Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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 (0)

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 (0)

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)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Times editorial praises spread of push for marijuana legalization

The New York Times has this lengthy and astute editorial headlined "The Push for Legal Marijuana Spreads." Here is how it starts and ends:

Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing.  Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.

In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country.  And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recently introduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.

Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws.  Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain....

What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind of legislation Mr. Sanders has proposed.  His bill would remove marijuana, or “marihuana” as it is called in federal law, from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which is meant for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medical use.

This change would allow states to decide if they want to make the drug legal and how to regulate it without being limited by federal law.  Mr. Sanders’s bill would also make it illegal to transport the drug across state lines.  If Congress is unwilling to act, Mr. Obama should move on his own by ordering the attorney general to request a study by the secretary of health and human services, which would be needed if the administration is to remove the drug from Schedule I on its own.

A growing group of activists, judges and lawmakers is showing the world a path to more sensible drug policies. Mr. Obama and Congress should join them.

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Significant Mexican Supreme Court ruling finds personal right to grow marijuana

As reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Mexico’s Supreme Court Opens Door to Legalizing Marijuana Use," a major legal ruling in a notable country could provide yet another jolt to the legal and policy status of marijuana in the Americas.  Here are the basics:

The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.

The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. The ruling is a first step — applying only to a single cannabis club that brought the suit — and does not strike down Mexico’s current drug laws. But it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately legalize marijuana.

The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-­backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence....

The ruling on Wednesday was the culmination of an effort to change the law by four members of a prominent Mexican anti­crime group, Mexico United Against Crime. Mr. Torres Landa and Mr. Santacruz formed a cannabis club with two other people, called the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Consumption — the Spanish acronym is Smart.

The group applied for a license from Mexico’s drug regulatory agency, but, as expected, was turned down. Their appeal of that decision eventually reached the Supreme Court. “We have been trying to struggle against illegality, and the results were almost negligible,” said Mr. Torres Landa, who says he has never tried marijuana and does not intend to. “Five or six years ago, we asked why? The answer, as the Americans say, was in the money.”

But the ruling on Wednesday applies only to their petition. For legal marijuana to become the law of the land, the justices in the court’s criminal chamber will have to rule the same way five times, or eight of the 11 members of the full court will have to vote in favor.

If the court decisions continue in that direction, they will be flying in the face of public opinion. Mexicans are so opposed to legalizing marijuana that a leading pollster told the Smart group not to bother with a survey, Mr. Santacruz recalled, or to limit it to young people. The Mexican government, legislators and security and health officials all came out against legalization, as did the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the authorities have not permitted even the use of medical marijuana.

November 5, 2015 in Court Rulings, Criminal justice developments and reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Liberal party in Canada, after promising marijuana legalization, projected to be big election winner

LiberalslegalizeAs reported in this updating piece from the CBC News, headlined "Justin Trudeau to be prime minister as Liberals surge to majority," the Liberal Party in Canada today appears to have secured a huge victory in the county's national election. Here are the basics:

Justin Trudeau will be Canada's next prime minister after leading the Liberal Party to a majority government win, dashing the hopes of Stephen Harper, who had been seeking his fourth consecutive mandate, CBC News has projected.

This will be the second time Canada will be led by a Trudeau, as the Liberal leader follows in the footsteps of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The Tories will form the Official Opposition, moving Tom Mulcair's NDP to third-party status.

It's a stunning turnaround for the Liberals, who held only 36 seats at the time of Parliament's dissolution. The Conservatives held 159 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons and the NDP had 95, with another 18 seats either vacant, held by Independents or shared between the Green Party (two seats) and the Bloc Québécois and a splinter group.

This is 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."  Because I know so very little about Canadian politics and legal reform, I do not know whether and how quickly the Liberal Party and Canada's  notable new Prime Minister can make this campaign promise a legal reality.  But I do know that these election results up north provide still more evidence that marijuana reform can be a winning campaign issue in some jurisdictions.  

Political-flyer-from-conservative-mp-wai-youngIn addition, if (when?) Canada develops a reasonably functional marijuana legalization model, it will become that much harder for prohibition to persist in the United States, especially in those states that border Canada.  Of course, two states with lengthy Canadian borders have already legalized recreation marijuana (Alaska and Washington), and I have to think the prospects for full legalization have now gotten even brighter in other border states like  Michigan, Maine and Vermont.

That said, I suspect the Liberal Party in Canada will not find it all that easy to implement its marijuana reform campaign promises, and so I would not suggest would-be consumers start booking northern travel plans just yet.  Still, if the new leader in Canada even just begin to have a serious and sustained policy conversation about national marijuana legalization, I think there could well be significant reverberations for the country to the south.

