Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, January 23, 2017

Terrific UC Davis Law Review Symposium papers on "Disjointed Regulation: State Efforts to Legalize Marijuana"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Two notable new pieces from two notable marijuana reform states (co-authored by two notable former students who took my OSU College of Law marijuana seminar)

One of many reasons I have been bullish on teaching marijuana reform at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law is because I view the new marijuana reform universe to be a particularly exciting potential "growth industry" for junior lawyers.  For that reason (and others), I was so very pleased to see this week the publication of these two (very different) pieces discussing marijuana reform developments in two (very different) states that were both co-authored by students who took my marijuana reform class. Here are links to the pieces and their starting paragraphs:

From California here, "Reclassifying Marijuana Convictions on Your Criminal Record Under California's New Proposition 64," a piece co-authored by Cat Packer, who is now a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance based in California.

On November 8, 2016, Californians took a major step towards ending the war on drugs and repairing some of the damage inflicted on people’s lives by marijuana prohibition, by passing Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Although, the most serious marijuana-related crimes such as providing marijuana to minors, or attempting to smuggle marijuana across state lines remain felonies, under Prop. 64, most marijuana-related misdemeanors and felonies have been reduced or altogether eliminated. These sweeping reductions in criminal penalties are retroactive, meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated under Prop. 64 can be reclassified on a criminal record with the courts for free.

From Pennsylvania here, "Medical Marijuana Comes to Pennsylvania: What to Expect As the Keystone State Rolls Out its New Medical Marijuana Program," a piece co-authored by Kelly M. Flanigan, an Associate at K&L Gates

A lack of consensus regarding both medical and recreational marijuana has sparked intense debate across the country. Combined with federal law prohibitions, the state-by-state mosaic creates a dynamic legal landscape. Marijuana remains illegal federally and retains its classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.  However, 26 states and the District of Columbia have enacted state laws legalizing marijuana in some form.  On April 17, 2016, Pennsylvania joined other states that have recognized some medical use for marijuana when Governor Tom Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act (“Act 16”) into law.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (“DOH”) is charged with implementing Act 16, and it promptly developed the medical marijuana program.  The DOH has been rolling out temporary regulations (three sets so far) and it anticipates that medical marijuana will become available in Pennsylvania in early 2018.  The first critical date for those interested in becoming a medical marijuana organization is January 17, 2017, when the DOH releases its applications for grower/processors and dispensaries through its website.

January 19, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Trump’s marijuana options"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective Hill commentary authored by Beau Kilmer, who is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.  Here is the heart of the discussion:

The Obama administration has largely taken a hands-off approach, releasing a 2013 Department of Justice memo indicating that federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents should not use scarce resources to shut down state-legal operations in places that have “implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems.” To the Obama administration’s credit, the president did recently note marijuana legalization is “a debate that is now ripe” and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse called for more research to determine which “policy structures — beyond simply prohibition or free market — are most likely to keep harms to a minimum.”

No one knows what the Trump administration will do about marijuana, and Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general didn’t provide much insight. Will it follow Obama’s lead? Trudeau’s? Do something entirely different? The new administration will have at least six options.

Shut it down. The administration could crack down on marijuana businesses in states that have legalized for nonmedical purposes. It would be easy for DOJ to send out “cease and desist” letters to these companies and their landlords. However, there could be serious political costs with states arguing these federal actions would put people out of jobs, increase income for criminals and take tax dollars away from good causes.

Shape the markets. The DOJ could use its discretion to shape what the market looks like in the legalization states. Want to stop stores from selling and promoting high-potency products for nonmedical purposes? A letter could probably do the trick here, too. If not, seizing the products in a store or two could have a chilling effect.

Maintain the status quo. Doing nothing—and sticking with Obama’s approach—is always an option. This would likely lead more states to follow Colorado and Washington and grant licenses to marijuana companies incentivized to maximize profits instead of protecting public health.

Reclassify marijuana. The new administration could support rescheduling marijuana. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug—the most restrictive category—because the Food and Drug Administration remains unconvinced that the whole plant material has an accepted medical use. Rescheduling would make it easier to research the health consequences—benefits and harms—and could have implications for marijuana businesses.

Address federal-state conflicts. The new administration could maintain federal prohibition while supporting legislation or other solutions to address problems caused by the federal-state conflict. For example, banks that accept money from state-legal marijuana businesses are committing federal offenses. The inability to bank like other entities creates challenges for thousands of companies. The administration could also support the creation of a policy waiver system that would make it easier and less risky for states to legally experiment with alternatives to the profit-maximization model, such as the state monopoly approach. (That said, the risk of federal interference hasn’t stopped tiny North Bonneville in southern Washington state from creating a government-owned and -operated store).

Legalize it. The administration could support legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. This would address the federal-state conflicts and allow the feds to impose a national tax or minimum price. It would also be a blatant violation of the international drug conventions that the United States has signed along with almost every other nation on earth (including Canada).

These six options are not all mutually exclusive and each comes with tradeoffs. Importantly, they are all compatible with a federal approach that encourages and supports discussions about marijuana prohibition and its alternatives. But if the feds don’t act, it is possible the United States could end up with a much looser and more commercial marijuana model than if the federal government legalized or created a waiver system.

January 19, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2017

New public health research shows reduction in traffic fatalities in medical marijuana states

UntitledThis new press article, headlined "Study Links Medical Marijuana to Fewer Traffic Fatalities: The health and public safety concerns that kept marijuana illegal for generations are proving unfounded where it is now legal," reports on more good news emerging from public health research in medical marijuana states. Here are the details (with links from the original):

A new study from Columbia University found that traffic fatalities have fallen in seven states where medicinal cannabis is legal and that, overall, states where medical marijuana is legal have lower traffic fatality rates than states were medical marijuna remains illegal.

The study found that “medical marijuana laws were associated with immediate reductions in traffic fatalities in those aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 44 years, and with additional yearly gradual reductions in those aged 25 to 44 years.” Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states.

Seven researchers from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health worked on the study, with two more researchers from the University of California at Davis and Boston University. They published the study in the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers used traffic accident data from 1985 to 2014, about 1.2 million accidents. They focused on the relationship between medical marijuana laws and the number of fatal traffic accidents, examining each state with legalized medical marijuana separately.

They also looked at the relationship between the existence of medical marijuana dispensaries and traffic accidents, finding a reduction in the number of fatal accidents among those ages 25 to 44 in areas where dispensaries were open.

The researchers concluded that both medical marijuana legalization and dispensaries were, on average, associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities, particularly among drivers 25 to 44-years-old.

They suggested a few possibilities for this conclusion.

  • Those under the influence of marijuana are more aware of their impaired condition than those under the influence of alcohol and may more often make the choice not to drive.
  • More people have replaced going out to drink in bars with partaking of marijuana at home, reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road.
  • An increased police presence in areas where medical marijuana is legal could have led to fewer people attempting to drive while under the influence of marijuana.

“Instead of seeing an increase in fatalities, we saw a reduction, which was totally unexpected,” Julian Santaella-Tenorio, the lead researcher on the study, told Reuters.

