Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Obama’s Opioid Offensive Again Ignores the Cannabis Solution"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary authored by Don Fitch over at Marijuana Politics.  Here are excerpts (with links and emphasis from the original):

Startled by high numbers of American deaths from opioids, the Obama administration’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch has again declared an offensive. Her plan of action: alert the 94 federal prosecutors to gear up for more of the same war on drugs.  This time, physicians who oversubscribe opioids (in the DEA’s suspicions at least), are prime targets. Yet again, no thought was given to harnessing  medical cannabis as a far safer alternative.

The epidemic of opioid addiction and death should be resetting the war on drugs. The statistics are harsh: from the year 2000 to the present, opioids deaths have quadrupled, to over 28,000 per year. Deaths (usually suffocation) from opioids now outnumber automobile fatalities.  Americans opioid users are so numerous, they now have their own new pharmaceutical drug for counteracting an opioid side effect.  Read about it in MarijuanaPolictics.com, at “Opioid-Induced Constipation”: Big Pharma More Interested in Treating Your Bowel Movements Than Saving Your Life.

 Regarding the drug war in general, the supremely ludicrous truth is that now drug overdose deaths are at an all-time high. Is this an acceptable outcome for a 45 year, trillion-dollar war on drugs? For this colossal failure, the DEA should be bum-rushed out the door.  Instead, we are now essentially offered more of the same war on drugs by an oblivious Department of Justice and Obama administration.

Especially in the context of the opioid crisis, marijuana is a medicine that is saving lives. Cannabis can help prevent, weaken, and even end opioid addictions. Cannabis-based solutions to the opioid problem are becoming more and more obvious to everyone except the drug warriors.  Increasingly, headlines shout the connection:

With this avalanche of insight that medical cannabis is a viable solution to opioid addiction and death, it is puzzling that Obama’s initiatives have ignored this resource.  But yet again the president gives the Justice Department the lead role in intervening in what is basically a public health problem.  Joining the prosecutors were representatives of addiction recovery services, a group notoriously dishonest about cannabis.

Nowhere to be seen nor heard were advocates of medical cannabis as preventatives and far safer pain relief alternatives to addictive and death-inducing opioids.  Apparently, the administration finds it politically incorrect to even consider medical marijuana as a solution for anything....

The Obama administration’s strict politically correct anti-marijuana line is blatantly anti-science and wounding to public health. And it is no longer even politically correct.  A majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal for all adults; an overwhelming majority feel cannabis should legal medically.  The Obama administration, most of the Congress, and self-serving bureaucracies such as the DEA are decades behind the American public.  Their obsolete and dishonest approach will lead to more American lives lost to opioid addiction and death.

 

September 26, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Legal Cannabis in the US: Not Whether But How?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new paper authored by Sam Kamin. Here is the abstract:

The 2016 election promises to be a turning point in the history of marijuana regulation in this country.  Although the federal prohibition on all marijuana conduct remains in place, twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia currently authorize the medical use of marijuana and four states plus D.C. have legalized marijuana use by all adults.  Many more states are expected to vote on marijuana law reform this fall and these numbers are almost certain to grow; the end of federal marijuana prohibition may soon be close at hand.

But it is important to remember that federal drug policy – like the state-level drug reform that has preceded it – is not an all-or-nothing choice.  Federal lawmakers will not choose between the current system under which marijuana is prohibited in all circumstances and for all purposes and a world in which there are no limits placed on how marijuana is produced, distributed, and consumed.  

My goal in this essay is to describe the current, tenuous status of marijuana under state and federal law and then to investigate the various alternatives to prohibition available to federal lawmakers seeking to reform the nation’s marijuana laws.  I situate these alternatives on a continuum between the current federal prohibition and a relatively free market model similar to that in place in a state like Colorado.  Each of these models will have pluses and minuses and it is important that lawmakers firmly establish their goals in moving away from the prohibition of marijuana; winners and losers will be chosen in this area far sooner than many realize.

September 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Crimmigration and cannabis: "Marijuana Is Legal in Colorado — But Only If You're a U.S. Citizen"

ThThe title of this post is an expansion of the headline of this lengthy Westword article by Joel Warner.   Among many virtues in this long-form article is that it includes quotes from one of my former students who examined in my marijuana seminar the connections between marijuana reform and immigration issues.  Here is how the article gets started and some excerpt from its legal discussion:

Claudia didn’t think anything was wrong when United States Customs and Border Protection agents flagged her for an in-depth security screening after the early-morning flight from her native Chile landed at Los Angeles International Airport early on October 8, 2015. “It’s normal,” she says. “Sometimes the officers review people.” Besides, Claudia had never been in trouble in her life....

[Agent] Torres asked Claudia about past trips to the States; in her accented but largely fluent English, she told the agent that she’d previously visited Tennessee, Louisiana, New York and Colorado. At the mention of Colorado, he asked to see her phone. Since the device wasn’t password-protected, he quickly clicked to her photo gallery and began scrolling back several months to her visit from April through June of that year... The agent [eventually] arrived at three photos she’d taken inside Native Roots, a marijuana dispensary on Boulder’s Pearl Street. Looking at the images of glass display cases filled with edibles and jars of marijuana, he asked if she’d tried any. “Yes, I tried marijuana in Colorado,” she replied. “It’s legal there.”

With those words, Claudia immediately placed herself in the middle of a growing clash between state cannabis reforms and U.S. immigration law’s unyieldingly austere approach to marijuana. While cannabis may be legal in a growing number of states, it’s still very much against the law for all non-U.S. citizens to use it — even if few people know that. In fact, over the past decade, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has penalized and deported more people convicted of marijuana-related crimes than ever before. As a result of the inconsistencies between state marijuana laws and immigration law, immigration lawyers are finding themselves stymied by legal predicaments that don’t make any sense — and their clients are suffering. Husbands are being separated from wives, parents from children, because of activities that in many states are no longer crimes. And foreigners like Claudia are finding their lives changed forever when they simply admit that they tried something they assumed was completely legal.

