Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Senator Orrin Hatch questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions about medical marijuana research

As this report from The Cannabist details,  there were a few minutes of discussion of medical marijuana during an oversight hearing in the US Senate today with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Here are the basic details:

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there should be “more competition” among growers who supply marijuana for federally approved research, though he said he thought the current applicant pool of 26 was too many.

His statement came in response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah.  Hatch referred to legislation he recently co-sponsored with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, known as the MEDS Act. “I believe that scientists need to study the potential benefits and risks of marijuana,” said Hatch, though clarifying that “I remain opposed to the broad legalization of marijuana.”

Hatch said he was “very concerned” with reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department “are at odds” over granting additional applications for cultivating marijuana for research purposes.  In August, DEA officials said they had been waiting for the Justice Department’s sign-off to move forward on 25 applications, and expressed frustration that the Justice Department had not been willing to provide that sign-off.

October 18, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

With Rep. Marino out, it is time again to ask "Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?"

Images (2)The big news this morning in the federal drug law and policy space is reported in the first paragraph of this new NPR piece: "Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., has withdrawn his name from consideration as America's drug czar, President Trump said Tuesday. Marino is stepping back days after reports that a bill he sponsored hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration in its fight against the U.S. opioid crisis."  Here is more of the interesting backstory:

A joint report by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes found that Marino's bill "helped pump more painkillers into parts of the country that were already in the middle of the opioid crisis," as NPR's Kelly McEvers said earlier this week. The bill had been opposed by the DEA and embraced by companies in the drug industry.

Marino was a main backer of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act; among other things, the measure changed the standard for identifying dangers to local communities, from "imminent" threats to "immediate" threats. That change cramped the DEA's authority to go after drug companies that didn't report suspicious — and often very large — orders for narcotics.

After the Post and 60 Minutes reports on the bill emerged, several members of Congress called for the White House to pull Marino's nomination as drug czar. Sen. Joe Machin, D-W.V., said he was "horrified" by the story, adding that he "cannot believe the last administration did not sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic."

In a letter to the president, Manchin wrote about the ability of wholesale drug distributors to send millions of pills into small communities: "As the report notes, one such company shipped 20 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to pharmacies in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. This included 11 million doses in one small county with only 25,000 people in the southern part of the state: Mingo County. As the number of pills in my state increased, so did the death toll in our communities, including Mingo County."

After Marino's name was withdrawn, Manchin tweeted to Trump, "thanks for recognizing we need a drug czar who has seen the devastating effects of the problem." Manchin is a co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the changes made by the 2016 law, along with Sen. Clarie McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H.

In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — who also saw it through the markup process. In Congress and on Twitter, Hatch has defended his role this week, calling the Post story "flawed" and "one-sided." Hatch also said the bill was supported by patient groups who "were concerned about DEA's unfettered enforcement authority."

"I spent months negotiating with DEA and with DOJ until they were at a point where they were comfortable allowing the bill to proceed," Hatch said on Capitol Hill Monday. "If they had asked me to hold the bill or to continue negotiations, I would have done so." Hatch noted via Twitter, "President Obama signed this bill into law. DEA and DOJ, who work for the President, could have urged him to veto it. They did not."...

The president had nominated Marino to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In his tweet announcing Marino's decision to withdraw Tuesday morning, Trump added, "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"

The opioid story was revealed by whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi, a former high-ranking DEA official, who told 60 Minutes, "This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors' offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs." Of Marino's nomination, Rannazzisi said he was in "total disbelief" after the White House announced Trump's pick. He added, "The bill was bad. Him being the drug czar is a lot worse."

With the head of the DEA now uncertain, this Newsweek story from last month, headlined "Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?", becomes timely once again. Here is a segment from that piece:

Many hope the change could serve as a blank slate for the agency and a chance to pick the right battles in the war on drugs, like focusing on the deadly opioid epidemic, which has skyrocketed in recent years and left more than 52,000 dead in 2015.

Despite the troubling statistics, law enforcement has continued to target pot consumers, even though more and more states are moving toward legalization. Nearly 30 states allow the drug for medical use, and eight have legalized it recreationally. The FBI released data this week that showed an increase in the number of people arrested last year on a marijuana possession charge. Nearly 600,000 were charged, and experts say this cost taxpayers billions of dollars as offenders made their way through the criminal justice system.

"I hope that whoever is next will deal with the reality that a lot of states have legalized [marijuana] and it's not a good use of resources for police to be arresting these people and ruining lives," said Bill Piper, a senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These are proven failed ways to approach this issue."

Under Rosenberg, more than two dozen applications to simply research the plant have been blocked, a policy that is unlikely to change, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes marijuana legalization, even for medicinal purposes, and has called the plant "only slightly less awful" than heroin.... All in all, if Rosenberg's replacement does try to enact new policies or steer the department toward change, it could be difficult. "I'm not optimistic at all," Tree said. "Not during this administration."

October 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Examining taxation issues and economic development surrounding the marijuana industry

I am excited to realize and report that, after spending the first half the current semester preparing various presentations for the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar, this week begins the part of the class in which students are to begin making presentations to each other. The first of the student presentation planned for this this coming week is exploring "tax liability."  Here are the links the presenting student has assembled in preparation for his presentation this coming week:

Relevant Internal Revenue Code Provisions:

26 U.S. Code § 280E - Expenditures in connection with the illegal sale of drugs

26 U.S. Code § 162 - Trade or business expenses

26 U.S. Code § 62 - Adjusted gross income defined

Three Short Articles on the Economic Impact of Marijuana

"What If Marijuana Were Legal? Possible Outcomes"

"Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations"

"The Economic Impact of Marijuana Tax and Regulation in Colorado"

October 16, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Examining the distinctive marijuana market in the distinctive District of Coulmbia

The_Naked_Truth__District_of_Cannabis__TThe District of Columbia — which, if anyone cares, is where I was born a long, long time ago — has long been a distinct part of the United States as a matter of law and practice.  For that reason and others, it should come as no surprise that marijuana reform takes on distinctive dynamic in our nation's capital.   This new AP piece, headlined "Giving the gift of green in the ‘District of Cannabis’," provides a profile of this interesting story, and here are excerpts:

A 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use passed overwhelmingly. But unlike the eight states that have legalized recreational use, the Washington initiative also maintained it was still illegal to buy or sell the drug.

