally-approved medical and scientific research. The Attorney General offered a weak response that highlighted his own biases on the issue, a division of opinion between him and the president he serves, and a federal government effort to stand in the way of the free conduct of research....
There should be more research into cannabis’ medical efficacy, and the Attorney General of the United States needs to stop allowing his own ideological biases from preventing the free and open conduct of research. Right now, there are 26 additional research facilities that have applied to grow research grade cannabis. The Attorney General’s response to Sen. Hatch’s question about these applications was, “So I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply, but I don’t—I’m sure we don’t need 26 new suppliers.”
Nonsense, Mr. Attorney General.
Simply because there are 26 applications does not mean the Justice Department has to approve 26 applications. DEA, the agency charged with initially evaluating these applications, surely evaluated each application for quality, safety, security, necessity, and capacity, among other criteria. Experts have evaluated these applications, and the Attorney General should let those experts make the determinations. DEA and NIDA are sufficiently equipped to evaluate the protocols of each applicant, as they have been administering and overseeing the current producer for decades. In fact, the career officials at those agencies are better positioned to make those decisions than an Alabama Senator who just got a political promotion.
The Attorney General suggested in his testimony that it is not the applications or even DEA that are holding up the process. It is he who is delaying the ability of researchers to conduct high quality research with the best supply possible. The Attorney General noted, “I have raised questions about how many” (new facilities there should be). Instead of talking about his questions, the Attorney General should talk about the system he is putting in place....
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump expressed his support for medical cannabis, even arguing he knows people who have found relief from it. As president, Mr. Trump has frequently spoken of his support for veterans and his willingness to do all he can to help them. He has also spoken of the need to address the opioid epidemic head-on, appointing a commission to examine the issue and even announcing that he would declare the opioid epidemic an official public health emergency. Expanding research would reflect the president’s policy views. Instead, Mr. Sessions is standing between the White House and its stated policy goals.
Finally, the president and even the Attorney General lament that the Affordable Care Act allows the government to stand between patients and doctors. By politicizing medical cannabis research and by blocking researchers from getting answers to medical questions, the Attorney General is not only complicit in allowing government to stand between doctors and patients, he is leading the charge.
It is time that the Attorney General listens to the experts around him who understand the needs of the medical research community. It is time that the Attorney General gets out of the way of the free conduct of medical research. It is time that the Attorney General stops coming between patients and answers to important medical questions. And if he won’t, the president should find someone who will.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
In this post a few weeks ago, I noted that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, had transform his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal." That news portal, available here, is a must-read because of Tom's singular talent in tracking and reporting on various developments before other news organizations notice them. In addition, Tom has been also doing some great original reporting, and these particular recent postings struck me as especially worth highlighting and praising:
October 24, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, October 22, 2017
BuzzFeed News recently had this lengthy article about veterans getting involved in the modern marijuana industry. The full headline of the piece serves as a summary: "For These Veterans, Growing Pot Isn't Just A Job, It's A Cause: For veterans learning to cultivate marijuana through a Los Angeles grower's internship program, it's personal. They want to push for medical cannabis to become an option for veterans with PTSD." Here is an excerpt:
In interviews with BuzzFeed News, several [vets] described visiting Veterans Affairs clinics to seek help for physical pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia and immediately being prescribed opiates and other addictive medications.
“The pills I was receiving from the VA — I could not work, I would take them and fall asleep standing up,” said Brett Miller, a 35-year-old former US Marine and THC Design cultivation intern. “I no longer have that problem, because I no longer take them. Since then I’ve been to many talks with different groups of veterans, and you can really see how it brings a calm to what disturbs a lot of vets.”
Similarly, [Steven] Passmore said “the first thing the VA did is give me a bunch of pills,” including opiates for his clavicle pain. His parents, a retired EMT firefighter and a nurse, “looked at them and said ‘I wouldn’t take these if I were you,'” he said. After doing some research on more natural alternatives, Passmore, who describes himself as a “straight arrow,” decided to try marijuana.
