Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Senate Minority Leader to introduce bill to deschedule marijuana

95ff435c240b91016a0f6a70670077ffVice News has this notable new story under the headline "Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce bill to 'decriminalize' marijuana." Here are the details:

In an exclusive interview with VICE News, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed he is putting his name on legislation that he said is aimed at “decriminalizing” marijuana at the federal level.

For Schumer, this is a shift. While he has backed medical marijuana and the rights of states to experiment with legal sales of pot, what he is proposing is a seismic shift in federal drug policy . “Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. Freedom. If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” Schumer said....

The legislation, which Schumer’s office expects will be released within the next week, has six main points. First, it would remove marijuana from Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances, which would end federal prohibition and leave it up to states to decide how to regulate the drug. Schumer stopped short of calling it legalization, but de-scheduling would essentially make marijuana legal at the federal level.

His bill would also would create some funding for minority and women-owned marijuana businesses, provide money for research into overall effects of marijuana and it’s specific effect on driving impairment.  And lastly, it would “maintain federal authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does alcohol and tobacco,” which Schumer said is to make sure marijuana businesses aren’t targeting children with their ads.

Schumer went further saying that he would support legalization in his home state of New York as well as any other state that wants to move in that direction.  “My personal view is legalization is just fine,” he said. “The best thing to do is let each state decide on its own.”

While this looks like an obvious election year-play, Schumer claimed it wasn’t about he looming 2018 or 2020 elections.  “I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do.  I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined by the criminalization,” he said.  “If we benefit, so be it.  But that’s not my motivation.”

When asked if he had ever smoked weed before, Schumer said no, but when pressed on whether he might be willing to try it he said, “Maybe, I’m a little old, but who knows?”

April 19, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 13, 2018

AG Sessions' decision to rescind Cole Memo ultimately leads to Prez Trump pledge to safeguard states' marijuana reforms

Gardner-trumpAs reported in this CNN piece, "Trump promises GOP lawmaker to protect states' marijuana rights," a little more than three months after Attorney General Sessions decided to rescind the Cole Memo stating that federal prosecutors would not prioritize criminal enforcement against state-compliant marijuana businesses, President Donald Trump gave a Colorado Senator his word that he was eager to protect state marijuana reform efforts.  Here are the basic:

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump told Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner that the President will support efforts to protect states' that have legalized marijuana, according to a statement from Gardner released Friday.

The deal, which was first reported by The Washington Post, comes after Gardner said he'd block all Justice Department nominees after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded guidance from the Obama administration, known as the Cole memo, that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.

The Department of Justice was not consulted on this promise to Gardner from the President, according to a source familiar.

"Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice's rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado's legal marijuana industry," Gardner said in a statement. "Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all."

He continued: "Because of these commitments, I have informed the Administration that I will be lifting my remaining holds on Department of Justice nominees." Gardner said he and his colleagues are working on a bill that would prevent the federal government from interfering in states' marijuana legalization. "My colleagues and I are continuing to work diligently on a bipartisan legislative solution that can pass Congress and head to the President's desk to deliver on his campaign position," he said in the statement.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the statement from Gardner "accurate" during Friday's press briefing. "The President did speak with the senator," she said. "The statement that the senator put out today is accurate."

In many respects, it is somewhat amazing that Prez Trump was able to go the first 15 months of his presidency without ever speaking directly about federal or state marijuana policies. But now I think it is even more amazing that the decision by Attorney General Jeff Session to rescind the Cole memo has now directly led to the President of the United States indicating his support for a "federalism-based legislative solution" to modern marijuana reform issues.

Prior related posts:

April 13, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Senators Orrin Hatch and Kamala Harris write to AG Jeff Sessions to push for more medical marijuana research

53352_lgAs reported in this new press release, "US Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter today to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to cease efforts to slow medical marijuana research, following reports that the Department of Justice was blocking medical marijuana research efforts by delaying approvals for manufacturers growing research-grade medical marijuana."  Here is more from the text of the letter:

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

We write to request that you enable the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to fulfill its charter of lawfully registering manufacturers of the controlled substance of marijuana for research without delay. Research on marijuana is necessary to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers.

To date, it has been federal practice that only one manufacturer — the University of Mississippi — is licensed to produce marijuana for federally-sanctioned research. Historically, as the DEA has noted, that single manufacturer could meet the minimal demand for research. However, the DEA changed its policy nearly two years ago because, as it explained, “There is growing public interest in exploring the possibility that marijuana or its chemical constituents may be used as potential treatments for certain medical conditions,” and the DEA — along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — “fully supports expanding research into the potential medical utility of marijuana and its chemical constituents.”

As of August 11, 2016, 354 individuals and institutions were approved by the DEA to conduct expansive research on marijuana and its related components. Those researchers needed access to a federally compliant expanded product line—they needed to study different types of marijuana and across various delivery mechanisms. Accordingly, a diverse, DEA-vetted market of suppliers of research-grade marijuana would be critical. Since the DEA’s Federal Register Notice on August 12, 2016, at least 25 manufacturers have formally applied to produce federally-approved research-grade marijuana....

We write this letter because research on marijuana is necessary for evidence-based decision making, and expanded research has been called for by President Trump’s Surgeon General, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the FDA, the CDC, the National Highway Safety Administration, the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Academies of Sciences, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In order to facilitate such research, scientists and lawmakers must have timely guidance on whether, when, and how these manufacturers’ applications will be resolved.

The benefits of research are unquestionable. Research will give law enforcement guidance to do their jobs:protecting drivers on the roads, protecting kids in schools, and maintaining law and order. Ninety-two percent of veterans support federal research on marijuana, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is aware that many veterans have been using marijuana to manage the pain of their wartime wounds. America’s heroes deserve scientifically-based assessments of the substance many of them are already self-administering.

By allowing expanded research, the Department of Justice will aid legislators in making sound decisions, help law enforcement in developing critical public safety guidance, and ensure that citizens have the benefit of informed, evidence-based policy.

April 12, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Enforcing Federal Drug Laws in States Where Medical Marijuana Is Lawful"

Jama-logoThe title of this post is the title of this  new Viewpoint commentary authored by Lawrence Gostin, James Hodge, and Sarah Wetter published earlier this week on line at JAMA. Here is how it concludes:

Toward Rational Medical Marijuana Policies

Although public opinion and state action have trended strongly toward permitting use of marijuana, especially for medical purposes, controversy continues to exist.  The specter of federal prosecution could refrain physicians, patients, and dispensaries from providing marijuana in states where the drug is lawful and dissuade additional jurisdictions from legalizing marijuana.  Public policy formed and implemented in the context of inconsistent federal and state laws, unpredictable legal enforcement, and insufficient scientific evidence is unsustainable.  Rational policies should follow a 3-pronged agenda.

