Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Making the latest full-throated pitch for Congress to finally do something on marijuana reform

Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of NORML, has this new Daily Caller commentary headlined "It’s Time For Congressional Action On Marijuana Policy." Like many other calls for congressional action, I doubt this piece will actually prod any politician into action. But it is a worthwhile read as a sign of the federal reform advocacy times, and here are excerpts:

West Virginia recently became the 30th state to authorize the physician-recommended use of marijuana or marijuana-infused products.  An additional fourteen states permit patients to access products containing cannabidiol, a specific chemical compound available in the cannabis plant.  And this past January, scholars at the National Academy of Sciences determined that there exists “conclusive evidence” that the herb is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and other diseases.  Nonetheless, federal law continues to declare that neither marijuana nor any of its organic constituents possess any “accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”  This sort of Flat Earth contention no longer passes the smell test.

That is why it remains exceedingly curious and excruciatingly frustrating that members of Congress steadfastly refuse to amend federal law in a manner that comports with this new reality.  Ninety-four percent of US voters now believe that medical cannabis therapy ought to be legal and regulated, according to survey data provided last week by Quinnipiac University, and the overwhelming majority of Americans now reside in jurisdictions that have amended their laws in a manner that recognizes the therapeutic utility of the cannabis plant.  It is high time that federal lawmakers do the same, and do so soon.

The failure of Congress to amend federal marijuana laws places the millions of patients who rely on these state-sanctioned programs at legal risk.  That is because an existing federal provision protecting these programs could potentially expire later this week. The provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, maintains that federal funds can not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”  In December, Congress re-authorized the amendment as part of a short term spending package through April 28, 2017, at which time the budget — and the Amendment — will expire unless it is reauthorized by Congress.

In recent years, strong majorities of Congress have voted in favor of keeping this budgetary provision in place and it is vital that they do so again, especially now that the incoming administration has threatened to increase anti-marijuana enforcement efforts in states that have legalized it.  Yet Congress can do far more.

Several bipartisan pieces of legislation are pending before the House and Senate that would rectify the existing, and ultimately untenable, conflict between state and federal marijuana laws.  Among these, SB 777 | HR 1810 would amend the federal tax code in a manner that acknowledges the legitimacy of state-licensed marijuana businesses, HR 1820 would expand medical cannabis access to eligible military veterans, and HR 715 would reclassify marijuana and cannabidiol under federal law in a manner that for the first recognizes their therapeutic utility.

In addition, both HR 975, ‘The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act,’ and HR 1227 provide states with the flexibility and autonomy to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference.  More than seven out of ten voters, including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, support allowing states — not the federal government — the power to arbitrate pot policy....

[W]e know enough about the relative safety and efficacy of cannabis, as well as the failures of cannabis prohibition, to allow adults the option to consume it and to allow states the autonomy to regulate it as best they see fit. It is time for members of Congress to acknowledge this reality and to amend federal laws in a manner that comports with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.

April 25, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Might a crack down on state reforms by the feds actually increase the pace for national marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Washington Post piece by Paul Waldman headlined "Will Jeff Sessions launch a War on Weed? If so, it could accelerate marijuana legalization." Here are excerpts:

A CBS poll out today shows that 61 percent of Americans favor full legalization, the highest number the poll has recorded, while a Quinnipiac poll puts the number at 60 percent, with an incredible 94 percent saying people ought to be able to get it if their doctors prescribe it (CBS put that figure at 88 percent). Perhaps more important, 71 percent in the CBS poll and 73 percent in the Quinnipiac poll said that the federal government should leave states that have legalized it alone.

But there’s one person who doesn’t agree, and he happens to be the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government. In fact, if there’s a single thing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates more than undocumented immigrants it might just be marijuana, which is why he appears to be planning what amounts to a return to a 1980s-style War on Drugs. We don’t yet know what practical steps Sessions will take, because things are still in the planning stages. But allow me to suggest that in the end, Sessions might actually accelerate the country’s move toward the eventual goal of full legalization....

