Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Learning so much already even in first few hours of first Tribal Marijuana Conference

ImagesI feel extraordinarily fortunate to have been invited to participate the nation’s first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference taking place as I write this post from a huge ballroom at the Tulalip Resort Casino, just North of Seattle.   This post from Canna Law Blog discusses the basics, and this agenda highlights all the informed speakers in the mix who are already making this an amazing event in which I am learning so much.  

For example, right now on the podium now are Thomas Carr, the Boulder City Attorney, and Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney, are providing an extraordinary set of insights about local enforcement of local laws in the first two recreational marijuana states. Carr also reported that, because Dunkin' Donuts does not have a store in Boulder, it is easier to get marijuana (and munchies) in Boulder than Dunkin' Donuts (and Munchkins) in some parts of Colorado. Of course, that should not worry public health advocates too much, given that there is good reason to believe Munchkins are perhaps much more addictive and harmful than marijuana.

1403002903506This local article, headlined "Indian tribes looks to marijuana as new moneymaker," highlights some reasons why there are hundreds of persons at this event:

After making hundreds of billions of dollars running casinos, American Indian tribes are getting a good whiff of another potential moneymaker: marijuana.

The first Tribal Marijuana Conference is set for Friday on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington state as Indian Country gets ready to capitalize on the nation’s expanding pot industry. Organizers said representatives from more than 50 tribes in at least 20 states have registered, with total attendance expected to surpass 300....

Robert Odawi Porter, one of the conference organizers and the former president of the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, said tribes have “a tremendous economic diversification opportunity to consider” with marijuana commerce. He said the event would bring together “trailblazers” in the industry who will help tribal leaders understand the complex issues involved.

While it’s unknown how many tribes ultimately will seek to take advantage of the change, one analyst warned that any tribe expecting to hit the jackpot might be in for a surprise, particularly as the supply of legal pot in the U.S. increases. “People keep forgetting it’s a competitive market,” said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as Washington state’s top pot consultant. “And it’s cheap to grow.”

In Washington state, where retail pot stores opened in July, Kleiman said pot growers who sold their product for $21 a gram only a few months ago are now getting $4 a gram. “The price of marijuana is the price of illegality,” he said.

But the issue is generating plenty of buzz among tribal leaders. On Monday, tribal officials at the National Congress of American Indians winter meeting in Washington, D.C., attended a closed breakout session with two U.S. attorneys to discuss the implications of legalized marijuana....

Even though the talks are in the early stages, many tribal officials are pleased that the Obama administration is giving them the power to proceed. “The position of the administration is a strong indication of their commitment and acknowledgment of tribes’ sovereignty, jurisdiction and governmental authority,” said W. Ron Allen, chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

Marijuana is a divisive issue among tribes, with many tribal officials worried about high rates of drug addiction among American Indians. Last year, the Yakama Nation decided to ban marijuana from its reservation in south central Washington state. The Tulalip Tribe, located just north of Seattle, voted to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice to try to legalize medical marijuana.

Legalization opponents fear that more tribes will want to begin selling marijuana without understanding the risks. “I worry about this being a big expansion and I worry that the potential consequences – health, safety and legal – have not been properly communicated to them,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group.

Regardless of what tribes decide to do, he warned that the situation could change with the election of a new president in 2016. “I don’t see this ending well for anyone, especially if a new administration decides to enforce federal law,” Sabet said. “The thing people should remember is that marijuana is still illegal – on tribal lands and otherwise – even if the law isn’t being equally enforced.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, another of the planned speakers at Friday’s conference, said allowing tribes to legalize marijuana will move pot sales “into the light of day.” And he predicted there would be little change in the amount of pot sold on reservations. “Here’s the worst-case scenario: that a tribe just decides they want to be the epicenter of marijuana production, they want to undercut the state system, they want to be a mecca, if you will,” Holmes said. “I’ve heard no tribe say that. . . . We seem to be able to co-exist quite nicely.”

Kleiman said the tax issue would be one of the toughest to sort out as tribes ponder whether to join the industry. “It’s a big deal for people who are trying to make sense of marijuana policy, because if the tribes are exempt from state law, then the states can’t actually tax and regulate,” Kleiman said. “That would be catastrophic. It’s not a big deal for the tribes because there’s no money in it.”

February 27, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Spotlighting the diverse nature (and job-growth impact) of modern marijuana entrepreneurs

One of many reasons I find the emerging marijuana industry so interesting is due to the diverse and unpredictable nature and background of those interested in marijuana businesses. This reality is well covered today in this notable local New York story headlined "From Wall Street to moms, business of marijuana attracting diverse set of entrepreneurs." Here are highlights:

Rachel Jones, 24, is a stay-at-home mother from Syosset, Long Island who quit her six-figure job and started her own business hoping to ride the marijuana wave. “I see myself as an entrepreneur,” Jones said.

Her business experiment Juana Box launches in just a few weeks, shipping boxes of smoking accessories – glass pipes, rolling papers, vaping pens – across the nation. However, the one key ingredient missing is marijuana.

This new mom currently markets tobacco use only to those over 19, but she’s poised to blow her business, partnering with marijuana growers and dispensaries, anticipating recreational pot will soon be sold in New York and across the U.S. “In a few years this could be a factory and I could be hiring other stay-at-home mothers,” Jones said.

From one woman entrepreneurs to well-funded multi-million dollar businesses, marijuana is no longer just a pipe dream. From growers to CEO’s, this business, estimated to be at $46 billion by 2016, is expected to grow 700 percent over the next five years.... Bethanny Frankel of Real Housewives fame, plans to use her Skinny girl cocktail fame to launch a Skinny Girl marijuana – guaranteed not to give you munchies. Even Wall Street wants in....

Leslie Bocksor started a hedge fund company dedicated to pot. He expects it will soon cap out and he’ll need to open another and says business opportunities are mind-blowing. “They are incredibly excited to be investing in it,” Bocksor said. “We haven’t seen an opportunity like this that even compares since the birth of the internet back to the mind to late 90’s.”

