Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

AG nominee Loretta Lynch says she does not support marijuana legalization

This NPR report provides details on the brief discussion of federal marijuana law and policy during her first day of confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch:

[S]he was asked about marijuana, and whether she supports legalizing it. "Senator, I do not," Lynch told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., when he asked if she supported making pot legal.

The moment stood in contrast to other exchanges between Lynch and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as she defended Obama's right to take executive action on immigration rules and aligned herself with the president's view on U.S. interrogation programs, saying, "Waterboarding is torture."

Sessions asked Lynch about marijuana during the afternoon portion of her hearing. And he noted that the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency also disagrees with the idea of legalizing marijuana.

The senator then read aloud a quote from President Obama from last January, in which he told The New Yorker, "I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life.  I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

When Sessions asked Lynch if she agreed with that assessment, she said, "Well senator, I certainly don't hold that view, and don't agree with that view of marijuana as a substance.  I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion – neither of which I am able to share."

She added, "Not only do I not support legalization of marijuana – it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently, to support the legalization, nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general."

January 29, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 26, 2015

"The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research, and Legal Update"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report coming from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here is its abstract:

This technical report updates the 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics abstract technical report on the legalization of marijuana. Current epidemiology of marijuana use is presented, as are definitions and biology of marijuana compounds, side effects of marijuana use, and effects of use on adolescent brain development. Issues concerning medical marijuana specifically are also addressed. Concerning legalization of marijuana, 4 different approaches in the United States are discussed: legalization of marijuana solely for medical purposes, decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana, legalization of recreational use of marijuana, and criminal prosecution of recreational (and medical) use of marijuana. These approaches are compared, and the latest available data are presented to aid in forming public policy.  The effects on youth of criminal penalties for marijuana use and possession are also addressed, as are the effects or potential effects of the other 3 policy approaches on adolescent marijuana use.  Recommendations are included in the accompanying policy statement.

The AAP's updated policy statement referenced at the end of this abstract is available at this link, and here are three of the most notable of the ten recommendations appearing at the end of the policy statement:

The AAP opposes “medical marijuana” outside the regulatory process of the US Food and Drug Administration. Notwithstanding this opposition to use, the AAP recognizes that marijuana may currently be an option for cannabinoid administration for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate. 

The AAP opposes legalization of marijuana because of the potential harms to children and adolescents. The AAP supports studying the effects of recent laws legalizing the use of marijuana to better understand the impact and define best policies to reduce adolescent marijuana use.

 The AAP strongly supports research and development of pharmaceutical cannabinoids and supports a review of policies promoting research on the medical use of these compounds. The AAP recommends changing marijuana from a Drug Enforcement Administration schedule I to a schedule II drug to facilitate this research.

January 26, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Are the marijuana industry's banking difficulties starting to work themselves out?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable recent Denver Post article sent my way by one of my terrific students.   The article is headlined "Oregon bank opens doors to Colorado marijuana businesses," and here are excerpts:

An Oregon bank is openly offering service to the marijuana industry in Colorado at a time when banks here are lurking mostly in the shadows. MBank, based outside Portland, is part of a growing number of financial institutions, mostly Washington-based credit unions, that are banking openly with marijuana businesses.

But it is the first to venture across state lines and the only bank to announce publicly that it is serving Colorado marijuana businesses. The bank said it also is taking marijuana-related deposits in Washington, the other state where recreational pot is legal and has been serving Oregon-based medical marijuana dispensaries since September.

While some industry analysts see its announcement as somewhat brazen, considering pressure from regulators to keep any participation with the marijuana sector quiet, MBank officials say they're confident it's a good idea. "It's a bold maneuver and not one for a lot of folks to take on," MBank president and CEO Jef Baker said Tuesday. "We looked to regulators, both state and federal, to help us come to the conclusion that we can do banking in this sector."

The $165 million bank, in business since 1995, is putting trust in what it said is "tacit approval" — bank-speak for acceptance that isn't in writing — from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "We had to vet the program and expose ourselves to additional audits," Baker said. "But to be sure, we've put together something that meets without objection, though not necessarily specific approval."

An FDIC spokesman said the agency does not comment on bank operations.

MBank partnered with Guardian Data Systems to hook marijuana businesses. Already about five in Colorado have established accounts, Baker said, with about 30 other applications pending. "Finding access to traditional banking services has been one of the most daunting challenges faced by owners and operators in our industry" said Lance Ott, principal at GDS, which is handling the preliminary screening of account applicants.

"To date, there has not been a permanent (federally) compliant solution to the cannabis industry. With this partnership, cannabis industry operators no longer must shield the nature of their business from banking institutions," he said....

Federal regulators have offered guidance to bankers willing to work with the industry, mostly by requiring a restrictive set of rules and filing reports about account-holder transactions. Bankers balked at opening their doors to the industry, at least publicly. Some business owners offered anecdotes of account closures if even a hint of their participation became known to others. As a result, banks willing to work with the industry have remained a trade secret that businesses protect.

A number of business solutions — such as point-of-sale ATMs and credit-card processing machines — regularly are offered to marijuana shops, but all require the participation of a bank and the vendors aren't willing to identify their partner.

For that reason, Colorado bankers doubt that MBank's openness will work. "I wonder if this bank will suffer the fate as those in Colorado that tried to work openly, only to be told to close accounts," said Jenifer Waller, vice president of the Colorado Bankers Association. "I'm not sure Colorado banks will step out again after this since each test trial has met with the same result: closed accounts."

