Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Via presidential decree, Mexico legalizes medical marijuana

Mexico-Officially-Legalizes-Medical-Marijuana-696x333As reported in this Washington Post piece, "Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a decree this week legalizing medical marijuana."   Here is more:

The measure also classified the psychoactive ingredient in the drug as “therapeutic.”  The new policy isn't exactly opening the door for medical marijuana dispensaries on every corner. Instead it calls on the Ministry of Health to draft and implement regulations and public policies regulating “the medicinal use of pharmacological derivatives of cannabis sativa, indica and Americana or marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol.”  It also tasks the ministry with developing a research program to study the drug's impact before creating broader policies.

The measure had broad support from Mexico's Senate and Lower House of Congress, where it passed 347-7 in April. Marijuana legalization advocates are celebrating the decision and calling on the government to do more.  Sen. Miguel Barbosa said the legislation was “well below the expectations of society.”  Sen. Armando Rios Peter called it a “tiny” step away from a failed drug policy.

For decades, Latin America has struggled to address the rampant corruption and violence wrought by the drug trade.  Lately, many places have focused on a particular strategy: decriminalization. As my colleague Josh Partlow wrote last year: “Uruguay has fully legalized weed for sale.  And a large chunk of South and Central America, including Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, have made marijuana more available in varying ways, whether it is for medicinal or recreational use.” It's a recognition, he wrote, that “years of violent struggle have failed to stem the flow of narcotics into the United States.”...

Recreational marijuana is still broadly prohibited in Mexico, but the government is considering a measure that would let citizens legally possess up to an ounce of it. In 2015, Mexico's Supreme Court granted four people the right to grow their own marijuana for personal consumption.  The ruling set a precedent that could accelerate efforts to pass legislation permitting broader use of pot. “Absolute prohibition is excessive and doesn’t protect the right to health,” Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero said at the time.

Peña Nieto, who once was a vocal opponent of drug legalization, has undergone a similar shift in thinking.  He has said that addiction should be thought of as a “public health problem” and that users should not be criminalized.  He has also advocated for the United States and Mexico to follow similar policies on drug use and marijuana legislation.

June 21, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

In praise of Canada's commitment to data concerns and collection in marijuana reform efforts

ThAs reported via this local piece, headlined "Feds hope pot-by-numbers effort helps extinguish illegal marijuana trade," it appears the folks to our north are deeply and wisely committed to collecting and analyzing lots of data as marijuana reform efforts unfold. Here are some of the details:

The federal government is hoping to find strength in numbers as it tries to stamp out the illicit marijuana market.  Government officials are collecting data — everything from the street price of pot to how often people light up — to arm themselves in the fight against organized crime's presence in the trade, internal Public Safety Canada documents reveal.
The Liberal government has tabled legislation to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use, with the aim of keeping pot out of the hands of children while denying criminals the hefty profits.
Officials had already identified 45 specific categories of information they would need to gauge the success of the new policy.  Of these, Canada collected data to calculate about seven, some partial information on a further 17 and little to no figures on the remaining 21 categories.  The wide variety of missing data includes a measure of the fire hazard posed by grow-ops, overdose statistics, the scope of crop-eradication efforts and effects of marijuana use on school performance.
The government plans to monitor patterns related to cannabis use, especially among young people, on an annual basis through the Canadian Cannabis Survey.  In March, Health Canada began the two-month survey, involving some 10,000 Canadians, said a department spokeswoman.  The planned questions most relevant to organized crime were related to the type, quantity and frequency of pot consumed, where it is being obtained, the purchase price and contact between users and police, say March notes released by Public Safety through the Access to Information Act.
"In a regime of legal recreational cannabis, price data in the illicit market is still important," say the notes.  "This is because the behaviour of consumers of cannabis, such as switching between markets, will be influenced by price."  Some research results are already trickling in.   A study commissioned by the department pegged the cost of high-quality black-market cannabis in the 2011 to 2015 period at $7.69 a gram.  Research also found that a 10-per-cent drop in the price of pot could cause a four-to-six per cent increase in the amount consumed. 
Officials want accurate figures on the sheer amount of marijuana Canadians use to help with basic supply-and-demand modelling that will paint a fuller picture.  They note such data exists in studies of legal and contraband tobacco, allowing criminologists and economists to build solid models.  Another key to understanding the price of pot is information about law-enforcement efforts, the notes say.  "For example, if more resources are dedicated to combatting grow-ops in one particular area, it would be expected that the enforcement would affect the price of marijuana in that area, as well as the areas surrounding it."

Notably and encouragingly, last year Public Safety Canada produced this very effective document about marijuana reform and data issues titled "Cannabis Performance Metrics for Policy Consideration – What Do We Need to Measure?".  This news article and that prior document suggests the folks up north are asking all the right kinds of questions and will be collecting all the right kinds of data for effectively analyzing the impacts of marijuana reform in Canada.

May 11, 2017 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bill to legalize marijuana unveiled in Canada

OhcanadaAs reported in this National Post piece, headlined "Liberals introduce long-awaited bills to legalize marijuana by July 2018," legislative leaders in Canada have finally put forward a full bill to legalize marijuana in that nation.  Here are the basics: 

The federal Liberal government has finally launched its long-awaited effort to legalize recreational marijuana, setting in motion a host of sweeping policy changes for public safety and health across Canada.

