Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Newsweek cover story spotlights "How Republicans Learned to Love Marijuana"

Jk77C_Ig_400x400The feature article in the August 24 issue of Newsweek is headlined "Legal Weed: How Republicans Learned to Love Marijuana." The lengthy piece is worth reading in full, and here are excerpts:

[At Texas's] 2018 Republican ­Party convention in San Antonio in June, nearly 10,000 conservative politicians voted to revise the ­party platform on marijuana. The changes included supporting industrial hemp, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession and urging the federal government to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 drug.

These planks, while still some of the most conservative approaches to marijuana policy in the country, were a marked departure from the party’s position a few years prior. And they’re indicative of the ­transformation happening with Republican voters and officials nationwide.

The motives are mixed. Some, like Isaac, were moved by arguments about its medical uses. For others, the shift is an attempt at criminal justice reform after years of racial discrimination. Some conservative lawmakers tout marijuana ­policy changes in the name of federalism and small government, and others say it might be the only bipartisan issue left in Congress. Regardless, Republicans can’t deny that marijuana legal­ization is popular among younger, more diverse voters who could help the party survive....

Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, vowed to block the president’s Department of Justice nominees until he received a commitment that his state’s rights would not be infringed [after AG Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo]. Gardner tells Newsweek that in a sit-down meeting with the president in April, Trump said leaving cannabis laws up to the states was “the right thing to do and that we’re not going back.”

Gardner then went on to create the Strengthening the 10th Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, along with Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren. The bill would eliminate any federal prosecution of marijuana users or sellers in states that had legally ­authorized such actions. “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes,” Trump told reporters in June, striking a big blow to Sessions.

In a polarized era, the bill is impressively bipar­tisan. Five conservatives and four liberals co-­sponsored the legislation in the Senate, including names you would never expect to be on the same side — like Jeff Flake and Cory Booker. It has significant “cross-cut appeal,” Gardner says. He hopes the bill will gain momentum after the midterm elections.

But for Republicans, the effort to ensure states’ rights when it comes to marijuana policy is more important than a bipartisan collaboration. “It’s a federalism experiment,” Gardner says. “Republicans who have long been champions of states’ rights can choose this as a moment to prove it.”...

Already, politicians are beginning to see the benefits of supporting the cannabis industry through campaign fundraising. Rohrabacher, who is facing his toughest re-election campaign in three decades and is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House, has been rewarded for his pro-weed stance. The congressman has gained $5,000 checks from companies and organizations including Weedmaps, Scotts Miracle-Gro and the National Cannabis Industry Association. Since 2016, Rohrabacher has received more than $80,000 in marijuana industry money.

In the long run, Republican lawmakers may support marijuana decriminalization for the simple fact that it may help them get elected as they play a catch-up game with young, nonwhite voters. An estimated 24 million people ages 18 to 29 cast votes in the 2016 election. In that demographic, Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by an 18-point margin. Millennials are about to inherit the kingdom as the largest voting block in the country, and, according to one poll, over 80 percent believe the drug is safer than alcohol.

August 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Wanna Beat Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee? Focus on Marijuana"

Brett-kavanaughThe title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new Daily Beast commentary authored by Jeff Hauser.  I recommend the whole piece, and here are extended excerpts:

What if I were to tell you that there is a political issue that galvanizes young voters?  An issue that unites libertarians, independents, and African-Americans?  An issue with bipartisan power, that works not only in cities, but has demonstrated strength in red states like Kentucky and West Virginia? 

It’s an issue likely to generate cases to be heard by the Supreme Court in the next decade and one on which the Trump administration’s leading law enforcement official — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is already on the losing side politically.

Given all that, you would think this issue would be a central part of the Democratic Party’s campaign against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court.  You would think wavering Democrats and shaky Republican senators would be targeted on the basis of the threat Kavanaugh poses on this issue.  But because the progressive movement sometimes makes political basics look liking trying to solve Fermat's Last Theorem, you would be wrong.

The issue I speak of is marijuana.  And it is likely to be a source of many complicated legal disputes in the coming decade, disputes that will be of increasing salience to American voters and, by turn, the Supreme Court.

In fact, the Supreme Court has already had to deal with some marijuana-related matters.  Just a few years ago, it was asked to weigh in on Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. Nebraska and Oklahoma argued Colorado’s law was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, and that the court should enjoin Colorado from implementing its law.  Nebraska and Oklahoma complained that Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana “undermin[ed] their own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”

On presumably technical grounds, six members of the Court declined to hear the lawsuit, but without prejudice (meaning there was no implication those Justices disagreed on the merits and the states could pursue their theory in the lower courts). Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, dissented from the decision to not hear the case not only on technical grounds, but also by noting that Nebraska and Oklahoma have alleged “significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State.”  They stated that those allegations were significant enough to warrant the Court’s attention.

That decision was back in 2016. How will Justice Neil Gorsuch (typically an ally of Thomas and Alito) feel when this question comes back to the Court now, as it likely will?  How would a Justice Kavanaugh, who most well-informed observers believe is essentially Gorsuch 2.0, feel about it?  Would Chief Justice John Roberts feel differently about it with a social-issues moderate like Justice Anthony Kennedy no longer on the Court?

These are important questions, affecting a massive and growing industry that a growing portion of the population supports.  And yet, they’ve been completely unasked during this current debate about the future composition of the Court....

It’s impossible, of course, to say for sure whether other questions surrounding marijuana legalization will come to the Court, or in what form.  But it appears likely.  Even the intersection of banking law and drug policy is a messy thicket right now.  America’s slow burning experiment with marijuana reform raises many as yet unclarified legal issues.

And that’s why those who are interested in marijuana legalization should also want to know what Judge Brett Kavanaugh thinks about the host of legal questions that might ultimately decide its future.

As a political matter, there are few better cards for the Democratic Party to play.  According to Gallup, support for legalization has "risen from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2017."  Several other surveys reveal similar increases.  An April 2018 Quinnipiac poll shows support for marijuana legalization not only strong among Democrats (75 percent) but Independents as well (67 percent), and even 41 percent of Republicans.

Support remains strongest among millennials — a group that commentators have noted is crucial to Democrats’ performance in this November’s midterm elections — but it has also risen rapidly among all age groups and places.  This past June, Oklahoma — Oklahoma! — voted to legalize marijuana.