A Solid Research Foundation

Sound policy requires a strong evidence base.  Scientific studies could quell ongoing disagreements about marijuana’s medical effectiveness, harms, and status as a gateway drug.  Yet limited funding and restrictive access to uniformly high-quality cannabis have sharply curtailed longitudinal studies on a drug already in wide use. Physicians require rigorous evidence to inform prescribing practices and counseling of patients.  At present, wide regional variations in prescribing practices exist, and patients do not have access to consistently high-quality, uncontaminated cannabis — where the purity, potency, and dosage can be ensured.  Health officials, moreover, rarely conduct careful surveillance of marijuana use incidence, prevalence, and outcomes.  Public policy on a potentially hazardous psychotropic drug is difficult when short- and long-term effects across populations are underreported, insufficiently studied, and poorly funded.

A Harmonized Legal Environment

Substantial variability of legal approaches to marijuana use exists across jurisdictions and between states and the federal government.  Individuals in certain jurisdictions can lawfully access marijuana for medical use, recreational use, or both, whereas individuals in other jurisdictions cannot do so.  Conditions under which physicians can prescribe (or patients can access) marijuana fluctuate extensively.  Federal law is inconsistent with policy in virtually all states.  The CSA should be revised to operate harmoniously with prevailing state law. Model legislation for medical use of marijuana, based on scientific evidence, could help reconcile activities across jurisdictions.

Federal Law Enforcement Respectful of States’ Sovereignty

Under US constitutional design, states and localities are laboratories for innovation, with state sovereignty and local home rule respected and preserved.  This requires federal prosecutorial discretion to hew to the legal environment of states that have legalized marijuana use.  Respecting marijuana laws is essential in states where cannabis is prescribed and used for medical purposes.  On an issue as consequential as marijuana, the nation needs consistent legal norms based on the best available scientific evidence.

March 28, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announces plans for new hemp bill to remove plant from CSA

Pjimage-34As reported in this new AP article, the "U.S. Senate’s top leader said Monday he wants to bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the controlled substances list that now associates it with its cousin — marijuana." Here is more:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told hemp advocates in his home state of Kentucky that he will introduce legislation to legalize the crop as an agricultural commodity. The versatile crop has been grown on an experimental basis in a number of states in recent years. “It’s now time to take the final step and make this a legal crop,” McConnell said.

Kentucky has been at the forefront of hemp’s comeback. Kentucky agriculture officials recently approved more than 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares) to be grown in the state this year, and 57 Kentucky processors are helping turn the raw product into a multitude of products.

Growing hemp without a federal permit has long been banned due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Hemp got a limited reprieve with the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp projects for research and development. So far, 34 states have authorized hemp research, while actual production occurred in 19 states last year, said Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp. Hemp production totaled 25,541 acres (10,336 hectares) in 2017, more than double the 2016 output, he said.

The crop, which once thrived in Kentucky, was historically used for rope but has many other uses, including clothing and mulch from the fiber, hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and soap and lotions. Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels.

Hemp advocates fighting for years to restore the crop’s legitimacy hailed McConnell’s decision to put his political influence behind the effort to make it a legal crop again. “This is a huge development for the hemp industry,” Steenstra said. “Sen. McConnell’s support is critical to helping us move hemp from research and pilot programs to full commercial production.”

Brian Furnish, an eighth-generation tobacco farmer in Kentucky, has started making the switch to hemp production. His family will grow about 300 acres (120 hectares) of hemp this year in Harrison County. He’s also part owner of a company that turns hemp into food, fiber and dietary supplements. Furnish said hemp has the potential to rival or surpass what tobacco production once meant to Kentucky. “All we’ve got to do is the government get out of the way and let us grow,” he told reporters.

McConnell acknowledged there was “some queasiness” about hemp in 2014 when federal lawmakers cleared the way for states to regulate it for research and pilot programs. There’s much broader understanding now that hemp is a “totally different” plant than its illicit cousin, he said. “I think we’ve worked our way through the education process of making sure everybody understands this is really a different plant,” the Republican leader said.

McConnell said he plans to have those discussions with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to emphasize the differences between the plants. The Trump administration has taken a tougher stance on marijuana. The Department of Justice’s press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

McConnell said his bill will attract a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. He said the measure would allow states to have primary regulatory oversight of hemp production if they submit plans to federal agriculture officials outlining how they would monitor production. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got to pull it off,” he said.

In Kentucky, current or ex-tobacco farmers could easily make the conversion to hemp production, Furnish said. Equipment and barns used for tobacco can be used to produce hemp, he said. Tobacco production dropped sharply in Kentucky amid declining smoking rates.

March 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Latest draft federal spending bill again includes protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs

As reported here by Tom Angell at Forbes, "medical marijuana patients and businesses that follow state laws will continue to be protected from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the federal drug agents that work for him under a provision contained in new must-pass legislation revealed on Wednesday."  Here is more:

The policy, which has been federal law since 2014, bars the U.S. Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Its continuance was in question, however, after Sessions specifically asked Congress not to extend it and House leaders blocked a vote on the matter. But the rider, which cleared a key Senate panel last year, is now attached to a bicameral deal to fund the federal government's operations through the rest of Fiscal Year 2018, which ends on September 30....

The new bill, which the House is expected to vote on as soon as Thursday, also continues existing provisions shielding state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference.

In a related move, a bipartisan group of members of Congress is stepping up the push to include the medical marijuana protections in Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation. "We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people," 62 lawmakers wrote in a letter to House appropriations leaders last week.

In January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a separate Obama-era Justice Department memo that has generally cleared the way for states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. Given that action, some members of Congress want to go even further than the current medical cannabis protections in spending legislation by adding a new provision that protects all state marijuana laws -- including those that allow recreational use and businesses -- from federal interference....

The existing medical marijuana rider was first approved by a House floor vote of 219-189 in 2014 and then again in 2015 by a margin of 242-186. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also adopted the language in a series of bipartisan votes, most recently last summer. The provision must be reapproved annually because it concerns restrictions on specific years' Justice Department spending legislation.

In negative news for cannabis law reform supporters, the new FY2018 omnibus spending bill extends a current ban on the Washington, D.C. using its own local funds to legalize and regulate marijuana sales. And, it does not include language approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last year that would have allowed military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations through their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors. To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass, and President Trump must sign, the appropriations legislation by Friday at midnight.

