Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

AG-nominee Jeff Sessions deftly avoids saying too much about aggressively enforcing federal marijuana laws

170110105957-jeff-sessions-4-exlarge-169As expected, during today's confirmation hearing for the position of US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was asked a few questions about whether and how he would enforce federal marijuana prohibitions.  These three press reports on the exchange provide slightly different spins on what Senators Sessions said and did not say:

From The Huffington Post here, "Jeff Sessions Offers No Straight Answers On How He’ll Handle Legal Marijuana"

From Reason here, "Sessions Offers Unclear, Useless Answers on Marijuana During Confirmation Hearing"

From the Washington Post here, "Sessions on enforcing federal marijuana laws: ‘It won’t be an easy decision’"

Though I suspect some marijuana reform activists were hoping to hear Sessions say he would fully respect and order DOJ officials to always defer to state marijuana reforms, such a statement would be in some ways tantamount to saying he would not fully respect federal marijuana prohibition (which is still the law of the land). Consequently, I was not surprised and in many ways encouraged by how Senator Sessions handled these issues. These passages from the HuffPo piece spotlight what I consider the biggest highlight, along with one marijuana advocate's takeaway:

“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” said Sessions, responding to a question about whether he’d use federal resources to prosecute people using marijuana in accordance with their state laws. “But absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”

Sessions went on to say that federal guidelines on marijuana enforcement crafted under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had been “truly valuable” in determining how to navigate inconsistencies between federal law ― under which marijuana is illegal ― and state laws that have loosened restrictions on the plant. Sessions also noted that if Congress wanted to clear up this confusion, it could pass a law adjusting the legal status of marijuana. Until then, however, he vowed to do his job “in a just and fair way” while judging how to approach marijuana going forward.

“It is not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” Sessions said. “We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.”

Marijuana advocates met Sessions’ stance with guarded optimism, though they cautioned that he had not ruled out the possibility of more aggressive action against legal marijuana states and users. “It’s a good sign that Sen. Sessions seemed open to keeping the Obama guidelines, if maybe with a little stricter enforcement of their restrictions,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a drug policy reform group. “The truth is, his answer was skillfully evasive, and I hope other senators continue to press for more clarity on how he would approach the growing numbers of states enacting new marijuana laws.”

January 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Free marijuana to be handed out Inauguration Day"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article that reports that the "DC Cannabis Coalition says it plans to hand out thousands of joints of marijuana on Inauguration Day — for free — to urge federal legalization of pot." Here is more:

The group plans to start handing out joints at 8 a.m. Jan. 20 on the west side of Dupont Circle in the nation's capital, where recreational marijuana is legal.  Then, marchers will walk to the National Mall where the real protest will begin.

"The main message is it’s time to legalize cannabis at the federal level," said Adam Eidinger, the founder of DCMJ, a group of D.C. residents who introduced and helped get Initiative 71 passed in the District.  Initiative 71 made it legal to possess 2 ounces or less or marijuana, to grow it, and to give it away, but it is not legal to sell it.

Eidinger is worried, though, that all this progress will be lost with the incoming administration, specifically, with President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions. "We are looking at a guy who as recently as April said that they are going to enforce federal law on marijuana all over the country. He said marijuana is dangerous," Eidinger said.

The great marijuana giveaway is legal, as long as it's done on D.C. land. "We don't want any money exchanged whatsoever.  This is really a gift for people who come to Washington, D.C.," he said.

There will 4,200 gifts, to be exact.  Then, at 4 minutes and 20 seconds into Trump's speech (420 is the internationally known code for weed), protesters are encouraged to light up.  That part, is most definitely illegal.  "We are going to tell them that if they smoke on federal property, they are risking arrest. But, that's a form of civil disobedience," said Eidinger. "I think it's a good protest. If someone wants to do it, they are risking arrest, but it's a protest and you know what, the National Mall is a place for protest."

Eidinger said this is not an anti-Trump event, or even an attempt at disrupting the ceremony. Everyone is welcome....  Eidinger said the DC Cannabis Coalition is hopeful the new administration will not be a problem, but they are preparing for the worst.

January 4, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Veterans group gets attention when urging Trump team to seek to reschedule marijuana

Tom Angell has this interesting report, headlined "Powerful Veterans Group Pushes Trump On Marijuana Rescheduling," on an interesting discussion of marijuana reform among conservative-leaning folks. Here are the highlights:

The nation’s largest military veterans organization is pushing President-elect Donald Trump to reschedule marijuana after he takes office early next year. Top officials from the American Legion, which passed a resolution endorsing the reclassification of cannabis under federal law earlier this year, sat down with Trump’s transition team last week to discuss key priorities for the more than 2 million military veterans the organization represents, including marijuana policy reform.

The group “initiated a call-to-action on fairly new Legion priorities – support of research related to the impacts of medical marijuana and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III,” according to a summary of the meeting on the American Legion’s website. “Reclassification of the drug would allow easier access to pure strains of the substance to cultivate quantifiable research and statistics regarding marijuana’s medical benefits.”

Louis Celli, national director of the Legion’s veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, told Marijuana.com that the Trump officials at the meeting were somewhat guarded in giving feedback on specific issues during the listening session, but that when cannabis’s potential to help heal military veterans war wounds came up, “there was an immediate change in the room.”

“All shuffling stopped, people stopped looking down at their notes, and instantly all eyes were on [Legion Executive Director] Verna Jones and everyone was transfixed and intently hanging on her every word,” Celli said. “I can’t speak for how the transition team felt, but there seemed to be a small shock that snapped the room to attention. No read on how the information was received, but I think they were a little caught off guard and didn’t expect such a progressive statement from such a traditional and conservative organization.”

There were also representatives of more than 30 other veterans service organizations at the meeting....

Moving marijuana out of Schedule I — or, removing it from the CSA altogether, like alcohol and tobacco — would have a number of effects. Reclassification to Schedule III or lower, as the American Legion is pushing for, would protect federal employees who use marijuana from a Reagan-era executive order that defines illegal drugs as Schedule I or II substances.

Additionally, only drugs under Schedules I and II are affected by the tax provision known as “280E,” which disallows state-legal businesses from deducting normal operational expenses from their federal taxes.

Because current laws and regulations prevent the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy from fairly evaluating Schedule I drugs, reclassification would allow the government to examine and communicate about marijuana in a way that prioritizes science instead of an outdated drug war mindset....