But Claudia didn’t know that when she admitted to trying marijuana; she still thought everything was fine. After Torres had finished going through her luggage, two female agents gave her a pat-down and confiscated her belongings, then led her to a locked, windowless cell with security cameras on the ceiling and miserable-looking people of various nationalities lying on bare metal cots. Only then did she realize that something was very, very wrong....

The most famous example of a marijuana-based deportation might be the U.S.’s failed attempt to bar John Lennon from the country in 1973 because of a past cannabis conviction in England. But it was only later, as the War on Drugs heated up, that U.S. immigration policy became increasingly unforgiving regarding marijuana and other narcotics. These days, any drug offense, save for the possession of thirty grams or less of marijuana, is a deportable crime for non-U.S. citizens, including those with green cards. And any offense involving the sale of marijuana — even just peddling $5 worth of the drug — is considered an “aggravated felony” that triggers mandatory deportation.

It doesn’t matter if the conviction doesn’t come with a prison sentence or is expunged through a drug-court program. It doesn’t matter if the convicted individual can prove that his or her expulsion would cause extreme hardship on U.S. family members, a situation that can be used to stop deportation for other crimes such as assault or fraud. If an immigrant is busted for marijuana or other drugs, they’re likely to be taken into immigration custody and deported without any chance of coming back.

While President Barack Obama has long promised to ease the drastic consequences of the drug war, immigrants convicted of drug crimes have faced increased penalties during his time in office. That’s because of the Secure Communities initiative, a program launched under George W. Bush but expanded by the Obama administration that allows immigration agents access to local fingerprint data banks.

The result is more drug-related deportations than ever before. According to a Human Rights Watch investigation of U.S. government data, between 2007 and 2012, drug-possession-related deportations increased 43 percent, and drug-sale-related deportations increased 23 percent. In all during that period, nearly 266,000 people were forced out of the country after being convicted of a nonviolent drug offense, which accounted for roughly one out of every four criminal-conviction-related deportations. More than 50,000 of those deportations were related to a marijuana conviction....

“We are at a really interesting time politically,” says Grace Meng, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the organization’s report on drug-related deportations. “The country is willing to reconsider drug policy and laws, but those same laws passed in the 1980s and ’90s have had really severe immigration impacts — and they aren’t being considered at all.”

According to Alexander Holtzman, a fellow with the Immigrant Justice Corps in New York City who studied marijuana-related immigration sanctions while at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, it’s hard to know exactly how many people are currently being deported because of minor marijuana offenses; most deportation statistics don’t indicate whether a cannabis crime was the cause of someone’s expulsion. (ICE didn’t respond to multiple interview requests from Westword.)

There is some indication that the agency’s stance on marijuana could be shifting, though. In 2014, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigrants convicted of minor cannabis crimes should be given a chance to contest their deportation, ICE released a policy noting that marijuana-possession convictions would no longer be an enforcement priority. But it’s clear that at least until recently, cannabis-related crimes were a main priority for immigration authorities. According to ICE deportation records stored and analyzed by Syracuse University, in 2013 marijuana possession was the fourth-most-common offense associated with deportation — above assault, illegal re-entry or any other drug charge. The sale of marijuana was the twelfth-most-common deportation-related crime. Holtzman estimates that slightly more than 6,000 people were deported that year after being convicted of minor marijuana-possession charges.

“If these individuals are deported because of these offenses, then the sanction of deportation strikes me as severe, disproportionate and unjust,” says Holtzman. “Citizens are not similarly punished for identical conduct.”

September 13, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

American Legion urges federal government to reschedule marijuana

AmerLegion_color_EmblemAs this Washington Post piece highlights, the "American Legion, a group representing 2.4 million U.S. military veterans, has called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act and 'reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value'." Here is more (with links from the original):

In a resolution passed at the Legion's annual convention last week, the organization said it hopes that better research into marijuana and an official acknowledgment of its potential medical benefits will hasten the development of new treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, ailments that have plagued veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Legion's resolution, published online by Marijuana.com, noted that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration recently approved the country's first randomized, controlled trial using whole-plant, smoked marijuana to treat PTSD symptoms. That study will be conducted by Sue Sisley, an Arizona researcher who tried for nearly a decade to get a green light for the research but struggled to find an academic institution to sponsor it. The University of Colorado ultimately agreed to fund the research.

Medical marijuana is extremely popular with voters: A June Quinnipiac University poll found that 89 percent supported the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. A separate survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 68 percent of responding members supported legalizing medical marijuana in their state, and 75 percent said that the Department of Veterans Affairs should allow medical marijuana as a treatment option.

 

September 8, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 22, 2016

A darker view of a recent medical marijuana court victory: "10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision"

In this post over at my other blog, I flagged last week's Ninth Circuit panel ruling in US v. McIntosh, No. No. 15-10117 (9th Cir. Aug. 16, 2016) (available here), on a series of appeals concerning "whether criminal defendants may avoid prosecution for various federal marijuana offenses on the basis of a congressional appropriations rider that prohibits the United States Department of Justice from spending funds to prevent states’ implementation of their own medical marijuana laws."  That ruling was hailed by many marijuana reform advocates as a victory because the court concluded that "at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws." 

But astute followers of the law and policies surrounding marijuana reform know that there is rarely simple story around any aspect of federal marijuana laws and policy, and John Hudak has this recent posting at a Brookings blog explaining reasons why "medical marijuana advocates should [still] worry" after the McIntosh decision.  Here are excerpts from the start and the headings of his commentary:

[M]arijuana reform advocates applauded a federal appeals court decision limiting the power of the Department of Justice to prosecute certain marijuana growers. In United States v. McIntosh, the three judge panel (two Republican and one Democratic appointee) dealt explicitly with the Rohrabacher amendment — a rider to a congressional spending bill that barred the DOJ from spending funds on enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in states with medical marijuana reform laws.

Despite the rider being signed into law—by President Obama—the Obama administration continued to bust growers in medical marijuana states. The defendants in the 10 cases grouped together in this appeal hail from California and Washington and were indicted on a variety of federal charges. They fought the charges in lower courts on the basis of the rider without success, and brought their case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the usual judicial hoops of establishing jurisdiction and the appropriateness of the court stepping in at this time to intervene in an ongoing prosecution, the court ruled on the merits of the case.  The 9th circuit decision explains that even though “the rider is not a model or clarity” (24) it “prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws” (27).