March 22, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reviewing the work of Representative Pete Sessions to block marijuana reform efforts in Congress

ThPolitico has this extended new article on federal marijuana reform focused on a Sessions who is even more important than AG Jeff.  The full title of the article explains: "Washington’s Most Powerful Anti-Pot Official Is Named Sessions. It’s Not Who You Think: Rep. Pete Sessions has quietly used his chairmanship of the House Rules Committee to stifle popular amendments that would protect legal marijuana." I recommend this lengthy piece in full, and here are highlights:

[W]hile the nation’s top law enforcement officer has made it abundantly clear over the years that he views marijuana as a scourge equal to heroin, it turns out the unofficial title of Washington’s most powerful marijuana opponent belongs to someone else named Sessions: Pete, the longtime congressman from Texas’ 32nd district in Dallas. No relation to the attorney general, Pete Sessions nevertheless shares the former Alabama senator’s unforgiving attitudes toward all things cannabis.

“Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way,” Pete Sessions said in January. “They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.” In February, at an opioid summit at the University of Texas Southwestern, Rep. Sessions stretched scientific fact when he said, today’s product is “300 times more powerful” than when he went to high school. (Later, his communications director confirmed that he meant three times more powerful.)

What Pete Sessions has, however, that Jeff Sessions doesn’t have is the power to change laws. Very quietly, but with implacable efficiency, Pete Sessions has used his position as the chair of the House Rules Committee to stymie or roll back amendments that protected legal marijuana in the 29 states that have approved it (30 states if you count Louisiana). States that have grown increasingly dependent on tax revenue from newly legal marijuana businesses, and investors who are pumping millions into an industry that is projected to hit $28 billion globally by 2024, have sought assurances that federal authorities wouldn’t try to invoke national drug law that still classifies marijuana as one of the most serious of all illegal drugs. Short of changing federal drug law, legislators in the states with forms of legal pot have sought the next best protection: using the power of the purse to curtail enforcement. But Sessions, with the approval of House leadership, has thwarted his colleagues. He neutralized one amendment that sailed through with a comfortable bipartisan majority and smothered others that would pass if they were ever allowed to see the light of day.

So far, the only people who have complained are the legislators whose amendments he has torpedoed and pro-marijuana lobbyists. That criticism has never troubled Sessions in his 21-year career (representing two districts). But recent polling indicates that 83 percent of Texas voters now favor legalizing medical marijuana, and that seems to be feeding a nascent campaign to use Sessions’ anti-marijuana influence against him in the 2018 midterm election. Even some Texas Republicans think his zealousness on the issue violates essential conservative principles of less government. “He’s got this personal viewpoint; he’s just personally against it. And there’s nothing that’s going to change his mind,” said Zoe Russell, of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). “That’s the absolute worst of big government.”

The only thing that has prevented Pete Sessions from completely wiping out protections for medical marijuana, and freeing Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice to execute the crackdown he seems to pine for, is Congress’ own dysfunction. Because Congress could not agree on a budget, Rohrabacher-Farr has remained alive through a series of never-ending continuous resolutions. In addition, the Senate hasn’t been quite so willing to stifle its members’ wills on this issue; Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has proposed a companion amendment to Rohrabacher-Farr, which passed the Senate’s appropriations committee by acclamation....

The question of whether the appropriations conference committee will approve the Senate version with the Leahy amendment or the House version that killed Rohrabacher-Farr remains to be answered. The current continuing resolution ends on Friday at midnight. Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, bemoaned the fact that the Republican Party has surrendered ownership of marijuana reform as Democratic support for the issue gains steam: “What had once been a GOP effort known simply as ‘Rohrabacher’ after [Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s] decade-long sponsorship, will now be known as ‘the Leahy Amendment.’ It’s a missed opportunity for the GOP.”

When he speaks publicly about marijuana, Pete Sessions often positions himself as a bulwark against just that kind of Republican accommodation, insisting even against mounting evidence to the contrary that marijuana is a gateway drug to the opioid epidemic. This is a viewpoint shared by Jeff Sessions but not by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, generally an anti-marijuana group, which acknowledges “the observed drop in opioid overdose death rates in states where marijuana use is legal for medicinal purposes. One study found that states with ‘medical marijuana’ laws had a 24.8 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without similar laws.”...

The signs that the Drug War is thawing even in deep-red Texas are hard to miss In 2015, the Texas legislature passed an extremely limited medical marijuana program that grants access to non-psychoactive CBD concentrates to Texans suffering from epilepsy. Given that the Drug Enforcement Administration still considers non-psychoactive CBD to be a drug with no medicinal value, Texas’ tiptoe into the waters of medical marijuana legalization has been an act of civil disobedience against a federal drug enforcement policy that is staunchly defended by the likes of Pete Sessions. In Dallas County, where the majority of Sessions’ constituents reside, police no longer arrest people caught with up to a quarter pound of marijuana, opting instead for a cite-and-release program meant to unclog the jails and judicial system, following the example of similar programs in San Antonio, Houston and Austin.

Against this backdrop, Sessions finds himself defending his congressional seat in 2018 in a district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 2 percentage points just two years ago. The Cook Political Report rates the race as leans Republican, but does Sessions’ opposition to marijuana law reform make him more vulnerable to a Democratic challenger in November? Some Republicans fear that medical marijuana might be an effective wedge issue that could steer Republican voters toward a Democrat who supports marijuana law reform at the national level....

“Pete Sessions has made himself the No. 1 target of drug policy reformers in the 2018 general election,” Don Murphy of MPP told POLITICO Magazine. “Defeating Pete Sessions in 2018 will send a message to Washington that even the tone-deaf GOP can’t miss.” In fact, Murphy’s prediction appears to be taking shape in Texas. “It doesn’t matter which Democrat wins. Either way, we’re going to un-elect him,” said Rob Kampia, the former executive director of MPP. Kampia’s new venture is the Marijuana Leadership Campaign and its companion Marijuana Leadership PAC. “Our invitation-only launch meeting was held in Dallas,” he told POLITICO Magazine, “and I can safely say we'll be spending $500,000 on this singular congressional race.”

March 21, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

New US Attorney for Southern District of West Virginia talking up efforts to "enforce laws against marijuana aggressively - AGGRESSIVELY"

I have just seen via my twitter feed this notable recent tweet posted by US Attorney Mike Stuart, the newly confirmed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia:

Without getting into the particulars of the gateway drug debate, I am eager here to highlight how easy it would be for this new US Attorney to ramp up federal marijuana enforcement relative to what has existed in recent years.  Based on some (too) quick research of US Sentencing Commission data, it seems that there have only been a handful of federal marijuana prosecutions each year in this district.  USA Stewart could "aggressively" increase the federal caseload just by bringing a few more cases each year.