January 13, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New survey data on police perspectives indicates strong majority oppose blanket marijuana prohibition

ImrsToday the fine folks at the Pew Research Center released the results of a huge national survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform (basics here, full report here). The survey covered a lot of ground, including police views on marijuana, and Christopher Ingraham has this Wonkblog posting on this topic under the headline "Survey: Two-thirds of cops say marijuana laws should be relaxed." Here are the details there reported:

A Pew Research Center survey of nearly 8,000 police officers finds that more than two-thirds of them say that marijuana use should be legal for either personal or medical use.

The nationally representative survey of law enforcement, one of the largest of its kind, found that 32 percent of police officers said marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, while 37 percent said it should be legal for medical use only.  An additional 30 percent said that marijuana should not be legal at all.

Police are more conservative than the general public on the issue.  Among all Americans, Pew found that 49 percent supported recreational marijuana, 35 percent supported medical marijuana only, and 15 percent said the drug should not be legal.

Pew also found a generational divide among cops on the marijuana issue, although not as large as the one that exists among the general public.  Officers under age 35 were more likely to support recreational marijuana (37 percent) than those between the ages of 50 and 60 (27 percent).  Among the general public, those numbers stand at 67 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

Law enforcement groups have often been among the staunchest opponents of marijuana legalization measures.  In 2016, such groups made small but significant contributions to oppose legalization measures in California and Arizona, citing concerns over issues such as underage use and intoxicated driving.  “You hear people say it’s not as bad as alcohol,” George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, told the Orange County Register last year.  “But if you smoke marijuana and drive, it does impair you.”

But as the Pew survey indicates, there's considerable variation in views on marijuana use among the rank-and-file. The group LEAP — Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — was founded in 2002 for active-duty and retired police officers to speak out “about the failures of our existing drug policies.”  The group has been particularly active in campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere.

Diane Goldstein, a retired Lieutenant Commander for the Redondo Beach Police Department and LEAP board member, said she's not surprised to see that police officers have more conservative attitudes than the public on marijuana legalization.  “Law enforcement continues to represent an outlier view on this issue because police are trained with outdated, unscientific, drug-war-oriented materials.”  But she added that “the poll reflects a positive attitude shift when you see that it’s only 1 in 3 police officers who believe marijuana should remain illegal.”

January 11, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

NJ ad law judge says insurance company must pay for medical marijuana for injured worker

Workers-compensation-lawyer-columbus-ga-1This local article, headlined "Judge: Insurance company must pay for medical marijuana for injured N.J. worker," reports on what would seem to be a significant ruling from an administrative law judge in New Jersey. Here are the details from the press report:

In what could be a precedent-setting decision, a New Jersey administrative law judge has ordered an insurance company to pay for medical marijuana for an injured worker who suffers from lingering neuropathic pain in his left hand after an accident while using a power saw at an 84 Lumber outlet in 2008.

Judge Ingrid L. French took testimony from the worker, a 39-year-old Egg Harbor Township man, and a Cherry Hill psychiatrist/neurologist who said the marijuana treatment was appropriate because it would allow the patient to reduce his prescription opiate use and lower the risk of serious side effects.

Andrew Watson was seeking reimbursement for marijuana he had purchased at a dispensary in his Atlantic County township over three months in 2014 after enrolling in the state's program. He also sought a ruling that would allow him to be covered for the treatment in the future.

French issued her opinion last month, saying "the evidence presented in these proceedings show that the petitioner's 'trial' use of medicinal marijuana has been successful. While the court is sensitive to the controversy surrounding the medicinal use of marijuana, whether or not it should be prescribed for a patient in a state where it is legal to prescribe it is a medical decision that is within the boundaries of the laws in the state."

The opinion did not state the reimbursement owed Watson, although his attorney said the marijuana itself cost less than $1,000 because it was only three ounces.

John Gearney, a Mount Laurel lawyer who writes a weekly blog on workers' compensation cases, says the written ruling may be the first in New Jersey to address whether an insurer should pay for marijuana. "It's not binding, but it's really an important decision. There are about 50 workers' compensation judges in the state, and they will read it and see what the judge thought when a case like it comes before them," he said.

Gearney, of the Capehart Scatchard firm, said the only other court ruling he had heard of involving medical marijuana and workers' compensation came when a New Mexico appeals court decided a few years ago that an injured worker was entitled to marijuana treatment. In that case, the court ruled that marijuana was "reasonable and necessary" for an injured worker who had reported that traditional treatments had not alleviated his pain.

John Carvelli, a Mount Laurel lawyer who represented Gallagher Bassett Services, a third-party administrator for 84 Lumber's insurance company, said in an email Thursday: "With respect to the recent decision, we respect the court's decision. . . . At this juncture there is no plan to appeal."...

Philip Faccenda, a Cherry Hill lawyer who represented Watson, said the decision might benefit insurance companies, too. "We believe this will offer very powerful cost savings with respect to the entire workers' compensation industry in New Jersey. . . . More costly pharmaceuticals can be reduced and medical marijuana would be a less expensive treatment modality," he said.

Faccenda said that his client stopped using marijuana in 2014 because he could not afford to continue paying for it. The insurance carrier continued to pay for his use of opiates to treat his pain. The decision means Watson can resume using marijuana, he said.

French wrote in her eight-page decision that Watson's testimony was credible. "He testified that the effects of the marijuana, in many ways, is not as debilitating as the effects of the Percocet (which is how he refers to his prescriptions for Endocet or Oxycodone). . . . Ultimately, the petitioner was able to reduce his use of oral narcotic medication. . . . The court found the petitioner's approach to his pain management needs has been cautious, mature, and overall, he is exceptionally conscientious in managing his pain."

French also wrote that Watson's expert witness, Cherry Hill psychiatrist Edward H. Tobe, described the benefits Watson can obtain by using marijuana and also described the risks of taking opiates. "Opiates can shut down breathing (whereas) marijuana cannabinoids won't . . . Marijuana does not affect the mid-brain. The mid-brain is critical in controlling respiration, heart rate, many of the life-preserving elements," he said, according to an excerpt of his testimony that was included in the judge's opinion.

Tobe said using marijuana, combined with less opiate use, would likely benefit Watson and help him "achieve better function." French said the evidence convinced her that Watson was entitled to participate in the marijuana program and that doing so was "reasonable and necessary" to relieve his continuing pain.

I cannot find the ruling discussed here on line, but more about the ruling can be gleaned from this posting at the NJ Workers' Comp Blog.

January 8, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Court Rulings, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New batch of states to watch for possible major marijuana reform developments in 2017

ImagesIt seems unlikely that any year will end up rivaling 2016 when it comes to state-level marijuana reform.  In addition to the eight marijuana reform ballot initiatives that passed in November (four involving recreational reform, four involving medical reform), two big rust-belt states enacted significant medical marijuana reforms as well (Ohio and Pennsylvania). How these new reforms get implemented throughout 2017 arguably is a more important story for marijuana reforms to follow than what might happen (or not happen) in a bunch of new states.

