Thursday, June 22, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this terrific (and lengthy) article in National Affairs authored by Jonathan Caulkins. Every serious student of marijuana reform ought to read the whole piece, and here are excerpts that highlight just a fee of the many astute observations herein:
The concern with cheap marijuana is not that tens of millions more Americans might smoke marijuana once or twice a week. That would not matter much, because occasional use is, by and large, not terribly harmful. Rather, the concern is that millions more would become habitual users. Over the last decade or so of liberalizing policy, the number of people who report using marijuana at some point within the past year has increased moderately, but the number reporting heavy use has soared. In 1992, fewer than one million Americans self-reported daily or near-daily use of marijuana; by 2014, the figure had ballooned to 7.8 million. Half of the marijuana used in the U.S. is consumed by people who spend more than half their waking hours intoxicated.
Whatever one thinks about the long-term consequences of chronic heavy use, acute marijuana intoxication can interfere with the ability to perform useful and even necessary tasks. Marijuana is not a cognitive-performance enhancer. And while we welcome low prices for most consumer goods — if health care and rent were cheap, it would make life a lot easier for most people — that approach may not apply to "temptation goods." Suppose people could buy essentially unlimited candy and desserts for 50 cents a day. Would that be a good thing? Maybe not. Lots of Americans already struggle with their weight, and consumption tends to go up when prices fall.
Libertarians may want prices to be as low as possible even for temptation goods. But the internalities argument goes as follows: Marijuana is a dependence-inducing intoxicant that leads many users to systematically make bad decisions that harm themselves as well as third parties; more than four million Americans report suffering enough problems with chronic marijuana use to meet clinical criteria for a substance-use disorder.
Chronic drug use involves repeatedly ingesting chemicals that bind to one's neuro-receptors — literally altering the brain in ways that are visible in brain scans. Changes in the brain's reward circuitry can compromise the neural system that normally helps rational actors successfully negotiate free markets. Even if each dose considered on its own seems appealing, regular drug consumption can leave long-term users regretful. The phrase "drugs hijack the brain" is sensationalistic, but not altogether wrong. So there is nothing illogical about adopting a libertarian perspective toward conventional consumer goods but making an exception for temptation goods, particularly for artificially introduced neurotransmitters and their chemical cousins.
To be sure, taxing to protect the minority for whom cheap marijuana would trigger habitual use is paternalistic, and it sacrifices the interests of the majority whose use would not create such problems. But the sacrifice would not be large: A $5-per-gram tax would cost someone who smokes a half-gram joint every weekend only $125 a year. Furthermore, the taxes would not actually increase out-of-pocket costs, but merely lessen the decline in price that would inevitably accompany federal legalization. So even with high taxes, legalization would still save marijuana users money.
June 22, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Fearing Trump turn, big bank no longer willing to serve national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project
This new Washington Post article reports on a new reality in the banking space for the nation's leading marijuana reform advocacy group. The article is headlined "‘It is too risky’: Marijuana group says PNC Bank to close its accounts amid fears of a DOJ crackdown," and it begins this way:
One of the nation’s leading marijuana legalization groups says PNC Bank has notified it that it will close the organization’s 22-year-old accounts, a sign of growing concerns in the financial industry that the Trump administration will crack down on the marijuana industry in states that have legalized it.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbies to eliminate punishments for marijuana use but is not involved in growing or distributing the drug — an important distinction for federally regulated banks and other institutions that do business with such advocacy groups.
Nick Field, MPP’s chief operating officer, said a PNC Bank representative told him in May that the organization’s bank accounts would be permanently closed July 7 because an audit of the organization’s accounts revealed it received funding from marijuana businesses that handle the plant directly. “They told me it is too risky. The bank can’t assume the risk,” Field said.
Although marijuana businesses are legal in some states, many banks will not provide services to sellers or growers of the drug because it is banned at the federal level. But policy and advocacy organizations such as MPP are spared. A bank’s severing ties with an organization that accepts donations from such businesses signals a new level of concern in the banking industry.
PNC bank declined to discuss its relationship with MPP, but a spokeswoman said that “as a federally regulated financial institution, PNC complies with all applicable federal laws and regulations.”
The bank has held MPP’s accounts since the organization was formed in 1995.
June 20, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, June 15, 2017
As reported in this new Roll Call article, a "bipartisan group of senators and representatives have reintroduced legislation that would enable states to set their own medical marijuana policies." Here are the basics:
Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., joined by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., made the announcement on Thursday....