But rescheduling alone would not remove the criminal penalties that still put people abiding by state marijuana laws at risk of federal prosecution and prison sentences. Other statutes would have to be amended to accomplish that.

December 11, 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)

"It’s Time to Let Mary Jane Graduate: Reclassify Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Observer commentary authored by Faisal Ansari. The fact that this piece comes from the Observer is one reason it is notable, as the publisher of the Observer is Jared Kushner, son-in-law of Prez Elect Donald Trump. Here is how the piece begins:

Back in the 1970s, the federal government labeled marijuana as the devil’s lettuce, giving it a Schedule 1 classification. Since then, public perception regarding the plant has shifted drastically — but the government has continued to cling to its archaic stance.

In fact, just a few months ago, the Drug Enforcement Agency once again refused to reclassify marijuana, referring to Health and Human Service reports that claimed it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

But those reports stem from the fact that research into marijuana’s medicinal properties has been hindered by politics for decades. Thanks to its strict classification, federal agencies have not been terribly eager to fund or support scientific studies that could potentially debunk many misconceptions that plague the plant.

Placing marijuana in the same category as drugs like ecstasy and heroin isn’t just a bummer for stereotypical “stoners”; it poses serious problems for millions of people who are in dire need of safe, natural, more affordable forms of medicine.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Following our recent election, the number of states that grant citizens access to medical marijuana (MMJ) has grown to 26, and a grand total of eight states have now legalized cannabis for recreational use. An all-time-high 61 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization — and soon enough, the government will have no choice but to reschedule it to a lower category.

Currently, those who live in non-MMJ-friendly states are forced to uproot their lives if they want to seek natural medical relief. And, even if they move to a different state, there’s no guarantee they can easily access MMJ. Insurance companies cannot cover a federally restricted substance, so doctor visits, exams, and other diagnostic services must be paid for out of pocket. Not everyone can afford that. In fact, some patients consider MMJ because they already can’t afford pharmaceutical drugs.

Reclassifying marijuana won’t just revolutionize the healthcare industry; it will also positively affect the overall financial state of the country. Though only available in a small handful of states, legalized marijuana generated $4.6 billion in sales in 2014 and $5.4 billion in 2015. The tax revenue from these sales is being leveraged in a variety of productive ways — from improving local infrastructure to providing services to those in need. For example, Colorado is allocating $3 million from marijuana taxes to feed and house the homeless.

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

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trump nominates anti-legalization retired general to run DHS

Despite uncertainty as to his personal views on marijuana, President-elect Donald Trump hasn't shied away from nominating people to his administration who are openly hostile to it. Trump recently nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be the next attorney general and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as the next director of the Department of Health and Human Services, both of whom have been strong critics of legalization. Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that Trump will soon announce retired Marine General John F. Kelly as the next director of the Department of Homeland Security. While his views on marijuana policy appear slightly more nuanced than those of Session or Price, Kelly is still hostile to marijuana legalization. The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham writes:

Kelly served as the head of the U.S. Southern Command, a posting that gave him oversight ofU.S. security operations for Central America, the Caribbean and the entirety of South America. Trump settled on Kelly in part for his Southwest border expertise, according to people familiarwith the deliberations.

 

In that role, Kelly grappled with issues relating to the international illicit drug trade and the flow of narcotics, including heroin and cocaine, from countries in the Southern Hemisphere to markets in the United States...

 

Kelly is, however, critical of marijuana legalization. He calls the plant a gateway to harder drugs (this notion is disputed by many drug abuse researchers and the National Institute on Drug Abuse). He does support the use of medical marijuana, however: “I'm not a doctor,” he told the Military Times, “but I'm told it has a medical use. So whether it's veterans or anyone else, if it helps those people, then fine. Medicine is medicine.”

 

Kelly's nomination would be the third Trump Cabinet pick who is an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization. Attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been harshly critical of legalization efforts, arguing that “good people don't smoke marijuana.” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump's pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has been one of the most reliably anti-marijuana members of Congress in recent years, voting against even modest policy changes.

 

As DHS secretary, Kelly wouldn't have as direct an effect on federal drug policy as the attorney general or the Health and Human Services secretary. But if confirmed, he would be one more Cabinet-level skeptic of marijuana legalization in an era of increasing marijuana legalization at the state level.

December 8, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

"7 Reasons President Trump Is Unlikely to Fight Legal Marijuana"

America_We_DeserveThe title of this post is the headline of this effective new Time magazine article.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some key excerpts and major headings:

With Donald Trump nominating Cabinet members who have spoken out against legal marijuana, some are arguing that the war on drugs may make a comeback. But while there’s reason for anxiety among those selling recreational marijuana legally in states like Colorado and Washington, an all-out war remains unlikely.

Experts say that trying to undo legalization at this point would come with serious economic and political hurdles. “It’s certainly come so far,” says Sam Kamin, a marijuana law expert at the University of Denver, “that it can’t be undone without a heavy cost.” Others are even more skeptical. Says Mike Vitiello, a marijuana law expert at the University of the Pacific, “It’s kind of like illegal immigration: You can’t build a wall high enough.”

Here are seven reasons that it would be hard to stop what the states have started.

Waging a war on pot would go against the will of many voters.

“It would be a very blatant finger to the voters,” says the Drug Policy Alliance’s Amanda Reiman. In November, voters in eight states cast their ballots for some form of marijuana legalization. That means that medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and recreational marijuana is legal in eight, including the nation’s most populous: California. With that powerhouse on board, a total of about one quarter of the population lives in a place where voters have decided that adults should be able to consume cannabis much the same way they consume alcohol. And all but six other states have legalized a non-psychoactive form of cannabis known as CBD, which people use to treat conditions like juvenile epilepsy.

Public opinion on marijuana is going in the opposite direction. ...

Trump himself has said he supports medical marijuana and that states should handle the question of whether to legalize. ...

It does not seem high on his list of priorities. ...

Waging a war costs money. ...

There’s a lot of money in marijuana these days and the prospect of much more in the future.