October 19, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Lessons from Washington and Colorado: The Potential Financial Gains of Recreational Marijuana to Canada"

The title of this post is the title of this notable paper I just noticed on SSRN.  The paper is authored by Nachshon Goltz and Ekaterina Bogdanov, and here is the abstract:

While Colorado and Washington are among the jurisdictions spearheading the global trend towards legalization of recreational Cannabis (marijuana), Canada lags behind in the regulatory process - but not in Cannabis consumption. An empirical study conducted in downtown Toronto, as well as studies done by Statistics Canada, reveal that Cannabis use is widespread among Canadians, which indicates that the current regulatory regime is not effective as a deterrent.

This paper details the results of the above-mentioned empirical study, reviews the regulatory framework of recreational Cannabis use in Colorado, Washington and Canada, and uses taxation data from Colorado to estimate the potential financial gain of cannabis legalization in Canada. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the non-financial benefits of legalization.

October 17, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reviewing the state of marijuana policy in many states of Europe

This new Internation Business Times article provides a helpful review the legal status of marijuana in a number of European nations.  Here are the basics:

European laws on marijuana consumption and sale differ greatly throughout the continent and have shifted throughout the past 15 years, with one country having decriminalized all drugs.

The Netherlands:  Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, is known throughout Europe -- and indeed, throughout much of the world -- for its coffee shops, where customers can buy joints and smoke them in the cafe. What most tourists in the city do not realize, however, is that most drugs in the Netherlands, including marijuana, are still illegal to produce and possess.  Dutch law allows for customers to buy a small amount of it and consume it on the premises, but smoking pot on the street (for example) is not allowed.

Spain:  The laws in Spain concerning marijuana often seem contradictory.  Though it is illegal to buy or sell marijuana, citizens can grow and consume it for personal use.  As a result of this legal loophole, "cannabis clubs" -- night clubs in Barcelona and Valencia -- have sprung up where members can smoke pot in the dance club.

France:  The French government has toed a strict line when it comes to marijuana, and the substance is still illegal to buy, sell or produce.  If you walk along the Seine near midnight in Paris, however, the smell of teenagers smoking hashish on the wharves might indicate otherwise.

The Czech Republic:  Passed in 2013, a brand-new medical marijuana law in the Czech Republic allows patients with a doctor's note to purchase pot.  Weed is decriminalized for the rest of the nation, and citizens can grow up to five plants for personal use.

Portugal: This Iberian nation has arguably the loosest marijuana laws on the continent.  In fact, Portugal became the first European nation to officially abolish all criminal penalties for drug use with a 2001 law that got rid of jail time for possession of any drug, including heroin, cocaine and marijuana.  The policy was aimed at encouraging rehabilitation over criminalization.

October 6, 2015 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Who says reefer madness is dead, eh?

51u8FL9XFAL._SX200_QL80_The slightly silly title of this post is my reaction to this local report from Canada on the political discussion of marijuana reform up north.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana ‘infinitely worse’ than tobacco, says Canadian PM Harper," and here are excerpts:

The debate over legal marijuana usage in Canada has become one of key issues in the federal election, pitting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau against the Conservative Stephen Harper, who has challenged his opponent’s pro-legalization stance claiming marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco.

“Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is infinitely worse and it’s something that we do not want to encourage,” Harper said, pointing to the dark sides of smoking weed after his opponent Trudeau vowed to legalize marijuana if elected.

Trying to explain why he was so bothered by marijuana, given that tobacco and alcohol are regulated and pot is used for medicinal purposes, Harper said, that the plant is bad for human health. “There's just overwhelming and growing scientific and medical evidence about the bad long-term effects of marijuana,” he said, without backing his claims with any examples. Marijuana 101: Canadian university to teach basics of pot growing, marketing & sales

The Conservative leader also stressed that he will retain tough drug laws aimed at targeting traffickers, who profit off “destroying people's health.” He was reiterating his claims made during Friday’s second French-language debate when he clashed with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau....

The reality is that we have kids who find it easier to buy marijuana than cigarettes and beer,” Trudeau responded. “If a young person buys marijuana, it’s because he had contact directly with a criminal. We will continue to control marijuana like cigarettes and alcohol, not to sell them in corner stores.” The Canadian federal election will be held on October 19, 2015 to elect members to the country;s House of Commons. Marijuana has been a key topic throughout the campaign, with the Liberals in favor of legalization and regulation and the NDP, headed by Tom Mulcair favoring decriminalization, rather than legalization.

October 4, 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, 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)