The legislation reintroduced Thursday would protect patients, doctors and businesses participating in state medical-marijuana programs from federal prosecution. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would not legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states. Instead, it would ensure that people in the states where medical cannabis is legal can use it without violating federal law.
In addition to Booker and Gillibrand, co-sponsors of the CARERS Act include Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Al Franken, D-Minn.
This press release from Senator Booker is titled "Lawmakers Reintroduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Medical Marijuana Bill: CARERS Act would ensure patients have access to lifesaving care without fear of federal prosecution." The press release includes quotes from all the sponsors and state that "the CARERS Act would:
(1) Recognize States’ Responsibility to Set Medical Marijuana Policy & Eliminate Potential Federal Prosecution
The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act so that states can set their own medical marijuana policies. The patients, providers, and businesses participating in state medical marijuana programs will no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution.
(2) Allow States to Import Cannabidiol (CBD), Recognized Treatment for Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders
The CARERS Act amends the Controlled Substances Act to remove specific strains of CBD oil from the federal of definition of marijuana. This change will allow youth suffering from intractable epilepsy to gain access to the medicine they need to control their seizures.
(3) Provide Veterans Access
Current law prohibits doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities from prescribing medical marijuana. The CARERS Act would allow VA doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.
(4) Expand Opportunities for Research
The CARERS Act removes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for researchers to gain government approval to undertake important research on marijuana and creates a system for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to encourage research.
The CARERS Act has the support of more than 20 health, veteran and policy organizations, including: American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access, Compassionate Care NY, Coalition for Medical Marijuana NJ, Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, MS Resources of Central New York, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, NY Physicians for Compassionate Care, Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis, Patients Out of Time, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The American Cannabis Nurses Association, The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, Third Way, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Veterans for Peace and Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care."
June 15, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
During his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was asked the Department of Justice’s stance on marijuana. Here from The Cannabist is a report on this discussion:
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski used part of her time to ask about marijuana, and the tension between federal law, under which cannabis is illegal, and states like Alaska which have legalized recreational as well as medical marijuana.
Rosenstein’s response: “We do have a conflict between federal law and the law in some states. It’s a difficult issue for parents like me, who have to provide guidance to our kids… I’ve talked to Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the DEA and we follow the law and the science. And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug. It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I. And therefore we have this conflict.”
He also mentioned that there may be changes coming to the Cole Memorandum. “Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum and at the moment that memorandum is still in effect. Maybe there will be changes to it in the future but we’re still operating under that policy which is an effort to balance the conflicting interests with regard to marijuana. So I can assure you that is going to be a high priority for me as the U.S. Attorneys come on board to talk about how to deal with that challenge in the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, whether it be for recreational or medical use…”
He concluded that the Department of Justice is “responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.”
Murkowski responded only, “Confusing.”
Monday, June 12, 2017
AG Jeff Sessions has urged Congress to end limit on DOJ appropriations concerning state-compliant medical marijuana actors
In this new MassRoots posting, Tom Angell reports on a notable letter sent by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to member of Congress back in May. Here are the details (with a bit of my emphasis added):
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking Congressional leaders not to renew a current federal law that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
The letter, sent to Capitol Hill last month, was shared with MassRoots by a Congressional staffer. The protections are the result of a rider — known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, after its lead Congressional sponsors — which has been enacted into law with strong bipartisan votes for the past three fiscal years, including the current one.
But when President Trump signed a Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill into law last month, he issued a signing statement that essentially reserved the right to ignore the medical marijuana protections. “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he wrote. And when the president made his first full budget request to Congress, he did not include an extension of the provision.
While President Obama never issued a signing statement concerning the provision, he did suggest that Congress delete it in his last two budget requests. And the Obama Justice Department took the position that the budget rider only prevented the government from stopping states from implementing their laws and did not provide any protections to patients or providers who are acting in accordance with those policies.
But last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, over the Justice Department’s objection, that the measure does in fact prevent federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against state-legal medical cannabis patients, growers and dispensaries. However, the ruling only applies to the nine states and two territories that fall under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.
“As a result, in the Ninth Circuit, many individuals and organizations that are operating in violation of the CSA and causing harm in their communities may invoke the rider to thwart prosecution,” Sessions wrote in the new letter to Congress....