If legal marijuana markets didn’t exist tomorrow, that would mean the shuttering of hundreds of small businesses and the loss of thousands of jobs. It would buoy the black market. And it would also make for a lot of unhappy investors. The market for legal marijuana in America is already worth an estimated $7 billion and, according to market research firm ArcView, it will be worth more than $20 billion by 2020. While many bigwig venture capitalists and corporations are still wary of writing checks because of prohibition, others are proving eager to cash in on the “green rush.” Among them is even a member of Trump’s transition team, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. “There’s a huge amount of capital formation,” says Vitiello. “There are literally billions of dollars of investment in these gray market establishments.”

The extent of federal government’s authority over these matters is unclear. 

December 8, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bring it, Jeff: why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive

Lead_960The title of this post is my (foolish?) reaction to this notable new Politico magazine article headlined "Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana: There’s little to stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters." Here are excerpts from the start of the article which I follow with a (too brief) explanation for my blunt "bring it" bravado:

By nominating Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for attorney general, President-elect Donald J. Trump is about to put into the nation’s top law enforcement job a man with a long and antagonistic attitude toward marijuana. As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK "were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In April, he said, “Good people don't smoke marijuana,” and that it was a "very real danger" that is “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Sessions, who turns 70 on Christmas Eve, has called marijuana reform a "tragic mistake" and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing a the federal prohibition that President Obama has called “untenable over the long term.”  In a floor speech earlier this year, Senator Sessions said: "You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink… It is different….It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”

Sessions has not shared his plans on marijuana enforcement, but if he chooses, he will be able to act decisively and quickly — more so perhaps than with any other of his top agenda items such as re-doubling efforts to combat illegal immigration and relaxing oversight of local police forces and federal civil rights laws. With little more than the stroke of his own pen, the new attorney general will be able to arrest growers, retailers and users, defying the will of more than half the nation’s voters, including those in his own state who approved the use of CBD. Aggressive enforcement could cause chaos in a $6.7 billion industry that is already attracting major investment from Wall Street hedge funds and expected to hit $21.8 billion by 2020.

And so far, Congress has shown no interest in trying to stop the Sessions nomination, at least on this issue. Even members who are in favor of protecting states from federal interference on the marijuana issue have said they support Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general: “I strongly support Jeff Sessions as Attorney General,” said Representative Tom McClintock, Republican from California. “He is a strict constitutionalist who believes in the rule of law. I would expect that he will respect the prerogative of individual states to determine their own laws involving strictly intra-state commerce.”

There are dozens of reasons I think it would be quite foolish as a matter of constitutional law and sound federal policing priorities for future Attorney General Jeff Sessions to start his tenure by using broad federal police powers to criminally prosecute tens of thousands of players in a growing recreational marijuana industry.  This industry is already well-established and producing thousands of jobs and tens of millions in tax revenues in Colorado, Oregon and Washington; it is now gearing up for growth in Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Nevada and maybe Maine.

In the most simple of terms, it would be foolish for the Trump/Sessions Administration to try to "Make America Great Again" via tough federal pot prohibition enforcement because it would show to all who care to pay attention that the GOP's purported affinity for personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights is a huge bunch of hooey.  But I genuinely believe that most younger GOP Senators — e.g., folks like Ted Cruz, my wish pick for AG, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott— have always voiced a genuine commitment to personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights.  Consequently, I do not think these important GOP voices are going to be quick to bless any efforts by future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.

Moreover, and completely missing from the facile analysis in this superficial Politico article, even if future AG Jeff Sessions were eager to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat for the emerging recreational marijuana industry, there will still be the bigger and stronger and much more consequential medical marijuana industry chugging along — especially in so many swing/red states that were critical to the election of Donald J. Trump circa 2016.  I am thinking here specifically of now-red states like Arizona and Florida and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Those now-red states alone add up to nearly 100 electoral votes that a whole bunch of Dems would love to win back in 2018 and 2020; and they are all states that, I think, could easily go back into the Dem column if/when establishment Dems finally figure out that medical marijuana reform in a winning issue worth promoting forcefully.  (I have blogged here an explanation for my claim in a post at my other blog that Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform.)

Importantly, in this post I have only outlined some obvious political/policy reasons for why I think it would be foolish (and ultimately unlikely) for future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal pot Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  In a future post, assuming readers are interested, I can explain all the reasons I think the other two branches of the federal government — Congress and the federal judiciary — can and would and should find an array of means to "stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters."  Given that Congress and federal judges over the last eight years have done a whole lot to preclude the Obama Administration from doing too much by executive fiat,  everyone concerned about criminal justice and marijuana policy in the Trumpian future much keep in mind that the Framers gave us a wonderful federal system of check-and-balances that has been pretty effective at keeping the big bad federal government from doing too many stupid things that are obviously against the considered will of the people.

Just sayin'

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Reform

December 5, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"California backers of legalized marijuana fear possible battle with attorney general pick Jeff Sessions"

Today, The Los Angeles Times reports on how marijuana legalization advocates are preparing for potential political and legal battles with the presumptive next attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). The Times's Patrick McGreevy writes:

Marijuana industry leaders in [California] and around the U.S. have launched an opposition campaign to the Senate confirmation of the Republican senator from Alabama and are appealing to the Trump camp to make sure the president-elect’s policies are consistent with his campaign comments that he favors allowing states to decide how to enforce marijuana laws...

 

Sessions said at a legislative hearing in April that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” a drug that he said is “dangerous.” He went on to say, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”... 

 

 

Marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, and industry leaders and some elected officials fear Sessions might repeal a policy directive from the Department of Justice that has prevented enforcement in the states, or take California to court and argue that federal law preempts state legalization measures.

 

If that happens, there will be a fight, supporters say.

 

"California voters supported legalization by a historic and overwhelming margin, and their elected leaders are not going to stand aside and allow the senator from Alabama to turn back California’s clock,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading proponent of Proposition 64...

 

Opponents of Proposition 64 are encouraging Sessions to reverse the federal policy that has allowed states to legalize and regulate recreational use without federal enforcement.

 

“The issue is really as simple as stating that federal law is, in fact, the law of the land and will be enforced across the entire nation,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the opposition group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

 

Sabet’s group has urged Sessions to send a letter to the governors of states that have legalized pot use and notify them that issuing licenses for marijuana sales is a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Sabet suggested the states be given six months to roll back their regulations before enforcement begins...

 

However, supporters of Proposition 64 said they believe the state would be obliged to defend the measure if it is challenged in court.

