Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Monday, November 24, 2014

"Merry Marijuana: Pot Sellers Woo Holiday Shoppers"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article.  Here are excerpts:

From new marijuana strains for the holidays to gift sets and pot-and-pumpkin pies, the burgeoning marijuana industry in Colorado is scrambling to get a piece of the holiday shopping dollar.  Dispensaries in many states have been offering holiday specials for medical customers for years — but this first season of open-to-all-adults marijuana sales in some states means pot shops are using more of the tricks used by traditional retailers to attract holiday shoppers....

The Grass Station in Denver is selling an ounce of marijuana for $50 — about a fifth of the cost of the next-cheapest strain at the Colorado dispensary — to the first 16 customers in line Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  That works out to less than $1 a joint for the ambitious early-rising pot shopper.  Owner Ryan Fox says his Black Friday pot is decent quality, and says he's selling below cost to attract attention and pick up some new customers....

Sweets and marijuana seem to go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Many dispensaries this time of year resemble a Starbucks at the mall, with holiday spices and festive music in the air.  One of the state's largest edible-pot makers, Sweet Grass Kitchen, debuted a new miniature pumpkin pie that delivers about as much punch as a medium-sized joint.  The pie joins holiday-spiced teas, minty pot confections and cannabis-infused honey oil for those who want to bake their own pot goodies at home.

Even some edibles makers that specialize in savory foods, not sweets, are putting out some sugary items for the holidays. "It just tastes too good, we had to do it," Better Baked owner Deloise Vaden said of her company's holiday line of cannabis-infused sweet-potato and pumpkin pies....

Colorado Harvest and Evergreen Apothecary timed the release of some top-shelf strains of potent pot for the holiday season. Spokeswoman Ann Dickerson says they're "sort of like the best bourbon or Scotch that will be competing on quality, rather than price."...

For the shopper who wants to give pot but doesn't know how the recipient likes to get high, Colorado's 300 or so recreational dispensaries so far have been able to issue only handwritten gift certificates. That's because banking regulations prohibit major credit cards companies from being able to back marijuana-related gift cards the way they do for other retailers.

Just this month, a Colorado company started offering pot shops a branded gift card they can sell just like other retailers. The cards are in eight Denver dispensaries so far, and coming soon will be loyalty cards similar to grocery-store loyalty cards that track purchases and can be used to suggest sales or new products to frequent shoppers.

November 24, 2014 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Vice Wars: Tobacco, Alcohol and the Rise of Big Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting and lengthy NBC News article.  Here are excerpts:

The specter of corporate cannabis loomed large on Tuesday, when the family of Bob Marley appeared on NBC’s Today Show, announcing the creation of Marley Natural. The world’s first global brand of marijuana launched with the support of $50 million dollars in private equity and the same marketing machine that took Starbucks to the masses.

“We see the inevitability of large, well-run companies to sell cannabis,” said Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Privateer Holding, the Seattle-based company that’s behind the Marley brand. “That train left the station a long time ago.”

Less than a year after Colorado and Washington state opened the first commercial pot markets, and less than a month after two more states voted to follow suit, such frank capitalism has shocked the smiling wise-men of weed and their crusading friends in the legalization movement. Most hoped the market would remain a cottage industry of small-scale growers, collectives and dispensaries. Few expect it will....

Alcohol and tobacco interests are also keeping an eye on the burgeoning market.  The alcohol industry in particular has been communicating with representatives of NORML, DPA, and the Marijuana Policy Project, according to sources on both sides of the table.

They want to know whether pot will be a friend or a foe — a complement to their products, or, as some marijuana reformers have argued, an alternative that could sap America’s love of drinking.  The marijuana lobby accepts these overtures out of a combination of curiosity, realism, and smart strategy.  If a takeover is inevitable, they figure, it’s better to be prepared.

“Beer, wine and tobacco people — I’ve met with them all,” said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, which is above all a consumer rights organization.  He doesn’t love the idea of Big Pot, but he believes it will help guarantee that users get a quality product at a fair price....

St. Pierre hopes to create a “Dionysus lobby,” built on the shared interests of alcohol, tobacco and pot.  All three industries want low taxes, the right to advertise freely, and the ability to make convenient sales, he said.  But so far the legal marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington are plainly over-regulated, he added, prejudiced against pot consumers, who should be allowed to buy marijuana as easily and safely as they do beer or wine or a pack of smokes.