In an environment in which marijuana is salient to the Supreme Court and many voters, the fact that marijuana is not part of the effort to secure red and purple state Senate votes against Kavanaugh is a little perplexing.

Not least because it has already proven to be a topic that can compel lawmakers to act.  Senators with “the federalist position” on-marijuana includes progressives like Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand but also Republicans “Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski, and Mike Lee.”

But no Senator better reflects the potential of the marijuana issue as a wedge than Colorado’s Cory Gardner.  Just last month, Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a marijuana legislation reform bill to “give states the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.”  And for three months this winter, Gardner held up all Justice Department nominees in an effort to force Attorney General Sessions to agree to leave Colorado’s marijuana industry alone.

That display of spine was about as much as any Republican Senator has shown in attempting to restrain the Trump Administration to date.  But it also made sense.  Being viewed as a fighter for Colorado's right to legalize marijuana is likely pivotal to Gardner's political survival.  In 2014, Gardner won his seat in a GOP wave by a mere 2 points. In 2020, he will be facing an uphill battle since he holds the single most pro-Hillary Clinton seat of any Republican in the U.S. Senate....

Marijuana is not a staple of Supreme Court fights. The issue advocacy groups that focus on marijuana do not typically focus on the Supreme Court. And Cory Gardner is not a typical target for Democrats. But “typical” isn’t good enough. It is sadly clear that if progressive groups and Democrats rely exclusively on raising the same issues they raised in the Gorsuch “fight” in 2017, Kavanaugh will be confirmed easily.

Marijuana reform is one of the most important new political issues of this era and it’s about time Democrats and progressives take it seriously.

I do not think questions about marijuana will lead to "beating" Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but I do think it quite sound to urge Senators to ask Judge Kavanaugh about the range of federalism and personal freedom issues that surround modern marijuana reform.  In this post upon Justice Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement, I asked "With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?".   Asking questions about Raich could be one of a number of ways to probe Judge Kavanaugh's views on these important topics.

July 30, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Disconcerting disconnect between Trumpian rhetoric and health care realities for veterans when medical marijuana involved

Cover.vetsandmarijuana3.12-22Prez Donald Trump yesterday gave a big speech to the VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and he extolled his commitment to ensuring veterans receive first-rate health care: "We’re also committed to ensuring that when our warriors return home as veterans, they receive the best care anywhere on Earth." Unfortunately, as this new New York Times highlights, this rhetoric does not meet reality in at least one notable setting. The lengthy article is headlined "V.A. Shuns Medical Marijuana, Leaving Vets to Improvise," and here are excerpts:

Some of the local growers along the [California] coast here see it as an act of medical compassion: Donating part of their crop of high-potency medical marijuana to ailing veterans, who line up by the dozens each month in the echoing auditorium of the city’s old veterans’ hall to get a ticket they can exchange for a free bag.

One Vietnam veteran in the line said he was using marijuana-infused oil to treat pancreatic cancer. Another said that smoking cannabis eased the pain from a recent hip replacement better than prescription pills did. Several said that a few puffs temper the anxiety and nightmares of post-traumatic stress disorder. “I never touched the stuff in Vietnam,” said William Horne, 76, a retired firefighter. “It was only a few years ago I realized how useful it could be.”

The monthly giveaway bags often contain marijuana lotions, pills, candies and hemp oils, as well as potent strains of smokable flower with names like Combat Cookies and Kosher Kush.  But the veterans do not get any medical guidance on which product might help with which ailment, how much to use, or how marijuana might interact with other medications.

Ordinarily, their first stop for advice like that would be the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, with its thousands of doctors and hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the country dedicated to caring for veterans.  But the department has largely said no to medical marijuana, citing federal law.  It won’t recommend cannabis products for patients, and for the most part it has declined even to study their potential benefits. That puts the department out of step with most of the country, where at least 30 states now have laws that allow the use of medical marijuana in some form.

A department survey suggests that nearly a million veterans may be using medical marijuana anyway. But doctors in the veterans’ health system say the department’s lack of research has left them without much good advice to give veterans.  “We have a disconnect in care,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a psychologist who worked for years at the veterans’ hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., and now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania medical school.  “The V.A. has funded lots of marijuana studies, but not of therapeutic potential. All the work has been related to problems of use.”...

A bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives this spring would order the department to study the safety and efficacy of marijuana for treating chronic pain and PTSD. If the bill passes, the department could not only develop expertise about a drug that many veterans have turned to on their own — it may also start down the road toward eventually allowing its doctors and clinics to prescribe cannabis.

“I talk to so many vets who claim they get benefits, but we need research,” said Representative Tim Walz, Democrat of Minnesota, who introduced the bill along with Phil Roe, Republican of Tennessee, who is a physician. “You may be a big advocate of medical marijuana, you may feel it has no value,” Mr. Walz said. “Either way, you should want the evidence to prove it, and there is no better system to do that research than the V.A.”

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said Congress would need to do more than pass the current House bill. The spokesman, Curt Cashour, said that because cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, researchers would need to secure approval from five separate agencies to conduct studies. “The opportunities for V.A. to conduct marijuana research are limited because of the restrictions imposed by federal law,” Mr. Cashour said. “If Congress wants to facilitate more federal research into Schedule 1 controlled substances such as marijuana, it can always choose to eliminate these restrictions.”

The department does have two small studies in their early stages. One, in San Diego, looks at whether cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating component of cannabis, can help patients during PTSD therapy; it is scheduled to continue through 2023. The other, planned for South Carolina, would examine the palliative effects of cannabis in hospice patients. “In a system as big as ours, that’s not much, certainly not enough,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, who was President Trump’s first secretary of veterans affairs before being fired in March.

During his tenure as secretary, Dr. Shulkin eased some rules, allowing the department’s doctors to start talking to veterans about medical marijuana. But many veterans faulted him for not going further. Dr. Shulkin said that the tangle of red tape surrounding Schedule 1 drug studies should no longer be an excuse not to conduct them. “We have an opioid crisis, a mental health crisis, and we have limited options with how to address them, so we should be looking at everything possible,” he said.

The push for more research and for access to medical marijuana in the veterans’ health system is not coming just from liberal areas of California. The generally conservative American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars both favor expanded research. And some of the most vocal advocates are products of the nation’s strict military academies. “Cannabis is the safe, responsible choice,” said Nick Etten, an Annapolis graduate and former Navy SEAL who runs an advocacy group called the Veterans Cannabis Project. “It helps with the Big Three we struggle with after combat — pain, sleep and anxiety — and it is safer than many medications.”