In the new letter to Congress, the attorney general wrote that marijuana use has “significant negative health effects,” arguing that is “linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, respiratory ailments such as lung infections, cognitive impairments such as IQ loss, and substance use disorder and addiction.”
Congress is now considering appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2018, and marijuana law reform advocates are pushing to include the state medical cannabis protections again as well as add broader new ones that would cover full recreational legalization laws. “I respectfully request that you oppose the inclusion of such language in Department appropriations,” Sessions wrote to the Capitol Hill leaders.
On Tuesday, relevant House and Senate appropriations subcommittees will take testimony about the Justice Department’s budget request from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Sessions was initially slated to testify but will instead appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The line I emphasized highlights that this newly-unearthed Sessions letter does not mark a huge departure from the position of the Justice Department under Prez Obama. Nevertheless, this letter, which stresses research on the harmfulness of marijuana and suggests that criminal organizations seek to hide within state marijuana regulatory regimes, reinforces the notion that AG Jeff Sessions is not too eager to allow state marijuana reform regimes to operate without significant possible federal review and oversight.
June 12, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Tom Angell has this interesting and somewhat surprising new article at MassRoots under the headlined "More Banks Open Marijuana Accounts Under Trump." Here are the details:
New federal data shows a sharp increase in the number of banks opening accounts for marijuana businesses since President Trump’s inauguration.
A report from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released this week shows that 368 banks and credit unions had active accounts for cannabis companies as of March. The number of depositary institutions working with the marijuana industry is up roughly 10 percent since Trump moved into the White House.
The 34 new banks that began providing financial services to cannabis businesses between February and March represents the single greatest monthly increase recorded in the new report. The increase runs contrary to widespread fears that anti-marijuana comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer could spook mainstream companies from working with the cannabis industry.
The new FinCEN report also indicates that there were at least roughly 1,600 active individual marijuana business bank accounts in the U.S. as of March.
Despite the growth in the number of banks willing to work with marijuana businesses and Obama administration guidance intended to encourage more to do so, many have remained reluctant in light of continuing federal prohibition laws. That means many cannabis growers and sellers conduct transactions in cash only, which makes them targets for robberies.
Those public safety concerns have spurred efforts in Congress to pass legislation providing additional protections sought by the financial services industry and cannabis businesses. On Wednesday, the U.S. House Rules Committee blocked floor consideration of an amendment that would have prevented the Treasury Department from punishing banks that work with the marijuana industry.
Tenth Circuit panel issues big, intricate and important ruling in RICO suits brought against state-legal recreational marijuana businesses
The Tenth Circuit this morning released a ninety-page panel opinion in Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper, No. 16-1048 (10th Cir. June 7, 2017) (available here), a significant and complicated federal case that could directly or indirectly have a big impact on recreational marijuana reforms in Colorado and other states. I will need to read and reflect on the whole Safe Streets opinion before I can readily opine on its merits and impact, but I can start this blog coverage of the ruling by quoting the opinions lengthy introduction (with footnotes omitted, emphasis in original):
These three appeals arise from two cases that concern the passage, implementation, and alleged effects of Amendment 64 to the Colorado Constitution, Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 16. Amendment 64 repealed many of the State’s criminal and civil proscriptions on “recreational marijuana,” and created a regulatory regime designed to ensure that marijuana is unadulterated and taxed, and that those operating marijuana-related enterprises are, from the State’s perspective, licensed and qualified to do so. Of course, what Amendment 64 did not and could not do was amend the United States Constitution or the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. §§ 801–904, under which manufacturing, distributing, selling, and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana remains illegal in Colorado. See U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. The three appeals at issue and two related motions to intervene raise four principal disputes stemming from the alleged conflict between the CSA and Colorado’s new regime.
Two of the appeals were brought in Safe Streets Alliance v. Alternative Holistic Healing, LLC. First, in No. 16-1266, two Colorado landowners challenge the district court’s dismissal of their claims brought under the citizen-suit provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c), against certain affiliates of a State- and county-licensed marijuana manufactory that allegedly has injured the landowners’ adjacent property. We conclude that the landowners have plausibly alleged at least one § 1964(c) claim against each of those defendants. We therefore reverse, in part, the dismissal of those claims and remand for further proceedings.