“I’ve tried to say, ‘look, none of us should be hiding,’” he said.  “All of us are involved in a problematic adult consumer product and all of us enjoy using one or more of these products,” he continued.  “What do we want?  We can get it down to four words, almost a Wal-Mart bumper sticker: ‘Best product, lowest cost.’”

He said that one of his warmest receptions came from the Distilled Spirits Council, or Discus, which represents the leading producers and marketers of liquor in the United States.  One day last July a senior member of Discus called St. Pierre, according to an account of the conversation that St. Pierre emailed to a colleague.

That account along with a follow-up interview with St. Pierre illustrates how marijuana has sent a twinned-bolt of fear and excitement through the spines of alcohol executives.  The Discus executive congratulated the industry on its wins at the ballot box, St. Pierre recalled.  The executive also assured the marijuana lobby that the nation’s largest liquor makers would not fight legalization as long as the public supported it.

He estimated that a third of Discus board want to get into the marijuana business, a third oppose legalization, and a third believe that the industry should take a neutral position, according to St. Pierre’s recollections.  But Discus conveyed a threat as well, a complaint against the way marijuana advocates were demonizing alcohol in their campaigns.  “Marijuana is safer than alcohol,” is perhaps MPP’s most used slogan in fact, and the group relentlessly argues that America would be a healthier place if we put down our tumblers and decided to toke.

If such talk continued, the Discus rep said, according to St. Pierre’s recollection, the liquor industry would have no choice but to launch a counter-attack. That, St. Pierre agreed, wouldn’t be good for anyone....

The Beer Institute, which represents the nation’s 2,800 breweries, and the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America also confirmed meetings and calls with the marijuana lobby but denied wanting to get into the business.

All three show signs of the same double vision of marijuana as both opportunity and threat.  Earlier this year, Brown-Forman Corp., which owns Jack Daniel's, told investors that the spread of legalization could hurt its sales.  The Beer Institute is officially neutral on the question of marijuana legalization.  But Chris Thorne, the vice president of communications, seemed to take a shot at the new industry and its claim as a safe alternative to booze.

“We believe that it’s misleading to compare marijuana to beer,” he said in a phone interview.  “We are committed to responsible advertising, working with public officials and law enforcement, and supporting communities in the countries where we operate. I don’t think any of that is true for marijuana.  There are a lot of unanswered questions about marijuana — questions about its effect on the brain, and on young people — and we think legislators would be wise to look at these questions as they consider the legalization of marijuana.”

But at the same time, the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America may be ready to make marijuana work for it.  Earlier this year, in a letter sent to all fifty U.S. attorneys general and governors, the president of the WSWA argued that if a state decides to legalize marijuana, it should regulate it with the same three-tiered distribution system set up for alcohol after prohibition — a move some analysts interpreted as a sign that alcohol companies would be open to moving pot as well....

Tobacco executives, meanwhile, have been studying the marijuana industry for years, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.  His research has drawn an 80-million page archive of tobacco industry documents, spanning the 1960s to the late 1990s.  Many of the documents reference softening pot laws, rising use, and the dual threat/opportunity of a third major vice industry.

November 22, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dynamic Colorado debate over suggestion of near complete ban on marijuana edibles

This new Denver Post article, headlined "Proposed Colorado marijuana edibles ban shows lingering pot discord," documents the enduring challenges and debates over the best regulatory frameworks for states which have moved away from total marijuana prohibition. Here are excerpts:

Colorado's health department proposed an industry-spinning ban on the sales of nearly all forms of edible marijuana at recreational pot shops Monday but then quickly backed away from the plan amid an industry outcry and questions over legality.

After a heated, four-hour hearing, the public policy Tilt-A-Whirl ride ended where it began: with lawmakers, regulators and stakeholders still in disagreement — now more than 10 months after the start of recreational pot sales — on the best way to manage marijuana in Colorado. "This is by far the simplest recommendation," state Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, said of the health department's proposal. "But I don't know if it gets us to where we want to be."