Lots of recent prior related posts:

July 25, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hooray for the proposed new "Marijuana Data Collection Act" ... but ...

Images (2)Tom Angell reports here at Forbes on the introduction of a new piece of federal legislation that I consider long overdue.   Here are the details:

The Marijuana Data Collection Act, introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors, would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study "the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment."...

If the legislation is enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would carry out the research and publish initial findings within 18 months, with follow-up reports to be issued every two years after that.

So far, the bill's backers seem to consist solely of those who support marijuana law reform, a situation that legalization advocates decried.  “This is not a marijuana bill, it is an information bill," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview.  "No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation. Our public policy needs to be based on sound data and science, not gut feelings or fear-mongering.  Approving the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide legislators with reliable and fact-based information to help them decide what direction is most beneficial to society when it comes to marijuana policy.”...

Gabbard held a Tuesday morning press conference with other supporters, including lead GOP cosponsor Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and former U.S. Attorneys Barry Grissom of Kansas and Bill Nettles of South Carolina. Other original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Darren Soto (D-FL), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dina Titus (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Tom Garrett (R-VA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA).

Here are the specific data points the bill directs federal officials to track:

REVENUES AND STATE ALLOCATIONS

The monetary amounts generated through revenues, taxes, and any other financial benefits. The purposes and relative amounts for which these funds were used. The total impact on the State and its budget.

MEDICINAL USE OF MARIJUANA

The rates of medicinal use among different population groups, including children, the elderly, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. The purpose of such use. Which medical conditions medical marijuana is most frequently purchased and used for.

SUBSTANCE USE

The rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of admission in health care facilities, emergency rooms, and volunteer treatment facilities related to overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of opioid-related and other painkiller-related crimes to one’s self and to the community. The rates of opioid prescriptions and other pain killers.

IMPACTS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including the rates of such arrests on the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and the rates of such arrests on the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. The rates of arrests and citations on the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. The rates of arrests on the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State. The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions.

EMPLOYMENT

The amount of jobs created in each State, differentiating between direct and indirect employment. The amount of jobs expected to be created in the next 5 years, and in the next 10 years, as a result of the State’s marijuana industry.

Because I cannot yet find the full text of the bill on-line, I cannot yet provide a full informed opinion on its particulars.  I can say that I think a big, data-focused federal study of the impact of state marijuana reform is looooooooong overdue.  I was hopeful, but not optimistic, that Prez Obama might see the wisdom and political value of pushing for this kind of study effort after the issuance of the 2013 Cole Memo and after the 2014 election brought more states and DC into the recreational marijuana column.  But, sadly, we have been left largely with national number crunching by partisan advocates rather than government bean-counters for now two decades of ever-more-robust state-level reforms.

Based on Tom's description of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act," I am a bit concerned that there are not provisions likely to encourage pot prohibitionists to be supportive of this particular study effort.   The folks at SAM are often eager to stress data on black markets, increased use of marijuana by workers, increased hospital visits, increased homelessness, increased drugged driving, increased use by youths and young adults, environmental impacts,  and all sorts of other concerns (see, e.g., this SAM "lessons learned" report from March 2018).  It is unclear if these kinds of potentially negative data are fundamental parts of the inquiry imagined by Marijuana Data Collection Act.  If not, I doubt opponents of marijuana reform will want to sign on to this bill.

That said, even if the current version of the "Marijuana Data Collection Act" is in someway incomplete or one-sided, I hope a lot of folks on all sides of the marijuana reform debate will be inclined to try to make the bill better and get it passed.  I sincerely hope nobody disagrees with the notion that sound data and science is needed in this arena, and I sense both sides of the debate sincerely believe that the data, if fairly collected, will be on their side.  So maybe all can come together to really work toward trying to have all the data fairly collected (though I am not holding my breath).

July 24, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Prominent US Representative for Ohio now advocating that "marijuana should be legal in all 50 states"

220px-Rep._Tim_Ryan_Congressional_Head_Shot_2010CNN recently published this recent commentary advocating federal marijuana reform that is particularly notable because of its author: Tim Ryan, a Democrat representing Ohio's 13th congressional district who is co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus (and who at least once had aspirations to be a party leader in the House). Here are excerpts from the commentary:

The year Donald Trump was elected President, more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.  Moreover, the ACLU found that even though African-Americans use marijuana at similar rates to white Americans, they are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession....

As co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus, I've been hesitant to support legalizing marijuana in the past.  But after meeting with countless Ohio families and youth whose lives have been irreparably harmed by a marijuana arrest, I find the social and economic injustices of our marijuana policy too big to ignore.  I firmly believe no person should be sentenced to a lifetime of hardship because of a marijuana arrest. It is morally wrong and economically nonsensical.  That is why I am calling for an end to marijuana being used as an excuse to lock up our fellow Americans.

Marijuana should be legal in all 50 states. Across the country, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana.  Voters in Michigan and Oklahoma will be voting on marijuana initiatives this November, and efforts are underway in Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska and Utah to get legalization initiatives on the ballot. While I support these states for leading by example, this is an issue that affects every corner of our nation.  You should not be able to legally buy a product in one state, just to be arrested for the very same act in another.

Studies have shown that marijuana legalization could save $7.7 billion in averted enforcement costs and add $6 billion in additional tax revenue -- a $13.7 billion net savings.  Not to mention the reported 782,000 jobs it could create on day one.  Think of what our country could do with that money: rebuild our highways, bridges, and railroads; provide our communities with the resources they need to respond effectively to substance abuse and the opioid epidemic; and create jobs....

Congress can change this by passing the Marijuana Justice Act.  This legislation would remove marijuana's designation as a Schedule I drug -- those classified as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.  It would also eliminate all criminal penalties for an individual who imports, exports, manufacturers, distributes, or processes with intent to distribute marijuana.  To create economic opportunity in communities devastated by mass incarceration, the bill creates a $500 million community reinvestment fund to provide job training for the nascent legal cannabis industry.

The War on Drugs failed the American people. It is time for us to take the necessary steps to right our nation's wrongs.  We cannot afford to leave people behind and money on the table. If we are truly a nation that believes in second chances, our federal marijuana laws must change.  America is speaking. Congress must act.

