Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Effective Nature article highlights big gaps in marijuana research

The science journal Nature has this effective Cann3 new feature article discussing the notable challenges in doing good science in the marijuana reform space. The lengthy article is headlined "The cannabis experiment: As marijuana use becomes more acceptable, researchers are scrambling to answer key questions about the drug." Here are excerpts:

In 2013, Beau Kilmer took on a pretty audacious head count. Citizens in the state of Washington had just voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and the state's liquor control board, which would regulate the nascent industry, was anxious to understand how many people were using the drug — and importantly, how much they were consuming.

The task was never going to be straightforward. Users of an illicit substance, particularly heavy users, often under-report the amounts they take. So Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica, California, led a team to develop a web-based survey that would ask people how often they had used cannabis in the past month and year. To help them gauge the amounts, the surveys included scaled pictures showing different quantities of weed. The survey, along with other data the team had collected, revealed a rift between perception and reality. Based on prior data, state officials had estimated use at about 85 tonnes per year; Kilmer's research suggested that it was actually double that, about 175 tonnes. The take-home message, says Kilmer, was “we're going to have to start collecting more data”.

Scientists around the world would echo that statement. Laws designed to legalize cannabis or lessen the penalties associated with it are taking effect around the world. They are sweeping the sale of the drug out of stairwells and shady alleys and into modern shopfronts under full view of the authorities. In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation to legalize marijuana trade. And several countries in Europe — Spain and Italy among them — have moved away from tough penalties for use and possession. Thirty-nine US states plus Washington DC have at least some provisions for medicinal use of the drug. Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon have gone further, legalizing the drug for recreational consumption. A handful of other states including California and Massachusetts are expected to vote on similar recreational-use measures by the end of 2016.

But the rapid shift has caught researchers on the back foot. “Broadly speaking, there's about 100 times as many studies on tobacco or alcohol as there are on illegal substances,” says Christian Hopfer, a psychiatry researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. “I don't think it's the priority it should be.”

Despite claims that range from its being a treatment for seizures to a cause of schizophrenia, the evidence for marijuana's effects on health and behaviour is limited and at times conflicting. Researchers struggle to answer even the most basic questions about cannabis use, its risks, its benefits and the effect that legalization will have.

The quick shifts in policies should provide a plethora of natural experiments, but the window will not be open for long. “There's an opportunity here. Some of the most informative research we can do is right at the moment the market changes,” says Robert MacCoun, a social psychologist and public-policy researcher at Stanford Law School in California who worked with Kilmer on the research done in Washington....

As cannabis use becomes legal, the data may become easier to collect. But the drug's use is still low compared with alcohol and tobacco, says Wayne Hall, an addiction researcher at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, so it is hard to draw firm conclusions. Marijuana may be the most popular illegal drug, he says — about 44% of US adults have used it at some point in their lives according to one source — but only about one in ten have used it in the past year. By contrast, around 70% drank alcohol in that time. “The number of people who use it with any regularity for a long time is pretty small. The longer-term consequences are really understudied,” says Hall.

A major question for researchers — and a complication in interpreting the evidence — is dosing. There are more than 85 cannabinoid chemicals in pot. The one of most interest to researchers — and users — is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Growers have been able to breed high concentrations of the chemical into strains of the plant meant for recreational and medicinal use. A potency- monitoring programme run by the University of Mississippi for the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that THC levels have steadily increased in the United States11, from 2–3% in 1985–95 to 4.9% in 2010. The increase is even starker for imported cannabis seized by law-enforcement officials. For these drugs, potency has gone from less than 4% in the late 1980s and early 1990s to more than 12% in 2013.

But it is hard to determine the amounts of THC being consumed by the average customer. It is unclear, for example, whether users 'titrate' their doses, adjusting their intake according to the potency. Nicotine users are known to do this with cigarettes, but nicotine does not impair judgement in the same way that cannabis does. And the effects of THC are less immediate, especially for edible forms.

The escalating potency raises questions about previous research because users in older studies may have been consuming lower-potency cannabis, and the effects may be different. A study published earlier this year, for example, linked high-potency cannabis to a threefold-increased risk of psychosis versus non-use but found no association with lower-potency forms. And many researchers have complained that the pot approved for study in experiments funded by NIDA is a poor match for what is used recreationally or medicinally....

Although states are starting to ease restrictions on recreational use of marijuana, what got the ball rolling in changing public perceptions and the legal landscape for pot were the arguments for its medical use.

Colorado introduced its rules allowing medical marijuana more than a decade before it allowed recreational use. The amendment to the state's constitution listed eight conditions for which marijuana was approved: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia (a progressive wasting syndrome), persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea and severe pain. But, says Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the CDPHE, “those are dictated by the constitution and not necessarily by medical research”.

Although there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence — and well-organized advocacy groups that campaign for easier access to medical marijuana — there is little conclusive scientific evidence for many of the claimed medical benefits. One of the reasons for this dearth of evidence is that money generally has been obtainable only for research on the negative effects of cannabis. That is beginning to change.

When Colorado first legalized the drug, its public-health department began collecting fees from patients who applied to purchase pot at medical dispensaries. By 2014, the state had amassed more than US$9 million, most of which was ploughed back into a medical marijuana research programme selected by the CDPHE. Among the projects funded by the Colorado millions, there are two investigating whether cannabinoids can help to mitigate seizures in childhood epilepsy. Similar research is being pursued in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the United States....

One of the biggest questions is how legalization will change usage patterns. One place in which researchers are looking for answers is Europe, where cannabis regulation tends to be much lighter than it is in the United States (see 'Reefer madness'). In the United Kingdom, some police forces overlook cannabis use and small-scale growing operations. Spain allows private consumption, but still has restrictions on sales.

The most extreme and long-standing example is the Netherlands, which decriminalized the possession and sale of small quantities of cannabis in 1976. But although some streets of Amsterdam have been transformed into pungent tourism hotspots, the country as a whole has not changed its habits much.

Although hard data on cannabis use in Europe is patchy, the Netherlands does not have hugely more users than other nations. Data aggregated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put use in the Netherlands at about 7%. That is more than in Germany (5%) and Norway (5%), about the same as in the United Kingdom and less than in the United States (15%). Nor has the Netherlands seen a huge spike in use of harder drugs, dampening fears that marijuana serves as a gateway to more-dangerous substances such as heroin and cocaine. The message from the Netherlands, says Franz Trautmann, a drugs-policy researcher at the Trimbos Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is that “a very liberal policy doesn't lead to a skyrocketing prevalence”. Rather, cannabis is endemic, he says. “We can't control this through prohibition. This is something which more and more is recognized.”

But the lesson from the Netherlands may be limited because the drug is still illegal, and growing and selling large quantities is still punishable by law. Colorado has gone further by legalizing not merely the drug's use, but the whole production chain, and that could have fundamentally different effects on the economics of pot. “Legalized production really raises the prospect of a dramatic drop in price,” says MacCoun. “It's conceivable marijuana prices could drop 75–80% in a fully legalized model.” (Although Uruguay legalized the drug in 2013, it reportedly has struggled to regulate production and to set up working dispensaries.)