If you’re a marijuana reform advocate, a grower, a cannabis enterprise executive, a patient, or otherwise related to the medical marijuana industry, this is great news, right?

Well, yes and no.  The cork popping over the ruling in McIntosh may have been a bit premature.  While the central holding of the case is a tremendous victory for the movement and offers a real barrier against executive enforcement power in the context of marijuana, the details of the decision are a bit more mixed.  Namely, for the medical marijuana community, there are 10 things to hate about the McIntosh decision.

  1. The ruling has limited scope...
  2. McIntosh is about medical marijuana only...
  3. The Cole Memos are not the Great Savior many believe...
  4. State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
  5. State-level marijuana reforms do not legalize marijuana...
  6. This ruling may not always help current defendants or marijuana law violators...
  7. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  8. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  9. This ruling may not always help future defendants...
  10. This ruling may not always help future defendants

August 22, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Court Rulings, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Can the Next U.S. President Reschedule Marijuana?"

USP1310-CE-T2The question in the title of this post is the headline of this timely Inc. article, which essentially answers the question via its lengthy subheadline: "The DEA denied the most recent petition to reschedule marijuana, citing a lack of scientific evidence to prove its medical benefits. But here's how Obama, or the next U.S. president, can reschedule the drug." Here is more from the article:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has denied the most recent petitions to reschedule marijuana. But Hillary Clinton says that if she becomes president, she will move marijuana to the same category as oxycodone and other opioid painkillers available by a doctor's prescription. Clinton, through her senior policy adviser Maya Harris, told The Cannabist that she will reschedule marijuana from its position as a Schedule I substance to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Marijuana is already being used for medical purposes in states across the country, and it has the potential for even further medical use," said Harris in a statement. "As Hillary Clinton has said throughout this campaign, we should make it easier to study marijuana so that we can better understand its potential benefits, as well as its side effects."

Presidential candidates make all sorts of promises, but could a president actually reschedule marijuana unilaterally? The answer is yes, but not with a stroke of a pen.

John Hudak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, explains that there are certain procedures in the Controlled Substances Act that must be followed. "A president cannot reschedule a substance by executive order, that is against the Controlled Substance Act," says Hudak. "It is against the letter of the law." Hudak says there is a suggestion in the CSA that the attorney general might be able to reschedule a substance unilaterally through an order, but that would fly against the long-established administrative procedure and might bump up serious legal challenges.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy and the director of the Crime Reduction & Justice Initiative at New York University's Marron Institute, explains how Hillary, if she wins, can follow through on her promise. "She is not making it up. She can reschedule marijuana. It's not that complicated," says Kleiman. The power to reschedule a substance, Kleiman says, has been delegated to the attorney general (who in turn delegates to the DEA) and to the Department of Health and Human Services (which in turn delegates its clinical testing to the FDA). "But, yes," he adds. "Those people work for the president, and, yes, the president can tell them to reschedule marijuana."

The logistical process of rescheduling, Kleiman says, would involve redefining what "current accepted medical use" means in the Controlled Substances Act. Again, it's up to the agencies (attorney general with the DEA; HHS with the FDA) to define what that term means. "All the DEA has to do is explain how they have overruled themselves and will be going back to what DEA administrative law judge Francis Young said in 1988, that 'medical use' means a bunch of physicians believe something is useful," says Kleiman. "The DEA could say how they take notice that a lot of physicians are recommending marijuana and how 25 state legislatures agree with the doctors. We are now saying this has accepted medical use, but it still has high abuse potential; we're putting it in Schedule II."

As the CSA gave authority to the attorney general, who in turn delegated to the DEA, those agencies are allowed to interpret statutes in varying degrees, unless the decisions are "obviously unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious," says Kleiman. That means if Clinton wanted to reschedule marijuana if she makes it to the White House, she could....

It should be noted, however, that rescheduling will not make the state-sanctioned recreational markets in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. legal, nor will it make the medical marijuana markets in 25 states legal. If marijuana becomes a Schedule II drug, it will still be illegal federally to use, produce, or manufacture. If marijuana were down-scheduled, it would still be federally illegal to produce and sell because Schedule II drugs cannot be given out without a prescription. A prescription can only be written for an FDA-approved drug, and there are no FDA-approved drugs made with the whole cannabis plant. (Marinol, which is FDA approved, is made with synthetic THC.)

As for the industry's hope that the whole plant will be FDA-approved, Hudak says not a chance. Hudak says if cannabis-based medicines are approved in the future, the medicines will not be botanical. Like other FDA-approved drugs, specific chemicals will be extracted and isolated at the molecular level in a method that is replicable and consistent. "You might see cannabinoid compounds rescheduled and put on the market, but whole flower smoked marijuana will never be approved," says Hudak.

August 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Highlighting myriad challenges for doctors in a world of widespread state medical marijuana reforms

Dt_160517_medical_marijuana_cannabis_800x600This recent USA Today piece, headlined "As states OK medical marijuana laws, doctors struggle with knowledge gap," puts a needed spotlight on what I think may be the most under-examined aspect of modern state medical marijuana reforms. Here are excerpts:

Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine for almost 20 years.  But Farmington physician Jean Antonucci says she continues to feel unprepared when counseling sick patients about whether the drug could benefit them.  Will it help my glaucoma?  Or my chronic pain?  My chemotherapy’s making me nauseous, and nothing’s helped.  Is cannabis the solution? Patients hope Antonucci, 62, can answer those questions.  But she said she is still “completely in the dark.”

Antonucci doesn’t know whether marijuana is the right way to treat an ailment, what amount is an appropriate dose or whether a patient should smoke it, eat it, rub it through an oil or vaporize it.  Like most doctors, she was never trained to have these discussions. And, because the topic still is not usually covered in medical school, seasoned doctors, as well as younger ones, often consider themselves ill-equipped.  Even though she tries to keep up with the scientific literature, Antonucci said, “it’s very difficult to support patients but not know what you’re saying.”