The suite of bills — which would establish 18 as the minimum legal age to buy pot — was introduced in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

A government news release promises a “strict legal framework” for the production, sale, distribution and possession of pot, and says selling cannabis to a minor would for the first time become a specific criminal offence.

It also promises “significant penalties” for those who engage young Canadians in “cannabis-related offences” and a “zero-tolerance approach” to drug-impaired driving....

The bills are sure to come under heavy scrutiny in the coming weeks and months as Ottawa and the provinces and territories hash out the finer jurisdictional details of major issues like distribution and law enforcement.  Health Minister Jane Philpott says criminalizing cannabis has not deterred use among young people, noting products like alcohol and tobacco are legally available with restrictions.

Once passed, the Liberal bills introduced today would make Canada the first member of the G7 to legalize marijuana for recreational use across the country.

There are lots of reasons this is a very big deal, though I do not know enough about Canadian politics to predict with any certainty whether it is really likely that marijuana will be fully legal and a consumer product in just a little over a year.  Particulars aside, if Canada is truly on a certain path to full legalization in the not-too-distinct future, I think marijuana-reform-friendly states that border Canada – particularly Michigan, New Hampshire and Vermont – have yet another reason to seriously consider full legalization in order to avoid the likelihood of lots of US citizens heading up north to get legal marijuana. 

April 13, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"The global experiment of marijuana legalization"

505394261The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new CNN piece.  Here are excerpts:

In 2016, more countries legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. Marijuana, or cannabis, is "the most widely cultivated, produced, trafficked and consumed drug worldwide," according to the World Drug Report, but its legality has long been a topic of debate worldwide.

In the US, Maine recently confirmed legalized recreational marijuana use, joining seven other states and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half of US states. This mirrors a global trend. Canada approved both legalization and regulation of the drug in 2016, joining Uruguay as the only other country to do so. Ireland, Australia, Jamaica and Germany approved measures for its medicinal use this year. Decisions are still pending in South Africa. Australia granted permission for businesses to apply for licenses to manufacture or cultivate marijuana products for medicinal purposes and to conduct related research.

They join more than 20 countries worldwide trialing legislation regarding access to marijuana and exploring possible benefits. But as with the drug itself, the laws vary, as does the potency of control, and the world is waiting to learn what will work best....

Portugal is a pioneer when it comes to drug reform laws, as the nation decriminalized the possession of all drugs -- not just cannabis -- for personal use in 2001. As a result, the country holds the greatest body of evidence about the impact such a change can have on policy.

"We were a social laboratory," said João Castel-Branco Goulão, director-general of the General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies in Lisbon.  But filtering out the specific impact in terms of cannabis is difficult. "Experiments are now taking place in other parts of the world," he said. 

Having trialed drug reform for more than a decade, Goulão believes that when it comes to defining what's needed for cannabis, there must be a clear distinction between discussions for medicinal and recreational use to "avoid confusion." "People mix medicinal and recreational use," he said.  However, he acknowledges that the basis for medicinal benefits from marijuana is strong, with a range of experts, including himself, recognizing its use to alleviate chronic pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and nausea and vomiting -- most of which are linked to a variety of disorders, including multiple sclerosis and cancer treatment. "I have no problems with medicinal marijuana," Goulão said. "There are conditions I believe can benefit from cannabis use."

Multiple countries have decriminalized personal possession of marijuana, including the Netherlands, Mexico, Czech Republic, Costa Rica and Portugal, in an attempt to address societal problems associated with its use.... 

Evidence also shows that removing penalties for drug use hasn't led to an increase in drug use in Portugal, as many voices in the opposition would argue. Instead, it reinforces the fact that criminal drug laws do little to deter people from using them, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  Despite these benefits, Goulão believes that leaping straight into full legalization, rather than decriminalization, is not a wise move.  "They are jumping a step," he said, referring to countries such as Uruguay, Canada and some US states.  They should instead "decriminalize and watch carefully," he said.

December 29, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Canadian Task Force releases "A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada"

Framework-cadre-pdf-engA task force appointed by the Canadian government to study the legalization of marijuana released its big final report, and this press release reports on the basics:

The report contains more than 80 recommendations to governments on how to better promote and protect public health and safety, particularly among young Canadians. It recommends establishing a minimum age of access and restrictions on advertising and promotion. The report recommends well-regulated production, manufacturing and distribution that can displace the illegal market, and provides appropriate safeguards, such as testing, packaging and labelling. It also recommends that Governments educate Canadians about the new system to improve the public’s understanding of cannabis, including risks such as impaired driving.

The full report is available at this link, and here is the first part of the report's Executive Summary:

On June 30, 2016, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Minister of Health announced the creation of a nine-member Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation ("the Task Force"). Our mandate was to consult and provide advice on the design of a new legislative and regulatory framework for legal access to cannabis, consistent with the Government's commitment to "legalize, regulate, and restrict access."