The effects of a sharp drop in cost are unknown. Taxation may also have unintended consequences. If states tax by weight, users might look to higher-potency strains to save money. And once cannabis is a business, it gains a business lobby. Cannabis researchers already talk of being bombarded with e-mails from pro-cannabis groups if they make negative comments about the drug. “Marijuana research is like tobacco research in the '60s,” says Hopfer. “Any study about harms is challenged. It's really something.” Many fear that the big money now to be found in cannabis will drive attempts to obfuscate the risks. “If the commercial interests are too big, then the profit interest is prevailing above the health interest. This is what I'm afraid of,” says Trautmann.

Legalization provides an opportunity to answer some important questions. In a few years, Colorado, Washington and others will know (if only roughly) how legalization affects usage patterns, the number of car crashes and the number of people seeking help for drug dependency. The CDPHE-funded programmes will have added to the knowledge of beneficial effects. And continuing long-term studies of large groups of users will provide more evidence for statisticians who are attempting to disentangle correlation and causation on the negative impacts.

“When a jurisdiction changes its marijuana laws, that provides an opportunity for greater leverage on the questions of cause and effect,” says MacCoun. But, he adds, the signals will only really be clear if the laws result in a dramatic increase in use — something that is neither a given, nor necessarily desirable. “Obviously, we don't want marijuana use to rise just to allow us to answer our questions, but if it does, we'll be poring over all the data.”

August 20, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fascinating marijuana reform developments in Italy

Images (6)This lengthy International Busness Times article discusses the history and current status of marijuana policy in Italy.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana Legalization In Italy: 250 Italian Lawmakers Support Cannabis Decriminalization Proposal," and here are excerpts:

Italy may well be on its way to becoming the largest country in Europe to legalize marijuana. An Italian tracking group has found that more than 250 lawmakers from across the political spectrum have given their support to a proposal that would largely decriminalize production, distribution, sale and consumption of marijuana throughout the nation.

The leap may appear far-fetched for a country that just 10 years ago voted in a draconian anti-drug bill that removed any distinction between hard and soft drugs, increasing sentences for pot smokers and heroin addicts alike.

But the legalization movement recently gained momentum, with one of the world's most progressive legislative proposals on marijuana being submitted to the Italian parliament. Drafted by the Intergrupo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale, the legislation would allow anyone over the age of 18 to cultivate as many as five plants at home. Italians could also team up to form a "cannabis social club," with each having a maximum of 50 people growing as many as 250 plants.

In both cases, the product would have to be consumed or shared by the farmers, who would be banned from selling and profiting from it while notifying authorities about their activities. All other individuals would be allowed to store as many as 15 grams of marijuana at home and carry as many as 5 grams, with higher quantities being allowed for medical use. Meanwhile, people who do not follow the new rules would not be subject to criminal charges, but would instead face administrative sanctions. Smoking in public areas would remain strictly prohibited, as would advertising, exporting and importing all cannabis products.

Larger-scale production and sale would be controlled by a state monopoly, with the government regulating the sale of licenses. Retail sales would be restricted to dedicated stores, similar to the cannabis coffee shops in Netherlands.

Italy's pro-legalization movement began in the 1960s with the anti-establishment Radical Party, which, among other things, has distinguished itself for its successful campaigns to introduce abortion and divorce, and for getting the first porn star elected to parliament, Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina. Its histrionic leader, Marco Pannella, 85, has been the face of Italian anti-prohibition for decades, routinely getting arrested for distributing marijuana as an act of civil disobedience.

However, the party has largely remained a fringe force, backed by the liberal intelligentsia but shunned by the masses. It has never won more than 4 percent of the vote, with the exception of the 1999 European elections, when it garnered 8.5 percent.

Despite the attempts made by Pannella and his colleagues, repression has long been Rome's favored response when it comes to drugs. Its tendency peaked in 2005, with the approval of the aforementioned law equating soft and hard drugs by the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (The legislation was declared unconstitutional in 2014.)...

So, how did cannabis all of a sudden become so popular in Italy's two chambers of parliament? Well, it didn't happen overnight, but the practical reasons in favor of legalization appear to have struck a chord with many MPs.

In Italy, the turning point came this year, when the National Anti-Mafia Directorate (DNA), the authority in charge of fighting organized crime, indicated reforms to decriminalize cannabis-related crimes were needed. In its annual report, it said security forces could no longer afford diverting resources to the fight against cannabis as consumption was spreading despite security forces' "best efforts," noting that repressive action was to date "a total failure."

According to the report, as many as 3,000 tons of cannabis are illegally sold each year in Italy, enough for each citizen, children included, to smoke two to four joints a week. It estimated the total market value as much as $33 billion. And this appraisal is based on the amount of drugs seized by police, which is believed to be a small fraction of the total amount in commerce. From June 2013 to June 2014, the DNA said it intercepted close to 1,900 pounds of heroin, a little less than 10,000 pounds of cocaine and more than 32,000 pounds of cannabis, making marijuana by far the most popular -- and most seized -- drug in the southern European nation.

DNA recommendations on drug policies are not easily ignored in Italy, as this is the authority waging war in Europe against the largest drug cartel, the 'Ndrangheta, and other organized-crime groups that plague the country. The DNA also pulls considerable political weight. For example, Pietro Grasso, the current Senate president, the second highest office in the nation, is its former chief.

Critics say the post-2005 crackdown on drugs has exacerbated systemic problems, engulfing Italy's traditionally congested courts with a wave of low-profile cases that went on to strain the country's overcrowded jails.

Italy is currently struggling to get out of an economic crisis that has left the government desperate for cash. In May, its debt touched a record $2.4 trillion, 132 percent of gross domestic product, which is expected to grow 0.7 percent in 2015 after years of recession. Thus, the prospective of fresh income from taxation and licensing is quite alluring to the government....

According to a study published last year, new business generated by the law could result in an increase of GDP fluctuating between 1.20 percent and 2.34 percent. "Thousands of new jobs could be created," said Della Vedova, the chief promoter of the proposed cannabis legislation. "State income would be absolutely remarkable and quite higher than, for example, that granted by the controversial first-home tax, which today is worth about $3.7 million." Benefits could be even greater, as the figure doesn't take into account resources now allocated to fight cannabis-related crimes, which could be diverted elsewhere.

July 27, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Terrific RAND commentary spotlights "The 10 Ps of Marijuana Legalization"

1413386689065I just came across this terrific recent lengthy commentary piece at The RAND blog authored by Beau Kilmer.  The piece is titled "The 10 Ps of Marijuana Legalization," and it is a must-read for anyone thinking about modern marijuana reform. Here is how the piece gets started, along with the list of pot Ps:

Up and down the Western Hemisphere, marijuana policy is a growing topic of discussion, and laws are starting to change.

In 2014, retail marijuana stores opened in the states of Colorado and Washington, where anyone over 21 years old can purchase a wide variety of marijuana products: buds, baked goods, candies, drinks, lotions, e-cigarettes infused with hash-oil solutions, etc. Similar stores are expected to open in Oregon and Alaska in the upcoming year. While marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law, the Obama administration has decided not to block these efforts.