So instead of the straightforward marijuana storefronts common in Colorado or Nevada, Washington has developed a thriving “gift economy” marijuana industry. These businesses — many offering delivery — sell everything from coffee cups to artwork — all overpriced and all coming with a little something extra.

It’s a curious legal and semantic tightrope, and one the District’s politicians and police seem determined to keep walking. “It’s definitely unique,” said Morgan Fox of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “The DC city council and the city government don’t want to be busting people for weed. They want this to work and work smoothly.”

Washington’s local government didn’t choose to make the District a real-time sociology lab for alternative legalization. The roots of this strange legal middle ground lie in the District’s tortured relationship with the federal government. “We would have regular stores if we had the normal rights of a U.S. state,” said Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of DCMJ, a pro-legalization group that helped draft the initiative’s text.

All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them by attaching riders to federal appropriations bills. After the initiative passed, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from neighboring Maryland, introduced a rider prohibiting the District government from spending any funds or resources on developing a regulatory or taxation system for marijuana sales.

Harris, an anesthesiologist and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, remains a staunch opponent of recreational marijuana use and has no regrets about complicating the District’s legalization model. “I think the District of Columbia made a bad decision,” Harris said in an interview. “I would hope the District comes to its senses and realizes the dangers.”

According to marijuana merchants, the change has resulted in spiraling supply and demand. The relative ease of availability without risking arrest or having to maintain a relationship with a dealer has brought a wave of consumers of all ages and demographics. And that wave of demand has brought a wave of new suppliers. In addition to the dozens of different businesses working through the gift loophole, there are now hundreds of marijuana-themed public events taking place across the city — most openly advertised on social media. “Seven days a week, you can find an event going on,” said Gregory Moorer, whose Laid Back Lords company offers marijuana gifts to accompany $50 baseball caps and $80 sweatshirts.

One such event, known as Cannemania, happens weekly at a closed Ethiopian restaurant. Inside isn’t so much a stoner party as a fairly businesslike trade show. On a recent night, about 150 people crowded in to peruse about 25 different vendors’ tables offering large jars of buds and a huge variety of edibles, from brownies to marijuana-infused gummi bears. There were also marijuana vape pens and “concentrates” — a substance that looks like candle wax and requires a waterpipe and a blowtorch to consume.

Vendors hawked their wares like THC sommeliers and offered free hits of concentrates. But there was, according to the rules, no smoking of marijuana buds. For the most part everyone kept to the necessary gift loophole script: your money technically bought you a raffle ticket, some expensive rolling paper or, in one case, the baseball card of former Cleveland Indians shortstop Julio Franco.

Despite the ubiquity of the drug, it would be inaccurate to describe the District as some sort of marijuana free-for-all. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government has worked hard to establish clear lines on what is and is not permitted. It remains illegal to smoke in public. Arrests for public consumption have actually spiked since the legalization initiative came into effect. Bowser also personally lobbied the city council to defeat a proposal to permit pot smoking in bars or restaurants — fearing it would lead to private cannabis clubs.

The police have also pounced on entrepreneurs who push things too far. In late 2015 they arrested Nicholas “Kush God” Cunningham, who had deployed a fleet of cars covered in marijuana-leaf decals that would hand out pot edibles in exchange for “donations.”...

Police maintain that the gift loophole isn’t fooling anyone. “In our estimation, that’s still illegal,” said Lt. Andrew Struhar of the Narcotics and Special Operations division of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. But Struhar also admitted that police aren’t “actively out hunting” for marijuana violators as long as everything stays low-key and the neighbors don’t complain.

“We serve the citizens and if they say there’s a problem on this or that block, we’re going to do something about it,” he said. “If you’re going to flaunt it and you’re going to stick it in our face and force us to take action against it, then we’re going to take action.”

For now the model seems to be staggering along, but it’s debatable how long this can continue. Legalization activists say that a quasi-legal grey area was never their goal. Members of the District’s government are even less enthusiastic; they complain about the intrusiveness of the congressional oversight and point to a study which estimated $130 million in potential annual revenue from taxing marijuana sales. “I don’t think it’s sustainable,” said City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “We have legal marijuana but we can’t regulate it. It’s stupid, it’s just stupid.”

September 28, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"[T]o oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations"

220px-Bruce_Fein_by_Gage_SkidmoreThe title of this post is my very favorite phrase in this Washington Times commentary authored by Bruce Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. The commentary carries this full headline: "On the Medical Marijuana Amendment, Trump and Sessions are wrong; Dana Rohrabacher, Senate get it right. " And here is some context leading up to Fein's amusing assertion (emphasized below) that opposing a congressional limit on DOJ funding for prosecuting state-compliant medical marijuana businesses is tantamount to supporting ISIS:

Never underestimate the dishonesty of politicians. Exemplary is the opposition of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to extending the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state law. At present, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. (The federal Controlled Substances Act would otherwise expose the distributors or users to federal prosecution.)

The amendment made its way into federal law in a 2014 federal appropriations bill. Three years later, not a crumb of evidence has surfaced suggesting that the amendment had spiked marijuana use or promoted or compounded any tangible evil. During his 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump earnestly promised to “make medical marijuana widely available to patients, and allow states to decide if they want to fully legalize pot or not.”

As U.S. senator, current Attorney General Sessions’ sound track was high octave opposition to the federal government’s penchant for intruding on state prerogatives over voting rights, detentions of or undocumented immigrants, or otherwise. As Attorney General, Mr. Sessions has backed away from the Obama administration’s aggressive oversight of local police forces that have chronically violated constitutional rights.