Second, in No. 16-1048, those landowners and an interest group to which they belong appeal the district court’s dismissal of their purported causes of action “in equity” against Colorado and one of its counties for ostensibly also having injured the landowners’ property by licensing that manufactory. The landowners and the interest group allege that Amendment 64’s regime is preempted by the CSA, pursuant to the Supremacy Clause, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2, and the CSA’s preemption provision, 21 U.S.C. § 903. We conclude that neither the landowners nor the interest group purport to have any federal substantive rights that have been injured by Colorado or the county’s actions. And because they have no substantive rights in the CSA to vindicate, it follows inexorably that they cannot enforce § 903 “in equity” to remedy their claimed injuries. We therefore affirm the dismissal of their preemption claims.
The third appeal, No. 16-1095, was filed in Smith v. Hickenlooper. In that case, a group of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska sheriffs and county attorneys sued Colorado on similar theories that Amendment 64’s regime is preempted by the CSA. The district court dismissed their claims, and we consolidated the appeal with No. 16-1048. Because those plaintiffs also do not claim injuries to their federal substantive rights, we likewise affirm.
Finally, the States of Nebraska and Oklahoma moved to intervene in Safe Streets Alliance and Smith while they were pending on appeal. T hose States claim that Amendment 64 injures their sovereign interests and those of their citizens, and that its enforcement is preempted by the CSA. We granted their motion in No. 16-1048 and heard their arguments, which confirmed that their controversy is with Colorado. Given that fact, we must confront 28 U.S.C. § 1251(a), which forbids us from exercising jurisdiction over controversies between the States. We therefore cannot permit Nebraska and Oklahoma to intervene, or even confirm that they have a justiciable controversy that may be sufficient for intervention. Consequently, we vacate the order granting intervention in Safe Streets Alliance and deny the States’ motions in both cases.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
US News & World Report has this notable new article headlined "DOJ’s Mysterious Marijuana Subcommittee: Few details have emerged about a potentially influential review." The article provides a few new facts about the persons involved in the Justice Deprtment's internal review of its current policies concerning the enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition. Here are excerpts:
Led by an outspoken legalization opponent, Jeff Sessions' Justice Department is reviewing federal marijuana policy, with significant changes possible soon. Almost nothing about the review process is publicly known and key players in the policy debate have not been contacted.
The outcome of the review could devastate a multibillion-dollar industry and countermand the will of voters in eight states if the Obama administration's permissive stance on non-medical sales is reversed.
What is known: The review is being conducted by a subcommittee of a larger crime-reduction task force that will issue recommendations by July 27. The subcommittee was announced in April alongside other subcommittees reviewing charging and sentencing.
The task force is co-chaired by Steve Cook, an assistant U.S. attorney in Tennessee who like Sessions advocates harsh criminal penalties and a traditional view of drug prohibition. The other co-chair is Robyn Thiemann, a longtime department official who works as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy.
The marijuana subcommittee is led by Michael Murray, counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, U.S. News has learned. After graduating from Yale Law School in 2009, Murray ricocheted between law firms and public-sector jobs. He served less than a year as an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia in 2013 before clerking for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, according to his LinkedIn page. He worked at the Jones Day law firm before joining the Trump Justice Department.
Murray could not be reached for comment and Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined to comment on the “deliberative processes within the department“ when asked to discuss Murray’s role. The department declined to identify other members of the subcommittee, the scope of its policy review or name outside groups that are being consulted.
The lack of information provided and the seemingly secretive nature of the review has proponents of a more lenient marijuana policy concerned. “It’s difficult to ascertain any clear information about the subcommittee and how they’re working,” says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group representing marijuana businesses.
West says the group is focused on building relationships with members of Congress and points to overwhelming public support for respecting state marijuana laws -- 73 percent, according to an April survey by Quinnipiac University.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a large advocacy group that has led many of the successful state legalization campaigns, also says it is not in touch with the subcommittee. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a leading marijuana reform advocate, requested to meet with Sessions about the issue but was refused, says Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs....
It's unclear if agencies under the Justice Department's umbrella, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, are contributing to the subcommittee. DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg told U.S. News on Tuesday that he is not personally involved in the review, and that he didn't know if any of his subordinates are. A DEA spokesman was not immediately able to provide additional information....
Listening to diverse points of view on marijuana policy is significant because the effects of regulated sales are debated, and data can be spliced to support a point of view. For example, multiple federal and state surveys indicate that teen use of marijuana has not increased since 2012, when the states legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older. But use rates have fluctuated for years, so comparing current use to a particularly low-use year further in the past can offer a different impression about trends.