“People are spending money on cannabis–hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bocksor said. “They’re probably spending three times as much as that on flight, on rental cars, on hotels and restaurants and on shopping. The economic impact is extraordinary.”

And all those businesses need workers.

February 23, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Awesome (law student) commentary at new Drug Law & Policy blog

In this recent post highlighting a commentary by Professor David Ball, I briefly noted his new Drug Law & Policy blog.  Though I always enjoyed checking out all of David's occasional posts on that blog as he got it up-and-running last month, this past week the blog became a daily must-read as his students began to post content about many of the dynamic and diverse legal issues raised by modern marijuana reform.  

Here is a run-down of recent student posts at Drug Law & Policy, all of which merit attention:

February 21, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Marijuana's Pauline Sabin?: "85-year-old Houston woman fighting to legalize marijuana"

I just got finished watching the last segment of the wonderful PBS Prohibition documentary, which stresses the role of  Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee and the founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, who helped drive the movement to repeal the 18th amendment.  With that history fresh in mind, I found especially interesting this news report from Texas which has the headline quoted in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

"I've always been pretty outspoken," said Ann Lee. At 85 years old, Ann Lee looks like anyone's grandmother. "I don't know whether it's my age, the white hair, what is it, but it does seem to strike a chord," said Lee.

But don't let the white hair fool you. She's a fiery Republican who believes you have the right to use marijuana. "It's just me, I believe in this," said Lee.

For Lee, it's personal. She wasn't always a supporter of weed. That changed when her son was bound to a wheelchair, and needed it to treat his condition. "We realized marijuana wasn't the weed of the devil which I had been known to say," said Lee.

She and her husband Bob fought to legalize weed since then. Bob died last week. Now it's her job to finish what they started together. "This is heady stuff for this lady," said Lee. "I've been an activist for many years, but I've never had the response that I'm now getting."

She knows more about weed than someone half her age, and even has the occasional edible. Activists call her the perfect weapon in the marijuana reform movement. "It's not Republican to support prohibition," said Lee.

Some prior related posts:

February 20, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Medical marijuana advocates flexing political muscle in Florida

My class this week in my marijuana seminar is focused particularly on medical marijuana law, policy and reform, and a focal point for discussion will be exploring the best reasons and arguments that can be made by policy advocates and politicians for being actively and vocally opposed to medical marijuana reforms.  In light of that coming discussion, this new Politico article reporting on developments in Florida highlights a strategic reasons why politicians might not in the future want to be an active and vocal opponent of medical marijuana reforms.  The piece is headlined "Pot lobby vows to blunt Wasserman Schultz: She angered medical marijuana advocates by opposing a voter initiative last year," and here are excerpts:

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s interest in running for U.S. Senate has encountered strong resistance from a traditional ally of her party: medical marijuana activists.

Because of her congressional votes and her criticisms of a Florida medical marijuana initiative last year, four political groups that advocate prescription cannabis and drug decriminalization vowed to campaign against the Florida representative if she were to seek a Senate seat in 2016.

“She’s voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we’re certainly going to make sure Floridians know that — not to mince words,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance, which has received funding from liberal luminaries such as George Soros. “This issue is evolving very quickly, and hopefully she will evolve,” Piper said. “But if she doesn’t, you can expect medical marijuana patients and supporters to dog her on the campaign trail.”...

The founder and executive director of Americans for Safe Access, Steph Sherer, said her group will likely become politically active in the election if Wasserman Schultz runs. “She has a horrific voting record and people should know about it” Sherer said. “But she still has time to become enlightened.”...

Florida’s medical marijuana proposal last year garnered 57.6 percent of the vote, short of the 60 percent threshold required to approve a constitutional amendment in Florida. Morgan’s group is already gathering voter signatures and plans to try again in 2016, unless the GOP-led Legislature acts, which it likely won’t. “This will be a major campaign issue and I think disqualifies her from the nomination,” Morgan said by email, comparing the issue to gay marriage, which is far less popular in polls.

“A United States senator from the Democratic Party should be in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana as a base test. Debbie is more severe,” he said. “Her position denies terminally ill and chronically ill people compassion. She was an anomaly among [Democrats]. The war on drugs was lost about the same time we lost the Vietnam War. Generations have been arrested, jailed and careers and dreams lost forever.”

February 19, 2015 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What do we know about the success and failings of modern medical marijuana reform in the United States?

Thanks in large part to the enactment of full recreation legalization reform in Colorado and Washington in 2012, much of the most intense political and social debate over marijuana reform has focused on recreational reforms.  But, as serious students of modern state reforms know, medical marijuana reform is where the real action is nationwide because there have now been state-level medical marijuana reform in dozens of states over the last decade and Congress recently told the Department of Justice that it could not use fund to interfere with implementation of these state-level medical marijuana reforms.

Problematically, while lots of advocates and research are already investing lots of time looking at the impact and import of full recreation legalization reform in Colorado and elsewhere, a lot less energy has been invested seeking to better understand the impact and import of medical marijuana reform in so many jurisdictions.   Helpfully, the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has produced a few reports that take stock, at least at the legal level, of all the state-activity in this space.  And ASA's most recently-update report on state laws makes this important point in its preface:  

How many medical cannabis states are there? The answer depends. What medical condition do you have? Can you afford to purchase it? Are you a minor?

The national dialogue on medical cannabis is complicated because the solutions remain controversial. Individual states have adopted differing policies as part of an ongoing experiment that will one day lead federal policy into alignment with the overwhelming public support for legal access. These parallel experiments are a normal part of our federalist system.

Until recently, counting medical cannabis states boiled down to a ”yes or no” analysis – either a state had some kind of medical cannabis law, or it did not.  That simple analysis is no longer enough to understand the evolving landscape for medical cannabis in the United States. The laws are simply too different, and not all function as intended.  At Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy organization, we have more than a dozen years of experience in state policy development and implementation. Our experience shows that not all medical cannabis laws are working equally for the patients they were designed to serve. We need a new way to talk about and evaluate state medical cannabis laws.