[T]he big unanswered question is how the attorney general will approach the states that have passed some form of legalization. He could follow the (mostly) hands-off approach that the Obama administration did. Or he could send out federal agents to start shutting down dispensaries across the country. Or he could do something in between. But given his strong views and the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law — which gives him substantial power to go after the burgeoning pot industry in states that have legalized it — it’s hard to believe there isn’t some kind of crackdown coming from the Justice Department.

Sessions may already be having a deterrent effect. The Colorado legislature was all set to pass a law regulating marijuana clubs but backed off after the governor warned that doing so could incur Sessions’s wrath. But in other places, the movement toward legalization continues. Just yesterday, West Virginia’s governor signed a law passed by the legislature to create a medical marijuana system in the state.

Which means that if and when he attacks legal marijuana, Sessions will be going after a movement with extraordinary momentum. And it’s not just the opinion polls; it’s also what’s happening at the ballot box. In 2016, marijuana initiatives were on the ballot in nine states and won in eight of them. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota passed medical marijuana initiatives. Only Arizona’s recreational measure was narrowly defeated....

So consider this scenario. Sessions initiates some kind of new War on Weed, one that results in lots of splashy headlines, dramatic video of state-licensed businesses being shut down and thoughtful debates about the proper balance between federal and state power. Then the backlash begins. Even many Republicans express their dismay at the Justice Department’s heavy-handed actions. Pressure builds on President Trump (whose comments on the topic have been mostly vague and noncommittal) to rein Sessions in. The controversy energizes cannabis advocates and the voters who agree with them. More and more candidates come out in favor of legalization, or at least a new federal law that would remove the drug from Schedule 1 (which puts it in the same category as heroin) and leave it up to states to decide how to handle it without any federal interference.

Then in 2020, we see the first major-party nominee who advocates full legalization of marijuana. That last part might not happen three years from now (though some past and future nominees have already sponsored bills to allow medical use). But it will eventually, because politicians inevitably follow where the public has moved.

Most of them do, anyway. But on this issue, Sessions is not such a politician — he’s going to pursue that demon weed no matter what the public thinks. We all know where America is heading on this issue, and Sessions may end up pushing us there just a little faster.

I have been saying throughout the semester in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar that a significant marijuana prohibition enforcement effort by the Justice Department might provide the spark in Congress to move forward more seriously and effectively with a variety of proposed federal legislative reforms in this space. For a bunch of reasons, I do not think federal reforms and national legalization are a certainty no matter what AG Sessions decides to do, but I do think there are a lot of interesting elements to what we will see in the marijuana reform space over the next decade and that what AG Sessions seeks to do in this space will be a very important part of the story with lots of unpredictable ripples.

April 21, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Medical Marijuana Laws May Be Associated With A Decline In The Number Of Prescriptions For Medicaid Enrollees"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new study to be published in the journal Health Affairs.  Here is the abstract (with one line emphasized):

In the past twenty years, twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of medical marijuana law.  Using quarterly data on all fee-for-service Medicaid prescriptions in the period 2007–14, we tested the association between those laws and the average number of prescriptions filled by Medicaid beneficiaries.  We found that the use of prescription drugs in fee-for-service Medicaid was lower in states with medical marijuana laws than in states without such laws in five of the nine broad clinical areas we studied.  If all states had had a medical marijuana law in 2014, we estimated that total savings for fee-for-service Medicaid could have been $1.01 billion.  These results are similar to those in a previous study we conducted, regarding the effects of medical marijuana laws on the number of prescriptions within the Medicare population.  Together, the studies suggest that in states with such laws, Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries will fill fewer prescriptions.

April 20, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Homeland Security Secretary Kelly speaks sternly about marijuana after some prior moderate comments

DownloadAs reported in this NBC News article, the head of the Department of Homeland Security made a few notable statements about federal marijuana policy and practice in a speech today.  Here are the details:

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly Tuesday called marijuana a "gateway drug" and vowed his agency will uphold federal laws against its possession, a sterner message than he delivered on the topic just last week.

"Let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs," Kelly said during a speech about his agency's mission at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "Its use and possession is against federal law and until the law is changed by the United States Congress, we in DHS, along with the rest of the federal government, are sworn to uphold all the laws that are on the books," he added.

Kelly made headlines on Sunday when he told NBC News' Chuck Todd that "marijuana is not a factor in the drug war" during an interview on "Meet The Press."