After making proper deductions for ordinary political dishonesty, voters in 2016 were reasonably confident that Messrs. Trump and Sessions would enthusiastically support an extension of the Rohrabacher Medical Marijuana Amendment.  The idea that the federal government should stick its nose into the medical marijuana business is preposterous. It has no national security dimension. It is vastly less risky than alcohol or tobacco.  And there is nothing in the dynamics of state politics that make state jurisdictions ill-suited to deciding whether their citizens should have access to medical marijuana.  Equally if not more important, every federal dollar expended investigating or prosecuting medical marijuana businesses is a dollar unavailable to detect and prosecute international or home-grown terrorists. In other words, to oppose the Medical Marijuana Amendment is to provide material assistance to ISIS and other international terrorist organizations.

These facts, however, have not deterred Messrs. Trump and Sessions from abandoning their campaign promises or professed constitutional principles....

On Sept. 6, 2017, the House Rules Committee — a puppet of House Speaker Paul Ryan — blocked a floor vote on the Medical Marijuana Amendment. But the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed it, which makes the amendment a candidate for inclusion in a final spending bill.

Every member of Congress should recognize that a vote against the Amendment is a vote in favor of ISIS, al Qaeda, and sister international terrorist organizations.  They rejoice at witnessing our law enforcement resources squandered on chasing after medical marijuana businesses rather than devoted to capturing, prosecuting or killing them.

September 26, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Why Medical Marijuana Research Is Gaining Support From the GOP"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Rolling Stone article. Here is a snippet:

Senator Orrin Hatch ... is among a frustrated set of the nation's policy makers who are up in arms over a Washington Post report that Sessions' Justice Department is blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from approving about two dozen proposals for experts to research the effects of marijuana.  Not to legalize weed.  Not to sell it.  Not even to smoke it. Merely to study it – just as is allowed with deadly and highly addictive opioids, booze and even cigarettes – to find out if 38 states and the District of Columbia have made grave mistakes by allowing marijuana to be used either medicinally or recreationally, or whether those states are actually on to something.

At 83, Hatch agrees with his former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions on much of his prohibitionist stance on weed – but he says the attorney general and his DOJ are basically out of touch when it comes to medicinal marijuana, which can be ingested as an oil or a baked good or even developed into high-grade pharmaceuticals. "I think it's a mistake.  We ought to do the research," Hatch continues.  "They're worried about a widespread abuse of the drug, which is something to worry about because it is a gateway drug that's a very big problem. But there's a difference between smoking marijuana – using it illegally – and using it to alleviate pain and suffering."

Pot remains listed by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, which is a classification that by definition means the government sees no medicinal benefit to it, along with the likes of LSD, ecstasy and peyote.  But now 30 states have embraced marijuana for a varying degree of medicinal purposes, but there isn't good, peer reviewed research on it because many researchers don't want to risk a DEA raid or being cut off from future federal grants.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee are working to enact what eventually could become a national standard for marijuana quality, and they want to start by allowing testing of pot already seized by the DEA.  That's why a handful of lawmakers are trying to pressure Sessions into relaxing his own personal war on marijuana that seems to be tying the hands of officials at the DEA.  "There's really only one reason to sit on a request: Because you suspect that perhaps the science will show that medical marijuana does have some therapeutic benefit and therefore disprove the need for the failed war on marijuana," Colorado Democrat Jared Polis tells Rolling Stone.

September 22, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fear of feds and prohibition prompt University of Maryland to cancel plans for medical marijuana instruction

In this post from July, I reported on plans by the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy to begin offering training to prepare prospective workers for the medical marijuana industry.  But this new Baltimore Sun article report that now, "citing legal concerns, the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy has canceled plans to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry." Here is more:

After consulting with the Maryland attorney general’s office, the university asked pharmacy school officials to cancel the classes, a university spokesman said.... “If there’s any question of the law, they are often consulted,” said Alex Likowski, a spokesman for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “Regarding medical cannabis, even though Maryland and many other states have approved it, it’s still illegal under U.S. law.”

Katherine Bainbridge, chief counsel of the education affairs division in the attorney general's office, confirmed that she gave advice to the university about the medical marijuana law specific to the courses the pharmacy school planned to offer, but she declined to disclose what the advice was. While the school said it has suspended the program indefinitely, prospective students seeking to enroll through a university-associated website still see a note that enrollments were “suspended temporarily while the business agreements are being finalized by the university.”

The classes, initially scheduled to start in August, offered basic and advanced certifications in areas including cultivation, manufacturing, dispensing, laboratory standards and assessment. It’s unclear whether the courses might be offered in the future. Pharmacy school officials did not respond to requests for comment....

Doctors in Maryland are not required to gain any special certification to recommend medical marijuana, but state law requires workers employed by growers, processors, dispensaries and laboratories to have training in their areas. Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Commission, said workers must obtain training. “The commission expects the most highly trained and knowledgeable people will participate in the program,” he said. It’s unknown where those who want to work in the industry might turn for needed instruction. The state commission does not endorse any particular certification program.

Maryland’s pharmacy school would have joined only a small number of established colleges and universities to lend credibility for training of workers. The pharmacy school had adopted a curriculum developed by the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which has been offering training directly since 2002. University officials said suspension of the courses was a not a reflection on that content. The group did not respond to request for comment.

There are other online options for training available — directly through Americans for Safe Access and through the likes of such little-known organizations as Cannabis Training Institute, THC University and Green Cultured. Some state medical societies also offer training, but MedChi does not in Maryland.

Perhaps the only mainstream medical school offering training is the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, which began offering courses in the spring of 2016. There is a course available to medical and other university students that focuses on clinical trial data, in addition to certification and continuing education courses available to the community. Karen M. Lounsbury, a professor of pharmacology and co-director of Vermont’s medical cannabis course, said officials there had no legal concerns, though they were careful to comply with university policies.

“The biggest concern was that when presenting the clinical trial data for medical cannabis, we could be construed as supporting the use of medical cannabis that is legal in many states, including Vermont, but still illegal at the federal level,” she said. “We confirmed with the university lawyers that as long as we stated a clear disclaimer for each instructor, we would not be violating any university policy.” The disclaimer says: “The content of this lecture material represents the opinions of the instructor based on their research and experience and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Vermont.” She said the program has an “evidence-based” approach and the classes are popular.