This ASA report goes on, not surprisingly, to provide a patient-centric analysis of how to "talk about and evaluate state medical cannabis laws." But, of course, that is not the only way policy-makers may want to examine this issue, especially because there is considerable skepticism about whether many persons who seek out medical marijuana are trule "patients."

February 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Is a federal judge about to declare unconstitutional federal marijuana law? And then what?

The questions in the title of this post are prompted by this Reuters report about an on-going federal criminal trial in California. Here is why:

A federal judge hearing the case of nine men accused of illegally growing marijuana in California said Wednesday she was taking very seriously arguments by their attorneys that the federal government has improperly classified the drug as among the most dangerous, and should throw the charges out.

Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said she would rule within 30 days on the request, which comes amid looser enforcement of U.S. marijuana laws, including moves to legalize its recreational use in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.

"If I were persuaded by the defense's argument, if I bought their argument, what would you lose here?" she asked prosecutors during closing arguments on the motion to dismiss the cases against the men.

The men were charged in 2011 with growing marijuana on private and federal land in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California near the city of Redding. If convicted, they face up to life imprisonment and a $10 million fine, plus forfeiture of property and weapons.

In their case before Mueller in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, defense lawyers have argued that U.S. law classifying pot as a Schedule One drug, which means it has no medical use and is among the most dangerous, is unconstitutional, given that 23 states have legalized the drug for medical use.

Lawyer Zenia Gilg, who represented defense attorneys for all of the men during closing arguments, pointed to Congress' recent decision to ban the Department of Justice from interfering in states' implementation of their medical marijuana laws as evidence of her contention that the drug's classification as Schedule One should be overturned. "It's impossible to say that there is no accepted medical use," said Gilg, who has argued that her client was growing pot for medical use.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Broderick said that it was up to Congress to change the law, not the court. He said that too few doctors believed that marijuana had medical uses for the drug's definition to change under the law. "We're not saying that this is the most dangerous drug in the world," Broderick said. "All we're saying is that the evidence is such that reasonable people could disagree."

Notably, this new Bloomberg article, headlined "Grower’s Case Rivets Investors Seeking Pot of Gold," suggests that those interested in investing in the marijuana industry think that merely "the fact that the judge has agreed to consider the issue is an enormously significant event.” Obviously, this event becomes even more significant if (when?) a federal judge declares unconstitutional the placement of marijuana on Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.

February 13, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Can your boss stop you from smoking medical marijuana at work?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy informative article from the San Francisco Chronicle.   The piece highlights the intersections between marijuana reform, labor laws and disability laws.  Here are excerpts:

Your employee comes to you and says, “I have a medical marijuana card for anxiety, the deadline on this project is giving me a panic attack. I need to smoke some weed on my break so I can calm down and get my work done.” [What] do you do....?

As more states legalize medicinal marijuana, questions like these are becoming more common. The answer varies by state, and it’s not always clear-cut. In California, employers must accommodate employees with medical conditions or disabilities, but they do not have to let them use weed in the workplace, even if a doctor has recommended it to treat their condition.

“Neither federal nor state law prohibits employers from disciplining or terminating employees for marijuana use, even when the drug is used to treat a disability in accordance with California’s medical marijuana law,” said Jinny Kim, director of the disability rights program with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.

The state’s Compassionate Use Act ensures that people who use marijuana for medical purposes, upon the recommendation of a doctor, are not subject to criminal sanctions or prosecution. But a 2008 California Supreme Court decision, in Ross vs. RagingWire Telecommunications Inc., made it clear that the Compassionate Use Act does not apply to employment, and that marijuana, even for medical use, remains illegal under federal law. “Under California law, an employer may require pre-employment drug tests and take illegal drug use into consideration in making employment decisions,” the court said.

Ross gives great discretion to employers,” said Oakland attorney Robert Raich, a medical marijuana expert. Employers can prohibit employees in California from possessing, using or being under the influence of marijuana at work, just as they can forbid them from being drunk on the job. But they cannot fire or refuse to hire workers because they have a medical condition they are using marijuana to treat, and that’s where things get hazy.

Federal and California laws prohibit nearly all employers from discriminating against workers or applicants because of a mental or physical disability. They must make reasonable accommodations for the disability, unless it would pose an undue hardship, or unless the disability poses a health or safety threat. What qualifies as an undue hardship depends on the size of the employer, the cost of the accommodation and other individual factors.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The California Fair Employment and Housing Act defines it more broadly, as an impairment that makes performance of a major life activity “difficult.” Neither act lists conditions that meet the disability test.

With that in mind, what is the best answer to the question posed above? It depends on the employer’s policy, if it has one. An employer could ... let employees who have medical marijuana cards use it at work — but most don’t. Employers “nearly without exception” prohibit marijuana use at work because “it impacts productivity” and could pose a risk to others, says Felicia Reid, an attorney with Hirschfeld Kraemer who represents companies.

It is also “difficult to control. You don’t know from one smoking session to the next what the reaction will be,” said Todd Wulffson, an attorney with Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger who also represents employers.... [But] sending the employee for drug testing is also problematic [because] random testing of unsuspicous employees is allowed in only a few cases....

Wulffson ... advises employers to adopt a policy that says, “We do not tolerate use of any illegal drug during the workday, including medical marijuana. If you have a condition for which you are being treated, you need to talk to HR about any possible accommodations.”

Not directly covered by this article, but integral to thinking long-term about use of medical marijuana in the workplace, is the growing emergence and regulation of a significant marijuana edibles industry. Marijuana edibles necessarily make it easier for workers to use marijuana on the job without bosses or fellow workers even being aware of this use.

February 7, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

US Surgeon General essentially states marijuana should not be a Schedule I drug

ImagesThis Huffington Post piece, headlined "U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Says Marijuana 'Can Be Helpful' For Some Medical Conditions," reports on some significant comments today by America's top doc. Here are the details:

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the nation's new surgeon general, says that marijuana "can be helpful" for some medical conditions, and wants science to dictate policy on the federally banned substance.

"We have some preliminary data that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful," Murthy said during a Wednesday interview on "CBS This Morning" in response to a question about his stance on marijuana legalization.