At the southern end of the hemisphere, Uruguay became the first country in the world to remove its prohibition on marijuana in late 2013. While the new law allows users to grow their own, join a cooperative, or purchase marijuana from a participating pharmacy — those who want to legally obtain marijuana must choose one of these options and register with the government — it remains unclear when the pharmacy option will be made available.

In addition, both Colombia and Costa Rica have bills in Congress that would make allowances for medical marijuana. In February, Jamaica passed a law to decriminalize personal possession and create a regulatory system for supplying marijuana for medical and religious purposes. In April, the Chilean congressional health committee approved a bill to legalize home marijuana production for medical and nonmedical purposes. The bill has now moved to the lower house of the Chilean Congress.

Legalizing marijuana for nonmedical purposes is especially controversial, with many arguments made by advocates on all sides of the debate. For example, those seeking to legalize marijuana hope to diminish the black market and the violent crime that can be associated with the trade, depending on the country. They also want less money going to criminal organizations and more to governments via taxation; however, the revenue aspect has been much more a topic of discussion in the United States than in Uruguay. Legalization proponents do not want people arrested and incarcerated for marijuana use, often saying that it does more harm than good and that it is an inefficient use of criminal justice resources. Finally, many advocates argue it is hypocritical to allow alcohol to be legally consumed but not marijuana.

Those on the other side of the debate worry that legalization will increase marijuana consumption — especially among youth — because of increased availability, reduced stigma, lower prices, and marketing (when it is allowed). Marijuana is not a harmless substance, and its consumption is correlated with adverse outcomes (e.g., high school drop-out, mental health disorders); however, it is often hard to prove that marijuana use causes those outcomes. There is, on the other hand, clear causal evidence linking marijuana use to accidents, cognitive impairment during intoxication, and anxiety and panic attacks that sometimes lead to emergency-room visits. Persistent heavy users run the risk of becoming dependent and also suffering from bronchitis. There is also strong evidence linking heavy marijuana use with psychotic symptoms, cardiovascular disease, and testicular cancer. We know very little about the health consequences — both harms and benefits — of the new marijuana products that are proliferating in places that have legalized.

Since no jurisdictions had removed the prohibition and legalized production before these experiments (not even the Netherlands goes this far), it is difficult to project the consequences. Further, legalization is not a binary choice; several decisions need to be made that will ultimately shape whether legalized marijuana ends up being good or bad for society.

Based on insights obtained from a series of research collaborations and through consulting with various government entities, I have identified 10 important choices confronting jurisdictions that legalize. Conveniently, they all begin with the letter “P.”...The 10 Ps 1. Production.... 2. Profit motive.... 3. Promotion.... 4. Prevention.... 5. Policing and enforcement.... 6. Penalties.... 7. Potency.... 8. Purity.... 9. Price.... 10. Permanency....

July 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Spotlighting how US marijuana reform is already having a global impact

Download (2)This intriguing new Forbes article, headlined "Israel, Canada Want A Piece Of New York's Medical Marijuana," highlights a number of ways in which marijuana reform in the United States is already changing a number of notable global realities.  Here are excerpts: 

For years the United States worried about drugs crossing our borders from other countries, now it seems other countries are crossing our border to get into drugs. Namely – cannabis.  While most believe that the U.S. is conservative in its approach to marijuana, the recent push for legalization has suddenly thrust America’s marketplace into a cannabis leadership position.

The potential for the U.S. market is so big, that companies from other countries want in. Israel wants in on the action in New York.  Marijuana is illegal in the country, but in a twist, the country is a world leader on its research into the medical uses of marijuana. Tikun Olam, which means ‘healing the world’ in Hebrew, is the only large-scale industrial producer of cannabis in Israel and operates under a license from the Israel Ministry of Health.  Tikun Olam announced that it was partnering with Compassionate Care Center of New York and applying to be a Registered Organization under New York’s Compassionate Care Act....

MedReleaf, another Canadian manufacturer of medical-grade cannabis announced it entered into an exclusive partnership with New York State Compassionate Care Center of New York.  CCCNY has also applied for one of the five licenses to be awarded in New York State and while it hasn’t gotten any approvals, it has established a greenhouse in Newark, NY ready for immediate production.  MedReleaf operates a 55,000 square foot facility in Markham, Ontario and is one of the largest suppliers in the Canadian market.  Tikun Olam is also partnered with MedReleaf in Canada and grows some of Tikun’s proprietary strains.  Canada has been very progressive in setting up its medical marijuana program and the companies there want to expand....

The changes taking place in the US are also affecting Mexico, another long time black market partner.  Marijuana seizures at the border are half of what they were five years ago.  Mexican farmers are ripping up their cannabis plants and turning to subsidized tomatoes. Mexico decriminalized small amounts of pot, but hasn’t gone as far as the US in legalization.  The drug cartels are switching to more expensive products like heroin and luxury strains from Colorado are in demand in Mexico according to Bloomberg and creating a reverse in the trafficking.

The exchange goes both ways.  Jamaica may have an established black market business, but its looking to U.S. firms to become legitimate.  Jamaica only recently decriminalized marijuana, which is hard to believe that it wasn’t already legal.  Any tourist to the country was usually offered ganja on the shuttle bus from the airport to their hotel.  Jamaica, the biggest supplier of black market pot to the U.S., kept it illegal to make officials in this country happy.  With our laws easing up, they felt like they had the green light to acknowledge that marijuana shouldn’t be punished within its country. United Cannabis Corp based in Colorado has launched a partnership with Jamaican agencies for a marijuana research and development facility.  The Cannabinoid Research & Development Company is considering a headquarters in Kingston Jamaica for pharmaceutical research and with the goal to standardize strains.

As the domestic cannabis growers become more established, it isn’t inconceivable they too will want to take their knowledge and experience to other markets.  As the medical marijuana market matures, global partnerships will become more frequent blurring those old drug wars.

June 19, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Supreme Court of Canada issues big medical marijuana ruling (and highlights import of judiciary in marijuana reform)

As reported in this local Canadian article, headlined "Medical marijuana includes cookies, brownies, Supreme Court rules," the top court in Canada issues a significant medical marijuana ruling last week. Here are the details:

A former cannabis club head baker at the centre of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling is both thrilled and relieved after the high court struck down limits on what constitutes legally acceptable medical marijuana products. The court ruled unanimously on Thursday that medical marijuana can be legally consumed in a range of ways, from cannabis-infused cookies and brownies to cooking oils and teas. “I think across the country there will be a lot more smiles and a lot less pain,” said Owen Smith with the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, whose 2009 arrest was the focus of the decision.

Smith was charged after police found hundreds of pot cookies and cannabis-infused olive and grapeseed oils in his Victoria apartment. He was acquitted at trial and won an appeal.

The outpouring of gratitude since the ruling was handed down has been overwhelming, Smith said. He received a phone call from a mother who used cannabis-infused oil to treat her daughter’s epilepsy. “She was just overjoyed and in tears about the decision,” he said. “It’s been emotional, that’s for sure.”