Colorado Springs State Bank was the last to openly work with the marijuana industry here. In October 2011, it closed about 300 industry accounts amid concerns about working with companies that violate federal law.

Marijuana remains on the government's list of illegal drugs, and no bank has stepped into the light since. That has not happened in the Pacific Northwest, where others willing to openly bank the pot industry have crept forward, including Washington credit unions in Olympia, Spokane and Seattle.

Although Colorado awaits the opening of the world's first pot credit union, that won't happen until federal regulators approve a master account for the Fourth Corner Credit Union to operate....

MBank first took on Oregon-based medical marijuana businesses in September after clearing its plan with state and federal regulators, but at the time it remained focused on dispensaries in that state alone. That changed as the bank saw opportunity in "an underserved sector," Baker said.

MBank won't have a physical office or employees in Colorado. Cash deposits are to be picked up by contracted armored-car services and brought to a Federal Reserve System bank, such as the one located in downtown Denver. Deposits are then credited to MBank's account and further credited to the account of the marijuana business. "It's all electronic and never physically crosses state lines," Baker said. MBank has established a limit of 35 new accounts for marijuana businesses each month for the first year, which works out to be a convenient number: 420.

I had lately been thinking that Section 538 of the cromnibus act passed by Congress last month, which forbids the use of money by the Department of Justice for interfering with State laws implementing medical marijuana programs, might embolden more banks to openly move into the marijuana business sector.  I am not sure if Section 538 fully explains MBank's moves now, but I am sure more and more financial institutions will move into this space if and when it becomes clear that the feds will not go after those who provide responsible banking services to state-approved marijuana businesses.

January 23, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Federalism issues and tensions with modern MJ reform becoming even harder for Congress and Prez to avoid in 2015

Download (2)This lengthy new Politico piece, headlined "The new clash over cannabis: Rising tensions between states over pot put pressure on Obama to act," spotlights just some of the new challenges facing federal officials and policymakers as marijuana reform continues to heat up in the new year. Here are excerpts:

The Obama administration and many congressional Republicans have been loath to go anywhere near the experiment with marijuana legalization in Colorado and other states. But pressure is mounting on Washington to take a stand on pot, and perhaps soon.

In a lawsuit filed last month with the U.S. Supreme Court, attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma argue that Colorado’s marijuana initiative is spilling over into their neighboring, more conservative states. Marijuana arrests and prosecutions are up over the past year, they say, straining law enforcement budgets as more overtime is paid to handle the uptick in activity. And drugged driving is a growing problem, they contend.

But the neighbor states are also taking aim at a federal government that seems highly reluctant to tackle the issue. And with several more states considering legalizing recreational marijuana, the Justice Department and Congress may be forced to clarify what’s OK or not when it comes to marijuana, experts say....

The issue is emerging as a major test for attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, who will have to decide whether to embrace the hands-off approach to marijuana in the states that the Justice Department has adopted under Eric Holder — or take more decisive action to regulate it.

Experts and advocates floated a range of options if Congress or DOJ were to act, some more far-reaching or politically feasible than others. Anti-legalization advocates want an about-face from the administration: Enforce the existing federal marijuana ban and crack down on legalization regimes in Colorado and elsewhere. That’s a pipe dream for the current White House but not inconceivable if a Republican is elected president in 2016.

Pro-legalization advocates want Congress or the Obama administration to reclassify marijuana under sentencing laws so that it would carry lesser or no criminal penalties. Marijuana is currently considered a “Schedule I” drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD. Even cocaine is deemed less dangerous than pot under federal law.

Other experts say Congress should pass legislation that would deem marijuana federally legal in states that enact legal cannabis laws, thus removing ambiguity in those states. And still others want the administration to establish a standardized regulatory framework throughout the states, as the federal government does with other “vice industries.”

The urgency is expected to grow as five states are preparing recreational pot initiatives for the 2016 ballot: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. A trio of other states — Missouri, Montana and Florida — are considering similar ballot measures. Currently, recreational pot is legal in Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and Oregon; an initiative approved by Washington, D.C., voters in November is currently being challenged by some Republicans in Congress....

In many regards, Oklahoma and Nebraska’s lawsuit demonstrates a last-resort tactic for states that don’t see a willing partner in the federal government, but want to try to blunt the rising tide of legal marijuana in the U.S. But analysts are far from confident that a gridlocked Congress will summon the will to find common ground on such a divisive issue. Though some Republicans and much of the GOP base oppose legalization and would like to see the federal government step up its enforcement, others say more federal action would run counter to the party’s support of states’ rights....

Congress sent something of a mixed signal on marijuana in the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed last month. Anti-legalization hardliners, led by GOP Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, earned a potential victory by including language that might invalidate D.C.’s Initiative 71. But the bill also included language to prohibit federal agents from raiding medical marijuana facilities in states where pot is legal, codifying the Obama administration’s de facto policy.

Without action from Congress or further clarification from DOJ, friction between the states will only increase, experts say. “[I]t is a useful reminder that the Constitution recognizes that having states go their own ways is not necessarily an unalloyed good,” said Brannon Denning, a law professor at Samford University. “In some cases, we want there to be a single, national rule governing conduct in all 50 states.”

January 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brookings highlights "Eight Big Things to Watch" concerning marijuana policy in 2015

Via e-mail, I was alerted to this Brookings FixGov blog post by Brookings Fellow John Hudak titled "Marijuana Policy in 2015: Eight Big Things to Watch." The e-mail provided this helpful summary of various points made in the longer posting:

1)    Oregon, Alaska Plan & Prepare for Legal Marijuana: How well each of these state legislatures and alcohol regulatory bodies work together will determine the success or failure of marijuana policy in these states. As it borders Washington, Oregon’s commercial and regulatory choices will be particularly crucial in understanding to what extent states may strive for market advantages vis-à-vis bordering states.