“I was spiraling,” he said. “I was working a retail job that wasn’t paying me enough to survive. I was disconnected from everyone in my life, my family, my lifelong friends. I thought no way, there’s no way pot is going to fix all of these problems, but what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Unlike the VA-prescribed painkillers, he says, marijuana allowed him to manage his pain and get his life back together. “Slowly but surely I pulled my own head out of my ass and reconnected with the people who mattered most to me in my life,” he said.
Their experiences with the VA are common among military veterans. Currently, there are about 2.7 million US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and at least 20% suffer from PTSD. At the same time, VA prescriptions of four potent opiates — hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine — have more than tripled since 9/11, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting. In 2016 alone, the VA treated 66,000 ex-servicemen and women for opioid addiction.
For THC Design cofounder Ryan Jennemann, it’s also personal. After years of using opiates prescribed by his doctor, his father died from heart failure at 47. His father was a big advocate of medical marijuana, Jennemann said, but wasn’t able to take advantage of it as a treatment since it was illegal in Oklahoma, where he lived.
Another THC intern, National Guard veteran Dustin Beluscak, saw the opposite scenario play out with his father, a Vietnam veteran who was prescribed opiates for cancer pain in the last years of his life. When he was prescribed cannabis in 2004, he was at least able to eat and speak.
Medical benefits aside, many veterans at THC Design say the very act of spending all day growing plants has had surprisingly positive effects — although they joke they “wouldn’t be as excited if we were growing tomatoes.”...
Michael Garcia, a 33-year-old US Navy veteran, said the last few weeks working with growers at the facility has felt different from any other job. “Camaraderie was something that was really big in the military, and it was something that I really didn’t feel until I came back and started working here,” he said. “People working together, everyone giving 100%, its nice.”
Like many of the interns, Garcia heard about the program through the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, a veteran-owned medical marijuana collective. Now, as they begin to build careers in the cannabis industry, many say they’re actively working to change the stigma surrounding marijuana for veterans. “At one point if you had a conversation with your primary care doctor about cannabis, it would jeopardize your benefits for the VA,” Miller said. “A lot of veterans are still unaware of the rules, and that’s why veterans are instrumental in the push for cannabis to become legal all across the country.”
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
As this report from The Cannabist details, there were a few minutes of discussion of medical marijuana during an oversight hearing in the US Senate today with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Here are the basic details:
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there should be “more competition” among growers who supply marijuana for federally approved research, though he said he thought the current applicant pool of 26 was too many.
His statement came in response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah. Hatch referred to legislation he recently co-sponsored with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, known as the MEDS Act. “I believe that scientists need to study the potential benefits and risks of marijuana,” said Hatch, though clarifying that “I remain opposed to the broad legalization of marijuana.”
Hatch said he was “very concerned” with reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department “are at odds” over granting additional applications for cultivating marijuana for research purposes. In August, DEA officials said they had been waiting for the Justice Department’s sign-off to move forward on 25 applications, and expressed frustration that the Justice Department had not been willing to provide that sign-off.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
The big news this morning in the federal drug law and policy space is reported in the first paragraph of this new NPR piece: "Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., has withdrawn his name from consideration as America's drug czar, President Trump said Tuesday. Marino is stepping back days after reports that a bill he sponsored hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration in its fight against the U.S. opioid crisis." Here is more of the interesting backstory:
A joint report by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes found that Marino's bill "helped pump more painkillers into parts of the country that were already in the middle of the opioid crisis," as NPR's Kelly McEvers said earlier this week. The bill had been opposed by the DEA and embraced by companies in the drug industry.
Marino was a main backer of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act; among other things, the measure changed the standard for identifying dangers to local communities, from "imminent" threats to "immediate" threats. That change cramped the DEA's authority to go after drug companies that didn't report suspicious — and often very large — orders for narcotics.
After the Post and 60 Minutes reports on the bill emerged, several members of Congress called for the White House to pull Marino's nomination as drug czar. Sen. Joe Machin, D-W.V., said he was "horrified" by the story, adding that he "cannot believe the last administration did not sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic."