Not only was it a unanimous 7-0 ruling, but the court made a point of attributing the written decision to the entire court — something the justices do when they want to underline a finding.

It was yet another rebuke of the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda. Until now, federal regulations stipulated that authorized users of physician-prescribed cannabis could only consume dried marijuana.

But limiting medical consumption to dried pot infringes on liberty protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court said. “The prohibition of non-dried forms of medical marijuana limits liberty and security of the person in a manner that is arbitrary and hence is not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” said the written judgment.

Cheryl Rose, whose daughter Hayley takes cannabis for a severe form of epilepsy, said the 22-year-old’s seizures have dropped dramatically. Under the previous law, Hayley had to take 15 capsules of dried cannabis daily. Now, she will only have to take one concentrated capsule made with oil. “Without having extracts available for her, I don’t think we’d be able to keep it up. It’s way too much for a person to consume,” she said. “She’s finally going to fully have her life back.”

Alex Repetski, of Thornhill, Ont., could have been charged with possession and trafficking for converting dried bud into oil for his 3-year-old daughter, Gwenevere, whose debilitating epilepsy has left her developmentally delayed. Since starting on the low-THC marijuana, Gwenevere has seen an incredible recovery, Repetski said. He no longer fears prosecution.

Limiting medical marijuana use to dried pot “limits life, liberty and security of the person” in two ways, the court said. First, the prohibition on possession of cannabis in forms other than dried pot places a person at risk of imprisonment when they wouldn’t face the same threat if they possessed dried marijuana buds. It also exposes people with a legitimate need for marijuana to other potential medical ailments, it stated. “It subjects the person to the risk of cancer and bronchial infections associated with smoking dry marijuana and precludes the possibility of choosing a more effective treatment.”...

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was “outraged” by the marijuana decision. “The big issue here is the message about normalization,” she said. “The message that judges, not medical experts, judges have decided something is a medicine.” Ambrose noted that marijuana has never faced a regulatory approval process through Heath Canada.

The full 24-page ruling in R. v. Smith, 2015 SCC 34 (Canada June 11, 2015) is available at this link.

As the last line of my post headline emphasizes, I think this ruling highlights the importance and impact of how a judiciary responds to a jurisdiction's marijuana reform efforts. For any jurisdiction that reforms blanket marijuana prohibition in any ways, the dynamics of just how courts interpret and apply reform statutes and regulations will necessarily have an impact on the actions of other government officials and individuals seeking to comply with reformed laws and practices.

June 14, 2015 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Achtung dude: notable talk in Germany about marijuana reform

Images (1)Interesting international marijuana reform developments are reported in this new article headlined "Germany marijuana legalization push revives debate over drug policy: Conservative politician Joachim Pfeiffer joins Germany Green Party campaign." Here are excerpts:

A conservative politician who crossed the aisle and has joined the German Green Party’s campaign to legalize marijuana has revived a long-running debate about the drug in Europe’s largest economy.

Lawmaker Joachim Pfeiffer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, recently co-sponsored legislation that would lift Germany’s ban on marijuana and regulate the drug like alcohol and tobacco — and, supporters say, bring in billions more marks in tax revenue.

“The current restrictive drug policy failed because, despite the ban, the number of consumers hasn’t dropped,” said Mr. Pfeiffer, who filed his bill with opposition Green Party lawmakers last week. “More than two million Germans use weed regularly, making it the most commonly used illicit drug.” Mr. Pfeiffer’s move sent ripples of joy through the budding marijuana industry in Germany, offering a rare crack in the conservative unity that has resisted all past efforts at legalization.

“The Christian Democratic Union has been a cement wall in the way of legislation,” said Georg Wurth, head of the German Hemp Association, a pro-legalization group in Berlin. “But for the first time we have a CDU politician publicly speaking out for legalization, which is a big step forward. You can assume there are others with similar opinions in the CDU.”

Currently, Germany has partial decriminalization of marijuana that varies from state to state, with some states maintaining strict prohibitions and others, including liberal Berlin, allowing people to carry as much as 15 grams of pot without prosecution.

Opinions remain polarized. Organizers in Berlin are gearing up for the 19th Hanfparade — Hemp Parade — to be held August 8. The parade, expected to draw some 6,500 participants from all over the country, is Europe’s largest annual demonstration in favor of legalizing marijuana. But a poll last year by Stern magazine uncovered a deep reservoir of popular suspicion about easing the country’s pot laws, with 65 percent of Germans polls saying the opposed easing laws restricting the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. Fewer than a third — 29 percent — favored legalization, while even in the Green Party only 51 percent said they favored full legalization....

Even so, opposition to marijuana legalization is thawing fast among other German parties. The pro-business German Free Democratic Party, which was part of Ms. Merkel’s coalition government until 2013, added the regulated distribution of cannabis to the party’s platform this month.

For Steffen Geyer of Berlin’s Hemp Museum, it is high time that weed becomes legal in Germany. “Marijuana should be governed by the same rules as tobacco and wine,” Mr. Geyer said. “The prohibition of cannabis is wrong. It hurts people, it hurts the economy and it empowers organized crime.”

The growing support for legalization has sparked a backlash, however. Germany’s federal Drug Commissioner Marlene Mortler recently told the daily newspaper Passauer Neue Presse that the country didn’t need more legal drugs on offer because Germans had enough problems with alcohol and tobacco. Her comments came a few days after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned Germans to cut down on alcohol consumption, citing heavy costs on the health of individuals and society....

According to cannabis legalization expert Tom Blickman of the Transnational Institute, a Dutch think tank, Germany isn’t the only European country considering a more relaxed stance on marijuana. As in the U.S., a patchwork of different — often conflicting — laws on marijuana now blanket the continent. “What you see generally in Europe is a move towards decriminalization of personal possession in certain qualities,” Mr. Blickman said....

While Mr. Blickman is unsure Mr. Pfeiffer’s bill will pass in Germany, he thinks that it is the first step toward full-fledged legalization. “I think that will happen within the next 10 years, depending on the political dynamics,” Mr. Blickman said. “But with the example of the United States and Uruguay, where they have basically legalized the cannabis market, not only Germany but more countries in Europe, will move toward a regulated cannabis market.”

May 27, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An international perspective, via Uraguay, on marijuana reform

As highlighted in many prior posts, students in my marijuana law school seminar are in the midst of assembling readings and leading discussions concerning the research topic(s) that are the focal point for class project(s).  This week, in addition to discussions of law enforcement, tax and black market issues, a student is scheduled to discuss international marijuana reform.   Here are links to the student-assembled readings on this topic:

CATO working paper, "Marijuana Policy in Colorado" 

Article from The Huffington Post, "There's A Lot More To Uruguay's Legal Weed Than The $1-A-Gram Price"

CATO commentary, "International Analysis: Uruguay and Marijuana Legalization"

CNN commentary, "Finally, a nation legalizes pot"

April 16, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Notable CNBC coverage of cannabis in Canadian and tribal regions

DownloadIt seems that of late I have been getting lots of interesting links to CNBC pieces in my usual review of marijuana headlines.  Here are links to the notable recent CNBC articles and videos on these topics:

Oh, cannabis!

