Monday, June 29, 2015
Senator Orrin Hatch has this notable new op-ed piece in the Washington Times headlined "The curative side of cannabis: A medical extract offers relief for epileptic children." Here are excerpts:
[Imagine] you hear about a new therapy that has shown remarkable success in treating children just like yours — children with intractable epilepsy. But there’s a problem: The therapy is made from a strain of the cannabis plant. The therapy doesn’t produce any sort of “high.” In fact, it’s made from a strain of cannabis that’s so low in THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — that it has no psychotropic effect even when ingested in large quantities. But because the therapy comes from the cannabis plant, it’s classified as marijuana under federal law and is therefore illegal.
As a devoted, loving parent, you’re faced with an impossible dilemma. Do you break the law to obtain a therapy that could cure or at the very least substantially reduce your child’s devastating seizures? Or do you allow your child to continue to suffer? Remember, the therapy produces no high, and it carries none of the dangerous side effects of traditional marijuana. It simply comes from the same source.
This hypothetical scenario is a reality for tens of thousands of parents. The therapy is called cannabidiol oil, or CBD for short. It’s administered by placing a small amount under the tongue, and has been shown to reduce seizures by more than 90 percent in children with intractable epilepsy. It is not addictive.
But because it’s made from the cannabis plant, CBD is illegal under federal law. To solve this problem, I’ve recently sponsored bipartisan legislation with Sens. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and others to exempt CBD from the definition of “marijuana” under federal law.
Our bill, S. 1333, will allow parents to obtain a life-changing therapy for their children without threat of federal prosecution. It’s colloquially known as the Charlotte’s Web Act, after Charlotte Figi, an eight-year-old girl who has seen extraordinary improvements from taking CBD. Prior to beginning treatment with CBD, Charlotte suffered as many as 300 grand mal seizures per week — seizures so violent that her parents put a do not resuscitate order in her medical records. After Charlotte started taking CBD, however, her seizures dropped dramatically. She now suffers, on average, less than three seizures per month and is able to engage in normal childhood activities. “Dateline NBC” and National Geographic recently highlighted the medical benefits of CBD for children with severe epilepsy.
CBD is not medical marijuana. It cannot be used to get high. Its only use is for epilepsy and other medical conditions. Nor is it a camel’s nose in the tent for advocates of full marijuana legalization. Fifteen states have now legalized CBD. These include some of the most rock-ribbed conservative states in the country, such as Alabama, South Carolina and Texas. In fact, my home state of Utah — certainly no redoubt of hippie liberalism — was the very first state to legalize CBD.
Throughout my entire Senate career, I’ve taken a strong stand against illegal drugs. The proliferation of cocaine, meth and other addictive, mind-altering substances has had a devastating effect on homes and communities. CBD is not like any of those substances. It is not addictive. To the contrary, it has shown promise in treating addiction. Rather than harming families, it can help make their lives better.
I continue to oppose marijuana and efforts to legalize its use. I remain unconvinced by claims that it is safe and that the side effects it causes are no big deal. Stories of children being rushed to the hospital for accidentally consuming marijuana edibles belie the notion that marijuana is a safe drug. In fact, I am currently working on legislation to help protect children from the dangers of edible marijuana products.
But I also believe that when a drug is safe and can improve people’s lives, Congress should not stand in the way. That CBD is derived from the cannabis plant does not mean we should be scared to have anything to do with it. Legalizing CBD is a compassionate, common-sense move that will bring relief to thousands of suffering children. I am glad to stand with my colleagues in supporting the Charlotte’s Web Act and look forward to helping it move through Congress and to the president’s desk.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
It is justifiably hard for me and others to take too seriously Donald Trump's bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Nevertheless, given that some polls indicate some GOP voters are taking "The Donald" seriously and especially given Trump's ability to get more media attention than most other GOP candidates, I think it may be time for serious marijuana reformers to seriously explore candidate Trump's current positions and perspectives on marijuana reform in particular and the broader drug war more generally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a quick Google search reveals that The Donald has through the years had talked about, but not always talked consistently about, drug policies.
As noted in this recent MSNBC piece, way back in 1990 "a thick-haired Donald Trump was telling a crowd in South Florida that 'We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars'." In a similar vein, this unofficial 2012 review of the views of possible Prez candidates sets forth this account of the "Trump position on Marijuana":
• Donald Trump has never smoked marijuana.
• He would legalize it and tax it.
• He thinks that legalization would save a lot of money in our prisons and courts and profit the states.
However, before would-be marijuana reformers get too revved up considering cannabis capitalism under a President Trump Administration, this recent report on comments by Trump at the 2015 CPAC conference suggests that, as I have highlighted below, The Donald's marijuana reform views may still be evolving:
Trump said he has several agenda items should he become president, and his top item is to destroy the Islamic State.... In a lightning round with [Sean] Hannity, Trump also said that he is pro-life, with the exceptions of cases involving the life of the mother, rape, or incest; against legalized marijuana, unless it's medical marijuana, which he supports; and he believes Hillary Clinton botched Benghazi, her husband is a "nice guy" with a lot of problems coming up; and Obama is "an incompetent president."
