Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, November 20, 2015

"After federal raids, U.S. tribes cautioned about marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP article providing an effective review of the state of tribal affairs concerning marijuana reform roughly a year since the US Department of Justice issued notable guidance concerning federal law enforcement priorities in this arena.  Here are excerpts (with links from the source):

Tribes across the U.S. are finding marijuana is a is risky business nearly a year after a Justice Department policy indicated they could grow and sell pot under the same guidelines as states.

Federal raids on tribal cannabis operations in California followed by a South Dakota tribe's move this month to burn its crop amid fears it could be next have raised questions over whether there's more to complying with DOJ standards than a department memo suggested last December.

The uncertainty — blamed partly on thin DOJ guidelines, the fact that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal laws, and a complex tangle of state, federal and tribal law enforcement oversight on reservations — has led attorneys to urge tribal leaders to weigh the risks involved before moving forward with legalizing and growing pot.

"Everybody who is smart is pausing to look at the feasibility and risks of growing hemp and marijuana," said Lance Gumbs, a former chairman of the Shinnecock Tribe in New York and regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. "But are we giving up on it? Absolutely not."

At a conference on tribal economic development held in Santa Fe, tribal leaders and attorneys said Wednesday that the raids have shown there may be more red tape for tribes to negotiate when it comes to legalizing cannabis than states have faced.  That's especially the case for tribes that are within states where marijuana is not legal....

"Industrial hemp, medical marijuana and maybe recreational marijuana present a lot of opportunity. But for now, the best advice is to proceed with caution," said Michael Reif, an attorney for the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, where tribal leaders filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday after federal agents recently seized thousands of hemp plants grown for research.  "We're seeing the ramifications of things being unclear in a way states didn't."

The Flandreau Santee Sioux in South Dakota — a state where marijuana isn't legal — was the first to approve recreational pot under tribal law with a vote in June, and was one of the most aggressive about entering the industry, with plans to open the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation north of Sioux Falls.

But after weeks of discussions with authorities who signaled a raid was possible, the tribe announced last week it had burned all of its marijuana plants.  Anthony Reider, the tribe's president, told The Associated Press the main holdup centered on whether the tribe could sell marijuana to non-Indians, along with issues over where the seed used for planting originated.  He suggested that by burning the crops, the tribe could have a clean slate to relaunch a grow operation in consultation with authorities.

In California, the Alturas and Pit River Indian rancherias launched tribally run marijuana operations that were raided by federal authorities, with agents seizing 12,000 marijuana plants in July.  The regional U.S. attorney's office said in a statement that the two neighboring tribes planned to distribute the pot off tribal lands and the large-scale operations may have been financed by a foreign third-party foreign.   It's not clear if the two tribes have plans for a new marijuana venture, and calls from the AP were not immediately returned.

The California and South Dakota tribes are three of just six so far this year that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana on their reservations.  The Squaxin Island Tribe in Washington state is another, and just opened a store last week for retail sales of the drug. But most expect the tribe to face fewer legal challenges because Washington allows for recreational marijuana use and the tribe entered into a compact with the state that sets guidelines for taxing pot sales.

"The tribes are not going to be immune to what the local attitudes toward marijuana are going to be," Trueblood said.  "If there's one 30,000-feet takeaway from this year, it's that you're not going to be successful if you don't work with you local governments or U.S. attorneys."

Prior related posts:

November 20, 2015 in 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 (1)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Menominee Indian Tribe files suit seeking declaration it has right under federal Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp

TribalSealThis press release reports on a interesting new lawsuit filed in federal district court this week.  Here are the details: 

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit for declaratory judgment today against the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) seeking a judicial determination that Menominee has the right to cultivate industrial hemp pursuant to the Agricultural Act of 2014 (“Farm Bill”). Menominee filed its lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin – Green Bay Division.

Menominee Chairman Gary Besaw stated: “The Menominee Tribe, in cooperation with the College of Menominee Nation, should have the right under the Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp in the same manner as Kentucky, Colorado, and other states. These and other states cultivate industrial hemp without threats or interference from the United States government. In contrast, when our Tribe attempted to cultivate industrial hemp we were subjected to armed federal agents who came to our Reservation and destroyed our crop. The Department of Justice should recognize the equality of Tribes under the Farm Bill, and provide us with the same respect they have demonstrated to states growing industrial hemp for research purposes.”

Industrial hemp — which can be grown as a fiber and a seed crop — is used to produce a range of textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics, and building materials that are available throughout North America, the European Union, and Asia. Unlike marijuana, it has no psychoactive effect. Industrial hemp is currently cultivated by farmers in more than 30 countries around the world—from Australia to Canada to China. Menominee had been in discussions regarding its growth of industrial hemp with federal officials for months prior to October 23, 2015 when DEA and DOJ officials raided the Menominee Reservation and destroyed its industrial hemp crop. Brendan Johnson, Partner at Robins Kaplan LLP, former United States Attorney for South Dakota, former Chair of then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s Native American Issues Subcommittee, and an attorney representing Menominee in the action filed today stated: “This is a straightforward legal issue. The lawsuit focuses on the specific legal question of whether the Farm Bill’s industrial hemp provisions apply to Menominee. We are confident that the provisions do apply to Menominee; that Menominee is authorized under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp consistent with those provisions; and that a federal court will read the Farm Bill provisions as we do and require the federal government to recognize Menominee’s rights under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp.”

November 19, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Senate Approves Funding Bill That Allows Veterans to Access Medical Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Drug Policy Alliance on a notable new vote in the US Senate today.  Here are the details:

The Senate today passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which includes language to allow Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The language was included as an amendment in the Senate Appropriations committee in May....

The Veterans Equal Access Amendment was sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It passed the Committee 18-12 in a bipartisan vote. The funding bill will now be negotiated with the House’s version as part of an omnibus spending bill.

"On this eve of Veterans/Armistice Day where we remember those who served in the military and the treaty agreement to reach peace concluding WWI, we see this victory as a step toward a peace treaty with the government we volunteered to defend with our lives and as a step toward restoring our first amendment rights and dignity as citizens of the United States, " said TJ Thompson, a disabled Navy veteran.

Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations or opinions regarding participation in a state medical marijuana program. The Daines-Merkley amendment authorizes VA physicians and other health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the use of medical marijuana to veterans who live in medical marijuana states....

There are numerous federal healthcare programs besides the VA such as Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP – but only the VA prohibits physicians from discussing and recommending medical marijuana to their patients. A Medicare patient may freely discuss medical marijuana use with her doctor, while a returning veteran is denied the same right.