These 2016 realities not withstanding,  this new Weed News article does a very effective job spotlighting the states and issues within that seem likely to keep state-level marijuana stories quite dynamic in the year to come.  The article if headlined "7 States To Watch In 2017 For Marijuana Legalization," and here are excerpts meant to provide a mini-summary:

Delaware

The recreational legalization of cannabis is expected to be discussed by the state’s officials in early 2017. Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, during a Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee meeting in October 2016, said: “It’s time to certainly look at it.” The state lawmaker has pledged to introduce a bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis, and a recent University of Delaware poll shows that 61 percent of residents surveyed support legalization, according to recent reports from the Delaware State News and The Wilmington News Journal....

Rhode Island

After neighboring state Massachusetts fully legalized cannabis for adults over 21, Rhode Island is expecting cannabis legalization in 2017. “We’re looking at it,” said Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo, Providence Journal reported on Oct. 29. “If I could get myself comfortable that we, the state, could legalize in a way that keeps people safe, keeps children safe, folks aren’t getting sick, then I would be in favor.”...

New Jersey

Despite Gov. Chris Christie being opposed to cannabis legalization, lawmakers are ready to explore the possibility. Bills to tax and regulate marijuana were introduced in the New Jersey Assembly by both Democrat (Reed Gusciora) and Republican (Michael Patrick Carroll) lawmakers in 2016. In addition, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have travelled to Colorado to learn more about legalization there and were excited by what they learned. Stephen Sweeney, the Senate President, said: “I am absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated. It’s safe, it’s well managed.” He also declared that lawmakers “intend to move quickly” to pass a bill as soon as Gov. Chris Christie leaves office; his promised veto seems to be the only remaining impediment to progress in New Jersey....

Texas

Texas is making decriminalization a priority on its 2017 lawmaking agenda. State officials will consider reducing charges for possession by adopting a model that fines people $250 without giving them a criminal record. Five cannabis related items are on the table for the 85th Session. State Senator José Rodríguez and state Representatives Moody, Dutton and White have all sponsored legislation this session making it easier to use cannabis and lessen penalties if a person is caught.

Last year, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act, which was intended to allow access to low-THC cannabis for those with intractable epilepsy. This year for 2017, Senator Menéndez (D-San Antonio) pre-filed SB 269, a comprehensive medical cannabis bill. Sen. Menéndez’s bill will make several improvements, including fixing a fatal flaw in the bill, allowing cannabis with any amount of THC, and expanding the law to include other qualifying conditions. As Senator Menéndez says, “Compassion should not be exclusive. Twenty-eight states have recognized the medical benefit of cannabis, including conservative states like Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota … It is time Texas steps up to the plate on behalf of our sickest patients.”

Kentucky

“The time of laughing and snickering about marijuana and marijuana cigarettes is over. We’ve got serious businessmen who have approached me on this now and say they are taking it to the governor,” Sen. Perry Clark told The Courier-Journal last year. Almost one year after filing the Cannabis Freedom Act, Kentucky State Senator Perry Clark has pre-filed a bill for the 2017 legislative season that pertains to legalizing cannabis in the state. Filed in December 2016 for the January, 2017, legislative season, the new bill is called the Cannabis Compassion Act and is filed as BR 409. Nevertheless, little has changed between the wording of the proposed laws of 2015, 2016, and the new 2017 Cannabis Freedom Act....

New Mexico

Rep. Bill McCamley has suggested the state could use cannabis legalization as a way to resolve New Mexico’s $600 million deficit and, according to a poll conducted by the Albuquerque Journal in October, 61 percent of New Mexico’s voters would support the recreational use of cannabis. With the newly-elected Democratic majority in both the New Mexico House and Senate, proponents of recreational cannabis predict several proposed bills will be discussed on the floor in the legislature at the next general session in early 2017....

Vermont

Bernie Sanders home state of Vermont almost passed adult-use legalization in 2016 and is expected to take up the issue again in 2017. In February 2016, the Vermont Senate voted 17-12 to pass S.B. 241, which would have allowed adults ages 21 and older to use cannabis and regulated a tax system for cannabis-based products. The measure failed in the House, but according to the Marijuana Policy Project, Vermont will reconsider legislation in 2017, encouraged by neighboring states that are just a short drive away, such as Massachusetts and Maine passing cannabis legalization measures in 2016. This could convince new Republican governor Phil Scott to support legalization this year, as researchers found the state could potentially rake in up to $75 million annually in taxes by regulating cannabis. Vermont’s next legislative session is scheduled to open in January 2017, there will be a new House speaker and a new Senate leader.

Missouri

Two lawmakers in Missouri have filed proposals for the upcoming 2017 legislation to legalize medical cannabis and create a comprehensive statewide medical cannabis program.The two bills, Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Jason Holsman (D), and Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Rob Schaaf (R), were pre-filed earlier in December 2016. With Republicans holding a super-majority in the state Senate, SB 153 could have the upper hand, however. Passage of either of these bills could finally bring a true medical cannabis program to Missouri. In 2014, Missouri lawmakers passed a limited medical cannabis bill to allow some patients with intractable epilepsy access to products containing marijuana extracts with THC amounts below 0.3%.

Voters in Missouri narrowly missed out on a chance to vote on a comprehensive medical cannabis bill in the November elections when thousands of signatures collected by proponents were invalidated in court, leaving the measure off the ballot. Polling results released in June found that 62% of Missouri voters supported the referendum, with only 27% opposed, making it highly likely that it would have been approved by voters had they gotten the chance to do so. Senate Bill 56 is very similar to the proposal that would have appeared on the November ballot.

January 3, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Interesting results from early Ohio survey of state doctors concerning medical marijuana

This new local piece, headlined "Survey finds Ohio physicians not yet sold on medical marijuana," reports on the results of a notable poll taken of Buckeye state doctors concerning medical marijuana. Here are the details:

Only 3 in 10 Ohio doctors responding to a State Medical Board survey indicated they will be likely to recommend medical marijuana to patients under a new state law.

The board received responses from 3,000 of the state's 46,000 medical and osteopathic doctors during a survey in September. The results were announced at a meeting of the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee on Thursday. About 40 percent of respondents say they would not be likely to recommend medical marijuana, 30 percent said they would be likely, and the remaining 30 percent were neutral or had no opinion.

Many physicians surveyed said they might change their mind if the federal Drug Enforcement Administration changed marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug, if they had more peer-reviewed research on the subject, or if they training and education.

The law effective Sept. 8 allows certified physicians to recommend, not prescribe, medical pot for patients with any of 21 qualifying diseases and medical conditions. The rules for the program are just now being proposed. Patients probably won't have access to the drug until Sept. 2018.

December 16, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nutmeg state gearing up for northern neighbor bringing some cannabis spice

This local article, headlined "Connecticut prepares for consequences of Massachusetts marijuana legalization," provides still more evidence for the reality that marijuana legalization in Massachusetts really means marijuana reform for much of New England. Here are excerpts from the article:

Police Chief Ricky Hayes of Putnam, Connecticut, is not too worried about Massachusetts legalizing marijuana -- yet. "I don't think we're that concerned right now," Hayes said. "Once they get into the dispensing and selling, we may have a lot of people traveling from Connecticut into Massachusetts to try to do some purchasing."