Diversion to other states is also debated. A law enforcement task force called Rocky Mountain HIDTA claimed that intercepts of marijuana mail out of Colorado increased following legalization, sourcing the information to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. But a USPIS spokesperson told U.S. News state-specific records did not exist. Though state-specific records are not available, national parcel intercepts did increase in 2016 after two years of declines. Two states sued Colorado unsuccessfully claiming spillover.
Mexican drug cartels, meanwhile, have been caught smuggling significantly less marijuana across the southern border. And it's unclear if local increases in drugged driving arrests and marijuana hospital admissions are primarily the result of legalization policies or improved awareness and reporting.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
This notable new article from The Hill reports on notable new comments by the head of the federal Veterans Affairs department. The piece is headlined "VA chief: Medical marijuana could help vets," and here are excerpts:
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday he's open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to help service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but noted it’s strictly limited by federal law. “There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that,” Shulkin told reporters, pointing to states where medical pot is legal.
The VA has come under pressure from some influential veterans groups, including the American Legion, to reclassify marijuana to allow federal research into its effect on troops with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries....
“Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans,” said Shulkin, who is a trained physician. “I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law."
Relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws, however, would conflict with several top administration officials who take a hard-line approach on drugs, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Shulkin, who spoke at the White House about President Trump’s proposed reforms at the scandal-plagued agency, is a holdover from the Obama administration. The Senate confirmed him unanimously in February to lead the VA.
Some prior related posts:
- "More and More US Veterans are Smoking Weed to Treat Their PTSD"
- Examining pot's potential for treatment of veterans' PTSD problems
- Will Prez-Elect Donald Trump make it legal and easier for veterans to have access to medical marijuana?
- American Legion urges federal government to reschedule marijuana
- Veterans group gets attention when urging Trump team to seek to reschedule marijuana
- American Legion, the largest US vets' organization, pressing Trump Administration on medical marijuana reform
- "Study: Can marijuana improve PTSD symptoms for veterans?"
May 31, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, May 21, 2017
American Legion, the largest US vets' organization, pressing Trump Administration on medical marijuana reform
This new Politico article, headlined "American Legion to Trump: Allow marijuana research for vets," reports on a notable new push by a notable organization to seek a notable change in federal marijuana laws with the new administration. Here are excerpts from an article which strikes me as pretty big news:
One of the nation’s most conservative veterans’ groups is appealing to President Donald Trump to reclassify marijuana to allow large-scale research into whether cannabis can help troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder . The change sought by The American Legion would conflict with the strongly anti-marijuana positions of some administration leaders, most vocally Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Under current rules, doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot even discuss marijuana as an option with patients. But the alternative treatment is gaining support in the medical community, where some researchers hope pot might prove more effective than traditional pharmaceuticals in controlling PTSD symptoms and reducing the record number of veteran suicides.
"We are not asking for it to be legalized," said Louis Celli, the national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, which with 2.4 million members is the largest U.S. veterans’ organization. "There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets. The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal."
The Legion has requested a White House meeting with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and close aide, "as we seek support from the president to clear the way for clinical research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research," according to a recent letter shared with POLITICO.
The request marks a significant turn in the debate over medical marijuana by lending an influential and unexpected voice. The Legion, made up mostly of Vietnam and Korean War-era veterans, is breaking with other leading vets’ groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars in lobbying for the removal of the major roadblock in pursuing marijuana treatment. But it also comes as the new administration, led by Sessions, is sending strong signals of its desire to thwart marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts. Expectations are growing in Congress that DOJ may even try to roll back medical marijuana laws in 29 states....
"We desperately need more research in this area to inform policymakers," said Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona who is running one of the only cannabis studies underway focused on vets suffering from PTSD. "I really want to see the most objective data published in peer reviewed medical journals.” She added that she isn’t prejudging what the outcome of the research will be.
“I don't know if cannabis will turn out to be helpful for PTSD,” Sisley said. “I know what veterans tell me but until we have rigorous controlled trials, all we have are case studies that are not rigorous enough to make me, medical professionals, health departments or policymakers convinced."
Some veterans’ activists are angry at the federal government’s continued resistance to even studying cannabis, even as an average of 20 vets kill themselves every day. "We need solutions," said Nick Etten, a former Navy SEAL who runs the Veterans Cannabis Project, a health policy organization. "We need treatment that works. We need treatment that is not destructive. The VA has been throwing opiates at veterans for almost every condition for the last 15 years. You are looking at a system that has made a problem worse the way they have approached treatment."...