Studies have shown that medical marijuana can help treat post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, illnesses typically suffered by veterans. A 2014 study of people with PTSD showed a greater than 75% reduction in severity of symptoms when patients were using marijuana to treat their illness, compared to when they were not.

A legislative version of the Daines-Merkley amendment was included in groundbreaking Senate medical marijuana legislation introduced in March. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. The bill was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and generated enormous interest.

With the Senate approving one element in the bill, supporters say it is time for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the full bill. “The politics around marijuana have shifted in recent years, yet Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley hasn’t held a hearing on the bill,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We will move the CARERS Act piece by piece if we have to but now is the time for the Senate to hold a hearing on the bill as a whole.”

November 10, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 9, 2015

South Dakota tribe planning first marijuana resort (mysteriously?) changes plans and destroys (valuable?) crops

As regular readers should recall from lots of prior posts, a Native American tribe seemed well on its way to opening the nation's first "marijuana resort" on tribal lands in South Dakota at the end of the year.  But, as reported in this local article, headlined "Flandreau tribe temporarily suspending marijuana operations," there appears to have been a significant and sudden change in pot plans. Here is the local report, which prompts a lot more questions than answers:

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is temporarily suspending its marijuana cultivation and distributing facilities and is destroying its existing crop as leaders seek clarification on regulations from the federal government, according to the tribe's lawyer.

Seth Pearman said the suspension is pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture and that tribal leadership is confident that after getting clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice, "it will be better suited to succeed."

"The tribe will continue to consult with the federal and state government and hopes to be granted parity with states that have legalized marijuana," Pearman said in the news release. Pearman said despite suspending the current plan, the tribe intends to be a participant in the marijuana industry.

South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley called the about-face a "positive" choice. "The decision by the Flandreau Tribe to not move forward at this time with marijuana growth in South Dakota is positive and is in the best interest of both tribal and non-tribal members," Jackley said.  "I understand that this has been a divisive matter and that this decision by tribal authorities has not been easy."

Jackley said that he and tribal government officials have had opportunities to sit down and discuss the marijuana operation throughout the process. "We haven't always agreed, but we've had good, positive discussions," he said.  "I will do whatever I can as South Dakota's Attorney General to assist Flandreau in the decision and as I have done throughout this process, make myself available to tribal leadership for further discussions." Jackley told the Associated Press that he was informed of the tribe's decision Saturday. He plans to meet with tribal officials Monday or Tuesday.

Jonathan Hunt, vice present of Monarch America, a Denver-based marijuana consulting firm hired by the tribe, told the Associated Press that a reported fire Saturday was caused by wood and not marijuana. He declined further comment.

Rep. Matthew Wollmann, R-Flandreau, had the opportunity to tour the tribe's marijuana facilities in October.  Wollmann said he was surprised by the decision to forego the venture for now. "They've invested a lot of money into the facilities," he said. Wollmann added that despite the delay, the fact that marijuana is still illegal across South Dakota could continue to create tension between the tribe and the rest of the state.

"Quite frankly, nine out of 10 people that I've spoken to about the issue were not in favor of it," he said.  "I think they had a lot more pushback than they expected. ... Maybe they're waiting for a better environment."...

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe became the first South Dakota tribe to move forward with making marijuana legal.  The tribe's executive committee voted June 11 to make the sale and use of marijuana legal on its reservation in Moody County about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls. The facility had been slated to open at the end of the year.

I would not have been too surprised if, for administrative reasons, the planned opening for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's marijuana resort was being delayed. But the (unclear?) indication that the Tribe has now decided against opening up a pot shop on its lands and has destroyed its crop leads me to wonder if the Tribe was subject to considerable pressure from local, state and federal authorities to not be the first tribe actively promoting recreational marijuana sales and tourism.

I hope there will be a lot more (and clearer) reporting on this front in the days ahead, as I am quite curious what prompted the change of plans and also whether the change will greatly influence whether and how other tribes consider moving forward in this challenging space.

Prior related posts:

November 9, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"If Mexico legalizes marijuana, what will the U.S. do?"

Mexico-Marijuana-900The title of this post is the headline of this notable and interesting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times authored by Jorge Castañeda, who once served as foreign minister of Mexicoand now teaches at New York University. Here are excerpts:

Mexico may soon enter an elite club composed of Holland, Portugal, Uruguay and Colorado, Oregon and Washington state: It's on the verge of excluding marijuana from the destructive war on drugs. But will the United States stand in its way?

On Nov. 4, Mexico's Supreme Court voted by a wide margin to declare unconstitutional the country's ban on the production, possession and recreational consumption of marijuana. A group of citizens had banded together in a so-called cannabis club (named SMART, for the initials in Spanish of its full title) and requested permission to grow and exchange marijuana among themselves; the government's health agency (the equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) denied them permission; the group sought a writ of habeas corpus, and went all the way to the Supreme Court, which granted them the writ and ordered the agency to legalize the club and allow it to function.

This decision does not entail an across-the-board decriminalization of recreational marijuana. For the moment, it applies only to the group that sought permission. But the court's ruling may eventually extend to everyone seeking to grow or consume the drug.

Absent injury to third parties, the court resolved that, under the constitution, every individual has the right to enjoy life as he or she sees fit, and that secondary legislation — like prohibiting marijuana — cannot curtail that right. The court also ruled that although marijuana may cause some degree of harm to some adult users in large quantities, prohibition is an excessive antidote to that harm....

Unlike in the U.S., public opinion in Mexico is against legalizing pot, which is why SMART chose the judicial road instead of pursuing a legislative approach. Recent history has shown that once the courts resolve controversial social issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, living wills — public opinion shifts and eventually comes around to the more progressive view.

The ruling means a great deal for Mexico. Domestically, it probably spells the beginning of the end of its bloody, costly, fruitless war of choice on marijuana. It will be increasingly awkward for the country's armed forces and police to prosecute growers, wholesale traffickers and retail dealers of a substance that can be grown and consumed legally, if not yet bought and sold freely.

The decision will not immediately affect the country's cartels, or the rising (once again) levels of drug-related violence and corruption. It will, however, eventually bring down marijuana prices, which over time will damage the cartels' business. And if President Enrique Peña Nieto wishes to continue the drug war, the decision will free him to concentrate on heroin and methamphetamines (produced in Mexico) and cocaine (brought from South America).