While Murthy didn't take the opportunity to endorse legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, he did add that he believes U.S. marijuana policy should be driven by science and what it reveals about the efficacy of using the plant for medical purposes. "I think we're going to get a lot more data about that," Murthy said. "I'm very interested to see where that takes us."...

In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a less-harmful substance in order to facilitate research for its potential medical use.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, the U.S. has five "schedules" for drugs and chemicals that can be used to make drugs. Schedule I is reserved for drugs that the DEA considers to have the highest potential for abuse and no "currently accepted medical use." Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I for decades, along with other substances like heroin and LSD. While a lower schedule for marijuana would not make it legal, it could ease restrictions on researching the drug....

"Dr. Murthy's comments add to a growing consensus in the medical community that marijuana can help people suffering from painful conditions," Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post. "It's crazy that federal law still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, a category that's supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical value. In light of these comments from his top medical adviser, the president should direct the attorney general to immediately begin the process of rescheduling marijuana."

February 4, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Medical or Recreational Marijuana and Drugged Driving"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new article by Paul Larkin now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Beginning in the 1920s and lasting for seventy years, state and federal law treated marijuana as a dangerous drug and as contraband, forbidding its cultivation, distribution, possession, and use.  Over the last two decades, however, numerous states have enacted laws permitting marijuana to be used for medical treatment.  Some also permit its recreational use.  Those laws have raised a host of novel legal and public policy issues.  Most of the discussion, and almost all of the litigation, has involved the respective roles of the states and federal government and how each one may and should deal with this very controversial subject.

One issue that has received little attention in the legal community is the risk that medical and recreational marijuana laws will pose to highway safety.  Will those laws increase, decrease, or leave untouched the rate of accidents and fatalities on our nation’s roadways?  How should the criminal justice system — in particular, its law enforcement officers — address the problem of “drugged driving” in general and in states with medical marijuana laws?

This Article addresses those issues.  Some of the possible solutions do not involve changing the law.  Training law enforcement officers to better spot drugged drivers, developing safe, reliable, portable, and inoffensive devices to test drivers for marijuana use on a highway shoulder, identifying a particular concentration of marijuana in the blood or some other bodily fluid that can be used to establish impairment — those and other steps can be taken without changing the legal framework for addressing the problems that occur when people drive under the influence of an intoxicating substance.  But it also may be necessary to modify the laws governing alcohol in order to reduce the crashes caused by marijuana use.  People often take those drugs in combination, and a marijuana-alcohol cocktail is more debilitating that either drug consumed alone.  States therefore may need to lower their thresholds for drunken driving in order to dissuade people who use marijuana and alcohol together from getting behind the wheel.

January 29, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 26, 2015

"The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research, and Legal Update"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report coming from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here is its abstract:

This technical report updates the 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics abstract technical report on the legalization of marijuana. Current epidemiology of marijuana use is presented, as are definitions and biology of marijuana compounds, side effects of marijuana use, and effects of use on adolescent brain development. Issues concerning medical marijuana specifically are also addressed. Concerning legalization of marijuana, 4 different approaches in the United States are discussed: legalization of marijuana solely for medical purposes, decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana, legalization of recreational use of marijuana, and criminal prosecution of recreational (and medical) use of marijuana. These approaches are compared, and the latest available data are presented to aid in forming public policy.  The effects on youth of criminal penalties for marijuana use and possession are also addressed, as are the effects or potential effects of the other 3 policy approaches on adolescent marijuana use.  Recommendations are included in the accompanying policy statement.

The AAP's updated policy statement referenced at the end of this abstract is available at this link, and here are three of the most notable of the ten recommendations appearing at the end of the policy statement:

The AAP opposes “medical marijuana” outside the regulatory process of the US Food and Drug Administration. Notwithstanding this opposition to use, the AAP recognizes that marijuana may currently be an option for cannabinoid administration for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate. 

The AAP opposes legalization of marijuana because of the potential harms to children and adolescents. The AAP supports studying the effects of recent laws legalizing the use of marijuana to better understand the impact and define best policies to reduce adolescent marijuana use.

 The AAP strongly supports research and development of pharmaceutical cannabinoids and supports a review of policies promoting research on the medical use of these compounds. The AAP recommends changing marijuana from a Drug Enforcement Administration schedule I to a schedule II drug to facilitate this research.

January 26, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Legalized marijuana might be the best thing to ever happen to heroin addicts"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece via Quartz.  Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

By 1970, legislation codified cannabis as one of the nation’s most dangerous drugs: the Controlled Substance Act classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it possessed high potential for abuse and had no acceptable medical use. Over 40 years later, the classification remains.

But research has shown that marijuana, while still criminalized at the federal level, can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addictsand preventing overdoses. Massachusetts, which recently legalized medical marijuana — and where heroin overdoses have soared — could be a fertile testing ground for this potentially controversial treatment.
 
Before being criminalized, marijuana was used in the US to cure depression and a variety of other mental health ailments. Many studies have supported the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, along with the ability of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredients to treat nausea, help with weight loss, alleviate chronic pain, and mitigate symptoms of neurological diseases.
 
Other research, however, contradicts claims regarding the benefits of cannabidiol treatment. Some say marijuana actually poses a risk for psychosis and schizophrenia. Although the FDA has approved some synthetic cannabinoids for medical treatment, federal agencies do not support marijuana as a legitimate medicine until more clinical studies have been conducted....
 
Among drug treatment specialists, marijuana remains controversial. Although some research has shown marijuana to be an alternative treatment for more serious drug addiction, addiction treatment specialists still view marijuana as highly addictive and dangerous. These views handicap policy reform, but despite its status as a Schedule 1 drug, recent research shows marijuana could be part of the solution to the most deadly drug epidemic our country has seen in decades.
 
In 2012 Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, though the first 11 dispensaries are not scheduled to open until sometime in the coming year. This situation presents an opportunity to implement sensible, research-based policy.
 
Massachusetts, like many states across the US, has seen a dramatic rise in opioid addition fueled by the increase in opiate prescription pills.  In Boston, heroin overdoses increased by 80% between 2010 and 2012, and four out of five users were addicted to pain pills before turning to heroin.
 