How the pros make legal marijuana

Why pot entrepreneurs are moving to Canada 

Invest in a pot grow house?

Native tribes debate entering legal pot business 

Tribal debate: Should reservations go to pot? 

March 20, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Many Central and Latin American countries moving away from failed pot prohibition

DownloadAs this BBC article details, jurisdictions within the United States are not the only places in the Americas moving forward with marijuana reform.  The article is headlined "Jamaica considers marijuana legalisation and production," and here are excerpts:

The Jamaican cabinet has approved a bill that legalises the possession of small amounts of marijuana.  It means that for the first time the country's Rastafarian community, which uses the herb for religious purposes, could be able to smoke it legally.

The bill also envisages a licensing authority for the cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana for medical and therapeutic purposes. It goes to the senate this week for approval.  The bill also proposes that the smoking of marijuana will be banned in public spaces.

South and Central America and the Caribbean countries have been battling the impact of drug trafficking and drug use for decades. Cocaine and marijuana produced in the region is transported through many countries, their citizens turned into consumers by the trade.

But the BBC's Candace Piette says that as trafficking and drug consumption have continued to grow, many governments have begun to recognise that heavy-handed tactics and the crackdown on drugs has failed....

In Mexico, Colombia and Argentina marijuana possession in small amounts was decriminalised a few years ago, and Argentina is drafting a set of proposals to loosen restrictions on possession.

In Guatemala, President Otto Perez Molina is proposing moves to push for the legalisation of marijuana and potentially other drugs.  Chile and Costa Rica are also debating the introduction of medical marijuana policies.

Uruguay last year became the first country in the world to approve the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana.

January 22, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Losing marijuana business, Mexican cartels push heroin and meth"

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

Mexican traffickers are sending a flood of cheap heroin and methamphetamine across the U.S. border, the latest drug seizure statistics show, in a new sign that America’s marijuana decriminalization trend is upending the North American narcotics trade.

The amount of cannabis seized by U.S. federal, state and local officers along the boundary with Mexico has fallen 37 percent since 2011, a period during which American marijuana consumers have increasingly turned to the more potent, higher-grade domestic varieties cultivated under legal and quasi-legal protections in more than two dozen U.S. states.

Made-in-the-USA marijuana is quickly displacing the cheap, seedy, hard-packed version harvested by the bushel in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. That has prompted Mexican drug farmers to plant more opium poppies, and the sticky brown and black “tar” heroin they produce is channeled by traffickers into the U.S. communities hit hardest by prescription painkiller abuse, off­ering addicts a $10 alternative to $80-a-pill oxycodone.

“Legalization of marijuana for recreational use has given U.S. consumers access to high-quality marijuana, with genetically improved strains, grown in greenhouses,” said Raul Benitez-Manaut, a drug-war expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University. “That’s why the Mexican cartels are switching to heroin and meth.” U.S. law enforcement agents seized 2,181 kilograms of heroin last year coming from Mexico, nearly three times the amount confiscated in 2009.

Methamphetamine, too, has surged, mocking the Hollywood image of backwoods bayou labs and “Breaking Bad” chemists. The reality, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures, is that 90 percent of the meth on U.S. streets is cooked in Mexico, where precursor chemicals are far easier to obtain.

“The days of the large-scale U.S. meth labs are pretty much gone, given how much the Mexicans have taken over production south of the border and distribution into the United States,” said Lawrence Payne, a DEA spokesman. “Their product is far superior, cheaper and more pure.” Last year, 15,803 kilograms of the drug was seized along the border, up from 3,076 kilos in 2009....

Mexican cartels continue to deploy people as “mules” strapped with 50-pound marijuana backpacks to hike through the Arizona borderlands and send commercial trucks into Texas with bales of shrink-wrapped cannabis so big they need to be taken out on a forklift. But the profitability of the marijuana trade has slumped on falling demand for Mexico’s “brick weed,” so called because it is crushed into airtight bundles for transport across the border. Drug farmers in the Sierra Madre say that they can barely make money planting mota anymore....

The cartels, and consumers, are turning away from cocaine, too. Last year, U.S. agents confiscated 11,917 kilograms of cocaine along the Mexico border, down from 27,444 kilos in 2011. This reflects lower demand for the drug in the United States, experts say, as well as a cartel business preference for heroin and meth. Those two substances can be cheaply produced in Mexico, unlike cocaine, which is far pricier, and therefore riskier, because it must be smuggled from South America....

Heroin and meth are far easier to transport and conceal than marijuana. Especially worrisome to U.S. officials is a growing trend of more border-crossing pedestrians carrying the drugs strapped under their clothing or hidden in body cavities. “The criminals are trying to blend in among the legitimate travelers, who are 99 percent of the individuals crossing through here,” said Aki, the San Ysidro port director. “That’s the hard part for us.”...

In recent years, Mexican cartels also have begun producing higher-value “white” heroin, typically associated with traffickers from Colombia or Asia, according to DEA officials. “The Mexicans are evolving in their production abilities and getting more sophisticated,” said Payne, the DEA spokesman. “It’s not just black tar anymore.”...

The United States has an estimated 600,000 heroin users, Payne said — a threefold increase in the past five years. But that number is dwarfed by the estimated 10 million Americans who abuse prescription painkillers. Those addicts are the prime target for the booming heroin business. A U.S. crackdown on prescription opiates has driven up the price for drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet, enticing desperate addicts to switch to cheap heroin to fend off withdrawal symptoms.

The profile of U.S. heroin addiction is also changing, said Phil Herschman, chief clinical officer with the CRC Health Group, which operates 170 treatment centers in 30 U.S. states. “Now, we’re seeing housewives coming in who had been addicted to Vicodin for two or three years before switching to heroin, or adolescents who got hooked by snorting it, thinking it was safe, only to end up injecting themselves,” he said.

Advocates for marijuana reform frequently assert that legalization could and would help eliminate the profits reaped by drug cartels and the black market from illegal marijuana production and distribution. This article certainly provides support for this assertion.

January 12, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Brookings paper explores marijuana reform and international drug treaties

Regular readers already know that The Brookings Institution has been committed to doing throughtful and cutting-edge research and reports on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.   Today Brookings released its latest significant report resulting from this work, titled "Marijuana Legalization is an Opportunity to Modernize International Drug Treaties" and authored by Wells C. Bennett and John Walsh.  The full 27-page report is available at this link, and here is how it is summarized via this Brookings webpage:

Two U.S. states have legalized recreational marijuana, and more may follow; the Obama administration has conditionally accepted these experiments.  Such actions are in obvious tension with three international treaties that together commit the United States to punish and even criminalize activity related to recreational marijuana.

In essence, the administration asserts that its policy complies with the treaties because they leave room for flexibility and prosecutorial discretion.  That argument makes sense on a short-term, wait-and-see basis, but it will rapidly become implausible and unsustainable if legalization spreads and succeeds.

To avoid a damaging collision between international law and changing domestic and international consensus on marijuana policy, the United States should seriously consider narrowly crafted treaty changes.  It and other drug treaty partners should begin now to discuss options for substantive alterations that create space within international law for conditional legalization and for other policy experimentation that seeks to further the treaties’ ultimate aims of promoting human health and welfare.