For the country's always prickly ties with Washington, Mexico's Supreme Court ruling could cut either way. If hard-liners in the U.S. — the Drug Enforcement Administration and its supporters in Congress — determine the American response, there will be trouble.... Or, if President Obama as well as the moderates in the State and Justice departments run the show, the decision could serve as a much-needed excuse to rethink prohibition.

Just as Obama wisely decided not to interfere with state-level legalization in the U.S., he could encourage Peña Nieto not to interfere with the court decision. Both governments could unite in making clear that the ruling, plus next year's probable legalization of recreational use in California, make the war on drugs unmanageable.

Both the U.S. and Mexico would then have no choice but to search for alternative solutions, and leave behind the punitive, security-based approach Washington has imposed on the world since the early 1970s.

November 7, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Omaha Tribe assessing interest in marijuana legalization in northeast Nebraska

Bright-futuresNebraska has a pending suit (along with Oklahoma) in the US Supreme Court against its neighbor Colorado complaining about that state's marijuana reform efforts (basics here and here).  But, as this local article highlights, the Cornhusker state may soon have to be concerned about a marijuana reform effort within its own borders.  The article is headlined "Omaha Tribe to consider legalizing marijuana," and here are excerpts:  

The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is considering getting into the lucrative marijuana business, but at least one tribal expert fears doing so could put the tribe at risk of losing any investment it may make in marijuana industries.

The tribe plans to hold a referendum Tuesday in which members will vote on whether the tribe should allow recreational use of marijuana, medicinal use of marijuana, and growing industrial hemp on its northeast Nebraska reservation.

Ultimately, however, the Omaha tribal council will decide all three questions. The referendum vote simply will give the council guidance on whether to move forward, according to an information sheet distributed by the tribe.

Tribal law expert Lance Morgan, who also is president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe’s economic development arm, said it likely will be difficult for the Omaha Tribe to legalize the use or manufacture of marijuana on its reservation, despite a U.S. Department of Justice memo issued last year that some tribal advocates have argued grants tribes the right to legalize use of marijuana on their reservations.

Morgan said the federal memo doesn’t actually allow tribes to legalize marijuana. Rather, he said, it allows them to work with local U.S. attorneys to do so. And, he said, U.S. attorneys in many states have been unwilling to allow tribes to move forward. “I think the government should be more direct in whether it’s allowable or not,” he said.

Morgan said it will be especially difficult for tribes in Nebraska to legalize marijuana, considering the firm stance Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has taken against it. Spokeswoman Suzanne Gage declined to comment Friday on the referendum....

Morgan said the ambiguous Justice Department memo has encouraged tribes across the country to launch expensive marijuana and hemp operations, and now some of those tribes have discovered they don’t actually have the right to legalize marijuana. “This is just one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen come out of D.C.,” Morgan said. “Encouraging us to invest capital and then coming in and destroying that capital and raiding the tribe doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Morgan said the Winnebago Tribe has discussed legalized marijuana but has no plans to move forward with such a plan. He sees the Omaha Tribe's plan to gauge opinion through a referendum as a good idea. “The only way tribes are going to do it is if they hold a referendum,” he said. “Then they know what the people think and can act accordingly.”

November 1, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Has candidate Bernie Sanders already produced "big political moment" for marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Washington Post commentary by Amber Phillips headlined "Why Bernie Sanders’s marijuana announcement is a big political moment for pot." Here are excepts from the piece:

One day in the perhaps-not-too-distant future, when we — not the royal we, of course — light up a joint and reflect on how marijuana became as accepted and as legal as alcohol and cigarettes in this country, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) probably won't be top of mind.

But future marijuana-legalization scholars won't soon forget the first presidential candidate to publicly support removing marijuana from the government's list of dangerous drugs.  It currently resides on that list; Sanders wants it off entirely, which is a political turning point in our relationship with pot.

In a Virginia town hall broadcast (naturally) to about 300 college campuses Wednesday, Sanders told an audience of more than 1,700 applauding students: "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use," he said, according to The Washington Post's John Wagner and Christopher Ingraham. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

What Sanders is calling for is not legalization. But the policy implications of removing pot entirely from the government's schedule of controlled substances would be big: States would be allowed to legalize it without interference from Washington, it would help economies involving pot (like banking) grow without fear of prosecution from the federal government, and fewer people would go to jail for possessing marijuana.

We're still quite a ways from that becoming a reality, despite the most recent Gallup polling showing a substantial majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana and a few states moving to do just that in recent years.  But Sanders, in being the first national candidate to call for this change, took us a clear step closer.

There are a few reasons his announcement was a big moment for pot politically.  First, the medical community at large would agree with Sanders that pot is not as dangerous as, say, crack cocaine and heroin and the other highly addictive drugs it is currently classified with.  Respected organizations like the American Medical Association have also said keeping marijuana on a legally unreachable shelf stymies research for its healing potentials.  In that way, Sanders is bringing already-existent medical views of pot to the forefront of a political debate that hasn't yet embraced them.

Second, Sanders is not a fringe candidate — although you could argue some of the democratic socialist's policies aren't exactly mainstream.  He regularly draws crowds in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, and is giving Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton a run for her money.  And if there's anything this campaign has taught us, it's that Sanders has the ability to draw Clinton to the left politically.  That doesn't mean Clinton will take the same stance, but it does mean there could be pressure to move in that direction.

Third, this just feels like something of a turning point in our nation's approach to marijuana.  Like it or not, the signs would indicate we're on a national trajectory toward decriminalization, perhaps even legalization. And it's happening remarkably fast, relative to other social issues....

Most other presidential contenders have been more cautious about recreational marijuana.  Clinton has very much taken a wait-and-see approach when it comes to states that have legalized it. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has raised money from the marijuana industry for his presidential campaign, has said the federal government shouldn't interfere with states who want to legalize it.  He and and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (D) have said they'd support bumping down a notch the government's classification of pot as a drug.  Only Sanders has supported taking it off completely.  And of course, neither Paul nor O'Malley are drawing the kind of support that Sanders is.

It seems only a matter of time before more politicians join Sanders in taking more definitive policy positions that move along the drug's slow but apparently inevitable march toward acceptance in America.  Maybe it's this election, maybe it's the next.  But Sanders will likely be remembered as the guy who took us one step closer to our inevitable new relationship with pot.

Speaking as a current "marijuana-legalization scholar," I fear that this commentary reflects a somewhat enhanced view of the significance of what Senator Sanders has said on this topic. Still, this is a big deal, and Fall 2015 will surely be seen as a watershed period in the marijuana reform movement if Ohio voters next week pass a controversial legalization plan in a bellwether state.