Meanwhile, the leading cause of death among the Boston’s homeless population has shifted from AIDS complications to drug overdoses, with opiates involved in 81% of overdose deaths. This is an alarming finding given recent expansion in clinical services for the city’s homeless.
 
Addiction specialists and health care professionals in Boston have been at the forefront of integrating behavioral and medical care.  Naloxone and methadone are currently the main solutions to address the growing opiate addiction and overdose problem. But Naloxone is an overdose antidote, not a cure or a form of preventative therapy.
 
Methadone, like heroin and other opioids, has a very narrow therapeutic index (the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose of a drug).  This means that a small change in dosage can be lethal to the user. Marijuana, however, has one of the safest (widest) therapeutic ratios of all drugs.
 
Research shows that marijuana has been used as a form of self-treatment, where users take cannabis in lieu of alcohol, prescription opiates, and illegal drugs.  That’s one reason why researchers are calling for marijuana to be tested as a substitute for other drugs.  In this capacity, marijuana can be thought of as a form of harm reduction. While researchers don’t seek to discount some of the drug’s potential negative effects, they view it as a less damaging alternative to other, harder drugs. Despite these findings, marijuana is rarely incorporated in formal drug treatment plans.
 
A recent study might change this policy. Comparing states with and without legalized medical marijuana, it found a substantial decrease in opioid (heroin and prescription pill) overdose death rates in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws. In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that medical marijuana should be part of policy aimed to prevent opioid overdose....
 
Since Massachusetts has not yet opened its medical marijuana dispensaries, it is too early to see if medical marijuana legislation will help reduce opiate addiction in the Commonwealth. Using recent research findings, Massachusetts policymakers have a unique opportunity to implement medical marijuana policies that address its contemporary opiate overdose.  Medical marijuana could be part of drug treatment for heroin and opiates.
 
For homeless people, however, getting a marijuana card is expensive and buying medical marijuana from a dispensary is beyond their economic means. Street drugs are more prevalent in their social setting, easier to obtain, and can be much cheaper.  From a policy perspective, addressing the alarming rates of overdose deaths among the homeless in Boston could mean distributing medical marijuana cards to homeless addicts for free and providing reduced cost medical marijuana.
 
Formerly demonized and later legislated as a Schedule 1 substance, marijuana could diminish the damage wrought by harder drugs, like heroin.  While opioid use is a nationwide epidemic, Massachusetts — long at the forefront of developing scientifically based public policy — has the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, socially-informed drug policy.

January 23, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Conservative state senator preaching for medical marijuana reform in Pennsylvania

PennsylvaniaMedicalMarijuanaThis lengthy local article, headlined "Social-conservative lawmaker fights for legalizing medical marijuana," notes that a notable Republican Senator in the Keystone state has become noted for his "pot proselytizing." Here are excerpts from the piece:

Standing amid the lunchtime crush at the Pennsylvania Farm Show last week was a gray-haired man in deck shoes and a fleece vest, animatedly pitching an unusual - and illegal - product. Like a street-corner preacher, Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) was bringing his message to the people - in his case thousands of voters he hopes will pressure their representatives to support his bill to legalize medical marijuana.

Folmer stops anyone who will listen, alternately delivering a rant against Big Pharma - which he blames for holding up federal approval of medical cannabis - and smiling at wise-cracking visitors who ask, "Any free samples?"

"I feel like a missionary," he said Friday, pausing to pop in a throat lozenge before beginning his pot proselytizing again. "I'm a Bible-believing Presbyterian. I don't even drink."

But Folmer, a 59-year-old grandfather of seven and a social conservative from a largely rural district northeast of Harrisburg, was moved by two mothers who stopped in his office 18 months ago. They told him they believed medical marijuana could ease their children's epileptic seizures without the damaging side effects of the narcotics that doctors had been prescribing. Skeptical, he hit his computer to find out and soon became a convert to the cannabis cause.

"It was very compelling," he said. "I learned that it is nontoxic, no one's going to die. So I figured, no harm, no foul. There are too many sick people." He teamed up with one of the state's most liberal lawmakers, Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery). Their original bill cleared the Senate by a wide margin (43-7) before dying in the House last fall.

When the new legislative session opened in December, Folmer immediately reintroduced the bill. It calls for letting patients purchase medical cannabis with a doctor's recommendation from centers licensed by a newly created board. Medical cannabis growers, processors, and dispensers would be licensed and regulated. Users would pay an access fee and would be barred from operating vehicles while taking the medication....

Folmer said neither parents of sick children nor adults with chronic conditions want to wait - or should wait - any longer. In his view, patients suffering from a range of illnesses are being prescribed narcotic cocktails of highly addictive and dangerous drugs that have little effect on these disorders.

On Friday, when a brisk but sunny afternoon drew a steady crowd to the show, Patti Bach breezed past Folmer's booth. She didn't need information. She already knew about the bill and voted against lawmakers who did not support it. "I eat Vicodin like candy," said Bach, 56, of Carlisle, who said she suffers from debilitating chronic pain. "Cannabis could reduce the pain and allow me to function."

Bach, who said her 30-year-old daughter has severe epilepsy, said she had researched the issue extensively and discussed it with her doctor. "He said as soon as it's legal he would prescribe it for me," she said.

Monica Kline, a Harrisburg lobbyist who raises alpacas in Folmer's district with her husband, a former Army pilot, donated the booth space at the farm show. Kline said her husband, a Vietnam veteran, hated to see returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder unable to find relief. Nor could she, who helps a mothers' advocacy group, bear to see another child suffer needlessly. "We knew we had to change our booth," said Kline, daughter of former Lt. Gov. Ernest Kline. "Parents were losing children."...

The bill stands a solid chance of becoming law if it reaches the desk of the incoming governor. "Gov.-elect Wolf supports the legalization of medical marijuana because he believes we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy," said his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan. House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) opposed the measure as GOP leader last year, but new House Majority Leader David Reed (R., Indiana) was a cosponsor of a House version of the bill....