Medical marijuana advocates lamented that more well-respected universities were not offering medical courses for doctors or certifications courses for industry workers. Paul Armentano, deputy director of the advocacy group NORML, said such institutions were needed to establish training standards and to directly educate workers and doctors, very few of whom have had any instruction on the subject.

Prior related (and now dated) post:

September 18, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Deputy AG Rosenstein hints about lingering concerns about sticking with Cole memo federal prosecution policies

As reported in this Forbes piece by Tom Angell, the "Trump administration is continuing to weigh whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference, the Justice Department's number two official said on Thursday." Here is more:

"We are reviewing that policy.  We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation.  "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.

Under the so-called "Cole Memo," named after the former Obama Justice Department official who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention.  Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.

In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo and make recommendations for possible changes.  But that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force's report to the attorney general.

In his new remarks, Rosenstein expressed concern that people are misinterpreting the still-in-effect memo.  "That's been perceived in some places almost as if it creates a safe harbor, but it doesn't. And it's clear that it doesn't," he said.  "That is, even if, under the terms of the memo you're not likely to be prosecuted, it doesn't mean that what you're doing is legal or that it's approved by the federal government or that you protected from prosecution in the future."...

Citing ongoing federal prohibition laws, Rosenstein said,  "Marijuana is illegal, and it's a controlled substance and there are no authorized uses for it, with very limited exceptions for research approved by DEA."  Without saying when a decision or announcement might be made, he said that the administration will "take that all into consideration and then make a determination whether or not to revise that policy."

September 15, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch rolls a bunch of pot puns into his case to expand medical marijuana research"

Reaxspeech311488640x360This Daily News report on a notable marijuana reform proposal put forward on Capital Hill by a notable GOP Senator captured in its headline and substance the highlight of the story:

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch didn’t spare the puns in announcing Wednesday that it was “high time” for the government to delve “into the weeds” of medical marijuana research. Hatch, in a press release filled with pot-related double entendres [available here], announced that he’d introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act that’s intended to encourage more research into the medical benefits of marijuana.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch, a Republican said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”

Hatch said current government regulations often do more harm than good by making hard for researchers to obtain and conduct studies on pot. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Among other steps, Hatch’s bill would streamline the federal registration process for marijuana research and make pot more available for legitimate scientific and medical studies. It would also require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.

“I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana,” Hatch said in a preview of remarks he was planning to give on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.”

Advocates for medical marijuana said Hatch’s bill was a good step but they remained concerned that the federal government will seek to undermine medical pot programs already underway in many states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a fierce opponent of marijuana use, advocates have noted. “This is a modest step in the right direction but doesn't solve the most important issue - protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.

September 13, 2017 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Highlighting the challenges legal marijuana companies can have trying to give away money as charity

Download (6)This new Forbes article, headlined "Charities Just Say No To Cannabis Contributions," reports on the notable difficulties some in the marijuana industry can have trying to give away its money. Here are excerpts:

Charity organizations are reluctant to take donations from cannabis companies, even if the state has legalized the industry. Organa Brands learned this the hard way. The company was flush with success and wanted to give back to the community, but charities just said no.

“It felt like a slap in the face,” said Organa Brands President Chris Driessen. “Because the message was essentially you’re a drug dealer.” Organa Brands is the parent company of O.penVAPE, one of the largest cannabis vape companies in the country.  Organa is also home to cannabis brands Bakked, District Edibles, Magic Buzz and Organa Labs.  Driessen said that if a charity was willing to take the money, it wanted it to be anonymous.  “The optics were more important than helping the people,” he said.  Some of the charities that turned down Organa included Wounded Warriors, American Cancer Society, Children’s Hospital Foundation....

One group that was willing to work with Organa was the Denver Rescue Mission that works with the homeless. Not only did they happily and publicly take Organa’s charity, but the group also volunteered man hours. “We had 29 people at 5 am the day before Thanksgiving. Certainly not the image of stoners that people expected.” Another charity that has been working with Organa is Grow for Vets. Driessen said that Organa was hosting a golf tournament on September 11 to raise money for the charity that helps veterans that need cannabis to treat pain and PTSD.  Again, golf tournaments break the stereotype of what one may think of a cannabis company.

“We turn down probably 25 companies that want to work with us,” said Roger Martin, Executive Director of Grow For Vets.  As far of the other charities that turned down Organa’s help, “They have a snooty, up in the air attitude,” said Martin.  Grow For Vets is an organization that helps a veteran get medical marijuana for free. Martin noted that veterans get opioids for free through their medical benefits to treat pain and PTSD, but while these prescription drugs were free the cost was high in the terms of overdoses and suicides.  “They had to pay for marijuana, but not opioids,” he said.  

Martin said the money raised at the golf tournament will be used to help expand his program into all 50 states. While some states haven’t legalized marijuana, Martin said he can get these vets hemp-based CBD, which is more easily obtained. “Cannabis is the only thing that has helped me with PTSD,” he said. “Cannabis money isn’t dirty money.”

Organa also established its own foundation called Open Heart as another way to facilitate charitable donations. However, the actual management of running a foundation proved overwhelming, so the group partnered with Growing Hope foundation run by one of their banking partners.

September 12, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions extended to December 2017 in stop-gap spending bill

As reported in this prior post, last week early developments in the US House of Representatives made uncertain the prospects for continuation of the spending rider that currently blocks the US Justice Department from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors.  But, as this Cannabist article reports, another stop-gap spending bill keeps the DOJ spending limit in place for at least another three months.  The article is headlined "Rohrabacher-Blumenauer medical marijuana protections extended by debt limit deal," and here are the details:

Existing federal protections for medical marijuana states are expected to continue through at least Dec. 8.  The $15.3 billion disaster aid package, debt limit increase and government spending extension approved by Congress on Friday includes the existing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, which prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the 46 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

The aid bill, which was sent to President Donald Trump, extends the omnibus legislation passed in May and will fund the government through Dec. 8.  The short-term spending fix is also a short-term victory for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer sponsors, which were dealt a blow by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The legislative committee nixed the amendment from House consideration for the fiscal year 2018 funding bill.