October 29, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Unsurprisingly, MPP and SAM have very different marijuana grades for Prez candidates

As this prior post suggests, I am not surprised that the marijuana positions of various Presidential candidates are getting more attention from marijuana public policy groups as the GOP candidates gear up for a debate in Boulder, Colorado.   Perhaps even less surprising is that the two most significant groups advocating for and against marijuana reform,  Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), have two distinct perspectives on how each of the candidates ought to be "graded."  These two starting sentences from the two groups' recent press releases provides the basics:

  • The nation’s largest marijuana policy organization has upgraded Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders in its report card-style voter guide to the 2016 major party presidential candidates.  The voter guide can be viewed online at http://

  • With the 2016 presidential primary campaigns in full swing, today Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) released a groundbreaking analysis and rating of every candidate’s position on a range of issues related to marijuana policy-not just legalization, but also whether candidates support a focus on prevention and treatment, and a scientific approach to medical cannabinoids and other marijuana-derived medications.

October 28, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Should next week's GOP debate start with a question about marijuana reform and economic development?

103066411-YMYV.530x298The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new CBNC article headlined "GOP candidates divided on marijuana." The actual article does not really cover any new ground, but its source is especially notable because CNBC is the host of the next big GOP debate on Wednesday night. Accourding to the article, the CNBC debate on Wednesday, Oct. 28 is being titled "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate" and it will "feature two sets of candidates discussing critical issues facing America today, including job growth, taxes and the health of our economy." Moreover, as noted in this prior post, the debate is taking place in Colorado, a state which has experienced notable changes in job growth and taxes as a result of state-level marijuana reform.

In addition to being well-suited for the main topics and setting for next week's GOP debate, marijuana reform issues and related politics are especially timely. Just earlier this week, the Liberal Party in Canada won a huge national election while running on a platform advocating full marijuana legalization.  And just six days after the debate, the swing state of Ohio will have voters deciding whether to become the first state east of the Mississippi to vote on a full marijuana legalization initiative.

At the very least, I would love to see candidate John Kasich, the current Governor of Ohio, asked next week about whether he would acknowledge the potential for marijuana reform in Ohio to enhance job growth and tax revenues while reducing government expenditures on failed big-government, freedom-restricting policies.  In addition, I would love for New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, who has pledged to "enforce the federal law" aggressively even in states that have legalized marijuana, exactly how he would try to prevent Ohio officials from moving ahead with state reforms if voters enact such reforms in the Ohio constitution next month. 

October 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Latest Gallup poll shows 58% support for marijuana legalization (and 2/3 support for those under 50)

Bplgz4vavkyps762r8vilqThis new release from Gallup, headlined "In U.S., 58% Back Legal Marijuana Use," reinforces my ever-growing belief that it is no long a question of "if" but rather "when" and "how" blanket marijuana prohibition comes to an end. Here are the reasons why (with my emphasis added):

A majority of Americans continue to say marijuana use should be legal in the United States, with 58% holding that view, tying the high point in Gallup's 46-year trend.

Americans' support for legal marijuana has steadily grown over time. When Gallup first asked the question, in 1969, 12% of Americans thought marijuana use should be legal, with little change in two early 1970s polls. By the late 1970s, support had increased to about 25%, and held there through the mid-1990s. The percentage of Americans who favored making use of the drug legal exceeded 30% by 2000 and was higher than 40% by 2009.

Over the past six years, support has vacillated a bit, but averaged 48% from 2010 through 2012 and has averaged above the majority level, 56%, since 2013.

The higher level of support comes as many states and localities are changing, or considering changing, their laws on marijuana.  So far, four states and the District of Columbia have made recreational use of marijuana legal, and Ohio voters are set to decide a ballot initiative that would do the same this coming Election Day.  The topic has been an issue on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, and several candidates have expressed a willingness to let states set their own marijuana laws even though federal law prohibits marijuana use.

Gallup has previously reported that two of the biggest differentiators of Americans' opinions on legal marijuana are age and party identification.  Younger Americans, Democrats and independents are the most likely of major demographic and political groups to favor legalizing use of the drug, while Republicans and older Americans are least likely to do so.

Younger Americans have always shown the most support of any age group for making marijuana legal, but this has grown from 20% of 18- to 34-year-olds in 1969 to 71% of those in the same age group today.  But even older age groups today are more likely to favor legal marijuana than the comparable age groups in the past. For example, 35% of senior citizens today (aged 65 and older) are in favor of legalization, compared with 4% of senior citizens in 1969. Among all age groups, the increase in support has been proportionately greater over the last 15 years than it was between any of the earlier time periods.

These patterns by age indicate that one reason Americans are more likely to support legal marijuana today than they were in the past is because newer generations of adults, who are much more inclined to favor use of the drug, are replacing older generations in the population who were much less inclined to want it to be legalized. But the increase in support nationwide is also a function of attitude change within generations of Americans over the course of their adult lifespans....

Americans' support for legalizing marijuana is the highest Gallup has measured to date, at 58%. Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future.  Younger generations of Americans have been increasingly likely to favor legal use of marijuana as they entered adulthood compared with older generations of Americans when they were the same age decades ago.  Now, more than seven in 10 of today's young adults support legalization.

But Americans today -- particularly those between 35 and 64 -- are more supportive of legal marijuana than members of their same birth cohort were in the past. Now senior citizens are alone among age groups in opposing pot legalization. These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.

The notable dip in support for full legalization that the Gallup polling numbers showed in 2014 had me thinking that the early experience with full legalization in Colorado might have been starting to lead a few more average Americans to question whether they liked full marijuana legalization in practice quite as much as they liked it in theory. But now that support has ticked up to 58% again, I surmise that more folks are now coming to see that full legalization has lots of tangible economic benefits and that much of all the doom-and-gloom predicted by drug warriors have just not (yet?) come to reality.

Of particular importance in my view is the data suggesting that now roughly two-third of all Americans in their prime "parent years" (i.e., between ages 30 and 50) are now expressing support for full legalization. Especially as someone in that cohort, I have long thought that parents of young kids (and of current or future teenagers) cannot help but have lingering concerns and fears about the possible impact of full legalization on their children. But it seems that, at least for now, this generation by a two-to-one margin sees more problems from current marijuana prohibition than what could happen with major reform.

For these (and other) reasons, I think still more major legal reforms at both the state and federal level are getting ever closer to a near certainty unless and until prohibitionists do a much better job demonstrating that the potentiual harms of reform are much greater than what so many have come to see as the current harms of blanket prohibition.