That was a noticeably softer tone than other members of President Donald Trump's administration have taken, especially Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an open opponent of legal weed. And Kelly seemed to go out of his way Tuesday to say marijuana is not something the administration takes lightly.

"When marijuana is found at aviation checkpoints and baggage screening, TSA personnel will also take appropriate action," Kelly said. "Finally, ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation, removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens."

April 18, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Looking back at the history of marijuana law and policy and perceptions

A student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this week is helping the class look back on the law, policies and perceptions surrounding marijuana many decades ago. Here are the links this student has assembled in preparation for his presentation this coming week:

Text of the Marijuana Tax of 1937

Summary and Conclusions of LaGaurdia Report on Marijuana Effects

Article showing the depictions of Reefer Madness throughout the 20th Century

Hemp for Victory short movie sponsored by the U.S. Government

April 10, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Looking at banking issues and reform for marijuana industry

A student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is looking closely at the law, policies and practices surrounding banking activities for the marijuana industry, and he has provided for class reading the following links in preparation for his presentation this coming week:

April 10, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Governors of first four legalization states write to AG Sessions and Secretary Mnuchin in support of Cole Memo

As reported in this Huffington Post piece, "Governors from four states where recreational marijuana is legal for adult use sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday urging them to respect state cannabis laws." The full relatively brief letter is available at this link, and here are some key passages:

As governors of states that have legalized marijuana in some form, we ask the Trump Administration to engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems.  The balance struck by the 2013 Department of Justice Cole Memorandum (Cole Memo) has been indispensable – providing the necessary framework for state regulatory programs centered on public safety and health protections.

We understand you and others in the administration have some concerns regarding marijuana.  We sympathize, as many of us expressed apprehensions before our states adopted current laws.  As governors, we have committed to implementing the will of our citizens and have worked cooperatively with our legislatures to establish robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety, reduce inequitable incarceration and expand our economies.

The Cole Memo and the related Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance provide the foundation for state regulatory systems and are vital to maintaining control over marijuana in our states. Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.  Likewise, without the FinCEN guidance, financial institutions will be less willing to provide services to marijuana-related businesses.  This would force industry participants to be even more cash reliant, posing safety risks both to the public and to state regulators conducting enforcement activity.  The Cole Memo and FinCEN guidance strike a reasonable balance between allowing the states to enact reasonable regulations and the federal government’s interest in controlling some of the collateral consequences of legalization.

April 3, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Looking at realities and regulations for CBD oil and other cannabis products without THC

One of my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar students is taking a deep dive into products and processes involving cannabis without THC, giving particular attention to the "murky issues relating to CBD oil and the extraction of oils from all cannaboids." For this topic, my student has provided for posting here "some interesting articles about CBD oil, hemp and the implications for the USDA and FDA [that reveal] some conflicting reports about legality, organic certification and other important matters" as background for his presentation:

USDA Instruction on Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp Production

Press article: "USDA Announces Domestic Grown Hemp Can’t Be Labelled Organic"

Press release: "CBDRx Receives USDA Organic Certification for Its Hemp"

FDA report: "2016 Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products"

Press article: "New DEA Rule Says CBD Oil is Really, Truly, No-Joke Illegal"

April 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Should anyone get excited about the new "Path to Marijuana Reform" bills just introduced in Congress?

The question in the title of this post was my first reaction to this big new Cannabist story headlined "Bipartisan 'Path to Marijuana Reform' bills introduced to decriminalize, protect, regulate cannabis industry."  The piece has the subheadline "Three marijuana-related bills address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation," and here are the basics:

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of marijuana reform bills aimed at protecting and preserving existing state-based programs while laying framework for the federal regulation of cannabis. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, announced the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a bipartisan package of three marijuana-related bills that address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation. Included in the package is the reintroduction of legislation from Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Wyden said in a statement, referencing the legalization efforts in his home state and those made elsewhere. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”

The Path to Marijuana Reform includes the following bills, according to the announcement from Wyman and Blumenauer:

The Small Business Tax Equity Act — Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden’s Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act — Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; prohibits residents of marijuana-legal states to be required to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and easing barriers for medical marijuana research.

Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) — Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Rep. Polis is sponsoring a portion of this legislation in the House.