It will be interesting to see if the Southern District of West Virginia does end up having many more marijuana prosecutions in the months ahead, though these statements likely are to be most significant with respect to West Virginia's development of its recently passed medical marijuana legislation.   This local article, headlined "Time runs out on bill making changes to WV's medical cannabis program," suggests that the rescission of the Cole Memo and related concerns about federal prohibition may already be slowing down the state's regulatory efforts.

March 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"America Is Giving Away the $30 Billion Medical Marijuana Industry"

800x-1The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new Bloomberg Businessweek article.  I am tempted to politicize this post by saying that a true "America First" President ought to be quite concerned about the sub-headline of this piece: "Why? Because the feds are bogarting the weed, while Israel and Canada are grabbing market share."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Lyle Craker is an unlikely advocate for any political cause, let alone one as touchy as marijuana law, and that’s precisely why Rick Doblin sought him out almost two decades ago. Craker, Doblin likes to say, is the perfect flag bearer for the cause of medical marijuana production—not remotely controversial and thus the ideal partner in a long and frustrating effort to loosen the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chokehold on cannabis research. There are no counterculture skeletons in Craker’s closet; only dirty boots and botany books. He’s never smoked pot in his life, nor has he tasted liquor. “I have Coca-Cola every once in a while,” says the quiet, white-haired Craker, from a rolling chair in his basement office at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he’s served as a professor in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture since 1967, specializing in medicinal and aromatic plants. He and his students do things such as subject basil plants to high temperatures to study the effects of climate change on what plant people call the constituents, or active elements....

In June 2001, Craker filed an application for a license to cultivate “research-grade” marijuana at UMass, with the goal of staging FDA-approved studies. Six months later he was told his application had been lost. He reapplied in 2002 and then, after an additional two years of no action, sued the DEA, backed by MAPS. By this point, both U.S. senators from Massachusetts had publicly supported his application, and a federal court of appeals ordered the DEA to respond, which it finally did, denying the application in 2004.

Craker appealed that decision with backing from a powerful bench of allies, including 40 members of Congress, and finally, in February 2007, a DEA administrative law judge ruled that his application for a license should be granted. The decision was not binding, however; it was merely a recommendation to the DEA leadership. Almost two years later, in the last week of the Bush administration, the application was rejected. Craker threw up his hands. He firmly believed marijuana should be more widely grown and studied, but he’d lost any hope that it would happen in his lifetime. And he had basil to attend to.

Then, in August 2016, during the final months of the Obama presidency, the DEA reversed course. It announced that, for the first time in a half-century, it would grant new licenses. Doblin, who has seemingly endless supplies of optimism and enthusiasm, convinced the professor there was hope—again. So Craker submitted paperwork, again, along with 25 other groups. The university’s provost co-signed his application, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) wrote a letter to the DEA in support of his effort. He’s still waiting to hear back. “I’m never gonna get the license,” Craker says.

Pessimism isn’t surprising from a man who’s been making a reasonable case for 17 years to no avail. Studies around the world have shown that marijuana has considerable promise as a medicine. Craker says he spoke late last year at a hospital in New Hampshire where certain cannabinoids were shown to facilitate healing in brain-damaged mice. “And I thought, ‘If cannabinoids could do that, let’s put them in medicines!’ ” He sighs. “We can’t do the research.”

Another sigh. “I’m naive about a lot about things,” he says. “But it seems to me that we should be looking at cannabis. I mean, if it’s going to kill people, let’s know that and get rid of it. If it’s going to help people, let’s know that and expand on it. … But there’s just something wrong with the DEA. I don’t know what else to say. … Somehow, marijuana’s got a bad name. And it’s tough to let go of.”....

Many people expect the Republican-controlled Congress to follow its recent tax overhaul by looking for ways to slash costs in Medicaid and Medicare. Legitimate research into the medicinal properties of marijuana could help. Studies show that opioid use drops significantly in states where marijuana has been legalized; this suggests people are consuming the plant for pain, something they could be doing more effectively if physicians and the FDA controlled chemical makeup and potency. A study published in July 2016 in Health Affairs showed that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative “fell significantly,” saving hundreds of millions of dollars among users of Medicare Part D....

Among those who’ve advised Craker is Tony Coulson, a former DEA agent who retired in 2010 and works as a consultant for companies developing drugs. Coulson was vehemently antimarijuana until his son, a combat soldier, came home from the Middle East with post-traumatic stress disorder and needed help. “For years I was of the belief that the science doesn’t say that this is medicine,” he says. “But when you get into this curious history, you find the science doesn’t show it primarily because we’re standing in the way. The NIDA monopoly prevents anyone from getting into further studies.”

Coulson blames the Obama administration for not acting sooner, creating a situation in which the decision on granting new growing licenses was passed down to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has publicly declared his belief in the dangers of marijuana. The NIDA monopoly is now his to change. “Sessions has a 1930s Reefer Madness view of the marijuana world,” Coulson says. “It’s not realistic, and it’s not what rank-and-file DEA really are concerned about. DEA folks have moved beyond this.”

“I guess I take a nationalist approach here,” says Rick Kimball, a former investment banker who’s raising money for a marijuana-related private equity fund and is a trustee for marijuana policy at the Brookings Institution. “We have a huge opportunity in the U.S.,” he says, “and we ought to get our act together. I’m worried that we’re ceding this whole market to the Israelis.”

March 7, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Some perspectives on the rescission of the Cole Memo two months later

It has now been a full two months since Attorney General Sessions decided to rescind the Cole Memo which expressly stated that federal prosecutors would not prioritize criminal enforcement against state-compliant marijuana businesses.  A lot could have happened in those two months, but for now it still seems, as I suggested in this prior post, that in the short term the Justice Department may have been impacted more by rescission of Cole Memo than marijuana industry.  But this new Forbes article, headlined "How Cannabis Entrepreneurs Feel About Sessions' Reversal Of The Cole Memo," provides some industry-player perspectives on this front. I recommend the piece in full, as it provides "opinions from a collection of industry experts discussing Sessions’ reversal of Cole’s memorandum [which} cover investment strategies, regulatory compliance, disintermediation and yes blockchain." Here are a few of the quotes I found interesting:

Wil Ralston, President of SinglePoint (OTCMKTS: SING), a publicly-traded cannabis and technology holding company specializing in acquisitions of small to mid-sized companies with an emphasis on mobile technologies and emerging markets:

"Entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in the cannabis industry are still pushing full speed ahead. As an entrepreneur, you're always analyzing the risk:reward of your decision-making; as of right now, the potential success that can be realized in the cannabis industry is such that entrepreneurs will likely continue to find their way, even through the reversal of the Cole Memo. We've already seen quite a bit of pushback to Sessions' reversal of the memo, from the general public to government officials, and in the absence of a seriously damaging development, entrepreneurs will keep running towards the cannabis industry, not away from it."...