Recreational marijuana became legal in Massachusetts on Thursday, the result of a ballot vote in November. Residents can now grow a limited quantity of marijuana plants at home and can possess marijuana legally. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and transporting marijuana across state lines is a federal crime. But a state like neighboring Connecticut could still see an increase in people bringing marijuana across the border.

After Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, attorneys general in neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the law because their states were seeing an influx of marijuana coming from Colorado. The Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit. Some Connecticut law enforcement officials say the bigger impact of Massachusetts' legalization is likely to hit a year from now. Although marijuana was legal to possess as of Thursday, legal retail sales are not expected to be up and running for at least another year, since the state must develop regulations and a licensing process. So there is still no legal method for buying the drug in Massachusetts....

Some Connecticut lawmakers have been pushing for a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in that state. Although the bill did not pass in 2016, the Legislature is expected to consider it again, and it is possible Massachusetts' legalization could boost that effort....

Another question is what impact Massachusetts' legal marijuana will have on Connecticut's medical marijuana program. It is illegal under state law for a Connecticut medical marijuana patient to buy marijuana in Massachusetts or anywhere other than in a licensed dispensary in Connecticut. But that does not mean some patients, or potential patients, will not find it easier to bypass Connecticut's medical system and buy marijuana across the border.

Lora Rae Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the medical marijuana program, said she hopes patients have been satisfied enough with the medical marijuana system not to buy their marijuana in Massachusetts. "We want patients to have an experience that is medical, supported by doctors, that helps remedy their severe debilitating condition and is compliant with state law," Anderson said.

A medical marijuana patient in Connecticut must be certified by a doctor, then discuss their needs with a dispensary pharmacist. "We have a very highly regulated and specific medical model to our program here, so people here have a very different experience going to a dispensary facility, which is regulated like a pharmacy, than you would going into a store where you purchase medical marijuana," Anderson said. She added that the types of marijuana that are sold in dispensaries are different products from what a person would buy in a retail store. "It's a medication, not a drug," Anderson said.

December 16, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Veterans group gets attention when urging Trump team to seek to reschedule marijuana

Tom Angell has this interesting report, headlined "Powerful Veterans Group Pushes Trump On Marijuana Rescheduling," on an interesting discussion of marijuana reform among conservative-leaning folks. Here are the highlights:

The nation’s largest military veterans organization is pushing President-elect Donald Trump to reschedule marijuana after he takes office early next year. Top officials from the American Legion, which passed a resolution endorsing the reclassification of cannabis under federal law earlier this year, sat down with Trump’s transition team last week to discuss key priorities for the more than 2 million military veterans the organization represents, including marijuana policy reform.

The group “initiated a call-to-action on fairly new Legion priorities – support of research related to the impacts of medical marijuana and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III,” according to a summary of the meeting on the American Legion’s website. “Reclassification of the drug would allow easier access to pure strains of the substance to cultivate quantifiable research and statistics regarding marijuana’s medical benefits.”

Louis Celli, national director of the Legion’s veterans affairs and rehabilitation division, told Marijuana.com that the Trump officials at the meeting were somewhat guarded in giving feedback on specific issues during the listening session, but that when cannabis’s potential to help heal military veterans war wounds came up, “there was an immediate change in the room.”

“All shuffling stopped, people stopped looking down at their notes, and instantly all eyes were on [Legion Executive Director] Verna Jones and everyone was transfixed and intently hanging on her every word,” Celli said. “I can’t speak for how the transition team felt, but there seemed to be a small shock that snapped the room to attention. No read on how the information was received, but I think they were a little caught off guard and didn’t expect such a progressive statement from such a traditional and conservative organization.”

There were also representatives of more than 30 other veterans service organizations at the meeting....

Moving marijuana out of Schedule I — or, removing it from the CSA altogether, like alcohol and tobacco — would have a number of effects. Reclassification to Schedule III or lower, as the American Legion is pushing for, would protect federal employees who use marijuana from a Reagan-era executive order that defines illegal drugs as Schedule I or II substances.

Additionally, only drugs under Schedules I and II are affected by the tax provision known as “280E,” which disallows state-legal businesses from deducting normal operational expenses from their federal taxes.

Because current laws and regulations prevent the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy from fairly evaluating Schedule I drugs, reclassification would allow the government to examine and communicate about marijuana in a way that prioritizes science instead of an outdated drug war mindset....

But rescheduling alone would not remove the criminal penalties that still put people abiding by state marijuana laws at risk of federal prosecution and prison sentences. Other statutes would have to be amended to accomplish that.

December 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"It’s Time to Let Mary Jane Graduate: Reclassify Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Observer commentary authored by Faisal Ansari. The fact that this piece comes from the Observer is one reason it is notable, as the publisher of the Observer is Jared Kushner, son-in-law of Prez Elect Donald Trump. Here is how the piece begins:

Back in the 1970s, the federal government labeled marijuana as the devil’s lettuce, giving it a Schedule 1 classification. Since then, public perception regarding the plant has shifted drastically — but the government has continued to cling to its archaic stance.

In fact, just a few months ago, the Drug Enforcement Agency once again refused to reclassify marijuana, referring to Health and Human Service reports that claimed it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

But those reports stem from the fact that research into marijuana’s medicinal properties has been hindered by politics for decades. Thanks to its strict classification, federal agencies have not been terribly eager to fund or support scientific studies that could potentially debunk many misconceptions that plague the plant.

Placing marijuana in the same category as drugs like ecstasy and heroin isn’t just a bummer for stereotypical “stoners”; it poses serious problems for millions of people who are in dire need of safe, natural, more affordable forms of medicine.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Following our recent election, the number of states that grant citizens access to medical marijuana (MMJ) has grown to 26, and a grand total of eight states have now legalized cannabis for recreational use. An all-time-high 61 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization — and soon enough, the government will have no choice but to reschedule it to a lower category.

Currently, those who live in non-MMJ-friendly states are forced to uproot their lives if they want to seek natural medical relief. And, even if they move to a different state, there’s no guarantee they can easily access MMJ. Insurance companies cannot cover a federally restricted substance, so doctor visits, exams, and other diagnostic services must be paid for out of pocket. Not everyone can afford that. In fact, some patients consider MMJ because they already can’t afford pharmaceutical drugs.

Reclassifying marijuana won’t just revolutionize the healthcare industry; it will also positively affect the overall financial state of the country. Though only available in a small handful of states, legalized marijuana generated $4.6 billion in sales in 2014 and $5.4 billion in 2015. The tax revenue from these sales is being leveraged in a variety of productive ways — from improving local infrastructure to providing services to those in need. For example, Colorado is allocating $3 million from marijuana taxes to feed and house the homeless.

December 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"7 Reasons President Trump Is Unlikely to Fight Legal Marijuana"

America_We_DeserveThe title of this post is the headline of this effective new Time magazine article.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some key excerpts and major headings:

With Donald Trump nominating Cabinet members who have spoken out against legal marijuana, some are arguing that the war on drugs may make a comeback. But while there’s reason for anxiety among those selling recreational marijuana legally in states like Colorado and Washington, an all-out war remains unlikely.

Experts say that trying to undo legalization at this point would come with serious economic and political hurdles. “It’s certainly come so far,” says Sam Kamin, a marijuana law expert at the University of Denver, “that it can’t be undone without a heavy cost.” Others are even more skeptical. Says Mike Vitiello, a marijuana law expert at the University of the Pacific, “It’s kind of like illegal immigration: You can’t build a wall high enough.”