October 21, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New Brookings report calls for "Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research"

BrookingsLogoRegular readers know I have often praised the cutting-edge research being done by the The Brookings Institution on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.  The latest big Brookings publication in this arena,  authored by John Hudak and Grace Wallack, is titled "Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research."  This publication provides an effective and detailed review of the multiple problems for scientific research created by federal laws, and here are a couple notable paragraphs from start and end of the lengthy report:

The federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety.  As medical marijuana becomes increasingly accessible in state-regulated, legal markets, and as others selfmedicate in jurisdictions that do not allow the medical use of cannabis, it is increasingly important that the scientific community conduct research on this substance.  However, statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area.

It is time for the federal government to recognize the serious public policy risks born from limited medical, public health, and pharmaceutical research into cannabis and its use.  People are using cannabis nationwide to treat a variety of ailments.  Doctors in dozens of states are recommending the use of this product as a pseudo-pharmaceutical intervention.  The elderly, veterans, children, and people from every demographic group in the nation claim that the use of cannabis assists in the treatment of their medical conditions.  Despite this, there is limited scientific research on the efficacy of this product overall or by condition or dosage, on interactions, on composition, on side effects, or much of anything else....

As the next president comes to office, he or she will inherit a marijuana policy regime that is inconsistent and often contradictory.  It is incumbent on President Obama’s successor to introduce some uniformity, discipline, and sensibility to this policy area. Focusing on medical marijuana research would be a good place to begin — and the issue’s politics for the next president should be encouraging.  In fact, the next president need not wait until January 20, 2017, to pursue and capitalize on this political opportunity; candidates for the presidency should make marijuana work for them....

Candidates are hesitant to take a bold position on (medical) marijuana policy. And frankly, this reluctance is very difficult to understand.  Public support for medical marijuana reform is quite high across the country and at the state-level.  Multiple polls put the national support for physician-prescribed marijuana between 70 and 80 percent approval.  Polling suggests that in most states — even the most conservative states — support for legalized medical marijuana is at least two to one, and polling at rates of 80 percent or higher in swing states like Ohio, Iowa, Florida, and Virginia. Medical marijuana also polls favorably in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Yet, candidates are meek on the issue.  Oddly, they are comfortable or even eager to take bold positions on much more controversial topics including the Affordable Care Act, entitlement reform, foreign intervention, climate change, and immigration policy, to name a few.  But the medical marijuana reform embraced by the public seems to scare candidates.  Medical marijuana reform should be an easy one for a candidate seeking to connect with prospective voters and the expansion of medical research in the area should be an even easier consideration

October 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Big Marijuana Reforms Included in Senate Spending Package"

Congress and cannabisThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new report from Tom Angell about notable developments on Capitol Hill.  Here are the interesting and notable details:

A key Senate leader has included several pieces of good news for marijuana law reform advocates in a package of spending bills intended to keep the government operational for the next fiscal year.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, filed the bills on Tuesday, and they have just been uploaded to Congress’s website. Here’s what the bills’ language will do, if enacted:

* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.

* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.

* Allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are medical marijuana patients in accordance with state law.

* Prevent the federal government from punishing banks for doing business with state-legal marijuana providers.

Each of the provisions above were passed this year with bipartisan votes on the House floor, in the Senate Appropriations Committee or both.

The legislation also removes language from previous years’ spending bills that has prevented Washington, D.C. from spending money to implement a system of legalized and taxed sales of marijuana. If Cochran’s bill is enacted as is, the District of Columbia will be able to move forward with enacting marijuana sales regulations that the mayor and local lawmakers have indicated they support but have been stymied from moving forward with due to ongoing Congressional interference.

The provisions, and the overall spending proposals they are attached to, represent what Cochran believes can pass the Senate. He and other Senate appropriators are currently in negotiations with leadership from the House Appropriations Committee and are expected to arrive at a compromise spending package sometime before government funding under current legislation runs out on December 11.

October 8, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Requests pour in for opening night of Native American marijuana resort"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article, which provide a speedy and notable follow up to this recent post: South Dakota tribe poised to open "marijuana resort" to serve as "adult playground.  Here are excerpts from the new article:

A South Dakota Native American tribe has been flooded with requests hours after it announced plans to open the United States’ first marijuana resort this New Years Eve, the tribe said Wednesday. “About 100 people have already called to say they’re coming,” Seth Pearman, tribal attorney for the Santee Sioux in Flandreau, South Dakota, told Al Jazeera. “We’re very excited about this process.”

Marijuana is not legal in South Dakota, but the U.S. Department of Justice said last year that Indian reservations would not face prosecution or federal interference for legally operating — under rules similar to those in states that have legalized recreational use of the drug — its distribution and cultivation facilities.

The Santee Sioux resort, converted from a 10,000 square-foot bowling alley on the reservation, will grow its own marijuana and will have an “upscale bar or club atmosphere” and live music, Pearman said. A nearby casino will provide rooms for overnight guests, he added.

The resort will be open to the public, will sell both marijuana and alcohol to adults over 21 years old and will allow them to consume it openly, Pearman said. A handful of private clubs have been allowed to operate in Colorado, where recreational marijuana use was legalized in 2012, but smoking in public is not legal.

Santee Sioux tribal officials have been researching the idea and touring other marijuana-growing facilities around the country. The tribe has also partnered with Colorado-based marijuana consulting firm Monarch America to learn about cultivating the plant. The tribe will grow its own marijuana in a 10,000 square-foot facility on the reservation with the help of industry experts. The pot will be “high quality, free from contaminants, and organic,” according to Pearman....

Sales will be tightly regulated, and any pot purchased must be consumed on site, Pearman said. Some reservation residents have publicly complained about the project, he said, comparing the situation to the concerns expressed when casinos became popular businesses on reservations in the early 1990s.

The Santee Sioux held several general council meetings inviting all tribal members while it was debating whether to go ahead with the resort. Some people opposed the plan but a tribal survey showed that most supported it, Pearman said. The tribe hopes the resort will boost the reservation’s economy, which is still recovering from the 2008 economic recession. “It’s a great opportunity, with a small investment, to make a lot of money for tribes who have been struggling for hundreds of years to get economic development going,” Pearman said.