Making narrowly crafted treaty reforms, although certainly challenging, is not only possible but also offers an opportunity to demonstrate flexibility that international law — in more areas than just drug policy — will need in a changing global landscape. By contrast, asserting compliance while letting treaties fall into desuetude could set a risky precedent, one that — if domestic legalization proceeds — could damage international law and come back to bite the United States.

October 17, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Examining regulatory realities in Canada's new federal medical marijuana landscape

About_tweedThe front-page of the New York Times business section has this new lengthy article headlined "When Cannabis Goes Corporate." Here are excerpts:

Hershey stopped producing chocolate in Smiths Falls, Ontario, six years ago. The work went to Mexico, but the factory remains, along with reminders of the glory days: A sign that once directed school buses delivering children for tours.  A fading, theme-park-style entrance that marks what used to be the big attraction — a “Chocolate Shoppe” that sold about $4 million of broken candy and bulk bars a year.

The once ever-present sweet smell of chocolate is gone, too. In the high-ceilinged warehouse, where stacks of Hershey’s bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups once awaited shipment, the nose now picks up a different odor: the woody, herbal aroma of 50,000 marijuana plants....

The new owner of this factory, at 1 Hershey Drive, is Tweed Marijuana.   It is one of about 20 companies officially licensed to grow medical marijuana in Canada.

A court ordered the government to make marijuana available for medicinal purposes in 2000, but the first system for doing so created havoc.  The government sold directly to approved consumers, but individuals were also permitted to grow for their own purposes or to turn over their growing to small operations.  The free-for-all approach prompted a flood of complaints from police and local governments.

So the Canadian government decided to create an extensive, heavily regulated system for growing and selling marijuana.  The new rules allow users with prescriptions to buy only from one of the approved, large-scale, profit-seeking producers like Tweed, a move intended to shut down the thousands of informal growing operations scattered across the country.

The requirements, which went into effect in April, are giving rise to what many are betting will be a lucrative new industry of legitimate producers. The government, which will collect taxes on the sales, estimates that the business could generate more than 3.1 billion Canadian dollars a year in sales within the next decade. “It’s just so rare that you have an industry that’s growing but which has a huge established market,” said Chuck Rifici, Tweed’s chief executive....

Canada’s across-the-board law ... provides a cohesive set of regulations, laying the groundwork for a group of companies to set up operations. “That was really important for us as investors,” said Brendan Kennedy, chief executive of Privateer Holdings, a marijuana private equity fund based in Seattle that started Tilray, one of Canada’s new legal growers. “People talk about the Colorado model; people talk about the Washington model. I think someday they’ll talk about the Canada model. By creating a tightly regulated federal system, by creating a federal license, by making it difficult to navigate in and capital-intensive, Canada has attracted a different kind of player into this industry.”...

[B]efore they could even submit applications, Tweed and other growers had to secure sites for their operations and obtain all local permissions. Applicants who passed the initial vetting then had to pass a final, two-day inspection. The requirements are significant. Growers must have sophisticated carbon filtration systems to prevent the smell of marijuana from wafting outside. They must maintain high-security measures like biometric thumbprint readers. Employees need to pass rigorous security checks, conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which take four to six months. “If I knew how much regulatory overhead there would be from the beginning, I would have probably been just as excited about the industry,” Mr. Rifici said. “But I might have thought that I might not be able to get there....

Tweed is taking a subdued, almost artisanal, approach to its branding, avoiding the Cheech-and-Chong vibe of some rivals. Many of its marijuana strains are named after fusty fabrics like tweed, as well as people and places associated with such clothes. The Herringbone strain is supposed to help with depression. Bakerstreet is used to treat anxiety. Donegal is promoted as a pain reliever.

But the industry faces an uphill battle, as prominent doctors, researchers and even the Canadian Medical Association are advising against prescribing marijuana at all. Marijuana, they say, has not been through the testing and approval process required for other pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, was the lead author of a widely publicized paper recommending that, without clinical evidence, marijuana should not be prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis. About 65 percent of users in Canada under the old system said they suffered from that condition. She compares the medical claims for marijuana to those once made for tobacco....

When Tweed shipped its first two orders directly to customers on May 5, about half of the company’s management watched, partly for ceremonial reasons but mostly to make sure that its elaborate, government-mandated inventory-tracking system worked. Employees weighed the total inventory before doling out the shipments onto smaller scales calibrated to 0.01 gram. The marijuana was dropped into boxes bearing Tweed’s logo and then, to meet government requirements, vacuum-packed into odor-blocking bags. Then came a final check on the scales before the two parcels left in standard courier pouches that did not bear Tweed’s name.

May 25, 2014 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Legalization is moving forward in Uruguay (updated with link to the regulations)

Uruguay has released its marijuana legalization regulations.  I haven't been able to track down a copy--though my Spanish is rusty, I would still be very interested in trying to take a look at the rules themselves.  If anyone finds a link online, please send along and I will update.  

Update: Many thanks to Pat Oglesby who has sent a link to the regulations along!  From Pat:  "This seems to link to the regulations: http://medios.presidencia.gub.uy/jm_portal/2014/noticias/NO_M871/reglamentacion-ley19172.pdf  At the very end, in Articulo 103, is what I take to be the date of issuance, 02 de mayo de 2014."

For now, this AP article provides an overview:

In two weeks, the government will take applications from businesses hoping to become one of a handful of growers supplying marijuana to the state. By early December, a network of pharmacies will be ready to supply the weed to registered consumers at less than a dollar a gram, presidential spokesman Diego Canepa said late Friday.

As with tobacco, the pot will come in packages warning of health risks, and smoking will be prohibited everywhere but private homes and open-air locations. As with liquor, motorists will be subject to testing by police to make sure they're not driving under the influence.

The state will sell five different strains, containing a maximum level of 15 percent THC, the substance that gets consumers high. Each bag will be bar-coded, radio-frequency tagged, and registered in a genetic database that will enable authorities to trace its origin and determine its legality, Canepa said. The rules limit licensed growers to six plants per household — not per person, as some pot enthusiasts had hoped. And while people who buy in pharmacies will be identified by fingerprint readers to preserve their anonymity, every user's pot consumption will be tracked in a government database.

Mujica predicted that many will call him an elderly reactionary once they see this fine print, but he says his government never intended to create a mecca for marijuana lovers.

May 5, 2014 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 7, 2014

If it clearly cost thousands of innocent lives through heroin abuse, would most everyone oppose modern marijuana reforms?

I engendered an intriguing debate over research data, criminal drug reform and public safety concerns in my post at Sentencing Law & Policy last week titled "If it clearly saved thousands of innocent lives on roadways, would most everyone support medical marijuana reforms?".  I am hoping to engender a similar debate with the question in the title of this new post, which is my sincere inquiry, directed particularly to those most supportive of modern marijuana reform movements, as a follow-up to this notable new Washington Post article headlined "Tracing the U.S. heroin surge back south of the border as Mexican cannabis output falls."  Here are excerpts:

The surge of cheap heroin spreading in $4 hits across rural America can be traced back to the remote valleys of the northern Sierra Madre. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling — driven in part by decriminalization in sections of the United States — Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies.