2)    Identifying the Next States to Legalize: 2015 will show which states are serious about ballot initiatives in 2016.  It’s widely expected that California will advance an initiative and Florida might take another swing at approving medical marijuana, after falling just short of approval in 2014.

3)    Cannabis Policy & State Legislative Action: In some states, the battleground for enacting items like the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana is not the ballot box, but the state legislature.

4)    Cannabis & the Courts: Multiple high-profile lawsuits surrounding marijuana policy may play out in 2015.  For instance, Coats v. Dish Network may settle the issue of employer-sponsored marijuana testing and a Supreme Court case involving Nebraska and Oklahoma’s suing of Colorado over legalizing marijuana will indicate the willingness of federal courts to engage in this policy area.

5)    Answers to Questions About D.C.’s Marijuana Policy:  Clarity about the future of marijuana policy in Washington, D.C. will almost surely be left to the federal courts, particularly if there is congressional inaction on Initiative 71.

6)    Colorado & Washington (& Uruguay) Continue Legalization: InColorado, edibles, product testing, and homegrows will be on the agenda.  The policy challenge Washington faces is that legal weed could be too costly to lure consumers from the black market.  On the international front, Uruguay works hard to ready a bureaucracy and a consumer base for the experiment.

7)    Data, Data, Data: One key takeaway for policy advocates, both supporters and opponents, will be to patiently wait to draw conclusions as the data are currently incomplete and imperfect.  2015 will offer steady flows of data from Colorado and Washington, and eventually other states.

8)    Presidential Candidates & Cannabis: Marijuana policy will definitely be part of the 2016 conversation in a way that it has not in previous presidential campaigns. And the issue will be particularly interesting to watch as it does not fall neatly along party lines.

I think points 7 and 8 are the most interesting, dynamic and unpredictable stories to watch from among this list. I would also add to the list...

9) Political Party leaders and Pot Policy:  Key leaders of both parties inside and outside the Beltway have, to date, said relatively little about marijuana reform. Cautious "establishment" politicians --- ranging from Prez Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown on the D side and from Mitch McConnell to John Boehner to Mitt Romney on the GOP side --- will only be able to dodge the new terms of the modern policy debate for so long.

January 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Who Shares In Marijuana Taxes? The Surprising Answer"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Forbes piece by Robert Wood.  Here are excerpts:

Taxes on marijuana are big, and it’s easy to see why. A discussion about legalizing marijuana often segues into one about tax revenues. Marijuana for medical use is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana is legal in DC and in four states, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. More states will be coming.

In the meantime, cannabis — even for medical use — remains illegal under federal law. That leads to numerous legal woes for operations that are legal under state law. One sweet spot among legislators is tax revenue. It is a boon for the states. It could be a boon for the feds too.

The proposed Marijuana Tax Equity Act (H.R. 501), if passed, would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed. Growers, sellers and users would not to fear violating federal law. But dealing with taxes would be another story. The bill would impose an excise tax of 50% on cannabis sales and an annual occupational tax on workers in the field of legal marijuana.

Even if passed, one wonders if such high taxes could be collected. In the meantime, Colorado has trumpeted its tax revenues, though perhaps prematurely. It turned out that the $33.5 million Colorado projected to collect in the first six months of 2014 was too optimistic. When the smoke cleared, Colorado was missing $21.5 million in pot taxes! Yet the math isn’t difficult.

There’s a 2.9% sales tax and a 10% marijuana sales tax. Plus, there is a 15% excise tax on the average market rate of retail marijuana. If you add them up, it’s 27.9%. But much of the volume goes to black market buys where sales taxes aren’t paid. But that could change.

In fact, Colorado is making some marijuana businesses happy with its rebate program. Sales tax applies to marijuana sales and vendors are required to collect and remit the tax to the state. However, Colorado rewards all businesses with a rebate for the prompt payment of taxes, letting businesses keep a percentage each month. Calling it a ‘vendor fee,’ Colorado allows businesses to keep 3.3 percent of the 2.9 percent state sales tax.

According to estimates by the Denver Post, Colorado’s medical and recreational marijuana stores have collected — and kept — over $447,000 in sales taxes in the 10 months ended October 31, 2013. That could mean more than 400 marijuana stores in the state will end up clearing approximately $575,000 for all their trouble. It is what has allowed pot shops to keep more than $500K in sales tax.

That’s not bad, and at least it is something for their trouble. The idea that retailers should get a little sweetener for collecting sales tax is nothing new. But in the marijuana context, it can be especially attractive precisely because it would otherwise be hard to collect.

Already, with typically higher taxes for recreational than medical use, there is a clear incentive to resort to the illegal market. The Marijuana Policy Group suggested that only 60% of purchases in Colorado may be made through legal channels. One reason is price, another is taxes....

The 2.9% medical marijuana tax compared with 27% on the recreational variety is a big spread. Some patients could be reselling their 2.9% medical stock to the public. But the sales tax rebate may be one of the few places marijuana businesses feel fairly treated.

December 24, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Could (and should) Colorado (or others) respond to attack on marijuana legalization by counter-attacking federal prohibition?