Folmer says he thinks he can win passage of his bill in the Senate by spring. Still, he said he feels every day he's in a race against the clock. "My greatest fear is that I am going to get a call from one of the moms that one of the children has died," he said. "I'm not saying marijuana is a cure, but people ought to have the opportunity for help."

It bears noting in the context of this story that Pennsylvania's state motto is "Virtue, liberty, and independence." Kudos to this social-conservative lawmaker for showing such a commitment to these values in his work on this front.

January 19, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Should significant use of marijuana in the home make a parent guilty of child abuse?

Download (4)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new ABC News- 20/20 piece headlined "Washington Parents Using Marijuana Accused of Child Abuse." Here are the basics:

While most parents probably want to keep their kids away from marijuana, one mom and dad were accused of child abuse for their avid use of the drug. “[I use it] pretty much every day,” Jesse Thompson, 30, told ABC News’ “20/20.”

Jesse and his wife Vicca Thompson, are from Sedro-Wolley, Washington, where marijuana use, including recreational, is now legal. The Thompsons are both medical marijuana users with doctor’s prescriptions. Jesse Thompson, a cancer survivor, takes it for pain, while Vicca Thompson, 43, uses it for arthritis and a nervous condition. They run their business, a medical marijuana dispensary and garden store called the Grow Shop, where they sell home-grown strains of marijuana as well as marijuana edibles, and are strong advocates of medical marijuana.

The two are also parents to 5-year-old Jerry and 13-year-old Sohani, Vicca Thompson’s son from a previous marriage. But they insist they are still capable of being responsible parents even when they’re high. “It just means I have an elevated mood. It doesn’t mean I’m incapacitated or that I can’t think straight,” Vicca Thompson told “20/20.” “I’m on pot right now, and I’m able to parent.”

But there is an apparent gap between the enforcement of child protection laws and marijuana statutes. In many cases, child protection services are taking children away from legal, legitimate users of medical marijuana. Not all types of medical marijuana gets you high, but a lot of it is psycho-active, which can get you high.

“We have irrefutable evidence that it’s damaging for kids,” Dr. Leslie Walker told “20/20.” “Kids who think their parents approve of it are six times more likely to begin using marijuana and begin using much earlier than the average high school age.”

In November 2014, authorities came for the Thompsons’ son Jerry. The Thompsons said they had an employee that they let go. "About a month later, she … called CPS,” Jesse Thompson said, referring Child Protective Services. “She told them that we not only are feeding our children marijuana all the time, but that they have access to it in our home and in our business.”

Within days of that call, CPS questioned Jerry’s half-brother Sohani, who told authorities that his mom fed him a goo ball. A goo ball, Vicca Thompson explained, is a “peanut butter raisin ball,” medicated with psycho-active marijuana. “He gets aggressive and is too mean, sometimes ... and just needs to ... look inside and relax,” Vicca Thompson said.

After that, the city quickly shut down the Grow Shop. When CPS requested a meeting with the Thompsons, Jesse asked to wait until their attorney was able to attend. CPS didn’t reschedule the meeting, Jesse Thompson said, and instead, decided to take Jerry away and made him live with an aunt. The Thompsons could only see their son by visiting him at the local CPS office. “It’s destroying me. I can’t not be with my son. He is all that matters,” Jesse Thompson said of having Jerry taken away.

Vicca Thompson’s son Sohani went to live with his father full-time. “I felt like my heart might stop,” said Vicca Thompson.

The Thompsons went to court to fight to get Jerry back home. CPS had Jerry take a hair follicle drug test. When the results came back, Jerry tested positive for THC, the psycho-active ingredient in marijuana.

Vicca and Jesse Thompson were accused of posing a risk to Jerry's well-being by feeding marijuana to him. They denied doing so, but Vicca Thompson said she did rub a marijuana salve on his skin to treat a rash, which would not put him at risk of getting high. After weeks of stilted, supervised meetings with Jerry and numerous hearings, the court commissioner allowed Jerry to come home with the Thompsons on Jan. 7. He stated he saw no other evidence of harm even though there was evidence of THC in Jerry's body.

“The law says there has to be serious physical harm. A child who ingests an edible is not going to suffer serious physical harm,” attorney Jennifer Ani, who has represented a mother who had her child taken away for her legal marijuana use, told “20/20.” “They may go to sleep. They may be out of it. Children can't be removed because of bad judgment. If they could, lots of people wouldn't have kids because we all make mistakes.”

The court commissioner set strict conditions for Jerry’s return home that included making sure he was not exposed to marijuana smoke or edibles in any form. If Jerry were to test positive, the court commissioner said he would not be allowed to live with the Thompsons. “We’re going to hide the marijuana,” Vicca Thompson said after Jerry returned home. “I definitely feel like I shouldn’t give it to children.”

But Vicca Thompson said if it was legal to give marijuana to children, she would do so. “If I lived somewhere else and a doctor was looking over me, telling me that it was okay, then I would think, ‘Yeah, it's totally safe,’ especially to put salve on a cut or a rash,” said Vicca Thompson.

January 17, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Latest sign of the apocalypse: "weed-infused sex lube for ladies"?

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this notable news story from The Cannabist about a notable new cannabis product, headlined "That weed-infused sex lube for ladies? It’ll be on Colorado shelves this month." Here are the details:

Remember when we first wrote about THC-infused sex lube Foria and its quite singular user instructions in June 2014? “Apply 4-8 sprays directly onto the clitoris, inner and outer labia and inside the vagina.”

That interview with Los Angeles-based Foria founder Mathew Gerson helped introduce the unique product to the masses, and now Gerson — who originally hails from Boulder — is debuting his special, non-psychoactive lube outside of California for the very first time. Foria will make its Colorado debut at the Native Roots location in Aspen during the Winter X-Games on Jan. 21-25.

“I came out to L.A. from Colorado, and I’ve been trying to get back ever since,” Gerson told The Cannabist. “I’m super-excited to be bringing it to Colorado, and Native Roots is a good alignment for us.”

Need a reminder on what Foria is? Per Gerson, from my June interview with him: “It’s a sensual enhancement oil designed for female pleasure — a therapeutic aphrodisiac. Women have described it as relaxing, and they’ve said it’s heightened their sensations. They’ve associated it with warming and tingling, localized in the sexual region.”...