To the extent Donald Trump could and and will be taken seriously as a GOP presidential candidate, I think we can and should expect him to generally be a voice for more pro-business, free-market domestic policies. Consequently, it will be interesting to watch if and when he is pressed on both his past and current positions on removing government restrictions on marijuana businesses and on recent failed drug war government efforts to eradicate illegal drug markets.
As regular readers surely realize, I tend generally to favor modern marijuana reform efforts. Consequently, I tend generally to notice and feel most inspired to blog about research and press reports that tend generally to favor modern marijuana reform efforts. But I fully recognize, and generally have respect for, the many policy-makers and advocates who strongly oppose modern marijuana reform efforts.
Especially because I think it is critical in this space and elsewhere that competing voices are heard and dynamic perspectives considered in modern marijuana reform debates, I am ever grateful for the efforts of Kevin Sabet and his group SAM: Smart Approaches to Marijuana for covering and promoting reform-opposition research and developments. And, and these recent posts from the SAM blog highlight, SAM has has a lot to say on these topics over just the last 10 days:
- SAM President Kevin Sabet gives testimony before United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
June 25, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)
Members of the Senate are attempting to finish off where the White House started earlier this week, by calling for the removal of additional barriers still in place that they believe are limiting scientific study on the effects of marijuana.
At a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday, members challenged representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse on the current process for approving marijuana studies. "I understand the desire for caution. We're Congress, we act slowly. But these are people who need the help, for who a five- to 10-month delay is a death sentence," said Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah.
The hearing specifically looked at the effects of cannabidiol, a derivative of marijuana, on patients. Many members and witnesses spoke of anecdotal evidence that the drug helped children with chronic epilepsy when nothing else would. However, large-scale studies on the link have been rare, largely in part of heavily controlled federal government approval of marijuana research.
The hearing came on the heels of White House action earlier this week that removed a key government hurdle blocking many scientific marijuana studies from moving forward. The White House action means scientists will no longer have to submit research proposals to the Public Health Service Review (PHS) at the Department of Health and Human Services to get a green light for marijuana research.
But while the move, which was announced Monday, signals a shift in federal policy, many caution that there remain significant barriers to studying the drug’s positive medical effects on humans. Marijuana advocates point out that the PHS was only one of three major hurdles limiting research. The other two -- the fact that researchers can only use marijuana from a single government-owned dispensary at the University of Mississippi and classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug -- endure.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Corey Booker, D-NJ, are two key members of Congress who are fighting for more studies on the effects of the drug. Earlier this year they introduced a bill, along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, that in addition to getting rid of the now-defunct PHS review, would downgrade marijuana from a Schedule I drug, up there with heroin, to a Schedule II, in the line with opiates.
Both senators were guests at the caucus hearing and took no time to challenge witnesses from the various government agencies present. A fiery Gillibrand challenged NIDA and the National Institute for Health's strict control of cannabidiol. NIDA representatives said one drug company had a patent on cannabidiol. Many fear this control over the drug will limit future research options. Gillibrand shot back saying, "Let's be clear, we have to change the laws to remove the impediments so that we have research across the country."
Whether it be cannibidiol or marijuana in general, supporters say much still needs to be done to study the drug and get it available on markets where medical marijuana is legal. “Arguably the largest hurdle in this process still remains in place,” Paul Armentano, deputy director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said. “That is that government policy … mandates that all clinical protocols must utilize government grown cannabis provided by NIDA.”...
While attitudes may be changing, led by President Obama himself, and including DEA efforts to expand the availability of marijuana for studies, progress remains slow. As a result, many members of Congress are getting in on efforts to streamline the regulatory process in hopes that it may make the drug available to those who need it.
Just last May, Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Morgan Griffith, R-Va., Jane Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., wrote a letter to the Secretary of HHS asking her to remove the PHS barrier. In a statement Monday, Blumenauer called the White House’s decision “a significant step toward improving an antiquated system that unfairly targets marijuana above and beyond other substances in research.” He said, however, there still remains a lot to be done and said he’s working on legislation to address the remaining blockades.
While more and more lawmakers’ acceptance of marijuana’s role in medicine might be a welcome surprise, some marijuana supporters are skeptical that additional marijuana studies will significantly change federal policy. “Ample scientific research already exists to contradict cannabis’ federal Schedule I status -- as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse,” Armentano said. “More research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, we would already have a very different policy in place.”
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
As explained in this helpful new Washington Post piece, a "long-standing bureaucratic obstacle to privately-funded medical marijuana research has just been removed, effective immediately." Here are the details
Until today if you wanted to conduct marijuana research, you'd need to do the following:
- Submit your study proposal to the Food and Drug Administration for a thorough review of its "scientific validity and ethical soundness."
- Submit your proposal to a separate Public Health Service (PHS) board, which performs pretty much the exact same review as the FDA.
- Get a marijuana permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
- Finally, obtain a quantity of medical marijuana via the Drug Supply Program run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which maintains a monopoly on medical marijuana grown for research in the U.S.
As you might imagine, this can be a complicated, time-consuming process. Step 2, the PHS review, has been a subject of particular consternation among researchers and advocates. That step is not required for research into any other drug, including cocaine and heroin.
The PHS review is nearly identical to the one performed by the FDA. Sometimes, it can take months to complete. In recent years, advocates of overhauling marijuana laws, researchers, members of Congress, and even marijuana legalization opponents have called for the PHS review to be eliminated in the name of streamlining research.