As detailed in this prior post, yesterday Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit in the US Supreme Court seeking "a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 16(4) and (5) of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution [legalizing and regulating marijuana sales] are preempted by federal law, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution."  I find this lawsuit fascinating for any number of reasons, and I am still trying to understand the procedures through which the Justices will consider this case and I am still thinking through some of the implications of the claims being made by Nebraska and Oklahoma.  And, as the title of this post suggests, I am wondering if this case might enable advocates for marijuana reform to bring complaints about federal marijuana prohibition directly to the Supreme Court. 

This thought occurred to me in part because the SCOTUS filing by Nebraska and Oklahoma relies so very heavily on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug.  Here are passages from the filing to that end:

Congress has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug.  21 U.S.C. § 812(c).  Schedule I drugs are those with a high potential for abuse, lack of any accepted medical use, and absence of any accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment. § 812(b)(1)....

Because Congress explicitly found that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and had categorized marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug, the CSA was enacted in order to eradicate the market for such drugs. As such, the United States argued [in Gonzales v. Raich a decade ago], “the CSA makes it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess any Schedule I drug for any purpose, medical or otherwise, except as part of a strictly controlled research project.”

There has been lots of litigation in the past attacking in the DC Circuit the rationality of marijuana's placement on Schedule I in light of scientific evidence that marijuana has medical potentials. But all that litigation took place before a majority of states (now numbering well over 30) had formally legalized medical marijuana in some form. In light of all the recent state reform supportive of medical marijuana, I think new claims could (and perhaps should) now be made that it is entirely irrational (and thus unconstitutional) for Congress in the CSA to keep marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Consequently, it seems to me one possible way (of many) for Colorado to defend its marijuana reform would be to assert a new full-throated attack on federal marijuana prohibition in the Supreme Court in light of the "new evidence" that the majority of US jurisdictions recognize in law the potential value of marijuana as medicine.

I doubt that Colorado will seek to attack Congress or the CSA is defense of its marijuana reform efforts. But perhaps others who in the past have legally attacked the rationality of marijuana's placement on Schedule I will see the special opportunity provided by this notable new lawsuit as an opportunity to take their arguments directly to the Supreme Court.

Recent related post:

December 19, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization

As reported in this local article, "Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed a lawsuit Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana violates the U.S. Constitution."  Here is more on the latest fascinating development in the world of marijuana reform law and policy:

At a press conference Thursday, Bruning said he was being joined in the case by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles."

Bruning said he placed a courtesy call to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers before filing the lawsuit. Suthers said in a news release he was not “entirely surprised” to learn of the lawsuit. “We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.

Some Nebraska law enforcement officers undoubtedly will welcome Thursday’s action. Anticipating that the attorney general planned to announce a lawsuit, Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman said Thursday he supports the move. "This stuff is illegal here, it’s coming here and it’s had an adverse effect on our citizens and way of life," Overman said. "Nebraska, from highest elected officials on down, should do something about it."...

He blamed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for not enforcing federal drug laws in Colorado. "I am adamantly against the spread of marijuana across our country," Bruning said. He said he talked recently with a father who said marijuana was a "gateway drug" for his teen.

Colorado’s legalization of pot use has had a significant impact on Nebraska law enforcement agencies. Many departments, particularly in western Nebraska counties along Interstate 80, have seen spikes in their marijuana-related arrests tied to legally purchased pot that transforms into contraband once it crosses the border. At the western tip of the Oklahoma Panhandle, authorities regularly apprehend travelers coming from southeast Colorado with marijuana.

During a September hearing on the issue in Ogallala, Nebraska, a panel of lawmakers heard law enforcement authorities express concern about the flow of high-potency pot into Nebraska and increasing numbers of impaired drivers and possession by teens as young as 14. "Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost," Bruning said Thursday. "We can’t afford to divert resources to deal with Colorado’s problem."

Via the Denver Postthe 83-page SCOTUS filing can be found at this link.

December 18, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Helpful and informative marijuana reform updates and analysis from Jacob Sullum

The state and fate of marijuana reform in Washington DC (as well as elsewhere) was frequently a topic of debate and discussion in Congress as it worked through its recent funding/budget deal.  Helpfully, Jacob Sullum has this array new pieces up at Reason convering some of this action, as well as discussing some other notable recent marijuana reform discussions and developments:

December 15, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Political deal in works for Congress to deal with DC marijuana legalization issues

The Huffington Post has this notable new report on recent Capitol Hill activity to deal with the District of Columbia's recently-passed marijuana legalization initiative.  The piece is headlined "Congress Looking To Block D.C.'s Marijuana Legalization Initiative," and here are excerpts:

Congress is looking to stifle the District of Columbia's marijuana legalization initiative, multiple sources have told The Huffington Post.

According to those sources, congressional negotiators have struck a deal to interfere with D.C.'s marijuana legalization measure.  That's after nearly 70 percent of voters in the nation's capital approved Initiative 71, which was set to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use while still banning sales.  The deal would allow the District to continue its marijuana decriminalization policy enacted by the D.C. Council, but would ban the city from using funds to enact legalization.

One congressional source said the deal would actually allow the initiative to take effect, while preventing the D.C. Council from passing any new laws to set up a scheme for regulating retail sales of marijuana -- something D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser (D) has said she wanted the council to do before legalization takes effect.   Democrats are rumored to be cutting a deal with Republicans "where they can save face by claiming that they protected D.C.'s marijuana decriminalization law from elimination, even if they failed to protect legalization," according to Drug Policy Alliance.

"Democrats had the opportunity to protect the will of the voters in D.C. and they have decided to cut a deal in an effort to protect decriminalization.  However, 70 percent of voters support this [initiative]. It's incredibly problematic," Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance and vice chairman of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, told The Huffington Post.  "And in light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it is particularly disturbing that Congress would choose to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city. D.C. voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police.  Congress is poised to undermine that."...