To fulfill our mandate, we engaged with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, experts, patients, advocates, Indigenous governments and representative organizations, employers and industry. We heard from many other Canadians as well, including many young people, who participated in an online public consultation that generated nearly 30,000 submissions from individuals and organizations. The Task Force looked internationally (e.g., Colorado, Washington State, Uruguay) to learn from jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis for non-medical purposes, and we drew lessons from the way governments in Canada have regulated tobacco and alcohol, and cannabis for medical purposes.

A Discussion Paper prepared by the Government, entitled "Toward the Legalization, Regulation and Restriction of Access to Marijuana," informed the Task Force's work and helped to focus the input of many of the people from whom we heard. The Discussion Paper identified nine public policy objectives. Chief among these are keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth and keeping profits out of the hands of organized crime. The Task Force set out guiding principles as the foundation of our advice to Ministers: protection of public health and safety, compassion, fairness, collaboration, a commitment to evidence-informed policy and flexibility....

In taking a public health approach to the regulation of cannabis, the Task Force proposes measures that will maintain and improve the health of Canadians by minimizing the harms associated with cannabis use.

This approach considers the risks associated with cannabis use, including the risks of developmental harms to youth; the risks associated with patterns of consumption, including frequent use and co-use of cannabis with alcohol and tobacco; the risks to vulnerable populations; and the risks related to interactions with the illicit market. In addition to considering scientific evidence and input from stakeholders, the Task Force examined how other jurisdictions have attempted to minimize harms of use. We examined a range of protective measures, including a minimum age of use, promotion and advertising restrictions, and packaging and labelling requirements for cannabis products.

December 13, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 2, 2016

A few notable international marijuana reform headlines

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Legal weed coming to the U.K.?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the recent release of this report by several U.K. lawmakers titled The Tide Effect: How the world is changing its mind on cannabis legalisation. The executive summary states:

DownloadThe people of California have just voted to legalise cannabis – a decision which will have immense repercussions both in America and around the world, while efforts are already underway in Canada to legally regulate the cannabis market. The Tide Effect argues strongly that the UK should follow suit, and that the legalisation of cannabis here is both overdue and imperative.

 

The eight main points outlined in The Tide Effect are:

 

  1. The government strategy is based around three main pillars: reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery. All three are failing.
  2. Regulation is substantially more desirable than simple decriminalisation or unregulated legalisation, because only regulation addresses all four key issues: ensuring that the product meets acceptable standards of quality and purity; removing criminal gangs from the equation as far as possible; raising revenue for the Treasury through point-of-sale taxation; and best protecting public health.
  3. The entire language used to address cannabis-related issues needs to change. Language poses a barrier every bit as formidable as legislation does. The opponents of legalisation have long been able to reinforce their position by using the words of public fear – ‘illegal,’ ‘criminal’, ‘dangerous’, and so on. Only by using the language of public health, consumer rights and harm reduction, the same language used about alcohol and tobacco, can we move towards regulation.
  4. The scale of a legalised industry will be huge. The US market is estimated to be worth $25bn by the time of the next election in 2020. A similarly regulated UK market could be worth around £7bn per annum.
  5. Legally regulating cannabis will allow long-term studies of its health effects not currently possible. The effects of both tobacco and alcohol are well understood because of the amount of scientific scrutiny brought to bear on them.
  6. Many shifts in public policy are prompted, or at least prodded, by an emotional response on the part of the public. Greater efforts must be made to show that the cannabis issue also has a human aspect to which many people respond.
  7. Any campaign to legalise cannabis must be multifaceted, involving public support, media analysis and political engagement.
  8. Responsibility for cannabis policy should be moved primarily to the department for Health, while the role of the Home Office should change from enforcement of prohibition to enforcement of regulation and licensing.

November 22, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

New study details huge economic opportunities from marijuana legalization in Canada

Images (1)This new Toronto Star article reports on a notable new report about the economic potential presented by marijuana reform in Canada. The piece is headlined "Recreational weed could be a $22.6B industry: study; Sales of legalized recreational marijuana would surpass combined sales of beer, wine, and spirits, it says." Here are excerpts:

Legalized recreational marijuana promises to spark a $22.6-billion industry in Canada, eclipsing combined sales of beer, wine, and spirits, a new study suggests. The Deloitte report — titled Recreational Marijuana: Insights and Opportunities — being released soon concludes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s legalization of cannabis next year could jolt the economy.

“There hasn’t been anything like this — and granted it wasn’t legislated — but you think of the dot-com … flurry,” Mark Whitmore, vice-chair of Deloitte, said in an interview Wednesday. “It has that kind of feel to it. There’s a lot of froth, a lot of interest in this space and a lot of people think there’s going to be an opportunity,” said Whitmore.

Deloitte estimates that satisfying the recreational weed market will mean producing 600,000 kilograms of marijuana annually — far more than the existing 36 licensed producers grow for medicinal purposes.

The consulting firm warns there will be challenges as recreational pot is legalized. “Of course, there will be a practical consideration to take into account when setting marijuana prices that goes beyond what the market will pay,” the 11-page study says. “The challenge will be to set a price point that balances the goal of creating and sustaining a legitimate market (while eliminating ancillary criminal enterprise) with that of not promoting excess consumption.”