As the number of states allowing medical marijuana grows – the total has reached 25 plus the District of Columbia – some are working to address this knowledge gap with physician training programs.  States are beginning to require doctors to take continuing medical education courses that detail how marijuana interacts with the nervous system and other medications, as well as its side effects.

Though laws vary, they have common themes. They usually set up a process by which states establish marijuana dispensaries, where patients with qualifying medical conditions can obtain the drug.  The conditions are specified on a state-approved list. And the role of doctors is often to certify that patients have one of those ailments. But many say that, without knowing cannabis’ health effects, even writing a certification makes them uncomfortable.  “We just don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s a concern,” said Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a practicing doctor in Pennsylvania.

This medical uncertainty is complicated by confusion over how to navigate often contradictory laws.  While states generally involve physicians in the process by which patients obtain marijuana, national drug policies have traditionally had a chilling effect on these conversations.  The Federation of State Medical Boards has tried to add clarity. In an Aug. 9 JAMA editorial, leaders noted that federal law technically prohibits prescribing marijuana and tasks states that allow it for medical use to “implement strong and effective ... enforcement systems to address any threat those laws could pose to public safety, public health and other interests.”  If state regulation is deemed insufficient, the federal government can step in.

That's why many doctors say they feel caught in the middle, not completely sure of where the line is now drawn between legal medical practice and what could get them in trouble. In New York, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2014, the state health department rolled out a certification program last October. (The state’s medical marijuana program itself launched in January 2016.)  The course, which lasts about four hours and costs $249, is part of a larger physician registration process. So far, the state estimates 656 physicians have completed the required steps.  Other states have contacted New York’s Department of Health to learn how the training works.

Pennsylvania and Ohio are also developing similar programs.  Meanwhile in Massachusetts, doctors who wish to participate in the state medical marijuana program are required to take courses approved by the American Medical Association. Maryland doesn’t require training but encourages it through its Medical Cannabis Commission website, a policy also followed in some other states.

Physicians appear to welcome such direction.  A 2013 study in Colorado, for instance, found more than 80% of family doctors thought physicians needed medical training before recommending marijuana.  But some advocates worry that doctors may find these requirements onerous and opt out, which would in turn thwart patients’ access to the now-legal therapy, said Ellen Smith, a board member of the U.S. Pain Foundation, which favors expanded access to medical cannabis.

Education is essential, given the complexity of how marijuana interacts with the body and how little physicians know, said Stephen Corn, an associate professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Harvard Medical School.  Corn also co-founded The Answer Page, a medical information website that supports the New York program and is also bidding to supply information for the Pennsylvania program, Corn said....

From a medical standpoint, the lack of information is troubling, Filer said. “Typically, when we’re going to prescribe something, you’ve got data that shows safety and efficacy,” she said.  With marijuana, the body of research doesn’t match what many doctors are used to for prescription drugs.

Still, Corn said, doctors appear pleased with the state training sessions. More than 80% of New York doctors who have taken his course said they changed their practice in response to what they learned.  But even now, whenever Corn speaks with doctors about medical marijuana, people ask him how they can learn more about the drug’s medical properties and about legal risks.  Those two concerns, he said, likely reduce the number of doctors comfortable with and willing to discuss marijuana’s place in medicine, even if it’s allowed in their states.

August 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Rounding up reactions to DEA's modest marijuana moves

As reported in prior posts here and here, the Drug Enforcement Agency this past week made only a modest change to federal marijuana policies.  Not surprisingly, the failure of DEA being willing to do a lot more has generated criticisms and various expressions of concern and analytical perspectives.  Here are some of these reactions from various traditional and non-traditional media sources:

  • From Business Insider here, "Here's what the DEA's big decision on marijuana means for users and 'potrepreneurs'"

  • From Forbes here, "DEA's Hypocritical Marijuana Decision Ignores The Evidence"

  • From Marijuana.com here, "DEA No, Clinton Yes: As POTUS, Hillary Would Reschedule Marijuana"

  • From the New York Times here, "Stop Treating Marijuana Like Heroin"

  • From Quartz here, "The DEA's sop to pot advocates won't boost marijuana research very much at all"

August 13, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

"7 Scientific Effects of Marijuana That Experts Want to Study"

The title of this is the headline of this new Time article that serves as a somewhat fitting follow-up to the (big?) news the DEA delivered this week about marijuana scheduling and research.   Here are excerpts:

On Thursday the U.S. government announced that marijuana would continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse.  However, the feds are allowing more research on marijuana’s medicinal uses by making it easier for researchers to grow it.

Many researchers, both those who view marijuana as beneficial and those who are skeptical, argue that the government’s stance still hinders research.  “I understand the cautious nature of the government, whose role is basically to protect its citizens, but it is disappointing that marijuana continues to be included on the DEA’s list of the most dangerous drugs,” says Dr. Yasmin Hurd of Mount Sinai, who studies the effects of marijuana on the brain.

Though more than 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal uses, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about it.  “It’s actually quite amazing how little we really know about something that has been used for thousands of years,” says Sachin Patel of Vanderbilt University who studies cannabis.  “We desperately need well-controlled unbiased large scale research studies into the efficacy of cannabis for treating disease states, which we have very little of right now.  Without these studies we are basically flying blind with regard to medical marijuana in my opinion.”

Scientists argue that studying marijuana is safe, and researching it shouldn’t be such a difficult process.  “A question that is not on the lips of researchers is whether or not the consumption of cannabis-based medicines is safe,” says Gregory Gerdeman, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College.  “In the biomedical research community, it is universally understood that cannabis is a very safe, well-tolerated medicine.”

Here’s what researchers tell TIME they want to know about marijuana.

Is marijuana an effective cancer therapy?...

What does it do to the brain?...

What dosage or strains have the best use in medicine?...

Can marijuana help brain and cognitive problems?...

What about anxiety?...

Can pot help end the opioid epidemic?...

Are there long term consequences of using pot?