Here are seven reasons that it would be hard to stop what the states have started.

Waging a war on pot would go against the will of many voters.

“It would be a very blatant finger to the voters,” says the Drug Policy Alliance’s Amanda Reiman. In November, voters in eight states cast their ballots for some form of marijuana legalization. That means that medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and recreational marijuana is legal in eight, including the nation’s most populous: California. With that powerhouse on board, a total of about one quarter of the population lives in a place where voters have decided that adults should be able to consume cannabis much the same way they consume alcohol. And all but six other states have legalized a non-psychoactive form of cannabis known as CBD, which people use to treat conditions like juvenile epilepsy.

Public opinion on marijuana is going in the opposite direction. ...

Trump himself has said he supports medical marijuana and that states should handle the question of whether to legalize. ...

It does not seem high on his list of priorities. ...

Waging a war costs money. ...

There’s a lot of money in marijuana these days and the prospect of much more in the future.

If legal marijuana markets didn’t exist tomorrow, that would mean the shuttering of hundreds of small businesses and the loss of thousands of jobs. It would buoy the black market. And it would also make for a lot of unhappy investors. The market for legal marijuana in America is already worth an estimated $7 billion and, according to market research firm ArcView, it will be worth more than $20 billion by 2020. While many bigwig venture capitalists and corporations are still wary of writing checks because of prohibition, others are proving eager to cash in on the “green rush.” Among them is even a member of Trump’s transition team, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. “There’s a huge amount of capital formation,” says Vitiello. “There are literally billions of dollars of investment in these gray market establishments.”

The extent of federal government’s authority over these matters is unclear. 

December 8, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, 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, December 5, 2016

Bring it, Jeff: why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive

Lead_960The title of this post is my (foolish?) reaction to this notable new Politico magazine article headlined "Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana: There’s little to stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters." Here are excerpts from the start of the article which I follow with a (too brief) explanation for my blunt "bring it" bravado:

By nominating Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for attorney general, President-elect Donald J. Trump is about to put into the nation’s top law enforcement job a man with a long and antagonistic attitude toward marijuana. As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK "were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In April, he said, “Good people don't smoke marijuana,” and that it was a "very real danger" that is “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Sessions, who turns 70 on Christmas Eve, has called marijuana reform a "tragic mistake" and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing a the federal prohibition that President Obama has called “untenable over the long term.”  In a floor speech earlier this year, Senator Sessions said: "You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink… It is different….It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”

Sessions has not shared his plans on marijuana enforcement, but if he chooses, he will be able to act decisively and quickly — more so perhaps than with any other of his top agenda items such as re-doubling efforts to combat illegal immigration and relaxing oversight of local police forces and federal civil rights laws. With little more than the stroke of his own pen, the new attorney general will be able to arrest growers, retailers and users, defying the will of more than half the nation’s voters, including those in his own state who approved the use of CBD. Aggressive enforcement could cause chaos in a $6.7 billion industry that is already attracting major investment from Wall Street hedge funds and expected to hit $21.8 billion by 2020.

And so far, Congress has shown no interest in trying to stop the Sessions nomination, at least on this issue. Even members who are in favor of protecting states from federal interference on the marijuana issue have said they support Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general: “I strongly support Jeff Sessions as Attorney General,” said Representative Tom McClintock, Republican from California. “He is a strict constitutionalist who believes in the rule of law. I would expect that he will respect the prerogative of individual states to determine their own laws involving strictly intra-state commerce.”

There are dozens of reasons I think it would be quite foolish as a matter of constitutional law and sound federal policing priorities for future Attorney General Jeff Sessions to start his tenure by using broad federal police powers to criminally prosecute tens of thousands of players in a growing recreational marijuana industry.  This industry is already well-established and producing thousands of jobs and tens of millions in tax revenues in Colorado, Oregon and Washington; it is now gearing up for growth in Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Nevada and maybe Maine.

In the most simple of terms, it would be foolish for the Trump/Sessions Administration to try to "Make America Great Again" via tough federal pot prohibition enforcement because it would show to all who care to pay attention that the GOP's purported affinity for personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights is a huge bunch of hooey.  But I genuinely believe that most younger GOP Senators — e.g., folks like Ted Cruz, my wish pick for AG, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott— have always voiced a genuine commitment to personal freedoms, free markets, limited government and states' rights.  Consequently, I do not think these important GOP voices are going to be quick to bless any efforts by future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.

Moreover, and completely missing from the facile analysis in this superficial Politico article, even if future AG Jeff Sessions were eager to bring back an era of national federal Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat for the emerging recreational marijuana industry, there will still be the bigger and stronger and much more consequential medical marijuana industry chugging along — especially in so many swing/red states that were critical to the election of Donald J. Trump circa 2016.  I am thinking here specifically of now-red states like Arizona and Florida and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Those now-red states alone add up to nearly 100 electoral votes that a whole bunch of Dems would love to win back in 2018 and 2020; and they are all states that, I think, could easily go back into the Dem column if/when establishment Dems finally figure out that medical marijuana reform in a winning issue worth promoting forcefully.  (I have blogged here an explanation for my claim in a post at my other blog that Voter math suggests a possible Hillary landslide IF she had championed marijuana reform.)

Importantly, in this post I have only outlined some obvious political/policy reasons for why I think it would be foolish (and ultimately unlikely) for future AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to bring back an era of national federal pot Prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  In a future post, assuming readers are interested, I can explain all the reasons I think the other two branches of the federal government — Congress and the federal judiciary — can and would and should find an array of means to "stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters."  Given that Congress and federal judges over the last eight years have done a whole lot to preclude the Obama Administration from doing too much by executive fiat,  everyone concerned about criminal justice and marijuana policy in the Trumpian future much keep in mind that the Framers gave us a wonderful federal system of check-and-balances that has been pretty effective at keeping the big bad federal government from doing too many stupid things that are obviously against the considered will of the people.

Just sayin'

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy, and Reform

December 5, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Golden State NBA MJ fan: Steve Kerr as (unlikely?) medical marijuana advocate

Core_package_smallWhen I think of MJ and the NBA, my thoughts generally run to Michael Jordan.  But the head coach of the Golden State Warriors is now doing his best to ensure I think of marijuana reform when MJ and the NBA comes up. This local article, headlined "Warriors coach Steve Kerr strengthens stance advocating medical marijuana over painkillers," highlights some reasons why:

On Friday, Steve Kerr did what he does every day. He scrolled his phone, surfed the web and searched for NBA headlines. He saw some of the usual stuff, but, also, one plastered everywhere that caught his eye: Kerr uses pot. “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Kerr said. “But I do find it ironic that if I said I used OxyContin for relief for my back pain, it would not have been a headline.

Kerr went on a CSN Bay Area podcast earlier in the day and had an extended discussion about the dangers of pain-killers. In it, he revealed that he tried marijuana a couple times over the past 18 months to try to relieve his back pain. It didn’t work. But within his research, he found medicinal marijuana to be far less dangerous than the pain pills prescribed to athletes.