In November, D.C. voters approved Initiative 71, which would legalize adult marijuana use, possession of up to 2 ounces and home cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for personal use. Under the measure, the sale of marijuana would remain illegal, but the D.C. Council is considering a separate bill that would allow for the regulation and taxation of marijuana sales, similar to laws on the books in Colorado and Washington state.

The ballot measure built on several recent moves to remove restrictions on marijuana in Washington. The District legalized medical marijuana in 2010, and its first medical marijuana dispensary opened last year. Earlier this year, the D.C. Council decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

While supporters praised the measure as a step toward resolving the racial disparity in the District's marijuana arrest rates, some Republicans had been working toward blocking the measure for months. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) has vowed to put a stop to the progression of the bill in Congress....

Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization advocacy group, said it wasn't clear exactly how Congress would go about thwarting the legalization initiative.  Federal lawmakers oversee how the District spends money, but the initiative isn't expected to have a cost.  "The way I read I71 the District doesn't have to spend any money in order to implement it," Capecchi said.

As is true with all legislative issues and is especially true with marijuana reform, a lot of the devil here will be in the details. Especially because the DC Initiative did not directly call for the establishment of a full-scale regulated commercial marijuana industry, it would not be obviously disrespectful for Congress to merely put some limits on whether and how DC can set up a full-scale legal marijuana marketplace. But it would be troublesome if Congress were to somehow require local DC police to persist in making arrests and bringing prosecutions for small-scale marijuana cultivation, possession and use.

December 9, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Notable new reporting about marijuana banking issues and developments in Colorado

Friday, November 21, 2014

Does new bill to make it easier for veterans to get medical marijuana stand any chance in Congress?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Huffington Post article headlined "Veterans May Gain Easier Access To Medical Marijuana."  Here are excerpts:

A bill introduced in Congress would allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana for their patients.  The Veterans Equal Access Act, introduced Thursday by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) with 10 bipartisan cosponsors, would lift a ban on VA doctors giving opinions or recommendations about medical marijuana to veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is permitted.

“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury are just as damaging and harmful as any injuries that are visible from the outside,” Blumenauer said.  “Sometimes even more so because of the devastating effect they can have on a veteran’s family.  We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”

Nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and depression, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Some scientists have suggested that marijuana may help PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks and depression.  In a recent study, patients who smoked cannabis saw an average 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms.  "A clinical trial needs to be done to see what proportion and what kind of PTSD patients benefit, with either cannabis or the main active ingredients of cannabis," said Dr. George Greer, who was involved in the study.

This year, federal health officials signed off on a study that would have examined the effects of five potencies of smoked or vaporized cannabis on 50 veterans suffering from PTSD. The study's future still remains unclear because the federal government's sole provider of medical-grade cannabis didn't have the proper strains for the research to begin. Then the study's lead scientist was fired from the University of Arizona, where the research would have taken place.

I have long thought that anyone who claims to support our troops and veterans ought to be active and vocally supporting more serious exploration of the potential benefits of allowing veterans to use marijuana as one way to deal with the difficult problems of PTSD and brain injuries. And because everyone in Congress claims to be a supporter of our troops and veterans, one might believe that the Veterans Equal Access Act should be the rare proposal that garners bipartisan support in Congress. But because the politics of drug policy rarely is free of divisiveness, I fear passage of this bill in either the current or new Congress may be an uphill battle given that the House of Representatives earlier this year rejected a similar measure.

A few prior related posts:

November 21, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Congressional Research Service analyzes federal proposals to tax marijuana

A helpful reader helpfully alerted me to this notable new Congressional Research Service report titled "Federal Proposals to Tax Marijuana: An Economic Analysis." Here is the detailed report's summary:

The combination of state policy and general public opinion favoring the legalizing of marijuana has led some in Congress to advocate for legalization and taxation of marijuana at the federal level.  The Marijuana Tax Equity Act of 2013 (H.R. 501) would impose a federal excise tax of 50% on the producer and importer price of marijuana. The National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy Act of 2013 (H.R. 1635) proposes establishing a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy that would review the potential revenue generated by taxing marijuana, among other things.

This report focuses solely on issues surrounding a potential federal marijuana tax. First, it provides a brief overview of marijuana production. Second, it presents possible justifications for taxes and, in some cases, estimates the level of tax suggested by that rationale.  Third, it analyzes possible marijuana tax designs.  The report also discusses various tax administration and enforcement issues, such as labeling and tracking.  

Economic theory suggests the efficient level of taxation is equal to marijuana’s external cost to society. Studies conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada suggest that the costs of individual marijuana consumption to society are between 12% and 28% of the costs of an individual alcohol user, and total social costs are even lower after accounting for the smaller number of marijuana users in society. Based on an economic estimate of $30 billion of net external costs for alcohol, the result is an external cost of $0.5 billion to $1.6 billion annually for marijuana. These calculations imply that an upper limit to the economically efficient tax rate could be $0.30 per marijuana cigarette (containing an average of one half of a gram of marijuana) or $16.80 per ounce. An increased number of users in a legal market would raise total costs, but not necessarily costs per unit.