August 12, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DEA announces new policy "designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States"

As the DEA exaplins in this press release (which also notes its decision to deny petitions seeking rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA (discussed here)), the agency has "announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers."  The formal announcement of the new policy can be found in this Federal Register document, and here is more about the policy change from the DEA press release:

This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA.  Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.

This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components. DEA currently has 350 individuals registered to conduct research on marijuana and its components.  Notably, DEA has approved every application for registration submitted by researchers seeking to use NIDA-supplied marijuana to conduct research that HHS determined to be scientifically meritorious. 

Encouragingly, John Hudak at Brookings, who understand the ins and outs of federal marijuana laws and regulations better than anyone, has this new commentary explainaing why he thinks this DEA marijuana research decision "is more important than rescheduling." Here is how he starts his must-read commentary:

Today the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its decision on a five-year-old marijuana rescheduling petition.  After a long wait and amid wild speculation about the agency’s intentions, DEA has decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but to take the unexpected step of ending the monopoly on the production of research grade marijuana.

This move will certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped that DEA would change marijuana’s status.  Under current policy — and now continuing policy — marijuana is categorized along with heroin and LSD as a substance that has no medical value and that has a high potential for abuse.  Reformers hoped that the administration would accept the claim that marijuana has medical benefit and can be used safely in treatment.  Today, it is opting not to do so.

However, DEA, in a clear sign of the growing political complexity around cannabis policy in the United States, will strike a balance.  Rather than wholly maintaining the current policy, the administration nixed a different stumbling block to the study of marijuana and its efficacy as a medical product: the DEA mandated monopoly on the growth of marijuana for research (administered through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse).  The DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly was cited as a significant barrier to research by observers like myself, Mark Kleiman and many others, as well as clinical researchers themselves.

Despite reformers’ discontent, this decision may be more meaningful than the ultimate goal of rescheduling for both policy and political reasons.

August 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

DEA concludes that there is "no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from schedule I"

2000px-US-DrugEnforcementAdministration-Seal.svgThe language quoted in the title of this post is from the letter, dated July 19, 2016, in which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it had "formally denied a petition to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana."   This lengthy document makes this letter and related materials publically available with this explanation: "Because the DEA believes that this matter is of particular interest to members of the public, the agency is publishing below the letter sent to the petitioner which denied the petition, along with the supporting documentation that was attached to the letter."  

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

In accordance with the CSA scheduling provisions, after gathering the necessary data, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS concluded that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision. Therefore, HHS recommended that marijuana remain in schedule I. The scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation that HHS submitted to DEA is attached hereto.

Based on the HHS evaluation and all other relevant data, DEA has concluded that there is no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from schedule I. A document prepared by DEA addressing these materials in detail also is attached hereto. In short, marijuana continues to meet the criteria for schedule I control under the CSA because:

1) Marijuana has a high potential for abuse. The HHS evaluation and the additional data gathered by DEA show that marijuana has a high potential for abuse.

2) Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Based on the established five-part test for making such determination, marijuana has no ‘‘currently accepted medical use’’ because: As detailed in the HHS evaluation, the drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.

3) Marijuana lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision. At present, there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved marijuana products, nor is marijuana under a New Drug Application (NDA) evaluation at the FDA for any indication. The HHS evaluation states that marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy....

Although the HHS evaluation and all other relevant data lead to the conclusion that marijuana must remain in schedule I, it should also be noted that, in view of United States obligations under international drug control treaties, marijuana cannot be placed in a schedule less restrictive than schedule II.  This is explained in detail in the accompanying document titled "Preliminary Note Regarding Treaty Considerations."

Accordingly, and as set forth in detail in the accompanying HHS and DEA documents, there is no statutory basis under the CSA for DEA to grant your petition to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana.  Your petition is, therefore, hereby denied.

A second similar publication is available at this link, and the DEA has this press release explaining:

DEA has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In response to the petitions, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in consultation with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Based on the legal standards in the CSA, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse

August 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Democrats formally approve platform calling for "pathway" to marijuana legalization

I continue to not know just how much import and impact official party platforms have. Nevertheless, I still think this press piece about formal events at the DNC, headlined "Democrats become first major party to back pathway to legalizing pot," is reporting on events that are a pretty big deal for marijuana reform advocates now and in the years ahead. Here is the official language from the party platform embraced by Dems:

“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African-Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”

Here is more from the press piece with reactions to these developments from leading marijuana reform advocates:

Legalization backers applauded the vote and said it reflected polls that found a majority of Americans wanted to legalize the drug.  “The fact that one of the country’s two major parties has officially endorsed a pathway to legalization is the clearest sign we’ve seen yet that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “A clear and growing majority of voters want to end prohibition.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, does not back across-the-board legalization at the federal level. The platform includes her often-used language that marijuana legalization should be left to the states, allowing them to be “laboratories of democracy.”  That’s good news for Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, which that have already approved recreational marijuana, along with the District of Columbia....

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said a growing number of state Democratic parties had already backed legalization in their platforms this year.  That includes California, which will vote on recreational marijuana in November.  “It’s not particularly surprising that the platform calls for rolling back the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, seeing as the vast majority of Democrats – and a majority of Americans – support making marijuana legal for adults,” he said. 

Despite the support, Tvert said he wouldn’t be surprised if the issue didn’t get much attention from speakers at the Democratic convention this week.  “The platform typically reflects the positions of most party members, but it does not necessarily reflect the political or policy priorities of candidates and party leaders,” he said.

July 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Effective coverage of RNC and DNC marijuana reform realities

Last month in this post, I highlighted that, at Marijuana.com, Tom Angell does a great job covering news on the marijuana reform law and politics front.  The latest posts from this past week highlight why serious marijuana reform students should be regularly following his work:

July 25, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"10 Smoke Signals Heralding The End Of Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition"

DownloadThe title of this post is the headline of this new Huffington Post commentary authored by Steph Sherer, who serves as the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. Here are excerpts from the start and end of this piece along with the author's accounting of the 10 "smoke signals" showing how the winds of change are blowing with respect to federal marijuana policies:

Putting this article together gave me an opportunity step back and observe the landscape that medical cannabis policy has created.  The work of medical cannabis advocates and brave legislators is truly saving lives. Positive outcomes from medical cannabis policies are driving more states to create and improve programs.  With more than 300 million Americans living in the 42 states, along with D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, where some kind of medical cannabis law has been passed, there is a strong platform for politicians to move forward on this issue.