 

“We would expect a very, very strong pushback from the state, because the reality is it’s a public safety issue,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn. “They have decriminalized a product, so if you don’t allow any sort of regulation in place for people to access that product, the underground market is only going to grow.”

 

Bob Hoban, an attorney and marijuana industry consultant, said Trump’s selection of Sessions is “alarming,” but he is hopeful that Trump will keep the federal government’s hands off the states.

 

A series of court challenges to Colorado’s law have been dismissed, and the Supreme Court in March declined to hear a lawsuit by neighboring states Oklahoma and Nebraska, Hoban said. The two states argued that Colorado’s legalization regulations are unconstitutional and have a negative impact on them because marijuana is flowing across state lines.

 

Hoban also said it is “a very positive sign” that Trump’s transition team includes PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, whose investment firm has a $75-million stake in the marijuana industry.

 

Even so, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), a leading legislative proponent of decriminalization, said California officials are “preparing to dig in” to defend the state’s  values if there is a federal challenge.

 

Among its options, the state could mount a defense of its marijuana laws in court if the federal government challenges Propositions 64 and 215, the 1996 medical marijuana initiative, experts say.

 

California can also wield political clout given that the state has the largest delegation in Congress. That power was exercised when Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Sam Farr (D-Carmel) coauthored a rider to the federal budget that has for the last two years prohibited federal funds from being used to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that are in compliance with state laws...

December 1, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Prez Obama in "exit interview" with Rolling Stone hints he might work on marijuana reform as private citizen

Barack-obama-marijuana1-300x300Rolling Stone magazine has this big new interview with Prez Obama about his legacy on an array of issues, and it includes this notable Q&A on marijuana law and policy:

You can now buy marijuana legally on the entire West Coast. So why are we still waging the War on Drugs? It is a colossal failure. Why are we still dancing around the subject and making marijuana equivalent to a Schedule I drug?

Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues.

[Laughs] What about you? Are you gonna get on the cutting edge?

Look, I am now very much in lame-duck status. And I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go. But in light of these referenda passing, including in California, I've already said, and as I think I mentioned on Bill Maher's show, where he asked me about the same issue, that it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that's legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There's something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal.

November 30, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"AG pick Sessions should moderate his approach to marijuana"

Trump's selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the next attorney general has drug policy reform advocates worried. Sessions proudly supports the drug war, which includes hostility to marijuana and the people who use it. Earlier this year he said that Images"good people don't smoke marijuana." In this recent editorial, The O.C. Register makes the case that Sen. Sessions needs to get with it, writing in part:

Recent public opinion polls have shown a majority of Americans support legalization, including polls conducted by Gallup and Pew Research finding 60 percent and 57 percent in support, respectively. An additional Gallup poll reported 13 percent of American adults identify as current marijuana users — bad people, according to Sessions — and 43 percent of adults have tried marijuana in their lifetimes.

 

While concerns over the abuse of marijuana, or any substance for that matter, are perfectly valid, it is clear that growing numbers of Americans are no longer convinced that prohibition and criminalization are justifiable approaches to the issue.

 

In fact, we now live in a nation where 29 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, and eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, despite marijuana officially being illegal under federal law...

 

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice has effectively taken a hands-off approach, allowing states to try their own approaches to marijuana policy. But marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, illegal under federal law for medicinal or recreational use and distribution.

 

Going on his record and past statements, the prospects of a hands-off approach to marijuana under a Sessions-led DOJ seem dim. “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington saying marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” said Sessions at a hearing in April.

 

If there’s any room for optimism, it comes from statements made by Donald Trump throughout his campaign. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” he said to The Washington Post last year. He later told Bill O’Reilly that he is “a hundred percent” in support of medical marijuana.

 

We completely agree with these stances from Trump. Allowing states greater freedom to experiment with differing approaches to complex problems is often desirable, and this is certainly the case with respect to marijuana.

 

Ideally, Congress should consider removing marijuana from the federal drug scheduling system entirely to remove any ambiguity about the legal status of marijuana. Short of that, a continuation of the current hands-off policy from the DOJ makes more sense than going against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

November 29, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How will Sen. Sessions' selection as attorney general impact marijuana legalization in California?

The Brookings Institution's John Hudak discussed with The New York Times:

How worried should California’s emerging marijuana industry be about Mr. Sessions?

As attorney general, Sessions would have the ability to rescind two Justice Department directives — known as the Cole and Ogden memos — that called for stepping back from marijuana prosecutions. He could also use federal law enforcement power against operators and sue state regulators to block state systems. The only person who can stop the attorney general is the president, and it is unclear whether Trump will direct or delegate drug policy — the latter option being what should worry California the most.

• What’s your read on Mr. Trump’s posture toward states with legal marijuana?

Trump has made statements that seem supportive of states’ rights around marijuana and made others that are unclear. It is also unclear whether this is a policy he will direct from the White House or just let his attorney general steer this ship. It all means, pot policy in the U.S. is up in the air.

• What might a marijuana crackdown in California look like?

First, the Justice Department would likely sue the state to prevent the enforcing of Prop 64. They could use other law enforcement entities — outside of the Drug Enforcement Administration — to begin physical crackdowns on existing operators. The law enforcement efforts would be expensive. The litigation approach might be cheaper and easier — if less effective.

• What does all this mean for the individual consumer?

It would be nearly impossible for federal officials to arrest every marijuana consumer in California (or elsewhere), but if the Trump administration strikes at the heart of the industry — shutting down the supply chain — it would drive producers underground and consumers back to the black market.

November 22, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Good people don't smoke marijuana..."

Images...said Trump's selection for attorney general of the United States, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  

And Sessions really dislikes pot smokers. According to WaPo:

In 1986, a Senate committee denied Sessions, then a 39-year-old U.S. attorney in Alabama, a federal judgeship. His former colleagues testified Sessions used the n-word and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were "okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana."  

His selection is not an encouraging sign for those hoping for (among other things) a continuation of the Obama administration's more temperate stance on marijuana policy.

NORML has graded Sessions an "F" on its congressional scorecard. 

November 18, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shouldn't a new "grassroots" Democratic Party led by Bernie Sanders get started by focusing on grass and roots?