And how have the last six months been for Foria in California? “We never could have imagined the impact it’s having on the patient community in California and how it’s spanned the spectrum of users — from younger women who are looking to deepen the level of intimacy of their own bodies to older women who are experiencing a reawakening of their own sexuality,” Gerson said. “There are a large number of women who could benefit from cannabis but who aren’t interested in the psychoactive component.”

The product’s expansion into Colorado is only the beginning; Gerson estimates Foria will be available in Washington state pot stores in the next few months.

January 13, 2015 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Massachusetts already seeing job impacts from its nascent medical marijuana industry

This Boston Globe article, headlined "Schools offering courses on sale of marijuana: New Mass. schools are offering programs on what is likely to be a fast-growing business," highlights some notable economic echoes of medical marijuana legalization in Massachusetts.  Here are some details:

The new Northeastern Institute of Cannabis, or NIC [is] a two-classroom school in an office park that prepares people for positions ranging from dispensary workers to medical marijuana educators.   In advance of the expected opening of the first Massachusetts dispensaries next year, the for-profit NIC has graduated about 12 students and has 64 more enrolled.

Keith Saunders, a sociology professor who oversees the curriculum at NIC, said help-wanted ads for medical marijuana workers already are appearing on the jobs website Monster.com. He figures each of the state’s 15 provisionally approved dispensaries will immediately need 35 to 40 workers, and then continue to hire.  “When [dispensaries] roll out, it will happen quickly,” he said.

The institute is not the only school of its kind in Massachusetts.  The New England Grass Roots Institute in Quincy caters to medical marijuana patients, and the Cannabis Career Institute, a national company, periodically offers marijuana business training sessions in Boston.

Although it is difficult to project how many jobs medical marijuana might create statewide, it could be significant, said Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug law reform group with headquarters in New York City.

The jobs do not just entail growing and selling marijuana, she said. Think commercial kitchens cooking marijuana-laced foods, manufacturers providing packaging, and marketing firms promoting brands.  “There’s all of these ancillary businesses that are involved in the industry,” Reiman said.

The curriculum at Northeastern Institute of Cannabis is based on discussions with dispensary operators in other states — including California, Colorado, Maine, and Rhode Island — producers of cannabis medicine, state legislators, and industry specialists, according to school officials.  They have applied for state certification as an occupational trade school.

To receive a certificate, students must complete 12 four-hour courses, including medical marijuana 101, which covers the basics of marijuana as a medicine, cannabis law New England, an overview of state marijuana laws, and cannabis cultivation, about the art and science of growing marijuana.  (It’s all strictly academic: The school cannot have marijuana on site). Students also must pass a two-hour exam by scoring at least 70 percent on each of 12 sections and 75 percent overall.

The cost of the program, which typically takes four to six weeks to complete, will increase to $2,000 from $1,500 on Jan. 1. Students range in age from their 20s to 60s and come from a variety of backgrounds. They include chefs, mechanics, and business owners....

[Jeanne] Ficcardi-Sauro, a 56-year-old mother of two grown children, said she has had difficulty finding full-time employment, so she is giving the medical marijuana industry a try. She also is a cancer patient and smokes marijuana to manage pain and fall asleep. Her goal: to educate and counsel other patients. “It can just help so many people in so many ways,” she said....

The school has amenities found at other trade schools and community colleges, including a student lounge, movie nights, and a store that sells T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the NIC logo. Along with textbooks, students can buy medical marijuana cookbooks, vaporizers, and glass pipes.

Mickey Martin, a longtime advocate for reform of marijuana laws, founded the school earlier this year. He said the school plans to host its first job fair in March. Launching the school posed several challenges, said Martin, who is from Oakland, Calif. It took months to find a location because landlords were reluctant to rent to a school specializing in marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law. The school’s insurance rates are double that of an average trade school, and the school’s bank account was canceled.

“There’s nothing illegal about what we’re doing,” Martin said. “But because we have cannabis in our name I’m forced to jump through the same hurdles as dispensary groups. It’s kind of insanity.” Still, Martin said, he has recruited high-quality faculty and administrators. Saunders, who developed the school’s curriculum, has taught drug policy courses at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Bill Downing, a longtime business owner and activist for marijuana law reform, teaches classes in business management and the history of marijuana. Uma Dhanabalan, who teaches the medical marijuana 101 course, has a medical degree, is a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and holds a master’s in public health from Harvard University.

Dhanabalan said it was not until later in her career that she learned marijuana could help relieve chronic pain, nausea, and migraines, as well as treat diseases such as glaucoma. When she was asked to teach at the school, she said, it was easy to say yes. “This is history in the making,” she said.

December 24, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 12, 2014

"The 'Legal' Marijuana Industry's Challenge for Business Entity Law"

The title of this post is the title of this notable paper authored by Luke Scheuer that I just noticed via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In recent years many states have legalized the use and sale of marijuana for medical or even recreational purposes.  This has led to the booming growth of a “legal” marijuana industry.  Businesses openly growing and selling marijuana products to the consuming public are faced with some unusual legal hurdles.  Significantly, although the sale of marijuana may be legal at the state level, it is still illegal under federal law.

This article explores the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws from a business entity law perspective.  For example, managers owe a fiduciary duty of good faith to their businesses and equity holders.  One of the ways in which managers can violate this duty is by causing their business to intentionally violate the law.  This is a problem for the marijuana industry because its managers constantly and intentionally violate federal law and therefore violate their fiduciary duties by growing and selling marijuana.

This article concludes that the industry’s ability to attract professional stakeholders is harmed by marijuana business stakeholders’ inability to take advantage of key business law protections, such as limited liability.  This article proposes a state law exception that allows for marijuana businesses to operate normally under state business entity law, with normal business entity law protections, despite their continuing violation of federal law.

December 12, 2014 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Project SAM and Heritage event to separate "scientific facts from popular fiction" concerning marijuana reform

SAMToday in Washington DC, Project SAM and the Heritage Foundation are co-hosting a notable event titled "Marijuana Policy: Separating Scientific Facts from Popular Fiction."  The event is to include keynote remarks by two Republican members of Congress who are both doctors (and I believe ardent opponents of any prohibition reform): Andy Harris (R-MD) and John Fleming (R-LA).