Mexican heroin is flooding north as U.S. authorities trying to contain an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse have tightened controls on synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. As the pills become more costly and difficult to obtain, Mexican trafficking organizations have found new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, Va., and Brattleboro, Vt., where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown.

Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25. “It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”

Growers from this area and as far afield as Central America are sowing their plots with opium poppies, and large-scale operations are turning up in places where authorities have never seen them....

The needle habit in the United States has made a strong comeback as heroin rushes into the country. Use of the drug in the United States increased 79 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to federal data, triggering a wave of overdose deaths and an “urgent and growing public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. warned last month.

Although prescription painkillers remain more widely abused and account for far more fatal overdoses, heroin has been “moving all over the country and popping up in areas you didn’t see before,” said Carl Pike, a senior official in the Special Operations Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

With its low price and easy portability, heroin has reached beyond New York, Chicago and other places where it has long been available. Rural areas of New England, Appalachia and the Midwest are being hit especially hard, with cities such as Portland, Maine; St. Louis; and Oklahoma City struggling to cope with a new generation of addicts. Pike and other DEA officials say the spread is the result of a shrewd marketing strategy developed by Mexican traffickers. They have targeted areas with the worst prescription pill abuse, sending heroin pushers to “set up right outside the methadone clinics,” one DEA agent said.

Some new heroin users begin by snorting the drug. But like addicts of synthetic painkillers who go from swallowing the pills to crushing and snorting them, they eventually turn to intravenous injection of heroin for a more powerful high. By then, experts say, they have crossed a psychological threshold — overcoming the stigma of needle use. At the same time, they face diminishing satisfaction from prescription pills that can cost $80 each on the street and whose effects wear off after four to six hours. Those addicts are especially susceptible to high-grade heroin offered for as little as $4 a dose but with a narcotic payload that can top anything from a pharmacy.

Unlike marijuana, which cartel peons usually carry across the border in backpacks, heroin (like cocaine) is typically smuggled inside fake vehicle panels or concealed in shipments of legitimate commercial goods and is more difficult to detect. By the time it reaches northern U.S. cities, a kilo may be worth $60,000 to $80,000, prior to being diluted or “cut” with fillers such as lactose and powdered milk. The increased demand for heroin in the United States appears to be keeping wholesale prices high, even with abundant supply.

The Mexican mountain folk in hamlets such as this one do not think of themselves as drug producers. They also plant corn, beans and other subsistence crops but say they could never earn a living from their small food plots. And, increasingly, they’re unable to compete with U.S. marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses — some licensed, others not.  Mexican trafficking groups have also set up vast outdoor plantations on public land, especially in California, contributing to the fall in marijuana prices.

“When you have a product losing value, you diversify, and that’s true of any farmer,” said David Shirk, a Mexico researcher at the University of California at San Diego. “The wave of opium poppies we’re seeing is at least partially driven by changes we’re making in marijuana drug policy.”

I find this article fascinating in part because it highlight one (or surely many dozen) serious unintended consequences of modern marijuana reforms in the United States. I also find it fascinating because, just as my prior post explored some possible public safety benefits of consumers switching from alcohol use to marijuana use, this article spotlights some possible public safety harms of producers switching from marijuana farming to opium farming.

Some recent related posts:

April 7, 2014 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Immigration Law in the Age of Marijuana Decriminalization"

The title of this post is the title of this new post by Jordan Cunnings at the blog crImmigration.com.  The full post is worth a read, and here is how it starts:  

In a recent New Yorker interview, President Obama described marijuana use as a “bad habit and a vice, not very different from. . . cigarettes,” and not more dangerous than drinking. The President expressed concern with the disproportionate rates of criminal punishment for marijuana use in poor and minority communities, and spoke favorably of recent efforts to legalize small amounts of the drug in the states of Colorado and Washington.

While Obama’s comments may be a good sign for marijuana legalization advocates, his personal viewpoint is glaringly inconsistent with his administration’s consistently harsh enforcement efforts in the area of marijuana use and immigration. While marijuana use is legal in one form or another in twenty states and the District of Columbia, and banks now have the green light from the Treasury Department to finance legally operating marijuana dispensaries, noncitizens remain at risk for incredibly harsh and disproportionate immigration consequences when using small amounts of marijuana. Low-level marijuana charges often funnel noncitizens into the immigration law system, prevent otherwise-eligible noncitizens from obtaining lawful immigration status, and subject lawfully present noncitizens to deportation. Worse yet, marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced in poor and minority communities—as Obama himself noted, “[m]iddle class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do”—meaning that marijuana citations and arrests may disproportionately impact the people of color who make up the bulk of today’s immigrant groups.

Though recent prosecutorial discretion memos by the former head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency John Morton purport to refocus enforcement priorities away from individuals who have only minor criminal histories, immigration law enforcement statistics from the past two years show that this policy is not being followed. Marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced in poor and minority communities – as Obama himself noted, “[m]iddle class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do” — meaning that marijuana citations and arrests often serve as entry point into the criminal justice system and then the deportation system. A Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) review of ICE documents from fiscal years 2012 and 2013 found that marijuana possession was one of the top five most common offenses for which ICE issued immigration detainers against individuals. This means that thousands of noncitizens are funneled into ICE custody after being charged with low-level marijuana possession offenses. 

March 4, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Readings on marijuana laws' impact on immigration and extradition issues

Especially because I tend to be under-informed about immigration laws and policies, I am very excited that the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar is the impact of marijuana laws on immigration and extradition issues. Here are the readings assembled by the students as background:

UPDATE: My students also have suggested that these issues merit consideration of "whether or not legalizing marijuana in the United States will thwart the drug cartels in Mexico [and how this impacts] the massive amount of Mexican asylum cases the US is currently receiving (and denying)."

Here are additional readings on this topic:

And some conflicting views on whether or not marijuana legalization would stop Mexican cartels:

November 19, 2013 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Readings providing international/comparative perspectives on drug laws (especially marijuana)

Especially because I tend to be pretty under-informed about to international/comparative  drug laws, I am very excited that the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar is the global regime regarding marijuana and its impact on legalization efforts in the US.  Here are the readings assembled by the students as background:

I. International Law 

International Regulation of Drugs

  • Controlled Substances casebook, pp. 801-804 (International Framework);
  • pp. 813-820 (Impact of United State Policy on Mexico);
  • pp. 836-845 (International Control of Illegal Drugs, "Preventing or Causing Human Rights Violations");
  • pp. 916-921 (US using trade policy to enforce drug laws under the 1986 Narcotics Act)

UN and the power to stop legalization of Marijuana

 

  II. Comparative Law 

Further Comparative law reading:

1 .  WHO report on correlation of drug laws and drug abuse  

2.   North Korea and a marijuana legalization regime

3.   North Korea's meth addiction: Grau, Cutting off the Building Blocks to Methamphetamine Production, 30 Hous. J. Int’l L. 157 (2007);

4.  Reform of North Korea drug laws

November 5, 2013 in Assembled readings on specific topics, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Uruguay to sell legal marijuana for $1 a gram"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article from The Guardian, which reports that Uruguay has plans to become the locale with the lowest legal prices for marijuana in the world.  Here are the details:

Uruguay's drug tsar says the country plans to sell legal marijuana for $1 a gram to combat drug-trafficking, according to a local newspaper.