In partnership with RIWI Corp., Deloitte surveyed 5,000 Canadians this past summer — including 1,000 identified as recreational marijuana users — and calculated that the base retail market alone would be worth $4.9 billion to $8.7 billion annually. The ancillary market — growers, infused product makers, testing labs, and security — would increase that to between $12.7 billion to $22.6 billion. With tourism revenue, business taxes, licence fees and paraphernalia, Deloitte estimates the market will be even greater than $22.6 billion....

Federally, Trudeau has former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan leading a task force to examine how his government should proceed. McLellan’s panel of experts will report back before Nov. 30 with a blueprint for federal legislation to be introduced next spring. The Deloitte study said regardless of what the new law looks like, it “presents a bold new landscape for Canadian businesses and governments alike.” “What this new landscape might look like remains unclear,” the report says.

The RIWI-Deloitte survey found 40 per cent favour legalization, with 36 per cent opposing it, and 24 per cent undecided. “This will make it challenging to create a broadly accepted regulatory environment,” the report says.

October 27, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Learn in Italy about Comparative Drug Policy from the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy

As noted in this post last May, that Professor Sam Kamin of the University of Denver Sturm College had the unique honor to become, thanks to a law firm's endowment, the first Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy. And from Sam I have learned now that law students nationwide now have a unique opportunity to take a unique course from this unique profession in a special setting. Specifically, as this website details, on the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy will be teaching a special Comparative Drug Policy course as part of the 2017 Denver Law Italy Program in Sorrento, Italy. Here is the official course description:

Comparative Drug Policy (Professor Sam Kamin, 2 credits)

This course will be an investigation of international drug prohibition and the emerging alternatives to it.  We will discuss the international agreements that govern the production and distribution of illicit drugs and the role the US played in creating these agreements.  We will then examine the growing international consensus that prohibition has not worked and look comparatively at the various alternatives to prohibition being adopted around the world.  We will also discuss various metrics for evaluating and assessing the growing number of alternatives to the status quo currently being developed.

October 25, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana in Canada: Review of Potential Economic, Social, and Health Impacts"

The title of this post is the title of this short essay authored by Mohammad Hajizadeh and now available via this link on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Notwithstanding a century of prohibition, marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in Canada. Due to the growing public acceptance of recreational marijuana use and ineffectiveness of the existing control system in Canada, the issue surrounding legalizing this illicit drug has received considerable public and political attentions in recent years. Consequently, the newly elected Liberal Government has formally announced that Canada will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to start legalizing and regulating marijuana. This editorial aims to provide a brief overview on potential economic, social, and public health impacts of legal marijuana in Canada.

The legalization could increase tax revenue through the taxation levied on marijuana products and could also allow the Government to save citizens’ tax dollars currently being spent on prohibition enforcement. Moreover, legalization could also remove the criminal element from marijuana market and reduce the size of Canada’s black market and its consequences for the society. Nevertheless, it may also lead to some public health problems, including increasing in the uptake of the drug, accidents and injuries. The legalization should be accompanied with comprehensive strategies to keep the drug out of the hands of minors while increasing awareness and knowledge on harmful effects of the drug. In order to get better insights on how to develop an appropriate framework to legalize marijuana, Canada should closely watch the development in the neighboring country, the United States, where some of its states viz, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska have already legalized recreational use of marijuana.

July 27, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Canada creates task force to move forward with full marijuana legalization

As reported in this AP piece, "Canada launched a task force Thursday to study the regulation of recreational marijuana ahead of a legalization measure the government plans to send to parliament in the Spring of 2017." Here is more:

Canada's Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould said that the task force will help devise a system regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales.  Anne McLellan, who will chair the task force, said they will be consulting with provincial and municipal governments, as well as with U.S. states like Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal.

McLellan said there's been a deeper understanding of the marijuana landscape over the past decade.  "I think so many people have come to the conclusion, for so many reasons, that the current situation is not working and we need a better way forward," she said.  "I have, myself, concluded that legalization with a regulatory regime, such as the task force will be exploring, is the way forward."

The task force is made up of experts in public health, substance abuse, law enforcement and justice.  The panel, whose recommendations will be made public, will have to report back to the government by November before legislation is introduced in 2017.  The government will also hold an online public consultation that will be open until the end of August.

The legislation will need to be voted on in Canada's House of Commons, but since the current ruling Liberals hold a majority of seats, the bill is expected to pass.

While it's still unclear what restrictions will be imposed on marijuana growers, Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, said the government had a responsibility to put in place legislation "to control the production, distribution and the consumption" of pot, especially to keep it out of the hands of children and criminals.

July 2, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Is anyone an expert on international alcohol and marijuana law and policies?

Images (1)One of many reasons I enjoy following marijuana law, policy and reform is because I keep learning and discovering and wondering and getting surprised by news and developments in this space.  The latest example, which also promptes the question that is the title of this post, come from this New York Times article headlined "Marijuana Use Rises in Iran, With Little Interference." Here are some excerpts:

Iran is notorious for its harsh code of conduct enforced by an extensive intelligence apparatus, and it has waged a long and painful war on heroin and opium trafficking, with security forces dying by the thousands over the past two decades in fights with Afghan cartels.  But the same government that executes hundreds of drug dealers every year — and cracks down periodically on alcohol, which is also illegal — seems curiously oblivious to the growing popularity of marijuana.  The government opened 150 alcohol treatment centers in 2015, and the Health Ministry is deeply involved in combating hard drugs like heroin. But marijuana is mentioned only vaguely in the Islamic penal code, and the police pay it little heed.