July 23, 2018 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 (3)

Friday, July 13, 2018

"Behind Schedule — Reconciling Federal and State Marijuana Policy"

Nejmp1804408_f1The title of this post is the title of this new Perspectives piece appearing in the The New England Journal of Medicine and authored by Rebecca Haffajee, Robert MacCoun and Michelle Mello. I recommend the piece highly in part because of its terrific graphic under the heading "U.S. Marijuana Policy Milestones, 1970–2018." Here is part of its text:

The present state of conflicting laws seems unstable and suboptimal for rational drug control. Federal regulation that accommodates and reinforces state medical marijuana regulatory regimes would result in a safer, more reliable, more accessible supply of marijuana products. Congress, because it answers to the people and represents the states, appears the most likely branch to move on marijuana policy; it could even be encouraged to act by Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana.  Federal courts are increasingly hearing challenges to marijuana’s Schedule I status but have so far been unwilling to deem Congress’s scheduling determination irrational and therefore unconstitutional.

In Congress, rescheduling marijuana by amending the CSA is one attractive option.  The executive branch, too, can reschedule CSA substances, but the mechanisms are time consuming and unlikely to attract interest within the current administration.  Because considerable evidence now supports marijuana’s therapeutic benefits in reducing chronic pain, nausea, and vomiting in patients with cancer, as well as multiple sclerosis–related muscle spasms, there is a compelling argument that marijuana is more appropriately designated as a Schedule II or Schedule III drug.  Rescheduling would facilitate further study of products for FDA approval, but would not automatically change the severity of penalties for marijuana crimes or alter international treaty obligations, enshrined in the CSA, to ensure that all psychoactive substances are used only for legitimate medical and scientific purposes.

Congress could also remove marijuana from the CSA schedules altogether. This dramatic action could be coupled with legislation authorizing FDA oversight of marijuana products. Whether marijuana’s psychoactive effects preclude this move away from regulation as a controlled substance would provoke considerable debate. Subjecting marijuana products to FDA approval would hinder access initially but ultimately foster a robust system for regulation and research. FDA oversight of marketing would also improve product safety and consistent promotion across states.

The [proposed] legislation [sponsored by Senators Gardner and Warren] represents a third option designed to respect states’ rights — codifying the approach articulated in the Cole Memorandum by amending the CSA to exempt marijuana activities that are lawful in the jurisdiction where they occur. This solution would be more permanent than attorney-general guidance or agreements between states and the attorney general regarding enforcement, which shift with the political winds, and would therefore promote stability for medical users and suppliers. But it would not facilitate research into marijuana harms and benefits, bring products within the FDA’s purview to ensure safety and efficacy, alleviate interstate health risks, or address potential conflicts with international treaty obligations.

We think this third option, which addresses some pressing conflict-of-law concerns such as unpredictable criminal enforcement, is preferable to the current blurred vision of the future of marijuana policy.  Ultimately, a more comprehensive federal regime that perhaps resembles Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana could affirmatively promote health and safety through research and regulation.

July 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Guns N’ Ganja: How Federalism Criminalizes the Lawful Use of Marijuana"

Guns-and-mmjThe title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Ira Robbins now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Federalism is a vital tenet of our Republic.  Although federal law is the supreme law of the land, our Constitution recognizes the integral role that state law plays in the national scheme.  Like any pharmaceutical drug that withstands rounds of clinical testing, state law functions as a laboratory in which Congress can evaluate and potentially adopt novel policies on a nation-wide basis.  Most of the time, federal and state law exist harmoniously, complementing one another; other times, however, the two systems clash, striking a dissonant chord.

In the United States, state marijuana laws are currently on a crash course with federal marijuana law, exemplifying the discordant consequences our dual-system of laws sometimes generates.  Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, yet under the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of federal law. Mere confusion concerning the legality of marijuana is not the only consequence, however.  One notable casualty ensuing from the battle of the mutually exclusive federal and state marijuana laws is the deprivation of rights belonging to the unsuspecting, average citizen.

The CSA establishes a schedule of drugs, and various federal regimes — such as entitlement programs and welfare benefits — impose compliance with the CSA as a necessary antecedent for conferral of those benefits.  For example, although possessing a firearm is a fundamental right under the Second Amendment, citizens who wish to lawfully smoke marijuana can no longer avail themselves of this fundamental right. Section 922(g)(3) of the Gun Control Act prevents users of Schedule I drugs pursuant to the CSA — irrespective of state law — from possessing or owning a firearm. Marijuana, despite its lack of potential for addiction, plethora of medical benefits, and disconnect from violence, has always been a Schedule I drug — essentially deemed more addictive and dangerous than methamphetamine, a Schedule II drug. Unknowing, ordinary citizens are consequently caught in this legal black hole, contemplating how conduct can be both lawful and unlawful.

This Article proposes a simple solution to a complex problem: deschedule marijuana.  The Article first surveys the past, observing that the Nixon Administration’s placement of marijuana in Schedule I rang of racial undertones, and then examines the present, noting the majority of states that have legalized medicinal marijuana and the numerous anecdotal reports of its alleviating properties.  Further, enforcing § 922(g)(3) against individuals who consume marijuana lawfully pursuant to state law simultaneously overreaches and under-reaches, failing to target the violent criminals that Congress initially sought to apprehend.  Thus, the federal government’s insistence on maintaining marijuana in Schedule I undermines principles of federalism and prevents law-abiding citizens from fully exercising their constitutional right to own a firearm.

July 11, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"Defying Congress, Jeff Sessions Keeps Blocking Medical Marijuana Research"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Reason piece by Mike Riggs, which gets started this way:

It's been almost two years since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began accepting applications for new growers of research cannabis, and two dozen applicants are still in regulatory limbo.

Since the DEA announced in August 2016 that it would end the federal monopoly on producing cannabis for scientific research in the United States, growers, investors, researchers, applicants, and even members of Congress have sought to understand why a relatively simple licensing review process has stretched on for nearly two years. The answer is pretty straightforward: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for reasons he has not publicly disclosed, decided to intervene in a process that has historically not involved the attorney general in order to stop the DEA from issuing licenses to growers.

While the Controlled Substances Act gives the attorney general regulatory authority over scheduled drugs, that authority has historically been delegated to the DEA, which is part of the Justice Department. The DEA has a whole division, in fact, dedicated to "investigat[ing] the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals and listed chemicals from legitimate sources while ensuring an adequate and uninterrupted supply for legitimate medical, commercial, and scientific needs."