After putting this list together, it is mind-blowing to me that Senator Grassley will not allow the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S. 683/H.R. 1538) a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially considering that 78% of people in his own state of Iowa support medical cannabis.  Maybe this is one of the reasons he is struggling with his campaign for re-election.  This important bill would remedy the state-federal conflict over medical marijuana law; allowing (not requiring) states that want to participate in medical cannabis programs to do so without breaking federal law.

Maybe Grassley just needs to see this list too…

1. CARERS has Growing Support from Mainstream Republicans, such as Senator Graham (R-NC) and Congressman Young (R-IA)...

2. National Patient Organizations Are Calling for Change in Federal Law...

3. States Keep Passing Medical Cannabis Laws...

4. States Continue to Improve Medical Cannabis Laws...

5. New CDC Guidelines Instruct Pain Doctors Not to Test for THC...

6. Largest Pharmaceutical Retailer Acknowledges Medical Benefits of Cannabis...

7. Politicians Breaking Political Boundaries for Medical Cannabis...

8. Studies Continue to Show Public Health Benefits in States with Medical Cannabis...

9. Both Presidential Candidates Support Medical Cannabis...

10. Opponents Know they are Losing this Fight

In June, a new bill, the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016, was introduced.  Surprisingly, this bill was sponsored by several known medical cannabis opponents, including Representative Andy Harris (R-Md.), one of Congress’s most vocal opponent of legal marijuana.  Other sponsors included, Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), and in the Senate; Brian Schatz, (D-HI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chris Coons, (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).  While it should be commended that they are making a step towards removing federal barriers to medical cannabis research, this bill does nothing to protect state programs and patients.  It is their way of saying, we are losing this fight, so we must give something in return.

Ending the conflict between state and federal medical cannabis laws is the most important goal for keeping patients safe, and for that reason, it is important to remain focused on passing the CARERS Act, which would protect existing state programs and patients.  While more research is certainly desirable, patients cannot wait for the years or decades it may take for the results of this research to drive further Federal policy changes.

And there you have it!  10 reasons that clearly show the end of Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition is near, and that also show how out of touch Senator Grassley is on this issue.  ASA and many other advocates have worked hard to make the changes mentioned above possible.  If just a small portion of the 89% of Americans who support medical cannabis let their members of Congress know, then this may be the last year for federal prohibition of medical cannabis.

July 14, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

"What (and Whom) State Marijuana Reformers Forgot: Crimmigration Law and Noncitizens"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Carrie Lynn Rosenbaum now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This paper asserts that state and local marijuana reforms that relax criminal penalties should, but will likely not, benefit Latino/a noncitizens.  Because of the intricate relationship between criminal and immigration enforcement, state and local police engagement in racial profiling will not only fail to be eliminated by state-level marijuana reforms but may be exacerbated.  As a result, in spite of marijuana law reforms intended to lessen overly punitive penalties stemming from minor marijuana conduct, noncitizen Latino/as will continue to be disproportionately criminally policed and deported.

Scholarly literature addressing the intersection of criminal and immigration law has considered ways in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process.  However, the literature has yet to explore the way in which sub-federal drug law reforms, and specifically, recent marijuana law reforms, will fall short for noncitizen Latino/as because of the way in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process.

After decades of excessive, punitive, and ineffective policies, particularly in the area of drug law enforcement, states have initiated reforms, including marijuana decriminalization.  At the same time that decriminalization measures are being implemented, in the field of immigration law, resources for apprehension, detention and deportation have skyrocketed, with a focus on “criminal aliens.”  The criminal-immigration removal system has resulted in local and state law enforcement agents playing a critical, and problematic role in the detection, apprehension, and removal of “criminal aliens.”

The plight of noncitizens deported or found inadmissible based on marijuana-related conduct highlights a deeper, systemic problem.  Not only do extremely harsh immigration consequences serve as a double-penalty for potentially minor marijuana offenses, particularly in light of criminal law reforms, but enforcement of remaining marijuana laws will likely fall disproportionately on Latina/o noncitizens.  Over ninety percent of deportations arising out of criminal law enforcement are to Central American and Mexico, yet Mexican and Central American immigrants make up less than half of the United States immigrant population.

While decriminalization of marijuana may be more than a symbolic move away from the failed “tough on crime” policies of the past, it not only fails to take into consideration the impact of marijuana laws on noncitizens but also may exacerbate the racially biased aspects of drug law enforcement on noncitizens, particularly Latinos.  This Article discusses the ways in which criminal-immigration law enforcement has impacted noncitizens, primarily Latino/as, to demonstrate why sub-federal marijuana reforms will fail to alleviate racially disparate outcomes, perpetually leaving Latino/a noncitizens in the shadows.

July 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

New study suggests medical marijuana is already saving millions in Medicare costs

Medicare-and-uncle-samThis new Boston Globe article, headlined "Medical marijuana changing prescription practices, study finds," reports on fascinating new research seeming to document another financial benefit from marijuana reform. Here are the interesting details:

The arrival of medical marijuana in Massachusetts and other states is changing the way doctors prescribe conventional medications, a study published Wednesday reports.

The study, one of the first to investigate whether medical marijuana laws alter prescribing patterns, analyzed data from 17 states and Washington, D.C. It found that after medical marijuana laws were adopted, doctors wrote fewer prescriptions for Medicare patients diagnosed with anxiety, pain, nausea, depression, and other conditions thought to respond to marijuana treatment.

That translated to about $165 million less spent on prescription drugs in just one year in the Medicare program, which provides health insurance for older adults, according to the study published in the journal Health Affairs. Analysts said the findings are especially significant coming amid the nation’s opioid crisis and campaigns to reduce the prescribing of potentially addictive painkillers.