In a letter to the president, Manchin wrote about the ability of wholesale drug distributors to send millions of pills into small communities: "As the report notes, one such company shipped 20 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to pharmacies in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. This included 11 million doses in one small county with only 25,000 people in the southern part of the state: Mingo County. As the number of pills in my state increased, so did the death toll in our communities, including Mingo County."
After Marino's name was withdrawn, Manchin tweeted to Trump, "thanks for recognizing we need a drug czar who has seen the devastating effects of the problem." Manchin is a co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the changes made by the 2016 law, along with Sen. Clarie McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H.
In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — who also saw it through the markup process. In Congress and on Twitter, Hatch has defended his role this week, calling the Post story "flawed" and "one-sided." Hatch also said the bill was supported by patient groups who "were concerned about DEA's unfettered enforcement authority."
"I spent months negotiating with DEA and with DOJ until they were at a point where they were comfortable allowing the bill to proceed," Hatch said on Capitol Hill Monday. "If they had asked me to hold the bill or to continue negotiations, I would have done so." Hatch noted via Twitter, "President Obama signed this bill into law. DEA and DOJ, who work for the President, could have urged him to veto it. They did not."...
The president had nominated Marino to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In his tweet announcing Marino's decision to withdraw Tuesday morning, Trump added, "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"
The opioid story was revealed by whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi, a former high-ranking DEA official, who told 60 Minutes, "This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors' offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs." Of Marino's nomination, Rannazzisi said he was in "total disbelief" after the White House announced Trump's pick. He added, "The bill was bad. Him being the drug czar is a lot worse."
With the head of the DEA now uncertain, this Newsweek story from last month, headlined "Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?", becomes timely once again. Here is a segment from that piece:
Many hope the change could serve as a blank slate for the agency and a chance to pick the right battles in the war on drugs, like focusing on the deadly opioid epidemic, which has skyrocketed in recent years and left more than 52,000 dead in 2015.
Despite the troubling statistics, law enforcement has continued to target pot consumers, even though more and more states are moving toward legalization. Nearly 30 states allow the drug for medical use, and eight have legalized it recreationally. The FBI released data this week that showed an increase in the number of people arrested last year on a marijuana possession charge. Nearly 600,000 were charged, and experts say this cost taxpayers billions of dollars as offenders made their way through the criminal justice system.
"I hope that whoever is next will deal with the reality that a lot of states have legalized [marijuana] and it's not a good use of resources for police to be arresting these people and ruining lives," said Bill Piper, a senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These are proven failed ways to approach this issue."
Under Rosenberg, more than two dozen applications to simply research the plant have been blocked, a policy that is unlikely to change, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes marijuana legalization, even for medicinal purposes, and has called the plant "only slightly less awful" than heroin.... All in all, if Rosenberg's replacement does try to enact new policies or steer the department toward change, it could be difficult. "I'm not optimistic at all," Tree said. "Not during this administration."
Monday, October 16, 2017
I am excited to realize and report that, after spending the first half the current semester preparing various presentations for the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar, this week begins the part of the class in which students are to begin making presentations to each other. The first of the student presentation planned for this this coming week is exploring "tax liability." Here are the links the presenting student has assembled in preparation for his presentation this coming week:
Relevant Internal Revenue Code Provisions:
Three Short Articles on the Economic Impact of Marijuana
October 16, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, September 28, 2017
The District of Columbia — which, if anyone cares, is where I was born a long, long time ago — has long been a distinct part of the United States as a matter of law and practice. For that reason and others, it should come as no surprise that marijuana reform takes on distinctive dynamic in our nation's capital. This new AP piece, headlined "Giving the gift of green in the ‘District of Cannabis’," provides a profile of this interesting story, and here are excerpts:
A 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use passed overwhelmingly. But unlike the eight states that have legalized recreational use, the Washington initiative also maintained it was still illegal to buy or sell the drug.
So instead of the straightforward marijuana storefronts common in Colorado or Nevada, Washington has developed a thriving “gift economy” marijuana industry. These businesses — many offering delivery — sell everything from coffee cups to artwork — all overpriced and all coming with a little something extra.