Members of Congress are not happy with Sessions' obstruction of the licensing process.  In April, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) and Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) sent the attorney general a letter in which they asked him to provide the Senate with a timeline for processing applications from potential manufacturers of research marijuana. They also asked the DOJ to update applicants on the review process.  Both actions, Hatch and Harris suggested, should be completed by May 15, 2018.  Not only did the DOJ miss that deadline, but it doesn't seem interested in playing catch-up.

Four license applicants I interviewed in late June told me they've received no official updates from either the DEA or the DOJ in months.  Applicants who have spoken to congressional offices working on this issue say their contacts are equally frustrated by Sessions' obstruction of the DEA's licensing process.

July 7, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

"Mitch McConnell: Drug Warrior, CBD Champion?"

McConnell-bill-would-legalize-hemp-944x531The title of this post is the headline of this effective Rolling Stone article which does a nice job explaining the intricacies of the connections between hemp and CBD product and marijuana and why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be greasing the path toward a CBD-friendly world.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some key excerpts:

CBD’s legality is complicated, to say the least. Without getting into the mind-numbing specifics, let’s just say that reasonable people disagree about whether it is possible for any CBD to be legal, and shops selling CBD products in states like Indiana and Tennessee have been raided by local law enforcement. So in order for mainstream retailers to feel comfortable carrying CBD products and Kentucky’s farmers to subsequently cash in on the CBD craze, McConnell put together legislation making it official. Though he’s focused his hemp legalization rhetoric on helping farmers and bland-sounding industrial products, his true intentions became abundantly clear about two weeks ago, when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment that would exclude CBD and other major compounds (called cannabinoids) from the definition of legal hemp.

McConnell shot the proposal down, saying, “I’ve declined to include suggestions that would undercut the essential premise of the bill, namely that hemp and its derivatives should be a legal agricultural commodity.” At no point did he refer directly to the “derivative” that was up for discussion. But anyone paying close attention understood what he was talking about.

“McConnell’s omission of CBD is not a denial of it. It’s simply a tactical political move,” says Carl Cameron, a former Fox News commentator who now works for New Frontier Data, a D.C.-based firm that provides information on the cannabis industry to investors. “He’s trying to help potential supporters avoid criticism in places where opposition to marijuana might be misconstrued and then undermine support for hemp.”

Leslie Bocksor, who runs the cannabis consulting firm Electrum Partners, agrees that McConnell has downplayed the fact that CBD is a primary motivation for legalizing hemp so as to fly below the radar of anti-pot donors and voters. “This is just a way for McConnell to be able to move this forward without taking the political risk in talking about what’s going on, which is, yes, CBD is in so much demand that the supply can’t possibly equal the demand any time in the foreseeable future,” Bocksor says. “This is part of the Kabuki theater of the political environment we’re in today.”

Bocksor himself has embraced this kind of winking reference – hemp as a euphemism for CBD – as a business strategy. For the past few years, he’s been advising the companies he works with to avoid mentioning CBD directly or making any medical claims about what the product can do in order to avoid interference from law enforcement or warning letters from the federal government. Label everything as “hemp extract,” Bocksor says, and the consumer will know you mean CBD, as well as what kinds of health benefits can be expected.

Culturally, hemp has long been seen as a taller and more fibrous cannabis plant than marijuana, but the legal distinction is based only on THC content. Once CBD started to enter the mainstream consciousness about five years ago, pot farmers in states like Colorado and California began to breed strains of cannabis that were high in CBD but contained so little THC that they could be reclassified as “hemp.” Around the same time, the 2014 Farm Bill created a pilot program where state departments of agriculture and universities could register farmers to grow “hemp” — meaning, cannabis that was less than 0.3 percent THC. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is the second biggest producer of hemp under this program – behind only Colorado. And while most people believe that the hemp pilot program in the 2014 Farm Bill was not created with the intention of causing a boom in CBD products, that is exactly what happened....

For now, the legal status of CBD is still murky. But with McConnell’s support, there is a good chance that the House’s version of the Farm Bill will include a provision to legalize hemp-derived CBD, and potentially open the door a world where you can find CBD soaps and CBD tinctures on the shelves at Target and CVS.

July 2, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Marijuana Revenue Competition — Look Out Below"

The title of this post is the title of this short new paper authored by Pat Oglesby now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Beyond the ever-present illegal market, a more subtle threat to marijuana revenue lurks: Tax competitors (think: tax havens) threaten subnational jurisdictions that can’t or don’t control their borders.

This article presents a framework for looking at threats to marijuana revenue:

1.  The illegal market can be marginalized by law enforcement or low taxes.

2.  Only low taxes can defeat legal tax competitors.

3.  Tax competition threatens local retail taxes more than state retail taxes.

4.  Tax competition threatens local producer taxes much more than state producer taxes.

5.  Federal legalization would ipso facto expose state taxes to daunting competition.

June 30, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

With Justice Kennedy now retiring and precedents being reversed, is it time for marijuana advocates to urge SCOTUS to reconsider Raich?

The Supreme Court generated a lot of news today, in part by reversing a significant precedent concerning labor unions and in part through Justice Antony Kennedy's retirement announcement.  So what does this have to do with marijuana law, policy and reform you might ask?  And I would answer with one case cite: Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) (opinion here, wikipedia entry here). 

Raich is the case in which all the liberal members of the Supreme Court all rejected the claim by Angel Raich that the federal government should not have the constitutional power to criminalize her backyard cultivation and use of medical marijuana in compliance with California law.   Of course, the liberal members of the Court were not the only ones who rejected Raich's claim that the Commerce Clause should not be read to allow the federal government to criminalize what she grows in her own backyard: joining the liberals voting in favor of broad federal power here were Justice Antonin Scalia (now deceased) and Justice Anthony Kennedy (now about to retire).

Based on a number of his opinions to date, there are lots of reasons to suspect that new Justice Neil Gorsuch, who replaced Justice Scalia, would be a vote for the Angel Raiches of the world against broad federal power.  In addition, there are lots of reasons to suspect that whomever Prez Trump selects to replace Justice Kennedy will also be an advocate for limited federal legislative powers.  (This accounting alone does not make obvious that Raich could be overturned, as Justice Samuel Alito might be more a fan of broad federal criminal powers than was the Justice he replaced, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  It is also unclear where Chief Justice John Roberts would come out on these issues, too.)