“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist on Friday.  That fight includes efforts to land the provision in the final spending bill, officials said, noting the language was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill.

September 10, 2017 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

GOP leaders apparently blocking vote on amendment to limit DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions

As reported here by The Hill, "lawmakers said Wednesday that GOP leaders won’t allow the full House to vote on an amendment that bars the Justice Department from pursuing states that have legalized medical marijuana."  Here is more:

At a Wednesday morning closed-door briefing of House Republicans, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) implored his GOP colleagues to press House leaders to allow a vote on his amendment.  Fellow Californian Rep. Duncan Hunter told The Hill that after Rohrabacher “talked about it this morning in conference,” GOP leaders said “it splits the conference too much so we’re not going to have a vote on it.”

Rohrabacher had pled with his colleagues in a Tuesday night floor speech to allow the vote. “The status quo for four years has been the federal government will not interfere because the Department of Justice is not permitted to use its esources to supercede a state that has legalized the medical use of marijuana,” Rohrabacher said.  He said that without his amendment, “we’re changing the status quo in a way that undermines the rights of the states and the people … to make their policy.”

Rohrabacher’s amendment, co-sponsored with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), was included in the previous four Commerce-Justice-Science funding measures, when President Obama was in the White House. It was also included in an omnibus funding bill signed by President Trump earlier this year that expires at the end of the month.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) offices did not respond to requests for comment.

September 6, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Representative Rohrabacher explains why "fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana"

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This new Washington Post commentary authored by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents California's 48th District in the US House of Representatives, seeks to make the case for the federal government to stay out of state medical marijuana reform efforts. The piece is headlined "My fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana from the government." Here are excerpts:

With my Democrat friend Sam Farr, the now-retired California congressman, I wrote an amendment to spending bills that prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where voters have legalized such treatment. The amendment passed two consecutive years, the second time with a wider margin than the first, and has been extended through continuing resolutions and an omnibus spending bill.

Surprisingly, given the Obama administration’s generally liberal approach to marijuana, its Justice Department tried to interpret the amendment in such a convoluted way as to allow counterproductive raids on marijuana dispensaries. The courts — most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — repeatedly ruled that our amendment meant exactly what it said.

Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.

I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.

More than half the states have liberalized medical marijuana laws, some even decriminalizing recreational use. Some eighty percent of Americans favor legalization of medical marijuana. Only a benighted or mean-spirited mind-set would want to block such progress.

Despite federal efforts to restrict supply, studies continue to yield promising results.  And mounting anecdotal evidence shows again and again that medical marijuana can dramatically improve the lives of people with epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis and many other ailments.  Most Americans know this.  The political class, not surprisingly, lags behind them.  Part of the reason is the failure of too many conservatives to apply “public choice economics” to the war on marijuana.  Common sense, as well as public choice theory, holds that the government’s interest is to grow, just as private-sector players seek profit and build market share.

The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight, even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they’ve contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?

I invite my colleagues to visit a medical marijuana research facility and see for themselves why their cultural distaste might be misplaced.  One exists near my district office at the University of California at Irvine, another at the University of California at San Diego.

Better yet, they might travel to Israel — that political guiding light for religious conservatives — and learn how our closest ally in the Middle East has positioned itself on the cutting edge of cannabis research.  The Israeli government recently decriminalized first use, so unworried it is about what marijuana might do to its conscript military.

My colleagues should then return to Washington and keep my amendment intact, declaring themselves firmly on the side of medical progress.  Failing that, the government will keep trying to eradicate the burgeoning marijuana business, thereby fueling and enriching drug cartels. Trust me: Hugs from grateful supporters are infinitely better.

September 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 1, 2017

"Make Pot Legal for Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injury"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable op-ed in today's New York Times authored by Thomas James Brennan, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps. Here is much of what he has to say: 

The explosion that wounded me during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in 2010 left me with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. In 2012 I was medically retired from the Marine Corps because of debilitating migraines, vertigo and crippling depression. After a nine-year career, I sought care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At first, I didn’t object to the pills that arrived by mail: antidepressants, sedatives, amphetamines and mood stabilizers. Stuff to wake me up. Stuff to put me down. Stuff to keep me calm. Stuff to rile me up. Stuff to numb me from the effects of my wars as an infantryman in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stuff to numb me from the world all around.  The T.B.I. brings on almost daily migraines, and when they come, it’s as if the blast wave from the explosion in Afghanistan is still reverberating through my brain, shooting fresh bolts of pain through my skull, once again leaving me incapacitated. Initially the prescriptions helped — as they do for many veterans. But when I continued to feel bad, the answers from my doctors were always the same: more pills. And higher dosages. And more pills to counteract the side effects of those higher dosages. Yet none of them quite worked.

One thing did. In 2013, a friend rolled a joint and handed it to me, urging me to smoke it later. It will relieve your symptoms, he promised. That night I anxiously paced around my empty house. I hesitated to light it up because I’d always bought into the theory of weed as a “gateway drug.” But after a few tokes, I stretched out and fell asleep. I slept 10 hours instead of my usual five or six. I woke up feeling energized and well rested. I didn’t have nightmares or remember tossing or turning throughout the night, as I usually did. I was, as the comedian Katt Williams puts it, “hungry, happy, sleepy.”

With the help of my civilian psychiatrist, I began trading my pill bottles for pipes and papers. I also began to feel less numb. I started to smile more often. I thought I had found a miracle drug. There was just one problem: That drug was illegal. In 21 states, including North Carolina, where I live, any use of marijuana is forbidden under state law. The current punishments for those who possess or cultivate cannabis — even for medical purposes — may include a felony conviction and imprisonment, loss of child custody and permanent damage to their livelihood. The V.A. encourages veterans to discuss their cannabis use with their doctors, but because cannabis is also prohibited under federal law, the V.A. cannot prescribe it in any form — thereby denying countless veterans relief to many mental health symptoms and other service-connected disabilities.