Some could also view excise taxes as a means to curtail demand, particularly as the price of marijuana can be expected to drop from current retail prices of up $200-$300 per ounce to prices closer to the cost of production at $5-$18 per ounce, if broadly legalized. The demand for marijuana is estimated to be relatively price inelastic, meaning that consumer demand is relatively insensitive to price changes.  Although previous studies of marijuana demand largely examine consumers willing to engage in illegal activities, it appears that higher tax rates would have a minor effect on reducing demand. With this said, tax policy, coupled with adequate law enforcement, could be an effective tool to limit marijuana consumption among youth, as empirical studies indicate that their demand is more sensitive to price than non-youth.

Excise taxes on marijuana could also be levied primarily to raise revenue, as has been historically the case with tobacco and alcohol. As an illustration, assuming a total market size of $40 billion, a federal tax of $50 per ounce is estimated to raise about $6.8 billion annually, after accounting for behavioral effects associated with price decreases following legalization.

The choices in administrative design could affect consumer behavior, production methods, evasion rates, or the tax base of a federal marijuana excise tax. Some of the more significant choices include whether to exempt medicinal uses or homegrown marijuana from tax.

November 20, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jeffrey Miron explains "Why Congress should legalize pot"

CNN has this notable new commentary authored by Jeffrey Miron urging Congress to follow the lead of states on modern marijuana reform. (Miron is senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in the economics department at Harvard University as well as a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.) Here are excerpts:

Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana's legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized.

The strong claims made by legalization critics are not borne out in the data. Likewise, some strong claims by legalization advocates -- e.g., that marijuana tourism would be a major boom to the economy -- have also not materialized. The main impact of Colorado's legalization has been that marijuana users can now purchase and use with less worry about harsh legal ramifications.

Yet despite the compelling case for legalization, and progress toward legalization at the state level, ultimate success is not assured. Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.

Whether that will happen is hard to forecast. If more states legalize marijuana and public opinion continues its support, Washington may hesitate to push back. But federal prohibition creates problems even if enforcement is nominal: Marijuana business cannot easily use standard financial institutions and transactions technologies such as credit cards; physicians may still hesitate to prescribe marijuana; and medical researchers will still face difficulty in studying marijuana.

To realize the full potential of legalization, therefore, federal law must change. The best approach is to remove marijuana from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the federal law that governs prohibition.

Standard regulatory and tax policies would still apply to legalized marijuana, and states would probably adopt marijuana-specific regulations similar to those for alcohol (e.g., minimum purchase ages). State and federal governments might also impose "sin taxes," as for alcohol. But otherwise marijuana would be just another commodity, as it was before the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

A more cautious approach would have Congress reschedule marijuana under the CSA. Currently, marijuana is in Schedule I, which is reserved for drugs such as heroin and LSD that, according to the CSA, have "a high potential for abuse ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States ... [and] a lack of accepted safety for use."  Hardly anyone believes these conditions apply to marijuana.

If marijuana were in Schedule II, which states it as "a high potential for abuse ... [but a] currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," doctors could legally prescribe it under federal law, as with other Schedule II drugs such as cocaine, methadone and morphine....

This "medicalization" approach, while perhaps politically more feasible than full legalization, has serious drawbacks. Federal authorities such as the Drug Enforcement Administration could interfere with marijuana prescribing -- as sometimes occurs with opiate prescribing. Taxing medical marijuana may be harder than taxing recreational marijuana. And the medical approach risks a charge of hypocrisy, since it is backdoor legalization. But medicalization is still better than full prohibition, since it eliminates the black market.

For 77 years, the United States has outlawed marijuana, with tragic repercussions and unintended consequences. The public and their state governments are on track to rectify this terrible policy. Here's hoping Congress catches up.

November 19, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Republicans may decide they love liberty and limited government more than they hate pot."

The title of this post is the subheading of this notable commentary by Jacob Sullum at Reason.com.  Here are a few excerpts:

At a press conference last week, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's congressional delegate, urged her colleagues to respect the will of the voters who overwhelmingly approved marijuana legalization in the nation's capital on November 4.  She was joined by three congressmen, including Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who said trying to block legalization in D.C. or in Alaska and Oregon, where voters also said no to marijuana prohibition this month, would flout "fundamental principles" that "Republicans have always talked about," including "individual liberties," "limited government," and "states' rights and the 10th Amendment."...

Initiative 71, which passed by a margin of more than 2 to 1, allows adults 21 or older to possess two ounces or less of marijuana, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults "without remuneration."  It does not authorize commercial production or distribution, although the District of Columbia Council is considering legislation that would.  "I see no reason why we wouldn't follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol," incoming Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference after the election.

In theory, there are a couple of ways that Congress could try to stop all this from happening. It could pass a joint resolution disapproving Initiative 71, or it could bar the District from spending money to implement the measure.  But neither of these approaches looks very promising....

Strictly speaking, "states' rights" do not apply to the District of Columbia, which was created by Congress and is subject to much more extensive federal control than the states are.  But as Obama suggests, the arguments for federalism — in particular, the idea that political decisions should be made at the lowest feasible level to facilitate citizen influence, policy experimentation, and competition among jurisdictions — apply to D.C. as well as the states. Given the president's views on the subject, it seems reasonable to assume that he would take a dim view of attempts to nullify Initiative 71.

November 18, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Vets making a push for VA to consider allowing marijuana use for PTSD

Images (1)This new lengthy Washington Post article, headlined "More veterans press VA to recognize medical marijuana as treatment option," highlights a notable constituency eager to have more support for considering use of medical marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

At a time when the legalized use of marijuana is gaining greater acceptance across the country, ... a growing number of veterans are coming out of the “cannabis closet” and pressing the government to recognize pot as a legitimate treatment for the wounds of war.  They say it is effective for addressing various physical and psychological conditions related to military service — from chronic back pain and neuropathic issues to panic attacks and insomnia — and often preferable to widely prescribed opioid painkillers and other drugs.