Personnel change is the main reason I am inclined to suggest a "new" Supreme Court might be inclined to reconsider Raich, but I am also eager to highlight how changing political, social and medical knowledge may also incline the Court to reconsider a past ruling.  Changes circumstances are always a formal and informal influence on the strength of stare decisis, and gosh knows there have been a whole lot of changed circumstances in the marijuana space since Raich was decided in 2005.

So, put simply in the form of a call to Raich's lawyer, where is Randy Barnett when marijuana reformers need him?

June 27, 2018 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer introduces "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act"

220px-Chuck_Schumer_official_photoAs reported in this press release, "Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today formally introduced new legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level."  Here is more from the press release, with its links to the proposed legislation:

Specifically, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively decriminalizing it at the federal level.  The legislation allows states to continue to function as laboratories of democracy and ultimately decide how they will treat marijuana possession.  The legislation, however, does not change federal authorities’ ability to prevent trafficking from states where marijuana is legal to states where is not.  The bill also preserves the federal government’s ability to regulate marijuana advertising -- just as it does tobacco -- so that advertisers cannot target children.  Schumer has long advocated for states’ rights when it comes to medical marijuana.

Leader Schumer’s new legislation also takes steps to help communities that have been disproportionally affected by our current marijuana laws.  The bill includes authorization of grant programs designed to encourage states and local governments to allow individuals to seal or expunge marijuana possession conviction records, and it creates a new funding stream to help ensure that women and minority entrepreneurs have access to the new marijuana industries in their states.  The bill also makes new investments in research to fully understand the effect of THC on both driving and public health – particularly in adolescents.  

Leader Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).... 

A fact sheet on the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. The full text of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be viewed here. A section-by-section summary of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act can be found here.

Specifically, Leader Schumer’s new legislation would:

  • Decriminalize Marijuana: The legislation would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by descheduling it, which means removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970;
  • Respect States’ Rights: The legislation would maintain federal law enforcement’s authority to prevent marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not;
  • Level The Economic Playing Field: The legislation would establish dedicated funding streams to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses that would be determinant on a reasonable estimate of the total amount of revenue generated by the marijuana industry;
  • Ensure Public Safety: The legislation would authorize $250 million over five years for targeted investments in highway safety research to ensure federal agencies have the resources they need to assess the pitfalls of driving under the influence of THC and develop technology to reliably measure impairment;
  • Invest In Public Health: The legislation would invest $500 million across five years for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work in close coordination with the Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to better understand the impact of marijuana, including the effects of THC on the human brain and the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for specific ailments;
  • Protect Children: The legislation would maintain the Department of Treasury’s authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does tobacco advertising to ensure the marijuana businesses aren’t allowed to target children in their advertisements. The bill also allows the agency to impose penalties in the case of violations;
  • Incentive sealing and Expungement programs: The legislation authorizes grant programs to encourage state and local governments to administer, adopt, or enhance expungement or sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions. The bill provides $100 million over five years to the DOJ to carry out this purpose. 

This is big news not only because it provides still further evidence that "establishment Democrats" are now fully behind federal marijuana reform, but also because Senator Schumer is positioned to be the House majority leader if Democrats retake control of the Senate in either 2018 or 2020. If that happens, Senator Schumer presumably would be most interesting in having his version of marijuana reform considered first among all the competing bills now floating about.

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

Monday, June 25, 2018

Formal FDA approval for Epidiolex means some part of the federal government finds some part of cannabis plant has "accepted medical use"

Download (1)This new CNN piece, headlined "FDA approves first cannabis-based drug," reports on the big news from the federal government concerning a very specific form of medical marijuana. Here are the details:

The US Food and Drug Administration approved a cannabis-based drug for the first time, the agency said Monday. Epidiolex was recommended for approval by an advisory committee in April, and the agency had until this week to make a decision.

The twice-daily oral solution is approved for use in patients 2 and older to treat two types of epileptic syndromes: Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic dysfunction of the brain that begins in the first year of life, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a form of epilepsy with multiple types of seizures that begin in early childhood, usually between 3 and 5.

"This is an important medical advance," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement Monday. "Because of the adequate and well-controlled clinical studies that supported this approval, prescribers can have confidence in the drug's uniform strength and consistent delivery."

The drug is the "first pharmaceutical formulation of highly-purified, plant-based cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid lacking the high associated with marijuana, and the first in a new category of anti-epileptic drugs," according to a statement Monday from GW Pharmaceuticals, the UK-based biopharmaceutical company that makes Epidiolex....

The FDA has approved synthetic versions of some cannabinoid chemicals found in the marijuana plant for other purposes, including cancer pain relief. Justin Gover, chief executive officer of GW Pharmaceuticals, described the approval in the statement as "a historic milestone." He added that the drug offers families "the first and only FDA-approved cannabidiol medicine to treat two severe, childhood-onset epilepsies."

"These patients deserve and will soon have access to a cannabinoid medicine that has been thoroughly studied in clinical trials, manufactured to assure quality and consistency, and available by prescription under a physician's care," Gover said. Epidiolex will become available in the fall, Gover told CNN.  He would not give any information on cost, saying only that it will be discussed with insurance companies and announced later....

It's an option for those patients who have not responded to other treatments to control seizures.  According to the Epilepsy Foundation, up to one-third of Americans who have epilepsy have found no therapies that will control their seizures. Shauna Garris, a pharmacist, pharmacy clinical specialist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of North Carolina's Eshelman School of Pharmacy, said the drug is effective and works somewhere between "fairly" and "very well." She has not used Epidiolex in her own clinical practice and was not involved in the development of the drug but said she's not sure it will live up to "all of the hype" that has surrounded it....

As part of the FDA's review of the medication, the potential for abuse was assessed and found to be low to negative, according to Gover. Still, this approval comes as the White House is said to be reconsidering federal prohibition of marijuana and as more and more states approve it for recreational and medicinal use. Gover said the approval signals "validation of the science of cannabinoid medication."

As the title of this post highlights, this news serves as still further proof of the misguided placement of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act defined as having "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." But, it should also be realize that this news serves as proof that the federal government, even without any reform to the CSA, can and will approve a cannabis-based medicine which has been "thoroughly studied in clinical trials [and] manufactured to assure quality and consistency."  Thus, the catch-22 comes from the fact that marijuana's placement on Schedule I precludes US-based companies from doing the types of clinical trials that the FDA demands.  (If we had a well-functioning federal government, marijuana surely would have been at least re-scheduled to Schedule II or III under the CSA many years ago.  But I digress....)