Leslie Bocskor, President of Electrum Partners, an advisory services firm specializing in medical and recreational cannabis and ancillary businesses:

“My take is that the sleeper technology for the cannabis industry will be blockchain and cryptocurrency. Whereas many think crypto is a solution for transactions, and it may be, my take is a little different.  Since cannabis is the red-headed step child of the venture and early stage finance world, due to the federal illegality, we will see cryptocurrency ‘tokenomics’ (not my word, Thomas Carter of Dealbox; www.dlbx.io) be used to disintermediate the venture capital world, first in cannabis companies and then beyond.  Using cryptocurrencies with registered compliant offerings to speed up and simplify the capital formation process will be the news we read about one year from now, having been done successfully for cannabis companies first.”

March 4, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Highlighting the perspectives of governors in dynamic marijuana reform times

News-8Rolling Stone has this lengthy new article on modern state marijuana reforms focused on how governors are reacting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' latest policy directives to federal prosecutors.  The piece is  headlines "Sorry, Jeff Sessions – Governors Are Moving Ahead with Pot: At their annual meeting, pro-pot governors say the AG isn't stopping them from advancing plans for medical and recreational legalization." Here are excerpts:

Over the past few days, most of the nation's governors descended on Washington for their annual meeting with administration officials and the president. As the governors mingled about and chatted in between sessions, many of them were exchanging ideas and best practices on how to roll out a successful regulatory regime on marijuana. But hanging over their talks was the specter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who would like to clamp down on the nation's burgeoning, though disparate, marijuana industry.

Some Democratic governors say they were denied a private meeting with Sessions to discuss his anti-marijuana stance. And besides attending the formal Governors' Ball on Sunday night, the attorney general only made one appearance to the group, at a White House briefing on opioids. Some say they're frustrated they couldn't pick his brain on his controversial move to rescind an Obama-era memo that directed the nation's top prosecutors to prioritize other offenses over marijuana in states where it's legal. "I tried, but I couldn't get called on," Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) tells Rolling Stone. "He only took about six questions. There were probably 40 governors in the room."

Even though there's fear that Sessions wants to go after legal marijuana business owners, many states are moving ahead with efforts to either launch a new medicinal marijuana industry, expand an existing one or to legalize weed for recreational purposes. And governors say so far Sessions' opposition hasn't had an impact on the ground. "It has not impacted us and we believe it will not, although that doesn't mean we're not paying attention," Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) tells Rolling Stone.

Murphy, who was elected last year, campaigned aggressively on marijuana legalization. For him, it's a criminal-justice issue because his state has the largest racial disparity in its prison population of any state in the nation, and many of those convicts are serving terms for nonviolent drug offenses. While he's received some pushback from his legislature on his plan to legalize pot, he's moving ahead on expanding medicinal marijuana because currently there are only five dispensaries in a state with nine million people. "We're proceeding apace, again, beginning to make sure we get the medical piece right because it's life or death," Murphy says. "And then we will deliberately and steadily get to the recreational side."

The nation's other newly seated governor, Ralph Northam (D-VA), also campaigned on marijuana. He faces more headwinds from Republicans who control his state's House of Delegates, but he's still calling for marijuana decriminalization. As a physician, Northam is also vocal about the medicinal benefits of weed, though he says more research is needed. For that he's calling on Congress to reclassify pot, since it's currently listed as a Schedule I narcotic, making it extremely difficult to study in any official capacity. "I think that it would be great if at the federal level they could change the schedule of marijuana so that we can get more data on it – do more research," Northam tells Rolling Stone. "I remind people all the time that probably over 100 medicines that we use routinely in health care come from plants, so let's be a little bit more open minded and look at potential uses for medicinal marijuana."...

While the movement on medical marijuana is steadily picking up steam in red and blue states alike, the recreational effort is going more slowly but some governors say there's starting to be an air of certainty that eventually marijuana will be viewed as the same as alcohol in most every state.

Back in 2011, Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT) moved to decriminalize marijuana and set up a medicinal marijuana regime. While he hasn't come down one way or another on recreational marijuana, he says it's just a matter of time before it happens in Connecticut because efforts to legalize weed are sweeping the entire northeast corridor. "As Canada moves in that direction, as Massachusetts and Vermont, it's going to be a neighborhood thing, and I understand that," Malloy tells Rolling Stone. While he remains lukewarm on recreational marijuana, he did pen a blunt letter to Sessions on it.

"I told him to stop messing around with marijuana, because it really isn't important," Malloy says. "I have not taken the opportunity to endorse marijuana, but that's very different than spending resources trying to combat marijuana use. And, quite frankly, if you're going to be serious about opioids, you can't be screwing around with marijuana."

While many governors are now rushing out new marijuana regulations, they're still keeping one eye on Jeff Sessions. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) says during this visit he was rebuffed when he asked for a private meeting with the attorney general to discuss his state's recreational marijuana marketplace, but he says his offer for Sessions to come out west and tour his state's pot businesses still stands. "It's a shame that he has a closed mind, and he's much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts," Inslee tells Rolling Stone. "The fears that he might have had 30 years ago have not been realized, and we wish he would just open his eyes to the reality of the situation. If he did, I think he would no longer try to fight an old battle that the community and the nation is moving very rapidly forward on."

February 27, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Federal judge dismisses high-profile suit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act

Earlier this month, as noted in this prior post, a federal district judge heard arguments concerning a motion to dismiss the high-profile suit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act.  Though the suit garnered a good bit of public attention, the case of Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, is now likely to go down as yet the latest failed effort to attack the CSA's treatment of marijuana in court because today judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed the lawsuit. Tom Angell has a useful summary of the ruling and a link to its full 20 pages here.  Here is part of that summary:

Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled on Monday that advocates have “failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” to alter cannabis’s legal status, and should pursue changes through the administration and Congress instead of in the courts. “[P]laintiffs’ claim is an administrative one, not one premised on the constitution,” he wrote, and “is best understood as a collateral attack on the various administrative determinations not to reclassify marijuana into a different drug schedule.”...

Hellerstein wrote that “it is clear that Congress had a rational basis for classifying marijuana in Schedule I, and executive officials in different administrations have consistently retained its placement there… Even if marijuana has current medical uses, I cannot say that Congress acted irrationally in placing marijuana in Schedule I.”

However, the judge, who observers say appeared moved by anecdotes about the plaintiffs’ medical uses of cannabis during oral arguments, wrote that he does not reject out of hand the notion that marijuana can be beneficial....