Researchers in the United States and several other countries have found evidence that cannabis can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and pain, although studies — for instance, looking into the best strains and proper dosages — remain in the early stages. Veterans are lobbying for more states to legalize cannabis for medical use — 23 states and the District allow this — but the primary target is the federal government and, in particular, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD, deeming that it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. That means that VA, which runs the largest network of hospitals and health clinics in the country, cannot prescribe pot as a treatment, even for veterans who live in a state where medical marijuana is legal.

VA says that its physicians and chronic-pain specialists “are prohibited from recommending and prescribing medical marijuana for PTSD or other pain-related issues.” Medical staff are also prohibited from completing paperwork required to enroll in state marijuana programs because they are “federal employees who must comply with federal law,” said Gina Jackson, a VA spokeswoman.

The swelling chorus of veterans who want to take advantage of marijuana but can’t reflects the growing disconnect between more tolerant state policies and the federal government’s unwillingness to budge. Advocates ... say it is urgent that the federal government recognizes marijuana as a treatment because there are so many veterans of recent wars....

If veterans report their use of marijuana to VA, they could face criminal charges if they live in a state where it is illegal. And though few have indeed been charged, the mere possibility has spawned a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Michael Krawitz, a former Air Force staff sergeant and the director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

VA medical staff have warned that this culture is making for a dangerous situation, especially as more states legalize medical marijuana, because doctors do not know about all of the medications their patients are using. Patients are not routinely given drug tests, but those who are prescribed large amounts of opiates and risk overdosing can be asked to undergo screenings, which can turn up marijuana use. In 2011, VA issued a directive that said patients who were participating in state marijuana programs for pain cannot lose their VA benefits. VA added that it is up to individual patients to craft their “treatment plans” in consultation with their doctors.

Some patients say their VA doctors are making them choose between their prescription drugs and marijuana. “Doctors and administrators wrongly assume that the use of marijuana along with opiates is unsafe,” Krawitz said.

A study published last month in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reported that “people already taking opioids for pain may supplement with medical marijuana and be able to lower their painkiller dose, thus lowering their risk of overdose.” The study, written by Marcus A. Bachhuber, a researcher at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and several colleagues, found that “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.”

Scott Murphy, a retired Army specialist who is the head of Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care, has been compiling a petition asking that marijuana no longer be classified as a Schedule I drug. “Veterans in states without medical marijuana laws feel they need to lie to their physicians for the justifiable fear of losing their earned benefits,” Murphy writes in the petition....

Several VA doctors who specialize in pain management and PTSD said in interviews that they are eager for more research on the medical benefits of marijuana. The doctors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they do not have permission from VA to discuss marijuana with the news media, said they feel frustrated because prescription drugs are not helping patients who are suffering. “Anecdotally we know it works, and more and more studies are saying this,” said one VA doctor, a PTSD expert who leads a large East Coast VA pain center. “But we aren’t allowed to study it.”

Researchers at New York University’s Langone Medical Center are developing the first generation of cannabis-related medications targeted for PTSD, according to Alexander Neumeister, a professor of psychology and radiology who is supervising three drug trials. He said research has found that people with PTSD have lower levels of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These receptors, called CB1, are activated when a person uses marijuana. “We are throwing the wrong pills at the problem and keep doing it,” Neumeister said. “It’s upsetting. It’s heart-breaking and it’s just wrong.”

November 16, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"DC marijuana law gets support from bipartisan lawmakers"

The title of this post is the headline of this local Fox News report about an event on Capitol Hill today.  Here are details:

D.C. voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana but the fate of the city's pot law remains in the hands of Congress. On Thursday, the city is getting support for legalization from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The bi-partisan group vowed to block any attempt to overturn the city's pot law.

Initiative 71 legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use in D.C. -- joining Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska. "The underlying issue legalization and decriminalization of marijuana has caught fire throughout the country," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

She was joined by allies during a press conference on Capitol Hill, including Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) who has led the charge for marijuana reform and Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) whose states have legalized marijuana. They urged Congress to butt out. “I think D.C. voters and their will ought to be respected just like the will of the voters of Colorado's been respected," said Polis.

Maryland Republican Congressman Andy Harris has yet to succeed, but has said he would do whatever he can to stop it. "The last thing you want to do is introduce a drug and encourage its use among youth when youth already have many issues in that jurisdiction," said Harris (R-MD) the day after the initiative passed.

D.C. voters approved the measure by more than a 2 to 1 margin. Antonio Bell voted for it. His even had marijuana leaves on his socks. "They are consenting adults,” said Bell. “I'm sure it will be regulated. It would be less back and forth to the courthouse for petty crimes and they can focus on real crime.”...

Lawmakers in support of D.C. said no one has died of a pot overdose, but they have of alcohol poisoning. "Wake up and see where the American people are," said Rohrbacher.

He says legalization goes hand in hand with GOP principals of individual liberty, states' rights and limited government. He hasn't seen any blowback in his district as a result of his support for marijuana reform and believes other Republicans won't either....

Opponents of legalization argue the drug will encourage more kids to use marijuana and that it is a gateway drug. But in Colorado Rep. Polis said the opposite has happened. "Underage marijuana use has decreased,” said Polis. “It's created additional jobs and helped driven drug dealers out of business." The regulated sale of the drug has also generated millions of dollars in state tax revenue.