The aim of the state advisory group that met Monday to consider the health department's proposal and several others is to prevent people — mostly kids — from accidentally eating marijuana-infused products. Such accidental ingestions have sent children to the hospital, caused an increase in calls to poison-control hotlines and become one of the key measures lawmakers use in discussing whether legal marijuana sales can fit harmoniously in society.

Sales of infused edibles make up about 45 percent of the legal marijuana marketplace, said Dan Anglin, the chairman of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

The health department's recommendation was one of 11 proposals the group considered Monday. Most suggested the state create clearer labels for marijuana-infused products or require producers to make edible marijuana items in a unique shape or dyed a unique color.

Many of those proposals, though, quickly met with a familiar back-and-forth. One side would offer the suggestion; the other side would bat it down. Stamp a symbol onto edibles denoting the products contain marijuana? Too easily rubbed off, edibles producers said. Improve labeling and require edibles to stay with their packages? Too easily ignored to spread unmarked edibles, groups concerned about marijuana said.

Require producers to dye their products a specific color or airbrush on a symbol? "You can't force a company to use an ingredient they don't want to," said advisory group member Julie Dooley, an owner of Julie & Kate Baked Goods, an edibles producer.

In the debate, there was talk of Sour Patch Kids and marijuana-infused sodas, discussion of the cost of chocolate molds, and these words: "I think soft candy is such a broad category."

Amid this atmosphere, Colorado health department official Jeff Lawrence presented the department's proposed ban on the sales of all edibles except hard candies and tinctures. Lawrence said the disagreement over more-nuanced regulations pushed the department to propose something more sweeping. "If it couldn't be achieved," he said, "we were looking at something that could be achieved."

But the proposal — word of which spread in an Associated Press report before the meeting — quickly met a buzz saw. Industry advocates questioned whether edibles could be banned under Amendment 64, Colorado's marijuana-legalization measure. Singer worried a ban would create a "marijuana Whac-A-Mole situation" where edibles production moved into the black market. Andrew Freedman, the state's marijuana policy coordinator, said the governor's office did not support a ban.

The health department later in the day put out a news release acknowledging that the department did not consider the proposal's constitutionality or ask the governor's office to review it. Instead, the proposal was put forward to generate discussion. "Considering only the public health perspective, however, edibles pose a definite risk to children, and that's why we recommended limiting marijuana-infused products to tinctures and lozenges," Larry Wolk, the executive director of the department, said in a statement.

The discussion seemed mostly over by the end of Monday's meeting, as talk returned to more incremental forms of edibles regulation. Any final proposals from the advisory group will be presented in a report to the legislature next year. The Department of Revenue, which regulates marijuana businesses, must adopt final rules on the topic by 2016.

October 21, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 1, 2014

How the alcohol industry sees marijuana legalization

A few weeks ago, Talkingpointsmemo.com posted a long-form article, available only to TPM Prime subscribers, title "Can Big Pot and Big Alcohol Get Along?".  I finally had a chance to read it.  Though a lot of points in the article will be familiar to those who follow this issue, it has one of the most comprehensive looks at the alcohol industry's reaction to marijuana legalization that I've seen.  And, as the article notes, the alcohol industry now views legalization as inevitable:  

Beer, wine and liquor do not care that legalization isn’t technically on the books. For them, it’s already a foregone conclusion. And that means that weed is already a real competitor.

 

...

 

Beer and wine may be as American as a baseball game, but Big Alcohol doesn’t feel at all relaxed about this debate. At alcohol trade association meetings, pot is already spoken of as a key competitor. A vigorous internal discussion has been taking place within the industry to figure out how they can establish working relationships with the marijuana world, and what to do if they can’t.

 

...

 

At the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association’s annual legal symposium, which draws state regulatory agency officials, corporate counsel, industry policymakers and private attorneys, a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project spoke. Attendees said that during the Q&A, “a couple people stood up and kind of attacked her” about MPP’s alcohol-bashing tactics.

 

...

 

While Big Alcohol has expressed that they would prefer to co-exist amicably in the marketplace, in their minds, the marijuana industry has to make a choice: pot can choose to be their friend, or to be their enemy. And if Big Pot decides they want to continue to launch regular attacks on alcohol, then alcohol will ultimately fight back.