While the penalty for alcohol consumption is theoretically 99 lashes — most people get off with a fine — there are no prison sentences or lashings prescribed for people found carrying small amounts of pot.

As a result, marijuana use has skyrocketed. Gol, or flower, as marijuana is called here, can be found everywhere in and around the capital.  The skunky smell of marijuana smoke wafts through restaurants in the ski resorts of Dizin and Shemshak. In the winter months, young skiers and snowboarders can be seen casually rolling joints while riding the chairlift up the mountain.  The aroma is routinely detected in Tehran’s public spaces.  “When you stroll through one of Tehran’s parks, you can sometimes smell it, even on streets and squares,” said Taba Fajrak, 27, who works as a choreographer. “Once, I even smelled it in a cafe.”

In college dormitories, students use it to relax or concentrate, and during parties in private houses joints are passed around as comfortably as they might be in Boulder, Colo., or Amsterdam.  Dealers are just a phone call away, and as common as the people who sell illicit DVDs or alcoholic drinks.

Iran does not keep official statistics on marijuana use.  But anecdotal evidence and figures from rehabilitation clinics indicate that pot smoking is widespread in Iranian cities.  Hossein Katbaei, the director of one such clinic, Camp Jordan, said the number of patients his staff was treating for marijuana abuse had quadrupled over the last five years.

The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by the fact that it might be especially interesting and valuable for researchers and others to look at marijuana policies and practicies in middle-eastern countries where alcohol is also prohibited.

June 27, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Notable commentary highlights how "Legalized Pot, Free Trade" could significantly improve US-Mexico interactions

USThis notable new New York Times commentary, authored by Ioan Grillomay and headlined "Legalized Pot, Free Trade," highlights some international benefits that could and should flow from modenr marijuana reform efforts. Here are excerpts:

Speaking last month at the United Nations special session on drugs, President Enrique Peña Nieto said he wanted to relax the nation’s marijuana laws.  He has since sent Mexico’s Congress a bill to legalize medicine that contains cannabis, allow people to carry an ounce of marijuana without being prosecuted, and free some prisoners convicted on marijuana charges.  “We Mexicans know all too well the range and the defects of prohibitionist and punitive policies, and of the so-called war on drugs that has prevailed for 40 years,” he said.

Mr. Peña Nieto is new to the drug-reform game. Only last year, he said he was against legalizing marijuana, and at one point said he was not even going to attend the United Nations session.

What happened?  He seems to have realized (or been advised) that it is better to be on the side of inevitable change.  The proposal follows the rapid loosening of drug laws in the United States: Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, and 20 more states now permit it as medicine.  The president’s shift also follows a November ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court, which held that the government had no constitutional right to arrest people for their “civil right” of growing cannabis.

And more is coming soon.  In November, Californians could vote on an initiative to legalize marijuana.  If America’s richest state, and one on the border, votes yes, it will have a huge impact on Mexico.  Why would the Mexican government want to crack down on traffickers taking marijuana into California if it were fully legal there?

Various Mexican politicians and activists have come out in favor of wider marijuana legalization. Among them, the opposition senator Mario Delgado has proposed the decriminalization and regulation of cultivation, production and sales across Mexico. The former president Vicente Fox also supports this idea. Mr. Peña Nieto’s proposals make sense, but there’s even more to be done. The current bill would effectively allow cannabis consumption, but it would leave most of the production and selling of it to the black market — which means largely in the hands of drug cartels.

Marijuana reform in the United States has already eaten into the business of Mexican cartels. In 2011, the year before Colorado and Washington State legalized it, the United States border patrol seized 2.5 million pounds of cannabis coming from Mexico.  Last year, with marijuana legal in four states and the District of Columbia, that had fallen to 1.5 million pounds.

However, even the latest number indicates that a significant amount of marijuana is still being smuggled north. The profits pay the cartels’ assassins, as well as corrupt police officers and soldiers, who discard piles of bodies across Mexico. Amid these changing dynamics, it becomes more and more pointless for Mexican soldiers (underwritten by the United States, through the Merida Initiative) to keep up the ritual of burning marijuana crops. What is needed, then, is for both countries to move from the current mishmash of laws toward the inevitable conclusion: that marijuana becomes a legalized product that can be traded over borders.

The same market forces that shape the trade in liquor or tobacco will shape the trade in marijuana. Like those, it generates major profits for the formal economy.  A research group predicts the legalized marijuana market in the United States will be worth more than $6 billion this year, rising to more than $20 billion by 2020.  That could be a boon for the Mexican and United States economies.

A regulated marijuana market won’t suddenly end the bloodshed in Mexico. Cartels would still traffic cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. The cartels have also diversified to kidnapping, extortion and even oil theft, crimes that can be dealt with only by markedly improved Mexican police forces. But marijuana reform will help immensely. Many in the ranks of Mexican cartels take their first step into the crime world by growing, smuggling or selling pot. That link would be cut, and legal jobs created. Mexican security forces could finally leave the marijuana issue behind to focus on real problems.