In the video below from the Late Show, Bernie Sanders tells Stephen Colbert that the Democrats have to become a "grassroots" party. Because of the frustrating tendency in recent years the the Clinton wing of the Democratic party to promote and give power to older, less diverse and more "insider" officials and candidates than the Republican party, I have largely given up on the party and I am fairly apathetic about whether the party gets its act together sooner or later. But I am sure about one thing: if the Democratic party wants to become relevant very quickly and build as a true "grassroots" party, it ought to begin by focusing a lot on marijuana law and policy reform. Specifically, as the title of this post seeks to suggests, I think smart progressive politicians and community organizers ought to be laser focused, at least for the next six months if not longer, on (1) protecting the constitutional rights of citizens in states who are in strict and clear compliance with state marijuana laws (that is the "grass"), and (2) seeking to expand the reach and breadth of existing state marijuana reform laws, with a particular concern for allowing citizens a legal means for at least limited "home grow" (that is the roots).

I make this "pitch" largely driven by the fact that the only significant progressive policy issue that has gone to voters in the last two major election cycles and pretty consistently done much better with most voters (especially white male voters) than the leading Democratic candidate IN RED STATES has been marijuana reform. Specifically, in the 2014 election, in Alaska and Florida, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more than 50% of the vote even though, I believe, no democratic state-wide candidate in those two stated got more than 50% of the vote. Similarly, in the 2016 election, in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more support than the leading Democratic candidate. (The outlier here is Arizona, but notably exit polls show 43% of white men supported supported full legalization in the state, whereas only 36% of them supported Hillary Clinton; similarly 45% of whites without a college degree in Arizona supported full legalization, whereas only 35% of them supported Hillary Clinton.)

I could go on and on and on about why the "smart" approach for any political party circa Fall 2016 would be to focus on the bipartisan and wildly popular issue of medical marijuana reform. I will just close by noting that major medical or recreational marijuana reform is now the law of the land in just about big blue and red state except Texas. Specifically, recreational marijuana reform is now the law in "big states" like California (55 EV), Washington (12), Massachusetts (11), Colorado (9) Oregon (7), Nevada (6), while medical marijuana reform is the law of the land in Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), New Jersey (14), Arizona (11), Connecticut (7), Arkansas (6). Notably, I have left out three "small" full legalization jurisdictions from this list (e.g., Alaska, Maine and Washing DC), but my list of bigger states now with major marijuana reform laws on their books after the 2016 election now just happens to add up to 271 electoral votes.

This electoral math and the marijuana map are among the reasons I remain quite bullish about the future of marijuana reform in the United States, and it is why I have been saying to any and everyone who would listen that the truly smart political candidates in BOTH major political parties are likely to be supportive of state-led marijuana reforms. But, given that the election last week highlighted that leading Democrats are not very good at getting to 270, I am not really all that optimistic that the Democratic party will wake up and smell the marijuana reform future rather than keep being focused on the prohibitionist past.

 

 

November 16, 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 Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Will Prez-Elect Donald Trump make it legal and easier for veterans to have access to medical marijuana?

Veterans-day-20131The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new AP article headlined "For Colorado Veterans, Marijuana A Controversial Treatment." Here are excerpts:

Tom couldn’t sleep. After six years in the U.S. Navy, he found himself in the civilian world unable to readjust from his time on a ship, when a commanding officer would often wake up the sailors every few hours.  He tried prescription sleep aids, but nothing really worked until he smoked some weed ... “I tried it very sparingly and slept the whole night for the first time in like months,” Tom said.

For members of the U.S. military, admitting to using marijuana could result in an investigation and in most cases, punishment or separation from the military. Because of this, many of the veterans who use marijuana chose not to reveal their last names...

Attorney Will M. Helixon, an expert in military law, said the military still considers marijuana a controlled substance. Someone in active duty caught using the drug could be punished and in most cases, processed for separation from the military. For someone who is not on active duty, it could still result in a discharge, which could close the door for future benefits and career options.

Helixon said it makes no difference to the military if marijuana is legal in some states, such as Colorado. “There are many instances where otherwise lawful conduct is prohibited by the military, marijuana being one of them,” Helixon said. “To not be efficient in your job or to be derelict in your duties is not a crime in the civilian world, but it is in the military.”...

Tom said he much prefers marijuana over drinking, even though branches of the military are no strangers to alcohol consumption. “The Navy has, I don’t want to say a tradition, but we’re known for being heavy drinkers. There’s that saying ‘drunk as a sailor,'” Tom said. “It’s like a big frat because at every port there’s ‘Let’s go out and get as drunk as possible.’ I thought it was so odd that the Navy was so gung ho about drinking and so against marijuana. I consider them on the same level.”

Juan, who is 50 and was in the U.S. Marine Corps, expressed the same sentiment. Juan broke his collarbone from injuries not related to the military, he said. “I just drank all the time to numb the pain but marijuana works much better and for sleep as well,” Juan said. Marijuana “doesn’t really get rid of the pain. It changes it to something more manageable if that makes sense … it like feels good to get it moving, like a massage.”

Juan said he has a couple friends recently who died from heavy drinking. He said the drinking culture in the Marines is similar to what Tom described in the Navy. “Oh yeah, it’s just like college — put enough young people together and they’re going to want to party and drink. In the Marine Corps everyone drank and pretty excessively too,” Juan said.

Juan said he is distrustful of prescription opiates as well. “I think the amount of opiates being prescribed to people is a little reckless. I don’t take aspirin because I don’t like the idea of drugs,” Juan said. “An opiate can actually kill you if you overdose. With marijuana, that can’t happen. You’re not going to smoke yourself to death.”... Juan conceded that it is possible to get hooked on marijuana, like anything else. “To be honest, I’m kind of addicted to not hurting all the time. You can be psychologically dependent on it,” Juan said. “If it gets to a point where you’re smoking before work or something then you’ve got a problem. I have friends who smoke it pretty heavily and they are well-paid with families to take care of. They’re not the stereotypical stoner on the couch.” ‘A Band-Aid’ Sam House, a spokesman for the U. S. Department Veterans Affairs for northern Colorado and Cheyenne, said that while marijuana may seem beneficial, it’s masking the real problem.... House said the VA follows the Federal Drug Administration, which has not found a medical use for cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Because of the federal policy, House said a veteran who uses marijuana won’t be able to get certain prescriptions at the VA medical office. For instance, veterans are routinely blood-tested every time they go in for a VA appointment, House said. So if a veteran tweaks his or her back in a way for which a doctor would prescribe prescription painkillers, when the bloodwork comes back positive for marijuana, the VA doctor can no longer prescribe the painkillers.