The medical benefits of marijuana for the more than 360,000 post-Sept. 11 veterans who have brain injuries are not universally recognized. (As many as one in five veterans are thought to have post-traumatic stress.) But medical experts like Dr. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist and former associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health, believe that “medical marijuana absolutely belongs in the pharmacy for post-traumatic stress and brain injury treatment.” The V.A., Dr. Ochberg said, “is failing veterans by not making cannabis a treatment option.”...

Most of the major veterans groups, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, support regulated research into the medical uses of cannabis. But the research is slow in coming: Since 1968, the University of Mississippi has been home to the only licensed facility to produce cannabis for clinical research. In March it was reported that the university’s cannabis was contaminated with lead, yeast and mold — substances that jeopardize research efficacy and patient safety.

What I know is that it works for me. If I hadn’t begun self-medicating with it, I would have killed myself. The relief isn’t immediate. It doesn’t make the pain disappear. But it’s the only thing that takes the sharpest edges off my symptoms. Because of cannabis, I’m more hopeful, less woeful. My relationship with my wife is improving. My daughter and I are growing closer. My past is easier to remember and talk about. My mind is less clouded. More than anything, it feels good to feel again. My migraines and depression don’t control my life. Neither do pills.

But I live in fear that I will be arrested purchasing an illegal drug. I want safe, regulated medical cannabis to be a treatment option. Just like the sedatives and amphetamines the V.A. used to send me by mail. And the opioids they still send to my friends.

September 1, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

New SAM report, asserting legalization states "​have ​not ​fulfilled ​the ​requirements ​of ​the ​Cole Memo," urges federal law enforcement to target big players in marijuana industry

Download (4)Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the leading public policy group advocating against most state-level marijuana reforms, has released today this new  report titled "The​ ​Cole​ ​Memo:​ ​4​ ​Years​ ​Later: Status Report on State Compliance of Federal Marijuana Enforcement Policy." Here are parts of this SAM report's introduction and conclusion:

On ​August ​29, ​2013, ​the ​U.S. ​Department ​of ​Justice ​(DOJ) ​issued ​guidelines ​to ​Federal prosecutors ​and ​law ​enforcement ​officials ​regarding ​where ​to ​focus ​their ​drug ​enforcement efforts ​in ​states ​that ​have ​passed ​laws ​legalizing ​the ​retail ​sales ​of ​marijuana. ​The ​so-called “Cole ​Memo” ​directs ​enforcement ​officials ​to ​focus ​resources, ​including ​prosecutions, ​“on persons ​and ​organizations ​whose ​conduct ​interferes ​with ​any ​one ​or ​more ​of ​[eight] ​priorities, regardless ​of ​state ​law.”...

According ​to ​the ​Department ​of ​Justice, ​the ​Federal ​“hands-off” ​approach ​to ​marijuana enforcement ​enumerated ​in ​the ​Cole ​Memo ​is ​contingent ​on ​its ​expectation ​that ​“states ​and local ​governments ​that ​have ​enacted ​laws ​authorizing ​marijuana-related ​conduct ​will ​implement strong ​and ​effective ​regulatory ​and ​enforcement ​systems ​that ​will ​address ​the ​threat ​those state ​laws ​could ​pose ​to ​public ​safety, ​public ​health, ​and ​other ​law ​enforcement ​interests. ​A system ​adequate ​to ​that ​task ​must ​not ​only ​contain ​robust ​controls ​and ​procedures ​on ​paper, ​it must ​also ​be ​effective ​in ​practice.”

Unfortunately, ​since ​Colorado ​and ​Washington ​became ​the ​first ​states ​to ​legalize ​the recreational ​sale ​of ​marijuana ​in ​2012, ​evidence ​has ​emerged ​that ​regulations ​intended ​to control ​the ​sale ​and ​use ​of ​marijuana ​have ​failed ​to ​meet ​the ​promises ​made ​by ​advocates ​for legalization. ​For ​example, ​states ​with ​legal ​marijuana ​are ​seeing ​an ​increase ​in drugged ​driving crashes ​and youth ​marijuana ​use. ​States ​that ​have ​legalized ​marijuana ​are ​also failing ​to ​shore up ​state ​budget ​shortfalls ​with ​marijuana ​taxes, ​continuing ​to ​see ​a ​thriving ​illegal black ​market, and ​are ​experiencing ​an unabated ​sales ​of ​alcohol, ​despite ​campaign ​promises ​from ​advocates promising ​that ​marijuana ​would ​be ​used ​as ​a ​“safer” ​alternative ​instead.

Moreover, ​state ​regulatory ​frameworks ​established ​post-legalization ​have ​failed ​to ​meet ​each ​of the ​specific ​DOJ ​requirements ​on ​controlling ​recreational ​marijuana ​production, ​distribution, ​and use. ​While ​long-term ​studies ​and ​research ​on ​the ​public ​health ​and ​safety ​impacts ​of ​marijuana legalization ​are ​ongoing, ​this ​report ​provides ​a ​partial ​census ​of ​readily ​available ​information that ​demonstrates ​how ​Colorado, ​Oregon, ​and ​Washington ​State ​- ​the ​jurisdictions ​with ​the most ​mature ​regulatory ​markets ​and ​schemes ​- ​have ​not ​fulfilled ​the ​requirements ​of ​the ​Cole Memo....

Federal ​resources ​should ​target ​the ​big ​players ​in ​the ​marijuana ​industry. ​Individual ​marijuana users ​should ​not ​be ​targeted ​or ​arrested, ​but ​large-scale ​marijuana ​businesses, ​several ​of ​which now ​boast ​of ​having ​raised ​over ​$100 ​million ​in ​capital, ​and ​their ​financial ​backers, ​should ​be ​a priority. ​These ​large ​businesses ​are ​pocketing ​millions ​by ​flouting ​federal ​law, ​deceiving Americans ​about ​the ​risks ​of ​their ​products, ​and ​targeting ​the ​most ​vulnerable. ​They ​should ​not have ​access ​to ​banks, ​where ​their ​financial ​prowess ​would ​be ​expanded ​significantly, ​nor should ​they ​be ​able ​to ​advertise ​or ​commercialize ​marijuana....