The plan to create a government-run legal marijuana industry has passed the lower house of Congress, and Uruguay's president, José Mujica, expects to push it through the Senate soon as part of his effort to explore alternatives in the war on drugs....

Marijuana sales should start in the second half of 2014 at a price of about $1 a gram, drug chief Julio Calzada told Uruguay's El País, on Sunday – an eighth or less of what it costs at legal medical dispensaries in some US states.  Calzada said one gram would be enough "for one marijuana cigarette or two or three slimmer cigarettes".

He said the idea was not to make money but to fight petty crime and wrench the market away from illegal dealers.  "The illegal market is very risky and of poor quality," he said.  The state was going to offer "a safe place to buy a quality product and on top of that, it's going to sell it at the same price"....  Sales would be restricted to locals, who would be able to buy up to 40g a month.

Smoking pot has long been legal in Uruguay, but growing, carrying, buying or selling it has been punishable by prison terms.  About 120,000 Uruguayans consume marijuana at least once a year, according to the National Drug Council.  Of these, 75,000 smoke it every week and 20,000 every day.

In the US, the states of Washington and Colorado have legalised marijuana and adopted rules governing its sale.  Unlike Uruguay, they will tax marijuana, seeing it as a revenue source, when it goes on legal sale next year.  In Washington, the state marijuana consultant has projected legal pot might cost $13-$17 a gram.  Marijuana in the medical dispensaries typically ranges from $8-$14 a gram in Washington depending on quality.

October 22, 2013 in Current Affairs, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2013

"Conservatives launching billion-dollar free market in medical marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article via the Canadian Press.  Here is how the article gets started:

The Conservative government is launching a $1.3-billion free market in medical marijuana this Tuesday, eventually providing an expected 450,000 Canadians with quality weed. Health Canada is phasing out an older system on Monday that mostly relied on small-scale, homegrown medical marijuana of varying quality, often diverted illegally to the black market.

In its place, large indoor marijuana farms certified by the RCMP and health inspectors will produce, package and distribute a range of standardized weed, all of it sold for whatever price the market will bear. The first sales are expected in the next few weeks, delivered directly by secure courier.

“We’re fairly confident that we’ll have a healthy commercial industry in time,” Sophie Galarneau, a senior official with the department, said in an interview. “It’s a whole other ball game.”

The sanctioned birth of large-scale, free-market marijuana production comes as the Conservatives pillory Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign to legalize recreational marijuana.

Health Canada is placing no limits on the number of these new capital-intensive facilities, which will have mandatory vaults and security systems. Private-dwelling production will be banned. Imports from places such as the Netherlands will be allowed. Already 156 firms have applied for lucrative producer and distributor status since June, with the first two receiving licences just last week.

The old system fostered only a cottage industry, with 4,200 growers licensed to produce for a maximum of two patients each. The Mounties have complained repeatedly these grow-ops were often a front for criminal organizations.

The next six months are a transition period, as Health Canada phases out the old system by March 31, 2014, while encouraging medical marijuana users to register under the replacement regime and to start buying from the new factory-farms.

There are currently 37,400 medical marijuana users recognized by the department, but officials project that number will swell more than 10-fold, to as many as 450,000 people, by 2024.

The profit potential is enormous. A gram of dried marijuana bud on the street sells for about $10 and Health Canada projects the legal stuff will average about $7.60 next year, as producers set prices without interference from government.

Pretty interesting, eh?

September 30, 2013 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Conservative voice from south of the border talking up marijuana legalization

Mexico mapThe Los Angeles Times has this lengthy new article about a notable voice in the marijuana reform discussion.  The full headline of this piece is "Mexico's Vicente Fox pushes marijuana debate to forefront: Conservative former President Vicente Fox has become an unlikely leading advocate of marijuana legalization. He says his change of heart stems from Mexico's mounting drug violence." Here is how the interesting article gets started:

Former President Vicente Fox grew up on a farm here in rural Guanajuato, one of Mexico's most conservative states. He is the kind of guy who wears big belt buckles, collects hand-tooled saddles and worships the free market. Ask him about his experience with the drug culture and the big man with the cowboy-movie mustache exhibits a kind of straight-laced pique: Never smoked pot, he says. Hardly knew anyone who did.

But Fox has always fancied himself a policy maverick. And these days, the former standard-bearer of Mexico's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, has emerged as one of Latin America's most outspoken advocates of marijuana legalization.

Fox, 71, came out for legalization a few years ago. But this summer he has significantly ramped up his efforts. In June, he declared that he would grow the plant if it were legalized — "I'm a farmer," he said — and added that he'd like to see marijuana sold in Mexican convenience stores.

Some see him as a visionary, others as a cynical promoter milking the issue for attention (and, perhaps, lucrative speaking fees). Many think he's simply nuts. In a poll published in the liberal Mexico City newspaper La Jornada, 43% of respondents agreed that the former president "had finally gone crazy," while 32% said he should be investigated for promoting criminality. Only 11% said he had the right idea.

It was an unsurprising response from the Mexican left, who have long considered Fox to be a rash bumpkin with an embarrassing history of speaking before thinking. But these days, it is arguably the right-wing Fox who has done the most to promote this pet cause of the left and finally force a serious debate in the Mexican mainstream.

Fox speaks like a true believer about legalization's potential to save his troubled country, at times lapsing into the giddy visionary jargon of online TED talks: It would be a "game-changer," he says, "a change of paradigm." A month after his pot-growing comments made international headlines, Fox built momentum for the cause with an attention-grabbing legalization symposium at his presidential library, the Centro Fox, here in the farming town where he grew up.

Since then, the national discussion has grown considerably. Mexican TV and newspapers are suddenly rife with articles debating the pros and cons. The mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Angel Mancera, has reiterated his promise to debate legalization in the left-leaning capital. More recently, the liberal governor of Morelos state, Graco Ramirez, said he would push to ease marijuana restrictions in his state.

Though Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto opposes the idea, it now seems possible that the nation might follow the pattern of the United States, where residents of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, despite the continuing opposition of the federal government. The Mexican Congress decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2009.

Fox favors the eventual legalization and regulation of all drugs in Mexico. The idea is to rob the bloodthirsty drug cartels of their profits and power. Legal pot, he says, would be the first step. "This prohibition is the last frontier of prohibitions," Fox told The Times during a break in his July symposium. Revealing a marked libertarian streak, he argued that government efforts to regulate other personal behaviors had been found wanting: "The issue of abortion. The issue of same-sex marriage. The issue of gays. The issue of alcohol," he said. "These arbitrarily imposed prohibitions have ended. And they have ended because they don't work."

September 3, 2013 in Current Affairs, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)