House is a veteran who is diagnosed with PTSD. He said it’s important for veterans to treat the root cause of the side effects with therapy, instead of self-medicating with marijuana. “The goal of every veteran should be to be normal and to seek out that new normal,” House said. “If someone is on an antidepressant, they may need that for the rest of their lives. Why complicate that with self-medication, which could or could not contribute to that depression?”...

Curt Bean, 31 of Lakewood, was diagnosed with PTSD after tours in Iraq with the U.S Army. Bean said he knows a fellow veteran who went from taking 14 medications for PTSD to three medications after starting marijuana. “The three biggest things for me — anxiety is really tough and then there’s depression and sleeplessness,” Bean said. “I’m able to have something to mitigate that in a healthy and positive way with zero negative side effects.”

Bean said he is heavily involved in the Colorado veterans community and he has seen other veterans switch from opiates to marijuana with positive effects. “They were just being zombies. And the marijuana allowed them to be a successful part of their families and their communities,” Bean said. “It allowed them to be part of their communities rather than isolating them in their room.”...

Bean said he knows many veterans are afraid to come out and say they use marijuana, but he is trying to raise more awareness about the issue. Bean has smoked marijuana on a few local news stations. “I understand the ramifications of doing that, but it takes people to stand up and say, ‘It’s silly,’ for this to become less of an issue,” Bean said.

Bean said he wished the VA would come around and see his perspective on marijuana use for PTSD. “It’s a matter of time. The longer they wait and drag their feet, the lower the quality of life for veterans and there is some loss of life,” Bean said. “That’s the most upsetting thing — that I’m on this expedition to be able to say that this is a valuable option for the guys and they should be able to use it because it does save lives.” 

Notably, this two-page document entitled "Donald Trump's Contract with the American Voter," describes a part of a planned initiative to include "provid[ing] veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice." If that becomes a reality, it could make it much easier to veterans to have access to medical marijuana through the private health care system (although this would not alone solve problems for active military members).  

November 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, November 11, 2016

"Will Team Trump bust the marijuana business?"

The title of this post comes from this CBSNews.com article addressing the question looming over the otherwise positive Imagesresults for marijuana legalization advocates on Tuesday: will a Trump White House aggressively enforce federal marijuana prohibition? The article begins:

Supporters of the marijuana industry should be celebrating this week’s passage of eight state ballot measures to permit its use by adults. That promises to triple the industry’s size in coming years. 

 

But harshing their buzz are several key allies of President-elect Donald Trump, such as his running mate Mike Pence, who are skeptical about the benefits of marijuana legalization.

 

Not surprisingly, many in the cannabis industry had expected Democrat Hillary Clinton to cruise to victory and were stunned when it didn’t happen. Now, they’re awaiting signals of how Trump will approach cannabis, even as the industry is set to expand significantly.

 

“If Hillary Clinton had won, this would have been the grand slam that everyone in the industry had been hoping and praying for for years,” said Chris Walsh, editorial director of Marijuana Business Daily. “With Trump coming in, no one knows what’s going to happen. There are a lot of fears that he might crack down on the industry.”

 

During the campaign, Trump argued that marijuana legalization should be decided on a state-by-state basis, without being more specific. But in addition to the vice president-elect, some of Trump’s closest advisers, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, are no “friends of marijuana reform,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

 

Lawmakers in Indiana failed to reach an agreement on a medical marijuana bill during their 2016 session, and according to the Marijuana Policy Project, the state has among the most draconian cannabis laws in the country.

 

In New Jersey, Christie signed a law allowing medical use of pot last year, but activists have criticized it for being overly restrictive. The governor is adamantly opposed to allowing recreational pot use. Giuliani reportedly has argued that marijuana is a gateway drug that could lead to abuse of more harmful substances like heroin, a view that many experts dispute.

 

Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment...

 

It would be difficult for the Trump administration to get rid of legal marijuana given the windfall the states have earned in tax revenue, according to [Nick] Kovacevich[, the CEO of Kush Bottles].

November 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 7, 2016

How might marijuana legalization in California affect the nation?

The question in the title of this post comes from this Forbes article examining how passage of Proposition 64 -- California's marijuana legalization initiative -- on Tuesday could change marijuana policy nationwide. The article begins:

California’s Proposition 64 to legalize recreational marijuana is going to have a big influence on the rest of the United States.

 

It is highly likely the measure will pass Tuesday. On Oct, 16, a SurveyUSA poll showed 51% in favor and 40% against. More recently, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed 58% for and 34% against the ballot measure.

 

Jessica Rabe, research associate Convergex, a global brokerage company based in New York, said that the great size of the California economy — sixth largest in the world if it were a standalone country, with GDP of $2.5 trillion in 2015 — will “put pressure on the government to reclassify or deschedule the drug to help ‘cannabusinesses’ better conduct their operations with more access to banking services.”

 

According to cannabis investment company MedMen, passage of Proposition 64 could add $8.38 billion in annual sales to an already robust medical market worth an estimated $2.83 billion. CEO Adam Bierman said that the California vote is one of the major milestones in the institutionalization of the marijuana industry. “I have a meeting on Tuesday in San Francisco with half a dozen of what some people would refer to as the illuminati of Silicon Valley,” said Bierman. “That meeting doesn’t happen six months ago. That meeting doesn’t happen two months ago. It’s happening now.”

 

Sarah Trumble of Third Way, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., sounds a cautionary note. “I’ve heard that saying, if California goes then this inevitable that all states will go, but that’s not necessarily true,” she said.  “California didn’t do a very good job with its medical marijuana industry and its lack of regulation. If they screw up recreational, it will hurt the overall effort.”

 

Trumble believes that if the analysts are right in their sales estimates and the industry becomes a multi-billion dollar one, then the big banks will reluctantly begin working with these customers. She noted that the amounts of money are so large that it wouldn’t be feasible to work only in cash and the smaller banks and credit unions could be overwhelmed. It could be the tipping point for major financial institutions.