W. David Bradford, a health economist at the University of Georgia and the study’s senior researcher, said an ongoing review of the government’s Medicaid database, which includes a younger population more likely to use marijuana, suggests an even stronger correlation between prescribing trends and medical marijuana laws. Medicaid insures mostly younger patients who are poor and disabled. “This research says there is evidence that physicians are responding as if marijuana is medicine, and as if there is clinical benefit,” Bradford said.

The researchers analyzed millions of drugs prescribed by physicians from 2010 through 2013 in the Medicare Part D database. They focused their analysis on drugs that treat conditions for which marijuana might be an alternative treatment, including anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and a muscle control disorder known as spasticity. They found that for all conditions, except glaucoma and spasticity, fewer prescriptions were written when a medical marijuana law was in effect.

To confirm the link to marijuana laws, and not other factors, the researchers compared results from the states with medical marijuana to states that had not legalized it. They did not see a similar decline in prescribing in states without marijuana laws. As a further test, the researchers selected four drugs prescribed for conditions for which there are no studies suggesting benefit from marijuana treatment. Those drugs included blood-thinners, antibiotics, antivirals to treat the flu, and a drug used in dialysis. They found no decline in prescriptions for these drugs....

Avi Dor, a health economist and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute, called the study “impressive and timely,” given concerns about prescription opioid abuse. Opioids are often prescribed for many of the conditions the researchers studied. “We can’t be sure about the causality [in the study], but the evidence is strong in favor of the marijuana laws leading to the substitution away from certain drugs,” said Dor, who was not involved in the research. “We just don’t know if, over time, the effects they find will wash out or become amplified,” Dor said. “Physicians and their patients are only beginning to experiment with the new therapeutic alternative of medical marijuana.”

The Health Affairs study estimated that if medical marijuana had been available in all states in 2013, the Medicare prescription program would have saved about $468 million because of fewer prescriptions for just that year -- an amount equal to one-half of 1 percent of Medicare prescription spending that year. But the researchers acknowledged that savings for Medicare might translate into more costs for patients who pay for medical marijuana out of their own pockets, because insurance doesn’t cover the drug.

Dr. Kevin Hill, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School who studies marijuana, said the Medicare savings are important. But he noted physicians remain reluctant to recommend marijuana to their patients because they feel the evidence supporting its use is insufficient, or they are concerned about legal ramifications if they suggest a drug the federal government classifies as dangerous. “Medical marijuana may reduce prescription costs in some cases, but there is a risk that medical marijuana may be used for conditions that are not supported by evidence,” Hill said.

July 6, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Congress now really "moving in the general direction of legalization" of marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new Politico article and its full headline: "Congress mellows on pot crackdowns: Following the lead of the states, it's moving in the general direction of legalization, advocates say."  Here is how the article begins:

Don’t break out the bong just yet, but Congress is quietly chipping away at the federal ban on marijuana. It’s not happening with a sweeping national law, but through modest provisions slipped into spending bills in recent weeks.

For example: Bills funding the Veterans Affairs Department have a line that lifts a prohibition on medical marijuana. The Senate Appropriations Committee has adopted provisions barring the federal government from interfering on pot enforcement where medical marijuana is already legal. And there’s movement in both chambers to make sure banks don’t get penalized for handling money from legal pot businesses.

None of these will bring overnight change on the federal level. But each little measure shows that Congress, following the lead of the states, is moving in the general direction of legalization, advocates say. “We can kind of look at this as the end of prohibition, or at least the beginning of the end of prohibition,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who backed his state’s 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana and is helping lead efforts to soften federal restrictions.

Attitudes around the country and on Capitol Hill have changed so quickly that even advocates of rolling back pot restrictions have been surprised.  It was only a few years ago that even the most modest reform proposals were rejected in the House and Senate, said Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  Now?  “We just win all the time,” he said, sounding not unlike a certain presidential candidate.

Most of the winning has taken place during the humdrum, but hugely consequential annual appropriations process, and this year is no different. A series of bipartisan provisions to loosen marijuana laws have been attached to government funding bills and are making their way through the House and Senate.  In particular, lawmakers are making it easier for doctors to prescribe medical marijuana and are nudging banks to provide services to the nascent recreational marijuana industry, a key step toward legitimizing sales of the drug and paving the way for easy access at stores where pot is legal.

Democrats have typically been the strongest backers of reforming marijuana laws, but Republicans are increasingly lending their support as opinion shifts in red states, speeding up momentum in Congress.  “The missing component was the constitutionalists and the libertarian conservatives,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative Republican from California, who has rallied GOP support to loosen restrictions.

I do not think it is accurate to even suggest that many members of Congress are moving toward full legalization, but I do strongly believe that most members have now come to see that, these days, there is likely more to lose than to gain politically by being a forcefully supporter of blanket prohibition at the federal level. And this reality makes the coming 2016 initiative votes in various states on full legalization so interesting and important. If full legalization wins in most states, I think Congress will see the political writing on the wall. But if it loses in a few states, I suspect the future of major legal reforms in Congress and elsewhere will be a bit slower and less certain.

June 27, 2016 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)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"Democratic Senators Push DEA to Downgrade Marijuana Classification"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Wall Street Journal piece.  Here are excerpts:

A group of Democratic lawmakers is renewing pressure on the Drug Enforcement Administration to remove marijuana from its current position on a list of the most dangerous drugs, a category that includes heroin and ecstasy. Marijuana’s classification as a “Schedule I” drug is “a main barrier” to research on its potential health benefits and conflicts with a decision by half of the states to approve medical marijuana laws, eight Democratic senators wrote this week in a letter to the DEA and the Department of Justice, its parent agency.

DEA spokesman Russ Baer said in an interview that the agency is in the “final stages” of its deliberation on the issue, and he said a decision on whether to reschedule marijuana is expected “sometime soon.” Mr. Baer said he did not expect an answer by June 30, however, despite previous guidance from DEA officials that they hoped to make a decision in the first half of the year.

An increasing number of states now allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes, but the drug remains strictly illegal according to U.S. law. The federal government has adopted a practice of not prosecuting those who use marijuana according to their home-state laws. The senators argued that this “dissonance” between state and federal laws has “wide-ranging implications for legitimate marijuana businesses, including access to banking services, the ability to deduct business expenses from taxes, and access for veterans.”