It’s a curious legal and semantic tightrope, and one the District’s politicians and police seem determined to keep walking. “It’s definitely unique,” said Morgan Fox of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “The DC city council and the city government don’t want to be busting people for weed. They want this to work and work smoothly.”
Washington’s local government didn’t choose to make the District a real-time sociology lab for alternative legalization. The roots of this strange legal middle ground lie in the District’s tortured relationship with the federal government. “We would have regular stores if we had the normal rights of a U.S. state,” said Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of DCMJ, a pro-legalization group that helped draft the initiative’s text.
All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them by attaching riders to federal appropriations bills. After the initiative passed, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from neighboring Maryland, introduced a rider prohibiting the District government from spending any funds or resources on developing a regulatory or taxation system for marijuana sales.
Harris, an anesthesiologist and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, remains a staunch opponent of recreational marijuana use and has no regrets about complicating the District’s legalization model. “I think the District of Columbia made a bad decision,” Harris said in an interview. “I would hope the District comes to its senses and realizes the dangers.”
According to marijuana merchants, the change has resulted in spiraling supply and demand. The relative ease of availability without risking arrest or having to maintain a relationship with a dealer has brought a wave of consumers of all ages and demographics. And that wave of demand has brought a wave of new suppliers. In addition to the dozens of different businesses working through the gift loophole, there are now hundreds of marijuana-themed public events taking place across the city — most openly advertised on social media. “Seven days a week, you can find an event going on,” said Gregory Moorer, whose Laid Back Lords company offers marijuana gifts to accompany $50 baseball caps and $80 sweatshirts.
One such event, known as Cannemania, happens weekly at a closed Ethiopian restaurant. Inside isn’t so much a stoner party as a fairly businesslike trade show. On a recent night, about 150 people crowded in to peruse about 25 different vendors’ tables offering large jars of buds and a huge variety of edibles, from brownies to marijuana-infused gummi bears. There were also marijuana vape pens and “concentrates” — a substance that looks like candle wax and requires a waterpipe and a blowtorch to consume.
Vendors hawked their wares like THC sommeliers and offered free hits of concentrates. But there was, according to the rules, no smoking of marijuana buds. For the most part everyone kept to the necessary gift loophole script: your money technically bought you a raffle ticket, some expensive rolling paper or, in one case, the baseball card of former Cleveland Indians shortstop Julio Franco.
Despite the ubiquity of the drug, it would be inaccurate to describe the District as some sort of marijuana free-for-all. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government has worked hard to establish clear lines on what is and is not permitted. It remains illegal to smoke in public. Arrests for public consumption have actually spiked since the legalization initiative came into effect. Bowser also personally lobbied the city council to defeat a proposal to permit pot smoking in bars or restaurants — fearing it would lead to private cannabis clubs.
The police have also pounced on entrepreneurs who push things too far. In late 2015 they arrested Nicholas “Kush God” Cunningham, who had deployed a fleet of cars covered in marijuana-leaf decals that would hand out pot edibles in exchange for “donations.”...
Police maintain that the gift loophole isn’t fooling anyone. “In our estimation, that’s still illegal,” said Lt. Andrew Struhar of the Narcotics and Special Operations division of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. But Struhar also admitted that police aren’t “actively out hunting” for marijuana violators as long as everything stays low-key and the neighbors don’t complain.
“We serve the citizens and if they say there’s a problem on this or that block, we’re going to do something about it,” he said. “If you’re going to flaunt it and you’re going to stick it in our face and force us to take action against it, then we’re going to take action.”
For now the model seems to be staggering along, but it’s debatable how long this can continue. Legalization activists say that a quasi-legal grey area was never their goal. Members of the District’s government are even less enthusiastic; they complain about the intrusiveness of the congressional oversight and point to a study which estimated $130 million in potential annual revenue from taxing marijuana sales. “I don’t think it’s sustainable,” said City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “We have legal marijuana but we can’t regulate it. It’s stupid, it’s just stupid.”
September 28, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)