I am pleased to see additional federal legislative action in this space, but I have little reason to be hopeful that these reform bills will have any more chance of moving forward than a host of other like marijuana reform bill that have previously been put forward in recent years. I am certain that the pro-reform results of so many 2016 ballot initiatives helps keep the marijuana reform momentum moving, but I do not think this momentum has yet built to the point that anyone should get excited about these new bill becoming law anytime very soon.

March 30, 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 (1)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Legalization Lite: The Case for De-scheduling Marijuana

The title of this post is the title suggested by a student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar as a preview of his planned presentation to the class next week.  Here are the resources the student assembled as background on this topic to go with the great title (which leads to show my age by thinking "tastes great/less filling"):

1.  Sam Kamin, Legal Cannabis in the U.S.: Not Whether, But How?, 50 UC Davis L. Rev. 617 (2016).

2.  Jeffrey M. Jones, In U.S., 58% Back Legal Marijuana Use, Gallup (Oct. 21, 2015)

3.  Abigail Geiger, Support for Marijuana Legalization Continues to Rise, Pew Research Center, Oct. 12, 2016

4.  Kevin Loria, 11 Key Findings from One of the Most Comprehensive Reports Ever on the Health Effects of Marijuana, Business Insider, Jan. 12, 2017,

5.  Ryan Stoa, Is Big Marijuana Inevitable?, The New Republic, Aug. 19, 2016

6.  Debra Borchardt, Marijuana Sales Totaled $6.7 Billion in 2016, Forbes, Jan. 3, 2017

7.  Robert Benzie, Recreational Weed Could Be A $22.6 Billion Industry: Study, The Toronto Star, Oct. 27, 2016,

8.  Angela Dills, Sietse Goffard, & Jeffrey Miron, Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations, The Cato Institute, Sep. 16, 2016,

9.  Jeffrey A. Miron & Katherine Waldock, The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition, The Cato Institute (2010)

10.  Beau Kilmer, Trump's Marijuana Options, The Hill (Jan. 17, 2017)

March 23, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Congressional Research Service report on "The Marijuana Policy Gap and the Path Forward"

The folks at the Congressional Research Service do a terrific job summarizing complicated law and policy issues for members of Congress, and their latest marijuana publication is no exception. This latest CRS report is titled "The Marijuana Policy Gap and the Path Forward," and it covers an amazing amount of marijuana law and policy in under 50 pages. Here are excerpts from its summary:

Most states have deviated from an across-the-board prohibition of marijuana, and it is now more so the rule than the exception that states have laws and policies allowing for some cultivation, sale, distribution, and possession of marijuana — all of which are contrary to the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  As of March 2017, nearly 90% of the states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, allow for the medical use of marijuana in some capacity.  Also, eight states and the District of Columbia now allow for some recreational use of marijuana.  These developments have spurred a number of questions regarding their potential implications for federal law enforcement activities and for the nation’s drug policies as a whole.

Thus far, the federal response to state actions to decriminalize or legalize marijuana largely has been to allow states to implement their own laws on marijuana.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has nonetheless reaffirmed that marijuana growth, possession, and trafficking remain crimes under federal law irrespective of states’ positions on marijuana. Rather than targeting individuals for drug use and possession, federal law enforcement has generally focused its counterdrug efforts on criminal networks involved in the drug trade.

While the majority of the American public supports marijuana legalization, some have voiced apprehension over possible negative implications.  Opponents’ concerns include, but are not limited to, the potential impact of legalization on (1) marijuana use, particularly among youth; (2) road incidents involving marijuana-impaired drivers; (3) marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized it into neighboring states that have not; and (4) U.S. compliance with international treaties.  Proponents of legalization have been encouraged by potential outcomes that could result from marijuana legalization, including a new source of tax revenue for states and a decrease in marijuana-related arrests.  Many of these potential implications are yet to be fully measured.

Given the current marijuana policy gap between the federal government and many of the states, there are a number of issues that Congress may address.  These include, but are not limited to, issues surrounding availability of financial services for marijuana businesses, federal tax treatment, oversight of federal law enforcement, allowance of states to implement medical marijuana laws and involvement of federal health care workers, and consideration of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the CSA. The marijuana policy gap has widened each year for some time.