 

“The exponential increase in mainstream venture capital interest will attract talent from the established industries that the state has long supported from tech to aerospace and agriculture, which will be a boon for innovation and job creation across the diverse spectrum of cannabis companies,” said Mike Bologna, Chief Executive Officer of Green Lion Partners. “The potential economic impact of Prop 64 cannot be understated, and we hope that a victory in California will inspire other state governments to reconsider their archaic and destructive stance on cannabis.”...

 

In addition to the financial and cultural aspects, there is also the feeling it will benefit the medical community. Rob Hunt, President of Teewinot Life Sciences said, “California is the epicenter of biotechnology and there are many scientists that are desperate to study the efficacious nature of cannabinoids,” He went on to say, “Legalizing cannabis provides a great deal of insulation to these people and provides them comfort in conducting trials that will ultimately lead to breakthroughs in medicine. It is ironic that the passage of adult use may drive cannabinoid based science far more than a medicinal law ever did.”...

November 7, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 4, 2016

"#StopThePot: Trump trolls launch a new misinformation campaign targeting marijuana supporters"

As explained in this intriguing post by The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham, an online group of supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump now seek to discourage young pro-pot liberals from voting for Sec. Hillary Clinton by falsely attributing Reefer Madness-like memes to her campaign. Ingraham explains:

“It's time to put an end to the marijuana crisis on campus,” the meme proclaims in vivid text superimposed on a shot of photogenic 20-somethings. “Vote Hillary and #StopThePot.” The bottom of the image is emblazoned with the Hillary Clinton campaign logo, noting that it was “paid for by Hillary for America.”

 

Other images bearing similar anti-pot messages have circulated on Twitter and Facebook in the past few days:

 

The images all bear the familiar Clinton campaign branding, but none were actually “Approved by Hillary for America.” Rather, they're part of a concerted effort, launched by members of a pro-Trump Reddit community, to suppress support for Clinton among young, pot-friendly voters...

 

A moderator for  r/the_donald confirmed that the group created the #StopThePot campaign. Another moderator said that “the mod team's position is that we do not want any degree of association with the Washington Post and we have no comment for you regarding this or any other matter.”

As Tom Angell reported at marijuana.com, the recent Wikileaks dump of hacked Clinton emails reveal Clinton told Xerox's chairman and CEO during a March 2014 Q & A that she was against marijuana legalization. This revelation appears to have inspired the Trump-supporting cabal's scheme to convince young voters that she'll be coming for their pot if she wins next Tuesday.

The Clinton campaign, of course, has not released anti-legalization ads; despite her 2014 comments, her current position on marijuana policy is relatively relaxed. As Ingraham observes:

The Clinton campaign has said that Hillary will reschedule marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule 2, a slightly less-restrictive designation that could make it easier to research medical uses of the plant. “She will also ensure Colorado, and other states that have enacted marijuana laws, can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy,” the campaign said in a statement in August.

 

The Marijuana Policy Project, a group working to legalize marijuana nationwide, gave Clinton a B+ grade on marijuana policy earlier this year. By contrast, Republican candidate Donald Trump earned a C+. Trump, too, has said that marijuana should be a “state-by-state” issue, but he's been more vociferous about concerns with Colorado's marijuana industry, telling Fox News host Bill O'Reilly earlier this year that legal weed is “causing a lot of problems out there.”

November 4, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Chicago-Kent College of Law hosting great event next week on "Marijuana and IP Law"

As detailed in this calendar notice, on the evening of November 9, 2016, the Chicago-Kent College of Law is hosting a terrific looking panel discussion to review all the complicated issues that arise at the intersection of intellectual property law and marijuana reform. Here is the description of the event and its scheduled participants: 

This panel will be directed to the effects of the marijuana industry on IP law; specifically, this panel will discuss the legal and ethical issues that may arise in both trademark and patent law.

Panelists include: 

  • Randy Micheletti, Associate at Perkins Coie LLP (Moderator)
  • Sean Grygiel, Partner at Perkins Coie LLP
  • Alison Malsbury, Attorney at Harris Moure
  • Dina Rollman, Partner at Rollman & Dahlin LLP
  • Bryna Dahlin, Partner at Rollman & Dahlin LLP
  • Dr. Teddy Scott, CEO of PharmaCann LLC
  • Charles Bachtell, CEO of CRESCOlabs LLC

November 3, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Would federal marijuana reform get a real "boost" if Democrats gain control of the US Senate?

CannabisHill_FB.4aabffc9fb3c5e7bfef73acc5067e886The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Roll Call article with this full headline: "Marijuana Legalization Could Get a Boost in a Democratic Senate: Advocates hope for better reception to sweeping pot bill, now stalled." Here are excerpts from an article that effective reviews the federal marijuana reform landscape a week before a very important election for marijuana reform:

Marijuana legalization advocates hope that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT., can push through a sweeping bill if he becomes Judiciary Committee Chairman under a Democratic-controlled Senate (Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

The momentum toward marijuana legalization — already accelerated this year by a raft of state ballot measures — could get an even bigger boost if Democrats win control of the Senate. That’s partly because the controlling party will choose the chairman of the committee that determines whether a sweeping marijuana proposal advances or dies.

The so-called CARERS Act has stalled in the Judiciary Committee under Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who, in the past, has staunchly opposed legalized marijuana. The Democrat next in line to take the gavel, Patrick J. Leahy, has shown more interest. He said in 2013 that federal officials should not “waste their time” prosecuting marijuana crimes in states where it is legal. He also comes from Vermont, which has led the country in legalization efforts.

Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group, called Grassley’s reticence to take on marijuana-related measures an “obstacle” to legalization. “If Sen. Leahy takes the gavel, we are a little more optimistic,” he said....

When the CARERS Act was introduced in March 2015, it was considered historically significant. Most key marijuana-related votes had taken place on the House side, through incremental changes tucked into unrelated bills. But here was the Senate, proposing one of the most comprehensive pot-related bills ever. CARERS focused solely on medical use — considered an easier sell. But it tackled many of legalization advocates’ biggest issues.

The bill would make it easier to research the medical benefits of cannabis and to buy and sell medical marijuana in the growing number of states where it is legal. It would also make it easier for veterans to access medical marijuana. Its original sponsors indicated a promising bipartisan appeal: Republican libertarian firebrand Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker, of New Jersey. And it quickly attracted a list of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle — including Charles E. Schumer of New York, a future shoe-in for majority leader under the Democrats, and Lindsey Graham, a conservative senior senator from South Carolina.