Via this webpage at Heritage, I believe the full event will be webcast starting at 11am EST. (I am hoping the event will be archived there, too, for later viewing.) Here is the description of the event appearing on the Heritage page:

Today, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana, four states have legalized the drug, and 23 states have passed so-called “medical marijuana” laws – despite the fact – that it is properly listed as a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance and the FDA does not recognize marijuana as a drug.  Big marijuana is big business and has added Libertarians and some small government conservatives to its traditional liberal base.  Public support for legalization has skyrocketed over the decades, from 12% in the 1970s to 51% today, down seven points from last year.

But just as public support has grown, so has the scientific understanding of the real dangers of marijuana. Scores of peer-reviewed studies published in the last two decades show how marijuana affects the brain, heart, lungs and mental health; how marijuana has become more potent and addictive; and how it is nothing like alcohol. Join us as our distinguished experts discuss the pot business, the science behind today’s marijuana, and why Americans should oppose legalization.

UPDATE at 12noon: I am in the midst of watching the Heritage event, and it is terrifically interesting. I will have some follow-up posts once the event is over with some generally commentary. But while the event is on-going, I feel compelled to note and lament that it appears that there is not a single person of color speaking among the eight scheduled speakers. I have been persistently concerned that much of the current debate and discussion of marijuana reform has not included diverse voices and perspectives, and this Heritage event (while otherwise first-rate in lots of respects) is aggravating this concern.

December 9, 2014 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Does new bill to make it easier for veterans to get medical marijuana stand any chance in Congress?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Huffington Post article headlined "Veterans May Gain Easier Access To Medical Marijuana."  Here are excerpts:

A bill introduced in Congress would allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana for their patients.  The Veterans Equal Access Act, introduced Thursday by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) with 10 bipartisan cosponsors, would lift a ban on VA doctors giving opinions or recommendations about medical marijuana to veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is permitted.

“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury are just as damaging and harmful as any injuries that are visible from the outside,” Blumenauer said.  “Sometimes even more so because of the devastating effect they can have on a veteran’s family.  We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”

Nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and depression, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Some scientists have suggested that marijuana may help PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks and depression.  In a recent study, patients who smoked cannabis saw an average 75 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms.  "A clinical trial needs to be done to see what proportion and what kind of PTSD patients benefit, with either cannabis or the main active ingredients of cannabis," said Dr. George Greer, who was involved in the study.

This year, federal health officials signed off on a study that would have examined the effects of five potencies of smoked or vaporized cannabis on 50 veterans suffering from PTSD. The study's future still remains unclear because the federal government's sole provider of medical-grade cannabis didn't have the proper strains for the research to begin. Then the study's lead scientist was fired from the University of Arizona, where the research would have taken place.

I have long thought that anyone who claims to support our troops and veterans ought to be active and vocally supporting more serious exploration of the potential benefits of allowing veterans to use marijuana as one way to deal with the difficult problems of PTSD and brain injuries. And because everyone in Congress claims to be a supporter of our troops and veterans, one might believe that the Veterans Equal Access Act should be the rare proposal that garners bipartisan support in Congress. But because the politics of drug policy rarely is free of divisiveness, I fear passage of this bill in either the current or new Congress may be an uphill battle given that the House of Representatives earlier this year rejected a similar measure.

A few prior related posts:

November 21, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jeffrey Miron explains "Why Congress should legalize pot"

CNN has this notable new commentary authored by Jeffrey Miron urging Congress to follow the lead of states on modern marijuana reform. (Miron is senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in the economics department at Harvard University as well as a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.) Here are excerpts:

Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana's legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized.

The strong claims made by legalization critics are not borne out in the data. Likewise, some strong claims by legalization advocates -- e.g., that marijuana tourism would be a major boom to the economy -- have also not materialized. The main impact of Colorado's legalization has been that marijuana users can now purchase and use with less worry about harsh legal ramifications.

Yet despite the compelling case for legalization, and progress toward legalization at the state level, ultimate success is not assured. Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.

Whether that will happen is hard to forecast. If more states legalize marijuana and public opinion continues its support, Washington may hesitate to push back. But federal prohibition creates problems even if enforcement is nominal: Marijuana business cannot easily use standard financial institutions and transactions technologies such as credit cards; physicians may still hesitate to prescribe marijuana; and medical researchers will still face difficulty in studying marijuana.

To realize the full potential of legalization, therefore, federal law must change. The best approach is to remove marijuana from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the federal law that governs prohibition.

Standard regulatory and tax policies would still apply to legalized marijuana, and states would probably adopt marijuana-specific regulations similar to those for alcohol (e.g., minimum purchase ages). State and federal governments might also impose "sin taxes," as for alcohol. But otherwise marijuana would be just another commodity, as it was before the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

A more cautious approach would have Congress reschedule marijuana under the CSA. Currently, marijuana is in Schedule I, which is reserved for drugs such as heroin and LSD that, according to the CSA, have "a high potential for abuse ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States ... [and] a lack of accepted safety for use."  Hardly anyone believes these conditions apply to marijuana.

If marijuana were in Schedule II, which states it as "a high potential for abuse ... [but a] currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," doctors could legally prescribe it under federal law, as with other Schedule II drugs such as cocaine, methadone and morphine....

This "medicalization" approach, while perhaps politically more feasible than full legalization, has serious drawbacks. Federal authorities such as the Drug Enforcement Administration could interfere with marijuana prescribing -- as sometimes occurs with opiate prescribing. Taxing medical marijuana may be harder than taxing recreational marijuana. And the medical approach risks a charge of hypocrisy, since it is backdoor legalization. But medicalization is still better than full prohibition, since it eliminates the black market.

For 77 years, the United States has outlawed marijuana, with tragic repercussions and unintended consequences. The public and their state governments are on track to rectify this terrible policy. Here's hoping Congress catches up.

November 19, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)