March 16, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

More notable comments about marijuana and federal enforcement from AG Sessions in new speech and Q&A

Jeff-sessions-attorney-general-630x354Over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog, I have this new post highlights various aspects of  this extended speech delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions today in Richmond, Virginia.  Though covering various topics, these passages from the speech are sure to intrigue those following marijuana law, policy and reform:  

Our nation is in the throes of a heroin and opioid epidemic. Overdose deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014. According to the CDC, about 140 Americans on average now die from a drug overdose each day. That means every three weeks, we are losing as many American lives to drug overdoses as we lost in the 9/11 attacks. Illegal drugs are flooding across our southern border and into cities across our country, bringing violence, addiction, and misery. We have also seen an increase in the trafficking of new, low-cost heroin by Mexican drug cartels working with local street gangs. As the market for this heroin expands, gangs fight for territory and new customers and neighborhoods are caught in the crossfire.

There are three main ways to fight the scourge of drugs: criminal enforcement, treatment and prevention. Criminal enforcement is essential to stop both the transnational cartels that ship drugs into our country, and the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their product. One of the President’s executive orders directed the Justice Department to dismantle these organizations and gangs — and we will do just that.

Treatment programs are also vital.  But treatment often comes too late to save people from addiction or death. So we need to focus on the third way we can fight drug use: preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place.

I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable.  I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And 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. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

In the ’80s and ’90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction.  We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.

In addition to these prepared remarks, AG Sessions also apparently had some interesting things to say during a Q&A after his speech.  Tom Angell, in this new MassRoots posting, provides this report:

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is indicating that he might keep Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidelines in place, perhaps with some modifications. "The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama's Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid," he said in a question-and-answer session with reporters following a speech in Richmond, Virginia.

That memo, adopted in 2013, lays out guidelines for how states can avoid federal interference with their marijuana laws.

Sessions added that he "may have some different ideas myself in addition to that" but indicated that the federal government would not be able to enforce its remaining marijuana prohibition across the board in states with legalization. "Essentially we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades," he said.

The attorney general also addressed medical cannabis, suggesting that it "has been hyped, maybe too much."

"It's possible that some dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial," he said. "But if you ever just smoke marijuana for example where you have no idea how much THC you're getting it's probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So, forgive me if I'm a bit dubious about that."

March 15, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Series on "Marijuana in the age of Trump" via The Cannabist

The Cannabist has a series of new article under the heading "Marijuana in the age of Trump." Here are the headlines and subheadlines of the three pieces with links thereto:

Part 1: ‘Something’s going to have to give’: An untenable conflict between feds, legalized states: Cannabis businesses, legalization forces prepare to fight as ground shifts beneath their feet

Part 2: Federal marijuana law enforcement: What you need to know: The Cannabist talks with drug policy and legal experts about what could take shape, from selective raids and the threat of asset seizures on cannabis businesses to how cases could be handled in federal court

Part 3: What is the Supremacy Clause and what does it mean for states’ rights to legalize marijuana?: If preemption of state law happens and federal prohibition stands, "That's shooting themselves in the foot," says Robert Mikos, an expert on federalism and drug law

March 8, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eleven Senators write to AG Sessions to urge "that the Cole Memorandum remain in place"

As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:

The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.

But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."

In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...

In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.

The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:

We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.   It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum.  In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.  We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.

Some recent prior related posts:

March 2, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Aggregating evidence on marijuana's role in curbing opioid abuse after AG Sessions expresses skepticism

Attorney General Sessions today took more shots at marijuana reform, which included criticism of the suggestion marijuana could help curb the nation's opioid problems.  In response, Christopher Ingraham has this lengthy Washington Post piece assembling all the recent research supporting the notion that marijuana could help curb the nation's opioid problems. The piece is headlined "Attorney General Sessions wants to know the science on marijuana and opioids. Here it is." Here is the start of the article and its main bold headings that set up discussions of recent research (readers should click through for a bunch of links):

Speaking this morning before the National Association of Attorneys General, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed doubt that marijuana could help mitigate the opioid abuse epidemic.