This week, the Department of Health and Human Services agreed, determining that the PHS review process is redundant with the FDA review, and that it is "no longer necessary to support the conduct of scientifically-sound studies into the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana."
"The president has often said that drug policy should be dictated by unimpeded science instead of ideology, and it’s great to see the Obama administration finally starting to take some real action to back that up," said Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group.
Even those who oppose legalization agreed. "I think it's a sensible change; but people are being delusional if they think this will result in a flood of research on the drug," said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group. "But it's a step in the right direction as the development of a non smoked cannabis medication goes forward."...
There are still more bureaucratic hurdles to marijuana research than to research in any other drug. NIDA's monopoly on legal marijuana production doesn't exist for any other drug, meaning that heroin and cocaine remain easier for researchers to work with. "The next step should be moving marijuana out of Schedule I to a more appropriate category, which the administration can do without any further Congressional action," said Angell. "Given what the president and surgeon general have already said publicly about marijuana’s relative harms and medical uses, it’s completely inappropriate for it to remain in a schedule that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value."
June 23, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The quoted portion of this post comes from the headline of this recent Reason piece by Jacob Sullum, which canvasses at length the comments made by 2016 presidential candidates about whether they would respect state effort to reform their marijuana regimes in the shadow of federal prohibition. Here is how the piece starts and ends:
Last week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reiterated his intention to crack down on marijuana in states that have legalized it if he is elected president. In an interview on Face the Nation, Christie answered "yes" when asked whether he would "return the federal prosecutions in these states," "yes" when asked if he would "go after" marijuana, and "correct" when asked if legalization would be "turned off."
If he were president, Christie could make a lot of trouble for state-licensed growers and retailers, but he would not actually have the power to make Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon recriminalize marijuana. Furthermore, any attempt to override the decisions made by voters in those states would arouse strong objections — and not just from supporters of legalization. Illustrating that point, another Republican presidential contender, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, disagreed with Christie. "Colorado voters made a choice," she said in a Fox News interview last Tuesday. "I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."
As I noted in March, that stance is pretty common among Republicans seeking their party's presidential nomination, and it seems politically smart, since even voters who hate marijuana do not necessarily think the federal government should force prohibition on states that do not want it. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that three-fifths of Americans think the feds should not "enforce federal marijuana laws" in states that have legalized pot. Even more striking: A 2012 CBS News survey found that 65 percent of Republicans thought "laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal or not should be…left to each individual state government to decide," even though only 27 percent supported Colorado-style legalization....
In short, Chris Christie's determination to stamp out marijuana legalization puts him in the minority among presidential candidates, among Republicans, and among the general public. "I don't believe that people want to be told just what they want to hear," he said on Face the Nation. "I believe they want to be told the truth as the person who is running sees it." There's a startling proposition: In 2015, it seems, promising to keep marijuana illegal counts as courage.
June 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
House of Representatives again votes to limit federal interference with state medical marijuana programs
As reported in this AP piece, headlined "GOP-Controlled House Backs State Medical Marijuana Laws," today brought a number of notable federal votes on federal marijuana enforcement funding. Here are the details:
The federal government would be unable to block state laws permitting the use of medical marijuana under legislation approved Wednesday by the GOP-controlled House. But lawmakers narrowly rejected an amendment that would stop the Justice Department from interfering with states like Colorado and Washington that permit the recreational use of marijuana.
The 242-186 vote on medical pot was a larger margin than a tally last year, when the House first approved it as part of a bill funding the Justice Department. Wednesday's vote was to renew the pro-pot language as part of a bill providing funding for the coming fiscal year. The overall measure passed by a mostly party-line vote.
Most Republicans opposed the idea and the Senate is in GOP hands this year, so the outcome could still be reversed. But Senate advocates of medical marijuana won a test vote in the GOP-controlled Appropriations Committee last month.
On Wednesday, 67 Republicans, including libertarian-minded lawmakers such as Thomas Massie of Kentucky, combined with all but a handful of Democrats in support of states that allow doctors to prescribe pot for medical uses, such as improving the appetites of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy....
The amendment to allow recreational pot use, offered by conservative Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., was rejected by a surprisingly narrow 222-206 vote. McClintock's measure had less GOP support and more Democratic opposition than did the amendment on medical marijuana. "This is not an argument for or against marijuana," McClintock said. "This strictly involves the rights of citizen in various states to regulate commerce that occurs entirely within their own borders."
Monday, June 1, 2015
Former federal prosecutor: "Legal Marijuana Dealers -- And The Government -- Need Bankers And Lawyers"
The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable new Forbes commentary by Matthew L. Schwartz, who for a decade served as a federal prosecutor and is now partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Here are excerpts from an important piece:
It is not unusual for legal marijuana businesses to become entangled in government investigations. Although it wasn’t my focus, as a former federal prosecutor I sometimes investigated unlawful drug trafficking organizations. Following the drugs and money back to their source increasingly led to marijuana businesses in states that had legalized it.