The VA declined to address whether it is reconsidering its stance on the issue, citing the illegality of marijuana in all its forms under federal law.... Most leading veterans’ groups are toeing that line, including Veterans of Foreign Wars. "The VFW has no official position regarding this ongoing debate because marijuana is illegal under federal law," said Joe Davis, the group's spokesman.
But grassroots support is growing among veterans — both young and older — and in Congress to reconsider the current approach. Much of that is because of growing anecdotal evidence that marijuana helps some veterans with PTSD control their symptoms when approved drugs do not, such as ridding them of nightmares and helping them sleep. And that is what is driving the efforts of the American Legion. Celli said the group's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission, which represents veterans from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently gave the Legion "overwhelming support" to advocate changes....
In addition to cannabis, the organization is advocating for more research on so-called Quantitative EEG neurometrics, which measures the brain's electrical activity. "The American Legion believes these two areas alone can help cut the amount of veteran suicides and cases of chemically addicted veteran by more than half," the letter to the White House says. "The American Legion respectfully requests a meeting with President Trump as soon as possible and looks forward to partnering with this administration in the fight against narcotics addiction and reducing the veteran suicide rate from the tragic loss of 20 warriors per day, to zero."
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Prez Trump issues notable statement when signing spending bill with DOJ limit on going after medical marijuana states
As reported in this Bloomberg piece, headlined "Trump Spurns Congress as He Signals Medical Marijuana Fight," the President made a significant statement on a number of topics, including marijuana enforcement, while signing the latest spending bill. Here are the details:
President Donald Trump signaled he may ignore a congressional ban on interfering with state medical marijuana laws, arguing in a lengthy statement that he isn’t legally bound by a series of limits lawmakers imposed on him.
Trump issued the “signing statement” Friday after he signed a measure funding the government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, reprising a controversial tactic former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama used while in office. Trump also suggested he may ignore gender and racial preferences in some government programs as well as congressional requirements for advance notice before taking a range of foreign policy and military actions....
In the signing statement, Trump singled out a provision in the spending bill that says funds cannot be used to block states from implementing medical marijuana laws. “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he said.
Obama also occasionally released signing statements objecting to congressional restrictions on his authority. The White House described Trump’s signing statement as routine, but did not indicate whether the president planned to take action to defy Congressional restrictions....
Tim Shaw, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that the president is bound by the language in the spending bill that now bears his signature. “Part of the argument here in this signing statement is that he has the constitutional requirement to execute the law,” Shaw said in an interview. “But this is one of those laws, and Congress has the ultimate authority over funds getting spent.”
Because the language used in this signing statement is somewhat boilerplate, I am disinclined to view this development as a direct announcement or even an indirect signal of any new firm policy of the Trump Administration in the arena of marijuana reform. Still, given that the President has said almost nothing about marijuana reform since his election and given that some members of his Cabinet are clearly not fans of the marijuana reform movement, this statement provides more evidence that Prez Trump and others within the White House are not eager to be active cheerleaders for state marijuana reform efforts.
May 6, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, May 4, 2017
This new local article out of Colorado, headlined "Why Colorado nonprofits are taking a risk accepting donations from pot businesses," highlights yet another was that federal marijuana probation makes it a bit more difficult from a marijuana company to try to do good while doing well. Here are excerpts:
When is a donation not necessarily something you want to take straight to the bank? Kaya Cannabis, in Denver, is donating a portion to medical marijuana sales to three nonprofit organizations. "Nothing is simple in cannabis, I've learned," said Amanda Gonzalez, CEO of Kaya Cannabis. "Many non-profits are part of national organizations or their of board of directors is just a little bit more conservative and nervous about what's still a relatively new industry."
Kaya medical marijuana customers are given a copy of their receipt to put in a basket in front of one of three charities [including] Rocky Mountain MS Center... "The MS Charity that we are giving to, it was a yearlong process with their board of directors to make sure that they were able to accept these kinds of donations," said Gonzalez....
In Colorado, marijuana is legal. In the eyes of the federal government, it's still illegal, essentially making donations from a pot shop, drug money. "Some nonprofits want the waters tested a little bit more," said Gonzalez.