Hellerstein dismissed every other claim in the lawsuit, as well, making it clear he’s done with the case. “Because plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under any constitutional theory, all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims are also dismissed,” he wrote. “For the reasons stated herein, defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint is granted.  Plaintiffs have already amended their complaint once, and I find that further amendments would be futile.”

The plaintiffs in this suit could appeal this dismissal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and doing so would likely keep the case in the headlines. I am not optimistic it would achieve much else, but one never knows with courts these days.

Prior related posts:

February 26, 2018 in Court Rulings, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

American Legion continues to push federal government for more research on how marijuana can help veterans

American%20Legion%20Logo%20-%20American%20Flag%20on%20either%20sideThis new article from The Cannabist, headlined "Veterans group ratchets up pressure on White House and Congress to support medical marijuana research: The American Legion wants the federal government to focus on cannabis as potential treatment for PTSD and other ailments," reports on notable new comments from a notable old advocate for medical marijuana research and reform. Here is how the article begins:

Top officials at of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, on Friday stepped up their calls for the federal government to legitimize and invest in medical marijuana research. In a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Legion National Commander Denise Rohan outlined how the White House and Congress could improve the delivery of benefits to the nation’s 20 million-plus veterans. Medical cannabis was on the list. In fulfilling its mission to make sure veterans are taken care of, “we have to find replacements for the opioid epidemic we have in this nation,” Rohan said.

The organization’s call for additional research into cannabis as a potential treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain and other ailments was reiterated by Louis Celli, National Director Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation at the Legion. “We just need to know that the American government is focused on trying to find cures for not only veterans but for all Americans,” he said. “And if cannabis, which is a drug, is something that can help (then) they have to do the research to do that.”

The Legion has passed several resolutions on cannabis over the past two years. A 2016 measure calls on the Drug Enforcement Agency to license privately-funded medical marijuana operations, ensuring “safe and efficient” research into cannabis. It also asks for the rescheduling of cannabis from its current, decades-long classification as a Schedule 1 drug into a category that, “at a minimum, will recognize cannabis as a drug with a potential medical value.”

The other resolution, passed last year, calls on the Veterans Administration (VA) to allow its medical advisors to openly discuss the use of medical cannabis with veterans for medical purposes – as well as to recommend medicinal cannabis where it is legal.

Last November, a Legion-commissioned national survey showed strong support for medical cannabis research and legalization within the military veteran community.  In December, the VA issued a directive, allowing its doctors and pharmacists to discuss cannabis with veterans taking part in state-approved medical marijuana programs. However, the Weed for Warriors Project, a pro-cannabis legalization veterans group, warned that vets who choose to talk about marijuana use with doctors might be identified by the VA as having a substance abuse disorder, which would in turn curtail their access to other medicines.

The Legion’s Celli also addressed that issue Friday, when asked if he was seeing any pushback to the organization’s stance on cannabis due to the stigmas still surrounding marijuana. “I wouldn’t say we’re getting pushback,” he responded.  “What we’re getting is…stories from veterans who live in states that have legal cannabis programs, and they’re participating in those programs with a feeling of inner guilt.”

Ambivalence about medical cannabis, he said, comes from years of being told that marijuana is bad and immoral.  Veterans in those state-legal cannabis programs, he added, see pot as a valid treatment but still feel like they could be on “the wrong side of the law.”

Prior related posts:

February 23, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Senator Gardner apparently stopping much of his DOJ blockade in response to rescinded Cole Memo

According to this new AP article, "Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator will stop blocking nominees for some Justice Department jobs over concerns about the marijuana industry, saying Thursday that federal officials have shown good faith in recent conversations on the department’s pot policy."  Here is more:

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator last month to freeze nominations for posts at the agency after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections for states like Colorado that have broadly legalized recreational marijuana.  It was a dramatic move by a Republican senator against his own party’s attorney general and came after Gardner said Sessions had promised him there wouldn’t be a crackdown.  Gardner said he was placing holds on nominees until Sessions changed his approach.

The holds have created friction both with Sessions, who has complained that critical posts are going unfilled, and some of Gardner’s fellow GOP senators who want key law enforcement officials in their states confirmed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gardner said Thursday that he’s discussed the issue with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has been pleased with progress so far. Department leaders have “shown in good faith their willingness to provide what I think will be hopefully the protections we sought, and as sort of a good faith gesture on my behalf I’ll be releasing a limited number of nominees,” Gardner said.  He will release his holds on nominees for U.S. attorneys in a dozen federal districts, U.S. marshals in every district and on John Demers, who was nominated to head Justice’s national security division.... 

Gardner will continue to hold the nominations of seven top Department of Justice nominees. He’s also working with a bipartisan group of members of congress to pursue legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana.

A few prior related posts:

February 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Mixed messages from US District Judge hearing legal challenge to federal marijuana prohibition

In this post earlier this week, I noted today's scheduled hearing in federal court concerning a lawsuit challenging marijuana's placement on Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act and asked "Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?". This Bloomberg article, headlined "Trump Administration Battles Sick Kids on Access to Legal Pot," suggests that the judge hearing the case is sympathetic to the plaintiffs' complaints but still seemingly unlikely to run in their favor:

In a New York courtroom packed with cannabis supporters, the Trump administration urged a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that aims to pave the way for legal marijuana across the country.

The case was brought on behalf of two sick children, a former National Football League player who says athletes deserve a better way to treat head trauma than addictive opioids and the Cannabis Cultural Association. The suit, filed in July 2017, seeks a ruling that marijuana was unconstitutionally labeled alongside heroin and LSD as a so-called Schedule I drug -- the harshest of five government ratings -- when Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act in 1970.

In court on Wednesday, Justice Department attorney Samuel Hilliard Dolinger said the plaintiffs didn’t follow legal requirements before suing, beginning with a petition to the Drug Enforcement Agency. "The right thing is to defer to the agency," said U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, an 84-year-old who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton, who famously admitted to experimenting with pot while claiming he "didn’t inhale."...

Hellerstein said he would issue a ruling later, and it was far from clear which way he was leaning. The judge, who had the courtroom erupting in laughter on more than a few occasions during the hearing, was skeptical of the government’s claim that there’s no medical benefit to marijuana. "Your clients are living proof of the medical effectiveness of marijuana," Hellerstein said to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Hiller....

Cannabis was criminalized "not to control the spread of a dangerous drug, but rather to suppress the rights and interests of those whom the Nixon Administration wrongly regarded as hostile to the interests of the U.S. -- African Americans and protesters of the Vietnam War," the suit says.

At the hearing, Hellerstein said that argument wasn’t going to work with him. The decision "will not depend on what may have been in the mind of Richard Nixon at the time," Hellerstein said.