Prior related posts:

October 1, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"The Wonder Drug: Inside the medical marijuana industry's wild new frontier"

The title of this post is the headline of this must-read New Republic article, which is mostly about the current crazy "wild west" world of CBD medicines.  There are many parts of the article that make it must-read in full, and here are passages that I especially wanted to highlight for commentary:

Today, dozens of companies produce CBD in an array of forms. CBD can be inhaled through vape pens, applied in topical salves, ingested in edibles, or swallowed in oil-based tinctures.  Oil has become the dominant CBD delivery method for kids with epilepsy, since it is easy to administer and ingest, and there is no shortage of it available for sale online.  There are dozens of companies boasting names like Healthy Hemp Oil, Dose of Nature, and Natural Organic Solutions, each of them selling CBD products at prices ranging from trivial to dizzyingly steep.  You don’t have to look hard to find them. If you have a PayPal account and $100 to spare, you could have a vial of hemp oil delivered to your doorstep....

In February, as part of an investigation into the marketing claims of six hemp oil companies, the FDA analyzed 18 CBD products.  What it found was disturbing: Many of these supposed CBD products were entirely lacking in CBD.  Of the products tested, six contained no cannabinoids whatsoever.  Another 11 contained less than 1 percent CBD.  The product that tested highest in CBD, at 2.6 percent, was a capsule for dogs. In states that have legalized CBD, regulations can require CBD products to contain at least 5 percent CBD, more often 10 or 15 percent....

In the end, companies like HempMedsPx are asking consumers simply to trust them. CBD oils are never subjected to systematic testing by any U.S. regulatory body.  The FDA regulates all pharmaceutical labs in the country.  But cannabis labs like the ones that HempMedsPx and others use are not, because cannabis is not federally recognized as a legal drug.

All of this makes CBD remarkably difficult for even the most dedicated health care providers to manage safely. Dr. Kelly Knupp, an associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Colorado, and the director of the Dravet Syndrome program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said families of epileptic children have tried to bring CBD oils to the hospital for testing.  “They’re just concerned that they don’t know exactly who’s growing [the hemp],” Knupp said.  “They know it’s not being regulated.”  But because CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance, high-tech, regulated laboratories, like those at the University of Colorado, can’t accept, store, or test CBD oils, lest they risk prosecution.  “There is no such lab that can take that product,” Knupp said, which leaves any testing up to the unregulated testing centers that cater to the cannabis industry....

To this point, CBD oil has existed in a kind of liminal space — at once an illegal drug, a legal medication, and some kind of “dietary” supplement. It’s possible this could change in the coming years, however. GW Pharmaceuticals, a U.K.-based firm, has developed a “pure CBD” medication called Epidiolex that has shown promising test results. It is currently on a fast-track to receive FDA clearance. For some patients, Epidiolex could be a miracle cure. This summer, in Wired magazine, writer Fred Vogelstein chronicled his family’s own struggles to find an effective treatment for his son’s epilepsy — including experiments with hemp oil — and the immense hurdles they overcame to gain access to Epidiolex prior to its FDA approval.  The drug could be for sale on pharmacy shelves in the near future, though exactly how near is hard to say.

For the sake of all the individuals and families struggling with seizure disorders, I sincerely hope that all the emerging CBD treatments being promoted by private industry are much more than snake oil. But I find especially remarkable the sad reality that the blanket prohibition of marijuana in any form at the federal level means that it is near impossible for a person to even have access to a credible lab in order to try to research whether a CBD oil marketed to suffering persons is even what it claims to be. What a sad mess, and one that I hope will get cleared up before too long at the federal level by efforts to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

September 30, 2015 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 (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

South Dakota tribe poised to open "marijuana resort" to serve as "adult playground"

This new AP article, headlined "Nation's first marijuana resort to open in South Dakota," discusses the soon-to-be-up-and-running marijuana business at the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation. Here are the basic details:

The Santee Sioux tribe has already proven its business acumen, running a successful casino, a 120-room hotel and a 240-head buffalo ranch on the plains of South Dakota. But those enterprises have not been immune to competition and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, so the small tribe of 400 is undertaking a new venture -- opening the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation. The experiment could offer a new money-making model for tribes nationwide seeking economic opportunities beyond casinos.

Santee Sioux leaders plan to grow their own pot and sell it in a smoking lounge that includes a nightclub, arcade games, bar and food service, and eventually, slot machines and an outdoor music venue. "We want it to be an adult playground," tribal President Anthony Reider said. "There's nowhere else in American that has something like this."

The project, according to the tribe, could generate up to $2 million a month in profit, and work is already underway on the growing facility. The first joints are expected to go on sale Dec. 31 at a New Year's Eve party.

The legalization of marijuana on the Santee Sioux land came in June, months after the Justice Department outlined a new policy that allows Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana under the same conditions as some states.

Many tribes are hesitant to jump into the pot business. And not everyone in Flandreau, about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls, believes in the project. But the profit potential has attracted the interest of many other tribes, just as the debut of slot machines and table games almost 27 years ago.

"The vast majority of tribes have little to no economic opportunity," said Blake Trueblood, business development director at the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. For those tribes, "this is something that you might look at and say, 'We've got to do something.'"

Flandreau's indoor marijuana farm is set against a backdrop of soybean fields. If not for a security booth outside, the building could pass as an industrial warehouse. Inside, men are working to grow more than 30 different strains of the finicky plant, including those with names like "Gorilla Glue," ''Shot Glass" and "Big Blue Cheese."...

Tribal leaders from across the country and South Dakota legislators will tour the Flandreau facility in mid-October. "This is not a fly-by-night operation," said Jonathan Hunt, Monarch's vice president and chief grower. Tribal leaders "want to show the state how clean, how efficient, how proficient, safe and secure this is as an operation. We are not looking to do anything shady."...

Unlike the vast reservations in western South Dakota, where poverty is widespread, the little-known Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation is on 5,000 acres of gently rolling land along the Big Sioux River. Trailer homes are scarce and houses have well-trimmed lawns. The Santee Sioux hope to use pot in the same way that many tribes rely on casinos -- to make money for community services and to provide a monthly income to tribal members. The existing enterprises support family homes, a senior living community, a clinic and a community center offering afterschool programs.

Reider hopes marijuana profits can fund more housing, an addiction treatment center and an overhaul of the clinic. Some members want a 24/7 day care center for casino workers....

Since the Santee Sioux announced their plans, the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine signed a letter of intent with Monarch to build a cultivation facility for industrial hemp. The Suquamish Tribe and Washington state officials signed a 10-year agreement that will govern the production, processing and sale of pot on the tribe's land.

In the long run, Reider is certain that the benefits will outweigh the risks of tribal marijuana enterprises. The tribe, he said, must "look at these opportunities because in order to preserve the past we do have to advance in the present."