"There is still some legal risk that a nonprofit would need to evaluate, but from the experts we've talked to, it seems small at this point," said Renny Fagan, CEO of Colorado Nonprofit Association.
The Colorado Nonprofit Association sent out an annual survey last year that asked about marijuana industry donations. One in 10 nonprofits had actively sought out contributions, but two-thirds would consider accepting a donation if offered.
"If the nonprofit receives federal funds through a contract or grant, that contract or grant will probably prohibit a violation of federal law as a condition of receiving those funds, so for those nonprofits, they should not accept donations from a marijuana retailer," said Fagan. "Most nonprofits do not directly receive federal funds, and so for them, the issue of whether to accept sponsorship or donations from the marijuana industry, really comes down to, how does that fit with their donor base overall and is it consistent with their mission."
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
National District Attorneys Association releases report on "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective"
In this post a few months ago, I praised the National District Attorneys Association for forming a diverse working group to address modern marijuana laws and polices. As detailed in this local article, though, it does not seem all the diverse perspectives reflected in the working group resulted in a nuanced position paper from the group:
District attorneys from across the nation recently backed a position statement that declares that marijuana legalization has increased access by children and that supports federal enforcement. The perspective – ironically released by the National District Attorneys Association on April 20, the 420 day of marijuana celebration – could help guide policy direction by the Trump administration, which has signaled a possible crackdown.
“Legalization of marijuana for purported medicinal and recreational purposes has increased access by children. For all of these reasons, it is vitally important to do all we can to prevent access to marijuana by youth in America. Their health, safety and welfare demand no less,” the perspective states. It suggests that “marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.” The opinion goes on to say that alcohol is different because “alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn that marijuana does.”
The perspective cites “scientific studies” that show cannabis can be addictive, especially for children, and initial evidence of child hospitalizations due to “unintended exposure to marijuana.” The perspective in many instances draws upon information provided by the anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM.
On federal enforcement, the NDAA white paper states that there should be a consistent application of federal law across the nation “to maintain respect for the rule of law.”
The statement has split Colorado district attorneys, especially on the issue of impacts to children. In Colorado, the experience has been the opposite. The latest Healthy Kids Colorado Survey from 2015 found that teen cannabis use has not increased since legalization. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in February on national television reiterated those statistics. “We didn’t see a spike in teenage use, if anything it’s come down in the last year, and we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers,” Hickenlooper said on “Meet the Press.”
It’s a thorny subject for Colorado prosecutors, where legalization has often left district attorneys in an uncomfortable situation. While cannabis is legal in Colorado, it remains illegal on the federal level and in many states.
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, was one of four people from Colorado on a policy group along with prosecutors from other states with “positions all over the spectrum,” he said. “Nowhere does that document say an individual office or any state organization takes a specific position,” Raynes said. Raynes said he finds the NDAA statements to be “innocuous and general in nature.”
“The only other statement one could make is that federal drug policy should be applied inconsistently across the nation,” Raynes said. “That would be absurd.”
But Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who leans to the left on criminal justice reform and who sat on the NDAA panel, took issue with the perspective of the association. He said the association is “dominated” by conservative prosecutors from the rural South. “They don’t tend to be people on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform,” Garnett said. He added that his participation on the working group was “pretty painful.” Prosecutors wanted to send a letter to Hickenlooper demanding that he close down all legal marijuana businesses in Colorado. The governor would not have even had the authority to make such a move.
“If anything, use is going down by children,” Garnett said, adding that NDAA is a conservative group without a lot of experience in the regulated legalized marijuana industry. There’s a lot of urban myths out there about what’s going on in Colorado from people who don’t really know, and some of that is promulgated by the DEA and the prohibition groups who are funded pretty heavily to continue marijuana prohibition, They tend, on occasion, to distort the reality of what’s going on in Colorado.”
The relatively short report from NDAA is titled "Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors’ Perspective," and it can be accessed in full at this link.
April 26, 2017 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 (2)
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
As 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."
Monday, April 10, 2017
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:
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:
Federal regulation on "Suspicious Activity Report"
Press article from 2014, "U.S. Issues Marijuana Guidelines for Banks"
FinCEN guidance on "BSA Expectations Regarding Marijuana-Related Businesses"
Blog posting from January 2017 on "Marijuana Banking Band-Aid? Senators Push For More Cannabis Banking Guidance"
Press article from April 2017 on "Marijuana-state govs ask feds to maintain status quo"
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.