In many cases, the “legal” marijuana business was knowingly involved in the unlawful distribution. But on more than one occasion, legitimate marijuana businesses were victims of circumstance. In one case, for example, a licensed grower in California had a handful of workers who were diverting a portion of the crop to a criminal organization. In another case, a dispensary in Colorado was purchasing unlawfully-produced marijuana. In both cases, the guilty were arrested and the innocent business owners were not, but the businesses were adversely affected – each was the subject of a government investigation, its premises were searched by law enforcement agents, and its bank accounts and property were subject to seizure.... Companies without stringent compliance programs are particularly at risk.
As a result, virtually every bank of any size has decided not to do business with legal marijuana companies, concluding that the so-called “regulatory risk” outweighs the benefits of doing business with them.... Major law firms, ever risk-averse, have also decided not to advise marijuana companies... [because] most major law firms have decided that the risk that they will be deemed an aider and abettor of criminal activity makes advising marijuana businesses untenable....
The lack of access to banks and lawyers is a problem not only for legal marijuana businesses, but for regulators and law enforcement, as well. Though marijuana remains a controlled substance, legalized marijuana is a reality in many states – and arguably an inevitability, even at the federal level – and it is in the government’s interest for companies in that market to have robust compliance programs. Likewise, the government has no desire for marijuana businesses to be conducted in cash: the use of cash makes it significantly harder for the government to trace the proceeds of the marijuana businesses, not to mention the fact that businesses that deal in large volumes of cash present opportunities for robbery and other crimes of violence. But for marijuana money to be both traceable within the legitimate financial system and subject to stringent compliance programs – both within the marijuana businesses and at the institutions that handle their money – means having access to banks and lawyers....
Until marijuana businesses have regular access to the financial system and can turn to a broad array of sophisticated lawyers for counsel, they will remain half-way in the shadows. This is by no means an argument for legalizing marijuana; it doesn’t have to be legal for marijuana businesses to have access to professional services. Last month, the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act was introduced in the House of Representatives; among other things, it would prohibit banking regulators or criminal prosecutors from investigating or penalizing a financial institution for “providing financial services to a marijuana-related legitimate business.” Congress could easily pass similar protections for lawyers. Doing so would recognize a basic proposition: when a bank or a lawyer provides services to a legal marijuana business, it is not helping that business to break the law. To the contrary, lawyers and banks – especially sophisticated and responsible ones – help businesses to comply with the law. That helps the marijuana business and government alike.
June 1, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable International Business Times article, which gets started this way:
Marijuana might be legal in the country’s capital, but not for employees of the U.S. government. The sobering reminder came in the form of a new guidance issued Wednesday by the Office of Personnel Management. It stated that federal workers, even those living in states where marijuana is legal, are subject to federal, not local, law – and all the penalties that come with it.
“Heads of agencies are expected to advise their workforce that legislative changes by some states and the District of Columbia do not alter federal law, existing suitability criteria or Executive Branch policies regarding marijuana,” Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said in a statement posted on the agency’s website. The guidance doesn’t change existing laws barring federal employees from participating in activities the government considers illegal. It simply underscores a point that may have gotten lost in the shuffle, or that some government employees might rather forget.Twenty-three states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. Three states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – along with D.C. allow pot to be consumed for medical and recreational purposes. The drug remains illegal at the federal level, despite the Department of Justice having promised not to challenge states that decide to legalize it.
The U.S. government employs roughly 4.1 million Americans. About half a million of them live in the District of Columbia, which legalized recreational pot in February.
Friday, May 22, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece reporting on a notable recent vote in the US Senate. Here are the basics from the start of the article:
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a $77.6 billion funding bill for military construction and veterans benefits that includes an amendment allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend the use of medical marijuana.
The amendment from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) won approval in an 18-12 vote. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the funding bill and a veteran of the Navy Reserve, urged his colleagues to vote against the amendment.
A 2011 directive by the Veterans Health Administration prohibits agency doctors from consulting patients about medical marijuana use. “It’s an enormous inconvenience to our veterans,” said Merkley, who explained that current law forces veterans to seek a medical appointment outside of the VA.
House Democrats attempted to add a similar amendment to the lower chamber’s version of the bill, but failed to win enough votes. Overall, the bill is $5.5 billion above the current funding level, but $1.2 billion less than President Obama’s request. The House passed its version of the bill late last month, about $1 billion less than the Senate’s.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this fascinating recent Washington Post article. Here are excerpts:
Not long ago, a man who had covertly dealt pot in the nation’s capital for three decades approached a young political operative at a birthday party in a downtown Washington steakhouse. He was about to test a fresh marketing strategy to take advantage of the District’s peculiar new marijuana law, which allows people to possess and privately consume the drug but provides them no way to legally buy it for recreational use. Those contradictions have created a surge in demand and new opportunities for illicit pot purveyors.
“Do you like cannabis?” asked the dealer. “Yes,” answered the man, who had recently left his job as a Republican Senate staffer.
So, the dealer recalled, he handed his new acquaintance a tiny plastic bag that contained half a gram of “Blue Dream,” a sweet and fruity strain of marijuana. With the bag he also presented a business card and an offer: If you like what you try, call me. Within days, the man — now a lobbyist — picked up the phone.
The dealer — who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because what they do remains illegal — said he has used that same in-plain-sight sales pitch at similarly upscale D.C. settings, collecting three new buyers and a pair of new suppliers. The new business is all thanks to the quirks of the District’s legalization, which has boosted the appetite for marijuana as more people become comfortable acquiring it through the black market. “It’s the dealer-protection act of 2015,” he said. “This was a license for me to print money.”