Prior related posts:

September 29, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Highlighting federal tax dollars still being spent to eradicate marijuana in legalization states

This interesting local report, headlined "Feds still waging war on weed in Oregon," details that state marijuana reform does not necessarily reallocate federal resources spent on the drug war. Here are the details:

Cannabis may be legal in Oregon, but police are still waging a war on weed.  A KGW investigation found the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is sending more than $750,000 to police in Oregon this year to snuff out pot operations.

“I think the DEA’s marijuana eradication program is a huge waste of federal taxpayer dollars,” Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, told KGW.  “We have states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado that have legalized marijuana and then you’ve got the federal government trying to eradicate it,” said Lieu.  “That doesn’t make any sense.” Congressman Lieu is pushing to get rid of the DEA’s $18 million marijuana eradication program.

In Oregon, the bulk of the anti-pot money is used for police to search for marijuana farms by helicopter and then have officers trample though the woods to pull out plants. “Those of us in reform have always seen eradication programs as largely a make-work, overtime program for cops to go pull weeds and spend taxpayer money on helicopters,” said Russ Belville, executive director of Portland NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Last year, state records show drug teams in Oregon spent $275,000 for police overtime and $685,000 for use of a helicopter. In 2015, Oregon will get $762,000 from the DEA’s eradication program. In August, the Oregon Department of Justice gave $450,000 of federal money to Brim Aviation of Ashland to help look for marijuana farms....

According to intelligence reports, violent Mexican drug cartels have been connected to large outdoor marijuana farms in Oregon. These sophisticated criminal gangs have been known to protect their grow operations with armed guards, booby traps and razor-wired fences. “This program has proven effective in dismantling and disrupting drug trafficking organizations, has protected public and tribal lands from illegal marijuana grows, and in 2014 was responsible for the removal of almost 5,000 weapons from cannabis cultivators,” said Special Agent Joseph Moses of the DEA....

In 2014, police in Oregon destroyed 16,067 cannabis plants, down from 26,597 pot plants in 2013 and 27,641 plants in 2012. Drug cops theorize that Mexican drug cartels have moved away from growing pot. Instead, they’re focused on trafficking other illegal drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.

“When there were huge cartel problems, we needed that money. But now we don’t,” said Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls. Earlier this year, Falls disbanded a regional marijuana task force called SOMMER, or Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation. “I wanted to focus on person crimes,” said Falls. “Child abuse, sex assault, crimes against people.”...

“It makes no sense for one hand of government doing one thing, such as eradicate marijuana and have other parts of government, such as state governments, legalizing it,” said Rep. Lieu. “The war on marijuana has largely failed and the federal government should get out of the way.”

September 25, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Did last night's GOP debate "open the door to legal marijuana"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this extended MSNBC article that seems to think the (relatively brief) discussion of marijuana policy during the latest GOP debate was something of a game-changer.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Marijuana had a major moment at the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, taking center stage for the first time this election season. But rather than launch a new war on drugs, several candidates endorsed the right of states to make their own decision on marijuana, clearing the way for an explosion of new pro-pot ballot initiatives in 2016.

Speaking at the presidential library of drug warrior Ronald Reagan, the GOP vanguard might have been expected to double down on opposition to the drug, promising to stamp out marijuana in America. But the biggest cheers came for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina – the three candidates who pledged to let local governments do what they want about pot.

They didn’t have a single soft word for marijuana itself, but they gave their ideological blessing to the four states where voters have already said “yes, please” to recreational markets. CNN moderator Jake Tapper set up the question with a reference to the sinking candidacy of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor who believes federal drug law should be enforced on the state level. ...

“I don’t think that the federal government should override the states,” Paul answered. “I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.” The audience erupted in applause. And he wasn’t done. “I would let Colorado do what the Tenth Amendment says,” he continued, referring to the first state to legalize marijuana. “Colorado has made their decision. And I don’t want the federal government interfering and putting moms in jail, who are trying to get medicine for their kid.”

Paul also landed a racial and social critique of the status quo, which includes arresting hundreds of thousands of people for marijuana possession, most of them nonwhite, poor, and in for a world of collateral damage as a result of a bust. That forced Jeb Bush into the conversation, where he ratified the same idea of state rights.

“What goes on in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned, that should be a state decision,” he said. “I agree with Senator Paul. I agree with states’ rights,” added Fiorina.

But unfortunately the candidates also displayed an old fashioned and largely misguided understanding of marijuana’s dangers and its rank among more dangerous drugs. Paul took the softest approach, saying that marijuana’s “only victim” is the individual. But he still called pot use “a crime.”

Fiorina, Christie and Bush, meanwhile, made no distinction between marijuana and heroin. And to varying degrees they promoted the debunked idea that marijuana is a “gateway” to harder drugs just because it often comes first in a sequence.

Fiorina gave strongest voice to the anti-drug position, unveiling a painful personal story that could have been clipped from a Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” campaign from the 1980s. “I very much hope I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing,” she said. “My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction. So, we must invest more in the treatment of drugs.”...

What Fiorina said is certainly true. Drug addiction is a killer. But the culprit is not marijuana, according to the best available research. What America is experiencing is a great heroin relapse, with the death rate for overdoses quintupling since 2002, cutting through class and color lines. Heroin today is now as popular and deadly as crack cocaine was in the 1980s. Marijuana, meanwhile, remains incapable of delivering a fatal overdose.

Chris Christie and Jeb Bush also lumped marijuana and the harder drugs and no one tried to correct them. “Here’s the deal,” said Bush. “We have a serious epidemic of drugs that goes way beyond marijuana.” He referenced New Hampshire, one of the states hardest hit by heroin overdoses. “People’s families are being torn apart.”

Chris Christie went even further, deploying some of the oldest and least defensible arguments of the old war on drugs even as he claimed the drug war has been a failure. “That doesn’t mean we should be legalizing gate way drugs,” he said. “And if Senator Paul thinks that the only victim is the person, look at the decrease in productivity, look at the way people get used and move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug, it is not them that are the only victims. Their families are the victims too, their children are the victims too, and their employers are the victims also.”

That’s a scary speech for supporters of marijuana reform, but for now it’s also a moot position. As long as Republican support for “states rights” is stronger than their distaste for marijuana use, reformers have nothing to fear.