“I see a line in The Washington Post today that I remember from the '80s,” Sessions said. "'Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse.' Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that's been made out there to just — almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that's true. Maybe science will prove I'm wrong.”

The stakes are pretty high here. After all, opioids killed 33,000 people in 2015, up from around 8,000 in 1999. As the head of the Department of Justice, Attorney General Sessions oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration, which just last year reaffirmed its belief that marijuana has no medical value and hence should remain illegal (which makes it substantially more difficult for researchers to conduct studies).

Here's a run-down of where the evidence on marijuana and opiates stands.

Marijuana is great at treating chronic pain....

States with medical marijuana laws see fewer opiate deaths....

Medical marijuana is associated with fewer opiate-induced car crashes....

Painkiller prescriptions fall sharply after medical marijuana laws are introduced....

Among chronic pain patients, marijuana use is associated with less opiate use....

The scientific evidence available so far indicates marijuana holds great promise for mitigating the effects of the opiate epidemic. Researchers desperately want to know more, but as long as the Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, they'll have a hard time getting more answers.

February 28, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Confusion mounts over Trump administration’s stance on marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this new article in The Hill.  Here are excerpts:

The Trump administration is signaling a crackdown on federal drug laws, leaving apprehensive top officials in states that have legalized recreational marijuana searching for answers.

Senior Trump administration members have hinted in recent days that they plan to more strictly enforce drug laws, a reversal from the Obama administration, which largely tolerated legal marijuana industries in states where voters had given the go-ahead.

“I’m dubious about marijuana. I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana sold at every corner grocery store,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told state attorneys general on Tuesday.... White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week he believed the administration would push “greater enforcement” of federal drug laws, under which marijuana is still a banned substance.

Neither Sessions nor Spicer addressed the Cole Memo, the Obama-era legal guidance that de-prioritized marijuana enforcement in states where the drug is legal. Since establishing their recreational marijuana regimes, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have followed that federal guidance.

“In an imperfect system, the Cole Memo has worked. States that have legalized marijuana I think have worked hard to adhere to the Cole Memo,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D)....

Along with the four states that have implemented legalized marijuana, four more — Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and California — are setting up their own regulatory regimes, after voters passed legalization efforts in November.

Most elected officials opposed legalization efforts in their states. But once voters have spoken, those elected officials don’t want federal officials cracking down on a product that is legal under state law, though still illegal at the federal level. And the marijuana industry is a boon for state economies, with legal marijuana sales over $1 billion in Colorado last year.

“I took an oath to support the constitution of Colorado,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said in an interview. Hickenlooper questioned whether the Trump administration “really want[s] to come down and be heavy-handed on entrepreneurs.”

“I don’t know what direction the Justice Department is going to go, but it is going to raise some legal issues,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said. Both Hickenlooper and Sandoval opposed their state’s legalization initiatives.

State and federal officials from legalization states have asked the Justice Department for guidance but have received no clear answers. No Justice Department officials showed up at the National Governors Association’s annual winter meeting this weekend in Washington. Hickenlooper, Sandoval and a spokesman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said they had not been able to speak with Trump administration officials about their predicaments.

Inslee and Ferguson wrote Sessions last week to ask for a meeting to discuss state pot laws, though they have received no reply. Hickenlooper said he too will request a meeting. “I’ll have to probably come back and talk to [Sessions]," Hickenlooper said. “I want to make sure that we have a discussion about it. I’ll come back, we’ll try to set a meeting up.”

But many officials, like Sandoval, predict legal clashes ahead if the federal government changes its approach. “States like Washington have legal tools to resist such an effort, in the same way we have legal tools to resist the executive travel ban,” said Ferguson, who led the lawsuit against the Trump administration’s executive order on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations.

February 28, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Heritage Foundation expert provides road map for big government feds to crack down on marijuana enterprises

Stimson_Cully_0This webpage discussing the mission of the Heritage Foundation states at its outset that "free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom" are among the principles that that the group "fights for every single day." But when it comes to marijuana law and policy, it seems these principles become much less important given this new Daily Signal commentary authored by Charles “Cully” Stimson of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.  The piece is headlined "How Trump’s DOJ Can Start Enforcing Federal Marijuana Law," and in it Stimson provides a detailed road map for how the large federal government can try to crush free enterprise and individual freedom in marijuana legalization states. Here are the essentials of the piece (with links from the original):

Thorough scientific reviews by President Barack Obama’s Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration — as well as drug classification reviews by federal judges — have affirmed that marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 drug. Such drugs are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As I have written here and here, the predictable consequences of marijuana legalization are beginning to emerge in states like Colorado and Washington.  Annual reports from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and the Colorado Department of Public Safety have analyzed the negative impact that marijuana legalization has had on health and public safety in Colorado.