June 25, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Incomplete but sober accounting of "7 Reasons Marijuana Won't Be Legalized in the U.S."

For lots of reasons there is lots of enthusiasm these days about the prospects for federal marijuana reform.  But this recent commentary, fully headlined "7 Reasons Marijuana Won't Be Legalized in the U.S.: Despite growing public support, cannabis is unlikely to get a green light from Congress anytime soon," throws some appropriate cold water on anyone getting too hot about the prospects of Congress passing a major marijuana reform bill anytime soon.  Here are the stated seven reasons, and readers are recommended to click through to see accompanying explanation): 

1. Lawmakers worry about adolescent access

2. Clinical data has been mixed

3. Driving under the influence laws aren't concrete

4. Congress doesn't have room on its docket for reform

5. Republicans have a mixed to negative view of marijuana

6. Keeping the current scheduling has an economic benefit

7. Rescheduling could be a nightmare

As I see it, this commentary's discussion of policy and political challenges to marijuana reform really only scratches the surface. Of particular importance for any major criminal justice reform is the serious commitment of key congressional leadership.  My sense is that key congressional leaders, especially in the Senate which seems likely to stay in GOP hands through at least 2020, have little or no interest in broad marijuana reforms.

In addition, as we have seen recently in federal sentencing reform debates, even once there is broad interest in some kinds of reforms, there can often be significant fights over exactly what kind of reform will be adopted.  In the marijuana space, figuring out which of a wide variety of reforms should be embraced even among supporters of reform presents significant political and practical challenges.

June 18, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Meet the Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners"

Meet-mother-teresa-pot-prisoners-heroIn part because of the headline and in part because of the focal point, I could not resist linking to this effective High Times article with the headline that serves as the title of this post.  The piece merits a full read, and here are only some of the good parts (with links from the original):

Beth Curtis used to fill her days playing tennis with friends and attending community board meetings in her rural home of Zanesville, Ohio, a small coal country city on the outskirts of Appalachia. But in the past decade, the social calendar of the 76-year-old widow and mother of three has all but disappeared. Instead, she spends her time corresponding with incarcerated people, sending mailers to cannabis companies, talking to the media, and updating her website, LifeForPot.com — all exercises dedicated to advocating for nonviolent offenders serving life sentences without the possibility of parole on marijuana convictions.  Called the “Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners,” Curtis is lauded as a crucial voice in criminal justice circles for her work calling attention to those who remain incarcerated on marijuana charges as the plant becomes legal across the country.

Curtis, who worked briefly as a social worker in the 1960s, spent the majority of her life raising her three sons and volunteering on various boards. That changed when her brother, John Knock, was given two life sentences plus 20 years without the possibility of parole for his involvement with a marijuana distribution ring. During the 1970s and early ‘80s, Knock, who had moved to San Francisco, spent most of his time out of the country as part of a group that imported marijuana into Europe, Canada, and the northwest.

He left the group in the late ‘80s to spend time with his family and son, moving to Hawaii. Knock was indicted in 1994, picked up in Paris in 1996, and extradited to the United States in 1999, where he stood trial at a federal district court in Florida. He was convicted of conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana and money laundering. Nine years later, when Knock’s legal team had exhausted all of his appeals, his loved ones were left in disbelief of the future that awaited him.

“Our family was shocked because we really didn’t understand the justice system and thought it couldn’t be right,” said Curtis....

Curtis, who was 66 at the time, had honed her skills on the internet investing in small pension plans in the early ‘90s.  She started searching government websites looking for people who had similar sentences for marijuana. She looked for cases that appeared to involve people who were incarcerated solely for marijuana offenses and wrote letters to them in prison in hopes they’d be willing to share more.  “It wasn’t that easy, at that time there weren’t a lot of people who were advocating for them,” Curtis said. “When a stranger writes to you in federal prison I think it’s very logical they were afraid it would be someone who would be an outside confidential informant trying to get information about them that would do harm.”

 Once she earned their trust, Curtis drew on the conversations to write profiles for her entirely self-funded website in a bid to raise awareness for people like her brother who were condemned to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for marijuana.   “It’s pretty satisfying to be able to give them some kind of the story on the outside,” she said. “Every story is a tragedy.”...

Curtis’ reputation has grown over the years and with that, she’s become a regular source for media navigating the sometimes intricate world of marijuana lifers and commutations. She regularly offers her expertise for articles, helps reporters fact check confusing court documents, and connects them with incarcerated people for interviews.  Curtis doesn’t know how many nonviolent drug offenders are now serving life sentences for marijuana but says there aren’t as many as people would expect. The website currently lists 29 people, separated into age categories of “inmates over 62” and “inmates under 62.”...

Amy Povah, a formerly incarcerated person and founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, an organization that advocates for clemency for all nonviolent drug offenders, christened Curtis as the “Mother Teresa for Pot Prisoners,” alluding to the Roman Catholic Saint known for her charitable work. CAN-DO works closely with Life For Pot and has taken over some advocacy work for pot lifers in recent years. Povah credited Curtis’ work vetting cases as a boon to many other advocates as “many people, myself included, have benefited from her body of work.”

At least five pot lifers who Curtis has advocated for have received commutations, but Cox and Knock were among the more than 3,000 cases denied commutations or pardons by former president Barack Obama before he left office in January 2017. Curtis had been helping families of pot lifers prepare complicated clemency petitions to be processed through Obama’s Clemency Project 2014, or CP14, which then Attorney General Eric Holder said could shorten the sentences of more than 10,000 incarcerated people behind bars for nonviolent offenses.

“It was pretty devastating. I honestly could not believe it,” Curtis said. “It was all very hard because everybody who didn’t receive mercy contacted me and they needed reassurance there’s still hope and frankly there still is.”...

Curtis pointed out that clemency is now especially relevant as marijuana is increasingly decriminalized and legalized while a bill to end the federal ban is gaining momentum.

But the policy shifts are bittersweet for those still behind bars for their own roles in harvesting and distributing the plant. In an effort to build support from people benefiting from the new regulations, Curtis has amassed a database of cannabis business enterprises, conglomerates, and venture capitalists to whom she sends mailings urging them to advocate for those serving life sentences for cannabis. There aren’t many in the industry doing so, Curtis said—a surprising revelation, given that the plant is now part of a $9 billion industry projected to employ 292,000 people by 2021.