But the bill first had to pass through Grassley, who has linked lax marijuana laws and enforcement to the epidemic of opioid and heroin use. Grassley has held two marijuana-related hearings, one on researching its medical benefits, and another on cannabidiol, a component of marijuana that is thought to ease symptoms of epilepsy. The CARERS Act would remove cannabidiol, or CBD, from the Controlled Substances Act, facilitating research and patient access. Grassley expressed support for that part of the measure, but he made it clear that his interest is limited to medical potential. “Legitimate, medical research shouldn’t be confused at all with smoking marijuana for recreational purposes, which the science tells us can be harmful and addictive, especially for young people,” he said at a July hearing.

Grassley supports research into medical marijuana and its constituent parts, but opposes other parts of the bill, according to spokeswoman Jill Gerber. She pointed out that few Judiciary Committee members had co-sponsored the bill, an indication, she said, that there might not be enough support to pass it even if Grassley scheduled a vote. Indeed, some of the other committee members, including Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, and Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama, have been outspoken in their opposition to legalization. (Sessions said in April that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”)

But advocates have been tallying the potential votes on their side and are coming up with a different conclusion. CARERS co-sponsors Graham and Schumer sit on the Judiciary committee and others have made statements that indicate they could be persuaded, the Drug Policy Institute’s Collins said. “This is not something that Leahy would have to shove down representatives’ throats and then they would have a knock-down, drag-out fight on the floor,” he said.

Legalization advocates viewed the marijuana hearings as a sign that Grassley had softened his position. But they said the bill’s prospects would be better under Leahy. They noted that the Vermont senator showed support for states that have legalized marijuana when he chaired the committee the last time Democrats controlled the Senate. Leahy held a hearing on drug policy in 2013, saying state laws legalizing marijuana “should be respected.” Leahy did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

The CARERS Act sponsors expect to reintroduce the bill in the next Congress and were optimistic about its chances, according to a Democratic staffer with knowledge of the bill. “Attitudes about medical marijuana are shifting quickly,” Booker said in a statement. “Election Day could represent another big step forward. I expect the momentum behind the CARERS Act to grow."

A companion bill introduced on the House side has 42 co-sponsors, including 14 Republicans. Advocates say it has a good chance of passing even if Republicans maintain control of the House, which most projections indicate is the most likely outcome in November. Other marijuana-related legislation has passed with increasing bipartisan support every year since 2014, when the House adopted an amendment to an appropriations bill prohibiting the use of federal money to enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized it for medical use.

Legalization advocates are also optimistic that the Democrats next in line to head the Banking and Finance committees would help advance bills aimed at easing financial restrictions on pot-related businesses. Both are front-line issues in the legalization movement that are also addressed in the CARERS Act. Federal laws make it difficult for businesses that sell marijuana to get loans or open bank accounts, forcing them to do most of their transactions in cash. They are also prohibited from taking tax deductions for their expenses....

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Banking Committee’s top Democrat, has expressed reservations on marijuana-related issues in the past, but he said last year that he supported legalized medical marijuana. (Ohio legalized medical marijuana in September.) And Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, sponsored bills this term that would make it easier for marijuana-related businesses to advertise and to take tax deductions.

But that’s not the only reason marijuana advocates are calling the 2016 election a pivotal one. “For those of us who are crusading [for] the end of this failed prohibition of marijuana, this could well be the turning point,” said Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who was campaigning in Arizona for that state’s marijuana ballot measure. Dozens of marijuana-related bills in the House and Senate could get a better reception in the coming Congress, regardless of which party controls the Senate and House, advocates say.

Five states, including the political bellwether of California, will vote to allow adult recreational use, potentially bringing to nine the total of states with full legalization plus the District of Columbia, and potentially bringing the percentage of Americans living in states where pot use is legal to as much as 25 percent from 5 percent. An additional four states will consider medical use this election. At present, more than two dozen states allow it. A Gallup poll released this month showed a record high of 60 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization.

“What happens with these nine states on the 8th could propel a breakthrough in Congress and its going to be a huge signal to the other folks around the country,” Blumenauer said. Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, had a similar interpretation. “The reality is, after Nov. 8, there is going to be a significantly larger number of members of Congress who have constituents who are affected by the way the [federal] government approaches cannabis policy,” she said.

November 1, 2016 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)

Monday, October 24, 2016

"Election May Be a Turning Point for Legal Marijuana"

While The New York Times's editorial board maintains its current silence on marijuana policy reform, its reporters continue give its readers necessary information and perspectives on the marijuana reform movement from across the country. In today's Times, Thomas Fuller reports on the legalization debate in California. The article begins:

To the red-and-blue map of American politics, it may be time to add green. The movement to legalize marijuana, the country’s most popular illicit drug, will take a giant leap on Election Day if California and four other states vote to allow recreational cannabis, as polls suggest they may.

 

The map of where pot is legal could include the entire West Coast of the United States and a string of states reaching from the Pacific Ocean to Colorado, raising a stronger challenge to the federal government’s ban on the drug.

 

In addition to California, Massachusetts and Maine both have legalization initiatives on the ballot next month that seem likely to pass. Arizona and Nevada are also voting on recreational marijuana, with polls showing Nevada voters evenly split.

 

The passage of recreational marijuana laws in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington over the last four years partly unlocked the door toward eventual federal legalization. But a yes vote in California, which has an economy the size of a large industrial country’s, could blow the door open, experts say.

 

“If we’re successful, it’s the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California and a former mayor of San Francisco. “If California moves, it will put more pressure on Mexico and Latin America writ large to reignite a debate on legalization there.”

 

The market for both recreational and medicinal marijuana is projected to grow to $22 billion in four years from $7 billion this year if California says yes, according to projections by the Arcview Group, a company that links investors with cannabis companies.

 

“This is the vote heard round the world,” said Arcview’s chief executive, Troy Dayton. “What we’ve seen before has been tiny compared to what we are going to see in California.”

 

And yet scholars who have studied these legalization measures say that to a large extent they are very much a shot in the dark, a vast public health experiment that could involve states that hold 23 percent of the United States population — and generate a quarter of the country’s economic output — carried out with relatively little scientific research on the risks. In addition, there are 25 states that already permit medical marijuana.

October 24, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)