Supporters of D.C.'s law believe they deserve a shot too. Holmes Norton isn't encouraging anyone to smoke pot and argues its widespread use has made it defacto legal. "We're talking about local affairs, we're talking about our local money, we're talking about nobody's business but the District's," she said.

If it comes down to a vote over D.C.'s pot law, Rep. Rohrbacher said they have the votes from Republicans and Democrats to defeat it. One prominent Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, has also gone on record saying he doesn't believe the federal government should interfere with the District's decision to legalize marijuana.

November 13, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Senator Rand Paul says feds ought not preclude DC (or states) from making local marijuana policy

As reported in this Roll Call article, headlined "Rand Paul: Let D.C. Legalize Marijuana, If Voters Want," the Republican Senator currently in charge of federal oversight of Washington DC expressed a disinclination to have the feds get in the way of a local vote to legalize marijuana inside the Beltway. Here are the details:

As District of Columbia voters are seemingly poised to approve a ballot item to allow cultivation and possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use, the Republican in charge of a subpanel with D.C. oversight says home rule should prevail.

“I think there should be a certain amount of discretion for both states and territories and the District, you know,” Sen. Rand Paul said outside his polling place at an elementary school here. “I think really that when we set up our country, we intended that most crime or not crime, things that we determined to be crime or not crimes, was really intended to be determined by localities.”

The Kentucky Republican is the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia. The unique status of the District gives Congress broad powers to negate local policies, but on the pot question, Paul is strongly on the side of federalism.

“I’m not for having the federal government get involved. I really haven’t taken a stand on … the actual legalization. I haven’t really taken a stand on that, but I’m against the federal government telling them they can’t,” Paul said.

It it isn’t clear that Paul would have the D.C. subcommittee gavel in the event Republicans claim the six seats needed to take the Senate majority. In fact, he indicated shortly before weighing in on the marijuana issue that he had his sights set on a different subcommittee.

November 4, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"On Drug Policy Reform, a Dozen Republican Congressmen Get an A+ (and 136 Get an F)"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece by Jacob Sullum over at Reason.com, which provides a helpful summary of the new voter guide put togethr by Drug Policy Action (DPA), the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance.  Here is how this summary gets started:

What do Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) have in common?  If you follow drug policy, it probably won't surprise you to learn that they all rate A+ grades in a new voter guide that scores members of Congress based on their votes for reform.  A bit more surprising: So do 45 of their colleagues in the House, including 10 additional Republicans: David Schweikert (Ariz.), Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Justin Amash (Mich.), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), Mark Sanford (S.C.), Steve Stockman (Texas) and Tom Petri (R-Wis.).

Drug Policy Action (DPA), the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, based its grades on seven votes (see list below) dealing with issues such as hemp cultivation, medical marijuana, and banking services for state-legal cannabusinesses.  To earn an A+, a representative had to vote in favor of reform all seven times. In addition to the 49 members who rated an A+, 116 got an A (six votes), 33 got a B+ (five votes), 14 got a B (four votes), 31 got a C (three votes), 23 got a D (two votes), and 141 got an F (one or zero votes). The rest did not have sufficient voting records to be graded.  The lowest-rated group consists almost entirely of Republicans, as you might expect, but there are also five Democrats who merited an F: Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Jim Matheson (Utah), and Nick Rahall (W.V.).

The failing congressmen include Andy Harris (R-Md.), John Fleming (R-La.), and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), whom DPA describes as "drug war extremists." Harris distinguished himself by doggedly trying to prevent Washington, D.C., from decriminalizing marijuana possession. DPA describes Fleming as "a committed foe of marijuana reform efforts," known for "distorting and misrepresenting the facts about marijuana use in hearings, floor speeches and briefings" (here, for example) and for "taking to the floor to speak against floor amendments that would support states' rights to reform their marijuana laws, improve access to medical marijuana and improve the ability of states to regulate marijuana businesses."....

It is encouraging that the "drug war extremists" in DPA's report are far outnumbered by the 10 "champions of reform" (including Rohrabacher, Blumenauer, Massie, and Polis) and the 23 legislators receiving "honorable mentions" for sponsoring or cosponsoring reform legislation as well as voting for it.

October 30, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

District court evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of marijuana's Schedule I status is underway

Earlier this year, an Eastern District of California judge granted a very rare evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of the federal government's treatment of marijuana.  That hearing is finally underway this week.  I'd recommend the Eastern District of California blog for following all of the news and developments.  

The EDCA blog has been linking to relevant news coverage, which so far has been sparse unfortunately.  

There have been some posts suggesting things aren't going very well for the federal government, but I'm not so sure how much stock to put in those reports.  

For example, the Leaf has this post up on some of the testimony of defense witnesses, reprting that "attempts by US Attorneys to paint [Dr. Carl] Hart – who teaches neuroscience at Columbia University and sits on an advisory board to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) – as a researcher blinded by his personal biases blew up, at times embarrassingly, in their faces."  The anecdotes cited to support this seem focused more on cross examination drama sorts of points, however.  

Though it does sound like Hart had a few snappy and effective replies to questions on cross, I doubt that tells us much at all about how the hearing is actually going ias far as what the likely outcome will be.  (Even weirder, the Leaf's post comes with the click-driving headline "Federal Prosecutors Appear to Concede Cannabis' Medical Benefits" but there is absolutely nothing reported in the story that I see to back up that wild claim.)  

A rational basis challenge to marijuana's Schedule I status will be a tough claim to make out, as anyone familiar with the law in this area knows.  Whatever the result, news about the hearings will be interesting to continue to follow.

October 29, 2014 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)