He said he had no interest in making it into a major story. But he now doesn’t seem to mind that it has taken off in that direction because it has given him a chance to speak out against an issue he feels quite passionate. In his Saturday night pregame media session, Kerr talked for five-plus minutes on the subject.

“You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet,” Kerr said. “NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous. The addiction possibility, what it could lead to, the long-term health risks. So the issue that is really important is: How do we do what’s best for the players? But I understand it’s a perception issue around the country. NFL, NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking these guys are a bunch of potheads. That’s what it is. But to me it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues. Because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you. The stuff that they’re banning is fine. Again, it’s perception. But I do think it’s a matter of time. You can see it with our country. Our country is starting to wisen up on the medicinal marijuana side. But I hope we can wisen up on the prescription drug side. That’s scary stuff and it’s really not talked about very often.”

Kerr said the “conversation is important” and continued. “I’m always struck every time I’m at home on the couch watching a sporting event, some drug commercial comes on and they show these happy people jumping in a lake, rowing a boat,” he said. “And you just wait for the qualifier: ‘Side effects include suicidal thoughts and possible death.’ And you’re just like this is insane. It’s insane. It really is. And yet the stigma is not on those drugs being prescribed day and night to anybody. The stigma is on something that’s relatively harmless.”

Kerr was then asked whether he feels the NBA should deal with the issue in the upcoming CBA, which will reportedly be finalized in the next few weeks. “I think the league should look into the use of medicinal marijuana for pain relief,” Kerr said. “As far as recreational, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about pain relief, what’s best for our players health. That’s what should be in the CBA. And that’s what our owners and our league and our player’s union should be the most concerned with. And maybe part of that is educating the public about how bad some of the stuff our players are given for pain relief actually is. So the education is important and I think as the public gets more educated and people get more educated, there will ultimately be a policy that includes medicinal CBD, oils, whatever is best suited for pain. Hopefully that’s something that comes in the next CBA, but I have no idea. That’s not my responsibility.”

Earlier in the day, Warriors forward Draymond Green was asked about the subject. He said he’d never used marijuana, but agreed with Kerr’s comments about why it’s far safer than pain-killers. “It makes a lot of sense,” Green said. “You look at something that comes from the Earth — any vegetable that comes from the Earth, they encourage you to eat it, you know? So I guess it does make a little sense, as opposed to giving someone a manufactured pill. Like, if something takes your pain away the way some of these pills do, it can’t be all good for you. So I guess it makes a lot of sense, when you look at, he talked about Vicodin and Toradol — like, you can be completely hurting and then take a Toradol shot and go through a game and feel nothing. Is that really good for you over the course of time? I doubt it.”...

Kerr may no longer be using medical marijuana. But he’s planted himself at the forefront of the discussion surrounding it. “I just urge people to do your research before you start taking the stuff we’re all encouraged to take,” he said. “And I always feel bad for the NFL guys. Playing in the NBA, I had lots of injuries, plenty of pain. I never took anything like the opioids we’re talking about. But NFL guys, those guys are basically in a car wreck every week. Sometimes twice in five days which is another issue. But when they’re prescribed that, it’s really scary. Especially when they’re prescribed by team doctors when you do research on the possible repercussions.”

Some prior related posts on sports leagues and marijuana reform:

As a few NFL players continue to talk up medical marijuana, what are the marijuana reform views of all the new NBA multi-millionaires?

Responding to election results, NFL Players Association moving forward on studying marijuana for pain relief

How will legalization of marijuana effect sports leagues policies regarding marijuana use?

 

December 4, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The Case for Pot in the Age of Opioids: Legalizing medical marijuana could save lives that may otherwise be lost to opioid addiction."

ImrsThe title of this post is the headline of this U.S. News & World Report commentary on a topic that I hope continues to get more and more attention. Here is how the piece gets started (with links from the original):

Medical marijuana legalization won big this Election Day. Thanks to ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota, 26 states and Washington, D.C. now have medical marijuana laws. Four states also legalized recreational marijuana, adding to the national trend.

As states embrace pot, the federal government should follow suit and move toward legalizing medical marijuana nationwide to help save lives. In states where medical marijuana is legal, fewer lives are lost to opioid overdoses. Save lives by legally smoking weed? Yes.

Those in favor of marijuana legalization for medical use have strong evidence to support that marijuana is a useful treatment for many diseases. These include the treatment ofseizures, chronic pain and supportive care for those enduring cancer treatment.

Just as important, opioid overdose deaths dropped by approximately 25 percent in states that passed medical marijuana laws, compared to states that have not, according to Johns Hopkins' Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research. That's something we can't overlook.

Yet pharmaceutical companies want us to ignore this data. In states where medical marijuana is legal, fewer opioid prescriptions are written compared to states where marijuana is illegal. This means that fewer people are buying the opioid drugs that are so profitable to the pharmaceutical companies.

The number of people dying from opioid abuse in the United States has been steadily rising. We can estimate now that approximately 43,000 people will die in the United States from accidental overdoses this year, a number that has grown in the past decade.

Legalizing medical marijuana probably will save lives that would otherwise be lost to opioid abuse and addiction. And as more states move to legalize recreational marijuana, providing even greater access to the drug, one could argue opioid use may drop more.

The states clearly understand that marijuana has medical benefits. Now, we need to look beyond the states to change laws on a national level. Failing to do so will end lives that we likely could save. Most notably, marijuana needs to be removed from Schedule 1, so that it can be prescribed and researched more thoroughly.

December 1, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Given latest opioid death data, should Ohio officials be fast-tracking access to medical marijuana?

Heroin_series_logo_WEBRegular readers of this blog know that one of the most encouraging pieces of modern marijuana research comes from the growing evidence suggesting that deaths from opioid overdoses are lower in states that have functional medical marijuana programs.  (See prior discussions here and here and here.)  For that reason, when I see this new article from my local paper, headlined "Ohio leads nation in overdose deaths," I immediately think it is time for all Ohio officials to try to shift the state's new medical marijuana law into high gear.  Here is the ugly deadly data (which actually is based only on 2014 fatalities):

In a grim statistic that surprises no one close to the problem, Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths, a new report shows. Along with the overall category, Ohio also had the country's most deaths related to heroin: One in 9 heroin deaths across the U.S. happened in Ohio.  The Buckeye State also recorded the most deaths from synthetic opioids: About 1 in 14 U.S. deaths.

In all the categories, Ohio easily surpassed states with larger populations. According to state-by-state statistics compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2,106 opioid overdoses were reported in Ohio in 2014, which was 7.4 percent of the 28,647 deaths reported nationwide that year. California ranked second with 2,024 deaths and New York was third with 1,739.

The statistics are troubling but probably aren’t news to many law enforcement officials, treatment providers and families of addicts in Ohio who have seen the number of overdose deaths shoot up every year lately. Ohio’s status as the nation’s OD capital may continue. The state’s overdose deaths rocketed to 3,050 last year and are expected to burst past that number in 2016.

The Kaiser analysis, compiled from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information, showed Ohio had the highest number of deaths from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, with 590 deaths out of 5,544 nationally, or 7.4 percent. Finally, Ohio also had the dubious distinction of having the most heroin deaths in 2014, 1,208 of 10,574 nationally, or 11.4 percent, the Kaiser statistics showed.