These ​large ​marijuana ​operations, ​which ​combine ​the ​tactics ​of ​Big ​Tobacco ​with ​black marketeering, ​should ​form ​the ​focus ​of ​federal ​law ​enforcement, ​not ​individual ​users. ​At ​the same ​time, ​the ​federal ​government ​along ​with ​non-government ​partners ​should ​implement ​a strong, ​evidence-based ​marijuana ​information ​campaign, ​similar ​to ​the truth® ​campaign ​for tobacco, ​which ​alerts ​all ​Americans ​about ​the ​harms ​of ​marijuana ​and ​the ​deceitful ​practices ​of the ​marijuana ​industry.

August 30, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana Legalization and Nosy Neighbor States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Alex Kreit now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

As more states proceed with marijuana legalization laws, questions have arisen about how to accommodate those states that wish to retain prohibition.  For instance, in 2014, Oklahoma and Nebraska unsuccessfully sued Colorado based on the spillover effects that Colorado’s marijuana legalization law had on its neighboring states.  This article asserts that there are several reasons why state marijuana legalization laws are unlikely to have a large effect on neighboring states.

First, marijuana is not a previously unobtainable good being introduced into the stream of commerce, as it is already available through the black market inexpensively. Second, legalization laws have a number of restrictions that make it very difficult for sellers to profit from exporting legally produced marijuana across state lines. Prohibition states may have reason to worry, however, that illegal marijuana growers will be better able to hide their operations in legalization states that allow residents to grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use, which in turn may increase illegal marijuana exports to neighboring prohibition states.  Prohibition states can minimize this risk of increased marijuana flow by lobbying the federal government to establish rules that protect their interests.

August 30, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"A Conservative Approach to Smarter Federal Marijuana Policy"

Download (2)The title of this post is the title of this notable Cato Institute Capitol Hill Briefing slated for September.  Here is how the event is described from the Cato website:

Featuring Tom Garrett (R-VA-05), U.S. Congressman; Ilya Somin, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University; Trevor Burrus, Research Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute; moderated by Jonathan Blanks, Research Associate, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute.

The legal sale of recreational marijuana remains limited to a handful of states, but 29 states plus the District of Columbia allow the prescription and distribution of medical marijuana.  Ten of those states — which represent 115 electoral votes — went for President Trump in the 2016 election.  National polling shows that just over half of Americans favor marijuana legalization, but a much larger majority want the federal government to leave marijuana alone in states where it is legal.

While candidate Trump promised to protect medical marijuana on the campaign trail, President Trump’s Justice Department wants to be more aggressive against state-legal marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Ultimately, Congress holds the reins on the Department of Justice’s ability to enforce particular provisions of the CSA and determines which substances should be under federal control.

While marijuana decriminalization is often thought to be a Democrat-friendly topic, some of the best arguments for federal recognition of state marijuana policy rest in traditional Republican values of federalism, deference to local policy choices, and a limited federal government.  Moreover, businesses that have no direct ties to cannabis cultivation or distribution like banks and financial institutions can benefit from clear federal rules that tolerate state-legal marijuana transactions.

Join us for a lunchtime discussion to explore several ways Congress can reshape federal marijuana policy in a manner that is more consistent both with public opinion and the conservative values of limited government, federalism, and local policymaking.

August 29, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

"Here's Why Trump Can't Beat Pot"

In this post from way back in December 2016, I suggested it could prove legally and practically difficult for the incoming Trump Administration to go aggressively after state-level marijuana reforms.  The post was titled "why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive," and it outlined some challenges that might arise were the Trump Department of Justice to try to bring back an era of national federal pot prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  This post's title, which is much more catchy than my Dec 2016 title, comes from the headline of this lengthy BuzzFeed News piece by Dominic Holden.  This BuzzFeed piece covers more effectively and systematically some of the issues and forces I had in mind back in December, and here are highlights:

Donald Trump said three times while campaigning that pot legalization should be left “up to the states.” But after five weeks in the White House, his former press secretary, Sean Spicer, announced that recreational marijuana — which was legalized by eight states without resulting in a crackdown by the Obama administration — has zero leeway under federal law. “I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” Spicer told the press corps.

Since then, lots of conventional wisdom says the White House can — and probably will — try to shut down America’s pot experiment. That wisdom looked particularly valid given that Trump’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has sharpened the attacks. He said in February that distributing pot remains illegal “whether a state legalizes it or not,” and turned the screws in March by warning federal prohibition “applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws.”...

How, exactly, the Trump administration will approach this is TBD.  The Justice Department is currently considering its options. At any time, though, Sessions and Trump could begin raids in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington state — where thousands of state-licensed pot businesses are already operating in the open. The administration could then argue in court that even issuing pot licenses is superseded by federal law.

Raiding farms and stores may seem simple, at first, but unlike federal pot busts in past years, targeting regulated state systems would present new legal disputes over states' rights.  BuzzFeed News' interviews with law enforcement, former federal prosecutors, state officials, and conservative leaders show a crackdown would give rise to a hydra that pulls Trump into logistical, political, and legal traps — replicating his most humiliating setbacks like the travel ban (legal) and Obamacare (political).

Not only is legalization unprecedentedly popular, a crackdown has grown even more unpopular — and Trump would be destroying jobs in rural districts that voted for him. Possibly most damaging for Trump, though, is that he can’t fully win, because state decriminalization of marijuana cannot be completely stopped.  “They have very limited tools, and I think none of them would be successful,” Jenny Durkan, who served as US attorney in Washington state in 2012 when legalization took hold there, told BuzzFeed News. “I just don’t think they can stick the genie back in the bottle.”

There are several paths Trump could take if he wanted to try anyway. Here's why each one would be difficult, or even impossible.

1.  Trump can’t bust all the legal pot businesses because there are way too many already. ...

2.  If Trump were to even threaten pot businesses, he would still end up in brutal court battles. ...

3.  Even if Trump only makes a few busts, the states will get involved and fight Trump, too. ...

4.  Trying to overturn state legalization laws themselves would be difficult and time-consuming — and could still fail. ...