The whole piece is well worth reading.  Unfortunately, to do so, you'll need a subscription (at $50/year)--not really worth it for just this one article.  But TPM is one of the best independent journalism sites around and subscribing is a great way to support a valuable news source (not to mention a good value for those who closely follow political/policy news.)  So, if you're a TPM reader who has thought about signing up for the Prime subscription before, this article could provide a bit of an extra incentive.  

September 1, 2014 in Food and Drink, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New rules for edible marijuana products are moving forward in Colorado

From Colorado comes news that updated regulations for edible marijuana products are moving forward.  The Denver Post reports the details:

Under a draft proposal, the state would essentially regulate out of existence bite-sized products that pack in 100 milligrams of active THC, the maximum allowed by state law.

 

The draft rules from the Department of Revenue would provide incentives for companies to produce 10 milligram products — the standardized serving size under state law — by putting greater burdens on manufacturers of products between 10 and 100 milligrams.

 

For example, a candy bar in that range would need to be divided into sections that can easily be broken off, with each section marked or stamped with its THC content. Edibles that don't lend themselves to such division — say, granola or potato chips — would need to come in packages with no more than 10 milligrams total.

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, I believe that permitting the sale of bite sized candies that contain 10 doses of marijuana is regulatory insanity.  It's good to see that Colorado is moving quickly to address the problem. 

July 3, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cocaine smuggled by being baked into cookies

Though not a marijuana story, this BoingBoing post made me think back to an episodes of the classic TV sitcom Taxi and I could not resist posting a clip.  The BoingBoing headline: "$50k worth of cocaine baked into delicious cookies seized at US airport."  And here's a scene from the Taxi episode:

 

June 24, 2014 in Film, Food and Drink | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Two Words: Marijuana Coffee"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Time piece.  Here is a snippet:

Cannabis-infused coffee is expected to be available in Washington state in July, the product’s developer Adam Stites told The Huffington Post earlier this week.   A tongue-in-cheek manifesto for the brand “Mirth Provisions” says the product will “establish unprecedented chillness” and enable consumers to “listen to the dark side of the Moon again.”

Stites described the effect of the cold brew — which also comes in a cream and sugar variety — as “wake and bake,” in an interview with MyNorthwest.com.  He claims it contains 20mg THC, which will give drinkers about the same buzz as an “IPA or glass of wine.”

As more and more pot edibles pop up on the market, there are concerns that people will overeat them and harm themselves and others, raising questions about how much cannabis regulation is needed.

Though this news can and surely will prompt plenty of jokes about a pot of pot coffee, it serves for me as yet another indication that products for marijuana consumption in methods other than smoking are likely to play a major role in the future of this industry.

June 4, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Marijuana candies, dangerous for kids and for legalization

Though I think we may be nearing the point of inevitability when it comes to marijuana legalization, we aren't there yet.  There's a chance that as things move forward, we will see a backlash that reverses the current trend.  

If I had to pick issues that could potentially cause such a backlash, the risks of marijuana candies would be near the top of the list.  And for good reason.  Marijuana candies pose serious policy concerns.  

Products that are packaged like and taste like candy can be easily mistaken as regular candy.  And we all know who loves candy--kids.  Perhaps just as important, many marijuana candies contain so much marijuana that the suggested serving size may be 1/4 or 1/10 of the candy.  This is particularly odd when one considers that some of these candies come in the form of a single gummy bear or bon-bon style sweet.   When most people see a single gummy bear or bon bon, they assume they should eat the whole thing.  But if you were to eat an entire marijuana gummy in one serving, you could end up high out of your mind.

Two new New York Times pieces discuss this problem.  In one, a mother recounts how her son had to go to the emergency room after eating a roommate's marijuana candy bar.  In the other, the writer begins: "This is not what I thought marijuana looked like."

Those of us who favor marijuana legalization would be wise to take these concerns very seriously.  There are real public health and safety risks that come from people--particularly children-- accidentally ingesting super-strong marijuana candies (or ingesting on purpose, but without realizing that one gummy is meant to be consumed in four servings.)  

In terms of the politics, I think the "this is not what I thought marijuana looked like" sentiment is particularly noteworthy.  I suspect that many voters who supported legalization in Colorado and Washington had no idea that it might result in the sale of sophisticated candies (or even that such candies were even possible.)  And if enough of the folks in this group don't like what they see when they learn about marijuana candy, it is entirely possible they might sour on legalization generally.  