Prior related posts:

February 14, 2018 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times article headlined "Lawsuit Takes Aim at Trump Administration Marijuana Policy." As detailed below, this lawsuit was covered on this blog when first filed, and this press article is prompted by an upcoming hearing.  Here is part of the report (followed by a bit of commentary at the end):

On Wednesday, yet another courtroom battle promises to pull the White House into the legal spotlight as crucial arguments are heard in New York in a sweeping lawsuit that is challenging the administration’s marijuana policy by seeking to legalize pot under federal law.

When the suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan in July, it appeared to be an intriguing, if limited, effort to help its five named plaintiffs — among them, a former professional football player with a business selling pot-based pain relievers and a 12-year-old girl who treats her chronic epilepsy with medical marijuana.  But the case was thrust into national relevance last month when Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law, endangering the viability of the multibillion-dollar weed industry in states where it is legal.

In its 98-page complaint, the suit presents its case for legalization not only through a host of constitutional arguments, but also by way of a world-historical tour of marijuana use — from its first purported role 10,000 years ago in the production of Taiwanese pottery to the smoking habits of President Barack Obama in his younger days. It points out that the ancient Egyptians used the drug to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, and Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit notes.

The suit also includes archival material quoting John Ehrlichman, an adviser to President Richard Nixon, saying that the early efforts to criminalize pot were a way to disrupt the hippies and the black community after the 1960s. The contention is bolstered by an affidavit from Roger J. Stone, Jr., a pro-pot Nixon-era operative and adviser to Mr. Trump....

The current legal action is a somewhat rare attempt to use civil claims to legalize weed and has offered some novel arguments as to why its classification has violated the constitutional rights of those who filed the suit.

The former football player, Marvin Washington, for instance, is contending that the Controlled Substances Act has impeded his ability to transact business in states where pot is legal in contravention of the Constitution’s commerce clause.  The girl with epilepsy, Alexis Bortell, has argued that the law illegally restricts her right to travel with her medicine in states where pot is not allowed or to places controlled by the federal government — including on airplanes. A third plaintiff, the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit group created to assist minorities in the marijuana industry, has alleged the law has been used for years to discriminate against them.

“It’s the first time a young child who needs lifesaving medicine has stood up to the government to be able to use it,” said Joseph A. Bondy, one of the lawyers who brought the suit. “It’s the first time that a group of young millennials of color has stood up to the government and said the marijuana law is wrong and has destroyed their communities.”

The suit has made another claim based on what amounts to government hypocrisy: It asks why the government has classified pot as a pernicious substance, when in 2003 the Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent on compounds in the drug to protect against brain damage and then in 2015 the surgeon general under President Obama declared in public that pot has medical benefits.

Against these claims, lawyers for the government have argued that Congress decided nearly 50 years ago that pot should be a Schedule 1 drug, and if the plaintiffs don’t agree, they should try to change the law.  Their suit, the lawyers wrote in one of their filings, “is the latest in a long list of cases asserting constitutional challenges to marijuana regulation under the C.S.A. Those challenges have been uniformly rejected by the federal courts.”

No matter how the lawsuit ends, the judge who is considering the case, Alvin K. Hellerstein, is clearly taking it seriously.  At a hearing in September, Judge Hellerstein said he would give the matter his “prioritized attention,” setting it ahead of all of his other cases.

The hearing on Wednesday, scheduled to entertain arguments to dismiss the case, is likely to be marked by a whiff of drama as marijuana activists from across the country are expected to descend on the courtroom.  Mr. Bondy said he is also trying to arrange a live-stream of the proceeding so that young Alexis, unable to travel to New York, can watch it from her home in Colorado.

I am pleased to see the New York Times giving significant attention to this litigation, but I find it troublesome how the headline of the article wrongly suggests that the lawsuit goes after the "Trump Administration Marijuana Policy" when in fact the suit is assailing Congress's failure to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  (Notably, the lawsuit discussed here was filed when the Trump Administration policies on marijuana were unchanged from Obama Administration policies.)

Similarly, this article is off base when asserting that AG Jeff Sessions "issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law."  The AG did issue an order rescinding the Cole Memo last month, but that merely took away novel limits on federal prosecutors and did not come with any orders for "aggressive" enforcement of federal prohibition.  (If AG Sessions had ordered federal prosecutors to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law, there would be hundred of indictments being filed in dozens of state with operational recreational and medical marijuana marketplaces.)

The full complaint as originally filed in Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, be found here.

Prior related posts:

February 13, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Latest spending stopgap extends limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions though March 23, 2018

As reported here under the headline "Federal medical cannabis protection extended again," the stop-gap federal funding approach to stopping possible federal prosecution of state-compliant medical marijuana providers:

The only federal law formally preventing the U.S. Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses has once more been given a new lease on life.  This time, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment – formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr – has been extended until March 23 under the budget deal passed by Congress and signed Friday morning by President Donald Trump....

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer prohibits the DOJ from using federal funds to interfere with state-legal MMJ laws and companies.  The measure does not protect recreational marijuana businesses....

It’s possible the amendment will be included in a larger spending package that is expected to be approved by March 23.  But there’s no guarantee at this point, given a change in procedural rules in the House of Representatives last year that has prevented amendments like Rohrabacher-Blumenauer from being added to the budget.

February 10, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Justice Department seemingly impacted more by rescission of Cole Memo than marijuana industry

Gardner-sessionsThis new Denver Post piece, headlined "Cory Gardner’s siege of the Justice Department over marijuana enters second month," provides an interested accounting of the current impact and import of the decision last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidance.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been a month since the pot blockade began, and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is standing firm in his vow to jam all appointments to the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions softens his stance on marijuana.

So far, his siege to protect both Colorado’s cannabis industry and the state’s sovereignty has prevented as many as 11 nominees from getting a Senate floor vote — the last major step before they can start work — and there is little indication that Gardner, R-Colo., and Sessions are any closer to finding common ground. “It may never resolve itself,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the committee in charge of getting these nominees to the floor.

If that happens, the consequences would extend far beyond the 11 nominees that Gardner has put on ice. More than 20 other candidates are in the congressional pipeline for Justice-related jobs, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys assigned to states across the country. One even hails from Colorado: David Weaver, a former Douglas County sheriff in line to become the state’s next U.S. marshal....

“Senator Gardner does a real disservice to the nation as a whole and we urgently ask him to reconsider his rash and ill-advised obstructionism,” said Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “Policy differences should be worked out by a dialogue and not turn into hostage situations.”

At the root of the fight is a decision last month by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that generally left alone states such as Colorado that have legalized marijuana, which remains illegal on a federal level. While the change hasn’t led to federal raids on pot dispensaries — and business largely has continued as usual — the move still sent shock waves through the fledgling cannabis industry.