The United Nations special session on drugs was heavy on empty talk, but several positive things came out of it. One was that there is no appetite to make countries abide by the United Nations treaties that prohibit the legalization of marijuana. Another is that a range of voices across the world are calling for a new approach to drug policy. The growth of a legalized, binational marijuana market would be a step toward turning those calls into reality.

May 21, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Medical marijuana, for babies and their desperate parents"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new CNN article, which discusses Israel's medical marijuana program. Here are excerpts:

Moments of joy are all too brief for Lavie Parush. They have been since the 2-year-old was born. "Gray" was the word his father used to describe his son, born unconscious. That night, Lavie had his first seizure. "Immediately, they took him to the emergency room," said his father, Asaf Parush. "They doped him up and he was basically passed out the first week of his birth."

For six months, Parush and his wife, Noa, held on to the belief that Lavie's condition would improve. But the seizures worsened. He suffered dozens a day. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Lavie was severely brain damaged.

Doctors put the baby on one drug after another to try to stop the seizures. Each drug required another visit to the hospital. And each one led to another disappointment as the seizures continued unabated. Some drugs had severe side effects, Parush said. Steroids, for example, weakened Lavie's immune system and caused him to become incredibly bloated.

Just before Lavie's first birthday, Parush heard about the use of medical marijuana -- commonly called medical cannabis in Israel -- to treat epilepsy. Unlike other medicines, cannabis is not prescribed by a doctor in Israel. Instead, specialist doctors request a license for a patient to use cannabis for treatment of chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced symptoms, epilepsy and other conditions. The license allows medical cannabis patients between 20 and 200 grams per month. The cannabis is sold at a fixed price of approximately $100 per month, regardless of the amount.

The Ministry of Health points out that the efficacy and safety of medical cannabis "have not yet been established," but the ministry also acknowledges cannabis can help patients suffering from certain medical conditions. Israel has approximately 23,000 licensed medical cannabis users, according to Daniel Goldstein, an industry advocate with Israel Cannabis. Recreational cannabis remains illegal in the country....

Lavie's family requested a license for him from the Ministry of Health for the boy to use medical cannabis. He takes a few drops of cannabis oil every day, mixed into his food. "After a few weeks we didn't see any seizures at all," Parush said.

The cannabis oil, extracted from a strain of cannabis called Avidekel, was developed in northern Israel by one of the country's largest cannabis growers, Tikun Olam. The oil is high in cannabidiol -- or CBD - the pharmacological ingredient in cannabis that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. It is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient that makes marijuana users high and has been shown to relieve pain.

According to Tikun Olam, Avidekel is the strain used for toddlers and babies. Of Tikun Olam's 6,500 medical cannabis users, only 15 are under 3 years old. The Ministry of Health couldn't confirm the number of toddler and baby cannabis patients in Israel, but Tikun Olam's spokeswoman Ma'ayan Weisberg estimates that no more than 25 children under 3 years old are licensed....

A 2015 study by Dr. Orrin Devinsky of the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center showed a 54% reduction in some types of seizures in 137 people suffering from severe epilepsy who took a liquid form of medical marijuana and did not respond to other treatments. But the study's results will need to be replicated, since it did not adhere to the strictest standards of scientific research, including randomized testing and peer review.

A 2013 Stanford University survey of 19 children between the ages of 2 and 16 suffering from epilepsy found 16 of them self-reported or their parents reported a reduction in seizures from using medical cannabis....

Dr. Uri Kramer, head of the Department for the Treatment of Childhood Epilepsy at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, said medical cannabis shows promising results in children whose epilepsy has not responded to multiple drugs. "If they are not good candidates for surgery, there are almost no options," said Kramer, who requested the medical cannabis license for Lavie.

Kramer said his patients have shown that medical cannabis has a success rate of approximately 20% in reducing seizures by 75% in epileptic children. "That's much higher than any other drug on the market," said Kramer. But acceptance is not universal. "Some of our colleagues are not convinced yet," he added. "I'd say only about half of the pediatric epiloptologists in Israel are using cannabis."

Research is underway regarding CBD use in children with intractable epilepsy, according to Dr. Angus Wilfong, a pediatric neurologist at Texas Children's Hospital, but Wilfong urged caution. "These studies are complex and take time. No drug should be approved for use in children until scientific studies have validated its efficacy, safety, tolerability, and dosage," said Wilfong.

May 17, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How does the legalization of marijuana in the US impact Mexican cartels?

The question in the title of this post is the query to be explored by an LL.M. student in my seminar this week. Here are the suggested background readings and materials she provided to set up this important topic:

Is the legalization of marijuana a better solution than a war on drugs?