Curtis talks to her brother a few times a week but has passed on work like communicating regularly with pot prisoners to other advocacy groups such as CAN-Do and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), whose president, Kevin Ring, heralded her as an inspiration.

“When advocates say, ‘When a person goes to prison, the whole family serves the time,’ you just have to look at Beth’s life. I don’t think she’s breathed a free breath since her brother went to prison,” he said. 

June 13, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Seemingly everyone joining the call for federal marijuana reforms following introduction of STATES Act

Last week's introduction of the STATES Act (basics here) along with Prez Trump's seeming endorsement (basics here) seems to have made it cool for all sorts of government officials to start actively advocating for federal marijuana reform.  Specifically, check out these recent posts from Marijuana Moment about what is afoot at this moment:

For a variety of reasons, every one of these calls for reform make it just a little bit easier to imagine federal marijuana reform happening sooner rather than later.  I still think sooner may mean a few years from now, but I can understand how advocates may now be getting even more bullish in their predictions about the prospects for reform at the federal level.

Prior related posts:

June 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

"Trump’s Endorsement Of A New Marijuana Bill Is A Real F-You To Jeff Sessions"

The title of this post is the headline of this BuzzFeed article which is as astute as is it crass.  Here are excerpts:

President Donald Trump "really" supports new legislation in Congress that would let state marijuana legalization thrive, untouched by the Justice Department, he said Friday.  The endorsement was a jolt for the bipartisan bill, but it also jabbed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has relentlessly threatened a pot crackdown and would be hamstrung and humiliated by the measure.

Trump has carped about Sessions recusing himself from Justice Department's Russia probe.  But the president has been unwilling to fire him, and Sessions has refused to quit, leaving Trump to explore ways to snub and belittle the attorney general. Trump’s eagerness to sign the bill may be another effort to flog Sessions, roughly the equivalent of kicking a dog while it's tethered to a stake in the yard.

Formally titled the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, the bill filed Thursday is sponsored in part by Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican.  "I support Senator Gardner," Trump said before hopping on Marine One Friday morning. "I know exactly what he's doing; we're looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes."

Dubbed the STATES Act, the bill riffs on popular conservative ideas about state sovereignty and would decree that the Controlled Substances Act cannot apply to people and businesses — including growers and stores — complying with state or tribal pot legalization laws.  A bipartisan companion bill was also filed in the House.

The bill responds to Sessions’ decision in January to rescind an Obama-era policy that tolerated pot businesses that follow state laws.  Sessions followed up by insisting the Justice Department has the right to enforce federal law.  The irony for Sessions is that the STATES Act probably wouldn't exist — certainly not with bipartisan backing — were it not for Sessions' own policy positions and saber rattling.

Prior related posts:

June 8, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rounding-up some notable and thoughtful reactions to the new STATES Act approach to federal marijuana reform

As noted in this prior post, President Donald Trump this morning seemingly indicated support for the new marijuana reform law proposed yesterday by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).  The proposal, knows as Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act), has already drawn reactions both political and academic.  Here is a round up:

Tom Angell has collected a lot of notable reactions at Marijuana Moment under the heading, "Lawmakers And Advocates React To Bipartisan Trump-Supported Marijuana Bill"

For more detailed and academic perspectives, I highly recommend:

Prior related posts:

June 8, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

President Donald Trump suggests he supports new STATES Act effort to reform federal marijuana prohibition

Tom Angell has this notable breaking news in a new Marijuana Moment posting:

President Trump said on Friday that he “really” supports new marijuana legislation filed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” he said when asked about the bill by reporters during an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn as he prepared to board Marine One to head to G-7 summit in Canada.

“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” he said. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

The bill, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from its provisions. It would also protect banks that work with legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.

Critically, there is a very big difference between "end[ing] up supporting" a piece of proposed legislation and actively championing it. Especially with various leaders in Congress seemingly actively opposed to any major (or even minor) federal marijuana reforms, I am not optimistic about the prospects of this bill unless and until it has Prez Trump actively campaigning for it. But, for political reasons, maybe he ultimately will.

Prior related post:

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

June 8, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Members of Congress introduce STATES Act described as "Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies"

Ccc_SQUAREAs reported in this press release, titled "Gardner, Warren, Joyce and Blumenauer Unveil Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Protect State Marijuana Policies," today has brought a big interesting new federal marijuana reform proposal. Here are the details via the press release (with links from the original):

U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) today introduced the bicameral, bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) to ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.  The bill also extends these protections to Washington D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely. 

Forty-six states currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing marijuana or marijuana-based products - and Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and a number of tribes have similar laws.  As states developed their own approaches to marijuana enforcement, the Department of Justice issued guidance to safeguard these state actions and ensure practical use of limited law enforcement resources. However, this guidance was withdrawn earlier this year, creating legal uncertainty, threatening public health and safety, and undermining state regulatory regimes....

Ignoring the ability of states, territories, and tribes to determine for themselves what type of marijuana regulation works best comes with real costs. Legitimate businesses that comply with state laws are blocked from access to basic banking services.  Illicit markets often spring up and local law enforcement must divert resources needed elsewhere.  Thousands of people are prosecuted and locked up in our criminal justice system. Qualified scientists and state public health departments struggle to conduct basic and epidemiological research or spur medical advances, and the fundamental nature of state and tribal sovereignty is violated.  As more states, territories, and tribes thoughtfully consider updates to marijuana regulations, often through voter-initiated referendums, it is critical that Congress take immediate steps to safeguard their right to do so by passing the STATES Act.

 The legislation has been endorsed by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Safe Access, Americans for Tax Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign for Liberty, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cooperative Credit Union Association, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Liberty, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Massachusetts Bankers Association, the Maine Credit Union League, the Mountain West Credit Union Association, the National Cannabis Bar Association, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the New Federalism Fund,NORML, the Northwest Credit Union Association, R Street, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

 The STATES Act:

  • Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that - as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections - its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to marijuana activities.
  • Clearly states that compliant transactions are not trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction.
  • Removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under the CSA.
  • The following federal criminal provisions under the CSA continue to apply:
    • Prohibits endangering human life while manufacturing marijuana.
    • Prohibits employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations.
  • Prohibits the distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.
  • Prohibits the distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

A fact sheet about the legislation is available here, and the full bill text is available here.

June 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)