 With such research finally emerging, the Trump administration and the Department of Justice are in a strong position to enforce federal law and take appropriate and aggressive action in crafting a commonsense drug enforcement policy for marijuana. The Trump administration should consider the following actions:

  • Reaffirm support for the law....
  • Coordinate with lower-level officials....
  • Reassert America’s drug position on the world stage....
  • Up the profile of key drug enforcement personnel....
  • Rescind and replace the August 2013 memorandum from then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole—i.e. the “Cole Memo.”...
  • Select marijuana businesses to prosecute....
  • Rescind the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s guidance for banks and oppose efforts to expand banking services to the marijuana industry....
  • Support state attorneys general in nonlegalized states....
  • Prosecute those dealing in marijuana—which is illegal under federal law—using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)....
  • Prosecute those who provide financing for marijuana operations....
  • Empower the FDA to take action to regulate marijuana in order to protect patients and the public....
None of these recommendations advocate criminal prosecution for simple possession of marijuana. Enforcing federal marijuana laws should not be about putting people in jail....

Thus, it has not been the case and should not be the case that people are criminally prosecuted and jailed for simple possession of small quantities of marijuana. However, the recommendations listed above provide a targeted approach to marijuana enforcement that focuses on protection, not punishment. These recommendations should be part of any commonsense approach that is consistent with an interest in public health and safety.

Recent comments by the White House press secretary (covered here) and also by the Attorney General (covered here) has me starting to think that the Trump Administration might be quite seriously considering many of Stimson's big government suggestions for the future of federal marijuana policies and practices.

A few prior related posts:

February 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

AG Sessions comments negatively on state marijuana reform

As detailed in this new AP article, headlined "Sessions: More violence around marijuana than ‘one would think’," the US Attorney General had a few not-so-nice things to say about state marijuana reforms today. Here are the details:

The Justice Department will try to adopt “responsible policies” for enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday, adding that he believes violence surrounds sales and use of the drug in the U.S.

In a meeting with reporters, Sessions said the department was reviewing an Obama administration Justice Department memo that gave states flexibility in passing marijuana laws. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions said....

Sessions stopped short of saying what he would do, but said he doesn’t think America will be a better place with “more people smoking pot.”

“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”...

Studies have found no correlation between legalization of marijuana and violent crime rates. But law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado say drug traffickers have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much higher.

Pot advocates say the officials have exaggerated the problem. “You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” Sessions said.

Sessions said he met with Nebraska’s attorney general, who sued Colorado for allegedly not keeping marijuana within its borders. That lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but neighboring states continue to gripe that Colorado and other pot-legal states have not done enough to keep the drug from crossing their borders.

February 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

California folks gearing up for possible fight with feds over marijuana law and policy

DownloadThis new lengthy Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California officials and the marijuana industry are ready to fight a federal crackdown," reports on what folks on the Left Coast are thinking and saying in the wake of  the recent comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggesting the Trump Administration might be ramping up federal enforcement of blanket marijuana prohibition.  Here are excerpts:

Warned of a possible federal crackdown on marijuana, California elected officials and cannabis industry leaders said Friday they were preparing for a potential showdown in the courts and Congress to protect the legalization measure approved by state voters in November.

The flashpoint that set off a scramble in California was a news conference Thursday at which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration had no plans to continue the Obama administration's permissive approach in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement,” he said, adding that the administration would continue to allow states to regulate the sale of marijuana for medical use.

The latest development could force California officials and marijuana industry leaders into an unusual alliance against the federal government, with billions of dollars in profits for businesses and taxes for state coffers at stake.