Who is responsible for this unintended consequence depends on whom you ask. In November, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that made it legal to possess and grow marijuana, but the following month, Congress enacted a spending prohibition that barred the city from creating a system through which pot could be lawfully bought, sold and taxed.
That means there are only three ways for people in the District to legally obtain marijuana. Someone can give it to them, though the donors, of course, must find their own original source. Residents can each grow as many as three plants to maturity at one time, though that process is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. And with a doctor’s approval, people can get medical-marijuana cards, though supply remains dismal.
“The black market is the obvious choice,” said a 24-year-old government contractor who deals part time. “It’s awesome.”
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who has led Congress’s charge to thwart the legalization, blamed city leaders, insisting that they should have forbidden possession when he and other lawmakers prevented Washington from creating a controlled marketplace. “There’s no question that demand will go up, and there’s no legal source of supply,” he said. “Clearly, this was not thought out rationally by the city government, which chose to go forward with legalization without regulation.”
John Falcicchio, chief of staff for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), sharply countered that assertion. “In D.C., it shouldn’t be called the black market. It should be called the Harris market,” he said. “If there’s any uptick in the black market, it’s thanks to Harris.”...
That boost in demand, supporters of legalization say, helps explain why lawful use in the District must be paired with lawful sales. “If you’re going to legalize marijuana, you also have to legalize the supply because you want to get rid of the black market or at least limit the black market,” said Keith Stroup, founder of NORML. “Right now, they’ve done the exact opposite.”
Delroy Burton, chairman of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police, said a regulated market would have “pulled the teeth out of the illegal drug trade” and eventually wiped out the violence associated with it.
Jeffrey Miron, an economics teacher at Harvard University, compared marijuana’s potential evolution to that of alcohol after prohibition ended in 1933. “People seem to prefer going to a legal supplier rather than making beer in their basement,” said Miron, director of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, which supports the legalization of all drugs.
He and others who have studied the topic don’t suggest that illicit sales would disappear overnight, but after several years — even a decade — they argue that the black market could not compete with a controlled market.
Rep. Andy Harris rejected those arguments. “I think there’s value in keeping the supply chain illegal at this point,” he said, maintaining that it provides “a check on the system.”
The longtime District dealer who now markets his product at chic D.C. gatherings has already considered what he would do if the city regulated pot sales. He and his friends, he said, would open their own dispensary. They’d go legit.
May 19, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, May 18, 2015
I am very pleased to see that the new issue of Time magazine has a cover with an amusing picture and this text: "The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded and Strangely Promising World of Pot Science." I have long thought that one of the biggest problems with federal marijuana prohibition has been its significant anti-science impact, and the subheading of this Time cover story highlights this theme: "Legalization keeps rolling ahead. But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana — or the benefits." Here are excerpts from a must-read article:
Welcome to the encouraging, troubling and strangely divided frontier of marijuana science. The most common illicit drug on the planet and one of the fastest-growing industries in America, pot remains – surprisingly – something of a medical mystery, thanks in part to decades of obstruction and misinformation by the federal government. Potentially groundbreaking studies on the drug’s healing powers are being done to find treatments for conditions like epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell disease and multiple sclerosis. But there are also new discoveries about the drug’s impact on recreational users.
The effects are generally less severe than those of tobacco and alcohol, which together cause more than 560,000 American deaths annually. Unlike booze, marijuana isn’t a neurotoxin, and unlike cigarettes, it has an uncertain connection to lung cancer. Unlike heroin, pot brings almost no risk of sudden death without a secondary factor like a car crash. But science has also found clear indications that in addition to short-term effects on cognition, pot can change developing brains, possibly affecting mental abilities and dispositions, especially for certain populations. The same drug that seems relatively harmless in moderation for adults appears to be risky for people under age 21, whose brains are still developing. “It has a whole host of effects on learning and cognition that other drugs don’t have,” says Jodi Gilman, a Harvard Medical School researcher who has been studying the brains of human marijuana users. “It looks like the earlier you start, the bigger the effects.”
That relatively measured tone is a far cry from the shrill warnings of Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who in the 1930s set the standard for America’s fraught debate over marijuana with wild exaggerations. “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured,” he wrote as part of a campaign to terrify the country. As recently as the 1970s, President Richard Nixon talked about the drug as a weapon of the nation’s enemies. “That’s why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff,” he was recorded saying in private. “They’re trying to destroy us.”
The official line today is better grounded in data and research. And the new focus is squarely on brain development. “I am most concerned about possibly harming the potential of our young people,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).... “That could be disastrous for our country.” But decades of prohibition and official misinformation continue to shape public views....
As states now rush to legalize pot and unwind a massive criminalization effort, the federal government is trying to play catch-up on the science, with mixed success. The only federal marijuana farm, at the University of Mississippi, has recently expanded production with a $69 million grant in March, and Volkow has expressed a new openness to studies of marijuana’s healing potential. In the coming months, Uncle Sam will begin a 10-year, $300 million study with thousands of adolescents to track the harm that marijuana, alcohol and other drugs do to the developing brain. High-tech imaging will allow researchers for the first time to map the effects of marijuana on the brain as humans age.