Signers of the letters are Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

After the Food and Drug Administration determines whether a substance has a medical use, the DEA performs its own analysis and classifies a drug under one of five categories that also take into account their abuse potential. The DEA received a binding assessment from the FDA about whether marijuana should be considered to have a medical use nine to 12 months ago, Mr. Baer said.

That decision, which neither the DEA nor the FDA would discuss, is the controlling factor in whether the DEA will remove marijuana from Schedule I, said Mr. Baer. But regardless of the FDA’s decision, the DEA is required by law to do its own analysis, he said.

The full (and relatively short) letter from the Senators to the DEA is available here

June 25, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016 gets support from most vocal opponents and supporters of reform

Capitolpot-largeAs reported in this WonkBlog posting via the Washington Post, two members of Congress known to marijuana reformers for different reasons are now teaming up to support new federal laws to advance marijuana research.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana’s biggest adversary on Capitol Hill is sponsoring a bill to research … marijuana," and here are excerpts:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) is Congress's most vocal opponent of legal marijuana, having single-handedly spearheaded a provision blocking legal pot shops in the District of Columbia in 2014. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), on the other hand, was recently named Congress's "top legal pot advocate" by Rolling Stone.

The two lawmakers couldn't be farther apart on marijuana policy, but they're teaming up this week to introduce a significant overhaul of federal marijuana policy that would make it much easier for scientists to conduct research into the medical uses of marijuana.

As Harris described it in an interview, the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016 would "cut through the red tape" that currently makes it exceedingly difficult for researchers to obtain and use marijuana in clinical trials. As federal law currently stands, only one facility in Mississippi is allowed to produce marijuana used for research. "Because of this monopoly, research-grade drugs that meet researchers’ specifications often take years to acquire, if they are produced at all," Brookings Institution researchers wrote last year.

Beyond those difficulties, researchers wanting to work with the drug need to have their work approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and, in some cases, the National Institutes on Health. Those hurdles, and the amount of time it takes to jump over all of them, deter many researchers from doing work on marijuana. In one typical case, it took a team of scientists seven years to get full approval to conduct research into using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.

But the bill sponsored by Harris, Blumenauer, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) would allow many more growers to produce marijuana for research. It would also remove levels of federal review for marijuana research projects and specify shorter windows for federal approval of the projects.

Crucially, it would also change the criteria by which the federal government allows marijuana research to proceed. "The federal government must grant an application for [approval] unless it's not in the public interest, rather than assuming it's not," Blumenauer said in an interview. "Reversing that presumption is huge."

Marijuana is currently listed under Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act, the most stringent category of regulation. This bill would not change the schedule status of marijuana, but it would essentially create a "carve-out" within Schedule 1 for marijuana research, according to Harris. "Marijuana's actually different from other things in Schedule 1, which are all discrete chemicals," he said in an interview. "The plant is a combination of hundreds of compounds, so it needs to be treated separately from the other drugs in Schedule 1."

In a separate action, the DEA is currently considering whether to keep marijuana in Schedule 1, move it to a lower schedule, or de-schedule it entirely. But Harris says that process doesn't affect his thinking on this bill. "I'm not going to wait for the DEA to figure out what's going on," he said.

John Hudak, who studies marijuana policy at the Brookings Institution, calls the bill "a really creative approach by Congressman Blumenauer and his colleagues to effectively reschedule marijuana without having to reschedule it." He added, "It forces the government to make it easier for qualified legitimate researchers to get access to product and conduct that research."

Marijuana advocates used to tussling with Harris over his opposition to legal weed may be surprised to see him coming out forcefully in support of improved research. But as a doctor himself, Harris says researchers tell him that they can't do their jobs on account of federal red tape. "It's a Catch-22 that the research is difficult because of the strict rules, and the rules are strict because of the lack of research," he said. His thinking on the drug hasn't changed, he says: "I think medical marijuana should be much more strictly controlled than it is now." But, he adds, "as a physician I would never want to deny a medicine to a patient that has been shown, with scientific rigor, to help them."

June 20, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Tax Benefits of Government-Owned Marijuana Stores"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Benjamin Leff and now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Over a year ago (March 7, 2015), a little store called the Cannabis Corner opened up in the small town of North Bonneville, Washington, about an hour by car from Portland, Oregon.  The Cannabis Corner is the first marijuana store to be operated by a “public development authority,” an independent entity created by a state or local government.  Public development authorities are generally exempt from federal income taxes under section 115 of the Internal Revenue Code.  For a marijuana business, this exemption is especially valuable because section 280E of the Code currently prevents marijuana businesses from deducting many of the ordinary expenses other businesses regularly deduct, resulting in extremely high federal income taxes.

This Article is the first to address whether independent governmental affiliates that sell marijuana are exempt from federal income tax under section 115 of the Internal Revenue Code.  It argues that such entities should easily pass the IRS’s current interpretation of the three requirements for tax-exemption under section 115: (i) that exempt income be derived from “the exercise of any essential governmental function;” (ii) that such income “accru[e] to a State or any political subdivision thereof;” and (iii) that the income “not serve private interests[.]” In addition, this Article argues that the fact that selling marijuana is illegal under federal law is not a bar to exemption under section 115 of the Code the way it is under section 501(c)(3).

Tax exemption for public development authorities that sell marijuana is important because of the non-tax benefits of a marijuana market dominated by government sellers.  Some of these benefits exist when governments are participants in a marijuana market that is open to private sellers as well, such as is the case in North Bonneville, Washington.  This Article also explores the benefits that might accrue if a state chose to create a regulatory regime for legalizing marijuana in which all marijuana selling took place in government-owned stores. Many states have experimented for years with state control of liquor sales, but there are reasons to believe that marijuana may be significantly more suited to a state-controlled market than alcohol, at least for a transitional period.  The question of whether an independent governmental affiliate is exempt from federal income tax, including section 280E, is especially important to governments contemplating the contours of their legal marijuana markets.

June 6, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)