The state agency responsible for drafting regulations said Friday it was going ahead with its plans to start issuing licenses to growers and sellers in January. “Until we see any sort of formal plan from the federal government, it’s full speed ahead for us,” said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra says he is ready to safeguard the rights of the 56% of voters who approved Proposition 64, which allows California adults to possess, transport and buy up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. “I took an oath to enforce the laws that California has passed,” Becerra said in a statement Thursday after Spicer’s comments. “If there is action from the federal government on this subject, I will respond in an appropriate way to protect the interests of California.”

State lawmakers also say California should do what it can to preserve Proposition 64. “We will support and honor the laws that California voters have democratically enacted,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), an author of legislation creating the licensing system for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Becerra would likely be joined in any defense of the state’s marijuana policy by attorneys general in other parts of the country. Recreational use has also been legalized in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, home to a combined 68 million Americans.

Washington Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, who has worked with Becerra on opposing President Trump’s travel ban, said he and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last week asked for a meeting with U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to discuss how the recreational marijuana use system is working in their state.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading supporter of Proposition 64, took a similar approach, sending a letter Friday to Trump urging him not to carry through with threats to launch a federal enforcement effort. “I urge you and your administration to work in partnership with California and the other … states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in a way that will let us enforce our state laws that protect the public and our children, while targeting the bad actors,” the Democrat wrote.

If the Justice Department starts arresting licensed marijuana sellers, the multibillion-dollar industry would join forces with the states that issue permits to challenge the action in court, said Amy Margolis, an attorney whose law firm has more than 200 clients in the marijuana industry, including businesses in California. “This industry is so mature and it’s so far along that I have no doubt that if the Department of Justice started true enforcement actions against cannabis businesses, that they would go to court,” Margolis said. “I see joint actions between the states and the industry hoping to prevent those type of actions.”

Margolis would argue that it is a states’ rights issue. “The argument would be that this is a situation where the states have the right to regulate and tax an industry the way they want,” she said, adding that states are gaining tax revenue to pay for government programs....

However, the states may find their hands tied legally if they try to keep federal agents from raiding and shutting down marijuana growing and sales operations, according to Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law. “I imagine that California will mount a legal challenge to any crackdown on recreational marijuana,” Winkler said. “Yet there is not much California can do. Federal law is supreme over conflicting state law. Federal agents are entitled to enforce federal law anywhere in the country, including California.” He said there are limits to federal power, but the courts have held that the federal government does have the authority to enforce federal drug laws.

Aaron Herzberg, an attorney for the industry, agreed that the state would face a tough fight. He cited the 2005 case Gonzales vs. Raich, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown marijuana even if states approve its use for medical purposes. “Let's face it: If the federal government wants to shut down recreational marijuana they could quite easily accomplish it using federal law enforcement and taxation tools,” Herzberg said.

Others say one basis for legal action would be an argument that enforcing laws against marijuana would damage states that have put regulations in place and are depending on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to pay for government programs. States are too far down the path of regulating, licensing and taxing those who are making big investments in the sanctioned marijuana industry to pull the rug out now, said Richard Miadich, an attorney who co-wrote Proposition 64....

Because Spicer did not provide details on what an enforcement effort might look like, many in the industry hope it will focus on the illegal exporting of marijuana to other states, leaving alone state-licensed firms that grow and sell pot. “The biggest crackdown we may see is on the increase of cannabis being illegally exported out of recreational states,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn.

Prior related post:

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

February 25, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

White House press secretary hints of "greater enforcement" by feds of marijuana prohibition in recreational marijuana states

As reported in this Politico article, "White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that he expects states to see 'greater enforcement' of the federal law against marijuana use, a move that would be at odds with a growing number of states’ decisions to legalize it." Here is more:

Spicer, taking questions from reporters at the daily briefing, differentiated between the administration’s positions on medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. President Donald Trump “understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them,” he said, also noting previous action by Congress not to fund the Justice Department “go[ing] after those folks.”

As for “recreational marijuana, that’s a very, very different subject,” Spicer said.

Spicer suggested that the administration is opposed to encouraging recreational marijuana use and connected it with the crisis with opioid addiction in some areas. “When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” he said.

The Department of Justice, Spicer said, will be “further looking into” the marijuana enforcement question, he said, punting questions about the specifics to the department. “I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it,” he said.

February 23, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)