But scientists and others point out that a shift to fund the real science of pot still has a long way to go. The legacy of the war on drugs haunts the medical establishment, and federal rules still put onerous restrictions on the labs around the country that seek to work with marijuana, which remains classified among the most dangerous and least valuable drugs. “We can do studies on cocaine and morphine without a problem, because they are Schedule II,” explains Fair Vassoler, a researcher at Tufts University... who has replicated Hurd’s rat experiment with synthetic pot. “But marijuana is Schedule I.”
May 18, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)
Sunday, May 10, 2015
This New York Times article, headlined "Legal Marijuana Faces Another Federal Hurdle: Taxes," highlights the headaches that tax realities pose for state-legal marijuana regimes. Here are excerpts:
The country’s rapidly growing marijuana industry has a tax problem. Even as more states embrace legal marijuana, shops say they are being forced to pay crippling federal income taxes because of a decades-old law aimed at preventing drug dealers from claiming their smuggling costs and couriers as business expenses on their tax returns.
Congress passed that law in 1982 after a cocaine and methamphetamine dealer in Minneapolis who had been jailed on drug charges went to tax court to argue that the money he spent on travel, phone calls, packaging and even a small scale should be considered tax write-offs. The provision, still enforced by the I.R.S., bans all tax credits and deductions from “the illegal trafficking in drugs.”
Marijuana business owners say it prevents them from deducting their rent, employee salaries or utility bills, forcing them to pay taxes on a far larger amount of income than non-marijuana businesses with the same earnings and costs. They also say the taxes, which apply to medical and recreational sellers alike, are stunting their hiring, or even threatening to drive them out of business.
The issue reveals a growing chasm between the 23 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow medical or recreational marijuana and the federal bureaucracy, which includes national forests in Colorado where possession is a federal crime, federally regulated banks that turn away marijuana businesses and the halls of the I.R.S.
While President Obama and top federal officials have allowed states to pursue legalization, marijuana advocates say the dissonance between increasingly permissive state laws and federal prohibitions is creating a morass of complications and uncertainty. The tax rule, an obscure provision referred to as 280E, catches many marijuana entrepreneurs by surprise, often in the form of an audit notice from the I.R.S. Some marijuana businesses in Colorado, California and other marijuana-friendly states have challenged the I.R.S. in tax court....
A normal business, for example, might pay a 30 percent federal rate on its taxable income, which would represent its gross income minus deductible business expenses. A marijuana business, on the other hand, might pay the same federal rate on all of its gross income because it cannot take these deductions. The difference can raise the rate on a marijuana business to 70 percent or more of its profits....
Colorado and a handful of other states have changed their tax laws to let legal marijuana businesses take deductions on their state returns. And this month, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats of Oregon, which legalized recreational marijuana last year, introduced legislation that would allow marijuana businesses that are following their states’ legalization laws to take regular deductions on their federal returns. “It’s affecting thousands of businesses, and it’s doubling, tripling, quadrupling their taxes,” Mr. Blumenauer said. “It just cripples them.” The current system, he said, encourages marijuana sellers to file tax returns that do not follow the law and simply hope the I.R.S. does not spot them....
Accountants and tax lawyers, who are inundated with calls from marijuana shops these days, say the rules are murky and make little sense. If marijuana retailers dedicate parts of their stores to yoga, drug education or selling non-drug merchandise, can they deduct part of their rent? If employees split their time between cleaning the store and selling marijuana, are their salaries partly deductible?
“There’s no clear direction,” said Scott Levy, an accountant in Arizona who said that marijuana sellers made up about one-fifth of his business. “You find all these weird little strategies that people use to try to parse the definitions.”
Oddly, accountants said, one expense that marijuana retailers can easily take off their taxes is the marijuana itself. The wording of the tax laws and their interpretation since states began to legalize medical marijuana has allowed businesses to deduct the expenses of wholesale marijuana or growing the plant, from the price of the seeds or baby plants to the water and growing lights needed to produce it. Only when retailers go to sell those buds, brownies or marijuana-infused drinks do the tax restrictions kick in.
National Review editors urge federal marijuana reform to be on "Constitutionalist Agenda for the GOP"
The National Review, an august conservative magazine, has this lengthy new commentary by editors Ramesh Ponnuru and Reihan Salam titled "A Constitutionalist Agenda for the GOP: How to start restoring respect for the Constitution." Here is point five on the agenda:
Allow states to go their own way on marijuana: Public opinion on marijuana is changing rapidly. A narrow majority of Americans now favors marijuana legalization, and a number of states are experimenting with creating their own legal marijuana markets. The problem is that while there are a number of new marijuana businesses that are legal under state law, they remain illegal under federal law. This has led to a great deal of uncertainty and confusion, yet it also creates an opportunity for conservatives.