Tellingly, the MUCH bigger states of California and New York both have medical marijuana programs (though New York's is still in its infancy), and I suspect that marijuana access is generally greater in a number of other larger prohibition states (e.g., Texas and Florida) relative to Ohio. Critically, I am not asserting that marijuana reform alone is a magic solution to opioid overdose problems or even that Ohio's new medical marijuana program will make a major difference in this arena. But I am asserting that, at a time of a deadly opioid crisis that has only gotten worse and worse each year, state officials ought to be embracing any and every public policy response that research suggests might be of help. Marijuana reform would seem to be on any serious list of public policy responses that research suggests might be of help in this time of crisis.

Some prior related posts:

November 29, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Some notable new stories and discussions of NFL policies and NFL players' use of marijuana

Regular readers know I find fascinating the intersection of MJ reform and NFL realities.  Two recent pieces, as linked and excerpted below, highlight these realities:

"NFL player using marijuana for Crohn’s disease may press league over its drug policy":

Seantrel Henderson, a third-year offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills, is facing his second suspension of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse rules. But Henderson’s case is unusual because it raises fresh questions about the approach to pain management and changing attitudes about the legalization of marijuana.

What makes Henderson’s situation unique is that he uses marijuana, which is legal in many states but prohibited under the collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, to combat the pain from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that just this year has caused him to have two surgeries. In January, 2 1/2 feet of his colon were removed and in April he underwent surgery to reattach his intestines. In the interim, he wore an ileostomy bag and lost 50 pounds. He chose not to appeal the four-game suspension he received in September, his first of the season.

But Henderson is expected to appeal what would be a 10-game suspension for this second offense for using a banned substance. The NFL is expected to decide his punishment this week and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Henderson may take the matter to court.

"Why isn’t marijuana an option for professional football players?"

For the typical American going to work every day, the demands of your job probably don't include your daily dose of pain medications which are administered by your employer. Imagine being an employee at General Motors or Chase Bank and being forced to see your "company doctor" for all ailments and being prescribed addictive pain medications. Now what if that same job resulted in daily injuries, most of which would be considered debilitating for the general population? Well this was the reality for me and countless other NFL players....

With so many states now legalizing some form of legal marijuana use, the NFL and its conservative owners must face the inevitable. The players' association is beginning to push the league to reevaluate their logic. "Certainly given some of the medical research out there, marijuana is going to be one of the substances we talk a look at," says Players' Union Executive George Atallah.

The league's response to the topic included a statement that it would be open to reconsidering its policy, but the league's medical experts haven't recommended any changes. Let's remember that these same medical experts denied that football caused concussions.

November 28, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Where Marijuana Is the Doctor’s Orders, Will Insurers Pay?"

The question in the title of this post was the headline of this recent New York Times article, which included these excerpts:

For businesses and insurers, a string of ballot victories this month for marijuana advocates are adding to an intensifying conundrum about the drug and issues such as insurance coverage, employee drug testing and workplace safety.... “We are entering this conflict between a social policy decision and a workplace that is highly regulated,” said Alex Swedlow, the chief executive of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, a research organization.

A major part of the predicament centers on unclear science about the benefits of marijuana or the dozens of compounds, known as cannabinoids, that are found in the plant. For its part, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only a synthetic version of a cannabinoid and a similar drug for narrow uses, such as to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients or to stimulate the appetites of patients with AIDS. Typically, health insurers will pay for marijuana-related drugs only for F.D.A.-approved uses.

But state medical marijuana laws usually give doctors permission to recommend marijuana to a patient with a “debilitating” condition, a phrase that can encompass problems including glaucoma, cancer and chronic pain. Usually, patients pay for the drug themselves and several states have explicitly exempted workplace compensation insurers for covering such costs.

But as a result of recent state court rulings in New Mexico, workplace insurers there are required to pay for marijuana-based treatments if they are recommended by a doctor. And lower courts in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan have issued rulings directing workplace insurers to do so. The number of patients receiving such coverage is small. And because marijuana is illegal under federal law, insurers paying for the drug must use a financial workaround to avoid violations. One strategy is to reimburse patients for their costs rather than make a direct payment to a marijuana dispensary....

Despite the push toward legalization, few employers have dropped marijuana from the list of drugs for which employees are tested, compounds that typically include opioids, amphetamines and cocaine... As marijuana legalization expands, there are also concerns about its effect on workplace safety. Some studies suggest that marijuana use can impair a person’s judgment, though little data exists to compare the effect with that of other drugs like opioids.

In states where recreational use is allowed, the problem for employers becomes one of determining when an employee used marijuana, because detectable levels of it remain in the body for days afterward. As a result, employers must use more subjective observations to judge whether an employee has become impaired from using marijuana while at work, said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization.

As for Mr. Vialpando, the disabled worker in Santa Fe, he and his wife say they have all the evidence they need that medical marijuana works. Mr. Vialpando said that during the decade he used opioids, he withdrew from his family and friends, preferring to spend time by himself, watching television. He lost interest in food and developed sleep apnea — his wife used to wake up terrified at night because it appeared that he was dying.

These days, he smokes about four marijuana cigarettes daily. He said he had gained weight, enjoyed talking again and had resumed working on hobbies at home. His wife, Margaret, said that she hoped President-elect Donald J. Trump, when he takes office, will make marijuana a legal drug by changing how it is regulated. “I feel like I’ve gotten my husband back,” she said. “His personality has come back to the person that he used to be.”

November 26, 2016 in Employment and labor law issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shouldn't a new "grassroots" Democratic Party led by Bernie Sanders get started by focusing on grass and roots?

In the video below from the Late Show, Bernie Sanders tells Stephen Colbert that the Democrats have to become a "grassroots" party. Because of the frustrating tendency in recent years the the Clinton wing of the Democratic party to promote and give power to older, less diverse and more "insider" officials and candidates than the Republican party, I have largely given up on the party and I am fairly apathetic about whether the party gets its act together sooner or later. But I am sure about one thing: if the Democratic party wants to become relevant very quickly and build as a true "grassroots" party, it ought to begin by focusing a lot on marijuana law and policy reform. Specifically, as the title of this post seeks to suggests, I think smart progressive politicians and community organizers ought to be laser focused, at least for the next six months if not longer, on (1) protecting the constitutional rights of citizens in states who are in strict and clear compliance with state marijuana laws (that is the "grass"), and (2) seeking to expand the reach and breadth of existing state marijuana reform laws, with a particular concern for allowing citizens a legal means for at least limited "home grow" (that is the roots).

I make this "pitch" largely driven by the fact that the only significant progressive policy issue that has gone to voters in the last two major election cycles and pretty consistently done much better with most voters (especially white male voters) than the leading Democratic candidate IN RED STATES has been marijuana reform. Specifically, in the 2014 election, in Alaska and Florida, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more than 50% of the vote even though, I believe, no democratic state-wide candidate in those two stated got more than 50% of the vote. Similarly, in the 2016 election, in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, a state marijuana reform proposal got significantly more support than the leading Democratic candidate. (The outlier here is Arizona, but notably exit polls show 43% of white men supported supported full legalization in the state, whereas only 36% of them supported Hillary Clinton; similarly 45% of whites without a college degree in Arizona supported full legalization, whereas only 35% of them supported Hillary Clinton.)