To be sure, I don't think we are anywhere near seeing a political backlash because of this issue.  But marijuana advocates would be foolish to ignore the possibility of one developing.

February 11, 2014 in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Notable coverage of notable concerns surrounding marijuana edibles

A few months ago, I wondered aloud in this post whether debates over marijuana reform would be a lot different if eating pot was far more common than smoking it. Today I see that the New York Times has this front-page story concerning marijuana edibles under the headline "Snacks Laced With Marijuana Raise Concerns." Here are excerpts:

As marijuana tiptoes further toward the legal mainstream, marijuana-infused snacks have become a booming business, with varieties ranging from chocolate-peppermint Mile High Bars to peanut butter candies infused with hash oil. Retail shops see them as a nonthreatening way into the shallow end of the marijuana pool, ideal for older customers, tourists staying in smoke-free hotels or anyone who wants the effect without the smoke and coughing.

But the popularity of edible marijuana has alarmed parents’ groups, schools and some doctors, who say the highly concentrated snacks are increasingly landing in the hands of teenagers looking for a sweet, discreet high, or of children too young to know the difference between pot brownies and regular ones....

One survey has found a small but growing number of children seeking treatment after accidentally consuming marijuana. Fourteen such children visited the emergency department of Children’s Hospital Colorado in the Denver area from October 2009 through December 2011, researchers reported last year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Before 2009, researchers reported no marijuana exposures.

The research took place after an explosion of medical-marijuana shops in Colorado, but before voters passed measures to legalize the sales and use of recreational marijuana to adults 21 and older. Dr. George Sam Wang, an author of the study and a clinical instructor in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, said he had not seen any additional increases in children’s marijuana exposure since recreational sales began the first of this year.

Marijuana, even if consumed by children in high doses, poses few of the grave dangers of overdosing on alcohol or drinking household chemicals. But doctors said young children who consume marijuana are at risk of falling and hurting themselves or falling asleep in a position where they could not breathe. For the most part, doctors who treated children in the study advised that the children be watched closely as their bodies digested the drug. “There’s no antidote, no medicine that reverses this,” Dr. Wang said.

Compared with the 14 children who were treated after consuming marijuana, the hospital treated 48 children who had swallowed acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol — and 32 who had accidentally taken antihistamines during the same time period.

Regulators, manufacturers and retailers say they are working intensely to keep marijuana — edible or not — safe and tightly regulated. If they fail, federal authorities have warned they could step in and take action.

February 1, 2014 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 19, 2013

PolitiFact Florida says claim that marijuana is "less toxic" than alcohol is "Mostly True"

MpplogoThe modern US debate over marijuana law, policy and reform has so many interesting parallels to and echoes from the US experiences with alcohol and its one-time prohibition.  For this reason and others, I found especially interesting this detailed discussion at PolitiFact Florida about a recent advertisement by the Marijuana Policy Project claiming that marijuana is "less toxic" than alcohol. Here are parts of this "fact-check" discussion:

[S]ome health professionals say it’s a matter of picking your poison. "It’s like trying to compare different weapons. Both have the potential to cause harm," said Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and chief of the Division of Addiction Medicine, at University of Florida. "I don’t know that there’s a clear answer."

For starters, the term toxic can be vague. Dr. Cynthia Lewis-Younger, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, said toxic can be "anything that causes harm. It is possible to drink enough water to poison yourself. It’s more related to the dose than anything else."

The Marijuana Policy Project’s claim that marijuana is "less toxic" rankles some health professionals and anti-drug organizations who criticize the inference that using the drug is okay....

Our ruling

An ad from the Marijuana Policy Project claims marijuana is "less toxic" than alcohol. Our job as fact-checkers in this case is not to decide whether marijuana is good or harmful. We're focused on whether the drug in its natural form is "less toxic" than alcohol.

 

In that regard, science and statistics present a strong case:

  • Deaths or even trips to the hospital are much more likely due to alcohol;
  • Scientists could not find any documented deaths from smoking marijuana;
  • A study found the safety ratio for marijuana (the number of doses to cause death) is much greater than compared to alcohol. Put another way, marijuana is 100 times less toxic than alcohol.

Overall, we rate this claim Mostly True.

 

August 19, 2013 in Food and Drink, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)