5.  Fighting long legal battles would be unpopular for Trump, and it would grow more toxic by the day. ...

6.  Trump could never stop people from using and growing pot with impunity, even if he won in court. ...

The reporting and analysis in this article merits considerable attention, but I want to put a bit of extra emphasis and spin on the key final point.   Though aggressive enforcement actions and successful lawsuits would not enable federal officials to fully "beat pot," the feds still could bring down much of the modern commercial marijuana industry.  (And, importantly, there are even some folks supportive of marijuana reform who are not so supportive of the modern commercial marijuana industry.)  I continue to believe a new federal weed war remains unlikely, but I also believe there will be notable casualties is such a war still gets waged in some capacity in the coming months.

August 28, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Interesting look at job-creation aspects of Arkansas medical marijuana reform (with a notable developing national story)

BLS-LogoThis local new article form Arkansas, headlined "Medical marijuana industry expected to bring new jobs to Arkansas," provides an effective and thorough accounting of an important economic development element of marijuana reform. For that reason, I recommend the piece in full, and the excerpt below includes a bit of extra national news highlighted below that strikes me as especially notable:

A one-man testing lab in Greenbrier is poised to add up to seven employees, spend more than $1 million on equipment and buy several vehicles to capitalize on the coming sale of medical marijuana in Arkansas.  Kyle Felling, the owner of F.A.S.T. Laboratories, is one part of a burgeoning medical marijuana industry that's expected to create hundreds of jobs in Arkansas, according to industry experts and representatives....

In-state dispensaries and cultivation facilities are expected to provide the bulk of the jobs.  However, other services, like lab testing, are essential for the medical marijuana market to function.  Storm Nolan, president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association, said he expects between 500 and 600 people to be employed where marijuana is grown and sold in the near term....

David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer who sponsored the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment that was approved by voters in November, said he eventually expects 1,500 jobs or more in dispensaries and cultivation facilities.  Nolan and Couch said hundreds more jobs are expected in ancillary businesses, like F.A.S.T. Laboratories....

The accuracy of job estimates is expected to improve with time.  The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics will begin releasing data Sept. 6 under an updated jobs classification system that details marijuana wholesalers, stores and grower employment, David Hiles, an economist with the bureau, said in an email. ...

Specialty companies will be needed to ship, test, market, enforce, track, insure, construct, lobby, inspect, secure and bank in the industry.  However, it's an open question whether many of the businesses will be locally owned.  While the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission mandated that dispensaries and cultivation facilities be majority owned by Arkansans, there's no similar requirement for the businesses that will serve them.

James Yagielo, chief executive of Florida-based HempStaff, said many end up being from out of state.  "There are always some ancillary businesses," he said.  "A lot of them -- like us -- are national, but you do get some that pop up."  Nolan said he expects more ancillary businesses to enter the market as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission develops licenses for transportation, distribution and processing.  Those licenses remain on the to-do list of the commission, which currently is taking applications for dispensaries and growers....

Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said the nature of the marijuana business -- highly regulated with dispensaries and cultivation facilities required to each have unique ownership -- is costly, but can also provide additional employment....

Entry-level jobs include trimming marijuana at around $10 an hour.  Assistant growers, who plant and nourish marijuana, will earn $15 to $20 per hour.  Master growers, who manage operations, will make between $40 to $60 per hour....  Most dispensaries start with around five employees....  Each store's general manager will earn around $20 per hour. Dispensary agents, who interact with patients, will make $12 to $15 per hour.

While hundreds of jobs are expected to be created in the medical marijuana industry -- on par with a large state economic development project -- Arkansans may not feel the same impact because the jobs will be spread throughout the state, Pakko said.  "Five hundred to 600 jobs -- that would be a pretty good economic development project, but in the overall scheme of things, that's not a very large percentage of Arkansas' workforce or employment base," he said.  "Now in the local communities where those jobs are going to be, it can be a big deal.  It can be a significant impact."

In this MassRoots posting back in February, Tom Angell reported that the "U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed to MassRoots that it will soon begin tracking cannabis sector employment ... [but] added that it won’t necessarily release any numbers."  It would now appear that BLS has data it is prepared to release in only a matter of weeks.  That strikes me as a very interesting and important development that will, among other things, make it much easier for the mainstream media to see and report on the seemingly significant job-creation realities of the emerging marijuana industry.

August 27, 2017 in Employment and labor law issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Colorado sends its forceful response to letter from AG Sessions about marijuana reform concerns

As noted in this prior post, last month US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the leaders of states with recreational marijuana laws detailing troublesome data that, in the words of these letters, raised "serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures'."  And, as reported in this prior post, last week Washington set a forceful response to AG Sessions.  This week, as reported here by HuffPost, Colorado sent its response in the form of this detailed five-page missive.  (Alaska and Oregon have also responded forcefully to the Sessions latter, but Colorado and Washington seem to me the most important states to watch because they have the most mature marijuana industries and the longest-in-place regulatory regimes.)  Here is part of the HuffPost summary of the letter:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) mounted a vigorous defense of their state’s legalized and regulated marijuana program Thursday, replying to a critical letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that was directed at states that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Hickenlooper and Coffman, in a response letter dated Thursday, tell Sessions that their state’s numerous marijuana laws and regulations are “effective.” They said the regulations work smoothly to prevent diversion of the drug outside of the state, block marijuana use by minors and protect the public’s safety and health. The pair also encourage the federal government to work with the state to “fortify” the robust program that it has already built....

“The State of Colorado has worked diligently to implement the will of our citizens and build a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health,” the Colorado letter reads. “When abuses and unintended consequences materialize, the state has acted quickly to address any resulting harms. While our system has proven to be effective, we are constantly evaluating and seeking to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement.”

The Colorado officials detailed statistics that the state provided to the Department of Justice in a report in July, a document HuffPost obtained and previously reported on earlier this month, to back up their argument that state-level legalization of marijuana is effective.

Prior related posts:

August 25, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)