The current marijuana debate highlights the important but much-neglected constitutional distinction between interstate commerce and in-state commerce. In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the power to criminalize the local cultivation and use of marijuana under the commerce clause even if state law authorized it. In his concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia observed that Congress has the power to regulate in-state activities that do not have an impact on interstate commerce when doing so is “necessary to make a regulation of interstate commerce effective.” But what if regulating in-state activities is not necessary to achieve this goal? Recently, William Baude, a law professor at the University of Chicago, has argued that constitutional doctrine should recognize that though Congress has the right to regulate interstate commerce, it can regulate in-state commerce only insofar as doing so is essential to achieving a legitimate constitutional purpose. One could argue that the failure to regulate in-state commerce in marijuana will lead to negative spillover effects that cross state borders. If a state can demonstrate that it is capable of regulating its in-state marijuana market effectively, however, the justification for federal interference is greatly weakened.
With this principle in mind, Congress could pass a law formally declaring that the federal government would recognize the legal status of marijuana businesses under state law as long as in-state marijuana markets met certain requirements. The same principle could extend to other policy questions as well, such as the federal role in establishing a minimum drinking age. If a state moves to lower its drinking age while pursuing various other steps that would reduce the harms associated with alcohol consumption, should the federal government try to make states keep their minimum drinking age at 21? By limiting federal interference in the regulation of in-state markets to what is strictly necessary to achieve legitimate constitutional purposes, we will foster more creativity and experimentation at the state level.
Monday, May 4, 2015
SCOTUS asks for views from US Solicitor General on original lawsuit between states over marijuana reform
Via this order list, the US Supreme Court called for the views of the Solicitor General in the original case of Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado. That is the case, as readers may recall from posts here and here back in December, in which two states filed suit directly in the Supreme Court seeking "a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution [legalizing and regulating marijuana sales] are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution."
I am not sure what the usual timelines tend to be for submission of CVSG briefs during this time of year, but I would think this request from the Justices will just now further slow the resolution of a suit that was filled five months ago and will remain in limbo now until the Solicitor General weighs in.
Prior related posts:
- Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization
- Could (and should) Colorado (or others) respond to attack on marijuana legalization by counter-attacking federal prohibition?
May 4, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, May 2, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new CNN commentary authored by Mike Riggs, who is the communications director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Though the commentary starts with a discussion of marijuana reforms, its real focus seems to be advocating wholesale federal drug sentencing reform. Here are excerpts:
Since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington approved the tax and sale of recreational marijuana, the cognitive dissonance of America's drug penalties has become even more absurd. Where we once incarcerated people for growing and selling "just a plant," we're now incarcerating people for growing and selling "just a plant" that tens of millions of people can grow and sell legally.
Marijuana is legal only in certain states, and illegal under federal law. Still, it's worth asking what Congress would do with the thousands of pot offenders sent to federal prison each year if we repealed, or even just reformed, federal pot laws.
In 2010, Congress voted to change federal penalties for crack cocaine with the Fair Sentencing Act. Prior to the law's passage, 5 grams of crack cocaine triggered the same mandatory minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine. Congress reduced that disparity, from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, which significantly reduced crack cocaine sentences. But Congress did nothing to change the sentences of the more than 8,000 federal crack prisoners who were locked up when the bill was signed into law.
So the repeal of federal marijuana laws could likely leave us with many thousands of federal pot prisoners serving sentences longer than what they'd receive in a post-reform courtroom....
If Congress changes marijuana laws without allowing currently imprisoned pot offenders to seek new sentences, should this president or the next simply throw open the gates? Clemency feels particularly appropriate for marijuana prisoners, who sit in cells for trafficking and dealing while state legislators argue over how to spend the revenues generated from pot taxes and newspapers tell us how to incorporate the plant in our cooking....
In 2014, then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced a Justice Department initiative to review the petitions of federal prisoners serving sentences longer than what they'd receive if sentenced today, and to grant clemency to those whose early release would not compromise public safety. The second wave of clemencies granted since the initiative launched included both crack offenders and a single marijuana offender.
But clemency, by its very nature, benefits only a small number of people. Even if President Obama were to grant 2,000 commutations over the next 21 months — an unprecedented number — there are roughly 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison. The vast majority would be left to serve excessively long sentences.
Our drug policies — and not just those pertaining to marijuana — require sweeping, comprehensive, grand reform.... All drug offenders are getting a raw deal from our criminal justice system. It would be a mistake to say, "Let out the people who sell a drug that I'm comfortable with, and to hell with all the rest." Federal and state legislators need to address bad policies for all drug types, and then establish a clear route to resentencing for pot dealers — and everybody else.
House of Representatives narrowly rejects allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana for vets
As reported in this Hill article headlined "House rejects proposal to let VA doctors recommend medical marijuana," another significant pro-marijuana reform amendment almost got a thumbs up from the GOP-controlled US House of Representatives. Here are the details:
The House rejected a proposal Thursday to allow doctors at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to discuss the use of medical marijuana with patients. Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-Ore.) amendment to the first fiscal 2016 appropriations bill of the year, which funds the VA and military construction projects, failed narrowly by a vote of 210-213.
A total of 35 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, while eight Democrats voted against it. Boos ensued from the Democratic side of the House chamber when Republicans closed the vote despite the razor-thin margin.
Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia. But VA doctors are prohibited from completing patient forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding medical marijuana to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 2012 VA report found nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD or depression.
Lawmakers from both parties argued veterans should at least be able to receive recommendations from their doctors about the drug's merits. They stressed the amendment wouldn't force doctors to recommend medical marijuana or authorize marijuana possession at VA facilities. "Let's lift the gag order. We owe it to our veterans to give them complete information when they ask for it, even if the means discussing medical marijuana," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.).