My presentation focuses on the impact that the legalization of marijuana in the US is having in Mexico which is the biggest supplier of marijuana. Also, if the legalization of marijuana is a better solution that the drug war and how the US is supporting Mexico on this drug war. These are the articles I recommend my classmates to read:

U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond

Marijuana legalization is already making Mexican drug cartels poorer

Mexican marijuana farmers see profits tumble as U.S. loosens laws

April 6, 2016 in 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)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Notable medical marijuana reform developments in two notable nations

My newsfeed this afternoon popper out these two notable new medical marijuana reform stories from around the globe:

  • Via CBC News (of Canada) here, "Ban on medical marijuana patients growing own pot struck down by Federal Court"

  • Via CNN here, "Medical marijuana legalized in Australia"

I would be grateful to hear views from any readers (or my students during my class tomorrow afternoon) concerning which of these international marijuana reform developments seems more significant.

February 24, 2016 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An international perspective on the marijuana reform momentum (and its regulatory challenges) via The Economist

A terrific student in my marijuana seminar alerted me to this lengthy new article in The Economist headlined "Reeferegulatory challenge: A growing number of countries are deciding to ditch prohibition. What comes next?". The article merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

Since California’s voters legalised the sale of marijuana for medical use in 1996, 22 more states, plus the District of Columbia, have followed suit; in a year’s time the number is likely to be nearer 30. Sales to cannabis “patients” whose conditions range from the serious to the notional are also legal elsewhere in the Americas (Colombia is among the latest to license the drug) and in much of Europe. On February 10th Australia announced similar plans.

Now a growing number of jurisdictions are legalising the sale of cannabis for pure pleasure—or impure, if you prefer. In 2014 the American states of Colorado and Washington began sales of recreational weed; Oregon followed suit last October and Alaska will soon join them. They are all places where the drug is already popular (see chart 1). Jamaica has legalised ganja for broadly defined religious purposes. Spain allows users to grow and buy weed through small collectives. Uruguay expects to begin non-medicinal sales through pharmacies by August.

Canada’s government plans to legalise cannabis next year, making it the first G7 country to do so. But it may not be the largest pot economy for long; California is one of several states where ballot initiatives to legalise cannabis could well pass in America’s November elections....

Setting the right level for the tax ... is challenging. Go too low and you encourage use. Aim too high and you lose one of the other benefits of legalisation: closing down a criminal black market.

Comparing Colorado and Washington illustrates the trade-off. Colorado has set its pot taxes fairly low, at 28% (including an existing sales tax). It has also taken a relaxed approach to licensing sellers; marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks. Washington initially set its taxes higher, at an effective rate of 44%, and was much more conservative with licences for growers and vendors. That meant that when its legalisation effort got under way in 2014, the average retail price was about $25 per gram, compared with Colorado’s $15. The price of black-market weed (mostly an inferior product) in both states was around $10.

The effect on crime seems to have been as one would predict. Colorado’s authorities reckon licensed sales—about 90 tonnes a year—now meet 70% of total estimated demand, with much of the rest covered by a “grey” market of legally home-grown pot illegally sold. In Washington licensed sales accounted for only about 30% of the market in 2014, according to Roger Roffman of the University of Washington. Washington’s large, untaxed and rather wild-west “medical” marijuana market accounts for a lot of the rest. Still, most agree that Colorado’s lower prices have done more to make life hard for organised crime.

Uruguay also plans to set prices comparable to those that illegal dealers offer. “We intend to compete with the illicit market in price, quality and safety,” says Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drug Board. To avoid this competitively priced supply encouraging more use, the country will limit the amount that can be sold to any particular person over a month. In America, where such restrictions (along with the register of consumers needed to police them) would probably be rejected, it will be harder to stop prices for legal grass low enough to shut down the black market from also encouraging greater use. Indeed, since legalisation consumption in Colorado appears to have edged up a few percentage points among both adults and under-21s, who in theory shouldn’t be able to get hold of it at all; that said, a similar trend was apparent before legalisation, and the data are sparse....

Different places will legalise in different ways; some may never legalise at all; some will make mistakes they later think better of. But those that legalise early may prove to have a lasting influence well beyond their borders, establishing norms that last for a long while. It behoves them to think through what needs regulating, and what does not, with care. Over-regulation risks losing some of the main benefits of liberalisation. But as alcohol and tobacco show, tightening regimes at a later date can be very difficult indeed.

February 11, 2016 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, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Going to pot? Canada leads way in legalizing marijuana"

C24540ce42f399a040f0229561b41b51.774x437x1The title of this post is the headline of this recent article, which gets started this way: "Justin Trudeau raised eyebrows when he admitted to having dabbled in marijuana while a member of parliament, but his pledge as prime minister to legalize pot has been broadly cheered." Here is more:

He said in a policy speech on [last week] that his Liberal government would introduce legislation as early as 2016 to legalize marijuana, making Canada the first in the G7 bloc of industrialized nations to do so, although precise details remain sketchy.

Two in three Canadians support decriminalizing possession and use of the mind-altering weed, according to a recent Ipsos poll. Support is widespread and at its highest level in three decades, it said, even though cannabis use has fallen off.

Details of the Liberal plan haven't yet been released. However, it is expected to go much further by not only legalizing marijuana but also creating a regulated market for it, as Uruguay and a few US states have done. An estimated one million out of Canada's 35 million people regularly smoke marijuana, according to the latest survey taken in 2014.