Though I found the discussion of marijuana policy by the GOP candidates to be interesting and somewhat significant, I really did not perceive it to be a true game-changer.  To his credit, Senator Paul seemed to try to get the discussion focused a bit more on medical marijuana, and I think sharp questions to the GOP about medical marijuana reform in the states (and at the federal level) could have produced something big.  But I did not come away from what actually transpired thinking all that much had changed politically.  But I welcome other perspective on this part of the GOP debate last night.

September 17, 2015 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)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

With GOP debate in California and CNN seeking a real debate, should we expect a question on marijuana reform?

The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by this notable new Washington Post piece, headlined "As California considers looser marijuana laws, Paul calls out Christie." Here are excerpts:

The 15 leading Republican candidates for president have arrived in California just as the state closes in on a fully legal regime for medical marijuana.

Californians have been buying marijuana with medical exception cards since it was legalized by a 1996 ballot measure, but only this month has the state's Democratic legislature passed comprehensive bills to regulate the industry. The state's Department of Food and Agriculture would oversee cultivation; the Department of Public Health would monitor quality. Come Election Day 2016, it's highly likely that Californians will vote on whether to legalize the drug, full stop.

The survival of that experiment could depend on who gets elected president that day. Earlier this month, in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) told an audience that current experiments with legal marijuana were encouraging "lawlessness," and needed to end. "Marijuana’s illegal in the United States, yet the president allows Colorado and Washington state: Hey, get high! It’s okay! I’ll look the other way!" said Christie. "I won’t change the law, but I’ll look the other way."

A Christie administration would sprint in the other direction. As he described a friend's descent into opiate addiction -- a story he often tells to talk about New Jersey's treatment programs -- Christie said that his DEA would raid the legal pot industry in the West. "Seize their money," he said. "Seize their product. Close their stores."

In an interview here, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) -- Christie's most ready critic in the GOP field -- said that Christie's idea of raiding currently legal businesses puts him "on the wrong side of history," and wasn't even workable. "If he wants to put the parents of a kid who had 500 seizures a day away before he started moderating that with cannabinoid oil, he can say so," said Paul. "He can put someone with MS in jail. He can put someone who's just carrying a little marijuana in jail. Most Americans are not with him, and it's not going to sit well with a lot of conservatives and libertarians, I mean, is he going to send federal troops in to enforce medical marijuana laws?"

Marijuana's legal status, once dismissed as a fringe issue, has evolved after a series of quiet decisions from the Obama administration. The west's experiment with legalization -- so far, a major boost to Colorado's tax revenue -- has been treated with benign neglect. Just three months ago, the administration lifted a public health review requirement that had prevented some research into marijuana's medicinal properties. A new president could reverse all of that with a pen stroke. Only two potential presidents have said much about it.

Regular readers know I am very anxious to see marijuana laws and policies discussed on the Presidential debate stage.  The fact that Senator Paul is brining this up in advance of the debate, combined with the fact that CNN has been talking up its interest in highlighting issues concerning which the GOP candidates have distinct policy positions, has me know believing there is a real chance for a marijuana portion of tonight's big GOP event.

September 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Senator Elizabeth Warren "open" to full legalization and urges more marijuana research

As highlighted in this posting at Marijuana Politics, headlined "Progressive Icon Elizabeth Warren is Now Open to Marijuana Legalization," Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had a number of interesting things to say about marijuana reform and marijuana research during an interview this past week.  Here is the video:

September 4, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Menominee tribal members in Wisconsin vote to legalize marijuana on its lands

Download (12)As reported in this effective local article, headlined "Menominee tribal members approve on-reservation marijuana use," a notable vote among a notable population in Wisconsin this past week ensures tribal marijuana policies and practices will continue to make news in the months ahead. Here are the details of the vote and the challenges it creates:

Now that Menominee tribal members have told their legislators to legalize marijuana, the difficult task begins of designing a profitable weed operation that does not result in the tribe or its customers getting busted.  "Tribes are treading on very dangerous grounds" when it comes to growing and selling marijuana, warned Dorothy Alther, director of California Indian Legal Services.  "If I was representing tribes out there (in Wisconsin) I would say it might not be such a good idea."

Just last month two California tribes were raided by federal and state authorities who said they seized at least 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana.

Members of the Menominee tribe this week voted 677 to 499 to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes and 899 to 275 to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes on its 360-acre reservation near Shawano.  "This is new ground," Gary Besaw, Menominee chairman, said in an interview Friday shortly after the results were announced.  "We have to start looking at developing best practices and draft ordinances to maximize the benefits we believe are possible and minimize the consequences we believe also are possible."

Legalizing marijuana on reservations has become a hot topic since late last year when the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo discouraging federal authorities from prosecuting tribes for growing or selling pot on their reservations.  The memo also listed eight scenarios that could result in prosecution, including selling to minors or distributing the product to a state — such as Wisconsin — where weed remains illegal.

State law enforcement authorities do not have criminal jurisdiction on the Menominee reservation but could arrest people who leave the tribal land with marijuana.  Federal authorities do, because when the Menominee had its tribal status restored in the 1970s, it became the state's only non-Public Law 280 tribe.  "As a white guy I would fully expect that I'm getting pulled over if I drive off the (Menominee) reservation" if marijuana sales there are legalized, said R. Lance Boldrey, a Michigan Indian law attorney.

State and local authorities have jurisdiction over the 10 other tribes in Wisconsin, and at least three of those are seriously looking at legalizing marijuana or a derivative on their reservations.  Still, Indian law experts say the Menominee, which has about 9,000 members, must deal with several hurdles.

■ Since marijuana is not legal in Wisconsin, the tribe may be restricted to selling weed only to Native Americans.  Still, Besaw said, it could be worthwhile to begin growing and selling weed.  He predicted that it won't be long before marijuana is legal throughout the nation and "when it does become legalized we'll be ready to launch," he said.

■ The Justice Department memo is a policy directive that could change, especially in 2017 when a new president takes office, Boldrey said.  Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) this month sponsored a bill that would take away federal funding from any tribe that cultivates, manufactures or sells marijuana.

■ The tribe must consider the impact of legalizing a drug on an impoverished reservation that has long been plagued with substance abuse problems. "It's a huge concern," Besaw said.

■ It's not clear what to do with money generated from marijuana sales, since federally insured banks generally shun accepting marijuana money for fear of violating federal money laundering laws.  Besaw said the tribe would likely avoid that risk by licensing and taxing a business to run the weed business.  The tribe's revenue would be "clean money" because it would be tax revenue.

Besaw said he has met and will continue to meet with state and federal law enforcement to determine the guidelines the tribe must operate under to avoid the kind of trouble with the law that occurred in California.

August 22, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)