Gardner wasn’t able to convince Sessions to reconsider when the two Republicans met last month, though aides to the Colorado lawmaker said the two sides haven’t given up on negotiations. “Our staff and DOJ staff continue to talk and meet to discuss a path forward which recognizes Colorado’s state’s rights and ensures law enforcement has the authority and tools needed to protect our communities,” said Casey Contres, a Gardner spokesman, in a statement. “These discussions continue to be necessary and we appreciate their willingness to have them.”...

[Debate over congressional spending bills mean] it could be another month or more before there’s a chance to resolve the issue — and another month in which Gardner is expected to keep up the pot blockade. “He opposed the legalization of marijuana in 2012 but is not going to sit back and let Colorado’s rights be trampled on by the federal government,” Contres said.

Under Senate rules and tradition, lawmakers are allowed to put a hold on nominees put forward by the White House — a tactic that’s often used to extract concessions from the executive branch. These holds can be overridden, but doing so requires party leaders to chew up valuable time on the Senate floor.

For the time being, Gardner’s hardball approach hasn’t caused much public strife among his Senate Republican colleagues. “I can understand why he did it,” said Grassley, who nonetheless disagreed with Gardner’s argument for states’ rights. “I’m an advocate for federal law under the Supremacy Clause of the constitution that federal law overrides state law.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also is awaiting a floor vote for a U.S. marshal candidate in his state. Aides to McConnell did not respond with comment, though Grassley said it’s up to him to broker a solution and end the siege. Said Grassley of the nomination process: If McConnell “isn’t willing to intervene then you know it all stops.”

February 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 2, 2018

US Attorney for Oregon, apparently serving now as chief state regulator, conducts marijuana summit

As reported in this post three weeks ago, Billy J. Williams, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, penned a commentary to express a "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon." That commentary also spoke of his plans to convene a summit to discuss his concerns.

This new local article, headlined "US Attorney for Oregon says state has 'formidable' problem with black market marijuana," reports on the summit which took place today. Here are some details:

The top federal prosecutor in Oregon on Friday pressed for data and details about the scope of the state's role as a source of black market marijuana. U.S. Attorney Billy Williams told a large gathering that included Gov. Kate Brown, law enforcement officials and representatives of the cannabis industry that Oregon has an "identifiable and formidable overproduction and diversion problem."

"That is the fact," he told the crowd at the U.S. District courthouse. "And my responsibility is to work with our state partners to do something about it."

Added Williams: "Make no mistake. We are going to do something about it but that requires an effort to do this together. It requires transparency. The facts are what they are. The numbers are what they are."

Williams didn't detail how his office will carry out a new federal directive stripping legal protections for marijuana businesses. He said his office needs more information so it can accurately assess the scope of the problem and come up with a response. Williams didn't say what data he's looking for, but he previously he has said he wants more information from the state about black market trafficking. In a recent opinion piece published in The Oregonian/OregonLive, Williams said he is awaiting a final version of a Oregon State Police report on the issue.

He convened a daylong "marijuana summit" where public health and law enforcement officials gave presentations, along with land owners and industry representatives. He said Oregonians are worried about the implications of legal marijuana on their property rights, their water rights and the environment. Public health, particularly teen access and use, is a priority, he said.

"I am not an alarmist," he said. "Please don't have that perception of me. I just believe in looking at things head on. Take the blinders off, here are the realities."

The press was shut out of those presentations and was allowed only to report on statements offered by Williams and Brown....

Brown also spoke briefly Friday, telling those gathered that Williams has assured her staff that "lawful Oregon businesses" are "not targets of law enforcement." She didn't offer details on how the state will address Oregon's role as an illicit source of cannabis, saying only that she is committed to keeping cannabis in the state.

Prior related post:

US Attorney for Oregon, expressing "significant concerns about the state's current regulatory framework," plans summit in response to new AG enforcement policy

February 2, 2018 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)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Two notably rosy new account of the state of marijuana reform circa 2018

180130115042-medical-marijuana-map-780x439Today I have seen two notable new articles making much of where marijuana reform stands as of January 2018.  CNN Money has this new article headlined "The U.S. legal marijuana industry is booming."  It starts this way:

It's 2018 and marijuana remains illegal in the United States.  But continued federal prohibition hasn't stopped the marijuana industry from growing like a very profitable weed.

Despite what could be considered an unfriendly administration in Washington D.C., nine states and the District of Columbia now allow for recreational marijuana use and 30 allow for medical use.  And more states are lining up to join the legalization wave.  Pot has become big business in the U.S.

The emerging industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry.  Sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry, or to annual revenue from Pampers diapers.

That was before California opened its massive retail market in January.  The addition of the Golden State is huge for the industry and Adams estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.

The industry has also been creating jobs and opportunities.  There are 9,397 active licenses for marijuana businesses in the U.S., according to Ed Keating, chief data officer for Cannabiz Media, which tracks marijuana licenses.  This includes cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, dispensaries, distributors, deliverers and test labs.

More than 100,000 people are working around the cannabis plant and that number's going to grow, according to BDS Analytics.  The industry employed 121,000 people in 2017.  If marijuana continues its growth trajectory, the number of workers in that field could reach 292,000 by 2021, according to BDS Analytics.

And German Lopez at Vox has this new piece headlined "January was the biggest month yet for marijuana legalization, despite Trump’s new war on pot."  Here is how it starts:

January 2018 was the most important month yet for marijuana legalization.

Things looked rocky a few days into the month, when President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama-era memo that protected states that had legalized marijuana from federal interference.  Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, the federal government can still crack down on pot even in states where it’s legal under state law for recreational purposes.

But the announcement came and went with little sign that the Justice Department will actually do much in its new war on marijuana.  The agency was unclear when reporters asked if the move will actually lead to more anti-marijuana prosecutions.  And in the aftermath, federal prosecutors across the country released statements that were either vague or indicated that they won’t lead to a new wave of anti-marijuana crackdowns in places where pot is legal under state law.

Meanwhile, California at the beginning of the month opened the world’s biggest legal market for recreational marijuana — following voters’ decision in 2016 to legalize pot for recreational purposes and allow sales of the drug.

Then, after Sessions announced his new marijuana policy, Vermont legislators, with the support of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, legalized marijuana for recreational use. The law won’t allow sales — only possession and growing.  But it’s a big move because Vermont is now the first state to have legalized marijuana through its legislature.

All of this adds up to a huge month for marijuana legalization.  If even a federal threat over marijuana legalization didn’t stop Vermont’s legalization momentum or slow down California’s massive new legal pot market, what, if anything, will stop more states from going down the same path?

January 31, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)