Trudeau admitted in 2013 to having smoked pot five or six times in his life, including at a dinner party with friends since being elected to parliament. He has also said that his late brother Michel was facing marijuana possession charges for a "tiny amount" of pot before his death in an avalanche in 1998, and that this influenced his decision to propose legalizing cannabis. "I'm not someone who is particularly interested in altered states, but I certainly won't judge someone else for it," Trudeau said. "I think that the prohibition that is currently on marijuana is unjustified."

In 2014, there were just under 104,000 police-reported drug incidents in Canada. Of these, 66 percent were related to cannabis, primarily for possession, according to the official Statistics Canada. Police chiefs have urged legislative change allowing them to hand out fines for small amounts of pot possession instead of laying criminal charges to reduce policing and court costs, and to do away with such convictions affecting Canadians' travel, employment and citizenship....

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes was effectively legalized in Canada in 1999, but subsequent efforts to soften Canada's pot laws went up in smoke with the election of Stephen Harper in 2006. Harper took a hard line against what he called a Beatles-era drug culture, saying cannabis was more dangerous for health than tobacco.

His former health minister Rona Ambrose, who succeeded Harper as Tory leader, warned that judicial rulings had chipped away at the 1923 cannabis prohibition before the drug could be shown in clinical trials to be safe to use. In June, she said she was "outraged" that the Supreme Court had expanded the definition of medical marijuana to allow users to bake it into cookies or brew pot leaves for tea instead of only smoking it.

The morning after the Liberals swept to power in October, pot stocks doubled in price as investors bet on firms already producing marijuana for medical use being able to quickly scale up to serve recreational pot users too. Only six firms were initially licensed by Health Canada to grow and sell medical marijuana in 2014. The number of licensees has since shot up to 26. 

For a variety of reasons, I think the commitment of Canada's new ruling party to create a legalized marketplace for marijuana up north could be extremely consequential for the on-going debate over marijuana reform throughout the United States.  In particular, if Canada does get a functional legalizaed marijuana market up and running in 2016, I think it will prove especially difficult for northern states throughout the US to resist reform efforts.  Thus, to parrot a famous South Park riff, if marijuana reform gets a significant boost from the north, supporters of preserving pot prohibition my want to "Blame Canada.

December 13, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Canadian Prime Minister orders key Cabinet officials to work toward marijuana legalization

As reported in this post a few weeks ago, the big winner in the Canadian national election was the Justin Trudeau, who became Canada's new Prime Minister after leading his Liberal Party to a majority government win.  As noted before, this was big news for marijuana reform fans because the Liberal Party, as detailed here, campaigned with an express promise to "legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana."  Now, thanks to this blog posting. I see that Prime Minister Trudeau recently issued a series of ministerial mandate letters detailing his instructions to his Cabinet officials.  In these three letters, marijuana reform is specified as among the mandates:

Minister of Health Mandate Letter

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Mandate Letter 

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Mandate Letter

Here is the key mandate language from the first of these letters which is comparable in all three: "Support the Ministers of Justice and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on efforts that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana."

November 16, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Colombia’s government plans to legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medicinal and scientific purposes"

The title of this post is the first line of this notable new AP story providing more evidence that the marijuana reform movement in US states continues to have international echoes.  Here are the details:

The change is coming in an executive decree that President Juan Manuel Santos will soon sign into law. It will regulate regulating everything from licensing for growers to the eventual export of products made from marijuana, Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said.

With the new policy, Colombia joins countries from Mexico to Chile that have experimented with legalization or decriminalization as part of a wave of changing attitudes toward drug use and policies to combat it in Latin America. But unlike many of its neighbors, Colombia has long been identified with U.S.-backed policies to eradicate drug production and a sharp decline in levels of violence over the past 15 years is largely attributed to the no-tolerance policing.

Sen. Juan Manuel Galan, who last year introduced legislation that tracks with the government’s decree, said that as many as 400,000 Colombians suffering from epilepsy and other ailments could benefit from the clearer regulatory framework to be provided by the decree.

Colombians for two decades have been allowed to possess small quantities of any narcotic for personal use thanks to a series of Constitutional Court rulings guaranteeing the “free development of one’s personality.” But the congress and the executive branch have been loath to endorse such views, in part because of officials’ skittishness about showing any weakness in a country that is the biggest supplier of cocaine to the U.S.

Indeed, conservative critics in Colombia and abroad see Santos’ drive to reform drug policy, including a decision earlier this year to end a two-decade-old campaign of spraying illegal coca crops with herbicides, as a sign that the government’s resolve is weakening. Reflecting those concerns, officials went to great lengths Thursday to explain that they are not looking to further liberalize recreational use of marijuana as was recently done in Uruguay, the region’s pioneer in drug policy reform. “Nobody is talking about legalizing anything except for these two purposes,” Reyes said.

Colombia gained international fame since the 1970s as a producer of potent pot strains such as Santa Marta Gold. Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria told Blu Radio that he envisions Colombia positioned as a major global player in the booming market for marijuana products. “Our phones are ringing off the hook as we get ready for the next chapter,” said a statement from John Campo, president of the parent of the U.S.-owned Sannabis company, which is developing cannabis-based oils, creams and other products on a self-governed indigenous reservation in southern Colombia.

November 12, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)