I could go on and on and on about why the "smart" approach for any political party circa Fall 2016 would be to focus on the bipartisan and wildly popular issue of medical marijuana reform. I will just close by noting that major medical or recreational marijuana reform is now the law of the land in just about big blue and red state except Texas. Specifically, recreational marijuana reform is now the law in "big states" like California (55 EV), Washington (12), Massachusetts (11), Colorado (9) Oregon (7), Nevada (6), while medical marijuana reform is the law of the land in Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), New Jersey (14), Arizona (11), Connecticut (7), Arkansas (6). Notably, I have left out three "small" full legalization jurisdictions from this list (e.g., Alaska, Maine and Washing DC), but my list of bigger states now with major marijuana reform laws on their books after the 2016 election now just happens to add up to 271 electoral votes.

This electoral math and the marijuana map are among the reasons I remain quite bullish about the future of marijuana reform in the United States, and it is why I have been saying to any and everyone who would listen that the truly smart political candidates in BOTH major political parties are likely to be supportive of state-led marijuana reforms. But, given that the election last week highlighted that leading Democrats are not very good at getting to 270, I am not really all that optimistic that the Democratic party will wake up and smell the marijuana reform future rather than keep being focused on the prohibitionist past.

 

 

November 16, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Will Prez-Elect Donald Trump make it legal and easier for veterans to have access to medical marijuana?

Veterans-day-20131The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new AP article headlined "For Colorado Veterans, Marijuana A Controversial Treatment." Here are excerpts:

Tom couldn’t sleep. After six years in the U.S. Navy, he found himself in the civilian world unable to readjust from his time on a ship, when a commanding officer would often wake up the sailors every few hours.  He tried prescription sleep aids, but nothing really worked until he smoked some weed ... “I tried it very sparingly and slept the whole night for the first time in like months,” Tom said.

For members of the U.S. military, admitting to using marijuana could result in an investigation and in most cases, punishment or separation from the military. Because of this, many of the veterans who use marijuana chose not to reveal their last names...

Attorney Will M. Helixon, an expert in military law, said the military still considers marijuana a controlled substance. Someone in active duty caught using the drug could be punished and in most cases, processed for separation from the military. For someone who is not on active duty, it could still result in a discharge, which could close the door for future benefits and career options.

Helixon said it makes no difference to the military if marijuana is legal in some states, such as Colorado. “There are many instances where otherwise lawful conduct is prohibited by the military, marijuana being one of them,” Helixon said. “To not be efficient in your job or to be derelict in your duties is not a crime in the civilian world, but it is in the military.”...

Tom said he much prefers marijuana over drinking, even though branches of the military are no strangers to alcohol consumption. “The Navy has, I don’t want to say a tradition, but we’re known for being heavy drinkers. There’s that saying ‘drunk as a sailor,'” Tom said. “It’s like a big frat because at every port there’s ‘Let’s go out and get as drunk as possible.’ I thought it was so odd that the Navy was so gung ho about drinking and so against marijuana. I consider them on the same level.”

Juan, who is 50 and was in the U.S. Marine Corps, expressed the same sentiment. Juan broke his collarbone from injuries not related to the military, he said. “I just drank all the time to numb the pain but marijuana works much better and for sleep as well,” Juan said. Marijuana “doesn’t really get rid of the pain. It changes it to something more manageable if that makes sense … it like feels good to get it moving, like a massage.”

Juan said he has a couple friends recently who died from heavy drinking. He said the drinking culture in the Marines is similar to what Tom described in the Navy. “Oh yeah, it’s just like college — put enough young people together and they’re going to want to party and drink. In the Marine Corps everyone drank and pretty excessively too,” Juan said.

Juan said he is distrustful of prescription opiates as well. “I think the amount of opiates being prescribed to people is a little reckless. I don’t take aspirin because I don’t like the idea of drugs,” Juan said. “An opiate can actually kill you if you overdose. With marijuana, that can’t happen. You’re not going to smoke yourself to death.”... Juan conceded that it is possible to get hooked on marijuana, like anything else. “To be honest, I’m kind of addicted to not hurting all the time. You can be psychologically dependent on it,” Juan said. “If it gets to a point where you’re smoking before work or something then you’ve got a problem. I have friends who smoke it pretty heavily and they are well-paid with families to take care of. They’re not the stereotypical stoner on the couch.” ‘A Band-Aid’ Sam House, a spokesman for the U. S. Department Veterans Affairs for northern Colorado and Cheyenne, said that while marijuana may seem beneficial, it’s masking the real problem.... House said the VA follows the Federal Drug Administration, which has not found a medical use for cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Because of the federal policy, House said a veteran who uses marijuana won’t be able to get certain prescriptions at the VA medical office. For instance, veterans are routinely blood-tested every time they go in for a VA appointment, House said. So if a veteran tweaks his or her back in a way for which a doctor would prescribe prescription painkillers, when the bloodwork comes back positive for marijuana, the VA doctor can no longer prescribe the painkillers.

House is a veteran who is diagnosed with PTSD. He said it’s important for veterans to treat the root cause of the side effects with therapy, instead of self-medicating with marijuana. “The goal of every veteran should be to be normal and to seek out that new normal,” House said. “If someone is on an antidepressant, they may need that for the rest of their lives. Why complicate that with self-medication, which could or could not contribute to that depression?”...

Curt Bean, 31 of Lakewood, was diagnosed with PTSD after tours in Iraq with the U.S Army. Bean said he knows a fellow veteran who went from taking 14 medications for PTSD to three medications after starting marijuana. “The three biggest things for me — anxiety is really tough and then there’s depression and sleeplessness,” Bean said. “I’m able to have something to mitigate that in a healthy and positive way with zero negative side effects.”

Bean said he is heavily involved in the Colorado veterans community and he has seen other veterans switch from opiates to marijuana with positive effects. “They were just being zombies. And the marijuana allowed them to be a successful part of their families and their communities,” Bean said. “It allowed them to be part of their communities rather than isolating them in their room.”...

Bean said he knows many veterans are afraid to come out and say they use marijuana, but he is trying to raise more awareness about the issue. Bean has smoked marijuana on a few local news stations. “I understand the ramifications of doing that, but it takes people to stand up and say, ‘It’s silly,’ for this to become less of an issue,” Bean said.

Bean said he wished the VA would come around and see his perspective on marijuana use for PTSD. “It’s a matter of time. The longer they wait and drag their feet, the lower the quality of life for veterans and there is some loss of life,” Bean said. “That’s the most upsetting thing — that I’m on this expedition to be able to say that this is a valuable option for the guys and they should be able to use it because it does save lives.” 

Notably, this two-page document entitled "Donald Trump's Contract with the American Voter," describes a part of a planned initiative to include "provid[ing] veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice." If that becomes a reality, it could make it much easier to veterans to have access to medical marijuana through the private health care system (although this would not alone solve problems for active military members).  

November 13, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)