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said fellow Republicans should support allowing free discussion about medical marijuana between veterans and their doctors. "As Republicans, we supposedly believe in the doctor-patient relationship. But apparently some of my colleagues believe that relationship is not relevant when it comes to VA doctors and their patients," Rohrabacher said during floor debate.
"It is criminal that we send our men and women off to war where their minds and bodies are broken and then deny them the ability to obtain a recommendation from a legitimate VA doctor upon their return home," Rohrabacher added. But other Republicans warned that a drug that remains illegal in many states shouldn't be prescribed for veterans with psychological problems.
"Why in the world would we give a drug that is addictive, that is prohibited under Schedule I, that is not accepted for any specific mental disease or disorder and enhances psychosis and schizophrenia, why are we going to give that to our veterans, especially those with PTSD? That is just absolutely insane," said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a physician.
Blumenauer offered the same amendment to the VA appropriations bill last year. It was defeated by a vote of 195-222, a much wider margin than Thursday's. Marijuana legalization advocates interpreted the close vote as a sign lawmakers don't view the issue as politically risky as in the past.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by a number of stories I have seen in the wake of yesterday's news that Michele Leonhart is resigning as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Here are links to some of these stories:
From Bloomberg here, "Marijuana Activists Cheer Michele Leonhart's Exit from the DEA"
From the Daily Caller here, "Marijuana Advocates Thrilled At DEA Administrator’s Expected Resignation"
- From The Hill here, "Marijuana advocates push for new pot-friendly DEA chief"
The last story linked here highlights what will really determine the answer to the question in the title of this post: if President Obama nominates somebody for this position who expresses openness to federal marijuana reforms and a serious commitment to a more public-health oriented approach to all drug enforcement issues (e.g., Dr. Sanjay Gupta?), the transition at the top of DEA could end up being a very big deal.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Regular readers already know that The Brookings Institution has been committed to doing thoughtful and cutting-edge research, reports and blogging on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform. Today, the front-page of the Brookings website has this announcement and link:
In the past few years, marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics. In this post — the first in the FixGov blog's 4/20 blog series — John Hudak lays out 12 people to watch in the future of marijuana policy.
I very much like John's list of a dozen key marijuana reform players, and here I will note how he introduces his list and a few of its first four notable names:
Marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics, particularly over the past few years. The issue is being debated at local, state, and federal levels, and has captured the attention of media organizations and research institutions nationwide and around the world.
Navigating the policy terrain and understanding what is happening in this fast-paced, dynamic, and changing arena is often tough. Knowing who is influential can be even more difficult. Because of the expansive nature of the policy conversation there are hundreds of key players making a difference — on both sides of this issue — and that list is seemingly ever growing.
In this post, I list 12 people who each bring something interesting to the table and may play an important role in the future of this policy area. They may not be the most important, though surely some of the people on this list could be considered so. Nor is this list ranked in order of importance or impact. Instead, it offers a brief overview of how these 12 individuals may help shape the future of cannabis policy....
1. Hillary Clinton, 2016 Presidential Candidate
2. Rand Paul, U.S. Senator & 2016 Presidential Candidate
3. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General
4. Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General designee
April 20, 2015 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)
Friday, April 17, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this new CNN commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which is something of a preview of a new documentary on medical marijuana titled "Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution" airing at 9 pm Sunday on CNN. Here is how the commentary starts:
I see signs of a revolution everywhere. I see it in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, and on the state ballots in nearly half the country. I see it in politicians who once preferred to play it safe with this explosive issue but are now willing to stake their political futures on it. I see the revolution in the eyes of sterling scientists, previously reluctant to dip a toe into this heavily stigmatized world, who are diving in head first. I see it in the new surgeon general who cites data showing just how helpful it can be.
I see a revolution in the attitudes of everyday Americans. For the first time a majority, 53%, favor its legalization, with 77% supporting it for medical purposes. Support for legalization has risen 11 points in the past few years alone. In 1969, the first time Pew asked the question about legalization, only 12% of the nation was in favor.
I see a revolution that is burning white hot among young people, but also shows up among the parents and grandparents in my kids' school. A police officer I met in Michigan is part of the revolution, as are the editors of the medical journal, Neurosurgery. I see it in the faces of good parents, uprooting their lives to get medicine for their children -- and in the children themselves, such as Charlotte, who went from having 300 seizures a week to just one or two a month. We know it won't consistently have such dramatic results (or any impact at all) in others, but what medicine does?
I see this medical marijuana revolution in surprising places. Among my colleagues, my patients and my friends. I have even seen the revolution in my own family. A few years ago, when I told my mother I was investigating the topic for a documentary, I was met with a long pause.
"Marijuana...?" She whispered in a half questioning, half disapproving tone. She could barely even say the word and her response filled me with self-doubt. Even as a grown man, mom can still make my cheeks turn red and shatter my confidence with a single word. But just last week she suddenly stopped mid-conversation and said, "I am proud of you on the whole marijuana thing." I waited for the other shoe to drop, but it didn't. Instead, she added, "You probably helped a lot of people who were suffering."
April 17, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)